Today, Bialik College hosted a Learning Spaces/Learning Futures forum for their staff and members of other school communities. I was asked to sit on a forum panel at the end of the day and address questions posed from participants. I’d like to thank David Feighan for the invitation; it was an enlightening day and I was able to take away many ideas for our new library that is currently under construction.
Jon Peacock, General Manager, Learning Environments at the University of Melbourne, shared with us reasoning behind new generation designs of learning spaces. Considerations such as social inclusiveness, functionality for collaborative learning, comfort and even retention of students were all factors that have contributed to furniture selection and configurations of space. For someone who has this at the forefront of her thinking at the moment, it was fascinating. Jon shared with us the thinking that the University may not replace desktop computers when they reach a three year turnover if it is evident that students are bringing their own devices with them. They have student interns who act as facilitators to connect devices to networks; they look for students who have strong communication and mentoring skills as they are often catering to international students who are grappling with language barriers. This kind of thinking would bode well in many of our schools today; accept student owned devices for learning purposes regardless of platform, and encourage our student population to offer peer support with technology. An interesting idea was the University’s IT Pitstop, a place where students go to do printing, photocopying, quick searching and charging of devices. Interesting name; maybe something we could utilise. Jon shared with us many visuals of learning spaces at Melbourne University; it’s very impressive, and I’m thinking it will be worth visiting to glean new ideas that we can apply to the space we will be developing.
Dr. Leon Sterling, Dean of the Faculty of Information and Communication Technologies at Swinburne University of Technology, spoke about the changing nature of new technologies and their potential impact for education. He drew heavily from the Horizon Reports from the the last three years and made some interesting comments about opensource courseware like that provided from places like MIT. Leon was unsure that students would access such resources. I’m pretty sure they will, but I don’t think they’re going to stumble on these kinds of resources without being alerted to them first. I recently came across Khan Academy via a twitter link, and think I’ll be pointing students towards it. Here’s what it says on the site;
The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) with the mission of providing a world-class education to anyone, anywhere. Despite being the work of one man, Salman Khan, this 1600+ video library is the most-used educational video resource as measured by YouTube video views per day and unique users per month. We are complementing this ever-growing library with user-paced exercises–developed as an open source project–allowing the Khan Academy to become the free classroom for the World.
Interesting philosophy, one that marries quite well with the intentions of Students 2.0. I ran a series of sessions in that space about the tools of social networking, but we failed to see student participation. Is it just that the kids aren’t interested, or is it that they just don’t know the possibilities that exist for self directed learning today?
Leon mentioned that Swinburne University will possibly be offering a Graduate Certificate in Teacher Technologies, designed to assist teachers in getting up to speed with new ideas for teaching and learning. A great idea, and something so necessary today. This was something I discussed in the forum at the end of the day. My concern lies with the human capital we have in our school systems today. Many of us dealing with new technologies are the product of self directed learning. We have skilled ourselves up without being sent to expensive professional development. We have immersed ourselves in learning communities and many of us are attempting to educate others by sharing our knowledge. But how many people are there like this, and is the spread enough to ensure the school system has access to this kind of skill set? My bet is there aren’t too many, and this is the challenge facing our governments who need to ensure we have workers armed with the skills necessary for working successfully in a knowledge economy. Something like what Leon was suggesting will be worth it, but how much will courses cost, and will our systems fund teacher participation? I’ll be very interested to see the outcome of upcoming election. My hope is that a Labor Govt. is returned. I want to see the vision they have for the digital revolution unfold, and a large part of what is promised is teacher professional development. It is key if we are to see real change realised.
Dr. Scott Bulfin, from the Faculty of Education at Monash University, spoke about rethinking the approaches to new media in schools today. Scott spoke of some challenging research he has conducted across 25 schools about the use of technology in education. His research saw students engaging in unsanctioned technology practices at school, and students complaining of being bored with school authorized work they were doing with technology. My take on this relates to my forementioned point. Teacher professional development is key if we are going to see teachers using the technology meaningfully in classrooms for teaching and learning purposes. People need to be exposed to a range of possibilities and make discerning choices about what they think may work with the students they have.
Mary Manning from SLAV was with me and the aforementioned speakers in the forum discussion at the end of the day. Questions from the audience were well considered, and saw us debating content knowledge necessary for VCE study, versus the skills needed for learning beyond the school years. It’s a vexed issue, considering that University entrance in Australia is underpinned by scores based on students ability to know content. Leon Sterling raised the idea that universities will move to interview format and teacher feedback to determine university entrance. How refreshing would that be, and wouldn’t it be the linchpin that could change the focus of education at the senior years of schooling.
I found the day very worthwhile, and applaud Bialik College, David Feighan and the school’s Principal, Joseph Gerassi, for organising some wonderful speakers and proactively thinking about what is important for students today. On their school website, Joseph talked of their foremost priority as being, “… to educate tomorrow’s leaders, by infusing them with the life skills to master the challenges posed by an ever-changing world.” Today was evidence of a school actively seeking to make that a reality.