Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Rethinking the room

We see a lot of debate, and rightly so about the efficacy of tech in the classroom.

Does it impact on results?
Does it lead to positive measurable outcomes?

That's all fine, of course we should want to prove the benefit or otherwise of technology with something evidence led.

We shouldn't head sheep like towards the future, seduced by vague notions of digital literacy (however self evident the benefits may seem) or by branded visions of a seamless and slick personalised experience with every child at the centre of their own (i)education.

What I believe we should do, is start to look beyond the technology itself and think about the spaces we ask our learners to deploy this technology in. As education becomes (at least potentially) more student centred, the vision of groups arranged in lines or horseshoes (or whatever) seems increasingly anachronistic.

Devices potentially free us from desks, allow us to consume in our palms or literally on the tops of our laps. Should we get rid of the desk? If so, how can we utilise the new found space in our rooms? Perhaps we could divide off part of the classroom for quiet contemplation, for reading or watching with headphones. Maybe we could add a couple of booths for recording documentary voice over, video diary entries and viva voce responses.

In creative subjects like music or drama the 'practice room' is a fairly normal concept - should this be part of life in an average classroom? The project room or spaces, where small groups of learners prepare work to demonstrate to the rest of the class?

That whiteboard? It belongs to the learners. Teachers are able to distribute materials without limit now, so gone are the days of copying or all looking at the projection. That can happen on learners devices so the whiteboard(s) are free for learners to map ideas, make plans, explain concepts and record as photographs.
Come to think of it, shouldn't everything be wipe clean? We don't want to lose handwriting but can't we capture it more creatively? Are your windows potentially a resource for learners?

Does the dark have a role to play? Can we focus learners on their task by turning off the lights and therefore focusing attention on their back lit devices and away from themselves and each other and all that self conscious awkward noise...

And when we put the lights back on and put the devices away, are we actually more likely to have a conversation about our learning (that can be recorded) if we don't have the barrier of desk or little cliques and can sit in a circle. Perhaps desks make much less sense if we don't actually know where the front or back of the room is.

I'm not a big advocate of education following business but I think there is some value sometimes in comparing school to the workplace. Just about the only workplaces I could think of which asks their workers to sit in rows or lines is the call centre, the Victorian Mill or some Dickensian vision of a deathly dull banking job. What does it say when we can still see classrooms, even ones equipped with multi thousands of pounds of technology essentially set up this way?

So, to come back to the essential point. Let's think about how technology can shape our spaces and therefore our relationships. Only then can we really judge it's true impact. Using it in the current setting is crudely like trying to write on paper with chalk. Let's stop breaking our nibs on slate and be brave in our designs for our learning environments.

If we want our students to engage in the technology to its true potential, we have to create the environment that enables it.

All of this rather suggests we should think about doing something about the exam system as well as ultimately having the world's most exciting classrooms counts for nought if we are preparing learners for a series of rote learned memory tests conducted in factory conditions

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