Bart Verswijvel is a Belgian educator who was a mother tongue teacher of Dutch in a secondary school for about 30 years. Since 2011 he has a part time job at the Flemish National Support Service for eTwinning in Brussels. In March 2012 Bart Verswijvel started working for European Schoolnet. As a Pedagogical Adviser of the Future Classroom Lab and as a Community and Education Officer he is involved in several EUN projects.
Bart Verswijvel is especially interested in CPD for teachers, in professional networks and in integrated and creative use of ICT in project work. He is a speaker at conferences and a leader of workshops.
Bart Verswijvel was a prize winner in several competitions like eTwinning Awards and Microsoft Innovative Teachers. In 2010 he was awarded the Queen Paola Prize for Education.
Future Classrooms – Bart Verswijvel
O. Teachers who started their profession before the early eighties of the previous century have witnessed the enormous impact of the digital revolution on society and on education. The view on the way we learn has changed drastically. The question is whether the traditional school infrastructure is still adequate enough and whether we should build so-called Future Classrooms.
In old school teaching the teacher is a story teller. The audience is positioned in a grid structure. This ‘chalk-and-talk’ model has been predominant since the industrial revolution. Especially in secondary education the model is still the mainstream model in most countries.
In a Future Classroom the teacher doesn’t have the profile of the omniscient story teller, nor a fixed position. The teacher doesn’t explain the learning content all the time for the audience of students. He/she organizes an educational play and puts the kids on the stage. Instead of being the audience, the students play an active role and have an audience to work for.
I. In 2013 European Schoolnet built on its premises in Brussels (Belgium) the Future Classroom Lab. It is a flexible learning space that fosters the new vision on learning. It is a meeting place for learners and teachers and for policy makers and industrial partners. It is a space for learning but also for reflection and for sharing and discussion.
The Future classroom lab has 6 learning zones that accommodate and visualize a variety of educational interaction and 21st Century Learning Activities.
The 6 zones can be divided into 2 groups. 3 zones more or less host the successive steps of an inquiry based learning project. These 3 key stages of the learning activity are represented in the Investigate, Create and Present zone.
In the investigation zone the students do research on data. Data can be anything: text material, video and audio, pieces of art, numbers etc. The students can investigate by reading and watching, by setting up science experiments, by organizing surveys, by using robots and game based learning etc.
New technology gives an added value to doing research by either providing rich, versatile and real life data, but also by providing tools to examine and to determinate. Students should be active researchers instead of passive listeners. They should be trained in how to find high quality resources and how to manage information. Critical thinking skills are crucial in the investigation zone.
In a traditional school learning activities are often not connected to what the students see and do in the outside world. It is important that students work on cross curricular topics rather than stick to the artificial boundaries of a school subject.
Also important is that the Investigation and research of the students should be connected to a problem-solving challenge.
The investigation students do ends up in a final product that expresses the outcomes of the research.
In the create zone the students finish the process of real knowledge building. Quite often learning activities require students no more than to reproduce information they are given. Real knowledge-building activities happen when students have to generate ideas and understandings that are new to them. Instead of mere reproduction students build knowledge by interpretation, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation.
In the creation zone the students make a showcase of their work. Teachers should encourage ownership for the students and give a certain amount of freedom in the way students make a product of the work. Students must have control over the ICT tools they use.
In earlier days teachers were the only audience students would work for when doing a task. The teacher was also the only person that would give feedback. In the future classroom students present their product for a real audience of peers.
The result of the students’ work can be presented in several ways. Students nowadays live in a culture of online sharing and that is, of course, also possible in an educational context. Teaching in the future classroom must therefore integrate e–safety issues. Presenting the outcomes of the inquiry based learning project can also take place in the classroom itself in an informal corner owned by the students. Presentations are interactive happenings where peers and the teacher give feedback. Presenting is a key stage in 21st Century Teaching with the focus on real communication.
The 3 remaining zones of the Future Classroom concentrate on the different ways of educational interaction and they refer to different learning styles.
The zones Interact, Exchange and Develop zones focus on the roles for students and teachers.
The interact zone is the zone for teacher led activities. It is in fact a more traditional classroom setting with the teacher in the front of the classroom and controlling every step of the learning activity. The teacher leads the students through a learning path under his supervision. The challenge of this type of classroom setting is to involve all the students. New technology in the Future Classroom offers possibilities to have every student on board.
