What is a smart classroom?

See what active learning looks like in this Q&A with Dawson College’s Chris Whittaker

Dawson College in Montreal, Canada has three high-tech “smart classrooms.” These rooms are designed with group tables and interactive whiteboards around the perimeter of the room. Two of the rooms have SMART Board technology while the third, and newest, is an active learning lab with eight Nureva Walls that stretch around the room, providing 56 feet of digital workspace. It is the largest installation of Nureva visual collaboration solutions in a single classroom.

eCampus News spoke with Chris Whittaker, physics professor and coordinator of Dawson’s smart classrooms, about what goes on in a high-tech classroom.

Q: Can you describe a smart classroom?

In these classrooms, students come together in a shared space to construct, manipulate, and negotiate meaning around a canvas. The environments become immersive—learning happens on walls, desks, tables, and in conversations. The interactive surfaces become shared perceptual spaces where students discuss meaning and clarity and come to a collective understanding.

When you are in an environment with touch screens dedicated to creating opportunities for shared perceptual meaning, you can dig down and construct knowledge in a deeper way.

Q: What kind of technology do these rooms require?

We designed these rooms to not need personal devices but the design allows personal devices to be used in a complementary capacity. If you want students exchanging, collaborating, and talking synchronously in class then shared public spaces should be the primary focus of work. If students are working on a publicly displayed shared artifact, then they have to negotiate what goes in to it, how it’s represented, and so on. The process of negotiation is important, and if they are working solely through personal devices the process works differently. In our newest room, the one with Nureva Span Wall technology, personal devices become a complement to the shared spaces in that students can contribute to the assembly of an artifact, but the process of negotiation stays focused on the shared public space of the walls around the perimeter of the room.

Q: What do products like the Nureva visual collaboration solution allow you do?

Technology needs to serve good pedagogy; by itself it’s just tech. One of the things I like about the Nureva Wall and some other interactive ed tech is that they can become such powerful pedagogical tools if design is carefully considered. We have adopted a design cycle behind our classrooms, the technology in them, and the pedagogical strategies we use that allows faculty to collaborate with researchers and other practitioners to develop effective uses of the tech.

Q: How are your instructors using the smart classrooms, particularly the Nureva one?

The Nureva room is great for many reasons, but it is particularly good for assembling larger artifacts that can persist over several classes, a semester, or even over years in the case of student portfolios. We work on span documents that live in the cloud and are up to 200 feet long and 4 feet high. We put links, documents, words, web pages, and images into them.