Humanising the classroom

I was preparing a presentation for differentiating mathematics using technology recently, and ended up editing a TED talk by Salman Khan.

What struck me was Khan’s idea that technology can humanise the classroom – which, as Khan acknowledges, is in some ways counterintuitive. Indeed, when I talk to teachers about technology in the classroom, they have visions of a very inhuman scenario, where students have their eyes glued to the screens, interacting with noone. I’d argue that many things that currently happen in traditional classrooms are dehumanizing; however, we don’t see them this way because that’s how classrooms have always been. I’d also argue that technology can humanize these experiences. Here are four things I’ve invested time and effort into that have humanized the classroom.

Humanizing instruction

As Khan points out, the traditional classroom is predicated on the idea of teacher-led instruction. Teachers give a one-size-fits-all lecture; teachers choose when this occurs and around what topics. And teachers are the ones who decide when the class moves on to the next topic. This dehumanising experience can be humanised through the use of video. By allowing students to experience the instruction that they require for their own specific learning needs; by allowing students to pause and rewind instruction when they don’t understand; and by allowing them to move forward to a new concept in their own time depending their individual progress allows us to humanise instruction in a way not possible without technology.

Humanizing showing understanding

In a traditional classroom, the way students show their understanding is similarly one-size-fits-all. The worksheet, test, exam, essay, poster and other traditional methods of assessment restrict student choice and may alienate students without certain skills; for example, a lack of literacy skills may hinder a student showing their potentially excellent understanding of Mathematics. Technology allows students to show their understanding in new ways, gives them far more choices, and removes the dehumanising necessity for one-size-fits-all assessment.

Humanizing writing

The purpose of writing is to communicate. To communicate requires an audience. Writing without an audience is like public speaking to an empty room – a dehumanizing experience. Yet this is exactly what happens in a traditional classroom – students write in writing books where the audience is close to zero. Technology can humanize this experience of writing by providing an audience of hundreds or thousands, spread around the world, allowing students to connect to peers and be exposed to feedback and new writing styles and, at the same time, cultural understandings. Our Writers’ Club does exactly this, and has led to very real human interactions around the world. This is what real writing should be about.


Humanizing research

Technology has taken us from books to google as a source of information. However, anyone who has done research in the real world knows that research comes as much from other humans as it is from secondary sources. Nevertheless, we persist in ignoring this more authentic source of research for the reference books and googling. Technology can humanise research by linking students to real life experts who can assist students to use their research with greater purpose, and be a more realistic representation of research in the 21st century.


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