Published on 2013/03/27
AUDIO | Student Input Necessary for Effective Digitization
Increased communication capacity between instructors and students is going to make the postsecondary classroom an all-encompassing, social space in 10 years’ time.

The following interview is with Sidneyeve Matrix, Queen’s National Scholar and an associate professor in the Department of Media and Film at Queen’s University. Matrix is an edTech blogger and works as a digital culture trends analyst for a number of Canadian national media outlets. In this interview, Matrix speaks about the evolving educational technology landscape and shares her thoughts on how she thinks technology is going to transform the postsecondary classroom in 10 years’ time.

1. As a starting point, higher education is becoming increasingly virtual, and there is a movement toward moving teaching and learning online. How will the role of classrooms change when it comes to postsecondary education in 10 years’ time?

Well, I think we’re still going to have those bricks-and-mortar learning spaces but they’ll be augmented or supplemented by those virtual learning spaces. Say, something like a webinar space or a website, where people are engaging in discussion boards and the like.

2. When you say the brick-and-mortar will be augmented by a virtual learning space, the entire concept behind massive open online courses (MOOCs) is to provide lecture material, base-level material in almost the Khan Academy-style to a large range of people, and the concept behind how this technology could be integrated into the classroom is by then providing tutorials where students can come in and speak about those topics more in-depth with their instructors. Is this what you envision for the future of higher education when it comes to those augmented virtual learning spaces?

Well, it certainly sounds like an exciting concept, don’t you think? … Almost like flipping the lecture hall type of thing. I think it’s resource-heavy to do that, but I really believe in it. When I say resource-heavy, what I mean is that sometimes those solutions work better in a class of … 35, 20, 50 — something under 100. When we get into the larger, say, the intro or second-year courses, then it gets a little more difficult to have the smaller learning spaces because you have to have a TA or a prof and those resources are expensive.

3. When we’re talking about developing these types of virtual classrooms, or at least classrooms augmented by virtual reality or virtual opportunities, we’re really talking about advanced-level classes?

Yes and no. I think that I would agree with that statement but, in my experience, we are privileging the synchronous learning, so we are having webinars, but in those webinars we’ll have, say, 500 students. Then we’ll continue to privilege that kind of community discussion, but we’ll do it asynchronously. So, we’ll have discussion boards and social streams and really dynamic web presence so that students can connect to each other, peer-to-peer, in real time, but on demand.

4. What kinds of devices do you think are going to become more prevalent in post-secondary classrooms in a decade’s time?

Well, right now I would love to be messing around with creating some books for tablets, because that seems like a really exciting opportunity; more e-publishing. But what I am not seeing is a lot of tablets in my classrooms. Now, in my online classrooms, I can’t actually physically see them, but I do often poll students and, maybe not surprisingly, they have the tablets. The students that study online tend to be really comfortable with virtual environment but also with gear; they may just love to experiment and be those early adopters.

But in the future, more tablets in the classroom for sure and, also, students will pull out their smartphones, and it’s going to be a sea of Androids and iOS devices.

5. Do you think that the clicker technology or the clicker approach to teaching and learning … is going to be enhanced by the availability of smartphones?

Oh, for sure! It’s just a great idea to do that live polling for so many reasons that we know so well. We can tell students where they’re at but, more importantly to me, we can get some real-time back in terms of who’s there at that time. And it’s a real incentive to be there in class, whether it’s in the classroom or online, if you know that your feedback is actually going to make a difference to the direction of the lesson. So, right now, I think an online class, we still do the polling, but we do it via WebEx or some version of software like that. In the classroom, they are juggling gadgets at the moment so they’ll have their smartphones, their tablets, they’ll have their laptops and then they’ll have a stand-alone clicker. The days of that, I think, are numbered. We’ll be moving to a web-based application really soon.

6. The idea of tablets and smartphones in the classroom is gaining a lot of steam. There’s a number of institutions right now requiring students to buy an iPad or a tablet and making sure all the educational resources they’ll need for their time at that institution are available on that device. Looking 10 years into the future, do you think this is going to become more commonplace and, if so, do you think institutions are going to start building the cost of tablets and the cost of these devices into tuition, or will it be a separate cost, or will it be something that students will have to buy separately?

I’m really with you in following these trends about bundling all these required resources for one tablet solution and having it be part of your fees. And we’re seeing that not only in professional schools — business schools, medical schools — but also at the undergraduate level in the [United States] more. But some of the online schools are also starting to roll that out.

