I’ve been having this conversation in a few different places, and now I need to put my thoughts together. Here is a summary of some discussions and e-mail messages, a Wesley Fryer’s post “Advice for designing the school of the future” and my comment there, and my forum post in the School 2.0 social network on Ning.
It all started here:
My daughter’s school is going through seismic upgrading. 2 years of noise and upheaval… 1/2 the school sealed off, with the kids in portables, then a year later the other half goes to the portables and the kids in the potables move to the newly revamped wing. They are practically taking the roof off, half a building at a time.
After a PAC meeting I asked the principal what technological improvements were going to be made to the school…
Not going wireless (apparently too expensive!?!?)
Not even extra electrical outlets in the rooms!
Certainly not a consideration to redesign a library built to store walls of encyclopedias. (I’ll discuss this point later)
The problem is the financial handcuffs placed on the principal to meaningfully do anything to improve the school at this time. Why? Because money set aside for seismic upgrades is from very different coffers than those of renovations/improvements. What does this mean? It means that we won’t spend $10,000 now to wire the school with extra plugs and create a wireless network… but we will necessarily have to do so, for $25,000 in two years, (when the walls and roof have been seismically upgraded).’ [These costs are an approximate assumption of mine, and not based on any specific research done on my part.]
This well said response was given to me by Brian, our district’s Manager of Information Services. He responded to my e-mail and also wrote a response to my comment on Wesley Fryer’s post:
“I agree wholeheartedly with Wesley’s school 2.0 description and David’s concerns. The culture in bricks and mortor schools and districts takes a long time to shift… The challenge not specifically highlighted in David’s comments though is the how government and / or local district funding rules work. For a seismic project, we are very limited in what else we can “add on” to the overall scope of work. And, there are no other pots off money to draw from to “do the right thing” with the renovation. It’s unfortunate but our reality…That said, our vision for schools would encompass the school 2.0 idea. With time, the vision can be realized.”
Brian has been working on a district learning portal, and so he knows the value of having connected classrooms. But the ‘right thing’ can not be done at this time.
I had an interesting conversation with a former student’s parent a few days ago. She works in construction for a number of different school boards, and has done so for over 15 years. Although she isn’t working specifically on my daughter’s school, she told me how easy it would be to first, make the school wireless (a job that literally would take minutes during the construction), and then also to run the wire to add electrical outlets to the classrooms, while the seismic upgrading is taking place. She agreed with me that financially, this task would be significantly cheaper during construction. And in her words, the reason this won’t happen is because in the case of every district she has worked for:
“They Do. They Think. They Re-Do!”
At first, I took her words in jest, but as the conversation continued, and she went back to that phrase (without exaggeration) over a dozen times. I then realized that she truly was talking from experience. I could see her frustration, she shared my exasperation, but could offer no solutions. Just as has been mentioned above, she reiterated that there is simply no additional money to do these kind of improvements. She stressed that this was especially the case with seismic upgrades because these upgrades have, in the past, been grossly over budget due to ‘add-ons’ that clever principals and district superintendents have added to the upgrades in the past. This has resulted in very strict limits placed on what can be done while this construction is happening.
‘We can’t afford it now, so we will pay significantly more to do the same thing later!’ I find this so asinine.
Another aspect to this has been the design of the school library. My daughter’s school has a computer lab next door to the library, but there is no door between the two rooms. I wonder how hard it would be to place a sliding door, or remove the wall altogether?
In his post “Advice for designing the school of the future” Wesley Fryer suggests:
“I think the school of the future should be centered around the library, and include not only great places to read but also inviting places to collaborate and work together, sort of like a Starbucks atmosphere. I think the library should have a design and performance studio, which would permit students to craft high quality media products for the global stage: the web. I think an educational learning portal should serve as a primary learning centerpiece. One of the big things we need to do as school 2.0 educators is redefine our identities as teachers: It’s ridiculous for us to attempt to be experts on all the content subjects we teach. We really need to embrace the model of facilitating project-based learning, so the physical structures of school should support that pedagogical framework.”
