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Blog Post In: General

Technology in schools: Future changes in classrooms

Posted in: General Published: February 13th 2015

Technology has the power to transform how people learn - but walk into some classrooms and you could be forgiven for thinking you were entering a time warp.

There will probably be a whiteboard instead of the traditional blackboard, and the children may be using laptops or tablets, but plenty of textbooks, pens and photocopied sheets are still likely.

And perhaps most strikingly, all desks will face forwards, with the teacher at the front.

The curriculum and theory have changed little since Victorian times, according to the educationalist and author Marc Prensky.

"The world needs a new curriculum," he said at the recent Bett show, a conference dedicated to technology in education. "We have to rethink the 19th Century curriculum."

Most of the education products on the market are just aids to teach the existing curriculum, he says, based on the false assumption "we need to teach better what we teach today".

He feels a whole new core of subjects is needed, focusing on the skills that will equip today's learners for tomorrow's world of work. These include problem-solving, creative thinking and collaboration.

'Flipped' classrooms

One of the biggest problems with radically changing centuries-old pedagogical methods is that no generation of parents wants their children to be the guinea pigs.

Mr Prensky he thinks we have little choice, however: "We are living in an age of accelerating change. We have to experiment and figure out what works."

"We are at the ground floor of a new world full of imagination, creativity, innovation and digital wisdom. We are going to have to create the education of the future because it doesn't exist anywhere today."

He might be wrong there. Change is already afoot to disrupt the traditional classroom.

The "flipped" classroom - the idea of inverting traditional teaching methods by delivering instructions online outside of the classroom and using the time in school as the place to do homework - has gained in popularity in US schools.

The teacher's role becomes one of a guide, while students watch lectures at home at their own pace, communicating with classmates and teachers online.

Salman Khan is one of the leading advocates of "flipped" classrooms, having first posted tutorials in maths for his young cousins on YouTube in 2004.

Their huge popularity led to the creation of the not-for-profit Khan Academy, offering educational videos with complete curricula in maths and other subjects.

The project has caught the eye of the US Department of Education, which is currently running a $3m (£1.9m) trial to gauge the effectiveness of the method. Now the idea has reached the UK.

Teachers 'surprised'

Mohammed Telbany heads the IT department at Sudbury Primary School in Suffolk. He has been experimenting with the "flipped" classroom and recently expanded it to other lessons.

"The teachers facilitate, rather than standing in front of the children telling them what to do, and the children just come in and get on with what they are doing," he says.

"It has surprised the teachers that the kids can excel on their own, with minimal teaching intervention."

In the developing world where, according to some estimates, up to 57 million children are unable to attend primary school, the idea of children learning without much adult intervention is a necessity not a luxury.

Prof Sugata Mitra, from Newcastle University, has been experimenting with self-learning since his famous hole-in-the-wall computer experiments in the slums of Delhi in 1999.