Google hangout, IOS7, google drive. What a very digital beginning of term! As we embark on the new school year, I am acutely conscious that the vocabulary of leaning and communication is changing. Within a relatively short space of time the digital world is enveloping the school community in many and powerful ways. Our teachers – always keen to explore new ways of learning – have taken on the mantle of digital learners themselves.
This digital dimension to school life inevitably challenges us to re-evaluate the learning spaces across the school. Last year our focus was on the function of a library – what was the point of a room that was essentially a repository of books when books can be accessed digitally any time, any where? The inspiring Power of the Story concept in the Junior School and intellectually challenging and evolving Cabinet of Curiosities in the Senior School are the fruits of our reflections. For us, learning spaces must capture what we value and these fantastic new spaces promise to enhance the learning landscape for our pupils.
Our next challenge is to consider whether the classroom is fit for purpose in the digital world. This has been a really enlightening exercise as actually the room in which learning occurs during the school day is in desperate need of review. Classrooms have changed little for over a century. Storage and testing are the “why” behind a classroom – functionality has traditionally triumphed over learning. It is already clear to me that the “one size fits all” classroom with serried banks of desks is not appropriate for all our pupils. How can this be when the learning challenges for a 5 year old are markedly different from a 14 year old?
Therefore our reflections on learning spaces are not merely inspired by new technology. It is more complicated than this. Education itself deserves better than functionality. We are keen to create a learning environment which supports the ethos of our school. Our youngest children enjoy an environment which is designed around them. They don’t fit the space, the space fits them. I was particularly struck at the beginning of this term by the new reception class where the teacher had created a castle turret from a elevated den – of course it was crying out for Rapunzel and her knight! A slide to provide access to an inspiring out door area in our city centre site was just perfect. The classroom was not a sterile box but an inspiring space.
Outdoor learning spaces offer another dimension for learning which are far removed from the digital world. Here our students enjoy other challenges whether through Forest School activities or an Exploration Society. The interaction with the real world is important as a counter balance to the white noise which is ever present in the lives of young people. Indeed arguably outdoor learning is the grounding pupils need.
So what about classrooms in the examination hub? The examination journey in the Senior School is difficult to ignore, presenting a very different challenge. Here digital technology creates real opportunities for fresh approaches to learning. The conventional classroom can be consigned to history. At this level the emphasis is not on the design of spaces – flexibility is all because of digital technology. Indeed the activity in the room is the nexus of learning – a flexible room allows flexible learning. As we plan for the future, there are no certainties only opportunities for spaces which will only certainly evolve.
Educators today certainly live in exciting times. Old givens about schools are placed under scrutiny by new possibilities. Whilst the digital revolution is a catalyst for change, there are other compelling learning challenges which cannot be ignored.