Amy Peach

Director of Instructional Technology, Fontbonne University, St Louis, MO USA


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If you had a technology toy room to play with the most amazing educational technologies available today, what would be in it?

I've been given the remarkable privilege of starting a Center for Educational and Emerging Technology where university faculty and K-12 educators can come together to explore classroom technologies.

It will be a space where everyone can get their hands on the technology and discuss in a very diverse group the potential it has for meaningful change in the classroom. The budget is limited to start off, so what tools have you seen that have the potential for disruption in either higher ed or K-12 classrooms? If it's expensive, what groups do you think would likely fund their purchase for a center like this?

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    Sep 27 2013: Please consider that students will no longer accept the old industrial-age classrooms, the age of teaching kids facts and what to think will no longer be tolerated by the kids.
    Seek toys that teach HOW TO THINK! Divergent, convergent, creative, and group, thinking and problem solving.
    For teaching social skills and more, I can see large screen with a skype. So classes can have meaningful exchanges with classes from other countries.

    For technology it changes so fast it will be hard to keep up with, and other can guide you better than I could. But here is one cool educational product to consider.
    • Sep 27 2013: Heh. Cute. Sorry, but "kids" tolerate whatever is thrown at them and always have. I remember when classrooms were going to be "book-free" before 2000. Didn't happen.
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        Sep 27 2013: Not anymore! I know a 2nd grade school teacher from a very rich and highly rated school district, (I think in the top five in the nation), just last week she said her current class was the worst she ever had. To paraphrase they were a buch of arrogant know it alls with a couple of were real trouble makers.
        So the kids will not be protesting by writing letters and doing set ends, but if a highly rated school district teacher can’t manage to teach them. They are smart enough to figure out how to teach themselves.

        Don't underestimate the youth, the class of 2024 will make us look the prim-apes.
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        Sep 27 2013: I think you could be right. The vast majority of students do tend to accept what they're told. Question is, will their parents? I've seen a definite shift in this age of information in terms of parent involvement and community interest. They're starting to research strategies and techniques and if a school district has a collaborative environment, they may have a stronger voice than in the past.

        I did find it interesting, though, that the Horizon report has been largely accurate and useful on all counts except 2; it consistently overestimated the value of the technology used and consistently underestimated the speed with which the strategies would be implemented.
        • Sep 28 2013: Do we want them to just accept what they are told? I use to occasionally tell my kids something really fantastic and untrue and continued until they decided that what I was saying was not right. Then we usually talked about thinking for themselves, considering the source, etc. I think blind acceptance of things they are unsure about might not be good.

          How does the school system teach this kind of lesson?
  • Sep 27 2013: A computer network with a terminal for every student that opens age appropriate and skill appropriate software when the student logs on. On this network, I would have a full range of Mr. Khan's educational programs, a 3D modeler, physics based breadboard software, and communications links with facilities and academies similar to yours. Have weekly web cast events with NASA, Make Magazine, Popular Science and Mechanics, Nature, Scientific American, Smithsonian, Bureau of Standards, TED, etc.

    I would get the kids building things that are fun. Scouting, First robotics, Human powered vehicles, concrete canoe, best bridge designs, remote control cars, planes, and boats. Get age appropriate tools and teach them how to use them.

    Get a van to go with the classroom to take your students to where the action is! Research centers, University research centers, industrial conferences, AUVSI, IEEE, ASME children's events, local historic sites, habitat for humanity (How is a house built?), Vocational technology centers, Hospitals, etc.

    Get several digital and video cameras and video editing software so the kids can make videos and take pictures, then do something creative with them.(Maybe sunshine cards for a local senior center? Let the occupants judge the art and hear the stories with how they were made and why certain things were included)

    Several pets.

    A garden.

    A pool of teachers that rotate in with new ideas to share and techniques to try and discuss.

    Several musical instruments, classic and electronic.

    Several Scout handbooks and activity books.

