I’m currently leading a pilot project exploring the effectiveness of interactive classroom technologies at our University. As I am often asked to share our experiences/approaches, I thought I would do so in an online journal format. Please note that this is by no means an exhaustive study of the vast literature on the topic of interactive classroom methodologies. We have now entered Phase IV of the project, and will start collecting measurable data as of September 2013. I always welcome constructive dialogue.
Interactive Classroom Environments in Higher Education
Technological hypertrophy has become an accepted norm across all sectors of academic environments, consequently leading to cyclical adoption of various forms of technological innovations in a classroom setting. The pervasiveness of information and media technologies in classroom environments depicts an important paradigm shift in the interactions between the student and the instructor. The current utilization patterns of such technologies as digital video projectors, streaming video, collaborative online student wikis are clear predictors of the general engagement of the current and future student generations with instructional technologies.
The most common instructional technology infrastructure at higher education institutions consists of integrated, internet-enabled multi-device Crestron (or similar) automated display setups. Each configuration is centrally controlled via a touch-operated control panel integrated into the lecture podium. The control panel allows the instructor to seamlessly operate each installed audio visual device, such as a PC or Mac computer, Blu-ray/DVD playback machine as well as the classroom lighting and projection system. The system’s successful implementation lies in the full automation of all integrated devices, while only requiring minimal input from the instructor operating the podium.
The main disadvantage of such setup, however, lies in its passive communication paradigm: information can only be conveyed by the instructor to the student, with none or very little possible interaction with the content by the recipient.
The propagation of the new Instruction Paradigm (see Table I) has been part of a larger discussion among higher education institutions for many years, and has also fuelled our department’s strategic initiatives.
Table I: Source: Robert B. Barr and John Tagg, “From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education,”
Change, vol. 27, no. 6 (November/December 1995)
Our department’s core approach to any new initiative consists of an assessment of the level of technological infusion in the classroom environments, ultimately ensuring that the implemented technology enhances learning. In direct relation to this change, we attempt to empower the instructor through technology, and allow them to become designers of powerful learning environments. Our Interactive Classroom pilot project focuses on the creation of an assistive technology classroom environment, designed to act as an catalyst for student-centred collaboration. In this case, an Interactive Classroom is the next iteration of an electronic classroom, a semi-transparent, assistive system of instructional technologies involving interactive multimedia learning objects, existing both as instructional hardware and web-based software.
My research indicates that the Interactive Classroom domain has the potential to greatly enrich the educative experience by enhancing the delicate relationships that exist between the teacher and the learner in an enclosed, group environment. The current generation of students, widely described as Generation Y, is posited to be attracted to highly dynamic, collaborative and interactive teaching environments (Bradley 213). This particular generation of students relies on experiential teaching opportunities, further accentuated by its pervasive acceptance and expectation of technological support as well as innovative, on-demand information accessibility.
The teaching environment supported by interactive classroom technologies has a strong potential to create a climate of collaboration between the instructor and the student, thus allowing the students to become active inventors rather the passive recipients in the process of learning (Hoidn 1).
It is argued (Sevindik 320) that interactive classrooms contribute to students’ overall interest in the presented class material and accentuate their motivation for participation. Thus, it can be argued that interactive classroom technologies have the potential to affect on the students’ academic achievement.
Furthermore, the general insight into the existing interactive classroom infrastructure implementations seems to suggest that this technology’s innate ability to easily generate, display and share content from a wide spectrum of digital media (such as still images, video, interactive content, etc), can further contribute to a holistic classroom experience, where students’ attention and participation is increased by allowing the students to actively participate in the delivered materials, rather then merely observe the projected images (Al-Qirim 831). In addition, many interactive classroom technology implementations provide the instructors the ability to utilize clicker-like assessment technologies, available on a full spectrum of already pervasive cross platform mobile devices and desktop computers. It is therefore posited that the interactive classroom environment, along with its supporting instructional technologies, has the potential to create a shift between teacher-centred and student-centred pedagogical approaches (Blau 286).
