Smart classrooms make pupils feel like home

We have all got used to smart phones, smart watches and smart TV:s. But smart classrooms? Oh yes. A research project in Barcelona has developed a concept of learning spaces that is, well – smart. Pupils and teachers in the five pilot classrooms are enthusiastic.

Research/Case studies Education Classrooms

Smart classrooms are learning spaces that are designed from out of three dimensions: pedagogical, environmental and digital, where the pedagogical dimension is the primary one. These dimensions are based on scientific research in a project lead by the Open University of Catalonia in Barcelona.

“Smart classrooms enable learning in an environment that cares for everyone’s well-being and responds to any pedagogical needs”, says Maria Casanovas Bayo, one of the pedagogical researchers in the team.

First of all, a smart classroom is not primarily a design concept. It does not stipulate exact what kind of furniture you should have or where and how it is supposed to be placed. But you can forget the old school design with a teacher’s chair by the whiteboard and rows of benches with stacking chairs for the pupils. Flexibility is the first out of ten principles that defines a smart classroom.

“A smart classroom offers different ways of being in the classroom. The pupils can work sitting on the floor or in a sofa as well as by a bench on a chair. Each classroom is different and the result of a unique co-designing process together with the school, including the pupils”, Maria Casanovas Bayo explains.

Twelve projects going on

The research project Smart Classrooms started 2016, involving ten researchers at four different universities in Spain. Soon they started to design pilot classrooms at public schools in Catalonia. In 2019 more than 2 000 pupils were using smart classrooms at three primary schools and two secondary schools. They attracted great interest in media and other schools. Today Smart Classrooms is not only a research project, but also a consultancy business.

“Today we have twelve projects going on, where one for Viladecans City Council in Barcelona includes eleven primary schools”, Maria Casanovas Bayo says.

10 principles for a smart classroom

A smart classroom is based on ten principles, or key factors, for designing learning spaces:

  1. Flexibility. The design and configuration must meet all the learning needs of different personalities and conditions.
  2. Adaptability. The classroom and the educational support tools must be able to respond to the wide range of specific educational needs.
  3. Comfort. The learning experience must consider physical and psychological well-being. All of the space’s environmental parameters must be controlled and regulated.
  4. Multiplicity. Adequate resources must cover a wide range of educational proposals and learning possibilities.
  5. Connectivity. Devices must connect to the internet simply and easily and with top-quality connection.
  6. Personalisation. Pupils must identify with and connect to the space and the different dynamics. There must be storage space for their personal belongings.
  7. Organisation. There must be criteria, strategies and possibilities to help organise the space’s resources and elements and boost their use, accessibility and functionality.
  8. Openness. The configuration and structure must be open to the outside world and other spaces, enabling visual and physical access from indoors to outdoors and vice versa. There must be links to the outside world.
  9. Security. Everyone must feel safe and secure when using the spaces and the elements they contain.
  10. Sustainability. The spaces must be designed to foster sustainability and recycling, and use non-contaminating, sustainable, environmentally friendly raw materials.

A cultural change is key

With these ten principles in mind, it becomes clear that smart classrooms are not about just designing a space physically. To meet these principles, you must change the pedagogical and behavioural culture of the school. That could be a challenge in implementing smart classrooms. On the other hand, the smart classroom supports the cultural change.

“You need to build a culture where pupils and teachers interact with and respect each other together with an understanding of the need to move around. The traditional classroom is a physical barrier and offers only a static way of learning. Some schools are able to adapt this easy, other schools need to work more active in the change of the culture”, Maria says.

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The research on how we learn says that movement is very important. Pupils need to move and interact to have a meaningful learning experience.

Pupils need to move

You might think that it is fussy enough in today’s schools and that it’s not a very good idea to encourage even more movement by setting up a “flexible” classroom. But the effect is the opposite, according to Maria.

“The research on how we learn says that movement is very important. Pupils need to move and interact to have a meaningful learning experience. You would be fascinated if you could see the pupils work in a smart classroom. The environment is calm, the pupils are working focused with their projects while the teachers are moving around, interacting with them. It’s a kind of magic to see this happen!”

The principles of flexibility, adaptability and multiplicity are aiming to secure that the classroom offers well-being and control for multiple types of learners. The very idea of a smart classroom is that all pupils, no matter of personality, should have a good learning experience and thrive in the classroom.

“When you are offering different ways of working and being in the classroom, with spaces both for independent and collaborative work, you in fact support different kinds of personalities and needs.”

The importance of sound

When having areas for both calm and vivid kinds of work in the same space, the sound environment becomes crucial. Different materials, as sound absorbents in the ceiling, on the walls, on panels, under the floor and in furniture, is one part in offering a good acoustic environment.

“This is very important. But again, you need to work with culture as well and promote a new way of behavior. One way is to establish agreements on acceptable voice levels. To support this, you can install sound measurement devices, so the pupils can see and regulate the noise level themselves”, Maria says and continues:

“Good acoustic conditions are important as it helps you to focus as well as having better interactions. We are now working on measuring the impact of the acoustics on the pupils’ study results. We can see effects in terms of perception and response from teachers, but we need to do more research on the acoustic effects.”

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Teachers are perceiving that the atmosphere is more quiet, calm and comfortable and that the pupils are progressing better in their reading abilities as one example.

A caring space

The pilot classrooms were activated a year and a half ago – and then the corona pandemic put most of the research project on hold. But already, the response from pupils, teachers and parents are very positive in general.

“We have heard that pupils feel that the space takes care of them, that they really want to be in the classroom. Some have said that it feels like home. Teachers are perceiving that the atmosphere is more quiet, calm and comfortable and that the pupils are progressing better in their reading abilities as one example.”

Because the covid-19 situation, the researchers cannot analyse the project the way they want. This far they have got self-reports by teachers, to measure their perception of improvement compared with traditional classrooms on a scale 0-5. The majority of the scores on the self-reports were between 4 and 5.

“It is too soon to say anything scientific about the effects on the study results. We need to contrast it with focus groups, systematic observations and long-term quantitative data. We will continue this research as soon as the situation improves”, Maria Casanovas Bayo concludes.

 

Text: Lars Wirtén