Smart Classrooms? A Guide to Making the Most of Them

The term smart classroom can sound monolithic and inflexible in the way it's often used. It's easy to imagine futuristic classrooms that all look and sound the same, with autonomous systems overtaking the critical touch of the attentive teacher. In reality, smart classrooms provide more avenues for customization than at any time in the history of education. Educators now have an opportunity to personalize lessons and curricula in ways that were never previously feasible.

With that ability to create a personalized learning experience comes difficult choices for teachers and administrators. A stable, interactive, and dynamic smart classroom will require excellent planning and consistency, but also an ability to adapt as new technology becomes available. Instead of jumping at the next exciting new technology, educators who put together a sustainable and interconnected EdTech ecosystem with built-in flexibility will be in the best position to achieve long-term goals.

Guidance for Creating a Clear Set of Goals for a Smart Classroom

Teacher Using Vivi

Although the expansive availability of EdTech can feel overwhelming, creating a simple and productive system begins by building a smart classroom from the ground floor up. In a detailed summary of smart classroom studies by ERIC (Education Research Information Center), researchers point to two critical concepts at the core of successful EdTech systems: engagement and empowerment. While the importance of student engagement is well-documented, focusing on empowering students and educators is every bit as important to the process.

Other experts weigh in with another helpful umbrella of essential concepts. From a 2022 research study published in the World Journal on Educational Technology: "A smart learning environment is a ubiquitous, context-sensitive, personalized intelligent system capable of providing a high level of motivation, engagement, and intellectual feedback."

Keeping these stepping stones in mind, consider these tips for creating a powerful (but flexible) foundation for a smart classroom:

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Making Empowerment More Than an Intellectual Concept

The idea of empowerment often sounds more metaphorical than reality-based, a concept that fits great in PTA meetings yet can feel vague within an individual class setting. But it can also be a very real concept for teachers determined to turn buzzwords into action.

There can be many paths to student empowerment, but a core driving force is in the personalization of the classroom. One of the central reasons small classroom sizes are generally preferred is because of the closer attention paid to the individual student – a greater opportunity for personalization. While this level of personalization formerly was a privilege belonging to the few, technology can now allow classrooms of any size to offer personalization.

By using flexible, wireless-based platforms and supplemental apps, teachers can help turn passive students into active ones. Students with agency are then empowered to absorb lessons on their own terms, creating self-directed student populations with excellent long-term learning habits.

Some areas of focus for administrators looking to maximize student empowerment include:

  • Improving existing school infrastructure. To empower today's students, tapping the full potential of Wi-Fi technology is critical. Students should be able to seamlessly follow up on in-class lessons from computer labs and study halls.
  • Seeking input from as many students as possible. It might sound elemental, but only some schools district properly survey students regarding EdTech. Although educators must be careful not to resort to more entertainment-based platforms based on feedback, encouraging students to participate in the EdTech process can provide an illuminating perspective.
  • Measuring a faculty's tech capabilities and readiness. It's important to know exactly how far along the faculty is in transforming the classroom. Determining the teacher training that might be needed is essential for empowering students through technology. If more training is wanted/needed to utilize a smart classroom properly, administrators can make appropriate adjustments.
  • Allowing students to use their own devices. Keeping students in their comfort zone with dynamic interactive options is an excellent way to personalize education and improve outcomes. Tools like wireless screen mirroring and other adaptable platforms can help students share directly from their own devices, which are already highly personalized.
  • Ensuring faculty has a voice in EdTech adoption. The in-classroom experience of faculty is invaluable to developing a smart classroom; teachers and aids see firsthand what types of EdTech tools work best with students. While there are times when a senior administrator might want to nudge certain faculty members forward, developing a smart classroom must be a fully collaborative process to maximize the impact on students.

The Merging of Motivation and Context

One of the main reasons to ensure adequate input from teachers and students is to maintain the appropriate context. Not to be confused with context-aware classrooms (which often focus on energy savings), the context in this sense has to do with matching the technology to the needs and abilities of the student. Certain platforms might sound excellent on a broad theoretical level, but savvy administrators rely on teachers and students to determine whether a new technology will have the intended impact.

Related: A Touch of Innovation – How One School is Bringing an Interactive Dimension to Its Classrooms

Providing technology that fits the context does more than just allow for a fluid transfer of ideas; it is also a fundamental part of motivating students. An influential global study highlighted the importance of understanding three essential psychological needs for motivating students: competency, belonging, and autonomy.

While autonomy can best be encouraged by allowing self-directed learning through EdTech, both competency and belonging relate to context. Out-of-context technology that awkwardly fits with a lesson or ability level makes students feel less competent than tools that properly supplement the material. EdTech tools that feel too advanced or are beneath a student's tech capabilities can diminish the sense of belonging in a classroom. A dip in competency or belonging can quickly lead to lowered levels of engagement, perceived ability, and motivation.

All of this points to the importance of flexibility and regular assessment of EdTech systems. Educators must constantly evaluate which EdTech tools are appropriate for specific grades and classrooms. Only with tools that are a good match for the particular context will educators come close to maximizing the potential of a smart classroom.

