Advocating educational innovation is usually not an easy task. While some aspects of educational technology – such as online learning and teaching – have gained a foothold in many institutions, newer ideas like mobile learning or the use of virtual worlds are being explored and practiced by a much smaller number of educators.
There are many barriers to teachers trying out and using new and innovative approaches in teaching and learning. It can be hard to find the time to explore and develop new ideas; online “social learning” sites such as YouTube may be blocked; or teachers may not be able to access equipment or funds needed to try out new ideas (such as for mobile learning activities). And that’s if a given teacher even has the inclination to pursue innovative teaching and learning practices; while most teachers are at least interested in new ideas for teaching, there are many more who are just fine with doing it the way they’ve always done it, and see no reason to change.
As part of my work at CIT’s Flexible Learning Solutions (shortly to be re-organised as a unit within the Institute’s Centre for Excellence in Education), I’m currently working on a few ideas for getting more teachers interested in using innovative methods and activities for learning. I’d be keen to hear what other people think about these ideas…
The first of these is the concept of “Teaching Commons”. Our organisation has several distinct campuses – none of which provide space for teachers from various disciplines or campuses to mingle and share their ideas for learning and teaching, let alone exposure to new practices.
A Teaching Commons area would be a space on each campus where all staff could spend some time getting a cup of coffee and talking with their colleagues. As such, it would have a “social” atmosphere and would feel like a welcoming place to visit. Staff visiting other campuses would find it particularly appealing since there currently isn’t anywhere to log into the staff network if you happen to be visiting another campus away from your own department’s offices.
However, this would be so much more than an ordinary “common room”. The idea here is to dedicate part of the space to be a functional and flexible workshop area, with computers and a Smartboard, as well as the ability to connect additional laptops if required. Various staff who support best-practice teaching and learning at our Institute would use this as a regular base of operations for consulting with and assisting teachers; and we’d also run workshops in this area. Adorning the walls would be posters on different innovative learning approaches and new practices, and all-in-all, the space would be a regular hotpot of professional development, peer discussion, and teaching and learning support. By converging social and learning spaces for teachers, it would provide an ongoing opportunity for engaging, developing and supporting teachers in flexible learning practice.
This physical “teaching commons” space could be complemented by an online “teaching commons” space reflecting many of the same ideas and themes as the physical one. Allowing teachers to put up their own interest groups in a “groupware” environment such as ELGG would lead to the development of a healthy online community discussing both teaching and learning issues as well as what people did on the weekend.
Another project I’m working on is an activity for CIT’s “Developing Us” all-staff professional development day, scheduled for the 29th of January 2008. There is a choice of some 50 workshops to be held across three time slots, including a large number of sessions around professional development. To make the day more engaging, I’m developing a learning activity to play across the whole day… but this activity could equally be played out by a class over the course of a week or a semester.
“Where in the Web is Crimson Sanfierro? (CC)” is a Creative Commons game styled after the popular childrens’ educational game, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (TM)” Instead of being a computer game about geographical locations, however, “Crimson Sanfierro” flips the paradigm on its head – it’s a game played across physical locations, about the web. Participants pick up “clues” from various sessions they attend during the day, and locations they visit… and use these clues to solve “cases”. They can get some additional information from the MySpace profiles of various fictitious suspects to help solve the cases, which are also all themed to fit in with the learning issues being explored on the day.
As we’ve yet to play out the game here, I can’t say too much more, except to say that I’ll say more after we’ve run the game. It promises to be a lot of fun.
Tags: teaching, commons, online, mlearning, m-learning, flexible, learning, flexiblelearning, mobile learning, mobilelearning, mobile-learning, education, innovation, teaching, learning, carmen, sandiego, crimson, sanfierro, professional development teachers, learners