Saturday, 25 December 2010

Social Learning Spaces

I was fortunate to briefly visit Education City in Qatar earlier this month... inside one of the four universities on site I was really impressed by one of the versatile students social spaces - large, cool, very high quality. The seating, being largely cushions are easily movable if the space is needed for a presentation or other event... The space, along with a water feature, was one that you wanted to stay in, to meet and work in....

I'm always saying it, but these types of spaces are really important not just in universities but also in schools as well. Many students now learn considerable amounts in social ways / spaces in addition to more formal teaching approaches. Some would say that they learn more.
Social learning spaces are always amongst the first things to be 'value engineered' out when looking for cost saving measures. If not totally removed they become too small to be really effective. All it demonstrates is that some decision makers really have no idea how young people learn these days.
Learning spaces do have to look different and be able to work in different ways.... 'cells and bells' are NOT the be all and end all of learning - we know that, as do many countries around the world - so why do so many people try and replicate the past and not look forward?
One University in Education City, Qatar
Even the outside reminds people why they are there

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, Chairperson - Qatar Foundation
I was very pleased to be invited to attend the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha, Qatar last week. Organised by the Qatar Foundation, this second annual three day conference was attended by over 1,200 people from over one hundred countries.
The overarching mission of the Qatar Foundation is to accelerate human development through education, scientific research, and cultural and community projects. WISE is one of the most ambitious of these encouraging a network of global education leaders to think differently in confronting the challenges of building the future of education.
His Excellency Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, Chairman of WISE, Qatar Foundation
The overarching theme is 'Building the Future of Education' and WISE is searching for an international response that is collaborative, international and highly flexible, engaging with new technologies, sharing best practices and rethinking funding models. WISE is trying to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning, and embrace life long learning.
This was a fabulous conference, with speakers from all over the world. The goal - trying to identify ways of ensuring every child can access education. Many speakers spoke about projects that were innovative, learner focussed and most importantly, replicable and scalable for other parts of the world. Inevitably, trying to resolve funding issues to support these aims became a key focus near the end of the conference.
People who attended last year as well all agreed that whilst the first conference was very good, this one was really even better and really focussed on the issues. WISE really does intend to be THE global education conference each year - it's well on the way. I was extremely pleased to be a tiny part of it.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Chairs - size matters...

Working with VS in Germany recently, I was pleased to spend some time in their incredible 'in-house' education museum. This really large centre charts the history of classroom furniture throughout the twentieth century, with exhibits from all over Europe and other countries including the USA.

It was quite an eye opener for me as to how much emphasis was made as early as the 1900's in getting chair and desk height right for individual students. Included was the device created to ensure appropriately designed furniture for students.
As early as 1930 school desk design was based on a programme of systematic measurements to obtain characteristic data for school children of all ages and heights. Measurements included the length of the leg from the sole of the foot to the knee. This was needed to calculate the height of the seat, and the height of the elbow above the sole of the foot in the correct sitting position to calculate the height of the desk.To obtain these anthropometric data, Dr Stephani, a school doctor from Mannheim, developed a device for measuring body dimensions. The data could then be used to establish the parameters for ergonomic design of school desks, particularly with a view to preventing spinal disorders.
Equally important was a range of alterable furniture to allow students to raise the foot board and seat height(see photo above) to be most appropriate for the student to use the desk comfortably.
It all really makes me wonder as schools buy furniture today. The FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) budgets are always amongst the first to be cut in budget savings. Many companies do base furniture design on extensive research, but far too many schools are now just buying the cheapest designs possible: standard tables, standard chairs - one size fits all.
Ergonomics really are absolutely vital to students to be able to concentrate fully without the issue of discomfort distracting them from learning. Regular readers will know that this is a real priority for me. If it was so important nearly a century ago combined with the fact that we know far more about how important ergonomics are, I don't understand why we now think one size fits all is good enough - it isn't!!
Dr Mannheim's device in use....