    Tables and chairs.

    A covered and screened in outdoor common area, with chairs and running a fountain.

    Bicycle, rowing, or treadmill powered generators for producing electric power for the needs of any games or portable electronic devices.

    A payphone.

    A mirror.

    Art supplies.

    Interactive robots.


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    Sep 26 2013: 3D printer (build one yourself with the kids)
    A PCR-machine (second hand)
    Arduino sets (with soldering equipment)
    a window farm (hydroculture)
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    Sep 30 2013: Great idea! Recording rooms are actually part of the overall design, but that may not come for a little while yet. Yes, the focus is very much on them being coaches. If they understand how to leverage the technology to take care of the basics so they can focus on analyzing student performance and connecting with them to be sure they understand the material in a real world way, then the center has done its job!
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      Oct 2 2013: A big advantage to interactive-classes is that every kid answers every question, and (not) just a few answering one question each.
      Plus the teacher get the results in real time, not the following year in a report, so the teacher can see if the class or a student need help in an area or not. For example the teacher could see 60% of a class did poorly on yesterday’s subject, and adjust today’s class to help improve their understanding of the subject.

      Now if each student had a laptop/tablet that popped up the question when teacher teacher ask it to the class, every kid answers every question and not just a few. that would also give the real time results, via the teacher's tablet showing the answer given.
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    Sep 30 2013: Rather than reply to all of the individual posts, I thought I would reiterate an important point about this space. I completely agree with the remarks that fall along the line of "it's not the technology, it's the teacher". Part of the reason why I'm asking about potentially disruptive technology and not something more standard is that I want them how to ask questions and decipher meaning from the technology that perhaps the developer hadn't even thought of. Trying something that districts aren't sure about so we can create teachers who know the difference between a solid investment and one that just won't reap measurable benefits it the entire point of the space.

    That said, we have to start somewhere. Thanks to everyone for the suggestions about various technologies and software that might be useful for this endeavor.
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      Sep 30 2013: Correct me if I’m wrong; to me it sounds like you want a space that train teachers to become coaches, instead of lecturers. If so that is a fantastic idea!

      I see the first step needed, it to take the lectures out of the class room. So a studio for creating interactive classes would be great place to start.
      Teachers go to the studio have a lecture/class recorded, have IT edit it and add places for students to answer questions. This would allow student view and review the lecture part of the class at a pace and time to suit them, and give teachers better quality class time.
  • Sep 29 2013: Interesting question.. humans are visual creatures. We learn best by using our eyes. However don't forget the Brain element to provide storage of information and internal feedback which reinforces the leaning process. Therefore the best technology would be something in the Visual system which is easy nowadays.... its keeping the students interested in a particular learning material that is challenging....and almost impossible for some students.

    Now, i already made this comment below.. it does not answer your question directly but it is something very important to consider because you are putting up a project for education....and my view is that its not just technology.. its the person involved in teaching that must get central attention. We have learned without the benefits of computers or ebooks or video lectures...and we got along fine.
    Don't fall into the idea-trap that most educators do by utilizing technology in order to cram as much information in a very short span of time... and call it a wonder of learning!... just like one of those exercise machines on TV that guarantees only 15 minute workout to build up muscles.
    Education.... it just doesn't work that way. As a student, my best resource is a teacher who can easily break down complex elements into simple ones for integration. A teacher who can answer my matter how silly or simplistic it might be. A teacher who can inspire me to do great things because he/she has done so and i want to follow in his/her footsteps. These are things you don't get in technology.... These are things you get from people.
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    Sep 28 2013: I humbly dare to suggest something that's not exactly a tool ,but a way of working. Mii opinion is that it is very important to teach students grasp the important content of a text, to differentiate it from is not as important, to know how to use it and what (and how to store it too), and how to think critically for you have learned.
    I apologize because this is surely not the answer you expected. But I have dared to give it because the best memories I have of my student days are these about the teachers who taught me to value information and knowledge and to judge and comment on facts and texts, etc...Of the others, I do not remember.
    I know that you, as an expert in teaching and education, know perfectly what I've said, but, I think a humble and incere remembrance in public is a great tribute to the good teachers that we all have had.
    I apologize and thank you for allowing me to express myself in your space, even knowing that did not answer your question.
    Thank you for your attention.
    • Sep 29 2013: I agree with your statement.. its not technology.. its the person involved in teaching. We have learned without the benefits of computers or ebooks or video lectures...and we got along fine. Sometimes i think that educators want to utilize technology in order to cram as much information in a very short span of time... and call it a wonder of learning!... just like one of those exercise machines on TV that guarantees only 15 minute workout to build up muscles.
      Education.... it just doesn't work that way.
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    Gord G

