The calendars have turned, and now we can review the past decade through a number of lenses. Perhaps the most impactful change — and the one most easily taken for granted — was in how we interact with our screens. Although 2010 might not seem like long ago, our daily relationship with technology was much different back then. Most professionals holstered a flip-phone or Blackberry, and college students could get by without a personal laptop. Then the market began to change.
The first iPhone was released in 2007, the first iPad in 2010, and Google released Chromebook — a low-priced disruptor in the laptop market — in 2011. By 2018, Chromebooks were nearly two-thirds of all computers purchased by schools in the United States. Smartphone ownership has increased from 36 to 96 percent since 2011. These devices made their own contributions to a revolution in how we consume information. The most significant changes to this relationship are yet to come, and many of them will be in the classroom.
Sonoma Valley’s Prestwood Elementary School has become an incubator for one of education’s newest horizons. Video conferencing is poised to become a decisive addition to the future of learning. Virtual interviews and field trips will allow teachers to bring the world into their classrooms and open doors to learning experiences that are both memorable and inspiring.
Dave Sickert is the director of NOUN, an emerging educational network that helps teachers hold student-led interviews across miles and time-zones using video conferencing software. For the past three years, Sickert has worked on-site at Prestwood as a media and library specialist. His wealth of experience building commercial media platforms has provided a foundation for the project.
“With guidance from principal Katie Larkin and teacher Emily Brown, we’ve begun building curriculum-connected interview modules designed to bring authenticity to the students’ educational experience,” said Sickert.
Face-to-face interactions with global professionals help students develop their communication skills while braiding new relevance into existing lessons. Imagine 2nd grade girls meeting a female American Airlines pilot, bilingual students exchanging stories in real-time with peers in Madrid, or math students asking a state senator how big data influences policy design. These concepts are now an emerging reality.
In late December, a group of Prestwood third, fourth, and fifth graders held a teleconference with State Sen. Bill Dodd. Their teacher, Emily Brown, saw the event as having deep learning potential.
“One of the most amazing aspects of this program are the real-life skills that the students are developing in an extraordinarily engaging manner,” she said. Brown works with Sickert on the NOUN platform as an advisor, and her students have participated in several NOUN interviews.
The conversation with Dodd was kept relatively apolitical. Brown noted that no parents opposed the meeting after letters were sent home to families. The event allowed Brown to “frontload” the meeting with additional training and preparation.
“Students wrote their own questions,” said Brown, “and the interview gave their writing an authentic purpose and helped them prepare for public speaking. Many kids have also seen the senator’s billboards around Sonoma and St. Helena. All of this gives the lessons more context and makes the experience more impactful.”
The state senator’s virtual visit lasted about 20 minutes, and Brown’s students led the way. Several took turns stepping up in front of a webcam and presenting the senator with rehearsed questions. Although nervous, many were eager to practice public speaking and interviewing in front of their teachers and peers.