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« Digital Kids, Antiquated Schools

You might be interested to review David Bartlett’s (Minister of Education for the State of Tasmania) comments and ideas on “connected” schools and school design made at the CEFPI conference last year (4.05):

He writes:

This week I presented a paper at the CEFPI Architects and Educators conference. A number of people have asked me for a copy of my speech.Unfortunately I don’t actually have a copy of the speech as much of it was made off the cuff from notes.

However some of the following points were made:

The Connected School

The response to all of these trends, needs to be what I call the “Connected School.” And I have chosen the word “connected” very deliberately to mean many things. So what does the connected school look like?

What if we considered school as…

What if we designed schools as… a social anchor. The school would be a meeting place, a hub, a physical place that once a student graduates - he or she naturally gravitates back to, because although all the formal learning is done… the school continues to deliver value - social, cultural and economic.

What if we designed schools as… new social infrastructure. The school would be a flexible use environment that allowed the community in to participate and pilot new social structures. And it would allow the students out to take the structures that had been piloted, and build them in the real world.

What if we designed schools as… an e-place to be. The school would be super-connected, wi-fi, I-pod generation place to be. In fact the school would be the place that the lastest and greatest technology rolled out first… it would be the place of choice for a young developer, a young musician, a young digital artist and it would deliver a better technology base than any internet café, any broadband lab and any home possibly could.

What if we designed schools as… an ideas generator. The school would be a place that through its design alone inspired ideas. If good architecture stirs the soul, then school architecture should stir creativity above all. It would be a such an amazing space that it would challenge anyone who entered it to respond by being creative.

What if we designed schools as… an ideas harvester. The school would provide space for trialling of those ideas, for testing of that creativity. It would provide a space for an audience, not just for a drama production, but an audience of all creativity be it software, digital media, art, script writing, design or architecture itself. The school would welcome that audience because if it didn’t the creative spirit that it instilled in its students would be lost.

What if we designed schools as… part of a network economy. The school would provide space for small creative economy individuals or businesses to hot desk or hot-office, to bring their ideas in, trial them on a new audience or build new ideas exploiting student creativity. Small creative economy businesses would derive value by harvesting ideas created in the school, and bringing them to the world.

What if we designed schools as… a builder of social capital. The school would provide flexible, accessible space to community groups who no longer can access the community hall of years gone by. But it would be more than that, it would bring those community groups in to both exploit and enhance schools physical, cultural and creative resources. There’s no such thing as a free lunch… the community builds the school which, in turn, builds the community.

The Connected School

So, what would the Connected School look like? Physically, I mean.

The connected school would be open for at least 16 hours of the day, probably at least until midnight every day. It would be in use for a far greater portion of the year than previously.

The connected school would be a substantial campus that houses other public service functions, such as police, health services or public libraries and online access centres.

In addition the connected school would offer small scale start up enterprise support in the creative economy space.

The connected school might offer low cost housing for teachers, nurses or other community leaders. The community would benefit more than three times for the investment of capital in school facilities.

The connected school would have it’s own “street life” and an all embracing view of learning that reaches out to include the local community, and to form the heart of the community.

There would be constant flow of adults through the connected school, the facilities would be community facilities. The school would “suck in” resources from the surrounding community.

The connected school would house interactive social areas, indoors and outdoors.

The use of community mentors would be extensive, so spaces for their engagement would be required at the connected school. Legislative changes would also be required to sort out all sorts of problems surrounding the movement of students and the community within the school.

Three Practical Ideas

This is all a bit esoteric of course. And you are probably wondering, as I was when I wrote this speech, how does all this apply today… where the prospects for building a whole new school campus on a whole new piece of land that is integrated with the community, seems remote. Well I have tried to distill down some of these thoughts of the future to some ideas that might be applied now. Some of these I have seen the genesis of in schools I have visited within my constituency.

Idea 1: Business Incubator

What if the school housed a small creative economy business incubator, that provided a transition from school to creative business. A hot space area would allow living creative businesses to swap in and out of the school to both share skills and knowledge and harness ideas. Students developing digital art, could work closely with a digital artist and even bring to market some of their work. Students developing software could enhance their skills and work towards creating their own business, rather than working at McDonalds on the weekend.
Small companies and individuals working in the creative economy could access technology and human resources through the school to assist their growth. Cosgrove, artist in residence.

Idea 2: The Social Incubator

Well, if you have a business incubator, why not a social incubator. Although my language here probably conjures up for you some sort of Orwellian Brave New World scenario, let me give you an example of what I am talking about.

I was recently approached by a group of young people within the African community in Tasmania. They were looking for a number of things to help them build social capital, new social structures and connections with their new community in Tasmania. One of the things they wanted was a space they could use and call home to the group. Another thing they wanted was access to some technology so that they could build a website that would support their community here and connect with their community back home.

If they were able to use a space at a local High School to play sport that would be one thing. But what if they were able to use a space, use the technology and more particularly access the skills of the students at that school to help build their own Meetup.com? The students would build connections, the African community would learn work ready skills and build new social infrastructure that would enable them to prosper here.

Idea 3: Student Democracy Models

What if the old student executive council was re-invigorated to include some direct democracy models, where students using SMS and other technologies could vote on anything from what the canteen stocked to who should represent them on local Government bodies. After all, more people voted in Big Brother elections last year in Europe than they did the European Parliament elections.

What if those student representatives took the school and its democractic decisions to local and state government, either via consultative committee or elected members themselves and ensured the student community was represented at this level.

What if the technology encouraged the students to engage directly with elected members not only within the school, but also outside the school.

So, are you ready to help create truly “connected” schools?

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