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The 21st-Century Physical Classroom

A man looking at the future of the classroom in the 21st century

As the saying goes, “The only constant is change.” It sure feels like much has changed over the past two years, with a global pandemic disrupting how we have done things traditionally and ushering in a new normal. Thankfully, human beings are among the most adaptable creatures on the planet, and many of us have had to adapt accordingly.

The 20th-century classroom traditional learning model is one most of us grew up with from K-12; it had a stoic linear model, featuring:

  • One teacher leading the instruction
  • One-size-fits-most instructional style
  • Paper materials: textbook, worksheets, and paper and pencil
  • Learning confined within four walls and a bell schedule
  • Little access to support at home
  • Low student engagement

In more recent years, we saw the emergence of the blended learning classroom model, incorporating more features while improving the old model. Some of its features include:

  • Multiple teachers
  • Personalized learning paths
  • Online learning tools — discussion boards, tutorials, videos, and webinars
  • Remote, flexible access to learning and support
  • Interactive, media-rich content
  • Self-directed learning
  • Real-time performance data to inform instruction
  • Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity
  • High student engagement with greater student-teacher interaction

Today, the new norm has seen several academic institutions fully embracing technology, not as a supplement but as a core component of everyday instruction. Some of the features in this technology-friendly 21st-century classroom model include:

  • Online courses/remote learning
  • Social media classroom integration
  • Open-source textbooks
  • Games and gamification

According to 21st Century Learning: Trends, Technologies and Tools by Librarian and Blogger S. L. Faisal, the top three reasons teachers use technology in the classroom are:

  1. Adapt to diverse learning styles
  2. Boost student motivation
  3. Enhance the material being taught

The 21st-Century Physical Classroom

Having established the 21st-century model, let’s examine the 21st-century physical classroom, the new normal in contemporary education.

Technology is the staple of the 21-st century physical classroom, with the integration of digital projectors, interactive whiteboards, teacher laptops, audio/visual systems, and student response systems. All these technological tools serve to make the new physical classroom a haven of interactive learning. Below is how the traditional and 21st-century classrooms compare in a snapshot:

Traditional Classroom21st-Century Classroom
LectureDiscussion
LecturerFacilitator
Whole GroupSmall Group
IndependentCollaborative
Single-TaskingMulti-Tasking
Teacher-Centered InstructionStudent-Centered Instruction
Traditional InstructionDifferentiated Instruction


Source: 21st Century Learning: Trends, Technologies and Tools S. L. Faisal

Today’s students are increasingly adept, if not exceptional, at using technology in their studies. With social media and mobile apps readily available at their fingertips, this should be no surprise. Likewise, the 21st-century physical classroom channels their affinity for technology to good use, helping students learn with tools they are comfortable using daily.

This model is perfect for such technologically savvy students because it gives them a more active role in their education. They are connected learners with a host of electronic devices, such as tablets, smartphones, laptops, and eReaders, available to them for use in learning. They also learn using apps such as YouTube and can communicate with study buddies virtually using the likes of Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet.

With these connections, students also have their personal learning network, which comprises:

  • Online tutoring and guided courses
  • Information data and resources
  • Learning communities
  • Communication tools
  • Knowledge-building tools
  • Expertise and authoritative sources
  • Peers with common interests

Not to be outdone, today’s teachers are also increasingly technology-savvy themselves. Below are a few common traits of the 21st-century teacher:

  1. Forward-thinking
  2. Lifelong learner
  3. Actively engaged
  4. Student-centered
  5. Social
  6. Relevant
  7. Collaborative

Like their students, 2st-century teachers are also plugged into an extensive network that enables them to connect to many technological applications and functions designed to facilitate instruction in the 21st-century classroom and enhance teaching. Some of these functions available to the networked teacher include:

  • Social networking, eg, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
  • Social bookmarking
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Wikis
  • Blogs
  • Video conferencing
  • Curriculum documents
  • Photo sharing
  • Popular media
  • Virtual collaboration with colleagues
  • Print and digital resources
  • eBooks and online curriculum documents

One of the most valuable traits of the 21st-century physical classroom is the integration of mobile social learning. This structure allows students to express their creativity, think big, work independently and interdependently via connected apps, sharing research, projects, blogs, participating in forums, etc. In addition, the ability to conduct online research with a simple browse of their fingers provides convenience and flexibility while significantly cutting down the time traditional research (printed textbooks) would require.

With mobile social learning, teachers too can more conveniently educate their students. Some of the benefits of using mobile devices in the classroom include:

  • Engagement: Letting students engage with the material via polls, tweet questions, and in-class research
  • Access: Students can download apps to conveniently study anytime, anywhere
  • Timeliness: Students can get tons of information via online browsing and apps within minutes, if not seconds
  • Portability: Students can easily carry their lightweight mobile devices and even study on breaks or between classes

Educational research also supports the benefits of mobile learning in the classroom:

  • One survey found that 73% of students and 54% of staff felt that the iPad helped students improve the quality of their work
  • 47% of surveyed students say they have used a mobile app for learning purposes
  • According to another study, 60% of faculty thought that students were more motivated by lessons that incorporated the iPad than those that did not

Source: 21st Century Learning: Trends, Technologies and Tools S. L. Faisal

In 2021, it is clear that educators and students alike continue to fully embrace the intersection of technology and education, and this trend is here to stay. And yet, with much more advanced technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, 3d printing, and gaming and gamification soon to be adopted for digital and in-classroom learning, it appears that we are only just scratching the surface of what is possible in contemporary classrooms.

Perhaps someday in the not-too-distant future, we might even see robots facilitating instruction; any bets on whether that will become a reality in the 21st or 22nd century?


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