What is a Classroom, Anyway?

Let’s start with an anecdote. Several years ago, the Polish Ministry of National Education created a portal for educational materials named E-podręczniki. It’s one of the largest portals of its kind in Europe, in Polish, with aligned e-materials from preschool through post-secondary. It’s growing every day and it’s a success, but not exactly in the way the developers intended. Turns out, one of the most successful audiences was not even targeted, and that is… the Polish diaspora. There are millions of Polish native speakers (and their children and grandchildren) who are a perfect target market for E-podręczniki.

These learners, and their parents and grandparents, already have a traditional classroom, yet they jumped all over these materials. Why? Because they wanted them, of course. For years they’ve been scraping materials together in Polish, and here they appear organized and ready to use on a single website.

When I have an important research question, I always check Wikipedia first, since we all know if it’s on Wikipedia, it must be true… maybe. Here is the first paragraph of the definition of “Classroom”:

“A classroom is a learning space, a room in which both children and adults learn. Classrooms are found in educational institutions of all kinds, ranging from preschools to universities, and may also be found in other places where education or training is provided, such as corporations and religious and humanitarian organizations. The classroom provides a space where learning can take place uninterrupted by outside distractions.”

In this case, I suppose technically the definition is correct if we require a physical space. But why do we require this physical space for learning without distractions? Why can’t we reposition the first sentence just a bit and write, “A classroom is a learning space in which both children and adults learn.”? Just that? When we discuss teaching and materials and technology, we should start with educational practice and work our way to the materials and technology, and only then deal with spatial context. Because education has been concentrated in a single space for so long, we’ve forgotten that it’s not about the location at all. It’s about advancing and increasing knowledge.

In conclusion, consider the fact that the physical classroom was not “created” as a learning environment, but as a response to reality. The reality is that young children in an urbanized society should not be left at home alone, and parents go to work for the day outside the home. So, children had to be sent to a place to learn during this adult work time. And hence schools ended up looking a lot like workplaces: regimented, hierarchical, systematic, and most assuredly not creatively inspired. That was the world then. That is not the world we live in today; and it’s time we considered how to take advantage of that new world. Join us at OEB!

Written by Myron Cizdyn

Miron Cizdyn, president of the European Foundation for Technology in Education (EFTE), will facilitate a Pre-Conference Workshop on Wednesday, November 27, 2019 on Education in Context: The Classroom of the Future, Today. Register on oeb.global while there are still some places left.

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