Tag: environment

Effective learning and the physicality of the classroom.

Royal Marine Recruits Rope Climbing at CTCRM

Like many teenagers not-yet-able to drive my main mode of transport before the age of 17 was my trusty mountain bike. As soon as I had the use of my mother’s car, however, the bike stayed in the garage and the tyres stopped being topped-up with air. McDonald’s Drive-Thru’s was in! Cycling to a friend’s house to play Playstation was definitely out.

Upon returning to my parents’ house after my first year at university, however, I decided to ride up the Northumbrian coast, a trip of around 25 miles. When I got back to my parents’ I had to drag myself up the stairs to go in the shower. I can remember being half-way up the stairs on the phone to my then-girlfriend (now my wife) moaning that I’d used muscles that had evidently atrophied through lack of use. The moral of the story? Different activities use different muscles. Physicality is context-dependent.

This week I’ve been in a classroom environment whilst learning about PRINCE2 and have found the experience physically draining. It’s a magnified and time-compressed version of the situation I found myself when I started at JISC infoNet last year: sitting down for long periods of time requires a different stamina than other occupations. Teaching involves, or at least can involve, a range of physical movement that I took for granted.

It can be a different story for students, however. Traditional classrooms, with their constraints on movement and sometimes-random demands on attention, magnify issues around stamina and physicality. One thing extremely noticeable to me this week has been the amount of glare caused from hour after hour spent looking at Powerpoint slides featuring a white background. Granted, I suffer from migraines so the combination of fluorescent lighting and bright projectors isn’t great for me, but by the end of the week I was drinking strong coffee and popping ibuprofen and aspirin in preparation. No wonder many pupils arriving for lessons at the Academy I used to work would be downing energy drinks on their way in!

Counter-intuitively, then, it seems that to stay still for long periods of time can be more physically taxing than moving about often. Coupled with randomly-timed demands for attention (“What was the question?”) and artificial environments (bright lights, desks in rows, little movement) it’s no wonder that many young people decide to vote with their feet and do something more fun.

I’m still in formal education as an Ed.D. student at Durham University but it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a classroom environment where content is the focus and will be tested in an examination situation. Although this week’s course hasn’t been too bad, it’s reminded me of just how disempowering it was at school to be faced with random interruptions to learning. Whether because of poor behaviour, a pedant’s endless questioning or unspecified amounts of time for activities (and between breaks), traditional classroom learning is frustrating. I’m used to more ADHD-friendly environments.

What I’ve taken for granted in my adult life is being surrounded by good design as a consequence of deliberate choice. I spend money on the things I deem important. If I were (heaven forbid!) Head of a school the two things I’d be focusing on would be the physical environment and the diet of young people – two things that Michael Gove (UK Education Secretary) has no clue about. As Levitt and Dubner explain very well in Freakonomics, ‘people respond to incentives’. Modifying the physical environment is one of the easiest ways to Nudge people towards more effective learning.

Finally, and at the risk of pimping the (albeit free) resources of the organization for which I work, JISC infoNet has a number of infoKits, including one on Planning and Designing Technology-Rich Learning Spaces. This is in addition to Futurelab‘s excellent resources (such as the Thinking Spaces workshop resource). Definitely worth checking out.

Image CC BY-NC UK Defence Images

Four ways to make your organization live long and prosper.

Warp Field

Image by Trekky0623 (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been reading Arie de Geus’ The Living Company: habits for survival in a turbulent business environment. It’s somewhat tangential to my role at the Academy, but nevertheless contains some great metaphors and insights.

Arie de Geus spent most of his career working for Shell, the oil company. During his time there, Shell commissioned a study about what makes a long-lived and prosperous organization. They found the following were true of the longest-lived organizations:

  1. Sensitivity to the environment – this represents an organization’s ability to learn and adapt.
  2. Cohesion and identity – aspects of a organizations innate ability to build a community and persona for itself.
  3. Tolerance – de Geus’ term, but actually as much to do with decentralization. Both are symptoms of a company’s awareness of its ecology and its ability to constructive relationships with other entities (within and outside itself)
  4. Conservative financing – this enables an organization to govern its own growth and evolution effectively

To sum this up, de Geus talks about organizations being ‘living organisms’:

Like all organisms, the living company exists primarily for its own survival and improvement: to fulfil its potential and to become as great as it can be. (p.11)

In terms of the relationship of the above to educational institutions, although they are all (theoretically) applicable, the one most applicable to my mind is cohesion and identity. It’s really important for educational institutions to build a culture of inclusion and achievement as this helps towards both implicit and explicit reasons for their existence.

What would you add to the above list? Would you take anything away? 🙂

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On having a space to myself

“I’m gonna buy me a caravan” are words I never thought I’d here myself think, never mind say. But that’s exactly what I’m considering doing. Why? It’s all about having a space to myself. :p

The housing market in England, as you may or may not know, is a little crazy at the moment. House prices are at an all-time high and (in my opinion) most houses are vastly overpriced. The chances of Hannah, Ben and I, therefore, getting a 3 bedroomed house with a study in a decent area for the amount we can afford are nigh-on zero.

(click to enlarge)

Which is where the caravan comes in. We’re not talking your common-or-garden caravan here. Oh no. The advert above (found serendipitiously in the magazine of The Guardian, which I hardly ever buy) includes a competition to win an Airstream trailer. This brought back memories of Kathy Sierra’s blog post back in 2006 about productivity and happiness. Within that post, she showed her readers her Airstream and waxed lyrical about how wonderful it was:

Finally, after two years of looking (and saving), I found and bought a vintage 1966 (recently restored) 23-foot Silver Streak trailer. (Silver Streak is a “fork” of the original Airstream.) This is my new baby, with my dog Clover in the doorway:

And it’s perfect. It’s parked exactly two feet away from the side of the house (a house I share with my horse trainer and his wife), and the wifi from the house works beautifully. I haven’t felt this good working in years.

I don’t think I need a 23-footer. We’re unlikely to have the space on the drive of our next house – if we even have a drive – to accommodate such a behemoth. I think they do smaller ones, but even so I’d better get saving

Whilst I love my family to bits and enjoy very much the time I spend with them, I have to be able to spend time on my own. How else would I be able to churn out these blog posts? 😉

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