What happens when you untether teachers from the front of the classroom? In 2015, Head of eLearning & Research at St. Margaret’s Anglican Girls School, Queensland, Peter Cottle, finally got to find out when teachers started to combine WiDi (wireless) projectors with stylus tablets.
“I’ve spent many years researching the learning space and last year we installed the technology mix that lets us finally cut the cord between teachers and their desks,” says Peter. “With the ability to work on projected images of class books using digital pens – and from any part of the classroom – we’re seeing a quiet revolution in teaching styles.”
The power of teaching from the back of the class
According to Peter, one subject where teaching is becoming radically different is maths.
“Our head of faculty, Vicki Strid, has been teaching mathematics for more than 30 years, but from the moment she became untethered she started to move around far more,” he says.
Today, Vicki’s classroom looks nothing like a traditional maths class. Her desk is at the back and she spends most of her teaching time moving between students, switching rapidly between one-on-one coaching and group learning.
“Untethering from a fixed position at the front of the classroom has been liberating,” says Vicki. “I can annotate notes and diagrams which I am projecting from my computer – either directly onto the whiteboard or on the touch screen.
“If a student is having difficulty, I can take my computer, sit beside her, and conduct part of the lesson from her desk.”
According to Peter, Vicki uses a combination of enabling technologies: the GeoGebra maths tool, which she uses to demonstrate geometry and algebra; OneNote Class Notebook Creator; which helps her to quickly compile lesson plans; and Intel’s WiDi technology to wirelessly project her tablet screen onto the whiteboard.
Turning the tables on students
From her new vantage point, the maths teacher is also directing girls to assume a pedagogy role as a way to re-inforce learning. Seated at the back of the class, she can observe what’s going on in the physical and digital space around her. She can instantly seize opportunities to challenge girls to reprise a solution and teach it to the rest of the class.
“It’s great: I just give my tablet to students, and they are able to project their ideas onto the white board,” says Vicki.
According to Peter another benefit is class collaboration. With the maths teacher in total command of the visual space at the front of the class, she can direct groups of students to work together to solve problems.
“Today, the space at the front of the class is where students visually collaborate,” he says. “In effect, she’s surrendered the space, but increased control.”
The impact is difficult to quantify, but from what he’s seen, Peter confirms estimates that the combination of digital pens, tablets and WiDi instruction delivers an increase in students’ ability to create spatial content, which is sometimes considered the foundation of thought.
Redefining the teacher–student relationship
For St. Margaret’s, the decision to create a more fluid physical environment in classrooms reflects a subtle shift in how knowledge flows. The school wants students to be active learners by instinct. Upending the traditional classroom layout makes that point as powerfully as anything can.
“If a teacher spends the majority of class time standing at the front of the classroom facing students, that expresses the didactic idea that knowledge still comes from teachers,” says Peter. “By creating collaboration spaces at the front of each classroom, we’re democratising the learning process.
“Now, teachers position themselves so that they are on the learning journey with their students. This represents a significant shift in our thinking.”
St. Margaret’s Anglican Girls School is a 120-year old Pre-Prep –Y12 school in Ascot North Brisbane, with approx. 830 students and 80 teachers. The school has a 1-to-1, stylus–enabled tablet fleet.