The Learning Studio

March 6, 2008

How do you stage your classroom? Straight rows of never-ending desks facing the chalk or whiteboard? Perhaps a table in the back corner and a book carousel for some appropriate novels? Your desk in a commanding spot in the room? OR Do your students sit in different assortments of groups and tables? Are you fortunate enough to have a smart-board? Do you have computers and allow students to bring in their laptops, iPods, and cell phone? Does silent reading time mean just reading novels (don’t get me wrong, I am very “pro” books and an avid reader) or can this reading include blogs and other media? Does it matter? I think it does and seeing Clarence Fisher’s classroom on Tuesday night really cemented this for me. We really aren’t doing our students any favours by teaching them in the same environments that we were taught in. Why not critically think about and plan how you and your students want the space to be and call it a learning studio where exciting things are happening and people want to be.

Once again, Alec brought in an incredibly inspiring guest presenter for our EC&I 831 grad class, Clarence Fisher. Clarence is a middle years teacher in Snow Lake, Manitoba. The community is fairly remote, being a few hours from any major communities, however, Clarence’s students are very connected to others via the Internet and the network that they are creating through it and within their classroom. In Clarence’s classroom, the world is their stage and this really opens students to the possibilities that globalization has offered. Clarence used a quote from Alan November: “Envision your classroom as a global communication center” where students communicate outside the walls of the classroom and have authentic an audience. We need to examine our classrooms and ask: what is happening in our classrooms that provides opportunities for collaborations – inside and outside the walls of the classroom? Is the “stage” set-up properly? How do we teach them to be critical of the information that the find and also create good information for others? Alec put up four words to summarize the process: consumption, creation, publication, collaboration. These topics should be addressed every time our students work on something in our classroom. I like the ideas put forth in Terry Anderson’s Post regarding connective intelligence which emphasizes the power of our networks. I think a key component to teaching 21st century learners is making them aware of the context of the information that they find and to become critical consumers and critical, creative producers. Clarence called this “information architecture” and referred to teachers as “network administrators” that were responsible for connecting the students with people and information to interact with, which are nice descriptions.

Clarence encourages his students to bring their own laptops and iPod Touches into his classroom which increases the number students able to connect with others. This being said, he also warns teachers against becoming “digital nomads” that wander from project to project and start to lose the meaning of such endeavours. Just like all school projects, using digital means to produce them should still be meaningful and meet our curriculum requirements and not just be an add-on.

I hope the students in Snow Lake appreciate the gift they have with an innovative trail blazer like Clarence for a teacher.


3 Responses to “The Learning Studio”

  1. Shaun Loeppky Says:

    That is a great comment at the end Connie… if I was only one of his students, I know I would be awe….hey I was one of those computer geeks that typed for hours on a Vic 20 just to see a pixelated box face connected to an audio casste recorder say “hello” and that was working with technology in isolation.
    My guess, is that he is not looking for accolades of his efforts. But he certainly deserves it!

  2. Alec Couros Says:

    Clarence really is amazing. I wish I had the same opportunities some kids have today!

  3. rdrunner Says:

    In the business world, we’ve called it ‘form follows function’ to refer to both the structure of the organization and the physical structure. I don’t think we have it right in either sphere – we build offices with walls and doors when we want staff to collaborate, and we still line the desks up in rows.

    I recently visited a state-of-the-art school with a robust network, lots of in-class technology (laptops, projector, smart board), and re-configurable spaces to accommodate learning groups of various sizes. The same week I was at a much older building, limited technology, classrooms that were easily closed from the rest of the building. By now you probably know the end to this story – the first school was quiet, with desks in rows, a computer lab (with tables in rows), and teachers teaching from the front of the room. The second school was noisy! Noisy with learners interacting with each other, with the technology at hand. The teacher was circulating from student to student and group to group. Learning was happening.

    My message is two-fold: 1. the form of the school building itself does not predict the learning space. 2. teachers can choose to organize the learning space within the building to support a different kind of learning.

    Get the function right first – then choosing the right form naturally follows.


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