Jason Spartz, Ed.D., Director of Instructional Technology, Saint Mary's University of Minnesota
What is a “smart classroom” anyway? For some the phrase brings to mind technological innovations that rival the command center of a galactic starship. Smart classrooms are not just about technology. Modern classrooms are evolving and shouldn’t be thought of as a simple substitution or subtle augmentation of the traditional classroom environment. A smart classroom allows for the modification or redefinition of instructional tasks supporting student engagement and learning. Smart classrooms are supported by an active learning ecosystem consisting of three foundational elements: space, technology, and pedagogy.
"The goal of a smart classroom is to allow the environment, technology, and instructor to engage in support of active learning processes"
Space: Smart classrooms are designed to improve the use of space. Advanced classroom designs include SCALE-UP and TEAL models, which evolved from research at North Carolina State University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology respectively, and challenge the traditional paradigm of aligned seating in rows facing the “sage on the stage.” Design of the learning environment should not overlook factors including:color, lighting, layout, auditory influences, ADA accommodations, furniture type, and sight lines of participants to view people, and shared content. Universal Design for Instruction principles are helpful when considering many of these elements.
Technology: Smart classrooms include more technology to support learning. Relevant technology tools for the smart classroom might be centralized and locally hosted or cloud-based and distributed. Smart classrooms can evoke the feeling of walking into a sports bar or electronics superstore with flat panel displays or projected high resolution images on every wall. Smart classrooms have the ability to directly connect or wirelessly display content to a screen for collaborative work and to make thinking visible on projects like research instrument design, data analysis, digital poster sessions, or portfolio projects to support the assessment of learning. Plus, the evolving ability to capture in class experiences and distribute to mobile devices for 24/7 review extends time on task to reinforce note taking and content comprehension. Intentional use of technology will strategically support learning experiences and content being presented. TPACK provides a framework to purposefully understand technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge alignments.
Pedagogy: Smart classrooms promote modern pedagogies, like active learning practices,which can reinforce critical knowledge and competency acquisition through intentional instructional design. Strategies to support learning experiences, often with an interdisciplinary perspective, can take many forms in a smart classroom. Common strategies include: problem-based learning, flipped instruction, peer assisted learning, cooperative learning, collaborative learning, and peer tutoring. Depending on the students, tasks, and resource availability these strategies can be very effective in reaching different learners and learning goals, often through group oriented learning experiences. Course design should consider student choice and voice aspects relating to multisensory learning. Implementing Universal Design for Learning principles to support multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement will maximize learning opportunities for all learners.
Not all classrooms are the same, just like the students and instructors who use them. Smart classrooms are complex adaptive systems consisting of effective room designs, the right hardware and software, and a willingness to teach (and learn). The goal of a smart classroom is to allow the environment, technology, and instructor to engage in support of active learning processes. Doing so brings the modern world into the classroom and the classroom into the modern world. Smart classrooms can advance learning, retention, and reputation when used to allow the design of space and technology to strengthen the instructional needs to meet all learners, at all levels.