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Education 3.0: Life After Tech

The Dwight-Englewood School. Image © Gensler

The educational technology arms race is on. It all started in 1991 when a certain company invented an interactive whiteboard that would allow a teacher to interface with a computer and the class at the same time. Fast forward to 2014 and the discussion of “EdTech” is now dominant, overtaking the discussion of pedagogy and causing schools and school districts to allocate significant financial resources just to keep pace. Yet while these new technologies have the power to enhance learning, a small but vocal segment of the education community is beginning to wonder if the proliferation of tech has gone too far.

I see a movement afoot that is looking beyond technology, looking at the ways in which education can re-connect with learners in a very real and personal way. It is through this connection that students become engaged and inspired, developing the critical thinking skills that are increasingly important in our economy. While there are many ways this can happen, I heard some key ideas resonating through this year’s SXSWEdu conference in Austin, TX. Notice that none of these ideas mention wifi, IPads, or the Internet:

  1. Develop a “maker culture” that encourages design-thinking and problem solving. This shifts the focus from subjects to students, from results to process and engenders engagement, inspiration, and creativity. Research shows that when students are making and creating they are developing a higher level of cognition. By having students solve real world people-centered problems, the work suddenly attains relevance.
  2. Create a learning culture that allows “failups”: Failure is one of life’s greatest teaching tools. It allows students to understand their mistakes and consider how to modify their approach in the future. Develop a classroom culture that reframes failure into opportunity, encouraging students to embrace and learn from failure rather than feel ashamed for not succeeding on the first or second or third try.
  3. Create physical environments that inspire students: Environment shapes behavior and learning, and the key ingredients to an inspiring environment are Choice, Movement, Interaction, Ownership, Public Platforms. Shift the focus from the subjects to the students and empower them to control their environment and thus the process of learning.
  4. Measure success through engagement, not just testing: Education is about more than just knowledge retention. When students are engaged, they are developing the skills needed to thrive in the professional world.

Learning spaces should revolve around people, not machines. The Dwight-Englewood School. Image © Gensler

The learning spaces in Dwight-Englewood’s new STEM Center exemplify some of these key precepts. The 30,000 square foot building contains a mixture of classrooms, science labs, and a robotics lab, all of which focus on the process of learning and where technology is a backdrop and not a feature. The design fosters a culture of collaboration and integration between the disciplines and between teachers and students.

Of course not every school has the flexibility or luxury to just build itself a new building, but even a small change in culture, or a small incursion of design thinking into the school day, can have a profound impact. The key point in all of this is that, tech is not an end, it's a tool. If it doesn’t integrate into what you are doing, it will most likely become a stumbling block. So my advice to schools: Forget the arms race, close the laptop, and decide what moments you want to create for your students.

Mark Thaler is one of Gensler’s Education Practice Area leaders in the New York office, develops education projects at all scales, from classroom to campus. Mark has a passion for creating learning spaces that inspire, and collaborates with his clients to create these environments. Interested in Gensler’s education research? Send Mark a note at mark_thaler@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (1)

Firstly gensler are a great, brilliant company. I agree with the theory but the application lacks the true spirit of collaboration. We need to see inventive space that creates the opportunity for creativity and collaboration. This is not to be found in the rehashing of tired office concepts applied to the educational sphere. Still love your other stuff though!
05.1.2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarc O Riain

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