The way we consume information has undergone a radical change in recent years. Our world is increasingly online and connected, and technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. Much has been made of how this shift is changing our homes, our cities, even our offices; but what about our classrooms?
It is largely accepted that technology can be a great enabler in education. A report promoted by The Knowledge Academy found that 96% of teaching staff believe technology has a positive impact on the way children participate and learn. Observations like this are extremely valuable, but it is also important to undertake long-term assessments of technology use in real classrooms.
During the past academic year, Sharp Italia has been working with researchers from the University of Salento to set up and evaluate a smart learning environment (SLE) using integrated technologies at a middle school in Modena, Italy.
This project has given us important insights into how interactive displays, video conferencing and cloud technologies can be used in classrooms to benefit students, teachers and school managers.
Evaluating technology in a real learning environment
Mattarella middle school is composed of four different sites in Modena, up to ten miles away from the central site. To set up the SLE across all sites, we provided a cloud video-conferencing solution and five BIG PAD interactive whiteboards based on LCD technology.
Personal devices (PC, tablets and smartphones) and Google suite were integrated in the system via wifi connections. This meant that teachers and students could connect to each interactive display from their own laptops or smartphones.
Researchers from the University of Salento worked with 26 teachers at the school to develop new lesson techniques using the technology. The project tested whether an SLE improves pupils’ development of soft skills, improves teaching methods and helps support ongoing teacher training.
Teachers used the interactive displays and video conferencing to connect to different sites, to connect to teachers and experts from outside the school and to experiment with holding ‘virtual’ focus groups via video conference.
Staff also used video conferencing to create videos that can be used for continuous training to help with the development of professional support communities.
Giving students control of their learning
124 pupils aged nine to 12 were involved in the study and used the displays during lessons, and were able to work together in small groups on the screens to co-create visual content.
They could also work individually on their personal devices and send what they had created to the display via wifi. Because the display was connected to a cloud service, student work could be saved and accessed later by the pupils and teachers.
The students used video conferencing and interactive displays to create and present a lesson to peers in other sites. These videos were also saved on the cloud service, to be accessed by pupils anywhere and any time.
Teachers observed that the use of personal devices and school devices improved students’ digital competencies, motivation and engagement.
Freeing up time for teachers
One of the biggest impacts of the video conferencing for teachers was reducing the time they spent travelling between sites. This meant they had more time available to spend in planning and training.
Through questionnaires and focus groups, researchers monitored teachers’ attitudes towards student learning. At the end of the project they saw a significant shift towards active, cooperative and shared learning.
The project also highlighted that displays have potential for teacher training, as they make teacher supervision possible from any location.
The full findings of the study will be discussed at a roundtable, ‘Technology and Innovation for Education: A challenge for the schools of the new generations’, to be held in Rome in October.
For more information about Sharp’s integrated technology for the classroom, please visit www.sharp.eu.