Understanding the Importance of Synergy for the Smart Classroom

Instead of putting together a disparate gathering of educational technology, successful smart classrooms are designed to create an interconnected EdTech ecosystem. This means choosing  tools for their ability to work within the broader classroom infrastructure and their direct impact on the learning process. While all tools and platforms must have an observable educational impact, some otherwise excellent tools can be counterproductive if they don't synergize with the broader system.

This can mean making tough choices and looking past the latest hot EdTech app if it detracts from a classroom's synergy. A primary benefit of a synergized smart classroom is that the sum of the parts is more impactful than the individual components. It's worth remembering that it's not a given that a new EdTech tool – even a well-respected one – will lead to a positive outcome. Schools must evaluate tools and platforms in relation to the overall system—as well as their real-world effect.

In order to reach a level of seamless interconnectivity, educators must be disciplined and discerning in their adoption of EdTech tools. Student-focused platforms that are agnostic and flexible are more valuable in the long term because they facilitate the adoption of additional tools. Because EdTech will be reinventing itself for years and decades to come, inflexible platforms can make synergy all but impossible. On the other hand, highly adaptable platforms can positively impact the classroom both in the short and longer term.

Utilizing the Expanded Capabilities of the Virtual Classroom

Choosing the Right Tool for Your Learning Technology Stack

The classroom used to be far and away the dominant setting for most levels of education. But teachers and administrators today need to think about the extended barriers of the classroom. In many situations, the physical classroom is merely the starting point in a hybrid learning environment. When it comes to collaboration, smart classrooms should be set up in a way that maximizes cloud technology and allows for an easy transition to the home or other learning environments. In a way, the 21st-century classroom extends to wherever students are able to learn.

This collaborative boost is vitally important from the middle school level and up. Students should be able to easily access classroom materials when they are physically away from school, allowing collaboration to continue on their terms. The well-planned smart classroom should be a direct conduit to greater participation for group projects. Platforms that fully take advantage of cloud technology provide a meaningful sense of empowerment to students – one of the fundamental goals of the smart classroom in the first place.  

This improved flexibility is not just a significant change over past extracurricular collaboration; it also helps to fit the increasingly busy lifestyles of the modern student. Group projects can be challenging as students try to find time and space to meet other students around practices, lessons, doctor appointments, and more.

Being able to easily tap into the core materials of the classroom can allow students to maintain collaboration on their own schedules. Students will benefit from educators who devise smart systems around the idea that classrooms no longer have traditional barriers. Instead, the virtual, cloud-based world can extend and flex to fit whatever environment students encounter.

A Caveat About Accessing Classroom Materials from Home

Home broadband access has exploded over the last decade, with Pew estimating that about three in four adults now have internet service that meets broadband specifications. But there's more to the story. While the trend is certainly encouraging, there are distinct subtrends that illuminate socio-economic factors at play. Race and income levels are key determinants of broadband adoption for both adults and families, making for a nuanced overall picture of out-of-school high-speed internet access.

The good news is that all races and income levels have seen a dramatic uptick in home broadband usage over the last decade. Even before Covid-19, researchers and policymakers were making progress on reaching underserved communities with high-speed internet. The pandemic also heightened the importance of universal broadband access.

With steady progress expected from our current plateau, administrators can remain focused on empowering students beyond the classroom with cloud-based tools. However, until we're closer to universal broadband, teachers must be aware of home technology gaps that can limit a student's ability to learn away from school.

Evaluating a Smart Classroom's Ability to Save Time

Performing teaching duties in a time crunch has become almost a requirement. Although there are no easy solutions to this age-old dilemma, new-age tools can have a meaningful impact on how teachers can spend their time in the classroom. Allowing teachers to do more with their time is one of the most important benefits of automation in education, which is why saving time should always be a focus when establishing smart classrooms.

Within this broader mission, there are a couple of central ways that EdTech can save a teacher's time. One is making it easier for teachers to transmit lesson plans from home into the classroom. Teachers regularly put in hours at home to prepare for the classroom; with appropriate technological assistance, teachers can maximize their out-of-school efforts and limit the time needed for in-class setup. The right cloud-based digital systems can allow teachers to fully prepare long before a lesson begins, helping teachers focus more on student needs.

Another significant advantage for teachers is the ability to reproduce lessons far easier than ever before. As the Education Research Information Center noted, digital reproductions stored in the cloud can make successful lessons endlessly reusable. Instead of starting from scratch on an assignment that didn't quite work as planned, teachers can make minor tweaks and additions to help them achieve the expected outcome. Teachers can collaborate much more easily with the right EdTech system in place.

Educators can determine whether current platforms save teachers time by consistently seeking teacher input and assessing the EdTech ecosystem. If a school's suite of tools is not saving teachers a considerable amount of time, there could be an issue with the technology itself or with the amount of faculty training. Ultimately, timesaving EdTech ecosystems lead to teachers with more time for students and better lesson plans.

