I had the pleasure today in showing a delegation of teachers, Brothers and administrators from Fiji around our school. They were interested in the way in which we are using technology in the school, and many seem to be these days.
I like to tour people around using a ‘time travel’ approach. In effect the school has 4 evolutions in the use of technology and each of these is probably more about the how the ‘built’ environment facilitates the use of technology, rather than the technology itself.
The first level is the ‘standard classroom’. The classroom with maybe a projector and teacher computer or IWB in it. We simply look at the room, the technology, the design of the room, and then reflect on what we are seeing as observers. This is the ‘traditional’ classroom. The second is that ‘standard ICT/Computer room’. This is the computers around the walls, a center bank, which allows some 25 PCs. The teacher computer is up the front on a desk, with an IWB or wipeboard behind it. This is largely the 90s version of a computer room. The third version, is where we have incorporated a small theatre, a computer based classroom and a traditional classroom. This really has 4/5 spaces which all work together, in what we call a learning centre.
We then move to a facility which again has a computing room (using a herringbone layout of PCs), a work room with PCs and group tables and a larger 70 seat theater. This again is flexible to some degree, but still assumers that a teacher is up the front, and that students are static. So all of these spaces isolate students to some degree – as we create ‘silo’ spaces for them to work in. Conversational, social interaction is possible, but the rooms are really not designed to encourage it.
Finally we look at the Project Based Learning Space – a large room to accommodate 60 students and 2 teachers. No teacher desk, but lots of desks, and more computers – some are fixed location while laptops are used on the tables. Laptops to me are used far more socially than desktops. I aim to have about 25% of the technology laptop based. I see it as a way that kids can have some social time, discussion time and collaboration time. They tend to move to desktops when they want to ‘get things done’. The plan here really is that at any one time, only 25% of the students are able to have a bit of ‘down time’. They are getting really good at managing their time now, so kids move between a more ‘working’ mode to social mode.
It works really well, as it breaks up the class. It gives the teachers chance to see who is attempting some ‘mastery’ skill, those in working with teachers in ‘feedback’ mode, students on Macs – usually being creative – and then a second teacher to offer casual support to the rest.
The design of the space, the subtle deployment of technology in those spaces – guides the interaction of the people in the space.
In year 10, these students will see a further deviation from the classic classroom layout. As the kids will be well and truly, better managers of time and activity, I want to remove at least half the current desks, and replace them with ottpman stools and more casual areas. They will be there to allow conversational discussion and collaboration, but by design, they will not want to spend hours sitting with a laptop on your knee.
I think that its so important to acknowledge that experimentation with the classroom spaces is key to how effective technology can be in facilitating individual and group learning. Touring people around the school really brings this home, as its so easy to see the ‘evolution’ of space, technology and learning.
So think about the physical environment – how does it promote collaboration? can students have ‘down time’, do they have ‘third spaces’, and do they have ‘silo’ spaces when they want to work alone. How easy is it to allow students to move between these learning modes?
I think that in most classrooms, and even ICT classrooms, the physical space we set up allows for a single mode of learning. Perhaps, if you are going to start a class Ning Group, you also need to consider that the changes you are making in the way they are acting in an online community, can be reflected in the physical environment. I don’t think classic classroom design encourages Web2.0 tools, we need to change the physical classroom, as well as multi-modal learning with technology