Students have changed. Will 21st century education?

Not your father's classmates (or yours, for that matter): Modern education must keep up with modern technology, according to iTutor founder Harry Aurora.
By HARRY AURORA //

Close your eyes. Picture a classroom. What do you see?

Chances are you see children seated in tidy rows of brown desks, a teacher standing in front of a large chalkboard, maybe a map of the United States hanging in the back. If you’re of a certain age, perhaps you even see Smart Boards and a sea of silver laptops.

These are still familiar sights in the American classroom. This archetype, however, is rapidly changing: In a couple of decades, educational technology has gone from augmenting traditional instruction to completely revolutionizing it. The classroom experience, quite simply, will never look the same.

In light of this, it is imperative that educators are prepared to utilize established and emerging technology to support differentiated, personalized instruction through the communication methods that modern-day students actually use.

A generation of students has been brought up with the entirety of the world’s knowledge nestled in their pockets, available to them 24 hours per day. If educators ignore this startling fact and stubbornly rely on outdated methods of instruction, students are going to check out.

Why wouldn’t they? Why suffer through a homogenized lesson when all you could ever want to know is a swipe away? To reach students in this reality, educators must engage them in their own individualized styles with relevant, meaningful and personalized education.

Harry Aurora: Differentiation-maker.

One-way to achieve this is through a differentiated learning platform. Differentiation is a teacher-driven effort to respond to variations among learners, in an effort to create accessible routes to the same content standards for different kinds of learners.

iTutor’s differentiated learning platform has been adopted by many school districts, with educational leaders noting the important role the platform serves in helping students deal with difficult concepts in ways they can relate to and comprehend.

Students performing below grade level can address with pinpoint accuracy the precise gaps they need to fill in bringing their skills and content mastery up to grade level – and without any embarrassment or stigma.

Students in the middle of the bell curve can make steady progress across the curriculum and discover interests they never knew they had, an element of engagement that can spark a growth spurt in their intellectual and artistic gifts.

Technology opens up the classroom walls and closes the digital divide, amplifying the classroom teacher’s capacity to multitask in meeting the needs of different learners simultaneously. Use of effective differentiation and engagement strategies can also help diminish some of the most difficult issues schools are facing, such as drop-out rates and escalating anxiety and depression.

Technology can also be used to camouflage which students are receiving extra support, minimizing student embarrassment and distress while at the same time offering individualized learning that helps move them toward fulfilling graduation requirements.

This can dramatically decrease discipline issues. Positive behavior and accelerated learning go hand-in-hand, and they begin in the classroom.

There is so much potential in new technology to change the way we teach students. Take, for example, the possibilities that augmented-reality programs and video-calling software offer to students of history and language. Instead of passively engaging with a textbook or video, students can now take a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China; young language learners can fully immerse themselves in their second language by videoconferencing students in foreign countries.

When one starts to consider the possibilities new technology brings to education, it’s impossible not to get excited. The world has changed. Teachers must be willing to change with it, and embrace new technology’s potential to provide personalized, tailored learning.

Harry Aurora is the founder and CEO of Jericho-based digital-education innovator iTutor.