Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Making new spaces for learning

The exponential changes happening in education at the moment are unprecedented. Global connectivity, information networks and social platforms are rapidly changing the learning landscape. Students today have the collective knowledge of mankind at their fingertips. Connectivism, “a learning theory for the digital age” (Siemens 2005) posits that learning is now more critical than knowing. It emphasises technology's effect on how people live, communicate and learn in networks. Are schools taking full advantage of this new wave of learning? How can schools best utilise e-learning, educational technology and networks to improve learning outcomes? The following is an overview of some of the approaches and successes we have experienced at St Columba Anglican School Port Macquarie (SCAS).

Global connected classrooms 
Education 3.0 (Lengel 2012) goes beyond the boundaries of our country. It utilises global experts and innovators in the learning process. Studying volcanoes? Why not video conference with a vulcanologist? Learning about space? Let’s talk with astronauts on the ISS in real time! Video conferencing with real world experts dramatically increases engagement and learning. 
The most commonly reported student outcomes in e-learning studies are motivation, engagement and concentration (for example, Moos & Azevedo, 2009). A few also document progress in academic outcomes (Burt, 2007; Lewin et al, 2008). 
Skype in the classroom ( is an excellent platform for inspiring learning and taking it global. With skype, students can collaborate with other international classes, speak with expert guest speakers and participate in online excursions. Google connected classrooms( is another excellent platform for bringing the world into your classrooms. Both of these systems are easy to utilise and are free. All you need is an internet connection and a webcam. 

Makerspaces are creative, hands-on spaces for tinkering, hacking and making. The last 10 years has seen the rise of the “maker movement” ( with its focus on DIY, innovation and experiential learning. The global maker movement has gained such momentum that the inaugural world maker faire launched in 2010 ( 
We recently developed and opened a K-12 makerspace at SCAS. As part of our library to learning commons evolution we designed a makerspace. A colourful and fun learning lounge where students could come at any time to tinker and make. The space resides upstairs in the Dawson Hub (our new name for the library). We run classes in the space and it is open for students to come and use any lunch or recess. I designed the space with my office included (glass wall partition) so I could facilitate the space.
Our makerspace includes: a makerbot 3D printer (5th generation); a 3D scanner (digitizer); raspberry pi (small kit computers); chromeboxes (cloud computers); Leap Motion (3D physical controller); Oculus Rift (virtual reality goggles); old computers and phones to take apart and reassemble; GoldieBlox (engineering kits for girls); lego mindstorms and numerous other things to hack, tinker and play with. Except for the 3D Printer all these technologies are relatively cheap to acquire. 
Current student projects in the makerspace include: gaming development for the oculus rift (using Unity3D); collaborative inter-school 3D print minecraft museum (students share virtual models of their 3D creations in a shared minecraft ‘museum’); combining the Leap Motion and Oculus Rift with a 3D designed and printed mount; building a raspberry pi controller for a radio controlled car; designing and 3D printing our own VR headset system using a mobile phone as the screen; making a virtual map of our school that you can virtually ‘walk’ through (think Google street view) and numerous other mind-blowing student devised and directed projects. 
The immediate success and popularity of the makerspace has been astounding! The space is usually full to capacity. Common sights include students teaching each other (and teachers) how to use technology, excited collaboration and inspired learning! Being allowed to tinker, play and make with creative technologies in a non-structured environment is highly engaging for numerous students. A great sense of school community is also evident in the makerspace. The students own the space. 

Student Tech Support 
After we launched our BYOD program at SCAS two years ago, the number of devices on campus rapidly increased. We did not specify a particular device. As long as a device can hold a day’s charge and access the internet we allow it. The diversity of devices, operating systems, apps and technologies at SCAS presented opportunities and challenges to learning. To help support our school technology and systems we launched our student tech support system (called the Tech Ninjas). Basically, the Tech Ninjas are technically inclined students who help with tech support in our learning community. Tech Ninjas are identifiable by the Tech Ninja stickers on their devices. Tech Ninjas assist their peers with common tech issues. Teachers also utilise Tech Ninjas if they have an issue (e.g. internet connectivity, device connectivity etc). The Tech Ninjas have made a real impact on the smooth running of our numerous systems and devices. Tech Ninjas exhibit improved self-esteem and self-efficacy. Teachers utilise Tech Ninjas in their class and receive timely assistance. The Tech Ninja program has benefited teacher/student relations and communication. The benefits of elearning and educational technology to enhance relationships between teachers and students has also been documented in recent studies (Alexander, 2008; Ballantyne, 2004; Mitchell, 2007). 

“The principle goal of education in schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.” Jean Piaget

Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and emergent multiliteracies. Theory Into Practice, 47(2), 150-160. Ballantyne, L. M. (2004). In what ways could ICT teaching and learning take place at Orewa College?: Osmosis, Integration and/or specialist subjects? Masters Degree, Massey University Burt, D. (2007). The lure of podcasting. EFellows: Research for teachers by teachers. Summary document, Wellington: Ministry of Education. Retrieved May 13, 2009, from 
Lengel, J. (2012) Education 3.0: 7 Steps for better schools. Teachers College Press. New York. Lewin, C., Somekh, B., & Steadman, S. (2008). Embedding interactive whiteboards in teaching and learning: The process of change in pedagogic practice. Education and Information Technologies, 13(4), 291-303.
Mitchell, L. M. (2007). Using technology in reggio emilia-inspired programs. Theory Into Practice, 46(1), 32-39.
Moos, D. C., & Azevedo, R. (2009). Learning with computer-based learning environments: A literature review of computer self-efficacy. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 576-600. Siemens, G. (2005) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Vol. 2 No. 1 


  1. What a great summary of some of the things that you do at SCAS. Congratulations on creating a wonderful engaging learning space. :)

  2. Good article Matt. A fantastic summary of what we are doing.