It’s a really elegant solution. It requires this really difficult thing, called “getting-a-lot-of-professors-to-agree-with-each-other.” That’s an art and a science. But I think, more importantly, from a student’s perspective, it would be extremely handy for you, for me, to have one device and have it to be extremely mobile, extremely versatile, … purpose-built for social. It would be cost effective, most important, to students. Right now, if I ask students whether they are really excited about electronic textbooks, they’re not. And that has a lot to do with the used textbook market on campuses. But this will evolve and the convenience factor will be a large one when we look at bundling all those onto one tablet.

7. Do you think educator concerns would stem the flow of technology to actually becoming prevalent in the classroom in 10 years’ time?

We know that there’s a lot of instructors — a lot of profs, a lot of TAs — who are really technology-forward and they’re introducing innovations all the time. And they’re troubleshooting and they’re hacking into applications or tools that weren’t necessarily built for educators and they’re making them work. And, in my experience, it’s been students who have taught me everything I know about where we need to go in terms of technology. So, they’ll be the ones introducing me to the next “latest greatest.”

I think that there are always going to be those innovators and sometimes they’re the ones that are lecturing and sometimes they’re the ones that are note-taking.

And then, you know how technological adoption curves work: it’s when you can really deliver proof of concept, and what matters most to professors is student engagement. If you can deliver that and more and more professors are interested in jumping on-board, they just have to scale that digital skills gap and that’s another issue.

8. What role do you think social media is going to play in the physical classroom in 10 years’ time?

It’s a really interesting question because, is Facebook really going to be our default destination in 10 years or what will be the next platform? It’s just such an interesting idea. But, right now, a lot of people are using social media in the classroom, whether it’s an online classroom or a bricks-and-mortar classroom. And we’re using it because students may have a familiarity with how to use those platforms and if you’re already using YouTube, it’s not that much of a leap to think about how you may use something like GPlus. But, Twitter, especially — very useful for note-taking and live reportage and all those skills. …

That’s what I said before about how professors are hacking into tools and sites that were not built for educators. So, when you have a Facebook presence, you know … all the crazy things that can go wrong when you have a brand on Facebook. As well, students are not always extremely eager to mix business and pleasure. So maybe all of your students have Facebook accounts and maybe more than half of them would prefer to use them only for personal. So, again, there’s lots of room to grow in this area. I’ve had excellent results using these platforms myself. As long as you don’t make them required, I think that we have a great resource there.

9. When looking 10 years into the future, what do you think is going to be the biggest difference that technology will bring to the classroom compared to the postsecondary classroom of today?

I think that it will allow us to collaborate across a geographical space in really interesting ways. And I think it will let us bridge other divides, like generation.

We’ll have opportunities to have really diverse classroom communities because we will be teaching in a hybrid way where it’s just commonsensical that we have some face-to-face time, some synchronous time, some on-demand, some as mobile-optimized, some just completely social. That kind of future-focused vision of education is one that we see people realizing already in stages, so I think the future is really exciting.

10. Is there anything you’d like to add about technology in the postsecondary classroom in 10 years?

I’d like to add that I am incredibly optimistic. I think that all we need to really make this move forward — whether it’s MOOCS, whether it’s workplace social training, whether it’s undergraduate, high-schoolers, grade-schoolers — is more reverse-mentoring. We really need to get students involved in working together, collaborating with their instructors and professors and staff and mentors in the community and on campuses to just let us know how they prefer to learn and what works best. That’s how we’re really going to move the needle.

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Readers Comments

Rhonda White 2013/03/27 at 10:18 am

I like the way Matrix describes the new, hybrid model of teaching. I think too often as instructors, we get caught up in profiling our classes and thinking of students as only fitting in one category. So I may say I have a class full of non-traditional students, where I expect each one to have the same needs, for example, online access. But what if my non-traditional student is able to find a babysitter so she can attend class in person once a week (and the rest of the time, remotely)? The hybrid model that Matrix describes requires more creativity and thought to allow a single student to access materials and interact with peers in a variety of formats — online, face-to-face, etc. It’s a great idea.

Peter Laramie 2013/03/27 at 11:27 am

This is one of the only interviews I’ve heard with an educator who’s willing to admit that to ‘go digital’ means to put in more resources at the beginning. This makes perfect sense to me, as it is a massive undertaking to effectively digitize curricula. I appreciate that she’s honest and upfront about the costs, but clearly demonstrates the benefit of embracing new technologies.

Aaron Stark 2013/03/28 at 7:54 am

It’s difficult to predict which digital platforms will or won’t be taken up by students. Sidneyeve Matrix gives a good example of how Facebook might be seen by an instructor as a way to engage students but might not be received that way by students. I agree with her that the best way to ensure you’re using resources effectively is to develop your tech strategies in collaboration with your students.

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