The space I have chosen to explore “with 21st-century eyes” is the computer lab at the Cayman International School. The lab is adjacent to the school’s Library, and it is located on the second floor above the Administration wing in the northwest corner of the school.
The Technology Lab is actually 2 labs: the primary 42‘ x 23’ area where 20 desktop computers are located and another 25’ x 18’ area with 18 laptop computers. The main lab itself was just restructured last year. The previous arrangement in the larger lab had tables lined up in several short rows all facing the “front” (short end) of the room where a large SmartBoard was placed. The current arrangement resets the old configuration into two long rows of desktops all facing away from the SmartBoard (now centered on the long side wall), thereby forcing students to turn away from their screens when observing interaction on the SmartBoard and allowing an instructor a clear view of student screens even while at the new “front” of the room. While the new arrangement excels as a practical improvement for classroom management in a traditional lecture style environment, it still has some way to go before it could be considered a truly 21st-century learning space.
One key aspect missing from the lab are smaller spaces to invite and encourage collaborative work. By swapping several of the desktop computers with laptops from the second lab area one could free up some of the space in the larger area. Then by regrouping some of the tables and chairs into smaller group configurations, students could work together on projects while still using separate devices. Likewise, by adding some comfortable seating and placing the SmartTables in prominent positions, more collaborative creative spaces could be established. Finally, moving the large plasma screen to the far end of the room and adding a few comfortable chairs would create an excellent second small group viewing location while still maintaining the large group view available via the central SmartBoard.
This move away from a didactic lecture model and toward a collaborative workspace model is based in part on experience design. It is important to plan lessons around not just what will be learned but how that learning will occur. As Sir Kenneth Robinson notes in his speech on changing education paradigms, “Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth.” (RSA, 2010, 10:45-10:48) By recognizing that understanding and meaning are developed in a social context, that the experience of making meaning is shared with others in society, we acknowledge the importance of collaborative learning. Likewise, Howard Gardner’s ideas on Multiple Intelligences suggest that students benefit from a variety of ways to approach an idea. (O’Donnell, 2010, ch.2 #14) Shifting the lab from a lecture based design to a small group collaborative design facilitates just such variety.
The primary resources for restructuring the lab are already present: desktops, laptops, tables, chairs, SmartBoards, SmartTables, and large format TV. Some additional “comfortable seating” would need to be purchased, and some additional network drops would be required to allow for the new configuration. However, the overall physical cost of making the change should be under $3000.
Perhaps the greatest hurdle to overcome would be bringing all of the stakeholders on board with the change. Certainly school board and administration would be obvious stakeholders. Likewise, parent and student buy-in would create substantial momentum for a successful transition. However, teacher attitudes toward the shift might end up being the single most significant factor. Without teacher willingness to buy into a collaborative, project-based curriculum, the change would end up being little more than window dressing. And critical to developing that willingness is effective professional development for the teaching staff. Here the cost is much more difficult to predict as it would be based on both the current skill level of the staff and the quality of the expert brought in for training. This could range anywhere from $2500 to more than $10,000.
Finally, regarding timing, the staff development training would need to happen first so teachers are ready once new network drops are in place and the furniture and technology can be moved.
Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. (2010, October 14). RSA animate – Changing paradigms [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.thersa.org/events/rsaanimate/animate/rsa-animate-changing-paradigms
O’Donnell Wicklund Pigozzi and Peterson, Architects Inc., VS Furniture., & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. New York: Abrams.