Interview with Haris Papamichael (Part I)
We recently sat down with Haris to get his take on how technology is impacting education today.
As the Director of Educational Technology at Victory, Haris oversees all the educational technology projects at Victory from concept definition through planning and release. In order to best deliver quality products to learning companies, Haris stays on top of the constantly changing technology trends.
Rebecca: What are the most urgent problems we face that could be solved with educational technology?
Haris: Looking at the landscape of education, I have been consistently seeing issues with overcrowded classrooms, supporting creative teaching, and keeping students engaged. Each of these is a complex issue, but the solutions all can be enhanced with educational technology.
Rebecca: Can you elaborate on the role of educational technology in addressing the issue of overcrowded classrooms?
Haris: I have visited many schools that have overcrowded classrooms. It is often difficult for teachers to be effective in such situations because they have to deal with the classroom management that a large class size requires.
Introducing technology allows teachers to have a different instructional model that can help alleviate the problem of class size. For example, a blended classroom model combines an online component with traditional direct instruction. With this model, teachers can break their classroom into groups and it allows them greater freedom to facilitate learning. It also allows for students to work both collaboratively and independently with the technology creating opportunities for both kinds of work.
When I was at Scholastic, this model was implemented into successful products. Read 180, a reading comprehension product, was a pioneer in implementing a blended classroom model. Using the blended classroom model, a teacher could easily divide the classroom into groups of students who were able to work independently (making use of online technology) and in a small-group setting. This allowed the teacher to focus on direct instruction with a small group of students.
Rebecca: Tell me more about supporting creative teaching with educational technology.
Haris: While teachers are still accountable for teaching standards and preparing students for tests, technology offers ways for teachers to be more creative with their lessons that benefit both students and teachers.
For example, software such as blinklearning allows teachers to create personalized, customized courses with a minimal amount of work. The software enables a teacher to take content and create his or her own course easily. Teachers can be creative not only through developing their own course but also by refining the course as they teach it. The platform design allows teachers to get immediate feedback from students and then easily change the content.
Technology also creates teacher-learning communities where teachers can find lessons, activities, and materials to innovate and supplement their current lessons. For example, Council for Economic Education’s EconEdLink provides online lessons and activities on economics and financial literacy; a subject area that teachers often seek help with. Teachers Pay Teachers, where teachers offer lessons that are both creative and classroom-tested, is another good example of collaborative communities in education.
Rebecca: We can all see the impact of educational technology on student engagement. Can you elaborate?
Haris: Most students are digital natives. They use technology at home and at school. Think of all the students who constantly use their smartphones as a tool for research and communicating with peers.
Technology as a resource has the power to give students immediate and instant gratification by showing them as successful learners. This is a unique facet of technology.
Here’s an example. FASTT Math is a research-based adaptive product that helps students with math fact fluency. Each lesson was deliberately designed to be short (about 10 minutes). At the end of the lesson, students see their daily progress – a huge motivator. Students often commented about the reasons why this program was successful: “I love this product, because everyday I know more and I can see how much more I know – and it’s fun!” This is where technology works for the student by engaging them and allowing them to see their learning growing.
Young students relate mostly to short-term goals. That is what motivates them. Technology does a fantastic job with providing students with short-term goals and immediate feedback.
Rebecca: Have we actually reached the point where students can transform their own learning through EdTech and become creators of knowledge rather than just consumers?
Haris: Though there are a lot of success stories of students creating their own knowledge experiences, I feel we have not yet reached a point of being able to scale up so it is impactful. That said, it is a fantastic trend and hopefully we will get there, but it will need a lot of support. In a student’s view, technology is entertainment but it is truly much more. Students need to realize that technology is part of their learning experience because it is part of their school life. Therefore, students will need a lot of support to be able to transform their own learning as to what they need to do and what it is that they need to learn. The students will also need support from their school administration and teachers. However, once the trend takes hold, it will mushroom quickly.
Rebecca: What are some of the issues that teachers will need to address when students create and share content?
Haris: To me, the most critical issue teachers will need to address is content accuracy and appropriateness. Students will need to be supervised in the creation and sharing of content. Also, there needs to be substance in the content they learn with clear learning objectives.
Students need to be focused and have a certain level of maturity in order to be able to put this kind of effort together. As I mentioned earlier, students need a lot of support in defining what the learning goal is, what the learning path is, and how they will achieve the goal. Of course, the beauty is that we all learn better and quicker when we are in charge of our own learning. In this scenario, teachers become facilitators and models for learning rather than direct instructors.
Rebecca: What are the challenges and rewards for using augmented and virtual reality in the classroom?
Haris: Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are very exciting technologies for students. With AR, they can actually be part of the experience. Let’s say a class has a model of the human heart. Students can interact with it. The visualizations are great and engage students in a unique and meaningful way that textbooks can’t. Students could visit ancient Rome. Think how exciting trips like this could be!
When students use this type of technology, they usually work in isolation. That’s an issue we need to solve. We need to make sure that learning is collaborative and there are opportunities for students to work as teams.
The cost of VR and AR devices is a challenge. There are less expensive options but they are not great yet. Teachers and school administrators need to be absolutely sure that the content that accompanies these technologies is good before they can justify the investment.
The good news is that the content is getting a lot better and more interesting. It is a relatively new field, and I expect to see more content in the near future, in science, math, language arts, and other subjects. 2018 will be a good year for VR and AR in the classroom.