The Classroom of the Future
Jun 29, 2022
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the National Education Summit in Melbourne. The presentations I was most interested to attend was of course, part of the 'Classroom of the Future' series.
Leading educational technology specialists from companies including Microsoft, Google and Amazon addressed the question: 'What will the classroom of the future look like?'. Discussion was kept to the near future - the next 5-10 years. Here are some of my main takeaways:
Mixed reality is different to augmented reality (where virtual images and/ or text are superimposed onto the physical word through a camera lens), and virtual reality (a simulated, 3D environment accessed through a headset). Mixed reality is the merging of the real and virtual worlds, in order to produce new environments and visualisations. A great example of this is holograms that are projected into our real world through the use of special glasses, that the user can interact with, manipulate and influence. This type of technology is starting to be used in many different fields, such as aircraft design, engineering, as well as by medical students (for example, holograms are used instead of cadavers and can be used to simulate surgical operations).
Just imagine the amount of applications that this could have in the school setting. Holograms could be used to learn about biology and mechanics, guest speakers could appear in the classroom from across the world or even beyond the grave to tell their stories, characters from books could come to life, historical artefacts could be examined, maths problems could be represented in 3D, famous sporting figures could give demonstrations, science experiments could be conducted that might otherwise be too dangerous in real life. Multiple students could work collaboratively on a holographic project, seeing it from different vantage points.
The research so far has shown that using this type of mixed reality can improve learning speed as well as retention by up to 80%, due to its immersive and experiential nature. However, an even better application of this is getting students creating and building things using this technology. Creation is more important than consumption in order to prepare for the jobs of the future.
The second thing that we will start to see more of in education is the use of artificial intelligence (AI). AI is referring to the simulation of human intelligence using computers - some current examples include Siri, Alexa, and chat bots. However, this is set to advance even further over the next 5 years. Deep learning algorithms, machine learning and neural networks will mean that many tasks will be able to be completed by AI.
Some applications in education include using AI for assessment - for example, there are programs that can assess reading fluency and provide suggestions for next steps. AI could really help to reduce marking loads and administrative work for teachers, freeing up their time to focus more on the human element of teaching such as providing detailed feedback and coaching in a timely manner. AI can also be used to personalise learning for students, by adapting to learning preferences, learning speed and special needs, and making recommendations for resources and tools that the student can consult for further progress.
A great example of an educator using AI is that of Dr David Kellerman, an engineering professor at UNSW in Sydney who teaches class sizes of over 500 people. He uses Microsoft Teams in order to deliver his courses in a more collaborative, student centred way, where everyone in the room becomes both teacher and learner. He used the chatbot feature in Teams to utilise machine learning in order to build a huge database of knowledge that students can utilise anytime. To do this, students would ask questions in the chatbot, putting an @? symbol in their question in order to tag their tutor. Other students would answer and the tutor would say what the best answer was, or answer it themselves. The chatbot learnt from this and could eventually automatically answer new questions correctly, or guide students to the exact spot in the lecture or reading material where they could find the answer.
Kellerman also used the large set of student data collected within Teams to make future predictions of individual student performance in exams. From this, he could then provide personalised study packs for every student in his course. As a result the pass rate increased from 65 - 85%. Not only this, but engagement increased by 800%, and 100% of students felt like they were part of a learning community, where the learning becomes more of a collaborative and constructive experience rather than just consumption of knowledge.
Kellerman argues that the goal of AI is to enhance humanity, not replace us. It's to make our interactions richer at a human level. AI can be used to make deeper connections between humans, creating a learning community. It also makes it possible to personalise the learning for each individual student, and to provide learning experiences at a level that would otherwise not be possible for one person to do.
The third big shift we will start to see is that of connected systems. This is the principle of having all school systems connected and talking to each other, rather than having student data spread across multiple systems and platforms and trying to piece it all together manually.
For example, students and teachers will be able to access student dashboards that are tracking academic progress, student wellbeing, attendance and more. Student dashboards might include calendars, notifications, goals, timetables, deadlines, questionnaires to track wellbeing and so on.
Having access to this kind of data will be invaluable for teachers - if a student is not going as well as expected, teachers will be able to easily access all relevant data to ascertain the reasons for this. If a student is struggling, the technology will be able to pull all of the data together to let the teacher know straight away, rather than flying under the radar like some students are quite adept at doing.
It can also be used to provide predictive analytics such as future examination performance, allowing teachers to make interventions where necessary.
The evolution of schools as learning hubs
This is referring to the prediction that schools will become more flexible learning environments where students can come and go, using a mix of in-person, hybrid and online learning. With this model, students would have more agency over what learning looks like - learning would be highly personalised with scope for students to run their own passion projects or choose their own learning pathways.
The wider community would also become more involved in the learning process, with community partnerships becoming of higher importance and more learning occurring outside of the classroom.
We are seeing this model becoming more popular - for example, here in Perth we have the Studio School for Yr 10-12 students who wish to combine real-world projects with their studies in order to achieve their WA Certificate of Education. Whilst these models are seen to be 'alternative' at the moment, it is predicted that they will soon become much more mainstream.
During Covid, many families found that their children learnt better whilst at home than at school, and as a result they have opted to continue at-home learning where they have been able. As a result, many schools have implemented hybrid, or blended learning, where teaching is delivered both in person and online. Students can opt to learn at home, or at school, or a mixture of the two depending on their individual circumstances. This flexibility suits many students and their families, and is particularly beneficial to students that experience social anxiety or mental health issues.
As a result of this movement, we are also starting to see the rise of fully online high schools, such as the Crimson Global Academy. It's predicted that these options will continue to grow in popularity as time goes on.
The next 5-10 years will be very interesting times ahead for the education industry! Of course these possibilities raise many questions, especially around equality of access to technology, as there is currently a huge gap in this regard. The government needs to ensure that every student has access to an appropriate device to ensure that no student gets left behind. Ensuring teaching staff receive the time for the required professional development will also be of utmost importance.