Classrooms are going to start looking like something out of a sci-fi movie thanks to the experts at Durham University who have developed the first interactive classroom. A team from the Technology-Enhanced Learning Research Group (TEL) is busy creating inventive environments for students where they can learn with the help of touch-pad desks that look like a giant version of an Apple iPhone.
The team started by watching how teachers and students interact with each other within the classroom environment. They then set about seeing how Information Communications Technology (ICT) might assist communication. The researchers went to work to create an interactive environment for just this purpose.
The environment is called SynergyNet because the idea behind the virtual classroom is to create a space where students have more active participation in their learning. The researchers worked with manufacturers to develop software as well as desktops that can respond to touch through the use of visual systems that work with infrared light. SynergyNet helps weave ICT into the construct of the classroom. The desks are the major innovation in the program and will be linked to a main "smartboard" which can serve to broaden teacher/student horizons.
Students can work in a cluster around one desk, using the desktop with pens or fingers. The aim is to create a more natural environment for computer use in the classroom. The Durham researchers want to change the interaction between teachers and students so as to change the traditional focus where the teacher is the central focus of the classroom.
Director of Active Learning in Computing at Durham University's Dr. Liz Burd says: "Our vision is that every desk in school in 10 years time will be interactive. IT in schools is an exciting prospect—our system is very similar to the type of interface shown as a vision of the future in the TV series Star Trek!"
Burd comments that the new desk serves like a whiteboard and is both a screen and a keyboard. Since several students can use it at one time, the desks offer a larger scope for collaborative teaching and learning. Burd also hopes that through the use of SynergyNet, female students will become more active in the use of ICT, where males have tended to play a more dominant role. The smart desks can also help disabled students to take part in lessons.