Open Campus, Open Network, Open Possibilities
It's a bright, sunny Tuesday morning, and students are entering Roosevelt Elementary school with excitement and energy. No backpacks. No luggage on wheels. Just lunch bags and handheld devices.
As they enter the renovated 75-year old building, students find places to settle in. No homerooms. No morning announcements. Everyone busily logs in to the network system using their personal devices, indicating they are present for the day, reading school announcements, and reviewing their individual schedules for the day.
No bells. No hall passes. No tardy slips. The student body shifts and resettles as small groups come together to work on their first project of the day. Original classroom walls have been taken out to create larger collaborative spaces with a lot of light from multiple sets of existing windows. There are throw rugs, chairs, couches, coffee tables, high-legged stools, and larger work tables arranged and rearranged to meet the needs of ad hoc groups, as students busily delve into their work.
Teachers move through the open spaces, listening, questioning, coaching, and mentoring. No content commandos. No task masters. No clock watchers. Everyone is interacting and engaged as a low, purposeful buzz fills every nook and cranny of this once very traditional school. Files, documents, and artifacts are captured and uploaded on the school network, which is fully secure and authenticated yet open to all student devices, much like a college campus network.
After a constructive set of meetings disperse, students reconfigure themselves in new groups based on interests, research, and projects. Imagining, brainstorming, videoconferencing, immersion excursions, and deep dives proliferate as students meaningfully engage one another, their parents and extended family, fellow local citizens, students from disparate geographic locations, and subject-matter experts from around the world. Before they know it, the morning is spent and it is time to break for lunch and get some fresh air and exercise.
Returning to work, students opt to use their time after lunch for online journaling about their work, publishing results of recently completed projects and proposing new work to solve problems and create new products in the process. Teachers are partners, equally invested with the students in finding meaningful research to do, accomplishing identified goals, and sharing the fruits of their work with other schools, universities, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and private corporations.
The focus in this environment is not on teaching and learning and measuring success, but on contributing meaningfully to a growing global body of knowledge around pertinent, high-interest topics that help improve society both online and off. Journaling and publishing give way to gaming and virtual reality labs as students immerse themselves in activities that stimulate all the intelligences.
Each part of the day flows into the next, and as the afternoon winds down, students huddle together in small groups to review their work for the day and discuss what tomorrow holds when they once again return to the Roosevelt campus. Devices sign out and log off of the school network as students prepare to head home and pursue their interests remotely. No homework per se; just ongoing interests fueling the desire to understand, internalize, and innovate.
School environments can look very much different for students in the future if we are willing to let go of the trappings of schools of the past. No worksheets. No one-size-fits-all texts. No computer labs. No classrooms. No grade levels. No age cut-offs. An educational career that begins at home, flowing through public education and then into higher education and the workplace.
What is your biggest challenge in making this happen: the design of your network or the design of your curriculum?
Walter McKenzie is a lifelong learner, teacher, leader, and connector. A director of Constituent Services for ASCD, he served 25 years in public education as a classroom teacher, instructional technology coordinator, director of technology, and assistant superintendent for information services. He is internationally known for his work on multiple intelligences and technology and has published various books and articles on the subject. Connect with McKenzie on the ASCD EDge® social network, on his Actualization blog, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.