I have referred to in previous posts about how quickly and dramatically media and technology are changing and the way we teach needs to change along with it. New sources of information emerge more frequently and are being underutilized by education. I recently read the book A New Culture of Learning, by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, and it provided more clarity on why we need to shift away from the traditional classroom. In the traditional 19th century classroom, “Learning is treated as a series of steps to be mastered, as if students were being taught how to operate a machine or even in some cases as if the students themselves were machines being programmed to accomplish tasks.” (Thomas & Brown, 2011). The new culture of learning shifts the focus to creating significant learning environments (SLEs) that encourage student learning through inquiry and play. As I developed my innovation plan for bringing blended learning stations into my school my focus had been on creating an environment that is student centered and encourages collaboration and growth.
Creating a Significant Learning Environment
The creativity of students is often stifled in the traditional classroom. As teachers we tend to focus less on creative thinking and more on rote memorization of facts. This is even more evident in most social studies classrooms. We teach students to memorize dates, places, and facts about history. It has become glaringly obvious to many students that most if not all this information is available online. Why then are we having them focus on trying to memorize facts that are at their fingertips on technology? According to the book the new culture of learning focuses instead on “learning through engagement within our world.” I have become focused on what that type of learning would look like in my classroom. In the blended learning station model, it would look like a station where students could view a curated collection of speeches, articles, and videos related to an area of the world we are studying and then having an opportunity to talk through their learning with peers in a discussion board. Rather than have me give facts about the people in history we need to learn about, I could ask the students questions such as “Who was Mao Zedong?” and set them on guided research quests to find their own answers. This is a shift to a learning-based approach as described in the book where students have freedom to ask questions, embrace unknowns, and interact with and learn from their peers. Geography is another aspect of what I teach and lends itself as the perfect opportunity for students to play and create. A simple rule or constraint could be set up such as having students create a country with natural resources where people would want to live. What that looks like and how it is presented is left up to them. Within blended learning stations there are countless ways of bringing the new culture of learning in and creating SLEs.
The Challenges Ahead
There will be challenges ahead with a shift in teaching and the creation of SLEs. One obvious challenge with be how to overcome the current system of assessing what students have learned. Education still has a long way to go in ditching the outdated practices of regurgitating information on tests so how do innovators in the field handle it in the meantime? My approach to this problem will be to guide students toward information they need to know as well as letting them ask questions and explore. I am confident that with the research available on the success of blended learning stations, my students will learn and not only be successful in their assessments but be confident in their learning as well. Another challenge will be sharing my perspective on SLEs and encouraging my colleagues to do the same. Successful implementation of my innovation plan and creating SLEs within my classroom will help me to convince others to adopt them as well. I am prepared to open dialogue and discuss the positive impact these changes will have on the rest of the school, with those who may still be resistant to change. There is plenty of evidence that the current education system is not working. The need for change is evident when we look at the lack of student engagement and voice within the current system. There must also be a shift in thinking of technology and media as the enemy of education. If used in positive and structured ways with teachers' guiding, it can become one of our greatest assets. Pointing out what teachers already use to broaden their own learning such as collaboration with other teachers in online groups and seeking out answers to their own questions using the wealth of information in online platforms could also help them better understand the importance of allowing students opportunities to do the same. Guidance, modeling, and support of teachers will also help ensure a smooth transition in this process of change.
In a world that is ever changing, the shift to a new culture of learning is possible as is the creation of SLEs. At the core of this change is a mind open to possibilities for what learning could look like. According to the book, two things make up the new culture of learning “a massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything” and a “bounded and structured environment that allows for unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within those boundaries.". Within my own innovation plan, I see the potential to bring that to life through blended learning stations. The heart of my plan lies with giving students genuine opportunities to learn, connect with other learners, and have a voice in their education. My hope is that my colleagues will share my vision and that together we can make a shift in education towards the new culture of learning.
Dwayne Harapnuik. (2015). Creating Significant Learning Environments (Csle). YouTube. https://youtu.be/eZ-c7rz7eT4.
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. CreateSpace?