To Screen or Not to Screen, That is the Question (in the Classroom)

Those of you who have read my previous articles know of my passion for food and quality education in equal measure. I find such strong parallels between the joy of food and the joy of great learning. This article continues in this great tradition.

Remember Neapolitan ice cream?  A tub containing three separate blocks of flavours – strawberry, vanilla and chocolate side by side. Each with its own distinct flavour. Despite recent potentially utterly transformational advances in technology especially in the educational landscape, we still continue to have a Neapolitan ice cream design to lessons in classrooms.

The first layer is the class. The pupils. The chocolate layer. The next layer is the teacher. Vanilla. Thirdly we have the strawberry layer: the screen. A writing surface. Originally a chalk board that has been through different iterations. Historically this was the domain of the teacher.

In often crowded Victorian classrooms the omniscient teacher needed a method of laying down knowledge to be imparted to pupils. The board at the front allowed teachers to make knowledge “visible” for pupils to subsequently copy and internalise and maybe even learn. It also gave them a place to model HOW to carry out a mathematical process, a scientific procedure, or how to correctly write in cursive script. It allowed easy editing and erasing.

It could be argued that the chalk board was more for the benefit of the teacher than the pupils. I imagine it would have been unthinkable that a pupil would come to the board – out of the chocolate layer, past the vanilla layer to the strawberry layer. Just imagine what would have happened to the Neapolitan ice cream.

The  digital projector and the interactive whiteboard have been through several evolutions from pole mounted projection – and the battle of the shadows – to the short throw projector. Then came the multi-touch interactive whiteboard – arguably one of the most exciting resources to enter the classroom since someone put a rubber on the end of a pencil and invented the first word processor allowing you to edit AND delete with the same tool.

There have been different iterations since including new learning spaces with multiple screens. There is a real benefit to this investment; being able to project different but related content to separate screens, for example a live videoconference to one and a presentation or poll, feed or chat to the other. Equally there is merit in screens around a room with the same content as it means everyone in the audience is closer to the content and feels more involved.

I wrote in the last article about the potential of the interactivity of the whiteboard which sadly was lost in many classrooms and turned into an exorbitantly expensive way of merely projecting.  Sometimes you only need to look at the arrangement of the furniture to gauge the degree to which interactivity is integrated into teaching and learning.

Interestingly I have seen installations in different rooms where there has simply been a projector shining onto a plain white wall – arguably far better use of funding IF interaction is not required.

Now we have the opportunity to install digital screens in class, removing the issue of frustrating shadows from pole mounted projectors. Some screens are even touch-enabled.

When iPad 2 arrived the flood gates opened. Not just in terms of the volume of VGA adapters that became an essential requirement of any teacher with an iPad but also a new opportunity for personalised learning using transformational technologies. Now pupils could give their iPad to the teacher who could then display it… on the… interactive whiteboard…

It is essential that pupils and students be given tools to model their thought processes and practise techniques; even record their technique, play it back and learn how to improve and refine towards final product, whether it is a  calculation, a design, or correctly formed and joined letters or numbers.

Digital screens offer the potential to display breathtaking high quality content – a real world image or video clip of a Mayan temple instead of a faded photocopy.  Live streaming is possible now to explore events as they unfold. Yet this can all happen on a gamut of laptops and mobile devices.

There is a nagging question here. For whose benefit is the screen – and the interactivity of the screen? Is it still the sole domain of the teacher to be  able to model from the front of the room? Is this model of teaching really still almost universally applicable in classrooms today?

What if we did not have a single central screen in a learning space at all?

Some schools have already re-modelled their learning spaces to more closely match their pedagogical perspective and provide a more distributed, collegiate model of learning. Students have a range of devices and services at their disposal to explore their own lines of inquiry and share their thinking with peers. ANYONE in a room can use their own device to mirror to small groups. Throw cloud services into the mix and group tasks become more fluid and less space dependent. 24/7 learning is very much a reality and probably suits more pupils and students who prefer to learn in a more flexible way that is not time limited.

Apps and services such as Nearpod, Padlet, DisplayNote and Teams connect people together – and with Airplay, Chromecast and Miracast learning can be shared in real time. Collaboration can happen in small groups – and with far greater pace, engagement and impact than ever before.

More importantly, there is a fundamental shift in emphasis away from the teacher being the conduit of communication to a much more flat, more hybrid, more mixed, more dynamic way of developing life skills of resilience, collaboration and perseverance.

The proposal here is not that we do away with teachers or with screens. I am simply suggesting that schools look closely at the investment they have historically made and the unconscious messages they may give, and consider future investment in the light of new ways of learning and teaching that will be more aligned to the different learning preferences of our current and future generations. It is imperative that teachers embrace the potential offered by technology to break down fixed mindsets and develop a genuine growth mindset to prepare students for the jobs they will apply for that do not even yet exist.

Let’s put Neapolitan ice cream back in the freezer. It’s time for Raspberry Ripple!

Tips, resources, and advice for remote learning Find out more