A child’s place in a digital world – Juliette & Stephen Heppell (@stephenheppell @julietteheppell) #swdec


Digital learning has been going on for a long time, and Stephen and Juliette have been involved into research into this for many, many years. 

They talked of the pressure on teachers to work harder, and Juliette told of the challenges for teachers being asked to work hard when there are ‘no more hours in the day’. This challenge is being dealt with in different ways, in America Stephen said the system is moving towards privatisation, but the projects he works with in Denmark will not allow any business involvement in schools whatsoever.

“in England, Ofsted cost £207m in 2010…

total HEFCE funding for educational research in 2011 £22.5m (down 13.1% from 2008/9)”

Stephen questioned why we are spending ten times as much on Ofsted that on developing future educational models and practice, and Juliette seconded this with a feeling that the new Ofsted framework is a deficit model where inspectors are looking for what is not there rather than what is.

So what might the future of learning look like for today’s digital learners?

To find out they began by looking back, to the ‘Classrooms of the future‘ project, and the Richmond Upon Thames ‘World Classrooms‘ from 2001. Buildings are the start, but they characterised future learning as being about learner voice. Not the kind of dated ‘school council’ model where children tell adults what they want the toilets to be out, but genuinely inverting the structure of the school so that the exciting decisions about learning can be made by empowered students and teachers. Unfortunately often parents are still the ones told last…

Juliette has been developing her own learning environment of the future, in a demountable hut in the flight path of Heathrow airport. In between the roars of planes every 3-4 minutes, she engaged all year 10 and 11 pupils in a group on Facebook, where her students hotseat someone from a different career path every few weeks. They explored innovative learning spaces across the world, such as libraries where children had to climb high to reach the hardest books. One school they looked at had been burnt down by the students, to be rebuilt by themselves and the local community.

Her students were inspired by curvy desks, exploring the research behind how they affected the learning happening. Without access to a computer room, the students in the hut used their mobile phones to access mobile websites. They were also inspired by the number of places practicing ‘shoes off’ learning.

All of this research and learning came together when they re designed their own classroom. They kitted it out with glass tables, whiteboards across almost every surface, and their own network hub so students could bring their own devices and anything will work. Technology and furniture went hand in hand, with soft furnishing and mood lighting which changes throughout the day depending on energy levels.

The space has been designed for up to 80 students and 4 teachers, building on the ‘superclasses‘ principle of team teaching and mixed age learning. A class twitter account has been set up on all devices in the classroom, and the students can tweet at any time about what they are learning. Within these large spaces traditional teaching cannot happen, so the teachers take on defined roles. Students know which teacher they need to see to be stretched, which to support when they are stuck, and they all work together to manage the class. They tend to work in short bursts of lessons only 15 minutes long.

Juliette’s students entered a competition to showcase their classroom design and they won. Having taken three years to conduct a research project into re-designing the space they had not just come up with a solution to a problem, but a process for re designing learning spaces. They shared their hopes for University learning spaces, which seemed quite disconnected with the possible realities…

In Spain, Juliette and Stephen are working on a project for redesigning schools in collaboration with undergraduates. Theses students researched how paint might be used to turn any surface into a whiteboard, and finding no adequate solution they approached a chemical company to produce a paint to their specifications, with fantastic results. The young people in Spain are discussing with Juliette’s class, and learning from their process as they go.

Both students and teachers undertook an involved research project to investigate how they could move forward the learning in their school. This lead to discussion and collaboration with people across the world, picking and choosing to build their own ‘recipe for learning’. Students defined the space, teachers discussed with other teachers from across the world how they could facilitate learning in it, and now both are feeding back to other learning communities across the world. None of this was a risk, it was all based on things that were working elsewhere. Any school could undertake such a process without concern if they used the same process.

Related posts:

My Digital Story - Pie Corbett & David Mitchell #swdec

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  1. A Child’s Place in a Digital World: South West Digital Educators 2012 | Oliver Quinlan

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Coding across the curriculum - Miles Berry @mberryNicky Morgan: Technology key to reducing teacher workloadFlexible learning space opening at Westfield Junior SchoolLearning to swim - Eylan Ezekiel #wherenext @EylanEzekiel Creating a sustainable education system - Stephen Heppell @stephenheppell #eduict2013Tim Rylands - Back to their future #bett2013

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