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What makes a classroom ‘modern’?

In the workplace, productivity is linked to environmental design, the modern classroom isn't any different. Get the best results from the space you have.

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There is a lot of talk about the ‘modern classroom’, with technology in education cited as key to 21st-century learning. However, while today’s classroom is unrecognisable from 20 years ago, all too often it is simply the means of teaching that has changed (e.g. chalkboard to interactive whiteboard).

Instead, to be truly modern we need to consider the reasons education must evolve, and what this change should look like, as well as the tools that will enable this transformation.

For example:

  • What skills do pupils need to succeed in our new digital age, and how can the 21st-century teacher best develop these competencies?
  • How are classrooms laid out, equipped and furnished, and do the four walls of the traditional classroom hinder or enable the way learning happens?
  • What digital technologies exist, and how can they enhance educational approaches?

Proponents of the modern classroom understand that new answers to these insights will transform everything we know about teaching. However, it is difficult for educators to know where best to invest to reap the greatest rewards, while avoiding short-term, low-impact ‘fads’.

The good news is that there are now three identified critical aspects to the modern classroom. All of which can be used by teachers to create a 21st-century learning environment that meets their needs, with the minimum of disruption.

1. Technology

From mobile devices (provided by the school and under Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives) to high-tech teaching aids, cloud-based platforms and mobile apps, technology is now firmly part of the school environment.

However, if educators had expected to see a dramatic increase in achievement as a result of this investment in ICT, they have largely been disappointed. With claims that 22% of the technology in our schools is ineffective.

“Schools and education systems are, on average, not ready to leverage the potential of technology.” Andreas Schleicher, OECD, September 2015

This doesn’t mean that technology does not have a critical role to play in the modern classroom. It merely highlights that technology alone – or technology for technology’s sake – is not enough.

Instead, technology needs to be harnessed by teachers to provide multi-sensory learning experiences which foster innovation, communication, and collaboration skills. In the bid to reap the benefits of edtech, a change of approach is crucial.

Find out more about how you can use edtech to build a modern classroom.

2. Space

When space is well planned, well used and well cared for, students are more engaged, activities can be more easily personalised, collaboration is facilitated, and feedback is more effective.

“A school’s physical design can improve or worsen children’s academic performance by as much as 25 percent in early years.” University of Salford/Nightingale Associates

Educators interested in creating modern classrooms should therefore consider:

  • Layout aspects. For example how space is divided and used, where equipment and furnishings are placed, and how flexible the arrangements are
  • Human aspects. Such as the spatial relationship of the teacher to their students (is the teacher at the front; do they have a desk?), whether students can move around, and how students are positioned for activities
  • Physical aspects. For example the state of repair of the room and the age and quality of its furnishings and teaching equipment
  • Environmental aspects. Such as air quality, noise pollution, light quality, and temperature.

In the workplace, productivity is linked to environmental design, with access to suitable spaces and comfort having a direct impact on employee performance and satisfaction. The modern classroom isn’t any different.

With many teachers across the UK currently dealing with issues of overcrowding and inadequate facilities. Find out how you can get the best results from the space you have.

3. Pedagogy

Evidence-based pedagogy is at the heart of the modern classroom. Without it, teachers and students will continue to do the same thing and learn in the same way; which is unlikely to achieve improved results.

The modern classroom unlocks and delivers new ways of learning. However, this doesn’t mean that teachers should forget everything they know.

Years of sustained political interference and policy changes have hindered deep learning in our schools. To succeed in our emerging and sophisticated digital economy, a refocus on deeper learning competencies is now a must if we are to prepare students for tomorrow’s workplace.

New pedagogical methods – such as collaborative learning, student-led learning, and flipped learning – are simply using developments in technology and space to provide teachers with new ways to instil deep learning.

Find out more about how deep learning can help to develop the collaboration skills, effective communication skills, and critical thinking skills students need.

Developing the modern classroom

Creating a modern classroom isn’t as simple as making a change once and for all. Instead, it requires a flexible approach which takes into account factors such as the latest research and best practice, the culture and context of the school, and the subject matter in question.

What’s more, advances in equipment and technology play a huge role in facilitating the modern classroom; helping to promote student-centric learning, engagement, collaborative learning, personalisation, and formative and summative assessment.

However, as we strive to better prepare students for higher education and workforce, it’s important that we understand that technology is only part of the solution. In other words, it’s not having technology that matters: it’s how and why we use it.

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