Thursday, March 4, 2010

Albany High School - Learning Commons

Today a few staff from Unitec went over to Albany High School to look at the first totally Open Source school in New Zealand and to also look at the brand new purpose built classrooms. The deputy principal Mark Osbourne met us and was very kind to show us around the new building.

The school has really taken on board the learning commons idea so much so they don't really have any classrooms, very impressive. We came across a class where students in beginner, intermediate and advance mathematics class where were all studying together, awesome! Also of interest was that the teachers for each level were cooperative and totally open to sharing their own teaching practice. Better for the students as Mark put it "students had support if they turned left or right". I won't delve into the benefits of learning commons learning and teaching setups.

Students are not restricted to just the technologies in school rather they are encouraged to bring with them whatever they are comfortable with to help; them in their learning. Some students according to the deputy principal have on occasions brought their Play Stations and Xbox.

The ethos behind the school is 'Open'. What the school has so far customised they have shared with the community and have shared with other surrounding schools. They have their own version of Youtube, they have called it Ourtube. They also have ePortfolio platforms in use (Mahara), a LMS (Moodle), the open source library system called Koha and they are working on customising the open source bookmarking system Pligg. Most of the storage needed for digital data is also outsourced, emails are with Google and the computers in the building are all running Ubuntu operating system.

It is a great model for other schools in New Zealand. Why would you want to pay for proprietary systems and software that cost thousands of dollars which can be spent on providing better service and designing/creating a better learning environment for students.

Every meter of space at the school could be used as a learning space. We also came across a case where students were having a Japanese lesson, sitting on the floor, in the corridor with purpose built desks that could be folded and put away after class.

I however have to say, I did felt there was a mismatch between the setup and how students were taught. I did notice in one class the laptops were kept close, the projector going and the teacher standing in front directing learning. It could well have been something that needed to be done by the teacher hence the setup. I could be totally wrong here as we did not spend a lot of time questioning the teaching style. The picture on the left shows the learning commons setup, the teacher and the students. It would be fair to say from the setup that it is a transmission style teaching setup. Again I could be quick to jump to conclusions and a bit harsh giving only spent 1 hour at the school. From my experience the change from a transmission style of teaching to a student centred teaching is huge and a very sensitive matter. Whatever my thoughts are the setup and work done at the school is a step in the right direction and hopefully these students will help bring about much needed change in the tertiary sector.