Classrooms of the Future

By Alex More

‘In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists’ Yuval Noah Harai (2011)

This blog post is a call to arms for a new way to look at the classroom learning experience. Inspired partly by the direction technology is taking us, and equally by a new opportunity that presented itself at the end of the summer term, I am going to build a classroom of the future.

Before we get carried away with images in our minds of what this could look like, let’s focus on why we need to make the change.

What students learn today will likely be irrelevant in the year 2032. At present, too many schools focus on cramming excessive information into student brains, favouring knowledge (content) over skills. This is at odds with what employers want and what morally, we should be doing. In the past, this made sense as information was sparse. If you lived in a rural area, such as Shaftesbury where I teach, you had to find someone or something to help you learn what you didn’t already know. Now, we have the internet. Imagine for a moment a child living in 19th Century Shaftesbury. There were no televisions, social media feeds and instant news updates. By way of contrast, in the 21s century we are flooded by information and our senses don’t even try to block it. Discerning through mis-information is now a skill, it has to be. The last thing teachers need to do is to give students more information, they already have too much. So perhaps, I am advocating the skills young people need to thrive and survive in 21st century schools are lightyears away from what we are actually providing.

It’s easy to blame the system and in truth, the policy makers need to modernise their views of what constitutes a modern learning experience. I would suggest interviewing the students as the main actors in the learning process is their starting point.

Imagine we could take our child from 19th Century Shaftesbury and time-travel them into our school today. On their journey to school, they wouldn’t recognise many things; cars, fashion, modern shops, petrol stations, smartphones and fashion. When they arrive in school, they might be perplexed by many things but one aspect that has remained the same is the classroom. They would instantly recognise the model where the teacher stands at the front (the sage on the stage) and delivers information. This model has largely remained the same despite exponential advancements in technology, educational research, neurology and everything we know about how we learn. Teachers can be the agent of change so let’s focus the rest of this blog on the how!

The teachers themselves promote this system of education as we are products of this archaic educational system. The industrial revolution has gifted us the production-line model of education and it’s 50 years out of date. In the middle of most towns is a large concrete building divided into many identical rooms. Each room is equipped with a board, chairs with a front-facing set-up to facilitate the teacher standing at the front and the learners sat listening. At the sound of a bell, students move from room to room with 30 other learners, all born the same year as them. Their age is what unites them, not, ability, gender or dispositions. Every hour a different adult walks in and starts talking. The adults are paid to do this by the government. One teaches about cellular structure whilst another informs about why it’s good to be healthy.

Building the classroom of the future

At the end of a long summer term, I received an email that made me jump out of my chair! It read Congratulations, you have been selected to become a test-bed for a classroom of the future. It came from the tech-giant Epson, a driving force in revolutionising the classroom learning experience.

Our school has been selected to be an Epson Ambassador hub to showcase the potential new technology. Epson commissioned Ross Morrison-McGill (Teacher Toolkit) to research student learning experiences in traditional classroom settings. The findings suggested that there are ‘dead spots’ within this setting where students cannot view the board. I have since learned that most whiteboards and projectors generate 65-inch image projections where 70-100 inches are recommended for optimal retention and focus. Epson’s amazing new interactive projector (see image above) was to be fitted in a new space dubbed ‘classroom of the future’. Epson has collaborated with Dutch company SMIT Visuals to create writable surfaces so the front of the classroom no longer has to be the focal point. This, I feel a step away from the traditional model and closer to where we need to be going.

Epson’s commitment was to install the projector, help design the space, train staff and learn from the two way dialogue that pursues. I am a huge fan of writable, agile learning spaces so felt this was a really positive thing. If you are interested in writable surfaces that are cost-effective, check out the blog here on Stephen Heppels agile learning spaces

So, the installation for the new classroom commences in October 2019. This got me thinking, if we are going to design a classroom of the future, we need more technology and a departure away from the traditional classroom set up of rows of desks and chairs. Luckily, a few schools are leading the way in this design. Here are the top 3:

These schools are generating amazing outcomes and all have one thing in common; stimulating learning environments.

I knew I had to embrace technology at its full potential so began to explore VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) as mechanisms with which to modernise the classroom experience

VR and AR

The potential of VR to immerse learners in unforgettable experiences is vast, but despite Google’s cardboard and Oculus Rift’s presence on the market, it’s been a challenge to bring VR to the classroom. Luckily, Class VR have realised this and come up with a school-friendly and cost-effective solution. At £8,500 you can equip a classroom with 30 VR headsets which hold a 3-hour charge. These headsets are not reliant on smartphone devices which have to this point been a barrier to VR in schools in my opinion. At £4,250, 16 headsets would work on the basis of a shared pair. Avantis Education provides VR experiences through 360 images, 360 videos and 3D models. The headsets don’t rely on smartphone usage and have 16 GB internal storage with hands-free gesture control. Teachers generate a playlist of expeditions (similar to Google Expeditions) and navigate their class through these experiences virtually whilst monitoring what students are viewing via CLASS VIEW. This allows the teacher to control the learning and generate dynamic points of interest in the VR view-field. Avantis recommend 10-15 learning episodes for VR so this could slot nicely into any lessons. At the moment, the technology supports Science, History, Geography and PE as the expeditions are most relevant although not exclusive to those subjects.

Google Expeditions is the market leader of AR learning experiences at the moment. Google created Expeditions as a free App for educators to use in classrooms. Compatible with IOS, I see a place for AR in the future classroom. 6 X Ipad minis could run and support expeditions in real-time. Having used AR extensively in the STEM workshops, I am convinced of its power to bring abstract concepts into the classroom. For example, learners can access 3D models of cells, bees, art decor and the heart whilst engaging with the App. It’s a gamechanger and worthy of instant inclusion in the future classroom.

Classroom set-up

To really change the space, we need to take inspiration from industry where workspaces are fully changeable and interactive.

Employers like Google, Youtube, Innocent Smoothies and Lush Cosmetics have created amazing working environments that motivate their employees and bring the best out of them.

Furniture – different set ups

Classrooms that are movable give the flexibility of being able to set up the space to suit the learning intentions. Some lessons might call for note-taking, whilst others call for presentations and collaborative working tables. Having complete freedom to change the space to suit, has to be the future of classroom learning spaces.

Plants can absorb stress and anxiety

It’s already been proven that being in the presence of plants can increase memory retention by around 20%, as well as improving people’s performance in a series of basic tests. This is thought to be due to the fact that their leaves and stems can absorb, deflect, and retract background noise, such as exterior traffic, children playing in the playground, and people talking in corridors. To further reiterate this point, a study from the University of Technology, Sydney in 2010, discovered that performance of Year 6 and 7 students considerably improved when 3 plants were introduced to half of the classrooms being studied.

Examining the students’ performance in a range of fundamental areas, such as spelling, mathematics, reading and science, they found that the introduction of plants caused this to increase by 10 and 15%, which is considered to be significant progress in terms of learning. As well as filtering out distracting background noise, another explanation for why plants can improve performance in the classroom is because they reduce levels of CO2. When exposed to high levels, this can cause headaches, dizziness, and tiredness, and these can all have an impact on your concentration.

From an environmental perspective, I love the idea or absorbing more carbon and like the feel of rooms that are filled with plants. Balance though is the key. Perhaps an education aqua or hydroponic system could be fitted so we could use the plants to actually educate students about the science of technology for growing crops? This also themes in nicely with a STEAM project we are running next year, so why not?

I am currently looking for sponsorship for the VR, furniture and plants to complete this project but we are 70% there! If you are interested in getting involved in some capacity, contact us via the blog.


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