From campfire to holodeck

Educational futurist David Thornburg calls for redesigning classrooms in his new book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck. Learning environments should provide Campfire spaces (one person lectures), Watering Holes (classmates converse), Caves (for quiet reflection) and Life (places where students apply what they’ve learned).

Thornburg created an “educational holodeck,” inspired by Star Trek’s simulation space, he tells The Atlantic.

. . . we’ve taken a good-sized room and covered the surfaces, no external light coming in, and in the front of the room put a large projection screen. . . .  On the side of the room, there was an interactive whiteboard and around the periphery, personal computers. Kids come into the room to go on a mission.

One that we did was a mission to Mars, to let kids explore whether Mars has or had, life. There are challenges when you’re taking off in a spaceship, and they have to solve problems. It’s very interesting, because it’s an immensely interactive environment, and after a little while they almost feel like they’re there.

A year after their holodeck mission, students knew “much more” about Mars than they had at mission’s end, says Thornburg. “They were so interested in it that they continued to study the topic on their own.”

In a painting of a classroom from 1350, “students are talking to each other or falling asleep while the teacher drones on,” Thornburg says. (But none are checking their smart phones!) Why do teachers still lecture?

Henry of Germany delivers a lecture to university students in 14th-century Bologna

Teachers often use technology to do the same old things, Thornburg says. Interactive whiteboards often are used “to replicate the full-frontal model of teaching by having a big board in front of the room that the teacher uses.”

E-books have advantages, but they also let people say, “Well, to change my teaching, I’m using new technology. For example, our kids have e-textbooks.”

You’re still doing the same old thing. Maybe we should be doing other things with these tablets and other technologies. You can create your own movies, write programs and applications, things like that. That’s taking new tools and using them in powerful new ways.

Good classroom design makes sense. But every teacher can’t be holodeck designer, writer, movie maker and programmer . . . It’s too much.

Ann Althouse thinks flipping the classroom is for teachers who think their students can’t or won’t read.

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  1. Of course, the students in the T zone are all paying attention, at least in the first two rows.

  2. Why do teachers still lecture? Simple economics. The income from the students, or somewhere else, has to cover the expense of the teacher. Where there’s enough money you have the one-student-per-teacher classroom, i.e. a tutor. Most students however can’t afford that arrangement so a teacher’s time-shared.

  3. Well, how about it. I have bought a book about the physics of racing, watched videos explaining the concepts, all because of, wait for it, a lecture I heard explaining the physics of racing. Yep, an old fashioned lecture. Amazing. I guess I’ll just flip.