The classroom of the future: Interactivity, not conformity

Ash Merchant, Head of Business Development for Education at Fujitsu, explores the critical role of technology in the classroom

Ash Merchant, Head of Business Development for Education at Fujitsu, explores the critical role of technology in the classroom, how transformational changes can only take place with great teaching and why training and support is critical to helping teachers through this change.

Recently, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released a report concluding that schools which heavily invest information and communication technologies (ICT) for education have seen no noticeable improvement in reading, mathematics or science scores.

However, this report neglected to consider the most important conversation at hand. It is no longer about providing technology and devices; it’s about teaching younger generations how to use it. Five years from now, we are facing a predominantly digital economy, with it being forecast that the UK will require 2.3 million digitally skilled workers by 2020. But are our children ready to enter such a workforce?

Many would argue no. With recent research from Intel finding while 65% of kids will end up in jobs that haven’t been created yet, only 10% of schools offer any kind of computer science classes.  

There’s a huge disconnect between what’s being taught now and what skills young people will need to compete in the jobs markets of the future.

One factor which is pivotal to changing this is the role of the 21st century teacher and their use of technology in the classroom. However, with the increasing demands already being placed on teaching staff and without adequate training and support, it is unreasonable to expect them to adopt new technology and demonstrate its benefit on teaching and learning outcomes.

Preparing for the classroom of the future

The rapid rate in which innovative technology is changing, developing and advancing is having a hugely disruptive affect across all sectors of society – education being one of them. While once a teacher would stand at the front of the classroom, pointing to a chalkboard and students would take notes in their A5 notebooks, this has now evolved to using interactive whiteboards, film projectors and tablets.

However, simply introducing new devices into the classroom is no longer the most effective way to reach and truly engage students.  Imagine dropping a teacher from the Victorian era into a 2015 classroom – yes, they might need a few minutes to learn how to use a laptop or desktop computer, but the essence of the teaching methods are guaranteed to be similar – students still have to conform. 

With more and more technological capabilities emerging every day, the traditional ‘four walled’ classroom structure is becoming increasingly inefficient. Children are incredibly tech-savvy from an early age. A recent Childwise report indicated that of the 8.6 million children aged 5-16 in the UK 73% have a laptop, PC or tablet. On average this age group spends 2.5 hours watching television and 1.5 hours online per day.

The traditional classroom teaching environment is no longer the most effective method of teaching. Educational institutions need to look forward to prepare students to meet the demands of a changing digital nation. Consider utilising cloud based learning solutions so kids can log-in from anywhere, anytime to access their work, or provide access to multiple teachers to ensure a ‘best fit’ teaching style for each student.

Furthermore, technology can greatly benefit the teacher. The days of marking with a red pen will soon be long gone. Utilising programmes like Office 365 or just a handful of Microsoft’s education app portfolio are guaranteed to support a teacher in reducing time spent on menial tasks and allows for more time focussed on student engagement and creating an engaging learning environment. In some cases teachers work 60 or 70 hours per week. Technology can support a system by which students go home and complete work in their own time, freeing up the time during the day for teachers to focus on face-to-face interactive teaching.

Supporting teachers to make the tech transformation

While the benefits of utilising technology in teaching seem almost endless, the key to this transformational change is of course the teachers.

Somewhat worryingly, a NASUWT Teachers’ Union report found that 83% of teachers who teach Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a subject, said that they do not receive regular ICT-related training and CPD. However, the report also concluded that teachers made specific references to the need to develop the skills and aptitudes that pupils need for the real world – highlighting their dedication to the cause.

There is no arguing that embedding a new technology into a school is always going to be challenging. But, by working closely with IT solutions providers to ensure pre-implementation training and support for teachers, you will ensure that the new equipment is utilised to its full potential and empowers staff with the knowledge and confidence to use it.

In turn, if teachers can gain a thorough understanding of the technology and how to use it effectively, this knowledge can be utilised to prepare the UK’s younger generations for the guaranteed digital workplace they will find themselves in. To get children involved in building their digital skills with the oversight and teaching of knowledgeable educators, the younger generations won’t be walking blindly into a workforce they are not ready for.

Not only that, but the combination of great technology and great teaching will help broaden their horizons for a future career.

Engaging the 21st century kid

Increasingly, teachers have a growing responsibility to ensure the engagement of their pupils – and technology can very much facilitate this. Through the use of tools like cloud computing to allow for online collaboration, interactive learning like completing learning challenges online, or even blended learning where students watch video lectures outside of class to learn content online, and then do their homework in class with the guidance of teachers in person – technology is progressing the learning environments of a generation that is leading the world’s digital race.

The education system needs to look towards the classroom of the future, where lessons are not contained between four walls, but are flexible, accessible and interactive. However the only way this will happen is if the core of education – the teacher – is supported through the transition. As much as the student needs educating in digital skills, it is vital those responsible for teaching those skills are just as knowledgeable.