March 23, 2014

Open education day in Zürich, Switzerland

During open education day in Zürich, Switzerland on March 18th, 2014, I visited Schwamendingen to learn about how people, who live there, learn. During the day, I experienced several examples of high quality personalized education with students of different ages - from 6 to about 15 years of age - and with different interests. Some examples:


  • In some areas / places / situations, students sat at tables and on chairs that were adapted to how tall they are. 
  • In some areas / places / situations, learners had decided themselves whether they want to work / learn individually or in groups. 
  • In some areas / places / situations, education participants decided themselves whether they would prefer to use computer to learn. 
  • In some areas / places / situations, I saw students develop questions themselves about what they wanted to learn, asking fellow students their questions, and listening to what they heard. 
  • In most areas / places / situations, teachers were good at acting as coaches, for example by going to individual students who wanted help, helping those students individually, and praising students for what they do well. 
  • At more learning events, I experienced that moderators / educators evaluated events - including apprenticeship events that students had worked on - by asking students / learners to express how the particular event had been for them. Students gave their feedback in various ways, for example by giving thumbs up or down with their hands, saying out loud what they liked, and/or expressing what additional help they needed to learn / do better. 


At a painting event during which students aged 6-7 years participated, I saw an example of great use of creativity: A girl was, like her fellow education colleagues, painting a box. She had chosen the colour turquoise for the paint she was using to paint her box. As most of the other students, she used a brush to paint. But only at the start. A couple of minutes into the painting task, she switched to using 2-3 brushes simultaneously, then switched a couple of minutes later to using both hands to paint - without using any brush. To me, this was a good example of "out-of-the-box thinking and doing". The norm was to use one brush to paint the box. This girl, however, let her imagination play and tried out several other ways of doing the work. And, as I could see, she really enjoyed what she was doing and was thriving using her creativity. In this situation, I found it great that the teacher let the girl go ahead - thereby supporting the creative initiative - and later simply helped the girl clean her hands.

The experiences I had this day were not all positive, though. I experienced some differences regarding how teachers think about education / learning / development. An example: Considering that many kids / children / young people use their personal mobile electronic devices such as smartphones / laptops / tablets to a very high degree - and also are very good at using these devices as well as various apps - I was very surprised that in several areas / places / learning environments, students were not allowed to use their personal mobile electronic devices. Witnessing how students were not allowed to use their personal mobile electronic devices such as smartphones, and also witnessing that there was no open, free wlan in any of the several areas / places / learning environments, I visited throughout the day - something which was also frustrating for some teachers - I could not help thinking about this highly popular TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson asking the question: Do schools kill creativity?

The Internet is certainly not everything. For example, large parts of social competence continue to be something we need to develop / practice when working with children through face-to-face interactions in various physical places, i.e. where people live their lives. And doing sports, for example, also continue to be important, for example to help avoid obesity, strengthen muscles, learning to compete and to collaborate with sports partners / team mates. The Internet is, however, a highly important and powerful tool that can help people develop a number of different skills in more and more nuanced ways. And with the development of the Internet, we're experiencing that many more interactive possibilities have arisen that help people have exchanges in various ways and thereby learn a number of things from each other. Think, for example, about all the interactions going on between young people using WhatsApp and other apps / websites that people use to communicate with each other. We're living in times during which technological changes - not least within information and communication technology - are happening at relatively high speed and are having an increasingly important impact on how we live our lives. The Internet is changing / transforming how we work, how we learn, how we live, how we relate to each other, how we think. Therefore, the Internet needs to play a central part in how education is done, i.e. be an integrated part of roles that educators play.

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