Category Archives: LearningSpaces

Ørestad Gymnasium: School without Classrooms (Part 1)

After walking through the Ørestad Gymnasium in Copenhagen, my old notion of how a school should look like crumbled and disappeared forever.

The school was built in 2005, right after the Danish school reform, by a young group of architects called 3xN (Three times Nielsens). It exemplified the broad pedagogic reorientation in Denmark.

The building is like a huge box with a large central void where a large staircase winds up spreading out to the areas which are ‘appropriated’ by the students for learning – or hanging around, or at least that’s what it looked like to me. For the 1000 students between 16 and 19, there are literally no traditional classrooms – except for those rooms that are solely used for delivery of new information. There is a gym and several multifunctional spaces, which are used as individual zones, group zones, plenary zones and meeting points.

The spaces allow a very high degree of flexibility. Students work individually or in groups in the various work and study areas. If the weather permits, they can also work on the roof or in the open public spaces around the school area – which has a nice waterfront.

Picture 31 Picture 32

The school specializes in multi-media, communication and culture. The curriculum is oriented towards developing ‘modern knowledge’ which focuses on 1) qualifications, 2) competencies, 3) creativity and 4) culture. Teaching and learning refers strongly to a real-world setting, where students are seen as learners – investigating, collaborating, producing and expressing. And teachers are seen as facilitators and mentors working in small groups with students – doing a lot of project work. They are greatly encouraged to develop their own innovations in pedagogy.

The backbone of the school is the ‘Virtual Room’ where a lot of teaching, learning and communication takes place. Students write blogs, produce podcasts and uses different medias of expression through texts, images and sounds. The creative use of media and communications technology is part of the schools pedagogic model. Indeed, there are lots of computers around. Macs. Their stress on local and global connectedness, have led locals to nickname the school the ‘Virtual School’.

Learning in Ørestad Gymnasium is mostly self-organized. It is seen as a creative and collaborative experience. There are no fixed timetables. Only defined outcomes. Our guide told us, private companies often go to visit the school, to see how students create and manage their knowledge, and how they innovate in such an environment – things that the new creative sector is also interested in. As we know, workplaces and schools somewhat influence each other. Think of how the schools of 19th century looked like. How they resembled factories (‘Factory Schools’) and the conveyor belts of the industrial age. In fact, the bells at these schools were modeled on the shift-time sounds in factories (see Re-thinking Education, Part 1). Not much has changed for most schools around the world. But, thankfully, those social imaginaries are now shifting very quickly and along with them the power relations in schools. Ørestad Gymnasium is surely a beacon for the next generation of schools.

Watching those students lying around sunk in huge beanbags, or stooped over their laptops or engaged in heated discussions in small groups, made me feel like going back to school… and starting all over again…

Links

Website of the school: http://www.oerestadgym.dk/

Here you’ll find a short but very well written account of the school, its pedagogy and curriculum:

http://www.virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Ørestad_Gymnasium

…also the Innovation Unit has written something about it:

http://www.innovationunit.org/sites/default/files/10%20Schools%20for%20the%2021st%20Century_0.pdf

…and here is (not a very good presentation) by the director of the school Allan Kjær Andersen, but you’ll find some images. www.itismajo.it/scuola2.0/…/presentation%20oeg_rome.ppt

The architects website: http://www.3xn.com/#/

Rethinking education, Part 1: Why our school system is broken

http://www.geopolitics.us/?p=511

‘Learning Landscapes’ in Australian schools

About 300 schools in Easter Australia have come up with a variety of ideas for creating learning lanscpaes. Their understanding of a “Learning Landscape” or rather “Learnscapes” is:

“Learnscapes are environments specially designed for learning. Places where students of all ages can participate in experiential learning that engages them not just in the acquisition of knowledge, but also in the development of life skills.”

“A growing number of Australian schools have been involved in projects to increase the diversity of their school grounds by adding features such as gardens, forests, ponds, shelters and outdoor classrooms. Creating a learnscape supports the development of a wider range of learning experiences“.

Looks like their understanding of learning landscapes is ecosystem oriented; an expansion of the classroom but within the school grounds.

Read more on http://www.learnscapes.org/contents.html

Stanford Professor quits job after online lecture to 160 000 students

Sebastian Thrun, who led the self-driving car project of Google, has started to look for new ways of teaching computer programming. After the experience of delivering an online lecture (on search engine design) attended by 160 000 students from around the world, he said: “…he can’t teach at Standford again”. Surprising lesson: also Stanford students, who pay at least 30 000 $ a year, preferred to see him online.