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    Sep 27 2013: I was involved in such a project. It's an interesting dilemma. Considering the increased speed of innovation and the unpredictable shifts in the technological landscape, I think forward thinking educators is essential to a successful enterprise.

    Go beyond the physical technology and focus on the purpose and meaning of technology. That will never change. I realize this doesn't address the problem of deciding what technologies are most relevant at this moment, but it does shift the mindset of the people holding the purse strings. It informs them there isn't a right answer, only a budget and a group of educators who are sensitive to change.
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      Sep 27 2013: I couldn't agree more, Gord. That is the key piece here. I do want them to work with the technologies, but the focus of any sessions we conduct is how it should be used, what objectives you have for using it, and how do you know you've achieved those objectives with this technology.
      • Sep 27 2013: To add my voice, no amount of simulations can replace an actual experiment, even if that experiment has been done trillions of times before. More is learned by actually doing Archimede's principle (displacement vs. mass to illustrate density) than by any high-tech simulation, thereof. Future scientists will not be spending all their time in silico. Real experiments will still need to be done.
  • Oct 9 2013: If I was developing a technology program I would look at Sixth Sense Technology as an application in a classroom. It has all the elements for a successful lecture. Given the right student environment you could develop the apps using this technology in a classroom k-12 on a variety of subjects. I believe it has a lot of potential and a nimble enough platform to bend its application to a variety of subjects.
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    Oct 7 2013: google glass, microsoft school technologies and an application software engineer to discuss how it can apply education strategies to said devices
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    Oct 2 2013: Some technologies do allow for this kind of interaction. It sounds like a flipped model with question-embed capability in screencasting software would accomplish what you're talking about here.
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      Oct 3 2013: Bingo! I had not heard of flipped before, but it looks good. Just by a quick look Flipped-Mastery, seems better then Flipped-Classroom. But that may vary, depending of the subject.

      Here is a great TED talk that may give you some ideas.

      P.S. Amy, if you use “Reply” to a comment instead of adding a new comment, it makes it easier to follow conversation via letting readers know who you are replying to.
      Plus posters are notified that you replied.
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    Sep 30 2013: Holograms are an interesting idea. But to what end? I'm trying to think of the objectives that would be achieved through technology like that. I find them fascinating, but outside of giving students access to expert knowledge without having to fly in the speaker (which can be done much more cheaply through google hangouts), I don't know what they would learn that would be worth the cost.

    I spent quite a bit of time researching gamification last year and while I definitely think it has some remarkable promise for certain kinds of learning, it takes a great deal of time to learn basic concepts this way and isn't appropriate for every learning objective. I definitely agree that lecture is over-used, but one activity I have my students do is go out into the community and see how people are learning. Without a classroom or objectives or tuition. If you just need to learn about something, how do you start? Nine times out of ten, it's direct instruction. We go to youtube for a demo, we read a book or an article, we ask somebody the question flat out. It doesn't mean we understand the very intricate nature of our question this way, but it is how we start. To say that lecture has no place in education at all would miss some important scaffolding.
  • Sep 30 2013: Holograms.

