The learning age

Changes to the physical classroom are nothing short of “awesome”: students from St. Columba’s, Springwood.

 

BY ALI JEFFREY

 
“We are on the dawn of the death of education and the birth of learning.” – Stephen Heppell, educationalist.

Many educational reformists, both locally and internationally, recognise that the world we live in now is very different from the post-industrial one of last century. As manufacturing and many other professions are tossed out the window, barging through the door are new professions that didn’t exist 20-30 years ago. It doesn’t make sense to be teaching the same way as we did in the past.

Technology and education academic Stephen Heppell’s vision is to change the education system on a world-wide scale. “The metrics we have to measure performance are going to be supple, varied, and different and they are going to be personalised,” Heppell says. “What technology allows us to do is weigh those levels of success against each other so we can see how we are doing and be ambitious for ourselves. The one thing we can be certain about is that you can’t build one solution that fits all.

“This isn’t the information age, it’s the learning age.”

St. Columba’s Catholic College in the Blue Mountains town of Springwood is following these new ideals of education. iPads and an array of new technological features have been introduced into their newly renovated collaborative school, bringing it into the 21st century.

“We are preparing our students for a changing world,” says vice principal Philip Stewart. “Things are changing quickly and our students need to be ready for jobs that don’t yet exist. We need teachers to reimagine teaching so that kids are able to learn and relearn.”

Major renovations have been undertaken at St. Columba’s. Collaborative classrooms and open learning spaces encourage teamwork and group learning. The classrooms are large, with comfortable chairs set in small groups around the room.

Stewart sees these new changes to the physical classroom as nothing short of “awesome”. The collaborative classrooms are to encourage challenge base learning and teamwork. “You learn far more from the minds of everyone around you than just your own,” says Stewart.

As well as the structural changes to the school’s classroom, in 2012 St. Columba’s initiated significant changes to the students’ learning environments and pedagogy through the introduction of iPads into the classroom. This contemporary learning tool changed not only the way teachers instruct their students, but also facilitated collaborative learning. In doing so Philip Stewart believes that this has given the students a positive outlook towards school. “They have self-belief to be capable learners,” he says.

Studies have shown that learners benefit from using iPads in the classroom. A study by researchers at The University of Notre Dame suggests that the greatest value of the iPad may not be its ability to function as an eBook reader, but instead its capacity to consolidate or aggregate information. The university’s Professor Corey Angst says: “A statistically significant proportion of students feel the iPad makes classes more interesting, encourages exploration of additional topics, provides functions and tools not possible with a textbook and helps with more effective management their time.”

Technological, pedagogical and architectural changes within schools are only part of educational reform. The final piece of the puzzle is curriculum. An updated curriculum where students are able to fully engage, innovate and construct knowledge and information is very much needed on a national level if Australia is to compete globally.  St. Columba’s Philip Stewart says there is more to be done. “Certainly pedagogy is changing here at this school and many others but the curriculums are yet to,” he says. “Unfortunately not everyone is on board with it but we hope this won’t be the case much longer.”

Schools such as St Columba’s are acknowledging the revolution occurring within the education sector worldwide and are meeting it head on. Their teachers are becoming learning facilitators and not dictators, the classrooms, collaborative learning spaces and not rows of desks with stale textbooks.

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