The traditional way of teaching, featuring a professor reading out loud a syllabus, is almost a thing of the past. The future of our education? Collaborative learning spaces, multi-location learning, adaptive learning systems and virtual classrooms. The main purpose is more dialogue between students and teachers. The role of the real-life professor remains crucial, but he or she should embrace the latest educational technology, claim Piet Desmet, Campus Rector of Kulak, and Bruno Cassiman, professor at IESE and the Catholic University of Leuven.
‘The real-life teacher will never disappear, but will be increasingly challengedPiet Desmet, Campus Rector of Kulak
Students asking silent questions on their smartphones during a lecture and liking each other’s questions, so the teacher knows that the pace is too high or a term is unclear. Collaborative learning spaces where students work together at large tables, connecting with both each other and the professor. Open learning centres where students work individually and record their presentations. Multi-location learning where groups of students at different locations follow interactive courses. Or even a step further: virtual classrooms where each student can be in a different place and the teacher in yet another.
This is, in a nutshell, what is happening now at the Catholic University of Leuven’s Kulak campus in Kortrijk. In the so-called Edulab, an ambitious and unique testing platform for the latest educational technology. Campus Rector Piet Desmet: ‘Edulab is a living lab in which we experiment with real students from all faculties, using technology to improve learning through interaction and collaboration. Call it international pioneering. Foreign fellow-universities regularly come to visit us.’
Edulab is part of the larger TECOL project, or Technology Enhanced Collaborative Learning. Barco and Televic, two companies striving towards world leadership in educational technology, are participating. Piet Desmet: ‘We are really co-developing with Barco and Televic. They build a scalable, robust and secure technology and we test it. We consult each other constantly. A bit like in the co-creation hub Hangar K in Kortrijk, where the Catholic University of Leuven and Barco are also stakeholders.’
‘The Barco technology is perfect for education purposes. With Barco’s ClickShare solution you can connect any laptop with any projection screen in just one click. That is the starting point of a learning situation. Our students bring their own laptop (‘bring your own device’) and connect with the Televic and Barco platform.’
New didactics, new skills
Lectures with silent questions or collaborative learning spaces where the teacher has to respond quickly to critical questions from students: these new learning forms also require new skills from the teachers. Piet Desmet: ’10 percent of our budget goes to technology, 90 percent to teaching methods, training and support of the teachers. You may well have invented the best technology, but if it does not fill a real need or if teachers do not want to work with it, you are nowhere. ‘
According to Piet Desmet and Bruno Cassiman, motivated real-life teachers still do make a difference. Technology does not make the human teachers redundant. ‘But it must be the right stuff, because technology is a very powerful tool. Students will challenge the teacher more often with analytical questions. Teachers will no longer get away by merely quoting their syllabus.’
The virtual classroom becomes real
We are moving at full speed towards a more personalized, interactive and effective learning process, agrees Cassiman, who teaches at the Catholic University of Leuven and at the IESE Business School in Barcelona. ‘In Barcelona we are now in the process of building such a virtual auditorium. The role of the teacher is undoubtedly changing in times of blended learning (a mix of online learning and contact education, ed.). The challenge? To link all those new possibilities together in order to create a meaningful learning process. I have already experimented in Leuven with silent questions, emboldening the students for instance to interview a CEO. And in case studies, while working with smaller groups, you can really focus on the students’ knowledge.’
In our virtual auditorium we are standing in front of a number of screens, but it feels as if students are here with usBruno Cassiman, Professor of Strategic Management at the Catholic University of Leuven
‘In our virtual auditorium we are presenting in front of a number of screens, but it feels as if the students are sitting there with us. You see them grimacing, and they can ask questions. Technology helps you to get the feel of a class much faster, so you can also respond to it much faster. I also capture courses on videotape.’
Revaluation of the teacher
How does Belgium score in terms of innovative educational technology? There are some pioneers – such as Kulak Kortrijk – but there is still much to be done, especially in secondary education. We perform best in primary education, says Piet Desmet, with self-managing learning environments, active learning and adaptive learning systems, and with technology as a catalyst. ‘Unfortunately secondary education is still dominated by the silo mentality: one teacher per subject, and very little technology. there are exceptions but they are still too scarce. We are trying to change that with imec’s Smart Education program for schools. A living lab project is running right now in three West-Flemish high schools.’
Both experts also think high of adaptive learning systems, which automatically take into account that student X can handle somewhat more than student Y. ‘It allows you to radically change the grade and class system. I am a true believer,’ says Piet Desmet. Finally, he argues fervently for a revaluation of the teaching profession. ‘Give teachers a better framework and more social appreciation. Hopefully educational technology can also contribute to that revaluation.’