Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Advice for designing the school of the future

I recently posted on a closed forum to a question someone asked about designing a school of the future. The following was my reply:

When it comes to designing the school of the future, my encouragement would be to rethink school as well as technology use. I have been using a lens of thinking about technology uses as a funnel, measuring stick and amplifier to be helpful in differentiating the ways technology is, can and should be used for learning. Most schools seem stuck in the funnel and measuring stick mode, and aren’t venturing forth into the amplifier potential much.

I think the school of the future should be centered around the library, and include not only great places to read but also inviting places to collaborate and work together, sort of like a Starbucks atmosphere. I think the library should have a design and performance studio, which would permit students to craft high quality media products for the global stage: the web. I think an educational learning portal should serve as a primary learning centerpiece. One of the big things we need to do as school 2.0 educators is redefine our identities as teachers: It’s ridiculous for us to attempt to be experts on all the content subjects we teach. We really need to embrace the model of facilitating project-based learning, so the physical structures of school should support that pedagogical framework.

It’s relatively easy to think about designing a high-tech, traditional educational environment with data ports, smartboards, lecture halls and other resources geared toward mass-delivery of instruction. Auditoriums can still be important, but that shouldn’t be the primary format for most classes. I’d encourage you to think outside the box and really design a learning environment that is learner centered, rather than teacher-directed.

There are good conversations going on at the School 2.0 Ning social network that Steve Hargadon put together. I don’t have all the answers to this by any means, but I think many of the ideas being put forward on the subject of “school 2.0” could be very informative for you as you move forward with your design process. The Constructivist Consortium is hosting a 1 day event prior to NECC that will focus on many of the learning philosophies folks are discussing related to school 2.0 that also might be helpful to you.


The April 2007 issue of EduTopia has a great article titled “My School, Meet MySpace” about the Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy and their efforts to make an inquiry-based, technology-rich and relevant learning experience a reality for high school students.

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12 responses to “Advice for designing the school of the future”

  1. Frank Avatar

    I agree. Technology is an important tool in education. The children of this new generation needs to adapt from our technology. New technology simply means new lessons regarding the technology.

  2. Wm Chamberlain Avatar

    Sounds great, but how do we get the students to the point where they can take advantage of it? I can see your model work well with high school and perhaps middle school students. What do you suggest for the k-2? How about the 3-5?

    As a fifth grade teacher, I struggle with the necessity of teaching “the basics” while pushing my students to discover the exciting opportunity technology gives them.

    No one would be dumb enough to say that we should not teach the young students how to read, do math, create art and music, etc. Very few would be dumb enough to say we don’t need to teach older students the benefits of web 2.0. Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone smart enough to explain to me where the convergence of the two takes place.

  3. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Frank: I think we need to be wary of the idea of just adding technology to traditional lessons. As Marco Torres says effectively, we’ve been asking kids to read pages 1-20 and answer questions 1-10 for years with chalkboards, overhead projectors, PowerPoints and now podcasts. We need to ask different questions and rethink learning tasks as well as content in designing school 2.0.

    William, I think your question about elementary age students is a good one. I am personally a fan of self-contained classrooms for elementary schools, with a project-based learning approach. I think a library with a media-producation focus is an essential for elementary schools as well as secondary schools.

    You say “no one would be dumb enough” to suggest we shouldn’t teach kids how to create art and music, but sadly that is EXACTLY what has happened in many of our schools with ridiculously high levels of focus on testing. Art and music is considered “fluff” and “unnecessary” by some school administrators who are feeling the pressure of getting standardized test scores up. So, we shouldn’t take it for granted that everyone sees the importance and need for opportunities for learners to express themselves via the arts at school.

    The “convergence,” as you put it, between traditional 3 R’s and social media comes in with project-based learning, inquiry-based approaches to education, and constructivist / constructionist learning tasks. Those types of learning environments ARE more complex but also more potentially engaging than traditional, teacher-directed learning contexts. It’s much easier to lecture and “tell” students information, much more difficult to invite them to explore, question, and authentically express themselves on a differentiated learning journey. That more challenging path is the one I think we need to follow, however.

