Connecting classrooms for better learning outcomes

Technology in the classroom hasn’t been all it’s cracked up to be, but the rise of AV and IT integration means this is a fast-changing field…The convergence of audio visual and information technology is integral to the classrooms of today and tomorrow. Teachers tasked with keeping up with emerging technologies and learning models—like AR, VR and flipped classrooms—need user-friendly solutions that won’t slow down learning.

If you weren’t born digital, you may remember a time when the school’s technology department was one TV and video player wheeled between classrooms.

The convergence of audiovisual (AV) and information technology (IT) is integral to the classrooms of today and tomorrow. Teachers tasked with keeping up with emerging technologies and learning models—like AR, VR and flipped classrooms—need user-friendly solutions that won’t slow down learning.

There’s no going back to the days of textbooks and chalkboards. Here we look at how classrooms have changed and how technology is helping educators keep up.

The evolution of the classroom

With the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) making it compulsory for teachers to use digital technologies across every subject area, educational institutions are looking to their AV and IT providers for innovative solutions.

Just like workplaces, classrooms evolve with available technology. A typical classroom or lecture hall has moved from a single teacher standing at the front of the room struggling to be heard to high resolution projection, virtual and augmented realities, and content creation tools.

Keeping up with students

Talking about the classroom of the future makes it seem as if it’s on the distant horizon, but technology is in classrooms now.

Professor John Hattie, Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, says that students are currently way ahead of classroom technology. He believes technology hasn’t had the major impact we’ve expected over the past 50 years.

“The real question is why it hasn’t had an impact,” he says. “I know for example, that there are stunning virtual high schools, but there are also terrible ones and the terrible ones are simply ordinary high schools online.”

Professor Hattie notes teacher education is a case where technology can help make things easier right now.

“I think there will be a time in the near future where instead of sending experts out to schools to watch a teacher, it can be done from a central resource.”

AR and VR in the classroom

The hands-on technology used in the classroom generally mirrors tech students are familiar with from home. This bridges the gap between everyday technology and learning, and creates opportunities for evolving areas like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to play a part in learning and education.

From preschool children to higher education students, the potential for AR and VR to create immersive and effective learning environments is enormous. In recent research, 93 per cent of teachers agreed their students would be excited to use VR, and over 80 per cent agreed it could help improve learning outcomes. As costs decrease, and content and awareness grows, the AR and VR is a high growth opportunity for the education market.

VR in action: UNSW

The higher education sector is an early adopter of collaborative and interactive education technologies.

The School of Mining Engineering at the University of NSW (UNSW) have worked with industry partners to create a VR Suite to train students in realistic underground mine operations and emergency situations in a safe and controlled environment.

A world-first, the Suite features floor-to-ceiling screens and the AVIE VR simulator (Advanced Visualisation and Interaction Environment) projects 360-degree 3D images across the walls in cinematic quality. Students duck under overhead pipes and around machinery as they explore the mine environment.

 

The Advanced Visualisation and Interaction Environment (AVIE) – casts 360-degree 3D images against the dark surrounds with cinematic clarity at UNSW’s School of Mining Engineering.

 

Flipped classrooms: how AV and tech play a part

Professor Hattie notes that smart technology can’t substitute for the flawed ways we currently teach—with too much emphasis on knowledge consumption. This idea is key to the idea of ‘flipped classrooms’.

A flipped classroom is based on students starting to learn about a subject outside of the classroom using tech and AV solutions, with classroom time then devoted to digging deeper into the topic. It’s a flip of the traditional learning model of learning from the teacher standing at the front of the classroom, and then exploring in more detail through homework and assignments.

AV and tech supports flipped classrooms in both learning approaches—the initial direct learning may be provided as audio or video recordings, accessed online and letting students work at their own pace. Class time is spent on active learning to suit different styles (text, videos, audio, multimedia), and might involve tools like interactive whiteboards with embedded multimedia capabilities. IT and AV access also create a new world of content creation—create your own podcast, recordings, videos and resources rather than be a passive observer or other content.

Using tech to train the archaeologists of tomorrow

Dr Andrew Fairbairn the UQ School of Social Sciences uses the flipped classroom approach to move away from the traditional lecture-tutorial format.

Through this, IT and AV are a key part of delivering core content online for students to access at their convenience via pre-recorded lectures, audio and multimedia. Interestingly, this use of technology before classes—also known as integrated contact sessions—sometimes mean less tech being used face-to-face. These sessions focus more on debate and discussion, and build students problem-solving and critical thinking.

Dr Fairbairn says the flipped approach is a more effective way of teaching practical topics.

“You’ll find students start to lead discussions. It opens up the class and encourages discussion in a more informal and relaxed way. It’s active learning.”

Preparing students for the digital workplace

The classroom of the future is already here, and will continue to evolve at a rapid pace as AV and IT possibilities grow exponentially.

Connecting classrooms through technology is about much more than cutting down on paper and saving time at the photocopier. With a commitment from education providers to be early adopters of new technologies, and support for teachers, it provides smart opportunities to engage students and prepare them for the digital workplace.