In 2010-11, I took a group of international students to live and study in three different cities around the world. We spent three months in each of Stockholm, Sydney, and Beijing with plenty of travel around these hubs: Gotland and Are, the Blue Mountains and the Great Barrier Reef, Shangri La and a remote section of the Great Wall…
We were not bound by place or time–we had no building to call home and no bell schedule–yet without these conventions we still held profitable classes on buses, in cafes, on trains and at any time of day, over breakfast, a late night walk, or Sunday after dinner. The students showed they were capable of engaging in meaningful learning in any place, at any time. All we had to do was declare “School’s on!” and everyone would switch into a teaching/learning mode. School, we concluded, is not a place, but a habit of mind.
Today, I teach at Mulgrave School, a K-12 coed independent brick-and-mortar school in Vancouver, Canada, but my students here echo the idea (What Students Say about Schooling), saying they would like to learn in multiple locations, not just one. Socrates understood this and so held his classes wherever people gathered round. The new school environment is starting to look like a very old school environment.
As it turns out, physical attributes, for example class size, have a negative effect on achievement. Feedback, a student’s prior cognitive ability, instructional quality, classroom environments (the affective environment set by the teacher) and even testing are far, far more significant shapers of learning. (See Prof. John Hattie’s Table of Effect Sizes.)
So, even now as I work with our school leadership team to design our new multimillion-dollar senior school wing, I am asking myself, mostly rhetorically, “Why are we building anything at all?” The answer is not as important as staying with the question itself.
This post is part of our Learning Trends program on Designing Modern Learning Environments.
Author Brad Ovenell-Carter is director of educational technology at Mulgrave School, a coed K-12 IB school in Vancouver, Canada. Brad is fascinated with the way technology is reshaping education. As an Apple Distinguished Educator, he has consulted at individual schools and been asked to speak on developing best practices in this field at November Learning’s Building Learning Communities annual conference and to the Canadian Association of Independent Schools, the Independent Schools Association of British Columbia, where he sits on the professional development, technology and data privacy committees. With a decade of experience in educational technology, Brad says that the essence of technology is nothing technological at all: Change comes not when you introduce new tools, but when you change behaviour.