The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

Classrooms of the future

Martina Wolff de Carrasco and Elmar Husmann detail how curiosity and creativity can thrive in modern learning spaces.

Observing children is one of the best ways to find out how learning happens, be it as a side-effect of life, through experimentation or trial and error, or by creativity and curiosity. Children are explorers.

Professor Yong Zhao, who holds the presidential chair at the University of Oregon’s College of Education in the US, argues that most young children are full of creativity and curiosity when they enter the educational system. But what happens when they leave school? They resemble sausages, says Zhao. They all look like each other, moulded to meet the supposed needs of the labour market and to fit national standards.

There’s nothing wrong with sausages but they do lack curiosity and creativity – two vital 21st-century skills. The same can be said of adults. In its Skills Outlook 2013 report, the OECD presented findings from the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) – a complementary study to the PISA assessment at school age – that found that, on average, only 6% of adults demonstrated the highest level of proficiency in “problem-solving in technology-rich environments”.

What can be done to provide children and adults alike with coveted (by employers) 21st century skills? These interlinked skills combine foundational literacies (for example, technical ICT knowledge and coding) with competences (such as problem solving and creativity) and character qualities (like initiative and curiosity). (See Figure 1 overleaf).

Technology usually tops the list when politicians are asked how we can reform education systems. That is why spending on high-tech devices in schools reached $13 billion worldwide in 2013, with the US alone spending more than $4 billion that year on mobile devices. Total global spending on educational technology is set to reach $19 billion by 2019.

However, we must not forget that technology is just a tool, made for humans by humans. Kentaro Toyama, W K Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan School of Information in the US, calls this the “Law of Amplification”, saying “technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces so, in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there …[and it also] amplifies the children’s propensities”.

Put more simply, a great teacher will achieve even greater results with the help of educational technology, a mediocre one won’t. The same goes for children. They can develop and learn much more easily with digital devices – assuming they have the right learning space. Yet it’s also possible that they will just end up playing Angry Birds.

To support competencies such as creativity, we need to rethink the entire environment in which learning takes place. As Mihali Csikszentmihaly, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University in the US, observed as long ago as 1996: “It is easier to enhance creativity by changing conditions in the environment than by trying to make people think more creatively”.

So what is the missing element that would give technology the cutting edge? We think the answer to this lies in new learning spaces that combine excellent technology with flexible designs that inspire people. These would give pupils room to explore, experiment and to acquire those 21st-century skills they need in order to thrive in the digital age. We will call these spaces “Classrooms of the Future”. Here are just a few examples:

The new learning spaces are not at school

Think about it. Why do you have to sit down to learn? Why do you have to read – especially if you are a visual or audio sort of person? If you want to learn, what good does it do to have a wall between you and the world?

When we considered these questions, we realised that digitisation would allow us to bring learning back into life – where it belongs. So we started to create learning spaces in all kinds of places: on the street; in museums; in libraries; and, especially, at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany.

Since 2012, the Classroom of the Future has been a feature of the Frankfurt Book Fair. We encourage schoolchildren and teachers to visit and immerse themselves in this new environment. They become active members of pre-designed learning expeditions in all parts of the Fair and they meet experts and get to know new technologies. That is when learning happens (see Figure 2 in PDF).

We have also established different zones, including a pupils’ makers’ lab, a media creation office, small teamwork spaces, and flexible open spaces in which teams collate and discuss the results of their expeditions.

Redefining the role of the book

While digital tools for education are on the rise, we should not forget the printed book, still the most widespread and affordable tool in education. We started an initiative for educational publishers, digital media experts and printing technologists to collaborate in creating a “schoolbook of the future” to support our learning expe ditions. We chose a hybrid approach that blends digital text and traditional print, producing a printed book that can be enhanced and co-created by teachers and pupils using digital content.

The classroom of the future is also about reading and writing – data and code

Gesche Joost, professor for design research and German Digital Champion for the EU Commission, is an advocate of digital literacy in the classroom. She deplores the fact that German schools still work largely offline and looks enviously at the US and the UK, where coding and data literacy are already part of the curriculum. Understanding how “digital” works will be vital for success in a digital world, she said at the recent Code Week 2015 conference.

Yet the reality is still very different in most of Europe. An initiative such as the BBC’s Micro:bit, which last year distributed tiny, codeable computers to 11-year-olds across the UK, is a step in the right direction.

We now want to build on this by producing a digital kit to distribute to school pupils, prompting them to play with code and data just as they would with paint and paper.

The classroom of the future lets pupils explore using all their senses

Explorers are makers, movers and shakers. They do not sit behind desks. They and their peers take the world in their hands. We took a do-it-yourself approach last year to let school children explore their dream jobs, hands-on.

Being a journalist for a day with a microphone in their hands showed them more about that particular job than their teachers ever could. We have also brought filmmakers, audio producers, graphic artists, naturalists, computer game designers and many other experts to Frankfurt to work with our pupils.

Project ZERO at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in the US has investigated the impacts of maker-centred learning.

“The most salient benefits of maker-centred learning for young people have to do with developing a sense of self and a sense of community that empower them to engage with and shape the designed dimension of their world”, say project experts.

Shouldn’t this be the ultimate aim of education in the 21st century, to develop young people’s self-reliance and build on their individual talents, sparking their curiosity and empowering them to lead their lives and shape the world around them as active citizens, with passion and creativity?

We are convinced there is a need to rethink our educational environments and to pursue innovations constantly with that aim in mind.

Frankfurt Book Fair
19 – 23 October 2016, Hall 4.2

Classrooms of the future

See more articles from Vol.10 Issue 02 – ’16.

Latest posts by Elmar Husmann (see all)
Latest posts by Martina Wolff de Carrasco (see all)
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