Education Innovation

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Education Innovation: Learning Styles, Technology, and Global Citizenship

A central aspect of human nature seems to be the desire and skill to actively evolve our environments. Of course, technology-created pollution, such as from fossil fuel emissions or factory disasters, remains unwelcome aspects of the human drive to develop technology and to alter our worlds. While we consider these factors, humans continue to develop and invent new ways to interact with the world and with each other. With the constant advent of new technology and our globalizing, multicultural world, these changes within daily life have impacted and advanced the way we educate ourselves. Modern humans need to be able to adopt and utilize current and future technologies in ways that enhance our interconnectivity across the globe through business, art, communication, politics, and virtually every other aspect of existence on Earth. For these reasons, education itself is constantly being revised and, hopefully, improved to better educate students in ways that engage their minds and in ways that prepare them for their current and future worlds. Here includes an exploration of innovative changes being made to the structure and content of contemporary Western education.

Past early education theories expounded a loose-curriculum style that focused on “open-ended free play.” However, the rise of STEM programs, which incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math, in high schools has made educators look further back into the step-by-step path of a student’s education to question how they have been understanding the neurological development of three to six year olds. Douglas Clements and Julie Sarama conducted research on this very notion. They found that while many Americans mistakenly believe that math skills are innate skills that cannot be taught, these researchers believe the reality is quite the opposite. Clements and Sarama assessed children’s common, inborn sense of scientific inquiry by how they ask why questions, which relates to concept known as “child as scientist” (p. 80). The researchers also considered children’s attraction to patterns and shapes, such as solving puzzles and playing with blocks, and evidence of their neurological development in their understanding of spatial relationships. In fact, their research shows a connection between early exposure to STEM and later academic success in these subjects and in literacy skills, which indicates that “the thinking and reasoning inherent in math may contribute broadly to cognitive development” (p. 75). However, their research into several preschool programs revealed that STEM learning focused only on facts and simple skills did not measurably impact the students’ development. Instead, the students required “research-based learning trajectories that include three components: a goal, a developmental progression, and instructional activities” (p. 75). Ultimately, Clements and Sarama advocate for turning away from the theory of preschool being dominated by “open-ended free play” to instead incorporate targeted, age-appropriate STEM lessons to provide the foundation for later intellectual development.

Technology has not only enhanced the classroom experience where students no longer simply read from black-and-white texts with a few pictures, but now learn through interactive-multimedia software. Technology in education is providing a platform for democratizing the education experience. Equal access to education opportunities has long been a cornerstone of American values. And, Robert Pianta, Jason Downer and Budget Hamre published a study and found that even with Head Start and Early Head Start programs, “effective teacher-child interactions and strong, developmentally aligned curricula are not as readily available to low-income children as they are to higher-income children” (p. 129). The disparities in local incomes and other socio-economic factors still inhibit equal opportunity to high-quality education. Also, the simple factor of geography impacts students’ access to different types of teachers for different subjects. Yet, technology has become an amazing, democratic tool to educate in cost effective manners. For example, Gregory L. Thompson and Joyce Nutta investigated the impact of using videoconferencing in fifth-grade Spanish classes in an inner city school in the Southeastern United States. It was not possible for this school to find and afford a local, full-time Spanish teacher. The researchers found that:

       Although student language production and student-to-student interaction 
       were minimal…, student interviews showed other benefits of early Spanish 
       study, including enthusiasm for learning other languages and experiencing 
       other cultures, a feeling of success in second language study, and increased 
       awareness and knowledge about and appreciation of the Spanish-speaking 
       world (p. 94).

These finding represent the incredible benefits of incorporating technology, here simple videoconferencing, in the classroom. Several schools were able to link into the same video conferenced class, which saved the district a considerable amount of money. And, the students not only learned foreign language content but also broadened their mind about understanding another culture. This element of actively using education to promote internationally-minded thinking is crucial to our future as a species. In another example of online language learning, Yumiko Tateyama performed a comparative study of an online versus campus advanced Japanese language learning course. Through studying the student feedback, the test scores, and the final class projects, Tateyama found that the learning outcomes were comparable—except that the online learners were able to avoid transportation issues and were able to study according to their own schedules, two aspects which proved the extra benefits of the online, technology-driven platforms.

The changing ways that students often live in worlds imbued with machines, IT, other forms of technology, and multimedia stimulation has deeply altered the way that instructors plan their classes and engage with their students. Recently, a term called “flipping the classroom” has become popular within education. This refers to an entirely new system of having students watch a pre-recorded lecture to prepare for the actual class. Then, the class time is devoted to partner-work, instructor engagement, and/or other types of face-to-face, hands-on activities. In this way, even campus classes are inevitably evolving to become hybrid class formats. John Gunyou, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, found that he was becoming obsolete by adhering to traditional, lecture-based class curriculum. He embraced this theory of “flipping the classroom” and found excellent results in terms of increased test scores, student engagement, and positive feedback. Related to Gunyou’s thoughts of opening the classroom format and imbuing the classroom environment with dynamic, stimulating activities, David Schultz stated, “standards are important, but we cannot let them stifle creativity. This is really what the classrooms of the future are about—enabling creativity” (p. 5). Another researcher Dilly Fung also advocates for “flipped lectures” where the students watch a video of the lecture before attending class. Then, class time is devoted to collaborative, interactive activities. Fung specifically values the students’ ability to engage with professor/researchers who possess knowledge not found in books. Using technology to effectively transmit core class content frees the students and professors to engage in spontaneous, dynamic question-and-answer opportunities during actual class time in this modern class organization.

