The Classroom of the Future

It seems like social media week in New York could pass by with a whisper, although with over 300 free events around the city, it's a great opportunity for social entrepreneurs to get a fresh perspective on innovation in the 21st Century.

Yesterday morning I attended a panel discussion on 'The Classroom of the Future' -- a frontline perspective on using mostly free and readily-available technologies in the classroom to enrich the learning experience for kids.

The panel included some relatively big names: former government bureaucrat Carole Wacey and Columbia academic Sree Sreenivasan. But it was Melissa Seideman's practical demonstration of how she uses social media in her classroom that alarmingly made me wish I was in 8th grade history again.

Melissa Seideman is the present-day architect of the classroom of the future. In her class in White Plains, N.Y., students tweet real-time questions about a film they are watching that appear on the whiteboard, parents participate in history lessons via SMS, and student's learning progress can be assessed by the quality of their blog posts.

At the panel event it was clear that this unassuming 8th grade history teacher from White Plains was using technology her fellow well-groomed panelists hadn't even heard of -- integrating tools such as My Big Campus, Edmodo and Socrative, to revolutionize the classroom dynamic. It can also save valuable time, as technologies such as GradeCam enable teachers to quickly grade their multiple choice tests and quizzes.

The hierarchical teacher-student relationship is losing relevance in Miss Seideman's class, as kids teach each other in a media-rich environment, asking and answering each other's questions through safe, controlled online forums by posting comments, links and photos.

Melissa Seideman -- who aptly calls herself 'Not Another History Teacher' on her education blog -- highlights how "The classroom of the future" is an oxymoron, as social media means that learning is now taking place beyond the confines of a physical space. An example from one of her recent posts is ThinkBinder, technology that enables students to study for tests together online with space for group discussion, sharing notes and a whiteboard feature for solving problems together.

Social entrepreneurs can learn from Miss Seideman as they think about providing tools that educators need to flip the lid on students' self-driven learning. On the other hand, hopefully it won't be long until more teacher's embrace this collaborative approach to learning by experimenting with the (mostly free) technology that already exists - bringing the classroom of the future into the present.