Saying goodbye to Stockholm and the friends we made there was the most important thing we did, as hard as it was; for it is the leaving of one place and the going to another that defines THINK Global School. TGS is like the old wandering scholar of folklore with his little bag of books–or, in our case, iPhone, iPad and MacBook–over his shoulder: peripatetic. Aristotle said we are what we repeatedly do. And TGS travels. It is the traveler’s good fortune to see many wonderful things and, especially, to meet many wonderful people. It is the traveler’s curse to have to say good bye to them all.
We have memory as our travel bag now. In it are some lessons we’ll pack along to Australia to see if they hold true or look any different when we standing on our heads in the Antipodes:
A good academic program is not dependent on a timetable.
We ran a block schedule on a two-week rotation with one spare block built in. This allowed us to juggle classes easily in order to take advantage of opportunities as they arose. We could, for example, swap a Creative Arts and Global Studies block to double up on studio time for our music composition class. Or, we could cancel a World Literature class to make room for a museum visit knowing we could make the class up in the built-in spare block the following week. As the term progressed, the juggling became more and more complex–we were approaching a point where we were building the weekly calendar on the fly–but we set up a tagging system in Google Calendar which let us easily track total hours of instruction time so we knew we were on track to meet course requirements.
This sort of dynamic scheduling became easier the more more we allowed ourselves to work outside a standard 8 – 4 school day. One of the advantages of faculty and students living and working together is that we could schedule classes at any hour of the day. We were able to teach history at 7:00p in the common room of our hostel and ethnography midday on the grass in a churchyard.
I hope we can pursue this practice even further in Sydney. In principle, and with the exception perhaps of some science classes where we need access to a laboratory, we want to be able to run a class wherever we are out of what we carry in a shoulder bag (in our case, that would be an iPhone, iPad, a Macbook Pro and a sketchbook/notebook).
A good academic program is dependent on some structured time.
Human beings balk at a completely unstructured day. At the very least, as a matter of practicality, students need to know that they have to show up with, say, their novels, at a particular place and time and they need to know how they will have to budget their study time to be sure assignments are completed for the due date.
I think we can build a good compromise between unstructured classes and a traditional timetable. Ideally, we will be able to sit down with the students at our weekly Sunday meetings and map out the week ahead.
The iPhone, iPad and Macbook and a good web platform can replace the traditional classroom.
At the start of the year we debated whether to roll out these three devices one at a time or to hand them out all at once and let the crowd sort out the best uses for each tool. We did the latter and I think it was the better choice. Generally, I think schools will do better managing technology if administration sets clear objectives for its technology program but then creates conditions for healthy, intelligent experimenting by faculty and students. This sort of internal crowd-sourcing is the fastest way to develop a set of best practices that best fits a school’s mission–let’s remember this most definitely will not be the same for every school. Besides, I don’t think it matters what tools an individual teacher or student uses so long as the work is completed.
This practice has been successful for us, so far as we’ve gone. That may not be very far yet, but I think we have proof of concept. We let each faculty and student play with the three devices as they wished in order to develop best practices in each discipline. Classes that are mainly text-based, World Literature, for example, adapted easily to a paperless environment. Math, science and Mandarin have been trickier to set up as it’s difficult to share and markup the pdf versions of handwritten equations or Chinese characters that students create on their iPads. But this is a known limitation of the devices and the apps that we expect will resolve in the near future.
The iPhone has been the single most important tool we’ve used this term. It extended the school walls to the Stockholm city limits–and beyond. 3G service gave everyone ubiquitous connection to the internet and all its resources (we would tether our laptops when we need more computing power than the phone could give) so students could, for example, look up the biography and filmography of director Ingmar Bergman while standing at his graveside on his beloved island of Fårö. Geolocation services and a handy little app called Glympse let us keep track of everyone’s location when we were spread out.
Spot, our custom-built ELGG-based online platform, is our virtual school and our mobile classroom. It currently serves as a blogging tool, bookmarking service, photo and video library, LMS, and e-portfolio system. It links directly to our wikis and Google Docs so everything we need is available through one portal–logging into Spot is analogous to walking into a well-equipped classroom. All content on Spot can be tagged which allows us to build custom search pages that look and function like pages of a text book–a text book we have created ourselves out of our field research and classroom lessons.
Less is more.
We overbooked museum tours, lectures and adventures at the start of term. Better–much better–to go to the same gallery three times and to work closely with a guide or docent there than to go to three different exhibits. Better–much better–to study three paintings closely than a whole galleries worth superficially. In the future, we want to collaborate with museums, galleries, universities, exhibitions and so on that are willing to develop deep and tightly focussed projects.