10 Trends for the Future of Teaching in Remote Locations
Although it might seem as if “everyone is online these days,” that’s not truly the case – even in the United States. Millions of public school pupils live in rural and under-served areas where it is difficult to access the technological resources others take for granted.
More than 2 million Americans still use dial-up Internet connections made famous by America Online, the company that dominated online usage in the 1990s. Many rural communities suffer from slow “last mile” connections that hinder speeds even with otherwise modern infrastructure.
Even with all this in mind, technology is steadily transforming the way education is done in remote locations. When the nearest large community may be a hundred miles away or more, modern communication technology is essential to pedagogic innovation.
Let’s consider some of the most important trends:
1) Pooling Educational Resources Across Distances
Digital collaboration has the potential to revolutionize education in a number of ways. Educators can reach across distances to share lesson plans and develop strategies. Students who might otherwise never meet can work together on single lessons or long-term projects. In both cases, the result is a more enriching experience and expanded horizons for participants.
The Alaska Digital Teaching Initiative is an example. In Alaska, many communities are hours apart. Journeys can be made significantly longer by weather conditions – and even under the best conditions, some remain hazardous for long periods. Through renewed focus on digital, Alaskan students can get lessons from top teachers no matter where they may be located.
2) Making Connections with Peers
The teacher-student relationship is not the only thing that’s changing. While teachers can use today’s videoconferencing software to teach dozens or even hundreds of students in far locations, the students themselves are also developing unprecedented relationships.
Peer relationships – part of an overall culture of connectedness – can be just as important. In some districts, students might grow up in a community of less than 50 peers. To develop their empathy and worldview, these pupils can turn to technology.
Peer-to-peer relationships don’t always have to be goal-oriented: Educational technology can also create safe social spaces online. The opportunity to find other students who share their interests can further the educational mission and open kids’ eyes to new possibilities.
3) STEM-Based Digital Activities
STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – is becoming more important to students’ career prospects. STEM-focused activities can help students exercise their collaboration skills and get over the initial nervousness that might arise from this totally new way of doing things.
One version of this is called instant challenges. Students are given specific instructions for a short experiment and broken into teams to follow through in a very short time. After the project is complete, students are encouraged to present and explain their results to the whole group.
Instant challenges are an interesting and exciting way to get students involved. They’re also great for teachers: Students’ favorite instant challenges can be used each year without compromising effectiveness. Pupils are granted a high degree of autonomy, which encourages leadership.
4) Content Sharing
Content sharing allows non-teacher experts to be invited and introduced to classrooms in an authentic, holistic way. For example, museum or aquarium personnel can lead a discussion or activity from their own environment, communicating with multiple school districts that may be thousands of miles away.
One example of this is the virtual squid dissection performed by AKTEACH, the statewide K-12 correspondence school located in Alaska. AKTEACH was developed with students of the remote Kodiak Island Borough School District in mind, but facilities connectivity and unique events that can involve the whole state.
For the squid dissection, squids were sent to participating districts through the director of AKTEACH. Six partner schools and more than 100 students participated in a simultaneous science experiment facilitated by the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska. By comparison, holding the event as a traditional field trip might have been too expensive and complex for many.
5) Global Online Experiences
Trends in primary education are actually dovetailing with some exciting ideas now coming out of higher education. Institutions are using increasingly ambitious global learning partnerships as a means of empowering students with insight into other cultures. As with partnerships on the school and district level, these allow institutions to access and leverage shared resources.
Global learning has already had its place in curriculum for many years. Many students in elementary and middle school have participated in traditional “pen pal” projects, for example. Through the use of modern educational technology, it will be possible to broaden and deepen these relationships through real-time cultural exchange and shared learning experiences.
6) Online Communities of Practice for Educators
Through online technology, educators have new opportunities to develop effective “communities of practice” in situations where it might otherwise be difficult for them to interact with large groups of their peers. This allows them to quickly discover how others are handling pedagogical challenges and integrate diverse perspectives into their own teaching, which can include the sharing of materials. It can even help streamline and facilitate teacher recertification. In effect, educators are able to hold their own “snap conferences” when it is convenient for them.
7) Connection to Modern Career Opportunities
Students in remote areas may be at a disadvantage compared to their peers when one considers the changing face of work. A greater and greater proportion of students will be expected to function in distributed virtual teams, where they may not have the opportunity to meet with others face-to-face on a regular basis.
Interfacing with novel instructional technology helps students in remote areas build the skills necessary to function in these environments from an early age. At the same time, schools have a unique chance to extend early career preparation and coaching by giving students even greater perspective on how their educational experience may inform their adult lives.
8) Centralizing Mobile Knowledge Resources
Today, 77% of children under age two use a smartphone or tablet every day. However, students in rural areas are more likely to face difficulty accessing modern mobile technology. Schools have a role to play putting learning tools within reach for students – both inside and outside the classroom.
This can take many forms, with positive benefits for students, educators, and administrators. Many schools are turning away from costly traditional textbooks in favor of inexpensive mobile e-books. Not only are the books much cheaper to distribute, lowering costs to districts and students, but they can even be updated instantly as content changes. Digital textbooks can also easily include videos, complex graphics and simulations that increase student understanding.
Schools can also help families offset the cost of bringing mobile technology into the home. In some middle and high schools, students have the opportunity to use a tablet for both classes and homework. Often, financing strategies allow families to find affordable approaches to long-term mobile ownership even in undeserved areas.
9) Technology as a Capstone Experience
Collaborative projects of limited scope and duration have been recognized as a great way to help students benefit from experiential learning. However, the same platforms and methodologies also empower long-term projects, such as capstone experiences. Long-term technology-mediated projects can challenge students to augment their skills in new ways.
Tomorrow’s students must be able to navigate environments characterized by greater ambiguity. In a long-term collaborative project, they work together to set standards of communication, manage expectations and deadlines, and find workarounds for issues of time and distance. This can enhance soft skills like empathy and resilience as well as leadership and management skills.
10) Normalizing Technology-Mediated Relationships
Last, but certainly not least, it’s important to look at the cumulative social and intellectual effect of the methods shared above. Students living in remote areas crave opportunities to expand their horizons and learn more about the world around them. Now and in the future, much of that interaction – both socially and professionally – will be mediated by some form of technology.
The idea that technology-mediated relationships are somehow “not real” or “lesser” has, in the past, contributed to the serious problems of cyber-bullying. By modeling a positive and pro-social approach to social technology, educators have the ability to instill in students a deeper respect for the consequences of their actions to those “on the other side of the screen.”
As communications technology is integrated into our lives in ever-subtler ways, these lessons are sure to be important in the development of social consciousness. Every practicum and project that students in remote areas execute will help them to develop further in this area.
In today’s education landscape, remote schools and districts serve as crucibles for change, exploration, and innovation. However, the practices they are developing are not unique to far-flung locations. On the contrary, the example set by these schools is one virtually any other educational institution can learn from. After decades being seen as disadvantaged due to their location, schools in remote areas are demonstrating unique adaptability.