Convergence and the 21st-Century Classroom

At ACU, we've had a long history with educational technology, and it's still an essential part of our campus culture. Our Adams Center for Teaching and Learning provides centralized support and enrichment activities to help faculty and students benefit from new learning technologies; in 2006-07, 99% of faculty voluntarily attended at least one Adams Center event. Our web portal, MyACU, provides single-sign-on access to all digital services on campus, including Google Docs, email, eClass systems, online folders and dropboxes, and campus-wide news and events. More than three quarters of our learning spaces are "high tech," and our Learning Commons and Converged Media Newsroom are using technology to help students build academic and social community in new ways.

As we've built this infrastructure and as we think about what's next, a few principles have guided us:

Key Concepts: Communication & Convergence in the Classroom

It's not about technology; it's about communication. It's not about control; it's about convergence. Social learning theory tells us that humans learn best in community - when they feel connected to others. And community forms when people explore and collaborate together, connecting their experiences - convergence. Any technological solution aimed at increased learning must enhance communication and convergence. If it doesn't, it's likely to be pedagogically irrelevant.

Classroom Trends: Flexibility, Connections & Community

For many years ACU has been interested in the use of technology in the classroom, and over the past year, our discussions have focused on the emerging classroom of the 21st century. That classroom and its practices differ in key ways from the 20th-century classroom:

20th-Century Education

Illustrating Convergence: Web 2.0

One way to consider the differences we see emerging in the classroom is to compare Web 1.0 with Web 2.0. As the early web developed, it increasingly adopted models borrowed from business and publishing. Entities created information which they then offered to others who functioned primarily as consumers. Clear distinctions existed and were maintained between content creators and consumers, with creators exhibiting high levels of control over how their material was presented and used. Information was often single-purpose, and it typically did not spread far from its original intent.

Under Web 2.0, dominated by blogs, mashups, and wikis, information is constantly and fluidly being generated and repurposed, often with little or no control by the content originator(s). Yet as information is synthesized, connected, and converged, new patterns and forms emerge, expanding the utility and life of the original content. Social networking sites, search engines, and venues like YouTube further these transformations by providing ready-made audiences for the information generated under these new models.

Implications for the Emerging Classroom

The flexibility, creativity, and community manifest in Web 2.0 chafes against the more linear, more hierarchical, more univocal teaching strategies common to the 20th-century classroom. Our students - who can't remember or have never known a world without the web - increasingly expect their educational experiences to tap into and mirror their online experience. Already equipped with a variety of web devices, they dynamically augment their teachers' lectures with images and media culled from search engines; they fact-check class content using online references; they search library and full-text databases for sources even as assignments are being made in class. They're born multitaskers for whom convergence is second nature.

Rather than fighting against a change that's old news for our students, and rather than passively waiting for the development of new pedagogical models, we think it's important to embrace and nurture the trends demonstrated by the 21st-century classroom and Web 2.0. We believe that the best way to fulfill these goals is to encourage communication and convergence. We see the new generation of converged mobile devices like the iPhone or Blackberry as devices uniquely suited to this purpose, offering multiple communication technologies - phone, voicemail, email, multi-session chat - while also bringing together an unprecedented level of media and information access - audio, video, photography, and the web.

At their core, these devices offer compelling support for the strategies of the 21st-century classroom. Further, they offer students, faculty, and staff unprecedented opportunities for building academic and social community, bringing technologies together in a way that encourages participation, creation, and exploration rather than passive consumption. We see them as ideal platforms for developing innovative and integrative applications for higher education.

The State of Mobile Learning
Students using iPhones in classroom discussion
So much about the way we teach, learn and communicate is up for grabs. Educators are using new tools and technologies to reach their students - but what does the future hold?

2010-2011 Mobile Learning Report

2010-11 Report (PDF)

2009-2010 Mobile Learning Report

2009-10 Report (PDF)

2008-2009 Mobile Learning Report