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March 9, 2011 / mrespiers

Weeks 4+5 – Spaces

Circle, Bath, UK – a new kind of hospital

Let me get something clear from the outset. I would rather have a great teacher in a falling down building than a falling down teacher in a great building.

However, I also know what it is like to teach in a classroom that leaks when it rains, is too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter and was temporary about 30 years ago. I know the pride, excitement and engagement that a new building can instil in staff and students alike but, don’t take my word for it:

Pointing to the National Foundation for Educational Research’s May 2008 report, the CBI reported that exam results in BSF schools improved at more than four times the rate compared with other schools. In addition, the NFER found that 30% of pupils felt safer, bullying and vandalism had decreased (by 23% and 51% respectively).

So, what now? Mr Justice Holman described education secretary Michael Gove’s actions over the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) initiative last year as “so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power”. Gove was told he acted unlawfully in his lack of consultation but, BSF has gone. Gove still gets to decide what happens and it won’t be the re-building or refurbishment of every school in the country.

BSF had issues, it was costly and slow for example. So slow and bureaucratic in fact that some projects struggled to get firms to bid for them. But BSF offered so much.

I was lucky enough to work in a school that embraced the broader ideas of BSF.

We began to ask the students about how the space around them affected their learning. We started to develop links to the curriculum and were genuinely excited about engaging students in real maths, design, technology, science etc utilising the architects, builders, surveyors etc that would be on site. We began professional dialogue amongst staff about what learning would look like in the future. We extended this dialogue to parents and governors and the local community. We went to visit schools and universities but also offices and other well designed buildings to see how the building acted as a tool (see week 1 post – Tool Academy).

We had started planning how we would use our new (or refurbished) tools to engage and excite our students and that process is now continuing without me and without the BSF programme. And that is the key. Thinking creatively, engaging in dialogue, sharing best practice and listening to the students is even more important now.

This is where my small rant ends and the links to my MA begin. BSF was not just about buildings, it was about a process and an opportunity and it was also about technology. Over the last week or two I have been reading Mike Sharples on Mobile Learning and James Gee on Affinity Spaces and it has been interesting to see how their ideas explain, challenge or complement what was happening in my previous school and what is happening in education in a broader sense.

Sharples and Gee offer us a tool kit of theory, concepts and success criteria to help us to think creatively, engage in dialogue and ask some important questions.
How many school leadership teams have defined what they mean by mobile learning let alone how they will evaluate the impact of it?
How many classrooms still rely upon a text-book or the teacher as the main ‘portal’ to learning and how do they compare to the other ‘portals’ that our students are used to?
How many of these ‘portals’ are banned in our schools?
How many teachers know which of their students are ‘generators’ of content in digital spaces? How could they use this information wisely?
How do our students learn when they are not in a classroom and what can we learn from that?
How do our students view their identity in school and how does this compare to elsewhere?
Which affinity spaces are they in and what can we learn from them?
How do we define our learning spaces?

I think Gee puts it best:

“So what? What does it matter that schools don’t use affinity spaces? Why should they?” At this point I can only state a hypothesis in answer to these questions. Young people today are confronted with and enter more and more affinity spaces. They see a different and arguably powerful vision of learning, affiliation, and identity when they do so. Learning becomes both a personal and unique trajectory through a complex space of opportunities (i.e., a person’s own unique movement through various affinity spaces over time) and a social journey as one shares aspects of that trajectory with others (who may be very different from oneself and inhabit otherwise quite different spaces) for a shorter or longer time before moving on. What these young
people see in school may pale by comparison. It may seem to lack the imagination that infuses the non-school aspects of their lives (XXX 2003). At the very least, they may demand an argument for “Why school?”.



Leave a Comment
  1. mrespiers / Mar 9 2011 11:49 am

    I wrote this a little while ago and since then the Guradian published this about what Gove could learn from architects:

  2. Prathap / Mar 14 2011 10:43 am

    Very well articulated article, Eugene! I am sharing this! 🙂

    • mrespiers / Mar 14 2011 12:07 pm

      Thanks Prathap and thanks for sharing it.

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