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Teaching for the future: Educators prepare students for rapidly changing industries through tech, student-driven learning

Teaching for the future: Educators prepare students for rapidly changing industries through tech, student-driven learning


The classroom of the future looks a little more mobile, a little more student-centered and will probably have a few more screens.

As educators project the future of their field, rapid change in technology has played an crucial role in classrooms today and the lessons taught inside of them.

Student-driven learning

As technology and workforce needs change, schools are adapting their teaching models to prepare for the careers of the future.

“We don’t even know what those jobs are yet, and we’re trying to prepare them for the jobs of the future,” said Michigan City Area Schools Technology Director Kevin McGuire.

State legislators acted three years ago to enact a sweeping overhaul of Indiana’s high school graduation requirements, driving a growing emphasis on career and technical education.

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The new requirements, applying for the first time to this year’s class of high school freshmen, favor work-based learning experiences in education, such as internships or out-of-school employment.

Margaret Semmer, vice chancellor for academic affairs at Ivy Tech Community College’s Lake County campus, said she sees these new pathways becoming better established over the next decade.

In developing new career pathways, K-12 and postsecondary educators are increasingly working together in overlapping curriculum and dual credit opportunities, allowing more students to earn high school and college credits earlier in their educational career.

More high school students are taking and passing advanced placement courses than ever before, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

More Indiana students are taking Advanced Placement exams than ever before, IDOE data show

With that, Semmer said higher education programs likely will move to more student-centric paths in the future with shorter, more flexible degree programs allowing students to pursue credits at their own pace.

Creating more “stackable” credentials that allow working students or adults returning to school to pair prior experience also shows to be a growing trend in higher education.

“No longer can we assume that completion is tied to a singular credential,” Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said in her most recent State of Higher Education address. “The new economy will demand educational upgrades throughout life, and higher education must be more agile and relevant to meet this need.”

And, with a shifting focus on increasing students’ career and technical education opportunities, educators say instruction is taking a more individualized, inquiry-based approach that focuses on problem-solving and real-world applications.

“Overall, kids know how to read, write, do the basic math … we try to incorporate a lot more variety in areas of science — constructing, building, creating, designing,” said Greg Guernsey, principal at Liberty Intermediate School in Chesterton. “We want to expose kids to a variety of different activities. Kids need to make that connection. They need to feel that sense of belonging to what they’re learning.”

Team Robo Blitz

Emma Ekblaw, freshman at Chesterton High School, hammers parts into a bumper for Team Robo Blitz's robot in 2019 at the A.K. Smith Area Career Center.

Classroom of the future

Educators say the integration of technology in the classroom only will continue to grow and shape best practices in learning.

Many of Northwest Indiana’s K-12 schools already have implemented their own version of 1-to-1 technology, placing tablets or Chromebooks in the hands of students at all grade levels.

This expanding access to online resources has signaled a new era of digital assignments and eLearning days, allowing students an increasing opportunity to interact with coursework, fellow students and instructors outside of the classroom.

As 1-to-1 becomes the norm, educators have increased efforts to not only teach technology, but to teach the responsible use of technology.

“As the internet continues to be more and more pervasive and accessible, kids have to know how to take information on their own and put it to work,” School City of Hammond Superintendent Scott Miller said.

Educators predict this will continue with classrooms of the future becoming more mobile, moving students away from the traditional seated-row model and into a more comfortable, flexible learning environment with chairs and desks on wheels to allow easy collaboration.

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School buildings themselves might embrace a more open concept, engaging design with some K-12 districts committed to repurposing existing educational space, like school libraries and media centers, to create 21st century “makerspaces,” complete with 3D printers and virtual reality headsets.

“From the outside, a school will look the same, but from the inside, the magic is different,” Merrillville Community School Corp. Superintendent Nick Brown said.

In higher education, and even in some K-12 career centers, artificial intelligence and simulation is advancing a new mode of interactive learning.

At Ivy Tech and Purdue University Northwest, for example, nursing students will gain first-hand experience before ever setting foot in a hospital through simulation labs modeling the actual health care industry.

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Michigan City launched its Compressed Air Academy preparing students for careers in air compressor and vacuum industries from a high school classroom.

