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July 08, 2021 Thursday 12:05:16 PM IST

Emergence of Phygital Learning Spaces

Rajagiri Round Table

Our schools were evolving from a black-board centric learning to 'Smart Classrooms' enabling interactive learning with White Boards. However, the Covid pandemic accelerated the shift to digital learning requiring the use of more mobile apps or computer devices and network connectivity. Now with Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Robotics transforming workspaces, shouldn't our schools also mirror such trends?

In the post-Covid scenario, the schools have to adopt a blended learning methodology which also requires changes in pedagogy. However, more importantly the schools may need to re-orient the architecture in tune with the New Education Policy 2020 that requires integration of physical, digital activities, optimisation of built up and open spaces.

In this scenario, the 72nd Rajagiri Round Table Conference was held on the topic Emergence of Phygital Learning Spaces  on Zoom Meet on 16th June 2021. The event was attended by leading architects, digital media experts, corporate, ICT trainers, school leadership, teachers and others which discussed the concerns, challenges, opportunities and advantages of moving to a blend of physical and digital spaces in school campuses with a focus on affordability.

With the advent of new technologies such as internet, Smart Classrooms, digital devices, technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) in the past three decades, knowingly or unknowingly, the school environment was becoming phygital (integration of the physical with the digital spaces).

"Instead of technology leading us somewhere, we need to be in sync with it and redefine education," according to Pradeep P Veetil, a leading architect in Dubai. The new academic environment should have maker spaces, sports facilities, music and arts. Each classroom has to be thought of as a STEMM (Science Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Morality) spaces instead of having isolated experimentation labs and providing opportunities for hands-on experimentation, he added.

When setting up a phygital infrastructure, the e-readiness of a school is an important factor for it to become effective. "The mindset of the school leadership, internet connectivity, setting up cloud based infrastructure and the  attitude of stakeholders will be critical for effective implementation of digital infrastructure," according to Dr G Santosh Kumar, Professor of Computer Science at CUSAT.  "Equipping the teachers to delivery digital curricula, institutional support to teachers, training of teachers in software and hardware, use of tablets with stylus for taking notes will be of great help. More importantly schools should have an educational technologist to help in developing digital pedagogy," he added.

The academic world is afraid or skeptical of technology but in the Covid-19 pandemic, it was Google Meet, Webex or Zoom that helped us continue our education, according to Shaishav Kayastha, GM West, Extramarks Learning. “We don’t teach children finance, banking, typing or any soft skills but they are most important for success in life. Technology can help children become independent learners.”

The biggest challenge the system faces is need to adapt to change or technology. How to make teachers adopt technology in teaching?  Digital learning can transform the classrooms and help in breaking geographical barriers to learning, according to Girish Narayan, Cofounder and Director of Resurgent AV India and Granteq, Dubai. He quoted Charles Darwin, “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Retain Physical Supremacy

Even in a blended learning environment, the children should not be deprived of sensory of experiences of touch and feel and there is always a risk of technologies becoming obsolete very soon and how can schools keep on investing in such change, according to Kavita C Das, Principal of St John's High School, Chandigarh. With all these visors and goggles, the children run the risk of becoming insominacs, suffer from obesity, cyber bullying and attention deficit issues.

The children of today are more comfortable with digital devices and know far more than their parents in this regard but we must also be aware of the dangerous spaces to which our children are exposed to, according to Monolita Chatterjee, Architect, Founder of Design Combine Architects and Designers. “ A survey done among 100 school students in Kochi has found that they desperately want to get back to schools. They miss their friends, social activities, sports and games and parents are also struggling with the digital learning at home,” she added.

“In the word phygital, Iam happy to note that physical comes before the digital. It is pertinent that physical campus and infrastructure is going to get priority above the digital space and digitisation can't reach every nook and corner of the country with learning happening either in synchronous or asynchronous mode,” according to Sunila Athley, Principal, Amity International School, Ghaziabad.

