How the classroom of the future will look like | Sunday Observer

How the classroom of the future will look like

31 December, 2017
A code event conducted at Temple Trees
A code event conducted at Temple Trees

Travelling to the Bett Asia 2017 summit which was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia recently gave me an opportunity to get a glimpse of how the classroom of the future would look like. Emerging technologies such as, Cloud computing, Mixed Reality and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are paving the way for the future of education in ways we may have yet to see. There is an enormous digital 3D human eye in the middle of the room. The screen shows it sitting right in front of me. I know it is not really there but yet I cannot resist reaching out to touch it.

The technologies at the Bett Asia 2017 global edtech summit in Kuala Lumpur were certainly eye-opening. Emerging technologies like augmented reality and artificial intelligence confined to high-tech design labs are now making their way into classrooms, as teachers embrace them as learning tools.

The children in classrooms today learn differently to children 10 years ago. Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s Vice-President global education, describes today’s children as “fidgetals”.

“We think of Generation Z as the first fidgetal generation – students in classrooms who do not see a difference between the education and the digital realms they enjoy. Most students these days are as proficient on an iPad as they are on a scooter. When it comes to education, schools need to meet their market. Technology is inherent to them. This will create tensions as we play ‘catch up’ and try to understand how they think about the world around them. It is not about using technology for technology’s sake. The focus should be on helping students find new ways to learn that produces good outcomes, and if this means more immersive experiences using the latest technologies, then great,” Salcito said.

The up-coming technologies such as, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Mixed Reality, Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT) and Cloud Learningcould potentially change education for the better.

We take it for granted that Google can predict what we want to find and that Facebook can recognize our faces in photographs. AI is set to be part of our world and not just in the way we use our devices, but in our everyday existence.

So, the entrance of AI into the classroom is not totally unexpected. Seeing a robotic hand used as a learning tool surprised me. Teachers can now get their (human) hands on lesson plans and equipment that allow students to build machines that emulate human body parts. In a collision of life sciences, robotics, data sciences and engineering, students can build a sensorised glove and from there, a robotic hand.

Mixed or augmented reality is a blended form of virtual reality and real-life and can make learning feel more “real” or “touchable”. Children can create anything in a program like Minecraft and export it into Mixed Reality Viewer (free and native to Windows 10) where it seemingly becomes part of the real world.

Social studies

Tools such as, Microsoft HoloLens – essentially, a headset that transforms abstract concepts into 3D experiences can bring new meaning to interactive learning. Social studies is set to become much more exciting with opportunities to recreate historical sites and explore other countries and cultures. Lessons on space and astronomy will be transformed. Learning a musical instrument will be easier than ever.

Big Data is online learning tools and learning management systems which can gather achievement data and socioeconomic information to help us understand where Sri Lankan schools sit on an international stage, where our schools sit in relation to each other, and even the performance of individual students. Collecting and analyzing data is one thing. It is using it to identify trends, predict outcomes and knowing how to intervene to derive better outcomes.

Graham Brown-Martin, founder of Learning without Frontiers, believes to achieve a more personalized approach to learning we need to value small data more.

“This has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with talking to our students more. A Harvard longitudinal study showed that the key to happiness is relationships – yet there is nothing in our schooling to teach relationships. The focus of education should be on projects, passion, peers and play,” Brown-Martin said.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of connected devices that can enable ‘Smart Classrooms’ collect, analyze and package data about noise, temperature, lighting and so on to enable optimal learning conditions. Some research suggests that students could one day find themselves sitting on smart chairs with pressure sensors collecting data about them.

Traditional homework

Bett Asia speaker Dr. Matt Harris from the British School Jakarta says many schools have evolved beyond platform loyalty when it comes to BYOD (bring your own device) programs.

“Opaheke School in Auckland is one such school. Its BYOD scheme is called My Mobile Learning, and Principal Sean Valvoi says, it does not matter what device students use. It is not about the device, but the pedagogy behind the device. Being able to access their work in the cloud at any time or place is more important than which device students use,” Harris said.

The cloud has introduced more flexibility into education. It has given rise to flipped learning where traditional homework time is used to read the learning materials and class time is used to discuss specific issues and engage in project-based learning.

“A teacher’s focus should be on pedagogy and enabling 21st century skills like critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. Emerging technologies are merely tools in a teacher’s toolkit. I always say, ‘If technology is not useful, do not use it’. It is not enough for teachers to say, ‘I am cool, I am using Minecraft’. Students need to be able to show the benefits of what they are doing and what they have learnt. Education is fundamentally changing. But while technology is inevitably part of the new order, it is not merely a proxy for tools and systems teachers have used in the past. We are not using technology to recreate an old system of education,” said Director Microsoft Education Asia Pacific, Don Carlson.

As part of its ongoing support for’s Hour of Code, Microsoft conducted an hour of code event at Temple Trees recently with 200 students from all parts of Sri Lanka to encourage Sri Lankan youth to try and pursue computer science and get future ready.

This is the third consecutive year that Microsoft is part of this global call to action for students to spend an hour learning the basics of coding, during Computer Science Education Week (4 - 10 December). The event brought together many partners who volunteered their time to help the children learn an hour of code.

Hour of Code is an opportunity for educators and institutions to let students experience the basics of coding through free tutorials conducted by partners. The movement started as a one-hour introductory activity to computer science and is designed to demystify “code”.

Sunil Hettiarachchi, speaking at the event said, coding and programming would play a key role in the near future and that they would also redefine the teaching-learning methodology. He also added that schools would be given laptops and Microbit devices, all with the goal of fostering programming from a grassroots level.

Technology is transforming our society and economy at an unprecedented rate, putting new demands on our current workforce as well as on youth who will soon join that workforce. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, 65 percent of children who enter primary school today will work in completely new jobs that do not currently exist.

Less secure

In the future, education will no longer be restricted to formalized institutes like schools and classes. Using AI, cloud computing, online social networking and adaptive learning systems utilizing eye tracking technology, learning can take place outside the traditional classroom.

“Increasing security threats in today’s digital economies is real and cannot be ignored. There is a continued perception among business leaders that the cloud is less secure. However, they may be less privy to the advances being made in the cloud on security and privacy and need more exposure on how, with the current threat environment, it will be safer being in the cloud than relying on traditional forms of IT.

People do not use technology that they do not trust. This is a golden rule that applies to organizations and individuals alike. Ensuring security, privacy, and compliance are key to enabling educational institutions to carry out digital transformation with confidence. As such, protecting sensitive data requires a new and integrated approach, all of which we have invested in significantly,” said Carlson.