The Classroom of the Future?

Shaftesbury School talks to us about their “Future Classroom Project” and how distance learning will change the way we will view education forever.

We sat down (virtually) with Alex More from Shaftesbury School in Dorset to discuss their experimental future classroom project which aims to bring together technology, educational research and high-quality teaching.

Not ignoring the challenges faced with distance learning that started in 2020, we also discussed how the pandemic will help shape the way education will be viewed in the future alongside finding out how they have adapted the classroom In the present.

A photo of the classroom interacting with a piece of technology

1)Where did your ‘Future Classroom’ project begin?

The idea came from my head, born out of frustration in the traditional teacher-led, direct instruction model which seems to be prevalent in classrooms today. Consider a time-travelling child from the 1870’s who was transported into our world today. They wouldn’t recognise the technology, the fashion, transport or language but they would be instantly familiar with the classroom as it hasn’t changed in over 150 years. The teacher stands at the front, desks are in rows and children sit as knowledge is imparted. I wanted to disrupt this model and create a different way to learn, one that aligns with industry thinking, hence the ‘Future Classroom’ project was born.

Initially, Shaftesbury School was selected by Epson to become an ambassador hub with a state-of-the-art projector. I saw an opportunity to reach out to industry and get other companies on board to create an immersive space where technology meets the teacher but doesn’t replace them.

Phase 1 went live in September this year, amidst C19 lockdowns and prevailed despite the obvious barriers this presented. The student engagement and global interest in the project has inspired Phase 2 which starts in January 2021.

2) How have your students interacted with using new, innovative technologies in the classroom? 

Really well. I have sent over some infographics based on a student survey conducted this month. The classroom has the following technology, loaned from partners and sponsors within the EdTech community. Pride of place is an Epson EB-1485Fi short-throw projector which displays images up to 120 inches compared to the normal 70 inches. This allows all students to see the content displayed from anywhere in the classroom, it’s like Mona Lisa’s eyes!

We are also working with CatchBox which is the EdTech start-up who brought the soft, throwable engagement microphone to market. It’s an amazing tool for questioning and gives all students a voice in the class, even the quiet ones.

Gratnell’s have provided us with a Learnometer which measures 7 variables in the room. We can measure temperature, humidity, ambient noise, CO2 levels and others to monitor the learning environment, like a smart meter for the brain. CO2 can harm learning, research supported by Professor Stephen Heppell inspired us to create a living plant wall to help absorb CO2 levels. Growing Revolution and BioTecture, industry leads in living walls are working with us to create these which features within the room.

Finally, we have built a digital lightboard so students can present ideas and the room has 13 writeable surfaces around the room, a canvas for creativity! We have trialled RedboxVR and use Google Expeditions AR and VR journeys to inspire learning.

Central to the technology though is the teacher. I believe students should be owners of brilliant knowledge and a good teacher is central to this.

A photo of a girl wearing a VR kit

3) What has been the toughest challenge that your school has faced with distance learning this year and how have you overcome this?

The hardest challenge has been having some students in the class and others at home. The term ‘Hybrid Learning’ has emerged as a way to do this. In reality, it’s a tough gig. As a teacher you are essentially teaching to two audiences, the students in class and those at home, joining remotely. We had some cases in Year 10 causing over 100 students to isolate. As a result, I had approximately 6 students per lesson in class and 20 joining from home via Teams.

I have been experimenting with the best ways to engage them all. Initially, I would set up my laptop to screen share with remote learners and have the camera live so they could hear and see me. Those present in the room would face the board, one would have a wireless keyboard and I would project the same content on the whiteboard behind me. By default I suppose, I was front of class again, the very model I was striving to avoid. Through the use of document cameras and breakout tasks, I found a better way which students said they felt more engaging.

Another challenge is not having any control over the home-learners. They join via Teams with screens off and mics on. As the lead teacher, you can’t tell who is engaging fully like you could in a classroom and that’s tough.

4) How do you think 2020 has changed the way education will be viewed in the future?

Great question. There are two significant changes to be discussed here. Firstly, there is the debate around exams, specifically the one-chance exam system in the UK (SATs, GCSEs and A Levels). Since the exam debacle last summer, there has been much written about this system and righty so. Perhaps it is time we revaluated this system and replaced it with something better. AI (Artificial Intelligence) also got a bad reputation amongst teachers due to the ‘algorithms’ used to calculate grades. This is a shame as I am believer in the power of AI is used in the right way.

Secondly, C19 forced learning online. In some settings, schools just replaced actual face-to-face learning with online equivalents or just set mundane, uninspiring worksheets via VLEs. In the best settings, schools provided 30-minute check ins with a menu of subjects, well-being slots and 1:1’s for those who needed it most. The biggest change came in the wake of COVID when all educators were forced to teach remotely, a seismic shift. If you take the technology adoption model as a lens to view this shift, essentially the early adopters saw this as an opportunity, a tipping point and the laggards were forced to get onboard. If that’s not the biggest single change since the invention of compulsory schooling then I don’t know what is.

5) What’s next for your ‘Future Classroom’ project?

We have just completed a student survey, taking in the ideas and opinions of over 300 students. The responses are currently being analysed but early indicators are that they love the future classroom, specifically the freedom it affords them in their learning.

Phase 2 welcomes touchscreen technology (as soon as COVID permits its use), linked with Biometrics on entry student profiles and learning objectives can be shared. We are also working with Epson to experiment with the use of Movario glass for the teacher in a Hybrid-setting, working on future solutions to problems we face now. A floor projector is scheduled, and we are currently experimenting with Virtual Reality, working with RedboxVR and ClassVR to find a product that aligns with our needs and the curriculum we deliver.

You can find out more about Shaftesbury School and their Future Classroom project at www.shaftesburyschool.co.uk

Future design concept

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Technology upgraded

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Development solutions

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