    One day children will learn by experience, not lecture. Today's hardware is capable of providing that experience. Teachers and psychologists must team up with game developers to develop the best possible learning experiences. (That will not be a match made in heaven, and will require a lot of work and patience from everyone involved.)
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    Sep 30 2013: Here's is a distinction that might be useful.

    "Appropriate technology reminds us that before we choose our tools and technologies, we must first choose our dreams and our values, for some technologies serve them while others make them unobtainable". Tom Bender

    When we understand how our values are reflected in the interdependent connections across artificial boundaries and in the hope of our children maybe our values won't get bought and sold.

    Unfortunately there is little evidence.

    Great question
  • Sep 29 2013: I see this all the time. Educators, educated formally, want technology in the classroom. Learning is a fundamental task. Technology should be used as a tool not a gimmic or buzz word. The biggest issue I see is educators trying to use technology they don't understand.

    Example; students swipe ID card to start recording so instructors can refer back to a lesson for each individual. I think computers should be more seemlessly used in classrooms by students and faculty. Integrare the LMS, a web application, note taking or reading by using computers. This way...the experience and content can be transcribed and more information can be accessible to students and faculty to enhance the learning experience.
  • Sep 28 2013: I have 2 suggestions derived from my reading of previous TED discussions on educational problems or refinement.
    1. There are suggestions as to how to alter the sequence or practice of the class lectures, Q & A and homework for the K-12 students. My suggestion would be to move the lectures out of the classroom and replace them by a class notes or lecture videos to be distributed the day before the course lecture is due and let the students to study them at home. The preparing time would exempt the student from carrying out the homework normally scheduled at the next day after a lecture in class. Now the day lecture time will consisted of Q&A and the in-class homework test near the end of the class. I believe that the tech toy room would be very useful for preparing standardized videos or notes for all the area students within the same system. In other word, your lab could produce a constantly renewed programs like the Sesame Street TV series, with the help of the area teachers.
    2. Another topics was raised about the low performance of the READING SKILLS of the K-3 grades students in most of the schools in the US. My thinking is that the method of reading for portion of these students is probably the wrong approach. From what I learned fro the technique of speed reading and comprehension, I believe that children should be taught or guided to read words not by individual letters (alphabets) one at a time, but by small blocks of root words. For example, the sentence "My mother gave me blueberry pancakes for breakfast this morning." shouldn't be read as M,y, m,o,t,.. etc. but as My, mo ther, gave, me, blue berry, pan cakes, for, break fast, this, mor ning. Each of the "syllables" (actually, sub-words) should be read as a "block", so that they could be synthesized quickly than as a long sequence of single letters. With the help of advanced technical presentation from the "toy lab" we could easily reach most, if not all, of the area students with reading difficulties
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    Sep 27 2013: A plaque reminding people that a tool is only any good when it is actually needed: what is its purpose?

    I have seen many schools go down the path of gathering technology because it's a popular trend (which undermines the real value of technology in the classroom) with precious little understanding of how to best utilise the equipment.

    The other is attempting to use Technology as Tools of Convenience and even missing the mark on that.

    I have seen schools using digital tools to encourage "engagement" which, I'm pretty sure is the 21st Century equivalent of rote learning. Ironic when you see schools' and parents' reactions to suggestions that rote learning has its place in education.

    Ultimately, for these wondrous gadgets of convenience to be best utilised, there needs to be a tectonic shift in how schools operate; how they deliver their programs, how they expect kids to engage and most importantly, how they are going to change their assessment practice in order to cater for new approaches to information gathering and multi-media content creation.

