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The future classroom

My last two articles looking at the future of education and who the winners and losers might be discussed how to ensure that we are best placed to make the most of the exciting new world ahead of us. It’s now time to consider what this new landscape might look like in the months and years ahead.

The classroom environment is on the cusp of undergoing the greatest transformation that it has ever seen. If we look at the way in which technology is used in the classroom today, all too frequently it is simply a more ‘digital way’ of doing what we have always done. The interactive whiteboard is still largely a whiteboard, albeit including a large TV screen in its capabilities; feedback to students and parents still takes the written form, even if it is emailed or recorded electronically rather than posted or written in exercise books; and of course textbooks are still textbooks, whether in digital or print format.

Whilst I hesitate to use the term seismic shift, I believe that the experiences of those about to enter the education system will be almost unrecognisable to their parents by the time they leave. The only caveat to this somewhat bold statement is that these changes will only take place if we as educators embrace the opportunities that are becoming available to us now.

“There is incredible potential for digital technology in and beyond the classroom, but it is vital to rethink how learning is organised if we are to reap the rewards.” - Geoff Mulgan

So lets be bold - what might this new learning environment look like? In these two articles, I shall explore some of the possible changes that the growing use of technology might stimulate in schools, beginning with

  • Going paperless
  • The effect of better communications
  • The physical classroom

The ‘paperless classroom’

If you look at today’s students, almost the only time they use pen and paper is for school work. Whilst the goal of a paperless classroom has been around for a while, moving away from paper-based systems can still be problematic for many schools. Exams still tend to be taken on paper and the ability to produce evidence for inspection bodies is still seen largely as a paper-based exercise.

Nevertheless, wherever they can many schools are moving to digital systems, for example online student and teacher planners, the use of electronic communications with parents, e-learning resources and a gradual move away from textbooks.

The ability to create audio and video quickly and easily may well further reduce the need for the written word, with more work being done in a multimedia format and even examined in this format. At the very least, it is likely that a greater proportion of teaching and learning will take place in the digital environment, which in turn means less time and money being spent on the printing and copying of resources.

Better communications

If we consider the traditional system of school reports, they are used to keep parents updated as to their child’s progress, with parents’ evenings allowing an opportunity to discuss this further. It would of course be impossible to produce these types of reports more frequently or to have parents’ evenings on a weekly basis, but if there is one area of society that has experienced the most dramatic change in recent years it is surely that of communications.

People are now more connected than ever before and in an astonishing variety of ways - from text to voice to video. The immediate and ongoing nature of communications is now very much the norm.

If we consider the opportunities that technology opens up in schools, we can see that it is possible to provide continuous and ongoing reporting to parents through the feedback that students are already receiving. This can go a long way to obviating the need for lengthy school reports and parents evenings can focus on home-school collaboration rather than being an exchange of information which is often already available. Teachers have more time to teach and parents are in a better position to support the school in their child’s learning.

The classroom

Many of the classrooms in schools today would be instantly recognisable to teachers from the beginning of the last century, this is one area of schools where there has been little significant change.

But, if we think back to the National Education Association and it’s four Cs - Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation - we can see that the traditional serried ranks of desks is not going to be an environment conducive to this sort of learning.

Classroom spaces will need to be rethought to provide space for creative, collaborative activities and in such a way that stimulates discussion and communication between students as well as with the teacher. There will need to be more flexibility in the way rooms can be organised to allow a broader range of activities to take place. Furthemore, if technology is going to become ubiquitous in the classroom, as is highly likely, then even mundane things like easy access to charging points for students will need to be considered.

The classroom of the future needs to adjust to the changing requirements of society and our students, but crucially it has to ensure that the expertise that a teacher brings to the learning process is not lost or overlooked. Technology is a tool that must be used to support and amplify the teaching and learning relationship, not replace it.

“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” - Bill Gates

In my next article I will explore the ways in which the roles of the teacher, learner and parent may evolve, along with the concepts of flexible learning and the impact of the ubiquity of knowledge on how we define learning.

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