Advancements in technology also could help usher in a new, “blended classroom” model of instruction at the K-12 level, Brown said, predicting students soon could see a rotation of traditional instructor-led classes infused with individual study periods allowing students to interact with online assignments at their own pace.

“It’s not just about kids having the device,” Brown said. “We’re helping promote students to learn about the standards and specifics they want to do, but to learn about it how they link in their own concepts that are meaningful to them.”

Bishop Noll Institute's new STREAM Lab

Bishop Noll Institute unveiled a state-of-the-art STREAM lab in 2019, bringing science, technology, religion, engineering, art and math education into a new home.

Drilling into data

While some universities are moving away from requiring standardized entrance exams like the SAT or ACT in student applications, educators predict technology also will bring dramatic shifts in testing and data collection, with computer adaptive exams becoming the new norm.

The state’s new ILEARN exam operates in this way, offering differing questions at different levels of difficulty.

And, the ACT announced in fall 2019 its own move to online testing to begin later this year.

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Some are optimistic that online assessments can bring a quicker return of results allowing teachers to pinpoint a student’s struggle with specific concepts before moving on to new standards.

In the past, educators may have waited weeks, if not months, for results assessing student comprehension and performance on designated standards.

Now, teachers can drill deeper into student responses, identifying not only what problems a student missed, but also how long they took to read and respond to a question.

“Technology offers a deeper understanding of the science of achievement,” McGuire said. “It helps set a learning path.”

However, others predict more drastic changes will come to assessment in the next 20 years with a greater emphasis placed on evaluating a student's project-based learning skills.

“I think there is an understanding that one assessment can’t paint a picture of one school or a system,” Brown said. “I think we’ll be transitioning from a test of knowing stuff to a test of how to apply that stuff.”

Team Robo Blitz

Michigan City High School freshmen Ethan Green, foreground, and Brandon Fortner work on computer programming and mapping for Team Robo Blitz's robot in 2019 at the A.K. Smith Area Career Center.

Community partnerships key

Building a more connected Region is key in preparing students for jobs of the future.

K-12 institutions and universities alike are investing heavily in innovation practices through education-meets-workforce partnerships.

PNW is taking a leading role in bringing together industry partners, students and educational leaders through its vision as a “metropolitan university.”

Through its Center for Innovation Through Visualization and Simulation and its Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center on Indianapolis Boulevard, PNW leaders say they hope to provide space for educational opportunity and economic growth meeting the needs of Northwest Indiana industry leaders.

And, the university is looking for its next big contribution to Region education and industry through an “Impact Lab,” designed to help business leaders develop prototypes, business plans and more.

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Though no locations have been selected yet, PNW leaders say they would like to establish the center in Hammond, within a mile or so of the university’s Hammond campus.

“The university is really there to help shape their geographic area,” PNW Chancellor Thomas Keon said. “One of the reasons this is good is because then if the area is good, and you get more people moving in and your students get more jobs, it builds on itself over time.”

Intercollegiate partnerships also are growing to advance student course offerings, Ivy Tech’s Semmer said.

She said the community college’s Lake County campus is working with PNW, Indiana University Northwest in Gary and Calumet College of St. Joseph to develop academic programs and to attract collaborative grant funding.

“We’re learning that working together, we’re so much stronger,” Semmer said. “Those partnerships are so critical.”

Congressman Pete Visclosky visits the Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, center, talks with researchers at the Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation at Purdue Northwest.

Relationships to stay

What likely won’t change in the coming decades, educators say, is a continued emphasis on social emotional learning and student well-being.

In Portage Township Schools, administrators are drawing upon community partnerships with local health care providers to place at least one mental health professional in each of the district's 11 schools.

In fact, many K-12 schools are ramping up their counseling efforts to support students' navigation of a changing social media landscape.

“There’s just going to be more and more need for taking care of the well-being for all of us,” Portage Township Schools Superintendent Amanda Alaniz said. “We’re not just looking for them to achieve in a learning environment, but for them to succeed in life.”

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Above all, educators say, even as technology brings new opportunities to education, personal relationships remain the most important piece of instruction.

“We all have to remember, none of that replaces getting to know the individual kids and getting to know them on a personal level,” said Guernsey, Liberty Intermediate's principal. “Laughing, interacting, having fun. All of the other things come easy if you have that as a foundation.”

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