That frenetic pace of innovation has brought us to a place where we have two generations of people, companies, and thoughts in the education technology field. You can see that separation in degree programs, classrooms, and conferences every day. The most obvious place is in conference exhibit halls because products are sitting side by side, and I term that split the smart board generation vs. the mobile generation. I fall squarely in the mobile generation, and I think to make education technology a game changer we need to move others to mobile as quickly as possible. It’s going to be a long hard road though as most teachers still fall directly in the smart board generation.
The SmartBoard Generation
The SmartBoard Generation is typically the older generation, but the influence of this generation over college programs and new teachers has put many younger teachers squarely in this generation. As innovators and thought leaders, we have to start advocating for this generation to change their thought process. The Smart Board generations view on education technology is what is one of the main factors leading to the backlash we tend to see against technology spending.
When we talk about this generation, Education Technology sits squarely in consumption. This is the generation that grew up with student creation being difficult when you moved outside of Microsoft Office. This is the generation where having a smart board and annotating over it in teacher driven instruction matters. This is also the generation where many of their creation projects are with analog (think tri-folds) or super basic technology like power point.
Unfortunately, I believe that this generation is still winning when it comes to how technology is used in the classroom. It’s incredibly obvious when you visit big conferences like ISTE. Who has the big booths? Smartboard makers and textbook companies. The size of the booth means they are still making boatloads of money with districts. Even when you look at smaller booths, they are filled out many times by digital consumption companies. The businesses that are truly for the mobile generation are typically either in small booths or not on the show floor at all. It is changing though as companies such as Nearpod have seen enough growth to see their booth slowly expand.
When talking the Smart Board generation, the easiest way to see it in a classroom is through the prevalence of things like digital content. Many school districts are spending boatloads of money on platforms that supposedly measure where the student is in their understanding, and then they try to ask the students questions to raise that level of understanding. These platforms include things like IXL, ST Math, Imagine Learning, and much, much more. These platforms sit squarely in the Smartboard generation though because they are all about consumption. Most of them accomplish their goals by asking what amounts to multiple choice questions and students sit passively in front of a PC just clicking away. Many times the curriculum within these platforms is also preset.
I honestly think these platforms are doing more harm than good. I can see their use somewhat with young children to learn and support things that are necessary rote memorization such as sight words and math facts, but these platforms, want a bigger piece of the pie. Many platforms have a curriculum that goes much higher in grade level and some cases content. We are also starting to see digital platforms that focus on content outside basic literacy and math, and that has caused students to spend more and more time on them. I have two elementary age children who have 3 to 4 digital content logins. Another issue with these platforms is the fact heir curriculum is present. This is intended to make the teacher's life easier, but is it what is the best course of action for students? I would argue it is not because it is never going to match up to exactly what students need.
I am going to take heat for this, but I have come to the conclusion that Microsoft OneNote sits squarely in the Smartboard Generation. OneNote is gaining in popularity with schools because it is paired as a free tool with a district email solution (Outlook) and it gives you many of the same functions that an LMS would. While I have some issues with the product on the technical side (the way it syncs is just crazy), the biggest problem I have with it is the false sense of high-level technology use it brings to many. I have seen too many folks who have gotten on there, moved their classroom to a paperless vision, and then thought they had achieved that high-level use. Student creation then becomes stuck at a level where students are annotating and recording a little bit of audio. Most of the time this is in response to something that is pushed down by the teacher. Some outliers have found surprising, creative ways to use OneNote, but the majority of use cases do nothing for student creativity and originality. If you come to this conclusion and move to just using OneNote as a conduit for teacher turn in, you then sit squarely in a camp that makes Google Drive the better option because of its deep integration with Google Drive and the superior experience it gives the user over OneDrive.
Even though the mobile generation is what we desperately need teachers and education as a whole to move into, it's going to be a very hard road. The teacher-centered, consumption culture of education technology is still a major focus of university programs, and because there is still such a focus on experience in the education field, it's what is pushed on young teachers when they get out into schools. It's high time we change that; it's time to move everyone into the mobile generation.
The Mobile Generation
When you think of the mobile generation, we typically think of the younger teachers that have grown up in the smartphone world. While much of that is true, there are still plenty of older teachers who are intrigued by the vast changes in the technology landscape and have put themselves out there with amazing work that allows students to create and make. It's high time we moved everyone to this space.
When you look at this space from the business side of things, it usually centers on companies that are innovative start-ups. Often these firms look at an issue at education and the devout all of their resources trying to solve that problem and iterate on that design. In fact, I think you could do a fantastic case study with students on some of these companies reasons for existing, consistent iterations, and models that they have used to be successful.
When I look at a company that has been around for a while but sits squarely in the mobile generation, Nearpod comes to mind. Nearpod saw an issue, utterly boring content delivery, and they used mobile innovation to make the delivery more personal for students and give them the opportunity to interact with the content in new ways. They took presentations away from the front of the room put them on a device in front of the student, and they allowed the teacher to personalize content by putting students on different presentations at the same time. Nearpod can be used to enable teachers to create their own digital content.
You might look at Nearpod, and say what is the difference between it and a tool like OneNote? I think it all comes down to knowing what you are. Nearpod knows that it is strictly a content delivery device. It adds interaction and chances for students to do things like creating original drawings within that content delivery. In OneNote, you can create original drawings, but most of the use cases focus on annotating and recording over teacher delivered documents. It also gives that false sense of high-level use, while Nearpod is just a tool utilized in the broader toolbox of the mobile teacher.
The mobile generation also sits squarely in the student creation camp. If you want to be considered part of the mobile generation, the best way to start is to get your students using the power of their device to do things like make videos, audio, websites, games, animations, and much, much more. To do it and ensure learning, you need to design both a process and scenarios that put students in real-world situations. An example could be something like creating an audio commercial for the new products of the industrial revolution. Students will never forget that invention if they have to act as if they are selling it.
Another key aspect of student creation in the mobile generation is giving students a process of learning that they have to undertake with each project or assignment. I see teachers all the time who decide to do a project, and it comes down to just telling students to give them a final product. If you develop a process that allows students to both plans, create, and reflect the learning becomes much more powerful. A great place to start with a process is the steps of the STEM design process.
The biggest area of progress though for the mobile generation is the frantic pace and amazing products that are coming out of the maker and coding movements. In the last few years, there has been a push to get kids to create and make in places like makerspaces and classrooms. Making can focus on so many things, and because of that, it has become a massive area of innovation in education technology. New products and services come out every day to push students into the making space.
One of the biggest focuses in the maker movement is on coding. For years, teaching coding on schools got down to having to type the real code into a terminal. Now there are tons and tons of both programs and toys to teach kids how to code from a very basic level all the way to complex code that will truly create something unique. A few of my favorites include Dash robots, Spheros, Swift Coding App from Apple, and Ear Sketch. These can be fantastic ways for students to learn and create their own mobile experience!
To close, think about what you truly are? Think about your colleagues. Where are they? How can we move the needle into what students truly need with the Mobile Generation and student creation? We are going to face push back as an education technology community until that shift happens. Outsiders (including our wonderful politicians) will continue to not understand the use if we stick in that Smartboard Generation. They will see it as a waste of money because student learning and achievement may not move that much. If we move students to the mobile generation with student creation, student achievement will more than likely move, but best of all we will be preparing our students for the world that wants them for the mobile generation.