Innovation in Education

by Mark Nagurski

Teaching Moves Beyond the Classroom

Somewhat surprisingly, and despite huge advances in technology and communications, very little has changed in the way we teach – either in formal educational settings or in the world of work.

Whereas the ways we learn and access knowledge in our day-to-day lives are almost entirely informal, the vast majority of teaching is still done in classrooms and lecture halls. We learn through examples, trial and error and discussing ideas – with everyone acquiring knowledge at their own pace and in formats that suit them. We teach through one-size-fits-all curriculum and 60 minute classes where sharing is akin to cheating.

The good news is that this is starting to change – albeit slowly – as educators and trainers are increasingly experimenting with new technologies.

Making Use of Social Media Tools

Social media would appear to lend itself neatly to education – social learning if you will. From YouTube videos (see below) to classroom wikis, educators are starting to see the value in cooperation via social networking tools. The tool of the day, Twitter, has found some particularly interesting uses. Dallas history professor, Monica Rankin, has been experimenting with using Twitter in the classroom – using a weekly hashtag to track comments, questions and feedback posted by students during class. As she noted in her blog:

  • “Most educators would agree that large classes set in the auditorium-style classrooms limit teaching options to lecture, lecture, and more lecture. And most educators would also agree that this is not the most effective way to teach. I wanted to find a way to incorporate more student-centered learning techniques and involve the students more fully into the material.”

(Further reading: Twitter in the Classroom).

Online Video Creates a Global Classroom

The idea of openly sharing course content via video first gained notoriety with MIT’s ‘open courseware‘ model. The idea is simple, and it’s spreading. Academic Earth provides access to video lectures from some of the world’s top professors at Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. The Open Educational Resources Hub brings together free to use teaching resources suitable for primary, secondary and post-secondary educators – all freely submitted by other educators. Even Britain’s grandly named Royal Society provides free webcasts of their events and lectures.

Gaming Gets Serious

Nintendo’s series of ‘brain training’ games are the consumer-incarnation of the growing serious games industry. Companies and organisations like the Serious Games Institute are championing the use of virtual reality simulations, RPGs and even simple PlayStation and Wii style games to help deliver everything from literacy and numeracy training to health and safety modules.

PSPs (Playstation Portables) in particular have been growing in popularity with some educators due to their portability and multiple functionality – which allows for both display and capture of multimedia content. A once failing school in England recently saw huge improvements across the board after introducing games like Thrillville (which challenges players to run a themepark) into the business studies curriculum and encouraging history students to use the PSP to record classes for later study and view historical documents in detail.

(Further reading: Futurelab’s article on PSPs in education).

Mobile Learning Comes Into Its Own

In a similar vein, as mobile phones become more like tiny laptops (and more powerful than many), their use in education and training is ever more prevalent. A quick stroll through the iPhone app store reveals simple educational tools like FlashMath which helps teach arithmetic to elementary school level. At a recent elearning conference, British Army Major, Roy Evans discussed how iPods were being trialled in action in Afganistan as an alternative to printed language flash cards. The only negative feedback was that soldiers didn’t need the Army issued iPods, they had their own.

Of course there have always been pioneers making innovative use of technology in education but as the Net Generation come of age, they are bringing with them a new way of working, and learning. The beginnings of a groundswell of change in how we teach perhaps?

About the Author

Mark Nagurski writes about innovative new business ideas at iddictive.com and elearning in the public sector at elearninglounge.com