The digital revolution in the classroom

by Fellowship Agency May 4, 2017

The digital revolution creates both challenges and opportunities for providers to the education sector

One of the key challenges in education is how to incorporate modern technology into the classroom, without loss to the aesthetics or the fundamentals of good order. ‘Everything in its place’ may be a time-honoured phrase but the proliferation of information, communications and the attendant increase in powerful, expensive devices has only underlined the validity of the message.

With many decades of experience in the education sector to draw on, Gratnells has developed an approach over the last few years called ‘Learning Rooms’, which takes this challenge on and aims to transform the environment in which teachers teach and learners learn.

The inextricable link between the learning environment and the performance of those within it, as embodied in ‘The Third Teacher’ concept attributed to the Reggio Emilia ethos, is now well documented, with support from the likes of Professor Peter Barrett and the Clever Classrooms report of the HEAD project. The relentless march of the digital technologies requires a continual re-evaluation of the spaces in which children learn and teachers teach; Ken Robinson in his acclaimed collaborative work with Lou Anonica entitled ‘Creative Schools – Revolutionising Education from the Ground Up’ says

“Virtually every day there are new tools for learning and creative work in all sorts of disciplines and new programs and platforms that can help to customise education for every learner.”

In practical terms, however, we cannot re-design, re-build, re-configure and re-equip our classrooms with anything like the same regularity. What smart providers must do is to provide degrees of flexibility, mobility and the capacity to provide cross-over between traditional and new methods of storage that maintain harmony and balance in the learning room.

The rise and rise of technology has brought power, data, control and increased efficiency to classrooms both large and small.  Schools and Colleges, increasingly subject to financial accountability but with perhaps more freedom to operate than before, now represent a new opportunity for tech suppliers.  One way to take advantage of this is for education market specialists to partner with experts in the new technologies.

For those who remember the introduction of the whiteboard, considered a revolutionary event in its time, the current rate of adoption of the new technologies in schools must be a matter of wonder.  The launch of the iPad in 2010 enabled students and teachers to create unique opportunities for personal learning at every level. Tablets have become everyday devices and today’s children are born into a world of ‘digital immersion’ through the power of touch, motion and sound.  BBC media reported in 2014 on a study of new technology users in 671 state and independent schools – almost 70% were regularly using tablets and numbers were predicted to more than double between 2014 and 2016 from 430,000 to 900,000.

Power and storage

Where large groups of learners gather the ubiquitous availability of phone, tablets and data loggers creates its own market for ancillary, storage and functional products.

For example, recently developed Gratnells PowerTrays and PowerTrolleys continuously analyse the appetite for power from USB electronic devices such as phones, tablets and data loggers, responding with an optimized rate of charge and syncing between them to produce a complete storage, charging and syncing solution. The average charge time from 0% to 100% is between 2 and 4 hours. In addition, the PowerTray has an integral fan and air vents to keep gadgets cool.

The PowerTrolley is specially designed to securely store and charge devices using the new PowerTrays and has useful built-in features such as lockable castors and optional handles. To maintain security, complete units are lockable and, of course, mobile for easy deployment to storerooms or cupboards. While the technical skills set of students often surpasses that of the teachers and lecturers, the need for elements of good stewardship and control remain paramount. Product innovations such as these deliver all the benefits of digital resources while retaining proper accountability for equipment, along with ‘regulated’ access and guaranteed readiness of the devices.

Despite the tendency for digital devices to be seen as ever-changing personal fashion accoutrements, there are some important principles at work here about appropriate care of equipment and extending life beyond simply the next iteration of the specification.

The tray / trolley system has the potential to provide secure lockable units for up to 30 devices so they are safe and properly stored. In addition, modern Lithium Ion batteries should not be completely discharged on a regular basis and the ‘charging whilst stored’ facility will help to deal with this. Furthermore, extremes of heat and cold decrease battery lifespan – using a medium which determines the location of all devices is a sensible way of controlling the stored environment, particular with the ability to move trolleys around as winter approaches to the best temperature-regulated areas of the building.

Beyond the important functional aspects of the technology, there is also an opportunity to explore aesthetics.  Colour, design and integration with other physical aspects of the learning room are subjects that are attracting more and more time and research.  The link between classroom ambience and learner performance is now widely accepted.

Far from seeing technology as a threat, much of the education sector is gleefully embracing the power of the digital era. Providers, recognising the potential and size of the market, will respond accordingly.  According to BESA Research Data the UK Education budget in 2015 was just over £90 billion with between £400 million and £2 billion available to spend on resources and services.  40% of that total was accounted for by ‘digital resources’.

The importance of STEM

The importance of STEM subjects has also focused providers to the education sector on the need to embrace technology when looking at storage solutions. The particular needs of science teaching with science preparation as one of the fundamentals raise specific challenges.

As sponsors of the Science Technician of the Year awards, Gratnells has a particular interest in this area and the company has developed some of its own technology to help create bespoke designs. The Gratnells 3D planner enables a prep room plan to be created online with a programme that includes all the standard items needed such as frames, trolleys and trays. Plans can be viewed in three-dimensions and the software uses a straight-forward ‘drag and drop’ methodology that’s easy to master.

In science labs too, the advance of digital technology has become integrated with other equipment so that PCs, printers and digital devices are in common use. As The Schools Science Architecture Special Report Part Two on Science Lab Design points out “Pupils usually bring a significant number of items into the school science lab. Simply leaving personal items on workbenches or floors, or draping clothing over the backs of stools can pose serious health and safety issues and coming into contact with chemicals may well cause irreparable damage. For these reasons proper storage of pupils’ belongings are essential. Additionally, equipment should have its own storage area.

While schools may well have defined policies about what digital and electronic equipment can and can’t be taken into science laboratories there is a clear case for additional provision in the digital era.

Using space efficiently in the digital age presents a fresh set of challenges for everyone from designers and architects through to both teaching and non-teaching staff in schools.

Although there are a number of ‘add-on’ options available from the suppliers of the hardware it is more likely that bespoke responses from furniture and storage specialists are going to provide the safety, security, flexibility and mobility required to deliver a practical solution that harmonises with the school’s ethos and is compatible with the designed environment.