I’m just settling back into work after my annual summer holiday. I did my very best not to check work email or twitter and to slow down my digital networking activities, and keep any activity purely related to the nicer things in life. But I did have a holiday experience that made me reflect a lot on work and some of the discussions around the Next Generation Learning Environment (NGLE) that have been floating around the twitter/blog-o-spheres recently.
Luckily for me and my not quite full powered brain, Anne Marie Scott has written a really thoughtful blog post about the recent NGLE debate, which highlights a number of concerns I share, particularly around the apparent lack of student involvement in some work, data presumptionism (not sure if that is a word!) and the technocentric stance that seems to be underpinning much of the debate. I urge you to read the post, and have a think about Temporary Autonomous Zones.
But back to my holiday. I spent a week in the Lake District on a painting holiday called Colour Expression with Mixed Media. Now, although this was an informal learning experience there were a number of elements of a learning environment involved.
In terms of an NGLE, it certainly was for my next generation in that the average age on the course was about 75. Whilst I got some amusement from the long lost thrill of being the youngest person in the room, it was an eye opener of the potentially good things I could spend my time doing when I (if I can actually afford to) retire.
The learning space, both in the centre and when we were working en plein air were flexible. We all had to bring our own materials (byod if you like) so that gave another level of personalisation and flexibility. The supporting structures around the course were great – very helpful staff, great food, lovely location, free wifi.
However despite all this I found the experience to be not quite what I had expected. It was in parts quite surreal – a bit like being in an extended Victoria Wood sketch – and in parts quite frustrating. The frustration was caused by a really crucial element in any learning environment – the teacher.
Unfortunately my “teacher” had no understanding of some of the basic elements of what makes a good learning and teaching experience. Although a competent painter, he lacked some basic facilitation and people skills.
He had a great time all week. I’m not sure he even realised that some of us didn’t quite get the same thrill from hearing all about him, all about the gear you “must have”, the (very expensive) paper you need to use (which handily he could sell us at a more reasonable rate) all week that he did. There was no attempt to get us to share experiences, have some fun working together, and don’t even start me about critique and review. . . it was quite amazing and amusing (in the wtf sense) how that all came back to his work.
All of this had a huge impact on my learner experience. I spent much of the week frustrated and that impacted on my work, my confidence and my overall enjoyment of the experience.
However, I did learn a lot about what I don’t want to do in terms of my artistic endeavours and hat I should do some more research on tutors and venues before signing on the dotted line. It also reaffirmed in my head the role of the teacher within any learning environment. In that week I lacked scaffolding, I needed someone with the pedagogical (innate or more learned) knowledge and understanding to encourage and support me, to care about my learning experience, to help me turn my frustrations into something more positive. Someone who could adapt a fairly flexible learning design into a really effective and personsalised experience. There were only 7 of us on the course.
Now I have been around a bit and so have the self regulated learning skills to be able to reflect on this experience and actually turn it into something more positive. But many of our students don’t. It was also only a week of my life and it has given me a whole new range of anecdotes. However it was a salient reminder of the lack of understanding of the art of teaching.
Discussions around the future/next generation learning environments shouldn’t presume that personalised, data driven, adaptive learning is the holy grail for a successful learning experience. Whilst I’m all for interoperable, light weight services being easily available, we can’t forget the need for the teacher; the need ensure that our teaching staff have the time to reflect on their practice, learn how to use some of the new “stuff” that is out there to really make our old, current and next generation learning environments really effective.