What does your “classroom” look like?

Elliot Masie (researcher/analyst on workforce learning) posted this intriguing quote on his weekly email newsletter this week:

“Online education in higher education has grown in deployment and acceptance – primarily on the value proposition that it can provide scale and flexibility.   In fact, in the early stages of online education, we are seeing too much modeling after the physical classroom.  We have tried to replicate the key elements of a traditional classroom – lecture, discussion, office hours and assignments.  This is predictable – as most new technologies build on the existing and familiar (early TV was Radio with Pictures).”

He goes on to explore and question this assumption – why do we do that?  Why indeed?

A newly created classroom in the virtual world of Second Life

When talk turns to our learning environments, I’m reminded of Cathy Davidson‘s (Duke University and founder of the amazing HASTAC) musings about the typical classroom. She points out that so much of the way education looks and feels today was born of our agrarian, turn-of-the-century needs.  Summers off, synchronous learning on a campus, routinized learning and assessment, many students of one age together in a room, desks in a row…and, disarmingly, when you think about it, if you teleported a 1910-teacher to a 2010 classroom, he or she would know precisely where they were and what to do.  They would feel completely comfortable in the space… desks all in rows, chalkboard at the front of the room.  That 1910 educator would stride confidently up to the front of the room, take their place at the lectern, and begin.  No one would suspect anything amiss.

Why replicate the turn-of-the-century classroom when, in an online classroom or a virtual environment, we could do anything?  Why remodel precisely what we have when, with the click of a mouse, we could imagine something wholly different?  We could leverage time, space and distance for maximal effect.  We could pull the levers for maximum collaboration and insert disruption into the equation.  We could match learners and teachers, masters and apprentices in entirely different ways. Our classrooms could be space pods or underwater submersibles. We could allow the learner to customize the space to suit their tastes and preferences.


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Filed under Reflections on Teaching

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