Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Social Learning

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Dough Johnson and Ann Krembs are here at ISB this week consulting with our school and the Library Review Committee on creating/restructuring our library learning space.

Doug wrote a great post titled: The essential question

I would highly recommend reading it and all of the comments.

The Ed Tech team and the Librarians (total 8 people) met with Doug and Ann on Thursday to get our take on the new space. At one point Doug brought up the thought about having a space for socialization versus social learning.

Just how fine is the line between socialization and social learning?

When we talk about spaces and what students’ needs are and what a school’s needs are can we blur the line between being social and social learning?

I started thinking of my experience at the local Barnes & Nobles in my home town of Spokane, Washington and just how many times I end up there in the summer time. Sometimes I stop for a coffee at the Starbucks located inside and end up browsing books. Other times I meet friends there and just socialize, and yet other times I go there looking for books and end up drinking a coffee.

B&N and Starbucks have blurred the lines between books, work, and social hour. You throw in a little WiFi connection and you’re set for the day.

Could we create spaces in our schools that were both used for socializing and at the same time a library and a place were kids go to work and get work done?

In other words…can we create the modern school?

Could a modern school library be the hangout? Do we want students to be social in a place were social learning should/could take place?

Personally I think we need to not only blur the line but start erasing it. B&N and Starbucks do a really good job of being open in one large area but using features such as a change from tile to carpet and a little railing between the Starbucks portion and the B&N portion of the store to let people know when you have moved from one to the other. Physically they share space, but as you enter the store you can easily see where Starbucks ends and the bookstore begins.

What if we could replicate this in our libraries? What if we could create spaces that allowed students to work and be social by giving them visual ques of what is expected.

Tables and chairs that can be pushed and pulled to create group work areas.

Soft chairs among the books for casual reading.

A small area where students can buy food, drinks, snacks and just be social.

Could a library become the socialization and social learning hub of a school?

When building a space that is focused on students I would include as much as possible the students help in designing the space. What do they want? What do they need? How do they want it to flow?

Design Matters!

One thing we know with this generation is that design matters. You can have a great product, a great space, but if it isn’t designed to be “cool” kids won’t use it. Apple, Starbucks, and B&N, understand this and create products and spaces that are where students want to be. What can we learn from these companies that we can start to incorporate into our own learning/social spaces?

Space Matters!

I love walking into any Starbucks (and I’ve been in my fair share around the world) and just looking at how they use the space. Space for a person to work by themselves on a laptop with a plugin within easy reach. A place with two or three comfy chairs and a small table for people to sit at and be social. Couches for those who need to sit next to each other. The interior is calm and soothing, the perfect volume of music playing in the background, the space that allows those to quickily come and go and not interfer with the student writing a term paper. They do such a great job with space and with traffic flow. Some day I want to design a classroom like Starbucks designs coffee shops….with the clients needs in mind!

Friends and Food

Let’s get real…being a kid is all about friends and food. Students come to school because they want to be with friends not because they want to come to your class…as great as it is. At my last three schools the #1 complaint from students was always the food. They eat a lot and want good food.

What if we can build a space that meets the needs of kids today and just so happens to be embedded into a teaching and learning atmosphere where they can get work done, learn something new, and be a student, a friend, and a partner all in one space.

What if a school could embrace the social nature of students rather than fight it? Could we create a school for today’s student?

I’m back from the ETC (EARCOS Teacher’s Conference) in Kota Kinabalua, Malaysia. Where I did four presentations as well as watched Kim Cofino pack them in for her Connecting Across Continents presentation.

It’s the first conference that I’ve gone to where I truly did not “do” the conference. Other than my own four presentations I only went to two others….one if you don’t count Kim’s.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why I didn’t feel motivated to go to more sessions. I like learning so what was my problem?

Then it hit me…..I don’t like learning alone!

The Internet was horrible…when it did work at the conference, and I found myself disconnected from my friends colleagues and my network of learners.

Learning for me needs to be social. I need to be able to live blog a session, to Ustream a session or have a back channel chat going with others in the room.

Without that….a presentation is rather boring. So boring in fact, that I couldn’t motivate myself to even go to a session. Learning for me happens in these social spaces. It happens when I’m able to listen, reflect, and connect with others near and far in the moment. I’m so use to this anymore that regular old sit and get learning just isn’t the same.

And then I started thinking about our students. Our students who spend there day not just in front of screens but connecting with people, learning in the moment and creating content.

I thought that maybe it was just me…but then this new study from the Nielsen Company was just released this week showing amoung other things that adults are spending 8+ hours a day in front of screens (via nytimes):

Among other surprises, the research found that young people aren’t the
only ones dividing their attention among multiple screens and machines;
people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and early 50s essentially multitask for
the same amount of time. People over 55 are markedly less likely to be
multitasking. “That’s where the generation gap, if there is one, may
exist,” Mr. Bloxham said.

So it’s not just me (thank goodness!). You mean I’m just like the rest of the multitaskers out there? Multitaskers who expect to be able to connect with people, content and ideas in a moments notice and who find such value in connections that without it learning becomes boring? Not that you can’t learn without it…it’s just so much more engaging when you do!

Once again the best part of the conference was meeting people outside the conference. After having the Twitter Meet-up bust on me in Portland at NCCE I wasn’t sure how it would go over here at a teacher’s conference. But I was impressed when we had eight people show up for a Twitter Meet-up. Some people I had met before, but most of them new faces and even some who came to set up their Twitter account for the first time.

Of course there was only one official Twitter Meet-up but I had a couple great spontaneous meet ups with mscofino, klandmiles, Skardalien in the lobby.

Once again I found that it was the face to face time that was the best part of the conference. Meeting new people, connecting with old friends, and talking about education from different angles.

So, my big take away from the conference was this: Conferences are about people and connections…and not about content. If the content is there and there is no way to connect with people around that content…then learning is boring. Learning is being social and without that social interaction I feel disconnected from the content.

I just keep shaking my head and truly feeling for our students who every day have to disconnect to learn. Even worse….they don’t get to choose which session to go to…they just have to live with it day in and day out.

Learning should be social…and in today’s world being social means being connected while you learn. Do we help create these social connections or are we to worried about the time students might waste being social and being connected?