    Remember: there is no heat to be had from a digital fire.
  • Sep 27 2013: Ah, a realistic question. It would be prudent to have some very old technologies present--the chalkboard and the dry-erase whiteboard. It is amazing just how much can still be done with such means. They are still valued in the university, at the highest levels of education and research. I'm no Luddite, of course. I helped set up and maintain a SmartBoard for my employer, but there is still a place for the old stuff. For example, nothing beats real fossils, no electronic on-screen simulation matches what is learned from direct observation of a sample.
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      Sep 27 2013: A great point, Bryan! I should elaborate on my initial description. The Tech resource room will only contain potentially disruptive technologies. However, this room is intended to be just one component of a much larger center, which will have interactive screens, mobile charging stations, sound-proof rooms for screencasting AND a plain old whiteboard. As much as I love my technology, there are times when my ideas can only be fashioned through writing them out with different colored markers :) I would want a similar space for students. I would also like the space just outside of the center to be a device-free park. It is in a very secluded spot on campus with lots of trees and since part of the lesson is knowing when to use the technology and when to just turn it off, this would work.
  • Sep 27 2013: I teach people in wheelchairs to program and Hewlett Packard refused to support us - even in a token way (we sort less than $2,000 in hardware)
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      Sep 27 2013: Wow, that's disappointing! I wonder if you could find other sources of funding?
  • Sep 27 2013: Let me expand on Fritzie's and Bob's suggestion. Ask for free time to use the tools in your labs. Presentations puts the tools best foot forward, using tools let you see the warts. I never buy tools and hw without this.

    Most large corporations have their own education department (usually under HR) Many of these departments have developed practices and tools to train customers and employees. In the past some of shared these practices and tools with schools and non-profits. (good pr) If you have the time, you might check this source out.
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    Sep 26 2013: This depends in part on what you already have in your local schools. For example, if all your schools have document cameras and interactive whiteboards, there would be little need to demo them. If TI is always coming through with their graphing calculator demos and utilities and science lab devices, you would not need that.

    I agree to some extent with Bob that those who sell educational technologies are typically more than happy to do workshops for your visitors. There are lots of interesting educational technologies too that are outside the budget of most schools, such as some of the tools used in robotics, 3D printers, probably equipment for school-based media and fabrication labs, and so forth.

    But this is your specialty, right? You must know the best of what is out there and who would likely be happy to see it promoted.
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    Sep 26 2013: Amy, In my opinion you have the onus backwards. May I suggest that you contact the biggest and best and explain your center. The only thing you should provide is a facility to allow the corporations to house their demo pieces and the companies would also provide the presenters.

    Do a open invitation to all comers in every educational publication.

    State that presentations will be reviewed by your staff on XX week by appointment. You have provided them with a one stop center for potential sales. Let them woo you. Save your money for associated endeavors.

    I wish you well. Bob.
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      Sep 27 2013: Yes, I thought of that. I do think this is something they would want to do because it's an open and receptive market. Problem is, I don't necessarily want to make it wide open since some technologies truly don't stand a chance in a classroom. The other fine line relates to authenticity. While bridging the gap between vendors and teachers is important, teachers can smell a sales guy a mile away and they automatically recoil. I need to find a way to expose them to the technology, give practical ways it could be used, and potentially give the developer the feedback he/she would need to make future sales and improvements without giving them direct access to those people. I'm thinking some kind of anonymous data gathering of these events could be a way to address it all.
  • Sep 26 2013: My top of the list for educational technology with be the software that enables each student’s educational needs to be met individually.

    Today’s education system expects the student to fit the system when the system should fit the student. This would involve any mix of subject and at any level at the same time.

    I am a software engineer (C# .net SQL Server) if someone sends me a brief spec I will code and publish to the web version one with open source. This is a project I have wanted to do for the last few years.
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      Sep 27 2013: I completely agree, Fraser! Now, I don't speak software engineer, so I'll have to have some IT folks decipher your offer here :) It really hits on something important that I've noticed. There are so many programmers, developers, and just general IT folks interested in finding an angle to their work that benefits society and provides deep meaning to what they do. There's always been a disconnect between their ideas and the classroom, though, and that's part of what I'd like to fix with a project like this.