Tag Archives: InnovativeProjects

Ørestad Gymnasium: School without Classrooms (Part 2)_A case for ‘Educational Urbanism’

What makes Ørestad Gymnasium even more interesting is the larger rationale behind it. It has to be seen within the context of the socio-economic transformation that Denmark is undergoing and also within the urban context of Ørestad, a showpiece of Nordic urban innovation.  Education plays a central role on this urban arena.

The idea behind the new large-scale urban development in Copenhagen, is to catalyse the transformation of the Danish economy from industry-based to knowledge-based economy (will write later more about the so called “knowledge-based urban development”). It’s part of the bi-national economic zone created with Malmö in Sweden. The cities are  connected with the fabulous Øresund Bridge.

On a strip of 600m x 5 km, and an area of 310 ha, Ørestad will have three million indoor square metres; house 20 000 inhabit­ants; provide 60 000 jobs and offer education to 20,000 students. The strong presence of education in Ørestad is deliberate . The Ørestad Gymnasium, the IT-University, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation DBC, an beautiful student’s hostel, the University of Copenhagen, Apple and others work together in close cooperation in the development process (‘Triple Helix’).

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There is intense spatial closeness between the media industry, education and business organizations on the strip – not to forget cool housing! The awesome IT-University specializing in multimedia is just one stop away from the Ørestad Gymnasium (with the driverless sky-train). And hardly three walking minutes away from the IT-University is another awesome building – the Danish Broadcasting Corporation DBC  built by Jean Nouvel. The students of the IT-University get job offers at the DBC while still at school … also, some companies have their seats at the top floor of the university. This is where students can make their first encounter with the professional world, easing the school to employment transition.

The DBC building comprises four large buildings and a public concert house (build by Jean Nouvel), which houses a world-class recording studio in its basement. Together with the film-cluster mushrooming around the Danish film director Lars van Trier, Copenhagen is ambitiously positioning itself as a world ‘Media-City’ – much to the joy of the students.

All of this makes it a case for my argument on educational urbanism’ – urban development where educational planning converges with urban planning…

Lots of info on its official website:


Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ørestad

Website of the IT University:


“Learning a Living” – Valerie Hannon and Reza present WISE Book 2012

“Learning a Living” Book Presentation

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In November 2012, WISE presented its WISE Book 2012 “Learning a Living” in Doha, Qatar. The book looks into the relationship between education, innovation and the world of work. After surveying 100 programmes, it identified fifteen high-impact radical innovation projects addressing the issue learning for work. It’s not just a collection of best practices – it tells their compelling stories. The book will be available on Amazon from March 2013.

Watch the video of the presentation made by the lead author of the book, the brilliant Valerie Hannon, director of The Innovation Unit in Britain (I remember being impressed by Ms Hannon at the OECD conference at my university in Vienna back in 2011).

She does a great job here by presenting some of the key projects from the book, while putting them in the context of a general message, which she unfolds along her presentation on the background. You can also listen to Reza, a well known National Geography photographer, who shot the photos.

The projects come from a broad variety of countries (like the USA, Morocco, Brazil, Kuwait, Nicaragua and others) showing many types of innovations. Ms Hannon underlines, that even though it’s a beautiful book, it’s not for the ‘coffee table’. It puts forward an argument about ‘learning for work’ (not ‘training for work’), which the authors believe has major implications for ‘learning’ in general.

In their methodology, the researchers put three questions:

1) What’s happening to the world of work?

2) What’s happening to the workforces and their needs?

3) How should learning be organised to meet those needs?

The problem they saw was that:

a) the picture of the world of work ‘has changed beyond recognition’,

b) the needs of workforces (that is of all citizens) which have changed too;

c) but learning hasn’t changed in terms of its organisation or design to meet those needs.

With this book as a backdrop, the ambivalent position of educational planners between the ‘market needs’ approach and the ‘liberal education’ approach, especially on the background of radical economic changes, really needs special attention. I’ll make a posting on that soon…

Back to the book, from the innovative projects chosen, the book picks up lessons from their

a) pedagogy;

c) their approach to curriculum;

d) their approach to assessment;

e) what is ‘intrinsically fascinating about these practices and how can they be scaled up.

Doing the book had ‘a profound effect’ on Valerie Hannon and her team. In talking to learners worldwide, again and again, the message they were hearing was that …

“The education system for the most part is not a part of the solution, its part of the problem”

It was ‘a shocking finding’, she said.

