Why Innovate?

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A quick glimpse into the arena of education debate highlights just how disrupted children’s learning is in 2014. From changing curriculums, inspection madness and the implementation of new technology, this is a period of instability and concern. As a profession, teaching is driven by so many outside influences that it is easy to see why teachers often take to forums to voice their displeasure with this or that. We all know the only thing that matters is learning, yet I wonder how much precious time is wasted on the distractions?

Right now I could make a case for or against innovation in education. The need to consolidate, meet standards and react to government pressure, points to innovation being yet another distraction. Yet, in my opinion, this is the wrong way to look at our situation. I grow weary of the debate over pedagogy and teaching methods.  A teacher will look to provide as rounded an experience as possible for their students, given their context. Of course, the number of students seen per week will have an effect. Naturally there isn’t enough time to see every student on a 1:1 basis. So we all strive to teach to the best of our abilities. We are all learning every step of the way and we will make mistakes. So why do some educators worry about innovation?

To put my own situation in context, I currently work at the Stephen Perse Foundation, a school with exceptional results. It would be easy for the school to rest on its laurels and continue to do things as it always has. Yet it doesn’t. Led by its principal, Tricia Kelleher, the foundation seeks to innovate in order to enhance the learning process for all its children. An environment where 1:1 iPads are the norm and conversation is driven by  ‘the best possible conditions for learning’ the school will strive to innovate where appropriate.

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Take the current learning space development as one example. The library has been converted into the ‘Cabinets of Curiosity’. A place where the physical, digital and print worlds are brought together. Concerned about the instant connection to digital platforms, the school took the decision to create an innovative new space. Physical artefacts lead the individual to a digital resource that includes an iBook and video content about the display, adding layers of information. In turn this leads the learner to the books that are available from the shelves. The school seeks to engage the learner with an understanding that not everything should be viewed on a screen. Of course this also leads to an ever changing environment that is much more flexible than the library of old. Our next two exhibitions point towards the thinking behind the project:

Sherlock’s Clues: the physical exhibition will contain no text at all, consisting only of 6 object-clues  from the original stories and TV series (walking stick, fob-watch, top-hat, iphone etc), raised on plinths. An Aurasma-linked iBook will take students to the crime that the clue helped to solve. It will also encourage them to explore more complex topics such as deductive reasoning, media representations of Holmes and forensic science. One of the clues will be a written code that can be solved inside the book.’

World War I: A larger-scale exhibition that will spill out into the garden outside the cabinets. Again, the iBook will allow us to connect the two areas, and free us up from using too much textual interpretation in the space itself. This approach also encourages students to focus on the historical peculiarity, and material texture and detail, of the artefacts in front of them, before they are confronted with reams of explanation.’ (Digital curator – Ms K Joice)

The iPads and ‘Cabinets of Curiosity’ are an indication of what is available to us because of technological developments. The cabinets are a vision that has been realised by the iPad acting as a portal into a world that was much more difficult to access before. It would be wrong not to take advantage of these innovations.

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At this point it is worth mentioning that the debate around iPads in the classroom will continue for many years to come. I’m not here to extol the virtues of the device, suffice to say it was the right tool for the Stephen Perse Foundation two years ago and it doesn’t appear to affect grades, if that is your metric.  However, I would debate the argument that students are better off without some form of personalised technology in the classroom. Of course they are only a tool and the teacher is still the most important resource in a child’s education. But, denying individual access to resources and tailored content alongside video/audio feedback? I’m not sure anyone could defend the teacher/textbook model in that context.

Which brings me to the next stage of innovation. The development of a space twice the size of a ‘normal’ classroom that is informed by mobile technology. Flexible furniture, airplay enabled projection and collaborative areas allow teachers and students to adapt the learning environment. Coupled with our digital platforms, iTunes U, Google Drive and Edmodo this will allow teachers to mould the learning process with the typical barriers removed (photocopying, set classroom layouts etc). Take a look at Don Orth’s iLab as an example of the type of learning environment we are trying to provide:

To answer the question  ‘Why innovate?’ Because we can. If we aren’t using the tools available to us, then we aren’t developing the learning process. We would never seek to innovate for the sake of innovation, but now is the time to grasp the opportunities available.

Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss future plans or if you have similar projects in your school.

About Daniel Edwards
Director of Innovation & Learning at the Stephen Perse Foundation schools, Cambridge, UK (stephenperse.com). Interested in global connectivity for all and risk taking in education. Keen to discuss all aspects of learning and digital strategy. Also @syded06 on twitter.

5 Responses to Why Innovate?

  1. Hello, Daniel! Really like your stuff. I love the way students move those desks around, setting them up according to what they feel the optimal networking space should be like. So much for seating arrangements, huh?

    • Absolutely. There is a place for seating plans when you consider pastoral issues but engaging the students always works better for me. Thanks for taking time to comment Clarissa.

  2. Debbie Carona says:

    Anyway to see photos of your “Cabinets of Curiosity?” The concept of interweaving the digital & physical world in our technology lab & our library is one we are exploring.

  3. khorshedb says:

    Reblogged this on Khorshed Bhote and commented:
    Where would mankind be, if we never innovated! If educationalists don’t innovate, they should not be in charge of learning.

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