My school has recently created a new teaching space. We were short of classrooms, and the idea was hatched to enclose an open undercroft area and turn it into a classroom. It was a great idea, and a really good lateral thinking solution. When I first saw the new room, the thing that I loved immediately about it was that the whole back wall was entirely made of glass doors, effectively giving an open view of the classroom to the outside and the outside in. Although it didn’t open up onto some beautiful view, it did mean that the people walking past the room were able to see in, making the activity in that room far more transparent, if you’ll excuse the pun.
On closer inspection, I was amazed that the room – a new classroom created in early 2007 – had not been wired for data points, had not been fitted with wifi, had not had a provision for an interactive whiteboard or a ceiling mounted data projector. The furniture that had been ordered for the room consisted of single desks and chairs, arranged in rows, just like every other classroom. In short, there was almost no thought given to this space as a 21st century learning space. This was a classroom that was following the exact same paradigm of classroom “design” that has been around for the last hundred years.
I think what I found the most depressing about this is the blind way in which we accept that classrooms are the way they are because that’s the way they’ve always been. The world has changed incredibly in the last decade, and especially in the last 5 years. The world has become flattened, as we keep hearing. Communication, collaboration, working in teams, kids as digital natives, outsourcing, sharing ideas… these are all part of the new information landscape, but we still design classrooms using an industrial age model of learning – children sitting in rows, teacher at the front, with no integrated infrastructure for supporting a connection to the outside world of people and ideas.
I’m sure we will address this issue. I’m sure we will eventually get the room cabled, add some wifi, maybe an IWB, and whatever else we need. Almost certainly, it will cost more to do it afterwards than it would have cost to do it while the room was under construction. But the point is that we had a chance to really think about what a classroom space could be and we blew it. The tragedy of this is not that the room is less than it could have been… the tragedy is that our thinking about education and our receptiveness to creating the sort of environment we want for our kids to learn in was so much less than it could have been. We have not internalised what it means to be a 21st century school. We still think like a 1950s school, and even though we might eventually throw lots of technology at the problem, our basic thinking will always let our 21st century students down unless we change it.
And that beautiful glass wall at the back of the room, the only redeeming feature of the space? It was covered in matte finish coating, blocking the transparency of the glass and visually acting as a normal solid wall. Yes, a real lack of transparency.
Stuck in the Past by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.