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Teaching and learning in practice

October 17th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am in Blankenberge (somewhere on the north coast of Belgium) all this week where. together with Jenny Hughes, I am running a European funded course on using social software in the classroom. The course is based on the excellent Taccle handbook, which Jenny wrote and promises to be a lot of fun.  We have torn up the original Taccle course format, which was in my view overly lecture based, and instead are planning to run it through experiential learning. Sadly the weather forecast is not too great which may interfere with our plans for some outside multi media activities.

But now for a little moan. Our friends from Belgium who coordinate the Taccle project have done a great job in handling all the course administration. Without them the course would not have taken place – there is no way that me or Jenny would have filled in all the forms the European Commission require for funding courses of this nature. But we have been unable to communicate to them two of what I regard as key features of the learning environment you need for this sort of teaching and learning. The first is ubiquitous internet connectivity. We have wireless in the school where the course takes place but our hotel only has wireless in the basement where they have two training rooms. Needless to say we are negotiating to try to get access to those rooms in the evening.

The second is an informal space that we can organise for working in. And whenever I run courses like this organisers try to hire computer suites for us to work in. I find these rooms one of the worst teaching and learning environments i have ever known – rows of people sitting on their own behind computers. The reality is most teachers do not teach in such rooms – which tend to be reserved for specialist IT or science based subjects. Increasingly teachers use their own laptops – and for this course I think all but one participant has brought their laptop.

Indeed the most important point of the spreading use of mobile devices in education is to free up learning from being tied to sitting behind a computer – even in those institutions where some thought has been put into how to design the learning spaces to incorporate PCs and to encourage collaboration and communication.

The third area where I find it hard to explain what I am trying to do is in the distinction between ‘formal’ learning which takes place in the planned course programme and the learning which takes place outside those times. the social spaces in the evenings are as rich a period for potential learning as the formal period.

And here is Jen’s moan. The European Commission demands a detailed course programme in advance. But – in line with much of what the education directorate of the EU say – we wish to negotiate the programme with the learners. surely that is central to learner centred learning. And that does not fit with a rigidly pre-ordained programme. The EU needs to practice what they preach!

Anyway enough of the moaning. I am looking forward to the course and will be reporting back on it over the next week.

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  1. Trials & tribulations of EU project – classroom problem; good blog post

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