The role of technology in education has naturally advanced over the years, from classrooms full of chalkboards and notepads to electronic whiteboards and tablets; the technology used to aid learning has developed and changed significantly.
So what’s next for advances in education and how is new technology shaping the way kids learn?
The last 20 years has arguably seen the biggest advances in education when it comes to technology in the classroom, with the introduction of computing and personal devices. As personal devices such as computers, laptops and tablets became cheaper, kids naturally became more familiar with the technology often surpassing the knowledge of their teachers or the curriculum.
Last week I was invited down to Microsoft’s “Classroom of the Future”, a concept space in central London where a team of technology and education experts display how modern tech and traditional teaching methods can be blended to create the most effective teaching environment.
The modern open layout of the classroom is designed to replicate how any school could set out and embrace new styles of learning, with only minimal space and a range of funding.
The “Modern Classroom”
So I suppose you’re asking what makes the classroom of the future so modern? Well it’s not quite as Jetsons-esque as one may predict, kids aren’t learning in self-contained education pods by robot lecturers…. Yet.
The classroom of the future is driven by variation in learning. It’s not about simply copying text from a board anymore. Modern education, as the teachers out there will know, is about inclusivity, collaboration and getting kids actively involved.
The Classroom of the future highlighted the importance and practicality of personal PC and tablets.
First of all they are pretty fun to use, it’ll be difficult to find a kid who wants to copy text from a whiteboard over one who’d rather learn from an electronic app.
Tablets, in this case, a mixture of Windows 8 devices, can be loaded with a plethora engaging content from education apps, to writing software, video editing and of course games.
Not only can kids work on their tablets at school, but with logins from home, they can simply pick up their tablet at home and carry on.
Collaborating work and operating as a team is also a big part of the modern classroom, working with technologies like tablets, laptops, cloud space and software like Office 365 allows students to bring together their individual contribution to work into larger projects.
With cloud computing and apps designed to be accessed by multiple accounts, students can contribute their part of the work to group projects without needing to be in the same room. Meaning group project research can be done from home or in classroom time.
Variety of Learning
Phil Burney a former teacher and now presenter at Microsoft’s Classroom of the Future believes that technology offers teachers a wide variety of tools to keep students engaged and excited about a subject.
“Technology in the classrooms allows you as a teacher to vary the way you teach students… You can quickly vary learning materials on the same subject for students of different age, working style, language and of course education level.”
Using technology in the classroom produces a range of tools for teachers to create more interesting and diverse lessons.
Control and Live Reporting
As you can imagine, letting students loose on unrestricted tablets to play as they wish in lessons would likely end up with a little too much YouTube and not enough work. So thankfully for teachers there are a number of administrator features for teachers to bring their classroom under control.
Most teachers will have used some form of classroom orchestration software- essentially programmes that can watch and restrict what’s on the screen of all the active devices on the group.
Some schools have also moved to “live reporting”, essentially real-time marking. Teachers can actively monitor how students are coping on individual questions or sessions so they can address problem areas during the lesson or plan quickly for the next group. Teacher know what areas individual students are struggling on and plan future lessons or tailored content around it.
So how about the cost of this leap forward? Naturally, new tech costs money and let’s be honest not many schools are abundantly flush with cash.
Well. the idea that Microsoft wanted to convey was that all these products and devices are scalable. Sure you can buy a stack of £300 Windows tablets for an entire school but it’s probably not feasible. Tablets running on Windows 8.1 allow for multiple logins, so a set of 30 tablets or laptops can be used around an entire school. Each user has their own profile which can be tailored to the person, age group and education level.
There are also a number of smaller entry level tablets now around the £50-£100, ideal for kids using the technology for the first time.
Video conferencing has been used in the business world for some time, allowing for people to teleconference into locations previously inaccessible. Now with the introduction of free video software like Lync and Skype students can do the same.
If they are in remote locations and get snowed in or have succumbed to an illness and can’t travel video conferencing means that they don’t miss the crucial “face-time” with teachers.
Video calling has also been used in a number of classrooms to pair classrooms around the world. A number of UK schools have paired with their French/Spanish counterparts to teach language lessons as well as further afield like China and Japan for cultural lessons.
Take Home Technology
Using technology in the classroom is certainly part of the battle but getting children to actually engage when away from the education environment is a also important.
The individual logins that are used at school can be used on multiple devices, so a student who is working on a project in school on a tablet, could easily log out after class, then get home and log back in on another Windows device to carry on.
For the more optimistic teachers out there students could also do their homework on their tablets or smartphones whilst on the bus or on the school run…. Like I said optimistic.
Teach the Teachers
As you can imagine, when technology develops so does the standard of education and its products. In many cases the students actually have a better knowledge of the technology than many of their teachers, especially when it comes to software and devices they have at home.
A number of schools actively encourage “student experts” to help their classmates and teachers, in faux TA roles, with some of the more complex software and programmes.
So is this the end of the standard classroom?… Well no, although technology is an important addition to the education environment it doesn’t need to replace everything from the past.
Phil Burney believes modern classroom should embrace a mixture of techniques from handwriting to coding.
“For me, using a mixture of technology and formal techniques is far more engaging, students actually want to get involved in lessons.”