Thursday, December 29, 2005

Live and Learn (by Video)

I anxiously await the day each student has a laptop in the classroom.

According to a month-old report in the LA Times, some students in elementary and middle schools are required to take computers to class. The Fullerton School District is in the middle of a pilot program that affects about 15% of their students.

Nothing beats a lab experiment or live demonstration in the classroom. Sometimes they aren't practical and sometimes they're too expensive, which means you're best bet is a dynamic video. Just imagine what's possible if your teaching science and your students have the following shows just a few clicks away: ''Mr. Wizard's World,'' ''Newton's Apple,'' ''Beakman's World,'' ''Bill Nye the Science Guy,'' and ''Myth Busters.''

I do have huge concerns though. I'm not sure that teachers are truly prepared for this transition. And I know that companies that develop teaching materials are definitely not prepared.

We can't just keep teaching the same way we've always taught. We can't just tell students to simultaneously watch a video on their laptops if we would've shown the same video on a screen in the classroom. That's completely missing the point. Laptops provide a means for individual instruction. They shouldn't just be individual screens.

We need to continue teaching material to the entire class at the beginning of a module so that we provide all students with the same base. We must then learn how to teach individuals in the middle of a module to address their specific needs. Finally, we must learn how to test individuals at the end of the module so that we can better identify specific deficiencies and determine a plan of action.

Let's look at the middle of a module and see how TV shows might be important for individual instruction. Immediately after the all-student instruction, each student takes a quiz. If a student exhibits a deficiency in a particular area, the program automatically selects a video clip for the student from a list of segments that appeared on TV shows. All segments on this list discuss the same topic at varying levels of complexity.

After watching each video clip, the student is quizzed to determine whether or not she has mastered the material at the level presented in the video. If she understands the material, she progresses up the ladder watching additional videos to learn about complexities or subtleties of the topic. If he does not understand the material, he moves down the ladder until he finds a level he understands and then moves back up.

During this whole process, the teacher can monitor student progress to determine which students might require additional help. In addition, the teacher will use IM to communicate with students. Hopefully, IM will encourage more students to ask questions since their peers won't know they asked questions.

Now that's taking advantage of the educational benefits of laptops in the classroom, and I'm betting that TV production companies play a larger role in education.

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