The open classroom, by definition, is an approach to elementary education that emphasizes spacious classrooms where learning is informally structured, flexible and individualized. Open classrooms’ focus on students’ “learning by doing” and this concept resonates with those who believe that a formal, teacher-led classroom prevents a student from being creative and reaching their full potential. The central theme of an open classroom generally does not function with daily class lessons given by the teacher that follow a detailed curriculum in preparation for standardized tests. In contrast, the setting of an open classroom provides help from the teacher, and it is designed with planned objects, books and interest centers where students learn at their own pace. Specifically, teachers structure the classroom and activities for both individual students and small work groups. For instance, students are exposed to reading, math, science, history, and art on the philosophy that children learn best when they are interested in the content and are able to understand the importance of what they are learning using project-based learning, or interest centers.
Competing traditions of teaching literacy and numeracy in classrooms where there is primarily teacher centered instruction are based on the findings argued that knowledge is often presented to a learner via lectures, textbooks, and testing. This classroom practice suggests, metaphorically, that a child is a "blank slate" or a "vessel to fill." Conversely, in student-centered instruction the traditional approach to learning is challenged with claims that knowledge is often discovered by the learner in a classroom arranged with individual and small group work projects with combined teacher assessment. It is maintained that blending different subjects and skills that involve inquiry and questioning where students are described as "rich clay in the hands of an artist" or "a flourishing garden in need of a masterful cultivator." Regardless of a teachers philosophy of education, the open classroom concept has advanced in classrooms because technology removes walls, thus the creation of an atmosphere of the open classroom has become more prominent in elementary schools in the 21st century.
Considering for a few years now, students have been able to go on virtual field trips anywhere in the world through Google, without leaving the classroom. Subsequently, this type of virtual experience will become richer with augmented reality technologies like Magic Leap. The outcome of an entire school district, as already shown with Summit Public Schools, will continue to leverage technology to exemplify and personalize student centered learning.
Magic Leap is developing the next computing platform that will enable teachers to seamlessly combine and experience digital and physical worlds. According to Richard Taylor, co-founder and co-director of Weta companies, “Magic Leap holds the keys to new worlds for storytellers that are creative to play in. These are not born of print, film or TV, but rather, they are images, experiences, entertainment, education and information laid into our own reality. Our design team has fully embraced the possibilities of this new frontier. The unique possibilities of Magic Leap’s Mixed Reality have already sparked incredible creative evolutions within our company. The ability to design and create these new experiences is not just the future for entertainment, but it has the potential to be the future of everything.”
Google Expeditions offers a program where students can go on a field trip to virtually anywhere in the world. Teachers are able to support student learning by designing individual and whole group experiences virtually by exploring remote locations such as Machu Picchu, Antarctica or even the International Space Station. Classrooms and schools equipped with a Google Expeditions kit can access field trips using a tablet, virtual reality viewers, phones and a router to connect them all.
A small team of Facebook engineers has been working together with local educators in California, Summit Public Schools, on a project to create a classroom experience that is centered on students’ ambitions using technology. Based on the ideas of an open classroom, the classrooms in Summit Public Schools are not utilized for teacher lectures. Customarily, both content and assessments are delivered online through teacher created materials, and classroom time is reserved for teacher led, real world projects and collaboration. Initially, all student learning experiences are completely personalized, similarly to an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) developed for students with special learning needs, students move through the entire curriculum at their own pace while working on both short and long-term goals developed in a Personalized Learning Plan (“PLP”). For example, specific aspects of learning outcomes are found in an IEP and those goals are measured annually; however, in a PLP short and long-term goals are measured over the course of several school years. Progress towards the goals and coursework in a PLP is assessed by the teacher, with involvement of both the student and parents, for a variety of achievements (e.g. become an investigative journalist; qualify for acceptance to a state school; learn to code). In the PLP approach a teachers role is different. Teachers provide students with real-time, high quality personal feedback. Teachers coach students on cognitive skills, habits of success and provide opportunities for students to practice skills to achieve their goals. Summit, a next generation school, provides a forum for self-directed learning that prepares students for college, career and life.
Consequently, this open classroom forum connects a students’ daily learning to future aspirations in a way that every moment of a students’ day is motivated to achieve an individualized outcome in preparation of a desired career. The open classroom approach used in Summit Public Schools became effective through the culture and community of teachers who believe that technology has the power to enhance curriculum and focus both context and content more rapidly than a core curriculum modality. To illustrate, use of technology enables more time for teachers to mentor students and facilitate the learning goals of more than 2000 students’ PLPs in 2014. The PLP itself is completely separate from Facebook and does not require a Facebook account, and students working on the PLP are subject to strict privacy controls. The engineers at Facebook continue to partner with Summit Public Schools to enhance software capabilities to provide a pilot program that explores personalized learning to hopefully offer free access to any school district in the country.
Historically, there has been a good argument for having walls in schools as a way to create areas of quiet for teacher centered learning, but technology such as Magic Leap and Google have removed barriers and forged a movement in the open classroom for either an entire school day or part of a school day. Public Schools, such as Summit in California has changed their approach to learning by adopting an open classroom that individualizes education into a PLP so that students can be at the center of their own learning. Foundational to this, technology has evolved rapidly to an open classroom set forth to further engage and meet the individual needs of students, while teachers adopt a role as facilitator in the classroom, no longer at the helm.