Contemporary Technology in Education

Published: Monday 17 August 2015

Educational Professor, Sugata Mitra conducted a ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment in 1999 which removed any type of teacher or adult supervision and allowed for a mere internet connected computer to stimulate personalised, individual learning. Mitra referred to this as “minimally invasive education…” Over the years, education has dramatically evolved with a similar type of self-promoted learning with modern technology impacting the way students learn. There has been a large shift from formal teaching in cellularised classrooms to studio centric learning environments where children are given the opportunity to teach themselves.

We have come a long way since then. In our very own home soil, one of the pioneering movers and shakers in the industry, Mind Lab by Unitec has united digital and collaborative learning as a response to transforming the way education is practiced. On August 6, MindLab in Petone, Wellington opened up their doors to CEFPI-NZ and engaged us in discussions around a new generation of learners, the role of technology in education and how the spaces are being designed to accommodate this. This was also supported by a common narrative on emerging technologies being used in architectural design and construction.

The night kicked off with a tour of Mind Labs new facilities which consisted of three large transparent rooms divided by glazed walls – all uniquely adorned with a kaleidoscope of colours used on the walls and loose fittings. Every space saw refuge to all sorts of digital devices, from 3D printing labs, animation boots, robotics… “A creative space for hands on learning for tinkering, hacking and making,” as Matt Richards (Centre Director) had described it. Matt’s humble beginnings in former company, EdTech and Innovation in St Columba School in New South Wales operated in a similar way of embracing the digital revolution. He paved the way for the ‘maker-space’ movement – a more practical approach via 'learning in doing and reflecting on learning'. This maker movement includes special labs and spaces set up around science, technology and maths. It encourages innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving. An exampl e of this process is reverse-engineering, teaching by deconstruction and re-construction of devices presented to them. They were commonly referred to as the ‘Tech Ninjas’ which facilitated a two way street of learning between facilitators (teachers), students and their peers, ultimately strengthening all interconnected relationships.

This is a key aspect of how Mind Lab operates. They call their particular environment 'SOLE – a self-organising learning environment'. It is encouraged that the children retrieve the answers on their own rather than providing them with the answers directly. This created a rewarding experience for both the teacher and the child. With the right attitude and approach adopted, there were never any ‘failures’ only ‘first attempts in learning F.A.I.L.’ Mind Lab recognises that only ‘real change’ can occur when educators themselves are advocating the need for this transformation of technology integration. Mind Lab being a multi-disciplinary learning facility also offers integrated workshops for both students and teachers which cover creative and scientific-driven technologies. A post graduate programme offers educators at all levels the opportunity to learn new classroom practices to assist in appreciating the value of implementing collaborative teaching and learning whilst staying relevant. With the rise of Wi-fi devices, fabrication labs, it is imperative that we collectively learn how to maximise digital tools, methodologies and other resources at hand. Murray Robertson, chair of the Wellington CEFPI group and leading principal architect of Stephenson & Turner for educational design, also contributed similar accounts of innovative work happening throughout Australasia, as exhibited in last year’s CEFPI NZ conference. He designs with a similar philosophy with spaces that centre on students with a variety of learning settings, breaking away from the traditional classroom model.

At a tertiary level, Jae Warrander of the award winning young architectural firm Makers of Architecture discussed how his architectural education and engagement with emerging technology has guided their firm into inventive ways of designing and manufacturing architecture. As a process-based design company, building systems are tested through 1:1 full scale prototyping. The use of BIM (building information modelling) minimises time and building costs by effectively rationalising the entire process. This has enabled efficiencies of resource use, which allows more time to be focused on the design as well as the construction phase of the build. The recent purchase of a CNC (computer numerical control) machine has allowed them to have maximum control over their design outputs whilst streamlining tedious hours of documentation standards. http://www.makersofarchi

The night’s theme centred on technology left everyone with a sense of discernment around the embedding of technology into applied practice. There were various attendees – architectural designers, educators, librarians, which lead to an insightful discussion on the active efforts to support this. It has been apparent that primary and intermediate schools have been more successful in advocating for flexible and personalised learning whilst high schools tend to lag, as they still conform to subject based learning due to the NCEA imposed curriculum. Although there is still a long way to go, it is re-assuring that groups such as CEFPI and Mind Lab exist to re-establish a contemporary framework of innovative learning environments. The event concluded on a high note; re-affirming the changing face of education with the benefits of technological integration towards progressive pedagogies.

“This shift affects the way we think in all disciplines, the way we think OF disciplines, the way disciplines interact… These new tools seem to me to be providing a palette of possibilities which will be available to every student not just to a few…“– Sir Ken Robinson

Marianne Calvelo & Ellen Hickman
(Stephenson and Turner Architects)