The collaborative classroom of the future

Mobile tech in the classroom encourages students to develop communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration

By Marc Smith, ACS Hillingdon IT Integrationist

Mobile technology, truly embedded into the classroom, encourages students to develop the four C’s – communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. But technology has to be inbuilt into the curriculum, increasing student engagement and not simply a good-looking add-on if students are really going to reap the rewards.

As part of ACS International Schools’ one-to-one iPad programme, students from ages four and up are equipped with tablets used as an integral part of the school day and at its Hillingdon campus, the school has developed its showcase collaborative classroom, known as the IT Lab, which has mobile technology at its heart.  

Galvanising the four C’s

Technology can be used to galvanize students’ creativity and collaboration, ACS Hillingdon’s IT Lab for instance provides a flexible working space with adaptable furniture which allows students to work in any size group.  Students also use Apple’s Air Play to easily share and model work between their iPads and the two large LCD wall mounted screen.

A collaborative environment encourages students to develop teamwork skills.  The school’s Advanced Technology Club, a group of High School students, who meet once a week, created, coded and built the ‘100 iPad Wall’ within the school’s IT Lab.  The 100 iPad Wall, a huge screen made of one hundred tablets, was able to receive and display images simultaneously in real time.  The High School students worked together to design and film their endeavors using the IT Labs inbuilt film studio, including front and back cameras.

 ABOVE: The student’s 100 iPad Wall

Lower and Middle School classes also collaborated on the project by producing a piece of artwork. Using a Proscope, a microscopic camera lens attached to an iPad, students took picture of the man made environment of the school; 700 images were collected and used to create a piece of art to be streamed on the iPad Wall.  As a result of the project, a student team from all age groups was asked to exhibit a smaller version of the iPad Wall at the Apple Leadership Summit held in London to over 400 international delegates.  

Having the IT Lab galvanized the students’ development of the four C’s. Through this project and the use of collaborative technology, students learnt key communication skills by presenting and filming their creation; critical thinking and problem solving through the design and build of the iPad Wall; developed a creative mindset by producing the ‘live’ artworks; and collaborated with their peers and other students in different age groups. 

Developing a global perspective

Today’s students are ‘digital natives’ and are ‘always connected’, instinctively and constantly using technology to link with the wider world. Educators need to embrace this within the classroom, providing students with real time experiences accessed during the school day.

Through the IT Lab and the wider use of technology, classes are able to connect to the wider world as a group and in real time. As part of the ‘Lest We Forget’ project, students aged 15, were able to watch the Remembrance Day commemorations as they were taking place on the IT Lab’s large screens, helping students reflect on these historical events at a much deeper level. 

Whilst at ACS Cobham, Hillingdon’s sister school, High School students belonging to the school’s ‘Medics Club’ watched a live medical lecture at Oxford University as part of the Virtual University project in the Interactive Learning Centre.  Cobham students joined other pupils from six schools across the country and were able to interact and ask questions of the lecturer and university students instantly. As a result of this project, students were able to gain a greater understanding of what it is like to study medicine at university, helping them make their own higher education choices. 

Technology also allows our students to link with their peers across the globe and experience different cultural viewpoints. We have used technology to connect with teachers who have moved on to other schools – sharing projects and sometimes exchanging our traditions and celebrations. Whilst being a one-to-one iPad school, students are also able to use their tablets to connect with virtual pen friends using online messaging and video interaction to communicate in different languages instantly.   

IT Integrationists

ACS International Schools, which has three campuses Hillingdon, Cobham and Egham, has appointed specialist IT Integrationists, a specially created role for each key age group which combines previous teaching experience with technological expertise.  Ryan Barnett, IT Integrationist at ACS Egham, was officially designated an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2015 and remains on hand to support staff using mobile technology in the classroom, helping to develop technological teaching resources, and share best practice. 


Ryan has been collaborating with ACS teaching staff to develop bespoke educational resources using iTunes U, a classroom app that teachers can use to plan lessons, adding their own learning materials such as documents, work sheets, web links, photos and videos.  Ryan has also created an iTunes U course based on digital safety for students aged 11 to 13, which is now available to download in through the App Store.   Teachers have witness greater student participation and deeper engagement levels by enhancing the curriculum with specific digital course materials created using iTunes U.

With the help of the IT integrationists and a truly collaborative classroom environment, such as the IT Lab, teachers have observed greater class engagement. Encouraged and inspired by a collaborative learning environment, students also develop key life skills – communication, teamwork, critical thinking and creativity – ensuring they thrive in the rapidly changing digital milieu.