“Can you hand me a pencil?” Jess says as she takes a sip of her morning coffee.
“Sure,” laughs Mr. Scheuch, “but you are twenty miles away from me right now and eventhough it is the year 2020, I can’t teleport you one.”
“Oh. Sorry Mr. Scheuch. I was talking to my mother. She is cooking me breakfast. It is really great that you can take some time out of your busy schedule to meet with me and Robert and give us some feedback on our online presentation about nanotechnology.”
As Jess finishes this sentence, her laptop beeps and new updates from Robert appear on her screen. She and Robert have been putting together a multimedia presentation to be presented to their science class in three days. Mr. Scheuch is their science teacher and he is having a live chat with both of them via Skype. In the past 10 years Skype and other video conferencing software has replaced the need for teachers to teach from a classroom. In fact on this Tuesday morning, Mr. Scheuch is meeting with all of his students who are presenting. They have appointments in 15 minute increments.
Science class, and all classes for that matter, have taken on a dramatic new look. No longer do the students come in to school every day and sit through 5-8 periods a day. Students are required to come to school one day a week and meet with all of their teachers. They ask questions, receive whole group instruction and details about their upcoming work for that week. Just because the students only come to class one day a week, does not mean that they do not complete school work the rest of the week. Through devices like computers, iPhones, Smartphones, and iPads, students are constantly connected to their teacher and to each other. In fact, the school voucher program has passed in all 50 states and now students from many different neighborhoods are all attending the same school. Jess is from a rural neighborhood and Robert is from an urban one.
“Mr. Scheuch, Someone left an inappropriate comment on our class Facebook page,” says Jess as Mr. Scheuch is looking through their presentation.
“Did you follow the steps outlined in our acceptable use policy for dealing with inappropriate content on the internet?” asks Mr. Scheuch.
Knowing that every student in the district has had two internet safety classes, one in first grade and one in seventh grade, he is confident that his students know how to deal with unexpected roadblocks on the net. In fact, for the first time ever, most districts in the United States have written curriculum to inform students, teachers, and parents about internet safety. Parents are required to attend at least one workshop per year that outlines current dangers on the internet and how to deal with them. Also, they learn about new web 2.0 and social networking sites so they can have conversations with their children about how to effectively use them in their education. Teachers are trained three times a year on technology. It has become mandatory that they use technology to deliver their content. Since cyber school has become the preferred method for 90% of the students, this training is extremely important.
Again because of vouchers, the remaining 10%of students that are not learning online, attend traditional school. In fact, they are learning the same content in traditional school as the others are learning online. This learning is done through classes that meet 5 days a week with a teacher present in the classroom. The teacher serves as a facilitator and guides their learning through interactive activities that are internet and computer based. These teachers are also trained three times a year on technology.
School districts are saving tremendous amounts of money without having additional costs for transportation, textbooks, paper, and other traditional school supplies. Since students are learning from their home, they do not need rides to school. Also, all of their class materials and texts are available online. The best part is, teachers are not making photo copies anymore. For his student’s science presentations, Mr. Scheuch has used online document apps to create and distribute rubrics, requirements, and notes to all of his students. With the money being saved on these items, districts are now able to afford paying for meaningful professional developement. Teachers are not using new technology because they have to, they are using it because they want to.
Mr. Scheuch has several students in his class that are IEP students and need accommodations. With the use of online apps and other web 2.0 tools, all of his lessons and materials are easily differentiated. By a few simple mouse clicks, teachers are creating, editing and distributing material through different channels to different people.
Through web-based programs, students can choose to create products that fit their learning styles. They make connections and build their networks through collaboration and online discussion. This is at the heart of Connectivism.
“I can’t seem to find enough information on this importance of nanotechnology in the medical field,” Robert says.
“Have you checked the RSS feeds and the Del.icio.us links on our class Pageflake site? asks Mr. Scheuch. “If you have and you still can’t find anything, why don’t you see if you can contact one of our community scientists and set up a Skype conversation with them.”
The line between community and school has been blurred. Community members are also part of students learning network. People volunteer to lead class discussions and to work with students on school related topics. The walls of the classroom have been broken down. Information is not only coming into the “classroom,” it is being dispersed and spread out of the “classroom.” Through cooperation between Federal, state, and local government, people are starting to see the importance of education and the role that EVERYONE plays in it. Teachers are no longer considered lazy, tax-money-sucking state employees who are draining taxpayer wallets with their pension plans and their summers off. They are viewed as dedicated, hard-working individuals who put the needs of their students on the front lines.
“Well, Mr. Scheuch, thanks so much for helping us. We can’t wait to present to the entire class via video conferencing next week,” says Jess as her and Robert finish up making changes to their presentations.
“I am so glad to hear that,” says Mr. Scheuch. “I am looking forward to seeing the finished product from everyone in class.” Beep…beep…beep… “Do you guys hear that beeping.” Beep…beep…beep… “There it is again.”
Suddenly Mr. Scheuch realizes that he is not sitting in front of his computer monitor talking to Jess and Robert. He is standing in a dark, warm room that smells like toner and hot plastic. He looks down and sees the light labeled “Paper Jam in Tray 3″ flashing on the photocopy machine. Time to clear the jam and get back to teaching in 2011. The year 2020 holds many changes for education but they only enhance student learning and create learning environments and motivation for life-long learning in all students.