After a discussion with Prof Yunus Ballim, DVC Academic, I have started to give some thoughts to the ideal digital classroom and large class pedagogy for Wits. I am an edutechnogeek, so I have aggregated pedagogy and technology together here. Clearly we need to really do some serious work on the pedagogy of using technology in large classes. My impression so far is that there is very little researched pedagogy for technology in our our context. Please consider this the basis for a discussion, much of it half baked, it being precisely 27 hours since I first started thinking about this.
Note: all software referenced in this blog post is Free Software (open source), and can be implemented easily, quickly and cheaply.
We can imagine some of the characteristics of such a classroom fairly easily. Firstly, people should want to be in the room. The dingy 1970s browns have to go! The walls should be 21st Century in their decor, which need not involve expensive elements, rather simple, psychologically pleasing designs. The rooms should be bright an airy, with well placed lighting that is suitable for the purpose at hand.
Secondly, the seats must be comfortable and suitable for using technology other than the paper and pencil for which our lecture rooms are mostly designed. We can assume all students will bring mobile computing devices to class, so each seat should have an electricity plug. The room should be wireless enabled, with sufficient capacity to support the number of seats in the room.
It is time to replace the green chalkboards with interactive whiteboards. The benefits of interactive whiteboards are well known, though careful consideration needs to put into achieving the benefits. In our case, the lesson from the whiteboard should be easily saved to the eLearning platform in the correct location in a course, and made available immediately to the students. Conventional wisdom suggests that a benefit of this lies in the fact that many students are not English first language, and being able to review a lesson in this way could mean the difference between success and failure.
At the same time, the classroom should have a podcast recording capability. This should be easily interacted with using a simple wireless microphone, and should immediately save the lecture to the eLearning platform after the class. This can easily be implemented currently using a machine running the GNU/Linux operating system, and PodderLive that talks directly to the eLearning platform already. However, research has shown that podcasts do not benefit students unless learning activities that engage the learners are undertaking. Thus, podcasts alone are unlikely to produce benefits. They have to go hand in glove with learning activities based around them.
The room should have two video sources, one pointing at the white board, and one at a lecture position. Both should be able to be webcast to an IceCast server, and made available live online via a filter either in a public website or in the course on the eLearning platform. With the hardware in place, this can easily be accomplished by capturing the video and streaming it from a GNU/Linux based computer running Flumotion or another streaming application that can stream directly to an IceCast server or other Open Source streaming media server.
Two relatively lightweight computers running GNU/Linux would be ideal for controlling this classroom. It would be best if they were fixed in place and had large dual screens with touch controls.
Currently some lecturers use clickers in class, something not without controversy. Alternatives to clickers become possible in the large classroom when all students have mobile devices and WiFi access. For example, microblogging with hash tags that could be aggregated onto a display or onto the lecturer's console. We could easily create the equivalent of what lecturers do with clickers that would send the results to the eLearning platform, and provide for an analysis. Students who miss key concepts could be directed to recorded material, as well as to special face to face tutorials as is currently the case.
Students should be able to interact in the classroom to use whatever device they have at hand. They should not need particular brands of computer, particular software, or even particular categories of device. Some examples of appropriate technologies could include laptops, netbooks, Internet-enabled mobile 'phone', PSP devices, etc.
Students should also be able to use the technologies of knowledge creation, and their blogs and other personal learning spaces should integrate easily into the classroom. We need to build digital knowledge creators, not just digital knowledge consumers.
This is just a first stab at some ideas. Other ideas welcome. Please post them to twitter with the hashtag #large-class-pedagogy.