The benefits of interactive classroom technologies can be further extended into the domain of learning theory frameworks. The perceived effectiveness of interactive classroom technologies in promoting, for example, in-class dialogue and knowledge building (Al-Qirim 827), as well as providing contiguous spread of multi-sensory and multimedia teaching objects is argued to have a strong influence across the learning styles matrix, as illustrated in Table II below.
Table II: Interactive Classroom technology applications in the various Learning Theory frameworks. Adapted from (Ashworth, Frank et al. 2) and (Blau 276)
Critical Success Factors
The examination of available research in the area of interactive classroom implementation suggests a wide array of effective uses in the promotion of integrated teaching and learning processes. However, one must also be aware of the potential impediments of such technologies.
The history of interactive classroom utilization as a mechanism to foster learning and the social construction of knowledge is not new. First commercially interactive boards, for example, were available in early 1990s, and other interactive classroom support technologies such as digital overhead projectors, audio and video playback devices integrated into touch-capable control panels are simply more advanced iterations of existing media technologies. Despite the established prominence of such technologies, vast literature suggests that interactive classroom implementations continue to generate heated debates over their practical usefulness in the process of teaching, and their effectiveness in enriching students’ learning experiences (Weiss 3). There are several major agents that can adversely affect the adoption of instructional technologies in a classroom setting:
a) personal attitudes towards the adoption of new technologies,
b) motivational channels,
c) support channels,
d) ongoing needs evaluation.
As concluded by Warwick et al. (2010), technology alone cannot change the classroom teaching and learning but rather requires mediation by the teacher. This realization is critical in the way any technology is utilized in a classroom setting. Any amount of inherent interactivity of a device will be greatly diminished by the instructor’s inability to promote a certain level of interactivity during the process of teaching and learning. A general lack of knowledge about the available technology can ultimately lead to its misuse, resulting in redundant use of interactive touch white boards as simple dry-eraser type of boards (Blau 278).
It is therefore of utmost importance that proper communication channels are developed to promote correct understanding of the technology’s potentials and to maintain understanding of the diversity of teaching and learning approaches.
The notion of perceived usefulness (Morris et al. 380) in personal belief about the value of technology is an important agent in the success rate of adoption of interactive classroom technologies. As discussed by such conceptual frameworks as the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen 1991), there exists a strong correlation between personal attitudes, perceived norms and control elements that further accentuate long term use of newly implemented technologies. It is the holistic understanding of the underlying drivers of personal technology acceptance that will ensure the success of the interactive classroom technology implementation.
Another restricting element is the lack of commitment from strategic decision makers in regards to the utilization of interactive classroom technologies in the course delivery.
Positive administrative directives are crucial in the process of reconceptualization of existing teaching practices, and the eventual adoption of new classroom technologies. It is essential to note that mandate-driven interactive classroom technology adoption must not change the existing pedagogical structure, but rather incorporate the supporting instructional technologies as transparent enablers of learning and teaching.
As such, the instructors are asked to plan and design the course while applying technology-enhanced teaching and learning strategies to address the diversity of learning styles as well as to enhance the instructor’s own professional practice. It is suggested that the curricular emphasis of the interactive classroom adoption will greatly contribute to naturalizing the technological aspects of course delivery and avoid competing with the existing curriculum and instructional practices but rather to challenge the teachers’ ability to discover new features in interactive classroom technologies and use them to devise new ways of teaching (Al-Qirim 828).
It is unfortunately not uncommon for teaching technologies to become obstacles in the process of learning. Therefore, adequate support channels in the context of technical support and curriculum development support must be in place to avoid the potential hindrance in the delicate dialogue between students and the teacher, as observed by some educators (Wess 1). The technical reliability of interactive classroom technologies, along with ongoing technical assistance are of crucial consideration, as are the financial aspects associated with these support structures.
Lastly, the lack of ongoing needs evaluation will result in incomplete data of measurable success rate in the usage of interactive classroom technologies. Proper evaluation procedures must therefore be in place to detect previously unseen challenges and their impact on the teaching and learning experience.
