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Collaborative learning requires synchronised learning spaces, writes Simon Fry

Posted by Hannah Vickers | February 15, 2017 | Technology

When it comes to getting the most out of lessons and lectures, joined-up technology is as important as joined-up thinking. Advancement in display and audio equipment means pupils and students can be taught engagingly amid stunning imagery and sound, provided the technology supports the lesson plan and lecture notes. 

Integration is essential, according to Andy Ostler, head of business unit – OmniJoin at ICT services provider, Brother UK. “The ability to integrate different technologies simply and easily is key to ensuring efficiency and cost savings in the education sector, which is why we’ve put a major focus on this in recent years. A good example is our Direct Scan Desktop Solution for Capita SIMS software users. This enables schools’ administrative staff to scan paper documents, such as consent forms, and instantly save them as digital copies within SIMS. By collaborating with a software provider from the outset we’re able to give schools a ready-made bespoke service.”  

Technology is bringing people closer together, even when they’re far apart. 

“As the world becomes more connected, so must schools and universities. Video conferencing is opening up new opportunities for students to engage and work collaboratively with others outside of their institution, whether that’s a partner school in another country or a careers specialist working for another business. This presents another challenge – ensuring technology is easily synced within the one establishment and also others across the globe. We’ve designed OmniJoin, our web-conferencing platform with this in mind. Not only is it Firewall-friendly but it is also intuitive, so it reads your connectivity levels and adapts the visual and sound quality to ensure connection is never lost. It also allows users to access and work collaboratively together on the same document.”


Janice Prandstatter, Promethean’s teaching and learning consultant, comments on the need to be connected. “Promethean has developed both hardware and software solutions supporting the syncing of technology in the classroom. While Cloud-based learning platform ClassFlow can be used across any device to create a truly ‘connected’ classroom, the ActivPanel interactive flat panel incorporates an external Android device supporting connectivity using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.”  

This technology is leading to new teaching methods. “There are a number of ways in which new technologies are being shaped, the most notable being ‘learning in the moment’ and ‘digital snacking’ by harnessing the power of The Internet of Things (IoT) – connected third-party devices and applications. Using the ActivPanel, teachers can facilitate learning in the moment with ‘instant whiteboarding’. This allows teachers to easily encourage classroom interaction and collaboration without the need to connect to a computer. Essentially, they can respond to learning in the moment and capture discussion as it happens. With the capabilities of the IoT, the ActivPanel can support the increasing trend for digital snacking. This helps teachers to provide learning in smaller chunks and ultimately creates bite-sized learning opportunities.”

The ability to integrate different technologies simply and easily is key to ensuring efficiency and cost-savings in the education sector 

Following an evaluation process, Promethean became the preferred partner for interactive classroom technology of Milton Keynes Education Trust (MKET), with the ActivPanel being rolled out at all existing and new sites. For MKET, technology provision was just one part of the decision-making process, as technical services manager Mornè van Niekerk said. “We were very much focused on the wider considerations and how the whole package fitted together. For example, Promethean’s ActivInspire software is licensed to the ActivPanel, meaning we would not incur annual licensing fees. This ticked two boxes for us, in that the software has excellent educational value but is also a commercially sound investment.”

“Today’s university students are true digital natives,” says Casio UK’s head of projection, Phil Clark. “They have grown up in an environment where there has always been a technology solution to meet their every need. This is making an interesting impact on the university environment, as these students are demanding that same always-on connectivity they’re familiar with in their personal lives. This is one of the reasons why the conversation in education technology has shifted so firmly to collaboration in the past few months. It’s imperative universities are future-proofing their technology solutions to be able to take advantage of the drive toward tech-enabled collaboration.”

Thinking ahead ensures establishments can collaborate most effectively. “There are simple methods to create a more collaborative classroom that universities can take advantage of. When selecting new technology or evaluating your current asset, check out the connectivity ports. 

For example, we designed our Advanced Series lamp-free projectors to be equipped with the most-used ports, from multiple HDMI inputs to powered USB so users could plug-and-play their collaboration system of choice. Streaming and casting via an Apple TV or creating a collaborative display via Google Chromebox is easily possible, and today’s digitally native students can quickly tap into these familiar interfaces.”

Phil believes universities must move with the times. “Incorporating Internet of Things-ready, Wi-Fi-enabled devices can create a better networked space too, though university IT managers need to ensure their bandwidth is up to the task. A collaborative classroom isn’t an optional asset for universities; it’s the new way students are working.” 

Manchester University created a collaborative experience for their students using Casio’s UST projectors in multi-purpose learning and meeting spaces, connected into the in-room computer network. Because they were able to fit into constrained spaces with a very short throw distance of 27cm for an 80” display. it can work throughout the room, and its connectivity allows for easy use and a seamless experience.

Adapting virtual reality for educational use can bring challenges, and it is essential the teacher remains in full control, according to Veative Labs director Colin Bethell. “Effective synchronisation is vital for viewing 3D content on VR devices. Teachers can’t see what a pupil is doing when wearing the headset, so to ensure the VR component is fully integrated the teacher must be able to cast their screen to all pupil VR devices and vice versa. 

It’s also essential the teacher’s VR device can be projected onto a big screen to allow teacher and pupils to experience the module together. The way to provide an integrated and customised ecosystem is through integrated student and teacher apps on a shared Wi-Fi – online or LAN.”   

Optoma strives to ensure all its projectors are compatible with existing mainstream technology. Large screens and visualisers enable new pedagogies and collaborative learning, such as pupils staying in their seats during science lessons when viewing experiments done by the teacher. Larger screens make for better lesson flow, with less time lost with pupils moving to and from their seats. Many Optoma projectors feature HDBaseT to help schools future-proof their investment and simplify installation. At St Joseph’s School, Rochfortbridge, Ireland, maths and accounting teacher Stephen Eustace co-ordinates and executes all ICT improvements. He said, “I try to configure all my projectors for a fine balance between size of screen and brightness by adjusting the throw distance. Pupil engagement and content understanding is improved with a larger screen size – the larger the screen, the greater the immersion in a lesson. A good audio setup is also key; to ensure great audio quality enhances the pupil experience I fit a sound bar underneath the projection area.” 

A collaborative classroom isn't an optional asset for universities; it's the new way students are working 

Establishments have much to consider when procuring technology, according to Peter Claxton, senior manager education solutions at SMART Technologies. 

“In modern education, the pedagogical value driving excellence lies in software and hardware. For IT decision-makers, finding the right combination is challenging and often leads to investment in technologies lacking the depth required to improve learning outcomes. For educators, the stumbling block is typically device isolation: students using devices, such as iPads, individually rather than collaboratively. Combining these two problems has led to lower levels of teaching standards and has put IT budgets under increasing strain.”

SMART Amp, part of the SMART Learning Suite, is SMART’s cloud-based software. It lets students use their mobile devices to create and discover digital content, answer questions for formative feedback, collaborate and exchange ideas in a shared, interactive workspace. 

The software is used in partnership with the SMART Kapp iQ IFP display. Teachers upload lesson plans to the panel which students connect their devices to via Wi-Fi. It enables them to deliver two-way collaborative lessons, assess student performance along the way and guide the collaborative effort without widespread interruption. 

Pupils and students learn best when the technology in their learning environment is in maximum synchronicity. Irrespective of what might be taught in maths, when creating collaborative classrooms in which teaching, teamwork and tech come together terrifically, the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. Together, everyone achieves more. 

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