I had the pleasure of being invited to take part on a panel about Lifelong Learning at the EdTech Conference in São Paulo a couple of weeks ago. The panel consisted of three guests and a moderator debating the meaning of Lifelong Learning and what each one expected to see in the future of education.
Now, can you imagine my excitement as I was walking into Expo Center Norte about to witness some of the newest trends in technology for education? I could barely hide my curiosity. There was an EdTech Village set up just outside the auditorium and it had everything you can imagine when EdTech is the subject: augmented and mixed realities, gamification, customized learning platforms, coding, robotics, online tutoring, you name it! It was certainly a playground for school managers, coordinators, and teachers looking for “innovation”.
I watched closely how entrepreneurs presented their ideas and startups emphasizing the fact that schools that do not adhere to these trends will be left behind. The focus was definitely on “democratizing” education through technology. One of the priorities was also “personalization” or, as repeatedly mentioned by many of the presenters, allowing students to follow their own learning path in the same classroom. While this all sounds beautiful, I have to ask:
Imagine you are in charge of a school and receive a check worth of an extra year’s budget to make an investment. Which of these technologies would you spend that extra money on: 1) game platform; 2) augmented reality; 3) smart/digitals boards; 4)classroom furniture?
You might be confused now. Classroom furniture? Yes, and I’m not talking about high-tech classroom furniture. I’m talking about modular and multipurpose desks, bean bags, armchairs, counters, tatamis, and the like. Our current classrooms in Brazil are an invitation to individualism. Rows of single desks, sometimes arranged in different patterns (semicircle, circle, face-to-face, back-to-back, etc), facing an Interactive Whiteboard. No room for stationery, low-tech or traditional games, or even a just a place to sit more comfortably. And all the tech seems to be helping students create their own virtual worlds even more, disconnecting them from the reality and keeping them in their bubbles.
Don’t get me wrong. The EdTech Conference fulfilled its purpose by showing us what new technologies we can use in our schools. And you know what? Everything on display there can be extremely useful in helping us make learning more effectively. Nevertheless, I think words such as “innovation”, “democratizing”, and “personalization” could use a good dose of the old-fashion human interaction/collaboration. Perhaps schools could learn more from conferences like EdTech 2018. Even though there were thousands of people, the experience was definitely different for everyone. Some decided to check one booth at the EdTech Village and not the other, some stayed a little more time chatting during the coffee break and exchanged business cards to work on a future project together, and some, like my panel mates and I, debated ideas in front of an audience. But you know what made the whole difference? Being there. Seeing and talking to real people. From experience, I can tell you that conferences are more memorable than webinars because of this interaction.
If I received that check, you know what my investment would be. And, hopefully, since classroom furniture is not that expensive, I’d still have some money left to buy something more high-tech. After all, according to the Education Endowment Foundation, the top four strategies that really work in the classroom to make learning more effective are feedback, metacognition, peer tutoring, and collaborative work. Here’s the link to an article in The Economist that mentions this research for you to check out.
On that note, I’d like to invite you to share a photo of your classroom with me. Maybe the way your classroom is set up can inspire someone else to promote collaboration in their own classroom.