The design of my Demo Unit was an authentic experience because I decided to make a course for the adult professional educators whom I work with every day as part of my job. It would have been much easier for me to build a Demo Unit full of lesson resources that I have used in the past with my high school science students, but that would not have been an authentic learning experience for me, because I no longer teach high school students. In short, I decided to look forward to the future, building learning activities that I might use next year, rather than looking backward.
I think it’s important to look ahead when designing curriculum. Too often, I see teachers design activities that are primarily designed to review prior knowledge. I’m not sure this is a great way to build student motivation for learning. Especially at the secondary level, teachers often precede a key exam or quiz with one or more review days. These lessons typically include vocabulary games, Jeopardy!-style competitions, and teacher-led rehashing of previously learned (or, perhaps, previously not-learned) concepts. While many of these activities are designed with good intentions, and may help remind students what they should remember for their upcoming test, I wonder if they are very effective. When students hear that today is a review day, they may feel entitled to turn off their brains to some extent, because their teacher is basically telegraphing that nothing new will be learned today. Ideally, however, something new should be learned every day!
So I am tempted to blow up the idea of the review day. In fact, maybe we should even blow up the idea of a test or quiz as a primary summative assessment altogether. Imagine how much more engaged a student might be in a one- or two-day summative project that would require some independent research and application of key concepts to practical problem-solving. Rather than give my students a multiple-choice quiz about atomic structure, for example, why not assign them to prepare multimedia presentations about how atomic structure relates to everyday teenage problems, like crack-resistant cell phone screens or artificial sweeteners? After all, I typically put my chemistry students to sleep with even the best-designed lessons about electron orbitals, but if I taught them how those orbitals related to, say, the interaction of a drug molecule with the human brain, suddenly their interest level would increase dramatically.
Upon final reflection about our Demo Unit assignment at Brandman, one modification that could have made the learning much more authentic would have been allowing some flexibility about the platform used. Although Blackboard and CourseSites are still very good ways to structure online learning units, there are newer platforms with more reliable functionality, like Canvas. In my specific case, because I work in a district that has a 1:1 Chromebook implementation, it would have made more sense for me to structure my Demo Unit using Google Sites, Classroom, Hangouts, and other Google Apps. Of course, I can appreciate the difficulty in modifying course content to stay up to date with the latest developments in education technology.
In fact, I can foresee a time when something else may replace even Google as the predominant technology platform in my district. Both Apple and Microsoft, for example, are developing their own classroom technology environments. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see my colleagues and their students using OneDrive and/or Microsoft Classroom just a few years from now. Just don’t tell them I said that! It can be daunting enough for educators just to keep up with the amazing variety of apps and web tools that are available right now. Considering how rapidly education technology may evolve over the next five years, I think we have much to be excited–and frightened–about.