(Editor’s note: contributed blogs like this are part of ChannelBuzz.ca’s annual sponsorship program. Find out more here This blog was authored by Mark Collins, vice president of the partner organization at Cisco Canada.)
If you want to glimpse the classroom of the future, just look over the shoulder of a student. You might see them using the comments feature in a document editor as a makeshift chat app, trading comments back and forth with their classmates. It’s not how the software is designed to be used, but kids are resourceful, and they have an affinity for digital collaboration. When they don’t have the appropriate tools, they’ll bend what they do have to the purpose.
There’s a lesson here: kids are hungry for digital learning. It’s a language they understand. When we encounter kids finding ways to make their classrooms more collaborative, more digital, we need to support those impulses rather than try to guide them toward older models of learning.
It’s easy to do. Cisco Webex Teams, for example, allows students to not only connect with each other, but also their teachers. It’s a true digital extension of the classroom. Students can collaborate as they prefer to, while educators and parents have the peace of mind of knowing that the system is safe and secure.
Some schools are creating virtual classrooms with Cisco, like Alberta’s Parkland School Division. Cisco and Compugen helped the school outfit its Prescott Learning Centre with virtual learning technology.
Now, Parkland students who may be unable to attend class in-person can join their classmates through Cisco Webex. They can take part in class from wherever they are, even on a snow day. Virtual learning also allows students to receive additional support such as speech therapy, provided by specialists, regardless of their location.
These are scenarios that are happening now, improving the education experience of more and more students. But what might the future hold?
Students will no doubt show us – but they’ll have new partners at their sides when they do. Artificial intelligence has the potential to provide “teaching assistants” that will complement the work of teachers. They’ll be always-on study partners. Having trouble with homework? An AI teaching assistant could notice a student pausing on a tough question, and step in with guidance or supplementary materials. And if many students in the class are getting stuck at the same point, it could alert the teacher that the curriculum has a speed bump that needs to be addressed to enable the whole class to succeed (while keeping the students’ identities anonymous, of course).
Such an AI could help students learn, anywhere, anytime, and identify ways to improve curricula. You might find the concept of a machine learning-powered study buddy offputting or alien, but there’s a good chance that kids will find it natural. In fact, like using an editor as a chat app, tomorrow’s students might find ways to incorporate AI teaching assistants into their learning with or without our help. So let’s help them learn the way they want to, and remember that as education evolves, kids will always be giving us cues about where to go and how to get there.