Tomorrow’s World: life in the contemporary classroom

Posted: October 14, 2017 in Digital Futures in Education, Ma Education: Technology Creativity Thinking
Tags: , , ,
Art class - MS - Dover-34

Art classroom, UWCSEA Dover, Singapore

What does learning look like in the modern classroom?

If you visit a classroom today, you may notice that learning is quite different from when you were at school. Students work in groups, collaborating on a document or slideshow on a laptop, or independently researching with the teacher circulating as a guide. Even in the last 10 years, teaching and learning have changed with the rapid advances in technology, and devices being common in the classroom. In UWCSEA, we are a 1:1 Macbook school and, in the 7 years I have worked here, laptop use, Google Apps (now GSuite) and the online learning platform Teamie have dramatically transformed the way we teach and how youngsters learn. In my art room, I may flip the learning and set a video task using Edpuzzle to draw out prior knowledge or to see what they can recall and apply. I use Google Slides and Padlet to share work as a portfolio of learning and to track progress, and Hyperdocs to set a range of content to support, satisfy, and stretch my developing artists. Across the school, learning is all around, as groups film or photograph, annotate a diagram on iPads, and it is visible on post its, anchor charts and posters, as role play or animation, online and on the walls. It is an exciting time to learn.

Learning from the past

But it didn’t always look like this. When I was at school we sat in rows, listened to the teacher, worked through sheets or books and produced set tasks for marking. There was no one to one conference about my prior knowledge and skills, this was assumed. There was no group work or collaboration, only individual work, theories, books, and it was content driven. My learning centred around the acquisition of knowledge and skills.

All learners want to be engaged, to understand the reason for the learning and to apply the knowledge. I recall being around 17 years old, enthralled on a geography field trip, immersed in the physical attributes of the rugged coast of southern England, up close and in context. Again, in an English Language class, with an inspiring young teacher who connected us to foreign penpals by writing letters to share how we live. In both these examples we, as learners, were moving from acquisition to participation, and, according to Anna Sfard’s article “On Two Metaphors for Learning”, we would retain this new learning better through practical application and active participation. (Sfard, 1998)


David Kolb’s model of experiential learning is as relevant today, supporting students to apply their knowledge and understanding through hands-on, practical activities, reflecting on the process and experimenting. (Kolb’s Learning Cycle, 1984).

To learn we need to be actively engaged in the learning process whilst at the same time being aware of what and why we are doing it. This active learning, according to Charles Bonwell, of “doing things and thinking about what they are doing” is a fundamental part of learning, leading to greater student participation and retention. (Bonwell, 1991)

What is learning and what does this mean in the contemporary classroom?

Learning is the acquisition of skills and knowledge, engaging in the content and the ability to apply this to new contexts and tasks.

John Hattie states in the Science of Learning that “learning must be embedded in something worth knowing”. (Hattie, 2016) Students need to understand the relevance of the knowledge, skill or understanding so that they can make sense of it in relation to their own lives.

concept based learning TPACK

At UWCSEA we frame our teaching around Lynn Erickson’s concept-based learning and, as digital literacy coaches, we are using TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge) to focus our conversations with teachers on how technology can make a difference in conceptual learning. (Erickson, 2014) Focusing on transferable concepts and the relationships between these concepts allows richer learning experiences to develop. In today’s classroom, integrating technology as a tool to enhance learning, not as a substitution, transforms the learning in a way not possible before. (Puentedura SAMR, 2009)

How has it changed? The changing face of teaching and learning

In the modern classroom, learning is still centred around the acquisition of skills and knowledge, but also experiencing this in an understandable context to fully comprehend the meaning and reason for this learning. Schools have embraced students’ preferred style of personal learning through videos, utilising Kahn academy, YouTube and TED talks to immerse students in the learning. Engaging with real-world contexts aids understanding and technology can bring the world into the classroom through examples such as Skyping experts and visiting online galleries and museums. Learning for today’s students is no longer a lonely existence but involves group work and collaboration. Connecting with others both in the classroom and outside develops skills in communication but can also open up thinking and see the learning in a different context. Collaborations are commonplace with the ease of Google Suite, online software such as Mindmeister and learning platforms like Edmodo or Teamie. As described by AJ Juliani in his book Empower with John Spencer, the teacher should now be more of a guide on the side, giving up power and control to allow students to own their learning. (Juliani, 2017)

Making it stick. How can contemporary learning be realised?

It is important to remember that effective learning stems from good teaching and this does not change no matter what the new app, device or strategy is. We often hear that the best app is still the teacher, especially in a technology-enhanced classroom.

Pedagogy is important, as is knowing your students’ needs and accessing their prior knowledge. Teachers must be adaptable and willing to embrace change to transform learning yet retaining its’ relevance.