I draw the rationale of the book from her comment: “…the whole piece how people are educated to learn a living has significant implications on how we organise learning in totality.”

They looked into projects that addressed people from age 4 to age 95 (!). However, someone asked Valerie: “Why stop at 95?”  : )) I wont tell you more…enjoy this wonderful presentation full of surprises and inspiring sparks !!!

If you want to read the first chapter, go to issuu:


“Learning Neighbourhoods” in Brazil (WISE session on Education and Community)

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Visit a session on ‘Education and Communiy’- Fostering local developmentat the last WISE conference in Doha in Nov 2012. There were representatives from Haiti, Qatar, Canada and Brazil.

I found it particularly interesting to listen to the experiences of the Brazilian participant, Ms. Natacha Costa, a psychologist and executive director of Apprendiz. She started working in a small community in 1997 in Vila Madalena in Sao Paulo and helped to develop an idea that led to the creation of a school model they call “Learning Neighborhoods”  (Bairro Escolas).

Their idea of  ‘connecting schools with the communities’  has spread now to some 32 000 (!) schools all over Brazil. It has become a powerful idea, radically transforming some of the old notions about learning and the role of schools.

Rod from British Columbia also said, there should be more ‘white space’ where teachers and students identify the needs of the community; also interesting for policy makers and implementation theorists, he spoke about the  ‘social license’, saying …instead of  ‘implementation models’, we ar talking about ‘affiliation models’: how to get people to affiliate to those larger ideas which transcend politics…THAT becomes a social license.”  This is to avoid getting ‘more of the same’…

But, here are some of Natacha’s  comments (It gets interesting after 29:00 minutes):

(29:00 min) “…communities can only be engaged with something that is meaningful for them…( takes cue from the ‘African saying’ “it takes a village to raise a child”.

…We do not need more of the same…”schools do not have the monopoly of knowledge any more…they are more facilitators of development process…they have to be connected to the issues that are meaningful to the communities that they are based on…systematize what the people are discussing and what children are interested about…that’s the new role of schools…we have to learn how to build knowledge, how to learn and not just get information…32 000 schools have embarked upon creating neighbourhood school …each community with a different ideas and different ways of doing it … there is no prescription…only guidelines, themes & project that make sense to them … they have to be developed by themselves …”

(36.40 min) Then she makes a pretty powerful statement: Education is not about preparation for life…we usually work with that …most countries work with that…preparing kids for life… we hear that all the time in Brazil … what we notice in the community based approach is that, they are already living … they are alive…they have ideas, they have a background, they have social networks, they have interests, they have knowledge … kids have knowledge, they are competent, they can do thing … Working with the idea of preparing for life is like working with them like they were rats in a lab.”

She then speaks about how teachers become a part of the learning process: “…Sometimes what happens in Brazil is that teachers often have no idea about the lives of the kids, what is going on in the community, so they cannot connect to those kids … (…”There is a programme in Brazil where the teachers go to the kids’ homes, and many, many, many of them come back and say ‘I had no idea how they lived…I  often told them ‘you haven’t learned’…but then they see that they had no space to learn… for example because is there is a TV always running in the same room”…)… so by this idea of getting connected, by knowing them…knowing who are these kids, teachers become part of the learning process…”

(50:00 min) “Education is not like cookingyou cannot put the ingredients together…put it in the oven and it is finished…it is a complex issue… so we try understand and explain what we can get in 1 year… in 4 years…10 yrs … and to see it as a process. In our experimentation we try to organize that…what are the goals and what can we get in these periods, so people can see what is happening in a process that takes time, so that they can see things are advancing…it is very important to bring to the community some visual marks … communication is an important process … and it is politically very important as well … they did such visualizations in public space … so that they can see what’s going on, because this social capital process can be very silent … sometime u don’t see it happening … Once a visitor went to Apprendiz… and said “what is learning neighbourhood? I thought there is something going on here?!”

“There are relationships here … you cannot see the network” … “…these are some of the strategies we have been developing.” (transcribed from the online video by the author, slight language changes were made):


This video


Biography of Natascha Costa:


UN-Habitat Best Practices Database:


An introduction to Aprendiz: Bairro Escola – with basic ideas and some slides to


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’


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.


TED lecture of Salman Khan March 2011 (20 min)

On Wikipedia;                                                                                                                                        On TED Lectures (March 2011);

An example of Salman’s videos on “Statistics”