In two forgotten home economics classrooms in the East Block of the Khanya Building at the Wits Education Campus at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Architects Of Justice have created an Adaptive Learning Environment (ALE), the eZone, which offers a glimpse of how future classrooms will be.
For the better part of five years, the School of Therapeutic Sciences at Wits has been evolving in its use of technology in preparation of a digital classroom environment. Aware of the changes in technology and connectivity, how quickly students are accepting new technologies and the rate they become proficient with these new technologies, Therapeutic Sciences teamed up with the Wits School of Educational to create the eZone. The eZone was conceptualised as a space to facilitate learning, using digital media and devices, with an intention to better equip learners and lecturers with the digital tools available in their professions by facilitating the exploration of learning and teaching through new technologies and software.
“The eZone is a flexible space that can be rearranged to accommodate individual study, group collaboration on projects as well as the more traditional classroom and examination setups,” explains Kuba Granicki from Architects Of Justice.
There were certain directives – the space needed to seat a certain number of students for examination purposes – but Architects Of Justice didn’t simply want to design the space around exams which take place once or twice a year. “I was introduced to
A flexible, active learning space
“Our team recognised that computing spaces in higher education are confined to
Lecturers lead classes in the eZone using technology, rather than standing at the front of room delivering lectures. Students are fully engaged in the learning process and can also work on self-study projects in the
Using technology to address some of the systemic education challenges in South Africa is a big part of Barnard-Ashton’s mission. They are using Skype in the Classroom, for example, to bring the hospital into class so that students can interact with patients and other clinicians in the real world. And the Physiotherapy department is using Teams and Staff OneNote to manage the increasing load of student administration data, record student support interviews and interventions, plan curricula adjustments, and make sure that all lecturers are informed.
“‘Massification’ is a mandate for transformation in the post-Apartheid South Africa,” she notes. “The government is mandating that universities accept higher numbers of students – particularly from ‘previously disadvantaged’ backgrounds, without expanding resources. The eZone provides the space and the mobile technology for students to engage with their learning activities so that no student is left behind,” she says.
Creating a blended learning environment
Granicki says that the eZone is a move in the direction of blended learning. “The classroom now focuses on the student and the lecturer falls into a facilitator role. Whereas before the facilitator would push out the entire curriculum, now the curriculum is becoming available digitally on an iPad, where students can watch lectures in their own time, and when they come back to the classroom with the facilitator, they are there to answer questions for those who have already gone over the material. The lecture can be replaced with a webinar, and students can interact with the lecturer via Twitter in real-time, instead of disturbing the class with a raised hand and a question – so that’s made a big change and the classroom has been ‘flipped’ around.”
Digital devices are essential for this change, and although students are welcome to bring their own, the eZone is equipped with 40 tablet devices and 120 laptops which students can use to login to their own dedicated virtual learning environment.
To facilitate the digitalisation of the classroom, Architects Of Justice had to bring fibre and Wi-Fi into a building which wasn’t built for
The project took two years to implement due to the fact that the #feesmustfall movement delayed its delivery for almost a full year. “It was just another example of some of the things you have to deal with as an architect which are totally out of your control. As Wits deals with over 35 000 students, their learning, safety and education are the priority,” he says.
Granicki concludes that although he wasn’t taught in this way growing up, he has been learning, along with the Department of Education, about how education is changing. “We are working hard to stay at the forefront and create environments which enable our new generations, generations which have been exposed to technology and the world in a completely different way to us, to best acquire knowledge.”
Architects: Architects Of Justice
Electrical Engineers: ELR Eksteen & Le Roux
IT Specialists: Data Centric
Contractor: Murray & Dickson
Photographer: Dominic Barnardt Photography (www.dominicbarnardt.co.za)
Architects Of Justice contact details
The new role of Adaptive Learning Environments
Adaptive learning is not meant to replace teachers, merely to help students learn at their own pace and allow teachers to spend time helping individuals or small groups as needed. This is achieved through;
Being Student-centric: In these classrooms, students play an active role in their learning and teachers serve as guides or mentors. They become facilitators of learning rather than lecturers. They help students think critically and learn by doing and act as a resource while their students discover and master new concepts. Student-centric classroom environments put students’ interests first and are focused on each student’s needs, abilities and learning styles.
Computing devices: Computers are readily available in modern
Active learning: In modern classrooms, students are actively engaged in what they learn. Students participate in more active learning by working in groups or on computers and complete projects and other interesting activities that help them discover new skills. Students learn actively by talking and listening, writing, reading and reflecting. When students are encouraged to take an active interest in learning, they are more likely to retain the knowledge they’ve accumulated.
Adaptive learning: Any classroom will always have students of different types of learning abilities in it which often makes it difficult for teachers to make sure that all of them understand the concepts. The modern approach of adaptive learning gives students the freedom to learn at their own pace and in the way they are most comfortable with.
Invitational environment: The classrooms should not be cramped or overcrowded. Modern classrooms should have the basic material required for teaching, such as; interactive whiteboards and LCD projectors. The BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) approach can be
Mutual respect: Teachers and students should always have respect for each other. As now the role of teachers is no longer to be the sage on the stage, students should not forget their value as they will always receive guidance from them. Also, teachers should encourage students to speak with confidence and value their opinions. In a well-disciplined environment, students should also co-operate with and respect their classmates.
Students take responsibility for their learning: As students are encouraged to actively participate in their own learning, they become responsible for it. Self-directed students not only encourage each
Performance-based assessments: Regular performance-based assessments are carried out by teachers through various methods which are not restricted to tests. These can be by conducting quizzes and polls. Teachers can utilise projects as well as other products and performances as assessments to determine student achievements and needs. Assessments are tailored to the abilities and needs of the students.
Collaborative learning: Learning through collaboration is one of the most effective forms of learning. Teaching and learning in isolation are very restrictive and hinder progress. Learning in groups enhances the scope of learning and develops critical thinking. Collaborative learning activities include collaborative writing, group projects, joint problem solving, debates and more. Collaborative learning redefines