Whether using the lens of concept-based learning, the framework of TPACK, SAMR or RAT (Hughes, Thomas and Scharber, 2006) or the new most favoured pedagogical swing, students’ needs, both now and in the future, should be at the centre of the choices teachers make. We should ensure that students are involved in the process and that real-world examples provide relevance to their learning for greater engagement, motivation and retention. In an ideal world, developing individualised learning would ensure each student learns in their preferred style whilst accessing their interests and prior knowledge and skills. Leveraging our experiences with technology and how it can transform learning should be a shared experience, where teachers learn from other teachers. Technology can ease this through online communities such as Twitter to share best practice and practical application.

Keeping up with all the latest apps is not always the best route towards realising an effective learning environment, as the focus should always be on the learning, not the technology.

What will be the next big thing in education, what new strategy or innovation will shape the next decade of learning? What will tomorrow’s classroom resemble and what difference will it make to the way we learn?

Tomorrow’s World?

Top 10 skills 2020

In the near future, students will need to navigate a rich tapestry of opportunities where technology competence is crucial. Digital literacy will be on a par with reading. The World Economic Forum published an updated list of the skills necessary for 2020 including complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity at the top. We need to be teaching students how to learn more independently through active participation and divergent thinking. (World Economic Forum, 2016)

In Future-oriented Education by Marc Prensky, Prensky talks about these same skills required, viewing technology as the “new foundation of education”. (Prensky, 2013) In a previous article “Shaping tech for the Classroom” (Edutopia, 2005) he discusses that instead of “doing old things in new ways’ teachers work towards doing “new things in new ways”, developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Already AR and VR are leading the way forward with immersive technology bringing together the digital and the physical world. It is our responsibility to prepare our students for a world that we do not know and for jobs which we cannot imagine by building resilient, motivated and creative thinkers.

How are you preparing your students for tomorrow’s world?


Visual note from Marc Prensky’s Shaping Tech for the Classroom by Nicki Hambleton



Bonwell, C. C., & Sutherland, T. E. (1996). The active learning continuum: Choosing activities to engage students in the classroom. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 1996(67), 3-16. doi:10.1002/tl.37219966704

Erickson, H. L., & Lanning, L. A. (2014). Transitioning to concept-based curriculum and instruction: How to bring content and process together. Corwin, a SAGE Company.

Hattie, J. A., & Donoghue, G. M. (2016, August 10). Learning strategies: A synthesis and conceptual model. Retrieved from

Hughes, J., Thomas, R., & Scharber, C. (2006, March 19). Assessing Technology Integration: The RAT – Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation – Framework. Retrieved from

Kolb, D. (2000). The Process of Experiential Learning. Strategic Learning in a Knowledge Economy, 313-331. doi:10.1016/b978-0-7506-7223-8.50017-4

Prensky, M. (2005, December 02). Shaping Tech for the Classroom. Retrieved from

Ruben, A. (n.d.). SAMR: A Brief Introduction. Retrieved from

Sfard, A. (1998, 03). On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4. doi:10.2307/1176193

Spencer, J., & Juliani, A. J. (2017). Empower: What happens when students own their learning. IMpress.

Teaching effectively with technology: TPACK, SAMR, RAT. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Written by Jenny Soffel, Website Editor, World Economic Forum. (n.d.). What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? Retrieved from


  1. nickcoulter says:

    Love it Nicki! Keep sharing your thoughts and rambles. Very similar conversations about “what is the contemporary art classroom like these days” is the focus of my investigations. Would love to think we can come together one day and get a definitive answer outside of a curriculum framework.
    I have shared this on the PLN I am developing within my school network. Hopefully, some thoughts will come from this for them also.

    • Thanks Nick. I agree that the classroom in art has also changed and is challenged with getting the balance right between traditional and digital skills and experiences. I’ve just started my Masters and these latest postings link with the readings and subjects we are studying. Love to chat further

      • nickcoulter says:

        Yes, similarly, I am doing something similar in the link to collaborative leadership with online community and part of it is a question about contemporary art education. Would love to hear what you think about this topic. Let’s catch up later in the year, unless this becomes a nice thread here for others to add their thoughts. All welcome. Please help.
        Heading to EduTech 2017 on Nov 8 to present a short practical engagement on the Aurasma stuff.

  2. Judith says:

    Hi Nicki – I discussed the World Economic Forum top 10 skills list recently in another module I teach. It is interesting isn’t it, how digital skills are completely merged with other key thinking skills and I think you are absolutely right in saying that we should focus on the learning, rather than the technology. The most interesting change in the past few years for me has been the focus on creativity and creative thinking. Something to think about in relation to technology – how to use technology to enhance and develop creative thinking for instance.

