Nescot college in Ewell, Surrey transformed their staff lounge into the College of the Future from March 16th for three weeks as the nation’s top ILT developers set out their latest wares for teaching professionals, support staff and students to explore, critique and just plain play around on.
The exhibition, run in conjunction with JISC, shows how science fantasy is becoming classroom possibility, and will be open to colleges, universities and other further education providers from as far afield as Oxford. With many institutions embarking on radical new build projects there is a real need for technology to match the aspirations of both educators and their learners.
From simple innovations such as super durable interactive display screens, which can withstand use in practical teaching areas like construction workshops, to interactive floor projectors to simulate real life environments in the classroom, cutting edge companies like Steljes (Smart Technologies' UK Partner), CDEC, Cutter and Shock Solutions are hoping to transform the ease of teaching and learning.
Anne Holt, Nescot’s ILT co-ordinator explained that the technology was now so sophisticated it appears quite simple but can be used flexibly and intuitively in a variety of settings. She also stressed the importance of an organisation-wide commitment to staff development in this area.
‘It doesn’t matter how bright and shiny something is, if staff are not given the support to get the most out of it. It’s the training which empowers them to get real results with it in the classroom and this exhibition is about real life solutions,’ she said.
College Principal Sunaina Mann firmly believes that the institutions investing in staff development and new technologies will reap big rewards, ‘The whole college has now bought in to the possibilities open to us with these innovations. The initial extra demands on staff time have been more than repaid. From teaching and learning to refining and improving our processes, the impact has been enormous,’ she said.
Some of the devices on show are simple labour saving gadgets and some are ultra-sophisticated communications solutions which allow staff to track how the class are retaining the teaching or demonstrate complex yet essential skills clearly.
Director of ILT at Nescot, Iain Gibbins, who was shortlisted for a Star Award in 2007 for his passion and commitment to ILT services, is organising the expo with Adam Blackwood from JISC and agrees that simple solutions to real life teaching problems are the stars of this show.
‘The technology we’ve tried to focus on is based around core pieces of kit, like interactive whiteboards, that we know staff already enjoy using. Once people become familiar with something they take ownership of it as a tool and want to do more. That’s the litmus test, if you’ve chosen the right technology for your organisation, people very quickly regard it as a vital part of classroom furniture. We’re looking for tutors’ honest appraisals of these developments and their use in the classroom.’
Teaching staff experimenting with the kit on display were also energised by the possibilities.
Nescot electronics tutor Grant Yates was extremely interested in the uses of the durable interactive screens. ‘Many of our learners do not want to spend hours in a traditional classroom setting but we currently have to uproot them from the workshops to teach theory separately. With this, I could intersperse the theory while they doing the relevant practical in the workshop and are open to learning. I’m very keen to trial these with our groups,’ he said.
Students too were fascinated by the kit on offer. Danny Herbert, 22, who is studying for a BSc in Computing, was interested in the Sun thin client computers, which are run from a central server. ‘It’s great the college is looking at these things and involving staff and students. There are some very clever products here,’ he said.
With the exhibition due to open to visitors next week, teaching and support staff from across the region will be able to try out futuristic kit including face recognition security systems and network linked display boards.
Iain Gibbins meanwhile, is looking forward to the feedback from the exhibition.
‘We want to find out how staff and students see themselves using this kit. We have now reached the level where technology is understood not to undermine the value of human interaction in the classroom but enhance it.
Iain explained how the new generation of intuitive technology is designed to take human interaction to a new level. ‘Recent innovations all centre around social networking and collaboration. In the same way, classroom innovation firmly connects the technology to pedagogy. Tutors can seamlessly deliver lessons visually, auditorily and kinaesthetically, using the technology to boost their teaching and shape it to the needs of their groups.’
‘I remember teaching a Historical Studies Access Course to adult returners years ago. I’d play Pathe newsreel footage of the relevant event as the class arrived. It worked as a trailer for the lesson and energised learning and participation. Now we’ve invested in training our staff, this technology puts that power to engage and attract learners at their fingertips.’
The majority of new educational technology is about this intensely human and personal connection and with colleges hosting ‘webinars’ and buying property on virtual reality website Second Life, Iain Gibbins believes it is only a matter of time before colleges break the four walls boundary.
‘This is already starting to happen. Our learners are digital natives who expect to discuss, update and be constantly informed on social networking sites. I’d like to see that power harnessed to create collaborative, inclusive, education without boundaries. Students could flexibly access personalised learning and participate in geographically unlimited group sessions with the tutors, institutions and areas of expertise of their desire,’ he says.
Nescot College’s Future classroom exhibition is open to all further and higher education staff and runs from 16th – 20th March. For further information or to book a visit please go to www.rsc-southeast.ac.uk/events.php