Digital classroom: a strong case for an interactive learning ecosystem

Creating the right learning and teaching environment for students and educators is key. Technology plays a central role in education and the preparation of students for life after school. Jane Ashworth, UK MD of SMART Technologies, considers the research and makes a strong case for an interactive learning ecosystem

Digital classroom: a strong case for an interactive learning ecosystem EdexecEducation’s like a living ecosystem, a group of interconnected elements formed by the interaction between the whole school community and its pedagogical – and increasingly technological – environment.

A 2016 study – Teaching, technology and Learning, commissioned by SMART Technologies – of 400 teachers, administrators, and IT professionals in education from 26 countries demonstrated that many elements are necessary for a classroom ecosystem’s health and effectiveness – including technology such as mobile devices, education and management software, large interactive displays, sound, networking and cloud technologies.

Large interactive displays are vital to the classroom ecosystem, and remain pivotal in effective group and whole class pedagogy and student driven learning. With attainment levels, especially in maths and English, increasing by up to 34%, with an average improvement of 16%.

As we continue to drive education towards useable lifetime skills and preparing students for viable futures in a technology based society, group learning, collaboration, and the more social aspects of education are gaining importance and are beginning to be measured in some geographies.

The interconnected elements in the ecosystem are both interdependent and synergistic – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Pedagogical and technological priorities

Today most school systems have strategic technology priorities that include the conversion to mobile, cloud, 1:1, networking, and security. These are all valuable components in building a healthy technology layer in the classroom ecosystem.

The transformative power of mobile/digital content for school age children is not in much doubt, even with the disparate adoption of technology in Europe. For example;

Biting budgets

Despite well-intentioned strategies, educators and administrators, constrained by budgets, appear to make decisions that trade off spending on the infrastructure and support that is necessary to effectively support mobile/laptop 1:1 programmes and end up with user devices that are not well integrated.

Some research advises that mobile technology is a great addition to the classroom but is insufficient to serve all classroom needs.

Many elements are necessary for the ecosystem’s health and effectiveness. These include technology elements such as mobile devices, education and management software, large interactive displays, sound, networking, and cloud technology.

As we continue to drive education towards useable lifetime skills and preparing students for viable futures in a technology based society, group learning, collaboration, and the more social aspects of education are gaining importance and are beginning to be measured in some geographies.

Student outcomes

For the last several years we have been told that educational technology had little measurable impact on education outcomes. Several sources indicate that technology alone has little impact, but a broad implementation addressing people, pedagogy and technology can have significant impact.

In three recent studies of K-12 classrooms in Europe we find proof of the value of large format interactive displays:

Students experienced increased frequency of active learning, teachers could better tailor lessons to meet the needs of students, and parents found their children to be more self-directed and more collaborative.

Further measurable improvements were attributed to the technology, including reduced absence (over five per cent to less than two per cent), and strong improvements in average attainment levels in reading, writing, and mathematics.

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Students reported improved pace, engagement, and the ability to review and revise content. Further, a strong association was made between the use of large scale displays and the benefits when teachers adopted activities enhancing sharing and collaboration.

This research shows that large interactive displays are vital to the classroom ecosystem, and are pivotal in effective group and whole class pedagogy and student driven learning.

Devil’s in the detail (of the research)

During the SMART study referenced above, the sample was segmented by use of mobile devices (tablets and phones) and large scale interactive displays (interactive whiteboards, flat panels, and projection) into four groups:

  • High use of both technology sets (29% of the sample). Generally daily/most lessons use
  • Low of use both technologies (26%). Generally weekly or less frequent use
  • High use of mobile and low use of interactive displays (21%)
  • High use of interactive displays and low use of mobile (24%)

Increased use of mobile and display technology is strongly related to software and pedagogy, specifically the frequency of group activity vs. individual activity. Further, increased use of technology, group pedagogy, and software is strongly related to student success.

The chart below displays the relationship between frequent group activity/pedagogy and mobile and display technology segments. It describes the 37% of the sample that reported group activity weekly or more frequently and how often they used display and mobile technology. Almost half of the segment, with high use of both technologies, reports frequent group activity. (Sig .067)

Digital classroom: a strong case for an interactive learning ecosystem Edexec

For classrooms with high levels of both, class collaboration software was frequently used 72% of the time. Use of student collaboration software, class collaboration software, game based software, and content creation software all positively and significantly relate to group activity.
Along with the increase in group pedagogy, key software use also increases with the frequency of mobile/display technology use. For example, frequent use of class collaborative software was reported in 24% of classrooms with low levels of use of both mobile and displays.

Students are winning

Multiple observed measures of student success all relate positively to group activity. The chart below displays the relationship between group activity and success measures. All are significant at the .100 level.

The three strongest changes are in SEL (Social Emotional Learning) skills (an increase of 37%), participation (59%) and interdependence (55%). Group activity clearly matters in teaching the social oriented skills necessary in preparing students for the future. It is supported by a technology ecosystem with broad use of large scale interactive displays, mobile, software, and connectivity.

Digital classroom: a strong case for an interactive learning ecosystem Edexec

Why this matters

The research shows that many things are required to prepare students for the future. Technology deployments alone do not drive outstanding student results.

The effective and healthy ecosystem involves professional development for teachers and media specialists, pedagogy and activity related content, ongoing support and the integration of individual and group technologies.

Mobile and 1:1 are now commonplace – or about to be. Large scale interactive displays are also well-established in many environments. A trade-off of any of the parts of the ecosystem is likely to be ineffective. Maximum benefits accrue from the thoughtful integration of all.

Technology is changing the world by changing the way knowledge can be shared. The latest software and hardware solutions empower everyone — from primary school students to innovators in Fortune 500 companies — to come together to explore and expand on ideas, bringing them to life without geographical or technological limitations.

About the author
Jane Ashworth is UK MD of SMART Technologies. SMART Technologies Inc. is a world leader in simple and intuitive classroom technology solutions. We are an innovator in software and interactive technologies that enable natural collaboration, helping every student and teacher discover and develop their greatness. To learn more, visit www.smarttech.com

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