The Classroom of 2020

There were many lively debates at yesterday’s ALTA forum. (ALTA is the Australian Council of Deans of ICT’s Learning and Teaching Academy and is concerned with raising the quality and perception of ICT higher ed courses across the country. No pressure. šŸ™‚ ) When you get 40 or so academics in a room then, if they’re even vaguely engaged, you’re going to have a pretty free and frank exchange of views. And one of the great things about ALTA is that we are all very engaged!

There was a lot of discussion on the rise in on-line learning and what impact it would have on the physical presence of students on campus. What does the classroom of 2020 look like?

Is it a room full of computers with students lined up facing them? (If so, how? Rows? Islands? Back to back? Face to face? Suspended from the ceiling? Embedded in desks?)


Is it a room full of people without a computer in sight? (If so, how is that room set up? Traditionally? For collaboration? Random group formation?)


Is it somewhere between the two, much as it is now?

Or is the bricks-and-mortar University a ghost town? Giant empty lecture theatres repurposed as server rooms, cooling conduits snaking through the old desks and chairs, with the students sitting, by themselves, wherever they happen to be, hooked into our remote on-line systems?

(I found it too depressing a thought to put a picture of this in here. The coming together of our students has so many benefits that I really hope it never goes away.)

As always, rather than adapting education to space, our best bet is to look at what we want to achieve and adjust the space accordingly. A linear layout computer lab is great for getting code written but lousy for group formation and collaboration. A low density island style suite is great for groups and collab but doesn’t support a more tutorial style with only one lecturer because of line-of-sight and group focus issues. A traditional lecture theatre is often unsuited to heavy computerisation because of simple things like power requirements. Getting above the space, what is a classroom? What will the mix be of classrooms, between physical, virtual, ad hoc and all of the other subtleties? Delivery, content, methodology – so many variables and so much room for passionate debate to try and share what works and make things better across all of our students.

I think we already have a good idea of what works for at least some of this and it’s pretty obvious that the mix of mobile, on-line and traditional learning, which we refer to as blended learning, is becoming increasingly popular and providing some excellent results, as well as a number of challenges. The debate continues on what the proportions of the blend will be – does this mean that we have accepted blended learning or is there a fourth, or fifth, component that will appear and change everything by 2020?

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