The advent of social media has also impacted the ways that professors design curriculum and engage students’ minds in coursework. Citing a 2014 study by Susan Alexander and Sonalili Sapra stating “that as many as 57 percent of students at their university had used social media tools in at least one of their college courses,” professor Dr. Tracy Hawkins embraced Twitter in her own class (p. 153). Although Hawkins was aware of the dangers of e-learning, that can champion accessibility and convenience regardless of the pedagogical strengths and effectiveness, she focused on the positives of incorporating social media in class lessons. By doing this, the class environment became an opportunity to reflect on social media’s proliferation in modern life and an opportunity to practice using this tool for future careers. She felt that social media figures prominently in our daily lives as a source for disseminating global news and as a platform for activism. Hawkins applied social media in her course in the effort to raise consciousness, collaboration/ethics of care, technological literacy, and education as a practice of freedom (p. 156). Ultimately, she was pleased by the course outcomes. Students discussed the ethical use of social media in terms of combating bullies and Internet trolls and found that they engaged with the course content more deeply. They also engaged with the course ideas throughout the day, as they would Tweet out random thoughts they had that related to the class. In fact, just as the use of videoconferencing brought students and instructors together, this technology-based social media tool facilitated closer student communication and interactions in this academic setting as well. In fact, Hawkins noted that even after the class ended, students maintained this Twitter account and would still post class-related thoughts.

New understandings of how the human brain develops and learns and incorporating new technologies into the classroom have dramatically altered what and how humans study in the modern era. Naturally, these alterations have necessitated redesigning the modern classroom as well. In traditional classrooms, students sat at individual desks and all faced forward towards the instructor. But, education has moved away from instructor-based teaching to student-based teaching, which involves empowering students more to explore and express their thoughts in collective and collaborative ways that to not simply depend upon silently listening and absorbing the instructors’ lessons. Laura Gurzynski-Weiss, et al., performed a study on two innovative styles of classroom organization—one included movable independent desks with wheels on the bottom and the other included café style desks and tables. The collaborative café style included various workstations within one classroom, such as the teacher’s desk, a white board, a smart board, a large table for group work, and movable desks for partner or individual work. Although both the movable and the café style earned more positive feedback than the traditional, stagnant layouts, the café style “findings revealed classrooms helped to improve concentration, mobility, group work, and the experience of students” (65). This study found that instructors and students basically behaved and learned the same way in both the traditional and nodal organizations. However, students and instructors exhibited more task-dependent movement and use of technology in the collaborative café organization. The instructor lectures were shorter and student-centered interaction was double the time as a traditional setting. This study demonstrates how every aspect of education, even the furniture and design of classrooms, is constantly in a state of innovation.

Learning about how the human mind works and learning how to teach and use our own self-invented technology represents an incredibly thought-provoking aspect of human evolution and development in our globalizing world. Understanding how different minds learn and respecting those different neurological and personality differences remains one of the greatest achievements in modern education theory. Harvard’s Dr. Howard Gardner’s groundbreaking theory of Multiple Intelligences encourages individuals to explore the world through their own minds, whether this is through music, athletics, tactile measures, math, etc., and to share their own unique perspectives on the world. Finally, another major innovation within modern education relates to a stepping away from isolated academic departments to embrace interdisciplinary education models. Dilly Fung also conducted research into the increasing application of cross-disciplinary studies in graduate and now more and more in undergraduate education. Instead of the post-WWII attitude of specialization, current academic trends favor what Fung calls “fluid academic networks” (75). Students are being asked to understand their specialized field within the greater context of human learning and to expand beyond the theoretical classroom environment into the real world. Being able to communicate with thinkers in different fields and to synthesize information to solve global issues remains the ultimate goal of education.

      As we understand how our brains learn—from childhood through to adulthood and beyond into our golden years—we are embracing new ways of educating with different content and pedagogical styles. This includes incorporating STEM lessons in preschools and respecting different, multiple neurological styles of intelligences. Technology is allowing students access to all types of teachers, regardless of geography and financial limitations, through videoconferencing and other effective online courses, which offer profound opportunities for democratizing the education process. Social media has become embedded in our daily lives and is naturally being incorporated into course curricula. Just as educators are including new technology and social media in their classes, many are adjusting to hybrid, “flipped” classes where students use technology platforms to prepare for classes, which then become focused on the interactive, social opportunity afforded by face-to-face interactions. Beyond the high-tech and curriculum innovations, even classroom design has been impacted by the pedagogical alteration from teacher-centered education to student-centered learning. Finally, all of these changes seem deeply connected to our globalizing world where transportation allows unparalleled travel and movement among continents and cultures as people seek to learn foreign languages, appreciate other cultures’ histories and perspectives, and embrace international art (especially film) and business opportunities. Ultimately, humans do not simply make and take tests just for scores on a sheet of paper; education is meant to be applied to life—the real lives that we are living in this moment, together on this planet Earth.


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