  4. Bob Avatar

    I’m a teacher. Let me try a different approach for school 2.0. Creativity requires content and processes to change and extend.

    Why not directly tell students answers to questions someone thinks are important for students to know? Tell them the answers to achievement tests, spelling tests, math tests, so they can recite these answers when they come across their questions.

    Yes, have students memorize and test them to make sure they can repeat the process, poem, times tables, etc. Spend about 20 minutes a day on several of selected processes or content, such as the codes for standard English reading code, math, science, etc. Protocols and materials have existed for this pattern for several decades.

    Use software programs on mobile PCs assigned to each student the way they now use textbooks.

    Spend the rest of the day using these skills to meet criteria for successful generalization of these principles.

    Interestingly, such processes, minus the Tablet and UMPC have been used successfully throughout civilization. What’s so different now?

    The largest empirical education research project conducted in the U.S. showed these steps worked better than other school instruction-learning processes, whether based on traditional teacher talk, project based, discovery learning, free learning, etc.

    All teachers know these facts.

    Why are we trying to experiment with students who need to know more and faster or be left further behind in a global economy?

    Are teachers using political philosophies as substitutes for learning theories?

  5. Mrs. Durff Avatar

    I love your vision of the future schools with libraries as the hub of web-based research. But how will we sell this vision to those who must pay for it – parents, schoolboards, & the government? That is the hurdle we must overcome. Perhaps a renewed emphasis on homeschooling with school libraries for projects one day per week. Perhaps schools scheduling classes four days and projects on the fifth day? Maybe that is a place to start.

  6. Geri Avatar

    You are right about that. It’s time to move on with the right tools. Those old tools are great, but we can’t sacrifice our knowledge which we can get from new technology just to remember and preserve the old school.

  7. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I do think we need to bring homeschoolers together in community learning centers, and invite learners on different paths to work together. At a basic level in public schools, we need to stop paying students and teachers for seat time. That is rudimentary, but it is the way all our public schools (that I know of) are funded: How long do you sit in the seat in the classroom? That is a ridiculous model of funding schools which does not provide much incentive for excellence. If a school is being paid X amount today to provide for the education of its students, then I think it should be paid that amount irregardless of whether students attend 180 days or not. Incentives need to be present to encourage change. I’m not a supporter of vouchers, in large part because I think our special needs students and students who are already behind in terms of measured academic achievement wouldn’t be served well by a voucher system. I am aware of the overwhelming resistance our present school culture has to change of ANY type, however, and I wonder if it will take something radically challenging like a voucher proposal to get many public schools to change their ways.

    In terms of “selling” school 2.0, I think our students themselves have great power to do that. I encouraged attendees at the conference in Holland, Michigan last Friday to replace a test focus with an emphasis on student voices. Through digital storytelling projects in particular, I think our students can share their ideas and voices in powerful ways that will get the attention of their parents and community leaders. We can’t wait on the larger body of the teaching cadre, or the professor ranks in colleges of education, to change the system. Those folks are entrenched in the status quo and are not supportive of the type of radical change we need. I think we need to engage business leaders but find ways to help them see beyond their own limited school experiences, to understand how students must be provided with opportunities to obtain collaboration, communication, and global/digital literacy skills on a regular basis in schools. Traditional school models don’t and can’t provide for those needs.

  8. John Hendron Avatar

    What concerns me with the move towards “more technology” is the “less human” ways we can approach our task. I think in a vision of school 2.0, where students have access to technologies, we could use more teachers… working in tandem… to facilitate more project-based approaches, interdisciplinary study, and the human component that sometimes disappears when technology overwhelms.

    More teachers= more $$. A colleague of mine told me about the schools she visited in Ghana, where there are 2 teachers per classroom. I think we can’t forget that injecting more professionals into the equation who care for our students… might just help realize a vision of where schools can go.

    We are seeing a little bit of that here in Virginia with our ITRTs (instructional technology resource teachers) who are partially state-funded to work with teachers. Yes, it’s “strapping” on some technology, but I think it is a move in the right direction.

