Over the past few decades, professionals in the field of integrated technologies have spent a lot of time trying to forecast how the rapidly-unfolding digital revolution will impact our lives. In the meantime, our children are growing up in a world where access to information is immediate, multidimensional and multifaceted.

While those of us who were around for the birth of the internet may struggle to make the shift to a digital world, our children have never experienced a world without digital connectivity. It is, therefore, imperative for us to teach our children using the technology that they are familiar with – so that they are empowered to become productive members of the digitally connected global village.

REFLECTIONS ON THE PAST

A mere decade ago, a Smart Classroom consisted of an electronic whiteboard (either projected or direct view), which was designed to replace a traditional whiteboard or chalkboard. You would also typically have a VGA laptop connection available and a hard-wired internet connection.

While cutting-edge at the time, such systems were often clunky by design and offered limited functionality. Operating such rooms was not very intuitive, and a teacher or lecturer would often need to call on a technician to “get the room working.”

Collaboration, in this type of classroom, involved asking a participant to physically approach the digital display, plug a USB or other data-carrying device into the PC that was connected to the display and present their work. More often than not, compatibility issues would arise if presentations were made in earlier or later software visions, and the experience did not always present a dramatic improvement on paper-based teaching methodologies or outcomes.

THE DIGITAL EVOLUTION

With rapid advancements in digital technology, AV has evolved more over the past ten years than in any other period. Today, everybody – especially the younger generation – has access to a smart device, be it a laptop, tablet or smart phone. Young people today typically have more technology in their pockets and backpacks than the first astronauts took to the moon. These devices have become an extension of the individual, providing entertainment, social engagement, learning opportunities and productivity tools.

Today’s youth are extremely comfortable with technology because they constantly interact with it. Why would you want to force students to work using pen and paper or typed notes, especially as we are abandoning these old-style ways of working in the professional world? We now have technologies that improve the learning experience, while fostering collaboration and boosting productivity. It would be completely counter-productive to exclude these technologies from our schools and universities – especially because the primary aim of education is to prepare young people for the world of work.

There are several innovative Smart Classroom solutions available in Southern Africa that represent cutting-edge, future-proof technology at an attractive price-point. The MAXHUB, for example, is an interactive display that incorporates audio, video, smartboard and collaboration functionalities in a single, easy-to-install unit.

Bruce Genricks

ENTER THE SMARTER CLASSROOM

 A truly Smart Classroom should provide an immersive space, where students are able to participate interactively in the lesson. Information should be immediately available and easy to share, even if it is not a part of the primary material outlined in the lesson plan. It may seem overwhelming to a school administrator who knows little about integrated technologies to devise a Smart Classroom solution, which is why it is imperative to consult with an industry professional.

To effectively achieve a Smart Classroom environment, administrators should, first and foremost, ensure that there is sufficient bandwidth available at the learning facility to support digital connectivity throughout the campus.

The next step is to consult with a professional AV integrator and develop a comprehensive project plan for the deployment of Smart Classroom technology.  There are many options available, and projects can be implemented in various stages over a number of years, or as an all-in-one solution that requires a once-off installation. Some institutions will want to provide students with tablets and others will expect students to bring their own devices (BYOD model). Some schools will cater for a few hundred learners, while other institutions may need to accommodate several thousand students, both on and off campus. No two educational institutions are exactly alike, and therefore a custom-designed and well thought-out project plan – with clear timelines, a defined budget and a solid maintenance plan – is the cornerstone of success.

No matter which solution you choose, the most important factor is that equipment is sourced from a reputable dealer that has a local, reliable and proven repair facility. A standard warranty of at least two years is non-negotiable and could be an indication of quality.

THE DIGITAL EVOLUTION

 

1. EFFICIENT

From the teacher’s perspective, being able to prepare for lessons remotely and save class notes at the touch of a button saves a lot of time.  Many laborious administrative processes, such as student admissions, attendance registers and maintaining student records, can be automated in a Smart learning environment – improving both efficiency and efficacy.

2. RESPONSIBLE

The Smart Classroom is a paperless classroom, which is cost-saving and kinder on the environment. Instead of printed textbooks, worksheets and workbooks, students can download content onto their devices and submit assignments electronically. Once in a digital format, students can bookmark important passages in prescribed texts, complete tasks for submission and cross-reference with ease.

3. CURRENT

Paper-based textbooks are expensive to print and the information that they contain dates very quickly. Teaching students with outdated material can contribute significantly to poor educational outcomes, especially in critical subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Providing students with access to digital resources ensures that they are always able to cross-reference primary resources with the most up-to-date research and information from a range of internationally-recognised sources.

4. COLLABORATIVE

Smart Classroom technology allows the teaching environment to be tailored to the individual, which is especially important when catering for learners with special needs. For example, displays can be adjusted to cater to a person with colour vision deficiency. Text can be magnified on a tablet or display for those with impaired vision, and speech-to-text applications can transform the learning experience for a wide spectrum of special-needs learners.

5. INCLUSIVE

From the teacher’s perspective, being able to prepare for lessons remotely and save class notes at the touch of a button saves a lot of time.  Many laborious administrative processes, such as student admissions, attendance registers and maintaining student records, can be automated in a Smart learning environment – improving both efficiency and efficacy.