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    Dangerous Ideas

    For those of you that may not know about the Web Site run by John Brockman, connect here to THE EDGE, which, as its title suggests is about "edgy" thinking. At the beginning of each year, Brockman invites readers to contribute to a debate through a question that he poses. This year's question goes as follows:

    "The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?"

    In the spirit of Brockman's approach, I would like to pose the following question:

    What dangerous idea do you have that would alter our conceptions and pre-conceptions about learning?

    Keep in mind that the idea need not "realizable" but should be provocative.

    Here is mine:

    Lets get rid of classrooms as the main site for learning at the K-12 and Post-Secondary level. Once we do that, or before, lets redesign the architecture of schools and universities to reflect and encourage more common areas through which learners and teachers can "meet" and learn from each other. The classroom model, both physically and as a learning environment needs to be rethought. The teacher as the main source of knowledge, as the centre of attention needs profound rethinking. Another way of debating this point would be to ask, What would happen if the student were to speak from the position of the teacher? Would the student organise the material in the same way? Would she set the same goals? Would she need to make a moral judgement about what should or shouldn’t be known or understood?

    And while we are at it, lets recognize the importance of auto-didactism to the process of learning. We are all auto-didacts and bring a vast heritage of learning to the schools that we attend.

    Over to you! Please feel free to email me directly. Alternately, place your dangerous idea into the comments section and I will move it from there to the main page. And send me the email addresses of people who may wish to read this Blog.



    Reader Comments (2)

    I agree.

    In fact, you mention of course but a few of the alternative scenarios possible. As soon as one drops the idea of the classroom, even as a metaphor, a guise in which it is, for instance, still very prominently present in online learning settings and other forms of distance education, then there is hardly a limit to the number of alternative spaces, situations, and modalities one can imagine in which one learns.

    I am not sure, though, if the simple elimination of the idea of the classroom would as such alter out conceptions and pre-conceptions about learning, though I recognize that it might help.Some tough thinking is required to rid ourselves of such ideas as that learning ought always to result in an increase in one's store of explicit knowledge or our abilities to perform particular well-defined actions at a particular level of competence. Important aspects of what one can become, such as a wiser person, have little to do with these changes. Yet, learning, in a way different than normally defined, is important for becoming wise. The fact that wisdom occurs, and often prominently so, among people whom we call illiterate, shows that important aspects of learning have neither to do with the classroom, nor with the processes that normally happen in the classroom.

    I guess that the reality is that the classroom is not and never was 'the main site for learning.' The problem is rather that the classroom has become overvalued in the minds of most people as a site for learning and that therefore we do no longer see learning when it happens elsewhere.
    January 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJan Visser
    I like this idea a lot. I have been thinking along these lines for quite a while especially with my experiences recently in Paris. Re-design schools physically with more common areas, or a wider variety of reconfigurable spaces is a great idea. It is perhaps a revolutionary idea now, but not disconnected from other thinking:

    With information technologies like cellphones, SMS, email, web, skype, video conferencing, and free wifi networks we (students and teachers and student-teachers and teacher-students) should be able to organise into adhoc learning clusters whenever we need to. Of course, we do, only we call them conversations.

    Rapid prototyping technologies should enable new physical learning spaces at ECI every year. Imagine having a special cross-disciplinary class (with students from each year of the school) that is devoted to designing and recreating the courtyard behind the cafeteria into a studio that encourages new work that doesn't fit anywhere else in the school. The rules of the space (or lack of rules) would be created, run and documented every year as would the production of the students who used the space (not necessarily the same students who designed it).

    An alternative would be to design a cultural/conceptual framework that could spread around the school enabling both students and teachers to allow each other to work in new directions. It could be a passport, it could be a password, it could be a photocopiable script for navigating the school with a list of available resources and great little facts like: "yes, it is possible to take a 300 level class in foundation" or "no, you don't have to be a Comm Design student to take this typography class" or "need a stepping-motor in your sculpture? Talk to Bobbi." It could be a public chalkboard in the cafeteria for ideas for change.

    Learning can happen anywhere, of course. The main question is how to coax a large organization in the direction of ideas of leaving the classroom, taking on a more social approach to learning. Being less fixated on attendence and more interested on quality of work and dialog I feel would be important. There is probably a lot that can be learned from Nokia and Ideo which have very flat and reconfigurable ways of operating. Colleges like Sarah Lawrence College are well known for mentor-based learning and focusing on written evaluations instead of grades. I'm guessing that the main difficulty for ECI is probably how to interface with the outside world (acreditation) and the internal culture (territoriality, comfortable bureaucracy). Everyone I talk to likes the idea of interdisciplinarity and certainly refers to it often, but it is still far from a widely available reality in the school. Of course, even if all the administrative barriers between different sections of the school were dropped, students would still group into specific streams themselves.

    A concrete example: I'd to take a two classes that are in the same time slot. One is an ID course, the other is IMED. They are a good combination, but the reaction I got when I brought it up was that I have to choose one or the other. There was zero flexibility on attendance even though I was clearly enthusiastic and ready to take on the workload.

    I had better stop my ramblings there.
    January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterIan Wojtowicz

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