Prof Thrun has set up Udacity, an online school which will deliver university-level education for low cost to anyone with an Internet connection – for free. He aims to reach out to 500 000 students.

The web is full of news about the move by this prominent prof from an elite educational establishment of the US. Fueling the discourse about the future of classroom with fresh energy.

So here are two articles. the second one gives a more critical account:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46138856/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/professor-leaving-stanford-online-education-startup/#.T3Pkwxxhdwd

From “Hack Education”:

http://hackeducation.com/2012/01/23/stanford-ai-professor-thrun-leaves-university-to-start-udacity-an-online-learning-startup/

Peer to Peer University: P2PU

We have had Open Universities and various e-learning platforms around for a long time. But now there is something new. A year ago we saw the birth of an exciting new model of online learning: It is the entirely free web-based ‘Peer-to-Peer University’ that draws its morale from the Education-for-All (EFA) movement. Its learning model is based on a mix of online dissemination of knowledge and its diffusion in a virtual network of learners. Networked learning has established itself as an expansion of the linear ‘transmission model’ of one-to-few (classroom) to a multi-scalar, non-linear ‘network model’ of many-to-multitudes (Davidson and Goldberg 2009).

In countries of transition economies like Brazil, India and others, but also increasingly in developed countries, we see the demand of education by far exceeding the supply. Millions of learners either cannot afford a high-class education or they just don’t get a place to study. The model of a great teacher standing in front of students in a classroom, teaching them and then grading their papers, and finally issuing them certificates will simply not work in the traditional way in many (in fact in most) places of the world.

In this video, one representative of P2PU gives an excellent introduction to this exciting new type of school, and indeed, a new space of learning. He also addresses tricky questions like accreditation, business models, sustainability etc.

Here is the website. Look into the totally open communication between tutors and peers, and peers and peers…  http://new.p2pu.org/en/

Davidson, C.N. and Goldberg D.T. (2009). The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. Cambridge, USA: MIT Press/MacArther Foundation http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/chapters/Future_of_Learning.pdf

Prof Sugata Mitra’s Experiments: “Hole-in-the-Wall” to SOLE Self Organized Learning Environment.

Dr. Sugata Mitra, physicist, cognitive researcher and pedagogue is certainly one of the most intelligent and original thinkers I have come across. In fact, many years ago, when he was doing his post-doc in Vienna, I had the pleasure of getting lessons from him on calculus! Now professor at the University of Newcastle, it’s indeed great to see him today speak at TED Lectures, at the UN General Assembly, CNN etc…. I have been sending links about his stories to friends saying: “I know this guy”.

Dr. Mitra became famous with a curious socio-pedagogic ‘experiment’ in New Delhi (when he was technology head of NIIT – one of the big five e-training institutes of the world). I’ll never forget the chills that ran down my spine when I first saw the public space experiment in Delhi . It was one of those moments, when I felt we were entering a new age.

The story started with Mitra’s digging a hole in a wall which separated his office from an area of  neighbouring ‘slums’, inserting a computer with its screen and touchpad turned towards the slums, and attaching a high speed internet to  it. I don’t know how he came across the idea.

The appropriation of the computer and the Internet by thousands of illiterate children – all without any supervision – delivered unanticipated evidence about the high intelligence and capacity of illiterate children to acquire substantial computer skills and other knowledge without the help of teachers. It became somewhat of a sensation in the area. Wolfensohn, the then director of the World Bank went to see it personally. A media hype started to build up. Soon the experiment was replicated in scores of other urban public spaces and villages around India and in a number of other countries like South Africa.  They all delivered the same message: children have an uncanny ability and drive to learn to use the computer for learning – all by themselves. The pedagogic model was dubbed by Mitra as ‚Minimally Invasive Education’ (Mitra 2000). The immense disparities existing in India’s school system, and the magnitude of the challenge of educating the children of its over 600 000 villages was the backdrop of this research project (Mitra and Dangwal 2010).

The experimental setting popularly known as the ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ later became the inspirational story for the oscar winning movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

The pedagogic notion behind the models of such self-organized learning has become known as ‘emergent learning systems’ or ‘discovery based learning systems’ in contrast to the traditional ‘prescriptive learning systems’. It sees the transition of learning from tutor-led approach to co-construction and co-evolution of knowledge between tutors and learners, and especially between learners and learners.