As outlined in the previous sections, the main directive of our Interactive Classroom initiative is to instigate an effective learning environment utilizing instructional interactive classroom technologies that enhance our institution’s educational strategies. The integration of the aforementioned agents requires a systematic framework with a continuous feedback mechanism probing the array of technical, pedagogical and behavioural complexities, such as in the example of the following five-phase framework:
Phase I – Exploration
Thorough stakeholder analysis to acquire understanding of current and anticipated needs and challenges of each academic program.
Phase II – Analysis
Based on the findings from Phase I, a construction of needs in strategic alignment with the University’s overall academic and business vision.
Phase III – Infrastructure Development
Prototype infrastructure development, based on thorough industry analysis of similar deployments, their benefits and challenges. Planning must include pedagogical approaches within the context of personal attitude towards technologies, learning and teaching styles (disability considerations, etc).
Phase IV – Implementation
Implementation of approved technologies, as per previous phases. Facilitating interactive classroom technology use to enhance teaching and learning experience, while adhering to current curricular standards.
Phase V – Impact analysis
Ongoing stakeholder analysis measuring the impact of the implemented technologies, their successes and challenges. This phase will provide evolving data analysis on such implementation aspects as: actual functionalities and uses, unforeseen challenges and error management and others. The emerging data compilation from this phase will promote further insights into the future evolution of the project.
The proposed framework is intended to provide a simple and stable structure for the development of a next generation interactive classroom environment. It is anticipated that throughout the outlined phases, all stakeholders will develop necessary skills and confidence to utilize the implemented technologies, while contributing to the overall effectiveness of the learning and teaching processes. The framework’s synergic channel of feedback analysis allows for continuous dissemination of the observed successes and challenges. The critical interpretation of the data is of crucial importance in the determination of the appropriateness of the implemented interactive classroom technological resources and their impact on learning and productivity. The feedback-driven data analysis will provide an avenue for malleable support and development structure, ultimately building a competent model of cross-institutional interactive classroom adoption.
To be continued…
Ashworth, Frank. “Learning Theories and Higher Education.” Level3 2 (2004): n. pag. Print.
Ajzen, Icek. “The Theory of Planned Behavior.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 50.2 (1991): 179-211. Print.
Al-Qirim, Nabeel. “Determinants of Interactive White Board Success in Teaching in Higher Education Institutions.” Computers & Education 56.3 (2011): 827-38. Print.
Blau, Ina. “Teachers for “Smart Classrooms”: The Extent of Implementation of an Interactive Whiteboard- Based Professional Development Program on Elementary Teachers’ Instructional Practices.” Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects 7 (2011): 276-89. Informing Science Institute. Web. <http://www.informingscience.us/>.
Bradley, Alexandra, ed. Training Basics. [Alexandria, Va]: ASTD, 2010. Print.
Hoidn, Sabine. “Teaching and Learning in Stanford’s Smart Classrooms.” European Institute for E-Learning. 2006. Web. 2012. <http://www.eife-l.org/>.
Lopez, Omar S. “The Digital Learning Classroom: Improving English Language Learners Academic Success in Mathematics and Reading Using Interactive Whiteboard Technology.” Computers & Education 54.4 (2010): 901-15. Print.
Morris, Michael G., and Viswanath Venkatesh. “Age Differences In Technology Adoption Decisions: Implications For A Changing Work Force.” Personnel Psychology 53.2 (2000): 375-403. Print.
Sevindik, Tuncay. “Future’s Learning Environments in Health Education: The Effects of Smart Classrooms on the Academic Achievements of the Students at Health College.” Telematics and Informatics (2009). Print.
Warwick, Paul, Neil Mercer, Ruth Kershner, and Judith Kleine Staarman. “In the Mind and in the Technology: The Vicarious Presence of the Teacher in Pupil’s Learning of Science in Collaborative Group Activity at the Interactive Whiteboard.” Computers & Education 55.1 (2010): 350-62. Print.
Weiss, Katherine. “Low-No Tech Teaching: What We Lose In The Smart Classroom.” Perspectives 12 (2009). Print.