Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Third-Place For Education

As Post-Secondary Education continues to evolve with time, we are having a good hard look at what the College might look like. So far, we have pursued binary ideas - elaborate campuses that exude solidity or tradition versus virtual, online spaces - but the next College form may be something inbetween: A third place. I use the term in the same way as Ray Oldenberg defines Third Places, a place for community, the coffee shops etc. That community and connection, not tradition and not content, is really at the heart of education is the fundamental reason why this should be such.

So, college for me would be one of those converted warehouses with long rows of tables, chairs, sofas, coffee bars and technology gadgets, with designated meeting places and quiet rooms, and perhaps a gym, but never a classroom. There will be no teachers either, just team leaders, and coaches, and those who lead discussion groups. Indeed, the picture is more like Raphael's School of Athens (yes, the one that usually makes the first slide of every presentation insisting that college should change), plus Computers, which may make it look like a modern incubation centre. Minus, the cut-throatedness, of course, because education needs safety, and support, though too much of that can also be counter-productive.

This, for me, is not a philosophy class or a literature workshop, but the environment to teach technology, for example. Someone I know and respect said once to me that his key insight in technology education is that technologists are artists, but they are taught like scientists. They are given structures and syntaxes - a lot of emphasis on what we call explicit knowledge - but they thrive on tacit, their signature codes and intuition to interpret and solve the problem. So, this college, this Third Place college, by removing the walls and structures that are usually associated with the traditional ideas of study, can refocus the minds back on tacit, on practice, on the actual work, both technical and human, that one has to do.

And, the inevitable next question: Where would the Professors come from? They would not, because one does not need them, not in this environment. This whole model, predicated on doing things, solving problems and exploring ideas, would perhaps be supported by relevant content, which can be accessed online through all the videos and lectures available on the Internet, or through the plain old-fashioned books and manuals that may sit in a corner rack (which may be made a 21st century book by adding a RFID tag). The coach, in this setting, is the guide, who can connect content and application, someone who helps create a personalised to-learn list, among other things.

How is this environment better than the ones exist all around us? We have now figured out that what we are really learning at college is a culture - for a good technologist, it is the culture of technology - rather than content. If so, the environment for learning should be modelled around that objective - enabling cultural learning - and our classrooms, narrow benches, the lecture theatre, PowerPoint, are all built around content and content alone. The point of the new college is to turn the model on its head, just like we are getting rid of the old office designs, and build it ground up around culture, community and conversations.

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