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Steve Wheeler

Steve Wheeler is a Learning Innovations Consultant and former Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at the Plymouth Institute of Education where he chaired the Learning Futures group and led the Computing and science education teams. He continues to research into technology supported learning and distance education, with particular emphasis on the pedagogy underlying the use of social media and Web 2.0 technologies, and also has research interests in mobile learning and cybercultures. He has given keynotes to audiences in more than 35 countries and is author of more than 150 scholarly articles, with over 6000 academic citations. An active and prolific edublogger, his blog Learning with ‘e’s is a regular online commentary on the social and cultural impact of disruptive technologies, and the application of digital media in education, learning and development. In the last few years it has attracted in excess of seven million unique visitors.

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Publications by Steve Wheeler

Learning with ‘e’s

In an age where young people seem to have a…

Don’t Change the Light Bulbs

Curated by Rachel Jones, Don’t Change the Light Bulbs offers…

Author Blog

Space exploration

October 15 2017

Image from University of Northampton
A death was announced today in the Times. The newspaper covered the 'demise' of the university lecture theatre. The news created a small stir on social media, with several educators opining about what they thought of lecture theatres, their place in universities, the role of technology, and teaching and learning in general.

It seems that the subject of the article, the University of Northampton (one of the newest universities in the UK) has decided to do away with their traditional raked lecture theatres, and replace them with more open, flat, flexible spaces where teaching can be conducted. The picture above (an artists impression) depicts a lectern and a wall of screens at one end of a carpeted room, with chairs and tables dotted around, cabaret style. Some of the students are using laptops or other connected devices, whilst others are listening as a lecturer holds forth at the front. Above are steps and a raised area, presumably a thoroughfare.  It all looks very bright, modern and colourful.

Only trouble is, the illustration holds on to the concept of teaching from the front. It perpetuates the idea that the teacher (lecturer) is at the front of the room, and all attention is there, because that is where the knowledge, and therefore the learning is located. We teach in the same way we ourselves were taught, it is said. It is very difficult to break out from this kind of legacy model, but as sure as Christmas starting in the shops on the first day of November, that is exactly what most teachers do.

While I applaud Northampton's moves to try to change the model and improve spaces for students, I have to ask - are they doing it for the right motives? The Vice Chancellor is quoted as saying that sitting in a hall 'being spouted at does not offer value for money.' Yes, students are paying high tuition fees, and yes they expect more for the more they are paying, but why don't universities make the changes anyway, regardless? It should behove every university to continue to make changes to improve pedagogy. Money, or league tables, or National Student Surveys - none of these should be drivers for improvement.

I also notice that in the illustration at least, there seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding about learning today. Several educators on Twitter this morning underlined the problems: Where are the repeater screens for those facing the wrong way? Why don't the chairs have wheels for more flexibility? Why is there still a lectern? And ultimately, where are the power sockets that provide the juice that keeps the laptops going when batteries are low? These are perennial problems in any large space where student gather, so designing new spaces is surely a wonderful opportunity to address these problems? And perhaps it's simply the journalist's lack of knowledge about university life, but could we call them 'learning spaces' instead of 'cafe style teaching areas' please?

All that said, I still applaud Northampton for making the step toward better learning spaces. I suspect that not many other universities will follow suit, but for those that do, let's remember that it's the student that should always be placed at the centre of the learning process, and that we should design our spaces accordingly. I'm not so sure about their decision to replace lecturer studies with open planned office space though. It's been tried several times before and it never works. And I suspect the announcement of the death of the traditional lecture theatre is somewhat premature.

Creative Commons License
Space exploration by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's

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Like to be connected?

October 09 2017

LiketoBe working in partnership with Plymouth School of the Creative Arts
What would happen if someone created a digital platform that schools could use to connect with businesses, experts and industry? Imagine what it would be like if children could talk directly via a video link or webinar to a famous author, musician, astronaut, or polar explorer? How might this inspire them to pursue a similar career when they left school? The same might apply to a train driver, a doctor, a chef or an engineer, I'm guessing.

Think what might happen if the children in your class could speak to these people direct, ask them the questions they always wanted to ask, and find out exactly what it would be like working in that kind of environment. Through a platform like that, schools could organise a different themed online event every month, or a series of assemblies in which professionals and experts could 'come into the school' on a big screen and speak to the children about their passion or their career.

Teachers could select a profession from an easy-to-use visually rich menu on the front page of the platform and find people who were willing to share a lesson plan, resources and activities related to their talk. The discussion could continue for a long time afterwards, perhaps developing into a group project, or some entrepreneurial activities for real-world, authentic learning.

And the best part - it would be totally free for the school. Those who funded such activities would be the businesses and companies, because their reward would be to have access to an entire classroom of interested children who might one day want to be a part of their organisation. As a teacher, would you be interested? Would your school want to be a part of it?

Well, the platform has already been created and we just raised £195,000 in investment to help us make it happen. The platform is called LiketoBe and it's recruiting schools and teachers to test it out from around the globe. Here's our Facebook page with all the latest news. I'm personally heading up the research and development of the platform, and I want to hear from schools who are willing to try it out, and tell me what I need to do to improve it. You can try out a digital careers fair, or form connections with similar schools on the other side of the world.

So - would you like to be involved? The success of LiketoBe will depend upon the interest of the education community - please help us inspire a generation of children by taking part. My school liaison team will send you details on how to participate. Simply contact me on this email address if you would like to be a part of this exciting new project!

Creative Commons License
Like to be connected? by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's

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