I could simply start out and end with the statement that no one really knows what a modern classroom is because we haven’t really seen one, yet. But that would be a bit over the top, and possibly a bit negative as well. It might also be a disappointment for those, who think they know. It is true, though most classrooms, today, are still structured as they were in the last century.
It is also safe to say that the classrooms of today are spitting images of the classrooms of the 1990s, although some of the technology has changed. You probably won’t find a teacher facing the class over an overhead projector burning brightly in a darkened room, but you may find a teacher with back to students in front of a whiteboard, projection screen, or dry erase board. To be fair, we haven’t moved too far from the front of the room chalkboards and clapping erasers when it comes to teaching kids.
The 1990s all over again
It is also difficult to note any differences from the PowerPoint-style presentations teachers and students did in the 1990s, and those very similar presentations, today. We’ve become stuck, to a certain extent, in what worked then, and so easily seems to work now. And because it is so easy, we have continued to do the same things. It’s a safe and understandable position. In education, and especially in education technology, we hedge on the safe and familiar side of things. Unfortunately, this view of the classroom, or learning space, is one that is and remains stagnant. Now, that would have been OK in the 1990s, because those ideas were fresh, but it isn’t OK, today, where most students already know so many digital tools and solutions, as well as their value to accomplish tasks, far beyond media enjoyment.
This century and beyond
We toss around the concept of the modern classroom without stopping to think whether it has changed enough to suit the needs of students today, this century, and beyond. That should be embarrassing. While it’s difficult to figure what will happen next week in education, let alone 3-5 years down the road, to make no movement beyond seats in a row, or 1990s stagnant technology for teachers and students is just plain lazy and unacceptable. Sure, there will most likely always be some traditional learning solutions at school, but not going beyond, is an unforgivable position in this digital learning-anywhere cloud-based time. If the only one with hands-on technology and solutions is the teacher, we need to re-think and re-tool our idea of the classroom/learning space, immediately.
Whiteboards and sticky notes
Today, if the so-called modern classroom runs solely on a front of the room whiteboard and sticky notes, it is a look into the past and not the future. Amongst many things, the learning space of today could be cloud-, or local network-based, have Internet/broadband access, and wireless connections for all sorts of digital tools from smartphones to laptops to tablets to desktops with all sorts of operating systems, which should include BYOD devices and solutions as well. The classroom/learning space can be digitally managed faster and easier to do more, especially if your curriculum goals are to teach less but know more. Software and app solutions that help educators teach and empower students to learn are out there to help, and it has absolutely nothing to do with seats in a row. It has everything to do with where we should be now.
All that said, the modern classroom should be more of a complex learning environment, or center, designed to let students research, problem solve, discover, and create. While taking a selfie and projecting it on the screen is cool once, or twice, it shouldn’t be a complete learning objective, but rather, possibly, a small part of a solution that has far greater meaning, importance, and reach.
The biggest catalyst for change
By far the biggest catalyst for moving into this digital era of teaching and student learning is knowing how to get there. And if we are lost, and cannot even define the modern classroom, it is impossible to build one, especially one that works for teachers and students today, with enough flexibility to grow into the future. I’m convinced that school leaders at all levels need help understanding what’s needed, as well as gathering ideas and support in getting there. Many times the most important thing considered is the last to be considered, and that is the consulting and professional development necessary to pull off change. Without that integral piece of the puzzle, purchased products and solutions can go unused or get used incorrectly. When that happens, it is easier for an educator to fall back on what is familiar, rather than what is new, bright, and right.
Consulting and PD
This is not to diminish the importance of choosing the right solutions for a classroom in the first place, it is just to say that the best hardware, software, and app choices can gather dust without knowing what you need to do, how to use those purchases, and the best path to take. For that, investing in some education and education technology guidance from education marketplace leaders, who really know what it takes, makes sense. Consulting and PD should be planned requisites for being future-ready today. Defining the modern classroom is not a cookie-cutter; it requires creative re-thinking and stepping away from the 1990s education familiarity. When that happens, we’ll have many more examples of leadership and scaling to share. That will make the task easier for those, who will follow.