History is full of predictions that have gone wrong. Steve Chen, the co-founder of YouTube, once argued that people would get bored of video (“There’s just not that many videos I want to watch”) and Steve Ballmer, then Microsoft’s chief executive, falsely foretold the demise of a new device called the “iPhone” by Apple in 2007 (“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share”).
Of course, predicting the future is never easy. Circa 2000, many believed that paper and pens would soon see their last day. Two decades later, people are still saying this will happen – but perhaps not just yet.
Even so, technology has already opened up exciting possibilities. Just two weeks ago, my Year 7 group – in Vigo, Spain – took a virtual tour of Warwick Castle near Coventry. Instant video has changed the whole concept of immersive learning and taken it to a new level. Google Expeditions, too, has brought virtual reality into the classroom.
So many teachers have already started to explore new horizons with their students. But what of the future? What of the year 2030?
In 2030, teaching and learning will be transformed. The night before school, students will complete compulsory, personalised online learning courses, set up by subject leaders for each of their cohorts.
When I say “set up”, I mean that the teacher will have dragged and dropped the relevant, pre-made “national standard” resources into each student course space, applicable to ability level and targets. The experience and skill of expert teachers will have been pooled for the betterment of all.
The materials will range from video tutorials and interactive quizzes to 3D worlds to explore and a whole library of text content pulled together from British archives. Students will engage with the content at their own pace, with teachers receiving instant notifications when learners have completed certain tasks.
All students can access live chat support from the “master teacher”, on call for an hour every evening in a virtual chat room. The master teacher rotates each week and every chat session is recorded live and instantly uploaded to the school’s cloud storage for future reference. Students complete a classroom blog in an instantly updateable and secure space, where they can share their learning journey with classmates and the teacher, as well as gain instant feedback.
A new dawn for school…
When the school day starts, students will already have learned the key content required for that day’s lessons. As a result, teachers are able to spend most of their “in-lesson” time facilitating their students’ higher order skills, challenging them to push their learning on, individually or in small groups. Teachers circulate the room for almost the entirety of each lesson, adding, enabling, mentoring and managing rather than dictating, delivering, entertaining and cajoling.
Once the students finish a task, the teacher can certify electronically that learning has been successfully accomplished, and take a quick glance at their online assessment scores (marked by a virtual examiner which is programmed to pick up nuances that only a robot can).
Differentiated learning diet
Students in 2030 know there is no limit to how far they can go with their own learning. Although content is still structured, learners can work at different speeds and in different spaces. They don’t have to wait for peers, the confines of a particular curriculum or even a lesson plan. Learning is limitless.
Students receive targeted verbal feedback from teachers daily, both at home and at school. Parents are delighted at the individual attention their children receive and wish that their own schooling had been so student-centric.
This has been the most significant change in teaching and learning: the way that technology has enabled students to work intuitively, at a pace that suits them. It has diversified the curriculum offering, and also allowed a diet of differentiated learning that was unthinkable just a few decades earlier.
The final and perhaps most visible change is the way in which technology has brought students together from different classrooms and different worlds. They now share learning experiences with each other in media not previously imaginable, through game play, virtual reality, and live and secure instant messaging.
The development of CPD
In the afternoon, the majority of staff head off into professional development clusters for two hours of “TeachMeet”-style PD, with grass-roots autonomy over direction.
The history department spends the afternoon discussing the different interpretations of the causes of the First World War, even taking time to read academic texts together for an hour. The science team performs an “outside the box” practical to see if it could work with the students. The art department visits a local gallery to plan a scheme of work around it. Others spend their time marking and assessing. Heads of department decide it all.
Of course, teachers can already access PD, but there is one significant difference between how it looks today and how it looks in 2030: in the future, every afternoon, every PD meeting is live-streamed. Educators from around the world interact, share and collaborate like never before. Problems became much easier to solve with a thousand heads instead of one.
The headteacher can see the teaching staff as his equal and implicitly trust their professional integrity, in the same way the head of a law firm trusts their lawyers. Teachers feel liberated, autonomous and encouraged. And yes – that’s two hours of teacher-to-teacher time every single day.
Learning in hubs
In the afternoon, while staff are engaging in professional development, all 1,000 students head to five learning hubs. These are large, vibrant, open-plan spaces where learners can collaborate across multiple electronic platforms. They can also easily communicate across year groups.
Students are assigned a learning cluster. These clusters contain peers from different year groups, the idea being that the older students support the younger in their work. Cluster members arrange their own meetings as a team to discuss learning and identify problems and challenges, sharing whatever expertise they have. Teams are also accountable for the progress they make. Clusters work in the cloud, where sending, sharing and editing each other’s work is common practice, and can be done at the click of a button in online shared documents.
This use of peer assessment allows more students to understand the skills and content required to be successful, as well as increasing their sense of collective responsibility for the progress of their cluster teams. However, the role of the teacher is still crucial and the master teachers oversee the work of each cluster and input their own expertise where appropriate.
The option for students to connect via video link with each other at any point (or to arrange to meet up physically at the central meeting point – a space for impromptu meetings) adds another dimension to discussion. The master teacher can pose quizzes for different clusters of students and ask them to work together either physically or virtually to solve problems. There are several master teachers in each zone, available “on demand” to all students and support staff.
Fit for the future job market
In the year 2030, the value and prominence of exams has lessened significantly. Students now display their skills and experiences in a “project portfolio” on a national database, charting what they can do in very explicit terms: play the piano, speak German, debate in public, choreograph dance moves or repair kitchen sinks.
The curriculum has broadened to allow students to tap into and pursue their special talents, using technology to facilitate that personalisation of learning. The growth in robotics has changed the shape of the job market, which is now very much dictated by what individuals can offer, not more menial requirements.
So, coming back to 2016, what does this mean? How can teachers get ahead in their classroom practice?
Well, we have now seen virtual reality come into the classroom, allowing teachers to explore the world with their students.
Web-based platforms are also for today. Many teachers are already connecting with their classes in this way, radically transforming how staff and students can submit assignments, send each other messages and complete tasks. And it can all be controlled from school and from home.
Some of the other changes will arrive only when schools catch up with the technology. Until then, an exciting new day is starting to dawn.
Tom Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com