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Create Your Model, Your Multi-Dimensional Learning Space

I continue to wonder where the instructional leaders have gone. It seems to me that too many leaders are being pulled away from their core mission just when education, teachers, and students need leaders to inspire a new, more powerful direction.

So, I challenge you, instructional leaders, to return to being innovators, risk-takers, facilitators, and change agents. I challenge you to begin the process of shifting your organization towards a multi-dimensional learning space.

Where Do I Start?

What does it mean to be well-educated in the 21st Century? How does this shift the notion of teaching and learning? What are the core values, beliefs, and methodologies that all classrooms are rooted? These are the core questions schools need to collectively discuss and act upon if they are to fundamentally shift the educational landscape.

While each school will create a unique profile, the realization that schools need a richer, deeper context for teaching, learning, and leading will surely create the need for multi-dimensional learning spaces that are permeable, transparent, and independent of time, space, place, and size.

This starts with the physical. The key! Not because it is what has always been there, but it is the reality of most schools and without fundamentally shifting the values, beliefs, and methodologies there, everything else is just show.

The Physical Space

In the physical space, classrooms need to include formal and informal learning opportunities rooted in core values and beliefs: quality of thought, participatory learning, inquiry, and the Cs: collaboration, cooperation, communication, connections, and content.

However, today's digital culture requires more than just the physical space if we are to create well-educated 21st Century citizens. In other words, our learning ecosystem must expand into the digital: course learning space, student learning space, and knowledge commons.

Course Learning Space

The course learning space ties is tied to the specific class and provides access to all classroom elements: content, documents, discussions, assignments, and embeds. This space is not a storage center but an opportunity to rethink the delivery of content in order to redistribute and reallocate time in the physical space for the aforementioned core values and beliefs.

However, a course space is simply not enough. The very nature is teacher centered, an idea that meets the industrial model of education not one where the student owns, grows, and leads their learning and content. For example, look at the common practice of having student generated work such as blogs, podcasts, and media creations completely tied to the course NOT the student - a practice that fosters student generated content to live and die with the course in a bubble instead of remaining with the student where it lives and breathes through reflection, growth, and extension of ideas across the span of the academic career and beyond.

Student Learning Space

By creating a student learning space, the power of content creation returns to the
student, creating learning that is fluid and organic. It is here students become
prosumers as they connect and learn glocally through wikis, social bookmarking, and social networking. It is here that students connect, engage, and contribute to distributed knowledge by way of their blogs and public content. It is here that students create and broadcast their voice in the professional conversations using various media, web 2.0, and an ever evolving repository of tools.

Even more important, the potential to scaffold skills and educate students about content distribution exists within this space: what is published, broadcasted, created, distributed, and mashed-up. From this, students learn to be multidisciplinary scholars, networked thinkers, and life long learners as their experiences exist beyond the classroom. These are creations controlled by the student as part of the greater knowledge network of their peers, global and local, that extends vertically and horizontally both in breadth and depth.

Knowledge Commons

With the new skills and information flood that grow out of this structure, it is imperative that a digital knowledge commons exists. This space is an open, flexible area rooted in intellectual and networking activities shared across the entire community. In many ways, the knowledge commons collapses the notion of isolated classrooms (multiple one-room schoolhouses) into a learning network where sharing, connecting, and remixing defines a community of innovators, learners, and sharers.

The library is a key piece to this equation. Here, librarians help navigate and build information via networks, folksonomy, and distributed knowledge access.

It is Time

In this day and age when content is available anytime, anywhere, and to anyone,
classrooms can no longer be tethered to the content-driven, physical spaces defined by 20th Century methodologies. For most of us, we surfed the web - today's students are creating and surfing it. Isn't it time we leverage this with meaningful, authentic multi-dimensional learning spaces that define 21st Century teaching and learning in a customized classroom better suited to meet our students' needs?

It is really easy to get caught up in all the programs, organizations, and hype tied to the 21st Century and educational technology. The key is not to look for the model but create one! This starts with the engagement of all stakeholders in the three core questions leading to the creation of a multi-dimensional learning space that is grounded and rooted in those answers.

Ryan Bretag
Coordinator of Instructional Technology
Glenbrook North High School
Blog: Metanoia

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