Three key elements will decide how the classroom evolves
How students are educated requires a major rethink yet a good teacher is irreplaceable
Instead of field trips students in the future will be wearing VR headsets that will let them explore the Great Wall of China from the comfort of their class
It’s hard to think of an industry that’s evolved less over the last century than the humble classroom. Sure, there have been some big technological advances along the way, but the basic structure hasn’t changed much. There’s a big room where students are lined up in rows, all facing the teacher and a blackboard. They’re tasked with memorising information on various topics and taking tests to judge their progress, and that structure hasn’t had much of a facelift.
The world around the classroom has changed swiftly, however, especially in the last two decades. Primary and secondary school students now have access to vast amounts of information at their fingertips, and the way they absorb that information has also changed. Jobs that were once thought to be safe bets for a lifelong career have started falling away, and jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago have seemingly popped up overnight to take their place.
Now, more than ever, the way students are being educated requires a fundamental rethink to prepare them for the future. While it’s near impossible to predict exactly what the classroom of the future will look like, the only thing that’s certain are the elements that will drive that change.
(Critical) Thinking outside the box
This shifting world doesn’t have to be scary, though. In fact it will present students with lots of unexpected opportunities they’ll need to be prepared for. Some Irish schools are already pioneering new approaches to how students are being taught, with a focus on teaching emotional intelligence, teamwork and compassion as part of the curriculum.
Francis Street CBS in Dublin is one such school, which mixes traditional studies with activities such as yoga, philosophy and fencing. Empathy is the school’s overriding approach, which principal Fiona Collins feels is an important trait for students to learn at a young age. “We try to impart our students with the ability to think creatively, which means getting them involved and helping to drive their own development.”
The school encourages the boys attending it to express their emotions and promotes self-expression, all with the goal of giving them a sense of emotional maturity in their teen years. “When our pupils are confronted with problems in later years we hope that their time here has given them the skills necessary to be flexible in how they approach them, and to think critically.”
The school’s innovative approach has not gone unnoticed either, and has seen it become part of Ashoka’s Changemaker School programme. Ashoka is an international organisation that aims to promote positive change through social entrepreneurs, and the Changemaker programme links schools both in Ireland and globally that seek to empower students with skills they’ll need for the future.
Serena Mizzoni, director of Ashoka Ireland, has dubbed Francis CBS a “lighthouse” school in this regard. “If the response to the school’s approach has proven anything, it’s that there’s a real appetite for change in the way we approach education, and the need to embrace new concepts.”
Students won’t be lugging a heavy bag of books to school in 20 years’ time or writing things down in notebooks. Instead of field trips they’ll be wearing VR headsets that will let them explore the Great Wall of China from the comfort of their class while sitting on a comfy mat instead of a desk.
There is no doubt schools are in something of a transitional phase at present, which involves best deciding how to merge new tech into the classroom experience. For example, the Micool Project is a two-year Erasmus scheme to study the use of mobile technology in classrooms across Europe. Dr Miriam Judge, a multimedia lecturer in Dublin City University, is a lead partner on the project.
According to Dr Judge, this project aims to bring tech into the class in a number of ways. “The partner schools have all purchased a set of I-Pads which can be used on a rotating basis in different classrooms according to needs or even shared among different schools for specific project-based activities. When deployed in schools in this manner, teachers are trained by the Micool partner on site in how to use the I-pads to support teaching and learning.”
Training both teachers and students is a key part of the project, and there are also online resources aimed at encouraging teachers to interact with each other. “Teachers are encouraged to share lesson plans and ideas, and review educational apps that they have found useful in their classrooms. This means teachers new to I-Pads can use these shared resources and benefit from the expertise of other teachers”
Reaction to the project thus far has been encouraging, showing an increased amount of engagement among students when using these devices and education apps. “Feedback from both students and teachers indicates that when properly deployed the use of mobile technologies can bring a new dynamic to the classroom in terms of increased student motivation, more interactivity, more group work, independent learning and peer and shared learning.”
Studies also indicate there will be a shift towards students watching instructional videos and doing project assignments based on independent learning. Mark Nagurski is the co-founder of MakeMatic, a new digital platform that will give students and teachers access to free instructional videos. Mark has also produced videos for BBC Bitesize, covering subjects such as science, tech and other creative skills.
He believes certain skills like coding will become a valuable part of education in the years ahead, and a student’s engagement – and enjoyment – of a subject is what drives them to learn new skills. “Getting their hands on this stuff and learning it on the go is always going to be better than listening to a lecture on it.”
The More Things Change
Despite all the talk of tech, flipped classrooms and innovative approaches, there’s one vital asset a classroom will always require; a good teacher to hold things together. The layout of the classroom might change, students might be writing on gadgets instead of using a pen and paper, but without a teacher it’s all for nought.
Their role in class will likely shift to one of overseer in the years ahead, which means there’s a need to prepare and train towards this end. Nagurski thinks this is one area that needs attention. “I think we’re really missing a trick with teachers in this regard. They’ll need to be educated in this stuff too if we expect them to teach a class proficiently.”
Dr Judge agrees with this sentiment, “It’s not really about the devices, it’s more about the creativity of the teacher and how she or he can use technology to enhance the student and classroom learning experience. In the end of the day as someone once wisely quipped “a boring lesson on an I-Pad is still a boring lesson”.
More and more the needs of the students themselves will be dictating how the classroom evolves in the years ahead, but it’s somewhat reassuring to know the value of a good teacher is irreplaceable.