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A responsive classroom outside the classroom? Technology is the answer.

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Student-centred teaching and the responsive classroom

Over the last few decades, we have seen more and more importance placed on student-centered learning. Classes that offer varied hands-on activities keep students engaged and curious far more than anything where they are a passive observer.

An integral aspect of student-centered learning is that teachers are able to create a responsive classroom. Teachers use formative check-ins and observations to respond to the students’ needs as they arise. On the forefront of any teacher's mind should be: Have any misconceptions crept in? Has something really captured my students' imagination that I can pivot the next learning activity towards? Are the students engaging with the material like I imagined? This flexible pedagogical approach has led to improved academic achievement, better student-teacher relations and higher quality instruction (Responsive Classroom).

These benefits of a responsive classroom are widely known amongst educators and it is a commonly seen attribute of effective teaching.

Another, similarly acclaimed aspect of education is experiential learning.

Experiential learning

Experiential learning is a process whereby students learn by seeing, doing and interacting with hands-on experiences in the real world. Teachers note that taking students out of the classroom is an exceptionally powerful tool. Studies show that students who experience educational trips show increased academic achievement, boosts cultural awareness and reinforces personal development (Student & Youth Travel Association), and let’s not forget, they’re a huge amount of fun!

But how does an educational trip mirror those important aspects of a responsive classroom when the students are, in fact, out of the classroom?

Taking students out of the classroom

Student-centered learning is largely possible due to the physical space the learning happens in: classrooms now allow students to gather as a class or work individually, focus is on the center of the room as opposed to the teacher’s desk, and students are able to access the teacher when required but also to explore the work with their peers. But once you take the students out of that controlled environment, it becomes a whole other beast...

And this is why experiential learning is somewhat faltering in terms of innovative student-centered pedagogy. Despite the progress we have made in the classroom, once teachers are required to navigate keeping a large group of students safe in an uncertain environment, they are forced to fall back and rely on outdated pedagogical techniques. Worksheets, lectures and passive reading becomes all too commonplace as the focus of the educator is now on counting heads, as opposed to the educational experience of the students. And as experiential learning currently stands, it is essential educators focus on students' physical well-being - being in charge of a group of students in an unknown environment is no easy task. But it does seem to be a real lost moment in what could be a moment where teachers could actually be teachers and not simply chaperones.

A responsive out-of-classroom?

As we’ve discussed, a flexible and responsive learning environment is where we see the best educational outcomes. And we’ve discussed allowing students to learn by doing and seeing in a real world environment is also beneficial to their learning. But we also know that taking students out of the classroom is a risky endeavour that means every aspect of the trip needs to be mapped and planned in advance.

So the question is, how do we achieve both the benefits of a responsive classroom and the benefits of getting students out of the classroom? And the answer to that is technology.

As soon as the four walls of the classroom are removed, and we give students the autonomy they need to take advantage of learning in the real world, teachers lose sight of and contact with their charges - and that's a terrifying moment for teachers! However, what if we were able to use technology to take the heavy lift of keeping students safe while on the trip, and allow teachers to, well... teach? And to then go even further, what if we gave teachers the tools they needed to engage in a 'responsive classroom' but digitally instead of physically? Now we're seeing the benefits of both these successful forms of teaching at the same time.

If we can use technology to allow teachers to guide their students' experiential learning, then we can take the successful tenets of the responsive classroom, and now use them while out in the real world. A simple poll to students to gauge understanding and interest? A prompt sent to them to ask them to reflect on something they found surprising? A way for students to document their own and their peers learning in real-time? Now we're able to truly maximize the learning that takes place out of the classroom. The arsenal of useful tips and tricks teachers have up their sleeves when guiding their students in their learning no longer needs to only happen in the classroom, but can happen in the moment, in the authentic learning environment they are.

And the most exciting impact of this might be that once teachers are able to run a safe, responsive classroom outside in the real world, the boundaries of the classroom seem to blur and fade. Teachers and students now have the tools to learn wherever and whenever they might be.

Technology becomes a tool to enhance experiential learning by making it responsive and to extend the scope of learning outside the classroom.

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