  9. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    You’re right about the importance the human connection, John. That’s why amidst our conversations about school 2.0 we need to remember how important relationships are to learning. I’m reminded of a recent trip I took with my family to Sea World in San Antonio. The orca whales weren’t cooperating and doing what they were supposed to in the “show.” The announcer who came out related how trainers have to work with an orca sometimes up to FIVE YEARS before they are ever allowed to “perform” and be in the show.

    This reminded me of how important relationship building is for learning. That is why especially at elementary levels, we see teachers sometimes “loop” up with their kids, so they have the same group of students two years in a row. When you have a strong, positive relationship with a student, the “places you can go” with learning are much more diverse and robust.

    Roger Shank talked about teachers changing their identities at the SITE conference in March from “content expert” to “facilitators and cheerleaders” of learning. I 100% agree with your point that we can’t make the mistake of thinking that technology can entirely replace the human element. True, you can learn a great deal on your own online, but you can learn so much more when you are being mentored and guided through a process of learning (especially a collaborative/project-based one focused on developing inquiry skills) by a master teacher / learning artist.

    Maybe we need to change the official title of teachers to “learning artists?”

  10. David Truss Avatar

    My daughter’s school is going through seismic upgrading. 2 years of noise and upheaval… 1/2 the school sealed off, with the kids in portables, then a year later the other half goes to the portables and the kids in the potables move to the newly revamped wing. They are practically taking the roof off, half a building at a time.
    After a PAC meeting I asked the principal what technological improvements were going to be made to the school…
    Not going wireless (apparently too expensive!?!?)
    Not even extra electrical outlets in the rooms!
    Certainly not a consideration to redesign a library built to store walls of encyclopedias.

    I agree with you, “One of the big things we need to do as school 2.0 educators is redefine our identities as teachers” however, as you say, “the physical structures of school should support that pedagogical framework.”

    As someone who is struggling with the availability of technological resources, I can say that the framework really should come first!

    A question to you Wesley, what can we do as teachers, as members of society who have seen the outside of Plato’s education cave.. who know that there is more to life than shadows on our school hall walls… what can we do to tear down those walls and build schools that are designed for school2.0 rather than school1890?

  11. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    David, I think one of the most powerful things we can do is help our students constructively and persuasively share their VOICES via digital storytelling. I think there really is something to that verse about “the children will lead us.” I’m increasingly convinced that the power to change school does not lie with teachers or administrators. I think the power lies with and in our children. When we invite them to tell our stories, and then help them safely tell those stories on a global stage, people notice. People will notice. Tim Tyson told me in July of 2005 that one of the most powerful things he’d ever done as a middle school principal was introduce a digital storytelling contest. We have to put the technologies in the hands of the kids to unleash the potential. So my encouragement to you would be to find ways to help your own kids and the kids you work with tell and safely publish digital stories. As Paul Reynolds of Fablevision said in a FETC 2006 podcast, we’re part of a 200 year long project called “education reform.” I know as a parent I don’t want to wait that long, and we’re not– my wife and I are doing all we can to help educate our kids (who are still in public schools) in the literacies of the 21st century. It appears the process of change we are in will be long and drawn out. That said, however, I am not sure the synergy of the communities we’re building out here in the edublogosphere has yet to be felt by most of mainstream education. That day is approaching, however, as we continue to add more voices to our conversations.

  12. Brian Kuhn Avatar
    Brian Kuhn

    This is a great conversation. I dropped in here due to an email from David who wrote about the renovation at his daughter’s school. I agree wholeheartedly with Wesley’s school 2.0 description and David’s concerns. The culture in bricks and mortor schools and districts takes a long time to shift… The challenge not specifically highlighted in David’s comments though is the how government and / or local district funding rules work. For a seismic project, we are very limited in what else we can “add on” to the overall scope of work. And, there are no other pots off money to draw from to “do the right thing” with the renovation. It’s unfortunate but our reality…

    That said, our vision for schools would encompass the school 2.0 idea. With time, the vision can be realized.