(This post was inspired by Thomas L. Friedman’s “The World is Flat; A brief history of the twenty-first century”.)

Credit: Science Photo Library

Everyday we hear of technological tools allowing folks to connect in new and easier ways.  But everyday we put students in a room with an “expert”, close the door, and tell them not to surf the internet.  Why is the educational experience so flat when the world has become so much easier to circumnavigate, virtually.  What follows is the first in a series of posts that describe my journey toward discovery that The Classroom is Round.

I came to this realization as I was traveling around the internet reading about education and was shown how ineffective the flat classroom had become at engaging learners. One piece of evidence was in the form of a YouTube video by Michael Wesch and his students at Kansas State University: A Vision of Students Today,  It features real-live and really-bored students clearly telling us that the traditional flat educational structure is broken.  It is a heartbreaking story because we know that flat, broken educational environments and dis-engaged students such as these are commonplace.

I was heartbroken because I love education, love learning, and love sharing learning experiences with others – why weren’t schools taking advantage of technology to personalize the learning.  How had education become so “flat”?

My despair was relieved when, around this time, I participated in a Seedlings webinar in which Cherrie MacInnes, third grade teacher at Washington Street School in Brewer, Maine. She told of her student’s adventure in which they visited a third grade class in 50 states via videoconferencing.  Their experience, called Chatting Across America, began when a classmate moved to another state giving Ms MacInnes the idea of linking up with her former student through the teacher at the new school.

She broke through the brick-and-mortar classroom to take her students ’round the country, virtually.  Here’s what is so exciting about the “rounding” of a classroom: the “Chatting Across America” teaching/learning experience left the flat classroom with the flat US States textbook, and became 50 third grade classes thinking creatively about what they wanted their peers to know about their state and how they could to present the information in a creative and interesting manner.

Filled with excitement over how these students were using technology to breathe life into the dusty classroom; I called-out to my husband in his office down the hall: “Honey”, I said, “I think the classroom is round.”

This idea that there is a solution to the problem of “flat” classes became more enforced as I met other internet travelers experiencing the same phenomenon. The classroom is becoming round, instructors said, because we don’t expect our students to receive, reflect and regurgitate their knowledge all within the schoolhouse.

Round because school is no longer a place where we guard the information, preventing what we know from leaking out and what others know from leaking in.

And let’s talk about information leaking into the classroom.  It is true that if you build a firewall – they will come with a fire hose.  Because they want the greater, more powerful, exciting roundness of information flow.  Not the one-directional, flat format traditionally offered by schools. (Teaching students how to safely interact on the internet will be discussed in a future post.)

Here is what I mean when I say that The Classroom is Round

Classrooms are rounded when they are designed to promote many-to-many communication (as opposed to the flat one-to-many design of classroom from the past)

  • Designing physical space to allow for communication and collaboration between students.  Example: SCALE-UP a project of North Carolina State University

Rounding of Classrooms can take the shape of blended learning environments where the students use the space outside of class to go deeper into the learning.   This marks the end of the era when classrooms  are open at administrator-defined hours and closed and locked at all other hours.  Round classrooms have non-locking revolving doors; open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

  • Tools such as Collaborize Classroom are great example of this.  They use chat forums, polls, etc to enhance the sharing of ideas that begins in the flat classroom.

Links appearing in this post:

Collaborize Classroom:  http://collaborizeclassroom.com/

Friedman, Thomas L.:  http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/

MacInnes students at Washing Street School: http://new.bangordailynews.com/2010/06/01/news/bangor/brewer-pupils-finish-50state-lsquotourrsquo/

SCALE-UP  classroom design: http://www.ncsu.edu/per/scaleup.html

Seedlings professional development community: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=108176305898183#!/group.php?gid=108176305898183&v=wall

A Vision of Students Today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGCJ46vyR9o

Wesch, Michael: http://ksuanth.weebly.com/wesch.html