The Classroom of Tomorrow: Here Today!

from Educators' eZine

We know we need many new schools to replace aging structures and/or to support booming student populations. We must also build classrooms that not only meet the teaching and learning needs of today, but are flexible enough to adapt to new pedagogies, learning technologies and instructional tools – even some that do not yet exist.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the concept of building classrooms for the future these past three years since I was charged with conceptualizing and overseeing the construction of three “Classrooms of the Future” in Montclair State University’s ADP Center for Teacher Preparation and Learning Technologies. Many people ask me when visiting these now completed classrooms, “If it is a Classroom of the Future, how does it exist today?”

To be sure, these classrooms are outfitted with some of the latest and greatest instructional technologies. For example, a teacher can simultaneously conduct a science experiment with his/her students using a digital document camera that projects to a large screen while displaying a Web-based animation depicting a related scientific process on another screen. In addition, using another screen, an Internet2 connection and some wireless microphones, students can videoconference with an expert on the scientific topic they are studying.

Finally, the teacher works along with the students using a spreadsheet to crunch data from the experiment on a Smartboard while the students are doing the same on their wireless Internet connected palm pilots or laptops. Of course all of this is being recorded to a DVD or to the Web so that students may take a second look later on that evening while doing their homework or studying for the next day’s test. Even though you would be hard-pressed to find this level of instructional technology in many K-12 classrooms, it is still considered the educational technology oftoday, negating the idea that it is the technology that makes the classrooms futuristic. In fact, it is the flexibility and adaptability of these classrooms that make them futuristic. Flexibility in a sense that they can be reconfigured to meet the instructional needs of new and evolving pedagogies and adaptable enough to accommodate emerging and not yet invented instructional technologies.

For instance, when designing the power and data requirements of the classroom, we insisted that electrical outlets and data ports be abundant and placed throughout the room, including the walls, floors and ceiling. “Why so many ports and electrical outlets?” asked the electrician doing the work. “Because we simply do not yet know what new instructional technologies there will be that will require them in two, five or ten years down the road” was my response. Clearly we live in a power- and data-hungry culture and while great advances have been made in battery life and wireless connectivity, many devices, fixed or portable, may still require connections to these tried and true suppliers. In addition to power and data, we asked that audio/visual input and output ports be similarly placed around the perimeter of the room as well as in the floor so that students and teachers could connect any portable media devices to the classroom presentation and recording system and present or record from virtually anywhere in the room.We also required that the furniture in the classroom be light and placed on wheels so that it could be reconfigured to accommodate any current or emerging pedagogy, including teacher center, small group or stations. Tables, wide enough to accommodate laptop computers, had power outlets built in and could be configured to seat two or up to six students at a time. Chairs, also on wheels, could easily swivel and be raised and lowered to accommodate different vantage points for students of any size.

Finally, we asked that whiteboards be placed on every available wall space so that teachers and students could brainstorm, diagram or map ideas and processes and other important information from any place in the room. Lighting was also a concern and we insisted that it be installed in such a way that parts of the room could be dark while others light. We required dimming capability and installed blackout shades on the windows to enhance projection and recording capabilities. Since we were trying to design generic classroom space, we did not take into consideration any special requirements of subject or grade level specific classrooms such as running water and natural gas valves, as in a science laboratory, or easels, as in an art classroom. However, we did think about how the requirements of our generic classrooms of the future might be integrated into the requirements of subject or grade level specific classrooms and thought much would be the same.

While constructing these classrooms we learned many lessons. The most important is that we could not overstate the need for the room to be as flexible and adaptable as possible. The driving force behind building the classrooms quickly changed from installing the latest and greatest instructional technology to the need to be able to accommodate the many changes and innovations in pedagogy and technology that we can see, or cannot yet see, occurring over the next several years. In the end we learned that we were building classrooms of the future and classrooms for the future.

You are welcome to take a virtual tour of the ADP Center’s Classrooms of the Future by visiting our website located at “Montclair State University: College of Education and Human Services.”

Email:Gregg Festa