    • Thanks Judith, I too, being an art teacher of over 20 years, am so excited that finally creativity is being acknowledged as a fundamental skill, especially in today’s ever changing society. I often touch upon your exact point in my posts about the role technology has in building creativity in the classroom. In fact my next module for TCT is Creativity and Education Futures so I am hoping it will be right up my street and push my thinking deeper! Hope the UK is not too cold. Nicki

  3. Nicki a very inspirational read. It is clear from your writing how passionate you are as a teacher and how you are using technology (and believe in technology) as a way to enhance the learning. You appear to have a clear strategy about how to implement purposeful technology into the teaching and learning which seems to be backed up by your school. I suspect though, that you are also an inspirational teacher who is constantly reflecting and searching for new ideas to stimulate your students and promote the best engagement. Sadly, I feel many teachers may use technology as a gimmick still. SAMR is a useful framework/checklist to prompt teachers to question their use of tech in a particular lesson and one that I had not come across until I watched your Blog on Padlet, so thank you.

    I think there must be pockets of schools where technology is fully integrated into the T&L however, unfortunately, I am yet to find one of them. In the school where I am working currently – a part time post in the UAE, the school is modeled on a very traditional Prep school from the UK. In some teachers classrooms pupils still sit in rows! We are looking to become an Apple Distinguished School but each member of the digital team has been asked to complete their own personal project around an App of web based learning tool. I think this spreads us too thinly personally. We have, however, consistently used Showbie (which I discussed in my Vlog) but the full participatory and dialogic functions have not been utilized by most staff – generally it is used as a tool to show parents what we are doing in class.

    When I began this Masters module, I was repeated saying to my husband that with the lack of fully purposeful and integrated technology in our schools we were seriously failing our pupils by not preparing them for the digital future that we are yet to realise or imagine. After listening for weeks, he turned around and said “but when we were at school, we weren’t prepared for the world that we are in today, and we’re alright – we’ve learnt new technology and new ways of doing things”. Referring to your point about when we were at school. Yes, we were still being prepared for a Victorian work house in many ways with the level of conformity that existed. Despite those seemingly archaic practices, many of us have had career changes – a job for life is not part of our generations parlance. We have adapted, so can the next generation with the right skills. Yes of course the advent of technology has presented new challenges e.g. e-safety, filtering and deciphering a glut of information, adapting to a constantly changing technological landscape with constant revisions upgrades and updates etc. but we don’t necessarily have to teach all these skills using technology do we? Nor does using technology in our lessons necessarily mean that we are addressing any of these new challenges anyway. Hopefully this has provided some food for thought. Enjoy!

    • Thank you so much Rachel for your kind and knowledgeable words. Your comments appeared in the spam comments (I dont know why?!) but I wasnt aware of this feature. By emailing WP support, they were able to discover this and suggest I checked by sending me the link – all osrted in the space of an hour. Now that is effective communication/collboration/discussion and problem solving in a global virtual environment! In response to your comments, we do have to become more adaptable in this modern world, us and students and we take it for granted that they have the necessary skills (and us) to do this. We have to be in line with the skills that are needed now and in the future, watever they will be by helping students to be better problem solvers, to think for themselves and creative at working things out. These skills have always been important but even more so today. I remember first trying to use a Mac, having worked on a PC and finding I could give up really easily. It is with resilience that we keep having to work at adapting to something new and trust that we are putting ourselves through this for very good reason. I am very lucky at our school where technology has been integrated into every lesson across the pilot 6 years years ago. We are a 1:1 laptop, GSuite and use an Online learning platform Teamie. We achieved Apple Distinguished school status a few years ago, so if there is anything I can help with. Currently we are developing an articulation of the digital literacy curriculum, mapping where skills are covered and what our ideal is, as digital literacy coaches. The conversations are fascinating and it is empowering to be thinking ahead but I wonder whetehr we should be consulting hte students about this new world of skills rather than solely us adults.I would recommend the Learning 2 conference (depending where you are based) as it is a wonderful conference for teachers by teachers with technology and pedagogy at its core. Have a look at the website and let me know if you are interested. Thanks for checking my posts and let’s keep this conversation flowing.

  4. I appreciate how you have mentioned both Kolb’s learning cycle and Sfards Two Metaphors for learning. When learning is approached as an outcome that should be seen or recognized, we are subjecting ourselves to think that children need to perform in order for learning to have happened. We should be less concerned with overt behaviour but with gaining knowledge or ability through the use of experience Kolb’s model of experimental learning supports this thinking by promoting students to apply their knowledge and understanding through reflection, experimentation and practice as you mention above in your blog. In line with this, Sfard’s article ‘On Two Metaphors for learning claims that through practical application and active participation we would retain learning better. Advancements in technology have provided the resources needed to facilitate such an approach and when using technology, children can develop their own line of inquiry thus improving conceptualization of learning. I really like how you structured this blog, it almost provides us with a timeline of education ‘past, present and future’. Was a great read!

    • Thank you Chloe, I appreciate you stopping by. I completely agree with you and have always felt that experience outweighs outcome. Whilst this is true in the classroom, I am guessing this wouldn’t be true for surgeons or pilots! Nevertheless, in my teaching experience, youngsters need reminding of the process of learning to gain experiences, failing, then possibly failing again in order to learn and get better. You mention that technology can help in documenting process, what have you found that works best in your experience? How are you finding the process of learning for the MA? May I visit and comment on your blog? Nicki

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