Collaboration and exchange is highly appreciated as a 21st Century Skill. Students work together while investigating, creating and presenting. It is important to control the quality of collaboration. Ownership and shared responsibility should be integrated with the work in teams. High quality collaboration also gives the students one or more substantial decisions to make during the task and the work of the team members should be inter-dependent.
New technology can make a richer way of communication possible. Distance is not an issue any more and a-synchronous collaboration is very common in the classroom of the future.
The develop zone is the space for independent learning. This area is maybe the most futuristic because it shows how the view on learning has changed and will change. Independent learning has become very important. We will have to learn for the rest of our lives and it will not be limited to the time spent in a classroom. This attitude of Lifelong learning should be introduced at school.
Next to formal learning during the contact hours with the teacher, students should have the time and the space for personal development. They must get the freedom to work in homelike conditions. Self-regulation is also an important skill. Students must learn to work with minimal supervision, to plan long-term work and to monitor and assess its quality.
The possibilities of new technologies in the field of independent learning are tremendous. Virtual Learning Environments function as permanent classrooms including social interaction with other students.
Also the concept of the flipped classroom fits in the idea of the develop zone. Students learn some well-structured and very logical parts of the curriculum at home and that allows the teacher to devote the time in the classroom to project work and collaboration.
II. The idea of a Future Classroom Lab mirrors evolutions taking place in society. People are connected 24/7. However in a school culture the majority of teachers doesn’t quite often communicate with other teachers about didactics or opens the classroom door for peer review. Nowadays there are also many opportunities to connect the classroom and staffroom to the outside world. And again only advanced practitioners or advanced school leaders make use of the benefits of engaging in professional networks. The same counts for building relationships with other stakeholders like industry partners and policy makers.
Institutes with a Future Classroom do not only provide an innovative learning space. They also express a new attitude and vision towards learning in general, professional development and the role of a school in society. The concept of a Future Classroom can be summarized in this non-exhaustive list:
- The Future Classroom is a flexible learning space and allows for easy re-configuration according to the needs of the Learning Activity. It allows for easy and flexible repositioning of leaners and teachers.
- The Future Classroom has a mission to host innovative learning. Learning Activities taking place in the FCL try to incorporate new visions on pedagogy, 21st Century Skills and technology enhanced learning.
- In a Future Classroom a variety of activities take place. It is a place for learning activities and trainings, but also for meetings and discussions about education. A Future Classroom is a place for practice but also for reflection.
- The Future Classroom tries to involve and to connect to different stakeholders. A Future Classroom creates a dialogue with industry, policy makers, parents, communities of teachers etc.
- A Future Classroom has an open culture. E.g. Teachers observe each other’s lessons. Students use the Future Classroom to take part in collaboration projects like e.g. eTwinning. Future Classrooms can be used by and for educational events and meetings, etc.
- The Future Classroom communicates in an active way with the outside world. It informs about its activities. It acts as an inspirational lighthouse for the area.
III. Over the past years a huge amount of research took place on new learning space designs and how it could transform the teaching and learning process.
It is obvious that physical conditions have an influence on the well-being of students. Parameters like light, sound, temperature, air quality and a visual links to nature also have a proven impact on the academic results of students.
But there is more. Traditional classrooms divert learning into a traditional view on learning and a traditional educational interaction. The problem is question is whether traditional classroom environments are capable of providing the opportunity to host 21st Cent. education and to enable teachers and learners to teach and learn how they want.
Society has changed profoundly. The educational framework is still very traditional. New trends become mainstream and classrooms need to adapt to this.
LEARNING is a GAME of GIVE and TAKE
It is the student who has become the central figure both in the classroom and in the whole process of learning (Student- Centered Learning). Students are no longer just consumers of content. They also create content. The classroom is a workplace. Students should have access to a digital pen case and use the appropriate technology when needed. In this view there should be less physical boundaries than the ones of a traditional classroom. The teacher also acts as a coach for the students.
LEARNING GETS SOCIAL
Collaboration skills are highly valued these days. Collaborative Learning, Project-Based Learning, Peer Learning are more and more introduced in education. Again The physical boundaries of a traditional classroom are quite often in the way.
Learning is more than the hours spent under the supervision of a teacher. When setting up a Future Classroom also this aspect is important. A Future Classroom allows the learning process to reach beyond the classroom and enables students to experience it at any time and in any place. Future Classrooms are both a physical and a virtual concept.
A Future Classroom expresses a holistic view on learning. It is a physical environments used for learning in and beyond the classroom. On the other hand it is also a hub for networking and professional development.