Do schools kill creativity.

Do Schools kill creativity? Of course they do.

I know this video is pretty old by now and many people have seen it.  But i just rediscovered it and realize how true it is.  Even as someone who has benefited from this education system, and works in the education system, I know it is true and find it sad.

I have seen how true it is in my own family.  School always came easy for me.  I got excellent marks without really trying that hard.  My younger brother, who is a professional musician, barely graduated high-school.  Yet when he got to college and was able to study his passion (music) he was on the dean’s list and graduated with honors.  Unfortunately, the high school system does not regard artistic, or musical genius, and in fact squashes the talents of creative people who don’t see the point in regurgitating historical dates and mathematical formulas.

Pedagogy and Classroom Design: Strange Bedfellows?

As I mentioned in my previous post, pedagogy has been at the forefront of my mind the past while. I want to post about a little brainstorm I have been having about the relationship between classroom design and pedagogy. It had never really occurred to me that architecture and the design of physical spaces would ever be influenced by or influence pedagogy. But it only takes a few seconds of thinking about this issue to realize they are inextricably linked.

The Traditional Lab

Spaces have meaning. Spaces tell us something about what is expected of us in that space. Think about the message sent by a traditional classroom. There are seats all facing the front, and there is a space for the teacher at the front of the class. This is a teacher centric model of classroom design and it sends a clear message. Forgive me for being blunt, but the message this traditional classroom sends is “sit down and shut up.” It is a listening space.

Technology has not improved the situation. The traditional teaching computer lab that most librarians teach in is the same thing. Rows of computers that all face the front where there is one projector. It is not a flexible space. It is created for a single purpose, lecturing with all eyes on the teacher. Try incorporating cooperative learning while teaching from a computer lab, and you will see how inflexible the space is. The teacher struggles to maneuver around the long rows, and students cannot really face each other and discuss things while still using the technology.

Collaborative Learning Spaces

So, even though I haven’t come to any firm answers, I have been thinking/reading about how we can design spaces that send the message of collaborative learning, that tell students to engage and discuss rather than sit and listen. I have seen some very cool solutions (although sadly most aren’t cheap).

taken from MacPhee, L. (2009). Learning spaces: A tutorial. Educause Quarterly, 32. http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/EDUCAUSEQuarterlyMagazineVolum/LearningSpacesATutorial/163854

Pods are an interesting design as the students are all facing eachother and already formed into natural groups. This space sends the message that students should be working together. Unlike the traditional computer lab this space encourages collaboration, and allows the instructor to circulate and assist students with their collaborative efforts. But on the flip side this is not a very efficient use of space, and might meet resistance from an IT department that will want the lab to be used as a drop in lab when not booked for teaching.

Waves or curved desks are another way to organize a space as it forces at least 2 students to be facing each other. This too also isn’t a perfect solution but as it still forces the instructor to awkwardly slide between long curvy rows, but at least the design gives a collaborative message to students.

Flexible Spaces

Better solutions are more flexible such as the design of a computer lab at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse proved by Smith in an excellent article “Designing Collaborative Learning Experiences for Library Computer Classrooms.”

Smith, S. A., (2004). Designing Collaborative Learning Experiences for Library Computer Classrooms. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 11(2): 65-83.

LearnLab at Purdue

But the best solution I have seen so far is the LearnLab at Purdue university explained in Doan and Kirkwoods article “Strategically leveraging learning space to create partnership opportunities.”

Doan, T., & Kirkwood, H. (2011). Strategically leveraging learning space to create partnership opportunities. College & Undergraduate Libraries 18:239-24.

This space has no obvious front. It is not a lecture space, but rather specifically built as a collaborative learning space. This lab does not work well for lecturing, but sends a clear message to students that the teacher is not front and center but rather a facilitator of learning who is constantly circulating to assist in collaborative learning.

I apologize if this got a bit long or if my thoughts are not perfected on this topic. But these ideas have been floating around in my brain for a while and I wanted to get them down. I just really think that with so much talk about constructivist teaching philosophies and the importance of active and collaborative learning, we could do so much better in designing classrooms that encourage this sort of learning.

Confessions of a Converted Lecturer

I recently watched this video, which explains why students do not learn from lecturing at them in an attempt to dump information directly into their brains. He explains the importance of peer education. Anyone involved with education, or an interest in pedagogy should watch this video.

Pedagogy has been on the top of my mind the past few weeks since I started teaching information literacy sessions for my new job at Concordia University College of Alberta. With so many other responsibilities (the library’s websites and collections) it is has been hard to resist the temptation to just lecture. It’s so easy to prepare 45 minutes worth of material on searching, evaluating, and/or citing information. But I know that I never learned well that way, and I know it doesn’t work. I see the students eyes glazing over. This video helped to reminded what I have known for a long while. I need to start incorporating more active learning and cooperative learning into my information literacy sessions. I call myself a constructivist as far as teaching philosophy goes, and I need to start putting my money where my mouth is.

I should give credit where credit is due, I found this video on Dwayne Harapnuik’s blog, Dwayne is the VP academic of Concordia University College of Alberta.

The Myth of the Digital Native

Today’s episode of Spark on CBC had an interesting segment called the myth of the digital native (skip  to 40:00).

Basically, it explains what academic librarians and library and information science researchers have known for years.  Society has a myth that young people are “tech savvy” and know how to search because they are conformable using google. Yet students show a complete inability to think critically about search results, or ability to search effectively and efficiently.  Students do not understand subject terms or controlled vocabulary.  As a general rule students enter the first keyword or keyphrase that they think of and then click on the first few links.  Without understanding how search algorithms work.

This fact is sad, however, just as sad was the fact that this segment never once mentioned librarians.  Librarians have known about this for years.  We are the ones who help students search, and teach search skills.  This phenomenon has been researched (look up Gross & Latham).  Gros and Latham found that students have a false confidence in their search skills. For decades now, librarians have known about the lack of search skills (and just generally information literacy skills), and have been working to fix this.  Librarians (and LIS researchers) are the ones developing courses, one-off instruction sessions, and online tutorials/screencasts/webinars, and many other methods of teaching students information literacy skills (including search skills, as well as critical evaluation skills).

We need to be careful about the assumptions we make about college students and young people.  We assume they are tech savvy because they have an smartphone and an ipad or say that they know how to search.  Research shows that students almost only use google, and cannot critically evaluate information found online.  Students do not know how to find good credible resources for their assignments, and in their everyday lives.  Not only librarians, but also high school teachers and university instructors (and administrators) need to prioritize information literacy as a critical skill that young people need to develop, and do not have.

Unfortunately, these are not intuitive skills and must be learned, and learning requires a teacher, and quality teachers cost money.  It isn’t enough to prioritize with our mouths, administrators and government (education) officials need to prioritize information literacy/search skills with their budgets.