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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Changing the face of education = changing the place of education?

Lots of academics (those who study the pedagogy and those who dish it out) agree that the space in which one is taught has a lot to do with how one learns. Thus, our classrooms are smeared with positive reinforcement posters, charts, time lines...

The Danes have a new idea: get rid of classrooms all together. This isn't a necessarily new idea; online classrooms exist without walls, other than those of your house. However, this would be a college where students go to their own space to learn. This could be a desk by the window or your favorite bean bag chair. To replace the educational posters, this college is designed with architectural flow to encourage students to work together.

Shaw has done many studies of space and how it is utilized in communication. The basic idea is that groups need a physical place to reify their existence (remember how everyone seemed to claim lunch tables, and even though there was no assigned seating you almost always sat in the same place?). Thus, the design could encourage group learning (we meet by the window for math).

Additionally, I stand behind the idea that teachers are not dictators. The old fashioned dichotomy between teacher and student (knowledge imparter and knowledge importer) is out of date and frankly, isn't as effective as other methods (try the Socratic Circle, where students lead the discussion). For some types of learners, academic freedom may enhance lessons learned.

With the dawn of the internet age, students have had exponential access to an exponentially growing number of files. Students could access all kinds of educational materials without the help of teachers. Despite the number of advantages, this design relies completely on an ideal, and thus unlikely, learning situation.

As this is a college one can assume that, given that they are motivated enough to go to college, the students would also be motivated enough to gain knowledge. This might not always be the case. Also, a group will almost always have a freeloader, a student that sits back and absorbs the hard work of others. Using many forms of technology encourages multi-tasking. Studies show that multi-tasking decreases the amount of knowledge gained. With the growing numbers of young adults using technology, it is less likely that a student will focus on one lesson at a time. For those students who require structure...they aren't going to get it here.

While the design of the institution is innovative, visual space may not be enough to encourage all types of learners to actively engage in their education. I celebrate academic innovation, such as using Twitter for learning (or a PLN!) but perhaps this architectural innovation will have to wait until the pedagogy catches up.

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