The UK is leading the way in the world of virtualisation within education. Many tools to make this type of educational environment possible are coming in to the mainstream, and inventions such as Raspberry PI have put good, low-level computing development tools in the hands of more people than ever before.
The question then remains is how to accommodate the classroom and learning environment for this new era. I think the first part is defining the classroom. We’ve seen suggestion that the idea of four walls and a roof is too limiting and that we could all somehow live in a completely virtual reality; however this misses the point of human nature. Each of us learns via different mediums, some favour written (visual), some auditory, some tactile and the classroom needs to address all of this with equal attention to ensure no child is left behind.
The reality is that physical schools and classrooms are not going away any time soon. Humans are social animals and we need to gather to accomplish great things. It’s through the creation of communities that humans excel. What happens inside that classroom however can be revolutionised when we add virtual technology.
What we are talking about here is not virtual reality, but a virtual classroom environment where the servers, board, screens, desktops and learning materials are all virtual. This means that the room now becomes nothing more than a space to gather and collaborate. The classroom layout becomes fluid and changeable as there is no more “front of the class”. It also means that for the students who would do better in a distance learning environment, they can still be active participants in all classroom activities.
There really are two essential foundations to making this reality possible. Firstly, classrooms will need to be setup with excellent wireless network coverage, enough for each student to have two or more devices online. Second, each classroom environment should have the ability for the teacher to quickly and easily create interactive environments for the students which include all the necessary learning materials and a per-student desktop environment.
The advantage we realise straight away is that if the classroom environment is entirely virtual there is no-longer any need for the school to provide, maintain or support any PCs. This allows the introduction of a true “bring your own” environment where instead of discouraging smart phones, tablets and the like, we can encourage them.
This creates a virtual classroom ideally suited to bringing our students into the future workplace while maintaining and improving the social and collaborative environment within the physical.
In conclusion, schools should consider forgoing any further investment in PCs and servers and instead direct their funds to improving WiFi and overall network capacity while investing in software and services that complement the educational vision of their institution.