School trips are a highly valuable tool in a teacher’s arsenal. They can act as a reward and create applied, varied and collaborative learning experiences for pupils that facilitate greater retention of information. However, it’s not always practical or possible to take students away from the classroom, not least for those with special needs who may find excessive exposure to new environments overwhelming. Technology provides a way to bring trip experiences into the school and facilitate the transition out of the classroom by building on the skills that will be called on during outings.
Over the past decade technology has become an increasingly prevalent feature of the classroom. £900m is now spent on education technology every year, and the global market is expected to be worth £129 billion by 2020.
In the next couple of years, we can expect to see developments, such as 3D printing and virtual reality headsets, take an even more prominent position in the classroom as teachers, parents and students alike respond to their power to feed creative, hands-on learning.
Enhancing the learning experience
A key advantage of school trips is that they provide a sensory experience that creates extra stimulation for the students. This is particularly important for special needs students who may find it more challenging to focus over extended periods of time. This benefit can be recreated in the classroom through 3D printing technology. 3D printing offers endless possibilities for creating tailored, multi-dimensional learning materials, that will help educators convey concepts to students in new and engaging ways.
If, for instance, students were learning about Ancient Egypt, 3D printers would make it possible to create a replica of the Funeral Mask of Tutankhamen. This would increase students’ connection with the subject, by bringing them face to face with the history they had been studying, without the need to travel the impractical 2,414 miles to Cairo to see it or navigate a day out to a busy London museum to see similar artefacts. It would also put them in the unique position of being able to handle the object – an impossibility that can be frustrating for pupils when it comes to real artefacts – catering to the needs of sensory learners.
The level of engagement 3D printing can deliver is increasing all the time as the sophistication of the technology improves. Where they used to only be able to print in one or two colours, new models can now form full colour objects through 3DColourJet technology. If we consider our Tutankhamen example, this would make the copy far more realistic and as a result visually engaging.
Creating a complex 3D model can be extremely challenging. However, there are a myriad of different models (from basic plug and play models to more advanced versions) and accessories available that make it accessible to people of all different capabilities. Design software, such as CAD or CAM, may be out of reach of some students, yet 3D scanners make it possible to create designs by scanning existing objects and converting them to editable, printable files. Many 3D printing companies are also now providing downloadable designs, so users can have the benefits of the finished product without the need to create the design. For example, students could download and print molecule parts, recreating the kind of hands on experience they could have at a science museum
Virtual reality (VR) is another example of technology that is bringing school trip experiences within reach of the classroom. Countries such as Dubai are leading the way through using headsets to allow students to virtually visit Egypt, and measure the bases of pyramids, from the comfort of their desks. There is no reason this technology shouldn’t become commonplace in the UK and be extended to other subjects. In the future students could take tours through the human body for biology, visit a live volcano for geography or act in a virtual reality play for Drama, the possibilities are endless.
Bringing students together
Another invaluable benefit of school trips is the opportunity they provide for bonding between classmates, which is crucial for the development of social skills and a sense of self-confidence amongst special needs students. Technology offers a way for this to be replicated within the classroom by creating the opportunity for collaboration on a task.
Within the next five years we will see a rise in smart materials, such as intelligent surfaces and fabrics, which will turn walls and table tops into canvases for learning. When used for lessons, such as maths, this would invite students to work on a problem together through an interactive medium, promoting academic and personal learning.
Introducing advanced technology into the classroom shouldn’t be used as a replacement for school trips. However, it is a valuable resource for delivering enhanced learning experiences, that mimic those available outside the classroom, as a supplement for outings. Technology such as 3D printing, VR and intelligent fabrics offer pupils fun, interactive and sensory learning experiences that give them the chance to collaborate and build on their social skills – all of which are particularly important for those with learning difficulties. It’s now over to teachers to embrace each technological development as it comes so that pupils have the best learning experiences possible.