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New-age classrooms – Using tech to empower students beyond school

As teachers and institutions come to terms with a changing world, they must also prepare students to be the future workforce in a technology-first world.

brand stories Updated: Jan 15, 2018 17:25 IST
(Pixabay)

In popular imagination the future is all about high-tech robots doing menial everyday tasks, while humans are on the sidelines. This is, of course, largely utopian. As much as we seem to want to let technology simply take over every role in society, some things will always require a human touch.

In partnership with Microsoft Education, #DisruptTheClassroom is a four-part ed-tech series that illustrates how technology is helping Indian educators go beyond linear, text-based instruction so that students can experience truly immersive learning.

    In some ways, the future is already here, because technology already plays a part in every aspect of your life. This fact is most relevant in the field of education today. As teachers and institutions come to terms with a changing world, they must also prepare students to be the future workforce in a technology-first world. While no one can say with any certainty what classrooms will look like in two or three decades, we are already beginning to see the first seeds of technology take root in education today.

    In fact, the notion of a classroom as a place for learning is slowly losing its appeal. Now, learning happens on the go and students are more likely exposed to a wider variety of subjects outside of the classroom than in it. This means that educators have to respond to this and create an environment where school curriculum is still relevant. The best way to do this is my embracing technology to make education less dull and more exciting. In this way, students are also being prepared for a day when these software and tools will be used to make a living.

    THE CLOUD TEACHES TEAMWORK

    When we talk about a typical working day, for most people it involves working with some kind of documents. This means knowing how to create, edit and format simple text documents, working with spreadsheets and numbers, or even making creative presentations. Often this is done in collaboration with an array of team members – some who might not even be in the same office as you.

    With cloud-based applications, collaboration is simpler than ever. But many students will only encounter these once they have stepped out of school. To bridge the gap, it’s essential to get students familiar with tools and apps so they are ready to make meaningful contributions in the real world. With Microsoft Office 365 for Education, students and teachers get all the convenience of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Microsoft Teams apps, but with the power of the cloud.

    This enables seamless collaboration among classmates and the teacher, cross-device and multi-device syncing so that everyone is on the same page, and many more tools to help students work as a team. As students utilize these tools for everyday class-work, their familiarity with collaborative tools improves and so does their understanding of teamwork and team dynamics. And in a world where more and more small businesses and start-ups are sprouting up, this is a crucial skill to pick up early on in life.

    BREAKING BARRIERS

    Now that smartphones have been around for more than a decade, we have learnt a lot about schoolchildren and teens communicate and how they choose to voice their opinion or show initiative. The natural extension of this for teachers is in how new-age communication tools can be used to improve learning. Teachers are able to get quality engagement for course material thanks to rich media communication using videos, voice and text, as well as tools such as Skype or live streaming.

    This positively impacts how much students take away from a particular lesson, and gives them an experience of having achieved something, even if it’s just getting their voice heard in a friendly environment. Often students shy away from asking questions due to peer pressure, and may not have the courage to speak to teachers in person, but a virtual classroom eliminates this fear.

    Closer home, Indian classrooms have seen a major leap in the digitisation of education through Microsoft’s QR-coded textbook. Designed by MIE expert Ranjitsinh Disale, these textbooks allow teachers to search for relevant content, lesson plans, and other resources available on the Microsoft Educator Community by scanning the QR code present in the textbook. More than 1,800,000 students in Maharashtra are currently using these textbooks.

    GOAL-DRIVEN LEARNING

    With tools like OneNote Class Notebooks, teachers can organize interactive lessons, and deliver personalized tests or even tailor courses. This empowers students by giving them the exact learning or skills that they need, and not just fluff that they have to learn. With this goal-driven approach, learning becomes a life-changing experience, and not an everyday mundane activity. In fact, such shared notebook tools can be considered a major education innovation that will revolutionize learning in the years to come.

    Thanks to Learning Tools, students can improve reading skills by removing learning obstacles such as visual crowding or dyslexia, or understand how to pronounce words correctly to become more confident in the real world. As one teacher whose school has employed this features from Microsoft says, “Learning Tools is an empowering tool. It evens the playing field for kids who are struggling readers. It allows them to feel more like independent learners, not depending on the teacher, not depending on peers.”

    In India, too, the OneNote has been used in particularly innovative ways to make classrooms and learning more inclusive. Using the Immersive Reader feature on this platform, differently-abled students have been able to improve their vocational and communication abilities to a great extent. “OneNote has provided us an integral way of teaching and learning that we’ve been trying to figure out for a long time for children with special needs,” says Gunjan Tomar, Special Education Needs HOD and Middle School Mentor at Ridge Valley School, Gurugram.

    EMPOWERING CODERS OF TOMORROW

    It is quite obvious now that, technology will be the driving factor in all walks of life in the future. And the challenge today is to make computer and tech education easier for younger students, especially on the technical side of things.

    Technology education should begin at a school level and that’s where initiatives like Microsoft Imagine Academy have proven successful. It provides complete curriculum and resources for students and teachers to get training and certification in relevant programming languages, platforms and technologies. Apart from productivity, school students are also encouraged to get valuable skills in Computer Science, IT Infrastructure, and Data Science before entering college or starting a job.

    As the global digital economy expands, the need for early-stage education in the above four core areas will become increasingly crucial. These seemingly complex topics are made simpler to understand for students through interactive games, quizzes, and apps. This ensures that even teachers without a technology background can successfully and easily deliver coding lessons to their students.

    INK IN A DIGITAL CLASSROOM

    Today’s students won’t just make up numbers in the industry; they will also be designers, creators, thinkers, and problem solvers. And like their counterparts from yesteryears, they too can use a pen to bring their ideas to life on paper. The only difference is their pen and paper are digital.

    With Windows Ink, learning becomes more fun, engaging and students have been known to have better responses than when typing on a keyboard. In STEM courses alone, Windows Ink and similar offerings can bring about up to 36 percent increases in “favourable outcomes”. Even something as complex as writing an original paper for your science or history class can be made simpler by using tools to manage your research, documentation, track versions, or simply take notes.

    “It finally takes all the advantages of paper and makes it more effective, collaborative, and efficient. Inking not only makes student thinking visible, it captures, stores and distributes their learning for their, and my, convenience,” believes Cal Armstrong, Mathematics Teacher at Appleby College in Canada, one of the institutions that is already seeing success with Ink.

    Combined with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality applications, Windows Ink can be a game-changer in the classroom as students get a real feel for class work, while the teachers themselves get an edge over those using conventional methods.

    In essence, today, education is about teaching students how computers can influence their chosen field or help them achieve their work and life goals – whether it is a creative pursuit or a technological one. So, it’s not just about teaching students how to write code, but showing them how computers can be used to improve productivity, fuel creativity, or simply manage a team or an entire office. And like many great techniques used for teaching over the years, technology too can give students the means to find their calling.

    Join a global community of over 100,000 educators who are using technology in the classroom today to prepare their students for the world of tomorrow. Register with Microsoft in Education today.