Schools should foster interactive learning, character building and filled with activities in a phygital environment. The physical part of touch and feel, the natural lighting are all important for a child's growth which digital learning experiences may not be able to provide, according to Tresa Ann Cyriac, Architect, Creative Director of CD Infra Consultants, Kochi.

Open Learning

The future architecture of schools should do away with vertical spaces or walls that confine children to narrow spaces, according to Pradeep P Veetil. Even teaching hydroponics to students, children can be put into corners within open spaces and made to come together to collaborate on how to make the project happen. One row of children can work on agricultural innovations in drone tech, second section can work on business aspects of agriculture, a third group can work on genetics of agriculture. As a team they can come together and discuss how agriculture can be taken forward.

"In our survey of students we found that what they liked more about the school was outdoors and their favourite place being the park and playground. This calls for a rethink of our closed learning spaces and adoption of open learning as pioneered by Guru Rabindranath Tagore in Shanthinikethan School," Monolita Chatterjee said.

There has to be a change in curriculum in such a way that children spent more time in the open air spaces rather than the couped up classrooms. “Experiential learning has to be drummed into our curriculum, lesson plan and much of learning shoud take place outside the class,” according to Sunila Athley.

Advantage Digital

Digital technology can help bring teachers together to plan curricula, incorporate the best practices of each other in a collaborative manner, according to Joana Stella Kompa, Oldenburg University, North Germany. "Digital technology can empower learners by helping them choose what they like to do best and it should not replace the analog because by nature the human body is analog and we are trying to match two different worlds here," she added.

"Phygital can empower learners by helping them choose what they like to do best and it should not replace the analog because by nature the human body is analog and we are trying to match two different worlds here" The new pedagogy should test competencies in children, enable collaborative learning in open spaces and also personalised learning. The better performers can become either a digital scout or an academic scout."

Schools should put emphasis on project based learning, organizing small camps and workshops help children master critical thinking and collaborative skills, according to Dr Joseph Sebastian, Director of Faizal & Shabana Foundation, Bangalore. 

There has been a boom in EdTech sector in India and across the world and most of the technologies may appear expensive. However, there are cost-effective digital solutions that can be implemented even in one room schools, according to Joseph Tryble, Director of Eduframes and Vice President of Inkmotions, Kochi.

Affordable Models

The future phygital learning spaces need not put too much financial burden on schools as cost effective materials are available which can be adapted to any framework. Just as an ethnic designer wear can be stitched in silk, cotton, khadi or any other material depending on the affordability or purpose for which it is made, Pradeep P Veetil said. Free internet access was already enabled for major educational institutions under the National Knowledge Network and the new Digital India initiative aims to provide free internet access to schools, according to Dr G Santosh Kumar.

New service delivery models based on revenue sharing have been implemented in airports where digital signages are put up by companies and airports provide the space while the revenue from the service is shared between the two. Girish Naryanan said that new Public Private Participation (PPP) models could emerge for implementing digital infrastructure in schools. Industry should help with their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funding, PPP models as ultimately these children become the HR resources for the corporate sector, according to Thomas George, Corporate Trainer. “Our pedagogy has to change to enable entrepreneurial hands on learning  with a blend of online and offline learning that will equip our students for future workspaces and uncertainties,” Dr Varghese Panthalookaran, Director of Rajagiri Media said.  Kavita C Das appealed to digital experts to implement the phygital in such a manner that they do not take away the childhood of our children by confining them to virtual spaces devoid of human connect or realities.


 Promote Open Learning spaces in schools that enable development of critical thinking, collaboration and communication.

 The emphasis of phygital schools should be on physical with opportunities for interactivity. 

 Phygital architecture should use locally available materials for design, cost-effective digital solutions.

 Digital technology can support collaborative learning, development of competencies and empower children with independent learning skills.

 Digital technologies can also help teachers collaboratively to prepare lesson plans.

 Phygital should be student centric and promote interactivity.

72nd RRT YouTube Link