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Mirror, mirror on the wall, how will my classroom look next Fall? That may be a bit melodramatic, but evolving technologies and pedagogies are changing the way teachers teach, students learn, and the teaching environment itself.

Many educators and designers are wondering, “What will the classroom of the future look like? How will my job change?” Even the best Magic 8-Ball can’t provide answers. But we can speculate, based on current classroom trends. This blog will provide a glimpse of what might be ahead for teachers and 21st Century learners. Buckle up!

What We Know

We probably all agree that technology is here to stay. Five years ago, few could have predicted the degree to which technology would permeate our educational ecosystem. Today, the use of tablet devices is relatively ubiquitous, and the terms “maker space” and “coding dojo” are accepted vernacular.

We also know that classroom design and classroom furnishings must be increasingly flexible. They should accommodate evolving curriculum, as well as multiple learning tools and learning styles. Without supportive design (of classrooms and their contents), it’s easy for technology to get in the way, rather than enhance learning.

Will Technology Replace Teachers?

We aren’t near the point where artificial intelligence (A.I.) and robots replace human teachers. Although, blended learning is on the rise. Blended learning is an education program where students learn, in part, through the delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media. Students are given some control over time, place, path or pace.

Some schools are well ahead of the curve when it comes to learning dynamics and classroom design, according to a National Public Radio (NPR) article. It features David Boody Jr. High School in Brooklyn, near Coney Island. The innovative school is leading the way in its approach to design and learning. A sixth grade math class looks like this: “one room, about the size of a basketball court; more than 100 students, all plugged into a laptop, and 15 teachers and teaching assistants.”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the school’s unique math class is that “beneath all the human buzz, something other than humans is running the show – algorithms.” They are the complex computer calculations that drive our Google searches or select what we see on our Facebook pages.

Boody Jr. High provides a glimpse into the type of high-level technological integration that may be ahead. Algorithms will play a larger role in the learning process – choosing which students sit together, measuring what students know, and how well they know it. They decide what problems the students should work on and provide teachers with the next lesson to teach.

Combining Human Teaching with Technology

How does the classroom of the future work?

• Technological tools combine with traditional education tactics to create a new pedagogy. The blended learning program at Boody Jr. High, called Teach To One, aims to complement teacher-led instruction with other learning approaches so that teachers can simultaneously support the diverse needs of each student, according to the New Classrooms website.

• Instruction is further personalized. Learning models may be redesigned in a way that integrates multiple instruction approaches and leverages the collective talents of many teachers.

• Computers take on more of the instructor’s role. When sixth graders arrive at Boody Jr. High, they either log onto a laptop or use a monitor at the front of the room to check in. The monitors tell students where to sit for the day among ten different sections. The computer also tells students what kind of lesson for the day. Some students may be engaged in individual “virtual instruction” lessons on their laptops, while others are engaged in group work led by a teacher.

• Algorithms make more decisions. The NPR article gives another example that illustrates the futuristic nature of the learning environment. In the article, experienced teacher Devon Meyers conducts what he calls a “live investigation”, where he stands silently next to a smart board and clicks at a mouse. As he does so, an automated and computerized voice reads aloud the lesson to students and asks students to properly pronounce the number “two-point-zero-five-three.”

After the lesson, the students are required to take a short quiz called an “exit slip.” The algorithm then analyzes the students’ answers to determine how well they’ve learned. Next, is uses this information to determine which students will be grouped together the next day and what each of them will do.

Some are Skeptic of A.I. in Schools

The program at Boody Jr. High has delivered excellent results for the school. Yet, blended learning and using algorithms to guide the learning process makes some educators uneasy. The NPR article admits that during Meyers’ lesson, some students seemed engaged, while others appeared distracted.

Teachers have argued that simply using the Teach To One algorithmic program isn’t enough to ensure successful learning. Aaron Kaswell, who uses Teach to One at another middle school, expressed his concerns to NPR:
You still have to make the teaching you’re own. A lot of people just take what’s given to them [from the program] and do what they’re told: ‘This is my script, these are my kids who are here.’ When used that way, Teach to One won’t work.

Critics of the program stress that computers simply aren’t advanced enough to significantly enrich learning. Others think computers simply end up teaching to standardized tests, which may not work better than some non-digital interventions.

The Future of Classroom Design

The classroom of the future will be a place where technology, furniture, and the student intersect. If trends in classroom design continue, future classrooms may be quite similar to the blended learning classroom at Boody Jr. High. It will be a collaborative, multi-use environment, featuring flexible desks, chairs and tables, with the curriculum and furnishings designed to the student.

The increased use of artificial intelligence, algorithms and computers will further shape classrooms. This means that connectivity via technology furniture will become an essential aspect of classroom design; the furniture should complement the use of technology, and the technology should enhance the experience of using the furniture.

To be sure, the future of K12 classrooms will be anything but boring and filled with possibilities. As Buzz Lightyear would say, “To infinity and beyond!”