Pupils set to boldly go with ‘Star Trek’ desks

SCHOOLS in the North East are set for a Star Trek make-over thanks to the development of the world’s first interactive classroom by experts at Durham University.

Adam Greenhill, touch screen technology, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School

SCHOOLS in the North East are set for a Star Trek make-over thanks to the development of the world’s first interactive classroom by experts at Durham University.

Researchers at the Technology-Enhanced Learning Research Group (TEL) are using interactive multi-touch desks that look and act like a large version of an Apple iPhone.

The team watched how students and teachers interact in classes and how information communications technology (ICT) could improve collaboration. They then set about designing an interactive classroom solution called SynergyNet to reflect TEL’s aims of learning by sharing, problem-solving and creating.

The team has linked up with manufacturers to design software, and desks that recognise multiple touches on the desktop, using vision systems that can see infrared light.

Several students will be able to work together at a desk as the desks allow simultaneous screen contact by multiple users using fingers or pens. The researchers want to create a “natural way” for students to use computers in class. The system encourages collaboration between students and teachers, and a move away from teacher-centric learning.

The government’s ICT vision aims to “transform teaching, learning and help to improve outcomes through shared ideas, more exciting lessons – and to engage ‘hard to reach’ learners, with more motivating ways of learning, and more choice about how and where to learn”.

Dr Liz Burd, Active Learning in Computing director at Durham University said: “Our vision is that every desk in school in 10 years time will be interactive. IT in schools is an exciting prospect – our system is very similar to the type of interface shown as a vision of the future in the TV series Star Trek.

“We can now by-pass the ‘move-to-use’ whiteboard. The new desk can be both a screen and a keyboard, it can act like a multi-touch whiteboard and several students can use it at once. It offers fantastic scope for more participative teaching and learning.”

Teachers will be able to instantly display examples of good work by students on the main smart-board.

TEL in Computing is the largest funded research study to look at multi-touch interactive systems for education after £1.5m was awarded to Durham researchers who will design the system and software, and test it with students from primary and secondary schools over the next four years.

Dr Andrew Hatch from Durham’s Technology-Enhanced Learning Research Group added: “It changes the move-to-use principle. Instead the computer becomes part of the desk.”

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