Great teachers can make such a difference to a youngster's education. They know their pupils intimately; they inspire and encourage them to learn and to enjoy learning. But even the best teachers hit limitations; there just aren't enough hours in the day to know everything about every pupil they teach. But technology is starting to change that. In the coming years, a lot of the legwork, and the burdensome aspects of teaching will be assisted by technology.
Some may think that a gloomy prospect. Certainly there are people concerned that technology in the classroom may diminish the role of the teacher. But I think this is due to a lack of understanding of the things technology brings to the classroom. As a developer of education software, I have seen first hand what an incredibly empowering thing technology can be for both students, teachers, and parents too.
Technology can enable a teacher to oversee a greater number of pupils, to know how well or poorly they are progressing, and even design lessons to give them the right amount of challenges. If pupils are given work that is too easy, or too hard, they will inevitably lose interest or get frustrated. But with tailored lessons, everybody gets to learn at just the right level.
For a teacher to know intimately the level of understanding one child has is possible. But for a whole class of students, or multiple classes of students, it gets harder and harder. It becomes a feat of memory, not of ability to inspire. Good teachers inspire children, they guide them and support them. The work of measuring and assessing them is important, but only because it helps the teacher know how far the students have progressed. This part of teaching is administration, donkey-work if you will, a distraction from the job of inspiring and enlightening the class.
But this work enables good teachers to know what they need to be teaching next, to progress the students though the curriculum. Advanced students need more challenging assignments; students falling behind need extra attention to bring them back up to speed. Very organised and capable teachers can offer personalised learning to their students, so each child has a lesson tailored to their ability, to challenge and stretch them to just the right amount. But this is surely the domain of the super-teacher, something most mortal teacher can only aspire to.
This is where technology comes in; the management of large classes, even multiple classes becomes possible. Enabling personalised learning becomes normal, not a rare talent. Technology will turn teachers into super-teachers, and it will give them the gift of time. Time to inspire and encourage students, which may not have been possible in the past.
If this sounds a little pie-in-the-sky and futuristic, think again. A great example of how this technology-powered learning is empowering teachers and children is the Rocketship Schools in the US. These schools have, in their own words, reimagined the traditional school model and offer personalised learning to all their students. This is in part made possible by using technology. But what they refer to as blended learning isn't just learning using technology. It includes more traditional learning, made possible by the efficiencies of their technology-enhanced learning.
If anybody had worries that children would be sat in huge classrooms, glued to computer screens, the Rocketship example should allay those fears. Adaptive online learning is part of the dynamic classroom, but that is simply a tool to enable things like targeted intervention. Where students struggling with certain concepts can be identified and helped. Other small groups can be taught, with the students all being at a similar level. And there is also plenty of time spent on enrichment programs, to encourage physical education, creativity and the arts.
I'm proud to say my own iPad Apps have also made a big impact on the way younger children are learning to read and write in schools. Teachers and parents have instant access to children's progress. So that even if a teacher fails to notice a child having difficulty in a particular area, the parent can see it, and the software can design lesson's to counter it.
From my point of view, the future of teaching is inevitably going to involve the kind of software and dynamic classrooms I've described. But it will never replace real teachers; it will simply make them super teachers. The technology-enhanced super teachers of the future won't be robots. They will be very human, and just as inspirational and encouraging as the best teachers are today.