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The only constant about technology is change. Having said that, technology can have a profound impact on teaching and learning and certainly on the design of learning environments.
Every educator knows the hype and ephemeral promises of technology for education. Every administrator has seen new technology tools gathering dust in a closet because teachers are unsure how to use it and how to use it in their teaching.
I look at technology from a different perspective when thinking about what to purchase and how to deploy it. One of the first questions that I ask is how technology is used in the world outside the classroom. Second question is how do kids use technology today. Then I explore exactly what teachers are teaching and how they teach it.
Once those questions have been answered then an outline for technology implementation begins to appear. The outline is developed not through what the various tools can do, but through what teachers and students are actually doing in the classroom and what professionals outside the classroom use to do similar (though more advanced)work.
In general, wireless connectivity is the direction of the technology industry today. What does this mean for schools and classrooms? It means that students and teachers can stay in their learning environments and not have to go to the computer lab. It means that there is flexiblity in the use of technology. It means that students can work together in groups in different areas of the classroom. It means that technology can become the ubiquitous tool that it has always promised to be.
What technology should teachers or schools purchase? That depends on what work teachers and students are doing. There is no single answer. In the wireless space, 802.11g would seem to be the current practical solution for wireless deployment. As for additional hardware, I would focus on infrastructure (big pipes)rather than desktop tools, as desktop technology is pretty similar across the board, and sufficiently capable for a large percentage of what students are doing. Of course there are always exceptions, but again what should dictate technology purchases is exactly what teachers and students are actually doing in the classroom.
We all know the story of the new teacher who was told that she was getting the "cream of the crop" in her new class. She saw the numbers next to the names...very high IQ scores. She was excited and a little intimidated by the prospect of having the best students in school as her first class. SO she went to work to create the most engaging, challenging and interesting class she could imagine. Her students thrived in this atmosphere. They had straight line improvement from the beginning of the year until school's end. After her students had gone home for the summer, she talked with her Asst. Principal about the class. He informed her that the students were average to below average in performance and IQ and that she had been operating under a misconception all year. The teacher was shocked. She protested that she had seen the IQ scores by their names. The AP chuckled and said that those numbers were the locker numbers for each student.
Well, it's a good story and brings home the point that what we see or expect to see is usually what we get. Quantum Physicists will confirm that based on their observations of subatomic particles (most of which don't exist until you go looking for them).
How does this translate into school and learning environment design?
What do you see as an environment that will engage its occupants and challenge/invite them to imagine and achieve? Is it a box with rows of desks facing a whiteboard and podium?
What is your memory of an exciting/fun place where you could use a variety of tools/supplies to make or create or explore?
Have you been to any professional workplaces lately? What kind of environment do professionals work in and why are the environments designed that way? Have you seen anything comparable in your school or other schools? Why not?
In Los Angeles where I do much of my work, the headlines in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago touted the sad fact that fewer students are sticking around to graduate from high school. School officials have attempted to counter this disturbing trend by implementing more rigorous math, reading, and science standards. Will this solve the problem? Someone once said that a definition of insanity is doing more of what didn't work in the first place and expecting different outcomes.
What do we expect of our students? Do we expect them to engage with learning and get excited by discovering new ideas? What kind of learning opportunities are we presenting to students? Are they engaging, interesting, actionable, related to the real world? Can students do something with what they are learning to change the world in which we live for the better? Is student work evaluated by professional as well as academic standards? Are there multiple ways of approaching the work and presenting it for evaluation?
Are pencils and paper or printed materials the primary input and output tools? How are students in other countries engaging the same materials?
Do students primarily work alone?
As you can see, the initial consideration of learning space design has little to do with the physical reality and much more to do with what goes on in the learning environment.
What other considerations go into thinking about designing learning environments?