June 24, 2007

Talking about the future of education - in rows

  Originally uploaded by MarkWagner

It's great to see the first EduBloggerCon in the States at the moment. Mark Wagner has written up a summary along with Teach42's Steve Dembo on the things US schools need to start doing to change education for the better. From Steve's blog:

"Location: Physical space. We tend to be locked into the typical classroom environment. Desks in rows, 40 minutes before the bell rings, everyone facing forward, teacher at the chalkboard."

A noble aim, the kind of thing we're seeing more often in our schools over here, but one thing that might help make this a reality is, of course, staring me in the face: why do EduBloggerCon sessions (photo) take place in rows, facing a guru at the front, with tables blocking the flow of movement of ideas and people? I've only seen a few photos so I might be completely off the mark. But that's why I've enjoyed enforcing unforced spaces in the TeachMeets over this side of the pond: get people sharing in pubs, restaurants, get Dave Weinberger sitting on the floor for a session or two, don't number your sessions, just get people to add a poster to the wall when and where they want to speak, have open space where people work, not closed door rooms...

Unorganising unconferences is really hard to do and involves people working together as a team, often people who've never met or only have the time to do this online. But it is possible if you let go. This is something worth thinking about for future 'unconferences', perhaps, but above all for the way we run our classrooms, our learning, our school spaces, our attitudes to education in general. The space we discuss the future is arguably as important as the future itself.

What does your learning space say about your approach to learning?


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Hi Ewan,
As you know Primary classes in Scotland are a lot more unconference shaped than EduBloggerCon mostly groups of children around tables.
Children moving to sit on the floor like Mr Weinberger when they do need to watch a presentation. In many primary classrooms the grouping is flexible with children regrouped or grouping themselves for particular activities. At Sandaig our classrooms are semi open plan which give a lot of flexibility of space. Many classes of older children are capable of rearranging furniture to suit activities.
Our ICT suite is laid out to encourage peer communication. Now the CRTs are replace with flat screens and clearing up the lines of sight I expect even more peer tutoring.

Ewan, I have to admit that I didn't really notice the rows until your post - partly because the first edubloggercon pics I saw coming through were from Brian Crosby,/a> and they showed a lot of the attendants broken into smaller clusters. What looks informal actually is just the tail end of what you spotted. I concur about generating more unforced spaces in events like this - having been a part of a TALO Swapmeet where the participants were scattered around the room with a couple of projectors beaming up stuff, going back to rows with one person holding the floor seems to go right against where forward thinking educators need to go. It sounds very much like Scottish classrooms have a lot in common with Aussie schools in terms of flexible grouping and seating. Personally, I get my students to help design the way the classroom desks are arranged and where the resources are located. But then again, Scotland is a progressive place in the education sphere and at least, Australia has progressive tendencies.

Wholeheartedly agree, I know that the most stimulating and inspiring web 2.0 chat I've ever had was with Paul Harrington and JOe Dale at the recent eTwinning conference in Nottingham. Every time a new idea was suggested, conversation spiralled- until we were told off for missing the bus back to the hotel. Oops.

That's me at the front of that room... and I hated the set up of it. What you don't see is that we tried to just gather in a circle of chairs in the front of the room, but then there were too many people, and it turned into much less of a discussion than I'd hoped, and much more into a "session."

Two of the other rooms formed in circles, with the people who arrived first forming the inner circle and other people crowding around hte outside. In that one, the tables were set up that way, so that's the way we set.

I think another question we should be asking ourselves is, if the space we're in doesn't fit our goals, why don't we just re-arrange it? How hard is it really to move a few tables? Not very. But how hard does it seem to be for us to realize that the tables can and should be moved? Much more challenging.

Great point...


Your point is very well taken. It's our tendency, as children of the industrial age (at least at my age) to work in straight rows, performing repetitive tasks.

I too have to confess that I was surprised at the layout, but it's what we were left with. After all, it wasn't an unconference site that we were using. And there were so many of us.

But the truth of it is that most of the NECC EduBloggerCon was spent in small rooms where we carried our chairs in and sat where it was comfortable for conversation. A few folks sat on tables. I do not recall anyone sitting cross-legged on the floor. We are simply not as limber as Dave Winberger.

You can get a better sense of the even from a rickety video I put together when I got home (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLuWXmY3iWY).

But, once again, you make a very good point, that I do not wish to dilute. We still tend to think in straight rows.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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