Are our classrooms really obsolete?

I started the readings for this week with the article The Classroom is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New. The article argues that “the classroom has been obsolete for several decades. That’s not just my opinion. It’s established science.” I find it really hard to take an article seriously that makes such an extreme position in the opening paragraph. Is classroom instruction perfect? Of course not! Can we improve our instruction? Yes, and doing so is imperative. Is a classroom alone an adequate environment for all learning to best occur? No. But is it really truly obsolete? Has it really been obsolete since before I was born? I hope not, because if so I feel like I better start finding a new career now. I think that what occurs in my classroom is certainly NOT obsolete. Or am I a some relic of the past that just can’t bring myself to admit defeat?

The article argues for a different school set-up, basically one where learning can occur more organically and across disciplines. Not a bad idea at all, once I get past that opening paragraph. Once you get further into the article you discover that you can even still have a classroom-like space; you just have to call it a “learning suite”! Most of the key principles listed in the article as being essential for a school of tomorrow are things that I already see daily in my school, despite it being cursed with classrooms. Student-centered? Yes. Safe and secure? Yes. High expectations? Yes. And the list goes on.

After having read this article about the need for a more open school design, I also read the articles about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

In theory a MOOC is a great idea because a student can progress through the course at his or her own speed, and can investigate his/her own questions through online research or interactions online with others in the course.

My question is this: If classrooms are “obsolete” because they “are based on the erroneous assumption that efficient delivery of content is the same as effective learning,” as stated in the EdWeek article, then does a MOOC which is designed to effectively deliver content to hundreds or thousands of people offer any great of a solution? Of course in a MOOC, a student can do additional research, interact with peers, and push him or herself to learn more about what aspects of a course seem most relevant to that student. But should our students be encouraged to do the same in our physical classes?

Of course, MOOCS offer other benefits as well— I could register for a MOOC that presents information that I currently do not have a way of learning in another way. My students could take a MOOC to learn something else in any given subject as well.

However, at the end of the day a class has to be interesting to a student, has to be relevant, and has to be student-centered to work well. This can be done online (although I really do think that a MOOC with thousands of people in it would be extremely difficult to create in a genuinely student-centered way). This can be done in a non-traditionally designed school with open spaces and “learning suites,” and this can even be done in a physical classroom with real living students, a real living teacher, and technology to help us in pursuing our interests and answering our questions.

For now, I’m going to hold off on calling my classroom obsolete. I am not renaming it a “learning suite,” and I’m also not yet ready to believe that a MOOC can offer the same level of personalized instruction and interactive quality that I strive for in my classes.

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