UOC and UB research into learning environments and smart classrooms becomes a spin-off
There is scientific evidence that the role of the surroundings in learning and in the physical and psychological well-being of students and teaching staff alike is crucial, particularly with the arrival of the digital age. This has been confirmed by the Smart Classroom Project research group, created by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and the University of Barcelona (UB) five years ago in response to the need to rethink learning environments to implement active learning methodologies and improve the experience of those using them. Now, the Smart Classroom Project research has been turned into a spin-off, with the backing of the UOC’s Research and Innovation department through its entrepreneurship platform Hubbik, and the UB’s Bosch i Gimpera Foundation. The new company, a success story in the field of the social sciences and humanities, provides answers to new teaching needs by considering the environment to be one of the pillars of change. In fact, it is of such strategic importance that it has also been dubbed the “third teacher”.
“Currently, learning environments in schools, particularly those that have witnessed methodological progress in teaching-learning processes, need to adapt to foster new education projects,” said Guillermo Bautista, a researcher at the UOC’s Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences and one of the spin-off’s four researcher development partners, alongside fellow UOC researchers Marta López and Maria Casanovas, and Anna Escofet, of the Department of Education Theory and History of the UB’s Faculty of Education. The Smart Classroom Project’s main mission is to facilitate improvement processes in schools so that any changes are implemented with and from the standpoint of scientific and educational underpinnings, involving the main stakeholders affected by said changes.
An experienced spin-off
As Bautista explained, it was the schools and authorities themselves that began contacting the research group in 2018 for advice on improvement processes, and made them see the possibility and need to transfer the knowledge developed after their real-life experience gained over the course of redesigning more than 25 environments in schools and other education centres. “There’s an explicit need to improve learning environments, from the standpoint of teaching requirements, which are unique to each community. That’s why developments in the environments of each particular case have distinct outcomes, and this calls for a co-design process to ensure this personalization,” said Marta López, a UOC researcher and partner in the spin-off.
Primary and secondary schools, universities and other education centres
Aimed at infant, primary and secondary schools, vocational training centres, universities and other education organizations such as libraries, languages schools and lifelong learning centres for companies and public servants, the spin-off’s work focuses on research, consulting, advice and the implementation and marketing of teaching innovations applied to the design, use and assessment of education and research environments. This is a growing market: according to research published in Fortune Business Insights, the global smart classroom and EdTech market stands at around 100 billion dollars, with annual growth of between 17% and 20%.
In terms of impact, the medium-term forecast is that in the next five years the spin-off will work with numerous public education centres across Spain through co-design processes. The spin-off’s longer term goals are to explore the scalability of the services and the possibility of developing a platform to standardize the co-design processes to reach the greatest possible number of centres, as well as other tools, chiefly in a digital format, to drive progress in research and consulting in the field.
“Above all, we seek to work with the authorities to be able to impact the maximum possible number of education centres, where the need for improvement is most evident,” explained Marta López. To achieve this, the Smart Classroom Project has joined with outside partners in the fields of architecture and interior design.
“As partners, and particularly at the beginning, we are committed to continuing development of co-design activities, engaging with centres and institutions to map out future environment improvement projects and, above all, to continuing research into the relationship between environment and learning from a teaching perspective, which is the cornerstone of our activities and needs to constantly move forward,” said Guillermo Bautista. All this has the goal of offering an education research-based service that positively impacts the quality of learning institutions.
This is the first joint spin-off from the two backer universities, the UOC and the UB. For the UOC’s Vice Rector for Research, Knowledge Transfer and Entrepreneurship, Xavier Vilajosana, “the creation of spin-offs forms part of our mission as a university. We encourage and support the generation of tangible, accessible and talent-based value,” he said. According to Mercè Segarra, Vice Rector for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Transfer at the UB, the UOC and UB initiative “promotes the transfer to society of the knowledge generated from the research carried out in the field of Social Sciences at our University, giving it visibility, while promoting entrepreneurship in these areas”.