I was talking to a teacher today about classrooms and how the standard layout has remained the same despite the advent of the net, problem-based learning, collaborative learning etc etc. The traditional model of a teacher up front with students sitting in rows taking notes prevails and shows little sign of disappearing any time soon.
The virtual world of Second Life should have inspired us to try out radical new learning environments. You can meet people in the sky, under the sea or on top of a mountain and there are of course a few who really do try out new ideas. However it's interesting to see how many still build classrooms, lecture halls and libraries just like the "real" world. My avatar has been to several seminars in SL and has sat together with rows of other avatars listening to someone presenting PowerPoint shows (and my real self has in turn watched the avatar ... see earlier entry!). I can't be too critical here because I've also been guilty of this but it just goes to show how difficult it is to escape from the traditional paradigm.
When we design new schools and lecture halls do we get the teachers and students involved in the design process from the beginning? I've just read a stimulating new report on how to create stimulating learning environments produced by the British organisation JISC. It's called Designing Spaces for Effective Learning - A guide to 21st century learning space design and has many examples of how colleges and universities are trying to create learning spaces for the 21st century.
I particularly like the example of a university that has abandoned the traditional lecture model in favour of:
"active learning sessions, involving mini-lectures, videos, demonstrations and problem solving. Questioning and discussion replaced knowledge transfer as the main model of delivery, and a custom-built lecture theatre – the InterActive ClassRoom – was created"
(example from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow).
Related to all this is an interesting film on the gap between traditional learning environments and students' reality produced by students at Kansas State University.