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

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