The Evolution of the Classroom

By Jessica Schuffenecker
When you conjure your memories of school, what comes to mind? Chalkboards and chalk? Slide projectors? Perhaps overhead projectors with transparencies? Desktop computers? Whiteboards or SmartBoards? iPads, Apple TVs, and laptops? It is amazing how classrooms have evolved in, relatively speaking, a short amount of time. Advancements in technology continue at a rapid pace, particularly in the wake of AI. Teachers and students have no choice but to learn, adapt, and ride the technological wave or risk falling behind the curve. Strake Jesuit provides support behind the scenes to ensure that teachers are prepared and equipped to be at the forefront of educational and technological advancements. Two instrumental and complementary departments of teacher support are the Instructional Coaching Department and the Information Technology (IT) Department.

Strake Jesuit’s Instructional Coaches, Dr. Sarah Rayder, Mr. Christopher Cole ’02, and I, work closely with teachers, serving as thought-partners and support for faculty members as they experiment, reflect, and improve. “At the heart of our work as instructional coaches are the Strake Jesuit Teaching Essentials,” says Dr. Rayder. The Strake Jesuit Teaching Essentials, developed by the Instructional Coaching team, administrators, and department chairs, provide a framework for lessons that are rooted in research-based best practices as well as the mission of Jesuit education. Instructional coaches collaborate with teachers one-on-one and provide professional development to all faculty through regularly scheduled cohort meetings. In these cohort meetings, faculty members add instructional strategies to their teaching toolkits and examine teaching through the lenses of Ignatian mission, assessment, engagement, and classroom environment. The goal is for our faculty to feel confident building robust lessons and assessments grounded in both the modern approach and the teachings of St. Ignatius.

Mr. Glenn Hymel, Director of IT, reflects that the IT landscape has experienced several inflection points: the advent of the World Wide Web in the 90s, the expansion of internet access in the early 2000s, the introduction of wireless networking, the rise of mobile devices like iPads in the 2010s, and the current era of AI. He mused, “When I started at Strake Jesuit in 1998, instructional technology at our campus was limited to chalkboards and a single TV connected to the SJET system in each classroom, with most computers being stand-alone units. Academic departments had to share a single computer, and teachers reported grades on floppy disks, which were then manually compiled, printed, and mailed to parents. The concept of a campus-wide, internet-connected network was just beginning to take shape.” Strake Jesuit looks much different now than it did in 1998, with Mr. Hymel and his team being instrumental in the implementation of technological advancements and tools. There were lessons to be learned along the way. The Faculty and Staff Innovation Center, established in 2017, allowed the department to test new technologies, leading to reimagined classrooms like Loyola Hall and the recently reopened Moran Hall. Emilio Parra ’20, Information Technology Intern, is proud of the upgrades and acknowledges the impact his department’s work has on the campus overall: “Much of the work we do directly impacts classroom teaching around campus, as we have over 4,000 devices on our network. Therefore, the network infrastructure serves as the backbone for learning using technology, and the upgrades behind the scenes have greatly improved user experience over the past few years.” When I asked Mr. Hymel about the philosophy that guides the IT department, he said, “Education is relational; technology needs to either enhance or amplify those relationships: student to student, student to teacher, and teacher to teacher.” By thinking about technology in those terms, we have a unique opportunity for discernment. Are these tech tools bringing us closer to one another and, through those relationships, closer to God?

Mr. Hymel has not always been involved in information technology. After leaving the seminary, he worked at a doctor’s office in the medical center and became frustrated with the time-consuming and inefficient paper-driven methods of scheduling appointments. Thinking that there must be an easier, more efficient way, Mr. Hymel bought books about programming and taught himself to write a scheduling program. What took him months to achieve presently takes the AI tool, ChatGPT4, three minutes. MINUTES. Some people might find this defeating, but Mr. Hymel is optimistic, “AI is another tool in teachers' toolboxes — it’s a different way of thinking.”

The goal of the IT department has always been to provide teachers with a variety of tools and to move from complexity to simplicity: that’s where Instructional Coaching and IT converge. Dr. Rayder notes that “AI is a helpful tool in implementing the Strake Jesuit Teaching Essentials in a dynamic way.” In a recent professional development session with faculty, the instructional coaches led faculty members through a workshop about using AI to create formative assessments. Teachers copied and pasted learning objectives into QuestionWell, an AI question generator. From there, the questions were exported into gamified assessment sites like Quizizz and Kahoot. Teachers built a fun learning activity with the help of AI tools to assess students' knowledge and skills. Similar to Mr. Hymel’s experience with ChatGPT4 taking a few minutes to create something that once took months, teachers can have a similar experience. What once took hours to plan and prepare can now be streamlined and take only minutes. Instructional Coach Mr. Cole ’02 says, “Technology does not make great teachers or replace them. Technology can, however, enhance great teaching.” Teachers can use the time that AI saves to catch up on grading, plan ahead, or forge meaningful relationships. A creative, vibrant, and interactive environment where students enjoy learning relies on effective teaching strategies and is enhanced by the myriad of EdTech tools at a teacher’s disposal.

Mr. Hymel noted that the most challenging aspects of new technological advancements are also the most invigorating and exciting. The rapidly changing nature and figuring out where and how new advancements fit into the school will always present a level of unpredictability. However, we can rest assured that Strake Jesuit faculty will be supported every step of the way, regardless of what the future holds.