SOLE – Self Organised Learning Environment

Based on the knowledge gained by this experiment, Mitra started experimenting with a new kind of learning space which he calls “SOLE – a Self-Organised Learning Environment”. A SOLE is a typical example of a ‘social space’ of learning. It usually comprises several computers with Internet access arranged in clusters to facilitate peer interaction. It is placed within a room that is publicly visible – allowing ‘unobtrusive supervision’ from outside. It can accommodate around 30 children, usually 4 at each computer. Children work in clusters creating a circular arrangement that further facilitates interaction in a larger group. Activities include surfing the Internet, following up on a classroom assignment, or simply going to where their interests lead them. Evidence shows that given free access children display high self-motivation to learn effectively and creatively, often succeeding in coming up with ‘extraordinary skills’ in finding answers to questions beyond their grade level. The ideal group size seems to be 4-6. Mixed age and gender groups were observed to work better (Mitra 2010; Mitra, Kulkarni 2010).

Here are some links:

Here is his latest TED lecture “The Child Driven Education”, where he speaks about ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ and his new experiments on SOLEs (2010).  Stunning!!

Same video on TED. Here you’ll find more links, transcript etc. http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html

Here he speaks about ‘A Day in the School of the Future’

   http://vimeo.com/18685938

Here he speaks about the future of universities…he thinks there will be no more undergraduate courses offered at universities of the future…

Two papers:                                                                                                                                      Mitra, S. (2000). Minimally Invasive Education for mass computer literacy. Presented at the CRIDALA 2000 conference, Hong Kong. Accessed online on 01.07.11 at http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/docs/Paper01.pdf

Mitra, S. and Kulkarni, S. (2010). Access and Quality in Self Organized Learning Environments Formal Education: Quality Issues, British Journal of Educational Psychology. Wiley Online Library. Accessed online on 01.07.11 at < http://wikieducator.org/images/c/cb/Suneeta_Kulkarni.pdf>

The Khan Academy – A whole new way of teaching and learning

Last month, Salman Khan presented the THE KHAN ACADEMY at TED Talks – probably the most exciting techno-pedagogic educational service created in the last decades. Every minute of this lecture is exciting for those interested in education. Bill Gates, who has been pouring in money into this project, personally came on stage to ask questions at the end. Mr Gates, in fact, did KA with his kids and thinks it’s „unbelieveable“.

I think the Khan Academy, a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere – will become a major force in revolutionizing the classroom in terms of learning, teaching, students interaction, assessment and also space.

Back in 2004, Sal, as he is called, still a hedge fund analyst – was asked by his cousins to give them lessons in maths. First he used Yahoo’s Doodle notepad then started to put videos on youtube. They were so appealing, that his cousins preferred the virtual cousin to the physical one. The response from other viewers was so overwhelming, that Salman started devoting himself entirely to this ‚social cause’, which was „strange“ for him as a hedge fund analyst. 2009 he quit his job and started creating hundreds of online tutorials. All free. Today 1 million students watch KA every month.

The 2200 pre-college mathematics and physics videos on the website offer basic arithmetic to calculus. I would say, the real power of the service is not the technology, it is the awesome ability of Salman to inspire kids and adults around the world watching them. One said: „first time i got a smile while while doing a derivative“, or the parents of a child with autism wrote their child who had „failed to learn maths through any other means started to get the decimals…and the dreaded fractions….” or another viewer said he  „gets a natural high and a good mood fort he entire the day“.

KA is about ‘self paced learning; teachers becomingmoderators/facilitators’; creating strong interactions between students and innumerable ways of creating new learning and teaching models using these building blocks.

Thanks to the new team of software engineers, a number of features were added to the platform which helps students to conduct self assessments; or ways that help teachers to track the learning patterns and jump in if help is necessary. With KA, teachers would “intervene only when a student is stuck.” One surprising knowledge gained by these tracking methods was that the seeminly ‚slow learners’ show the ability to become ‚gifted learners’ within a matter of weeks – they may be slow at certain times/certain topics, but once they ‘get it’, they can race ahead.

Promising results of tests have triggered off a discussion in the USA about using the KA  as a basic building block for all schools in the country.

The Khan Academy has started moving into fields outside maths and physics, creating videos on history, the sciences, finances and venture capital. But mathematics is not history. Things may get complicated with value based issues – hopefully they are aware about the cultural and political sensitivities in education.

Salman Khan, father from Bangladesh (Barisal) and mother from India (Calcutta), was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He went to MIT and Harvard Business school.

Links:

TED lecture of Salman Khan March 2011 (20 min)

On Wikipedia;                                                                                                                                        On TED Lectures (March 2011);

An example of Salman’s videos on “Statistics”