Dec 07 2020

ISTE20 Live: COVID-19 Urges Schools to Reimagine Classroom Space

Ideas about the structure of classrooms and school spaces were evolving before the pandemic. As the adoption of tech accelerates, those plans are changing.

For all the challenges emergency remote learning brought in 2020, a window of opportunity may have been opened.

Presenting at ISTE20 Live, CDW education strategist Jennifer Brown highlighted a dramatic shift in teacher and parent mindsets that could enable school leadership to make progress on long-term road mapping for the classrooms and schools of the future.

It’s a shift that resulted as students across the country suddenly became tethered to devices instead of desks. Pointing to data from Speak Up, Project Tomorrow’s annual research endeavor, Brown noted the increase in teacher and parent valuation of technology as an effective method of delivering emergency remote learning this spring.

“Seventy-five percent of parents now think the effective use of technology in school is very important for their child’s future success,” Brown said. “This is an increase from 50 percent of parents before school closures. That means education leadership can reasonably anticipate a higher probability of passing technology funding referendums.”

Reimagining the Classroom of the Future

How can districts build upon this embracing of technology by parents and students? Brown suggests designing a 2030 road map with two buckets in mind: technologies that affect classrooms and technologies that impact school and district operations.

“The first of those of is anticipating teaching and learning in the classroom,” said Brown. “That’s going to include hardware advances and certain technologies becoming ubiquitous over time that are still in novel stages.” Think immersive technologies, such as virtual reality.

The second bucket, district and school operations, includes a number of areas that can benefit from major advances:

  • Exostructure: These are the technologies that enable districts to leverage cloud operations. “It allows institutions to adapt faster,” said Brown.
  • Data interoperability: This is the technology that allows for a seamless exchange and control of information data between applications. “Data from disparate apps and platforms will come together to contextualize students’ learning and allow each school and district to better understand all their students and support their paths to graduation,” she said.
  • Classroom transformation: “What we see is that by 2030, the brick-and-mortar school as a learning environment will have evolved as advances in technology are embraced,” said Brown. “Interoperability is going to enable schools to break down those proverbial walls of self-contained learning spaces as enhanced connectivity accommodates student movement throughout the building.”

To better exemplify the kind of transformation Brown describes, take this example: Rather than tying students to a single homeroom, classrooms will evolve into specialized spaces or labs that support project-based learning and design thinking. Additionally, schools will be able to transform spaces such as hallways or lobbies into learning spaces as more buildings are outfitted with Wi-Fi 6.

As these spaces evolve, technology will play an increasingly important role, Brown noted. Shared spaces will adapt automatically in response to a teacher’s proxy card or ID badge, setting up a space to his or her needs. “The value here is in the cognitive service; we are giving time back to the instructor.”

Artificial intelligence will also play a larger role in the years to come, said Brown, pointing to higher education as an environment that is already adopting it. Predictive analytics will also help “align attendance, behavior and course performance to make sure that students are set up for success and on a path to graduation.”

What Can School Districts Do to Prepare?

Brown recommended developing a district vision around a pedagogy that emphasizes teaching and learning, with technology as a tool. “You need to have a strong vision for teaching and learning first if that technology is going to have any impact on outcomes.”

For IT leaders, Brown recommended keeping interoperability at the forefront of future technology purchasing decisions, investigating Wi-Fi 6 and making decisions now to move to the cloud so that districts can take advantage of data interoperability when the time comes.

Finally, school leaders should consider building skill capacity on IT staffs and never forget the importance of security — starting with training.

“An informed user is one of the most important parts of a successful network security strategy,” Brown said.

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