Stuff and Nonsense

I was watching a Toronto breakfast show the other morning called BT, in which they ran a story about a school being selected to be part of a $15,000 classroom makeover competition. The school was Philip Pocock Secondary School and the live cross to the school on the morning show presented the story in a typical teaser fashion… you know how it goes, “coming up after the break, we show you the amazing results of a classroom makeover…”

Of course, this caught my attention. As an educationalist, and particularly one who is interested in the ways in which schools need to change to become more relevant to our 21st century students, I was keen to see what sorts of things had been done to give this classroom a makeover. As the show cut to an ad break, my mind was running wild with questions… What sort of cool, innovative things have they done to this classroom? What could you do to a learning space that might better engage our digital natives in the learning process? What cutting edge technologies would we see built into the room? How would they take the concept of digital convergence – bringing together audio, video, the web, interactivity, and all the other digital technologies that our students need in order to function – and bring these together in new and amazing ways, helping to define the direction of the classrooms of the future.

After the break, they showed a bunch of photos of the classroom in its old, industrial age state… it looked much the same as so many other classrooms around the world. Rows of desks lined up facing a blackboard. No digital tools embedded into the architecture. Just a typical boring classroom that most baby boomers would instantly recognise as their version of “school”. The TV cameras showed Janina, the host of the live segment, standing outside the room building up the tension and excitement with a group of students who waited anxiously to enter the room and experience this bold new learning environment…

So, what would you expect if you were to enter this classroom? What types of tools, toys and technologies would YOU want in there? If you accept that technology plays a part in learning, what would you require in the room to ensure you could deliver the very best 21st century education to your students? How would you want the classroom technologies to enable that room to extend beyond its own physical boundaries and let you and your students tap into cultural diversity, live global information, expert opinion and authentic learning experiences? There is SO much that could be done to a classroom these days that would move it towards these end goals… I was really interested to see what they’d actually done.

There is always a lot of talk about the sorts of roles that technology can play in creating “the classrooms of tomorrow”. And although the real benefits of any sorts of learning technologies will come from the ways in which insightful and creative teachers are able to use these tools to engage and inspire their students, I am just as intrigued by the part the actual physical learning environment plays in achieving these goals, and the drivers behind the design of schools. So it was with some interest that I watched as the BT reporter flung the door open to reveal the magical classroom makeover.

What I saw made me both sad and angry. Sad that a school had a chance to make a difference to a classroom – even just one single classroom, and they blew it. And angry because the pathetic excuse for a “makeover” was getting so much hoo-ha on TV, and that the people behind the makeover were obviously so damn clueless.

The revolution in the classroom at Philip Pocock school? They painted the walls a nice lime green colour, got some new furniture from Ikea, replaced the blackboard with a whiteboard (not an interactive one, just a regular whiteboard) and stuck a TV/DVD in the corner of the classroom. Oh, and put a computer on the teacher’s desk. I was stunned. They had to be kidding me… This 21st century classroom was just an 18th century classroom with a coat of paint and some new furniture! the desks were all still arranged in rows facing the teacher at the front of the class. The technology was still not in the hands of the students, and the classroom was just as isolated from the outside world as it was previously.

The reporter started interviewing the kids about their reaction to the room and they all were saying how “cool” it looked and how much “better they would be able to learn”. Pleassse!!! I could not get over how shortsighted and silly they looked as they waffled on about how wonderful it was. Nothing had changed, not in any sort of fundamental way. It was all just cosmetic. Nothing would change in that classroom with regard to learning or teaching.

I’m telling you, we need a bloody revolution!

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Stuff and Nonsense by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.