When most of us think about our primary education, we think of the old school model - texbooks, blackboards, number 2 pencils. But for Gen Z and beyond, that model is rapidly shifting.
I've written about how Gen Z is the most knowledgeable generation we've seen, with their unprecedented access to information starting at a young age. Some question if the next generation will be quite as focused on physically attending a four year college, and what their primary and secondary education will look like. I wondered, could all those staples of our education - blackboards, number 2 pencils and potentially even the physical classroom become antiquated?
I went to the experts to find out. I asked Courtney Knacke, a high school biology teacher in Great Neck, NY, how she thought technology was shaping learning and how increased access to information may impact the classroom. "It's a hybrid really, we use the physical classroom to share ideas and collaborate, which can continue outside of the classroom using online resources and emerging technology."
Consider the number of online degrees available today, and even educational programs for younger students like Skype in the Classroom. Wendy Norman, the Director of Skype Social Good Programs, agrees with Knacke and sees technology and programs like Skype in the Classroom as excellent resources for enabling teachers and students to access information beyond the classroom, but not necessarily as a replacement for the physical classroom.
The program "provides children with access to their peers, experts and places around the globe that would otherwise seem truly foreign. We are trying to offer more inspiring learning by partnering with organizations like Code.org, TOMS, NASA Digital Learning Network, Penguin Books, and others to ensure that there is a constant stream of experts around the world to connect with. Teachers tell us these live interactions and back and forth question and answers with experts is often the secret weapon to get their students engaged in learning."
There is also a real opportunity to improve resources in school districts that may be experiencing budget cuts. "If a school in rural Iowa is trying to help their students learn music and no longer has funding for music teachers, Skype can bring in the experts from as far as Vienna to teach violin or percussion. And in places in Alaska where it's very hard to recruit good teachers to live and work there, they can use Skype to have computer science engineers teach students how to code and enable them to take advantage of one of the largest areas of job growth in the nation."
Another incredible benefit of Skype in the Classroom is that it is appealing to Gen Z's passion for social good and innate desire to change the issues they see in the world. A recent project between Kansas, Greece and Pennsylvania helped develop and provide clean water filters for students in Nairobi. The program is a conduit for shaping the next generation of global citizens by providing children with access to their peers, experts and places around the globe that would otherwise seem truly foreign.
It also allows for guest speakers, virtual field trips, and even breaking down cultural and language barriers by connecting students with peers across the globe and the most recent introduction of Skype Translator.
Norman sums it up perfectly, "In the future, we believe Skype and other technologies will continue to expand the walls of a classroom and offer students anywhere in the world a chance to learn. If that means completing a legitimate degree as part of that expansion, that means services like Skype have provided the access and freedom for all students to learn."
And as for my original question about whether or not the physical classroom will become antiquated, Washington DC area school therapist Drew Rosenzweig articulated the consequences of such a theory.
"Socialization is key to development. Technology can also act as a barrier that may actually impede growth. The nuances of human interaction are lost when a computer is between people. We'll end up with a generation of kids who don't know how to exist among other people."
So while blackboards may be replaced by smartboards, #2 pencils are replaced by keyboards and textbooks become increasingly more digital, the one thing all education professionals agree on is that there will always be a need for the physical classroom. And thanks to programs like Skype in the Classroom, the experience will likely continue to be enhanced, not replaced.