Here is part of my comment/response to his post:
I agree with you, “One of the big things we need to do as school 2.0 educators is redefine our identities as teachers” however, as you say, “the physical structures of school should support that pedagogical framework.”
As someone who is struggling with the availability of technological resources, I can say that the framework really should come first!
A question to you Wesley, what can we do as teachers, as members of society who have seen the outside of Plato’s education cave.. who know that there is more to life than shadows on our school hall walls… what can we do to tear down those walls and build schools that are designed for school2.0 rather than school1890?
I think that the reality is that many brand new schools being built today are not fully embracing the possibilities of the future. Partly because we don’t really know what that future looks like, and partly because of financial constraints.
I posed the following question in the Ning School 2.0 forum:
In my daughter’s school, I will fight for wireless, and I will suggest more power outlets in the classes, (so that eventually if they get, perhaps, a row of computers on a wall, or even a mobile computer lab, at least students can power their computers… but what else would you ask for?
And after a few days I’ve only had one response, (which I will get to in a moment). What I find interesting is that nlowell has an interesting forum post asking, “What is the purpose of the classroom?” Go no further than the very first response to see Heather Burlesson’s poignant statement:
“I don’t think we can continue the industrial model. Today’s students do NOT want to be robots, and they have the tools at hand to reject all our attempts to force them into such a mold.
How can we actively engage them while satisfying the system? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m fairly certain any change will have to start within the classroom itself. Transforming the “brick and mortar” into a place the kids *want* to go to – My*pace for the flesh and blood part of the day – that’s the challenge we are facing at the moment.”
In essence, we may not like the current ‘industrial model’, but we really don’t know where education is going. This makes concrete suggestions difficult… there really is no blue print (no road map as they say) to the classroom of (as little as) 25 years from now.
Here is her entire comment:
I really loved David Warlick’s response to this kind of question on his blog – his proposal? The one non-budget-blowing thing he would do first is put all school furniture on wheels! Think about this –one of the key elements of project based learning and indeed, practicing 21st century skills is student collaboration. Let’s move those desks around – set up collaborative work space, and a place for presentations.
I agree that the school library is the learning and information center of the school – especially in the age of technology. If creating collaborative work spaces in classrooms seems difficult to navigate, then start with the library! This is where you’ll find staff who truely understand the concept of School 2.0 – and how to collaborate with teachers to create incredible learning experiences for students using 21st century tools and resources.
I think that Warlick’s idea of the classes no longer needing to be ‘anchored’ is indeed a good starting point. It invites the opportunity for change, and it prepares us to be prepared to try things in new ways, while also encouraging opportunities for collaboration.
So now that battle must rage on. I will be meeting with my daughter’s school principal next week, and it is my goal to create a ‘wish list’. It may be a moot point, but to me we cannot complain about the situation and then ‘sit idly by’ and allow nothing to happen.
I welcome other suggestions, other wishes, that you would want to see during a ‘renovation’ such as this…
Images: Lockers 1 by soundman 1024, Decaying Technology by tracer.ca, Urban Nightscape by Todd Cliff, and Head Inside: Brain Wash by NeverB4Breakfast (Yanko Tsvetkov).
Originally posted: May 3rd, 2007
Reflection upon re-reading and re-posting:
I had the meeting with my daughter’s school principal and I was very impressed with what she was advocating for. I also liked that the Library design was being thoughtfully considered. On a current related note, check out Alan November’s podcast interview with 16 year-old Zaki Tahari who created a virtual mock-up of the newly planned library at his school, with his own unique design elements added!
On the topic of changing schools, I think I have reached some resolve around the idea that schools will never be caught up, or up to date, with the technological needs they require. That said, and accepted, I think that we have great potential to do some really creative and innovative things with the money we do have to spend.
The challenge we have now is deciding what we can do now that creates opportunities rather than obstacles later on.