Using EdTech Tools to Make Smarter Curricula

Forming an effective and manageable curriculum will always be a focus within the educational system. Now, thanks to AI-driven data collection programs, educators have an enhanced ability to understand their students via a constant data flow. As noted by Government Technology, one of the most significant advantages of today's smart classroom is improved data, which can then be used as a launching point for stronger curricula.

Related: The Impact of Educational Technology in the Classroom

Experts suggest that more intelligent data is the foundation of today's smart classrooms. Not only is there more data than ever before, but the emergence of artificial intelligence will also give teachers a better understanding of what to do with the inflows of information. Teachers can have the equivalent of virtual assistants helping them make sense of student data, which will then inform educators on how to improve the curriculum.

With this in mind, we can begin to see how the best smart classrooms of tomorrow might take shape. Not only are students self-directing much of their learning, but teachers are able to pinpoint areas of strength and weakness by analyzing data collected by the adopted EdTech tools. Backed by an interconnected system of hardware and software, students can personalize their learning with EdTech tools while teachers improve lesson plans using superior data.

Helping Students Overcome Impairments with a Smart Classroom

Some of the greatest success stories of EdTech come from students who may have been left behind in previous eras. We are better today at understanding student impairments, and we’re also much better equipped to address them. Although EdTech is only one tool in the toolbox, critical breakthroughs are possible despite still being in the early stages of the smart classroom revolution.

To adequately address equal education among all students, many education advocates are promoting the fourth Sustainable Development Goal principle – often called SDG 4. A portion of this principle deals with advocating for students with disabilities to promote lifelong learning possibilities and equal access for all. As educators set up smart classrooms, it's helpful to be familiar with the general guidelines and to adopt them into the emerging EdTech ecosystem appropriately.

Education experts point to EdTech as a way of providing key support for students with disabilities in a handful of critical ways:

  • Identifying students with various impairments
  • Improving peer-to-peer understanding
  • Enhancing engagement through interactive tools
  • Creating more equitable access
  • Increasing accountability

One of the fundamental ways EdTech is already assisting is by supporting students with audiovisual impairments. Various platforms and apps can help students overcome these barriers, putting them on equal footing with their peers. This, in turn, provides easier collaboration and increased confidence among all students. Along with an uptick in confidence and appropriate technological support, students are better equipped to engage with a lesson.

Educators are also better positioned to identify impairments that could hinder students from reaching their potential. Thanks to improving data collection, educators using a quality smart classroom can see developing trends that might not be visible to the naked eye. With enhanced insight and an improved toolset also comes an increased need for accountability—educators should understand that parental and community expectations will evolve as smart classrooms get even smarter.

Advocacy groups also remind policymakers that defining disabilities is difficult in itself, and  special education must continue to adapt alongside technological improvements. Without retaining focus on educating all students, technological advancements could come at the expense of less advantaged groups of students.

Using a Smart Classroom to Limit Technological Gaps

While we've already discussed concerns about limited broadband in homes, educators also need to focus on promoting equal access to technology. As education strategists point out, the first step for teachers is to recognize signs of out-of-class internet limitations among students. Resolving digital equality issues begins by identifying the signs and then taking measures to limit the negative impact. Without understanding a student's at-home limitations, it's harder to make necessary adjustments while students are in class.

A common tactic to help make these determinations is to distribute surveys that can at least begin to identify potential issues. Although such surveys don't guarantee a complete picture of student internet access, they can be a terrific way to get started – especially for newer teachers or those unfamiliar with the surrounding community.

Those teachers who are more familiar with their surroundings are likely better positioned to understand student access to technology. Education experts point out that properly developing relationships with parents can be critical in understanding a student's home setting. More than just having internet access at home, students with a full computer setup (with broadband) can have a significant advantage.

After identifying issues, schools can take constructive steps to help level the playing field with smart-classroom technology assistance. Sometimes, personal attention from the teacher is all that is needed. In other situations, teachers can focus on maximizing in-school resource usage so that students are less reliant on high-speed internet at home. Students can often download materials to personal devices and will not have to use broadband outside of class. This can be  beneficial as many school districts move closer to 1:1 computing goals—providing every student with a home-use device.

By identifying issues and preparing offline assignments that complement tech-based in-class lessons, teachers can take advantage of smart-classroom technology and sidestep some problems of accessibility. The smart classroom can then be a place where students all progress at the right pace from a technology perspective, limiting the impact of the homework gap that was so pronounced during the pandemic.

Taking Steps to Personalize the Smart Classroom

A discerning eye and ability to adapt are at the heart of every successful smart classroom plan. Instead of a monolithic type of EdTech ecosystem that would fit the world of science fiction, competing educational technologies provide opportunities for school districts to customize the academic environment. Not only does this lead to students personalizing their own learning, but school districts can create plans tailored explicitly to educational goals and student needs.

Vivi was designed for education and offers a flexible support system built to handle whatever comes next in the evolution of EdTech. With an agnostic platform compatible with any internet connected technology a school already has, Vivi is designed to address the many challenges of modern education. Contact us today to see what a scalable student engagement platform with tools like wireless screen mirroring can do to take smart classrooms to the next level.