Disruption. That’s the best way to describe the changes in education during the pandemic. As a result, preschool, K-12 and college, and university learning have changed.
Learning hasn’t always changed for the better, either. Consider start-stop schooling and under-preparation for academic life. Yet like so many other disrupted industries, the education market is leveraging this recent rough patch as an opportunity for inspiration. Today, technological and scientific innovations are poised to undo learning’s recent interruptions and carve an exciting path forward.
Below are some of the most important future-forward inventions and practices redefining and revitalizing education.
1. An upgrade of how to assess student understanding.
For generations, schools have relied upon high-stakes testing to evaluate learners. Yet as research from Instructure, the makers of Canvas, shows, high-stakes tests may be doing more harm than good. This is especially true during times of anxiety, such as during Covid. According to Instructure, 77% of students and 63% of teachers experience stress around high stakes tests.
The answer isn’t to eliminate testing, of course. However, educators and administrators are becoming more open to alternatives to summative assessments. For instance, some schools are moving toward testing more frequently rather than waiting long periods between tests. These interim, formative assessments are designed to identify learning gaps quickly. Such gaps can then be bridged quickly, ensuring that students have the best chance of getting up to speed on subjects.
How popular are these newer types of real-time assessment vehicles? Instructure found that 94% of teachers lean on formative assessments. Eight-one percent appreciate interim ones. In other words, more testing seems to be working for both educators and learners. This is a huge shift in perspective from the days when education institutions viewed massive tests as the primary way to gauge student excellence.
2. More commitment to teaching STEM subjects in creative ways.
One of the biggest challenges teachers faced when moving to online learning was figuring out how to teach STEM subjects. Consequently, many students now report that they are feeling lost when it comes to fully grasping topics like mathematics, engineering, and chemistry. EdWeek reports that no fewer than one-third of high schoolers are at least moderately worried about STEM classes.
The pandemic certainly revealed how much of a challenge it could be to teach STEM in virtual environments. Moving classes onto Zoom or another video conferencing portal took away the hands-on aspect of coursework. This created a barrier for students. And students from low-income families were disproportionately affected, with many deciding to forgo taking critical STEM-focused AP tests.
Some educators aren’t seeing this as an insurmountable problem but as a chance to freshen up STEM learning. Take Purdue University, for example. Purdue is leading a charge to update STEM curriculum so it’s conducive to blended learning models. A few of Purdue’s innovations include the creation of virtual lab environments and self-paced small “portfolio” project assignments. The results have shown promise at the institution where professors hope their concepts will be adopted by other schools.
3. New furnishing setups for modern, digital learners.
It’s no secret that the typical individual desk setup in K-12 classrooms hasn’t seen much of an upgrade. This is changing across the nation. In terms of changes in education, teachers are becoming more accustomed to helping younger and older students get the advantage of collaborative learning. Certainly, it is possible to ask students to push their chairs together to have team discussions. However, more furniture makers are offering leading-edge furnishing options to reduce friction points and enhance brainstorming.
From connected media tables to interactive touch boards, learners intuitively can learn in groups. At the same time, all types of learners are stimulated. The result is a more dynamic atmosphere that gets students ready for the corporate world.
Desks, tables, and furnishings with screens and Internet connectivity also allow remote students to feel more a part of the group. Plenty of people are asking teachers to teach both in-person and virtual students simultaneously. The right equipment makes these edu effortless and reduces the chance of a remote learner feeling unconnected to the classroom.
4. Baby foods scientifically developed to foster early brainpower.
Most people tend to think about education as starting during the preschool or early elementary years. Not everyone, though. Dr. Teresa Purzner, MD, Ph.D, a practicing neurosurgeon and development neurobiologist wants to help children get a head start before they enter Head Start. As such, she’s become cofounder of science-led baby food brand Cerebelly.
The thinking behind Cerebelly is to enhance the food naturally and organically with 16 essential brainpower nutrients. Each nutrient is present in all the brand’s baby food offerings, which Purzner believes will be meaningful to infants’ academic abilities later.
If this body-brain food connection sounds familiar, it is. Many ingredient and food brands talk about supporting cognitive function. Nevertheless, those brands concentrate on helping people with almost-developed or fully-developed brains. The idea of feeding a brain only the purest, nutrient-rich foods during its early growth stages is something especially intriguing.
5. A growth in robust learning management systems.
Learning management systems (LMS) were around prior to the pandemic. The pandemic highlighted some of their biggest issues, though. For instance, some students and teachers had more trouble adapting to their school’s chosen LMS. Varying changes in education and adoption rates made it harder for teachers to make full use of the LMS.
Another problem with some LMS environments was that students and teachers had received little training before deployment. Consequently, all stakeholders spent valuable time trying to understand how best to use the LMS.
Makers of LMS have responded to these needs in a variety of ways. They’ve made their user interfaces, such as dashboard designs, more streamlined. They’ve also made it easier for teachers and students to upload a variety of digital collateral from videos to presentations. It is worth mentioning that corporate learning environments are also using some of the top LMS vehicles that schools prefer. Consequently, students who transition into the workforce may have a deep familiarity with the LMS used by their employers.
6. A broader desire to bring real-world learning into classic subjects.
An article from the Boston Globe illustrated the disconnect between the way some subjects are taught and their real-world relevance. The piece discussed one art teacher’s dismay in moving to remote learning. She found that it was impossible to teach fine art online. At the same time, she began to rethink her typical curriculum. Was it necessarily what her students needed? She concluded it wasn’t, at least not entirely.
Her epiphany led her to reimagine her art class with more of a practical digital spin. She began changing her teaching to include using high-tech programs like Pixlr, Tinkercad and Canva. The programs gave her and her students an opportunity to explore art in a more everyday sense. Students used their architectural skills to design virtual buildings. Those that wanted to delve into artwork tried their hand at graphic design.
The point wasn’t to diminish the value or function of traditional art class but to bring learning into the 2020s. Plus, students got a taste of technologies that might be pertinent during upcoming internships and jobs.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic’s changes in education will continue to have lasting ripple effects. Fortunately, many of those ripples are serving as inspiration for ingenious technical and scientific advancements for students, teachers, and society.
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