From open-space classrooms to open university

At the beginning of my career in 1970 I was lucky enough to teach in one of the first “open-space classrooms” in my city. Many years later, enrolling as a student in a Massive Open Online Course has opened up many new pathways in my thinking about the Place of Music in 21st Century Education and open learning in general. I’m now a student in the latest “open-space classroom” having been given open access for free (if I don’t want a certificate.) I’m already wondering how many people on this planet of what ages have access to music education. How open is music education globally? This week’s provocation is to respond to a reading or several readings by writing a few hundred words.  The two readings I have chosen are not, as it turns out, research papers but TED talks on video. I didn’t know that when I clicked on them to start “reading”, I simply chose them from their titles- information given to me by being able to read a chunk of typed text.

So I’d like to start by stating that I’m going to use the term “text” to cover these rich audio-visual media chunks of information called TED talks. They come with optional transcripts, translations and  sub-titles so they are multi-modal ‘audio-visual-textual works’.  And I must add they they are very enjoyable because you get to see and hear the people who had the ideas up for consideration, among many other things.

Postmodernist thinking has freed up the use of the term text in educational circles leading us to think about multiliteracies.  The current Australian framework for early years Belonging, Being and Becoming gives us this glossary item: “Texts: things that we read, view and listen to and that we create in order to share meaning. Texts can be print-based, such as books, magazines and posters or screen-based, for example internet sites and DVDs. Many texts are multimodal, integrating images, written words and/or sound.” p38.

So in these two texts, whose ideas were conveyed and what were the texts  about?  The first  idea comes from a Japanese architect, the second form an American academic. They are both about ways to open up education, the first by opening up spaces to free up learning and second to open up places in courses offered globally for free.  Cost-free, freedom and education are all on the same page for examination.

The first text I chose was about a kindergarten consisting of one super-sized open classroom or learning area, built in a circular shape with no boundary between inside and outside and featuring a magnificent rooftop running track and playground. The TED Talker is architect Takaharu Tezuka. The talk was filmed at a TEDx event in Kyoto in September 2014.

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The text made me think about my own practice inside classrooms, community centres, child care rooms (e.g. The Toddler Room, The Pre-kindy Room) my home-based music studio and about how the free-roaming nature of the child has been constrained in many of these spaces.  I often have the role of “visiting music teacher” so children are gathered up, interrupted in their play and seated in front of “the chair” and from that point on for the next 30-40 minutes I direct their thinking and doing albeit with as much skill as I can to involve them in physical, embodied, sociable, interactive, improvisatory activities (and relaxations).  But what I do is not ideal – the ideal would be spontaneously arising song and musical exploration. So my challenge as a visiting expert is to seed some ideas, present some songs and somehow ensure that when I leave, the educators who are there every day at all times of the day, can find the musical moment and extend it.

Architecture was also seen as an important and overt part of the curriculum in the Northern Beaches Christian School designed to be a beautiful modern hi-tech work environment such as that enjoyed by a well-paid white collar employee. Once again, architecture was sees as critical in the education offered at the Kamaroi Rudolph Steiner School offering peaceful and beautiful surrounding with colours chosen for each age-cohort.  As a self-taught architect, Rudolph Steiner himself produced significant buildings that materialised his spiritual beliefs.

The second text, surprisingly, was about this course in the sense that it belongs in the Coursera stable of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The speaker describes the inception of such courses as a meeting of two idea streams,”what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary” – a thought attributed to Tom Friedman writing in the New York Times that same year. The TED Talker is Daphne Koller, academic at Stanford University who co-founded Coursera with Andrew Ng.  The talk was filmed in June 2012 at TED Global.

“Desperately necessary” in this case, is a demand for access to higher learning by millions of people around the globe who can’t go to university for one reason or another.  “Suddenly possible” is Coursera – a solution to this demand that scales up the possibility of delivering “the best courses from the best instructors at the best universities and provided to everyone around the world for free”.

Daphne Koller concludes her inspirational talk by summarising the three major benefits of this kind of innovation that would: establish education as a fundamental human right; enable lifelong learning; and enable a wave of innovation. Although all three are dear to me it is the third benefit  that can directly and almost immediately have relevance in my practice as an educator as it’s all about finding out new and subtle things about how people learn by analysing the massive amount of data collected. I see this as the new frontier – data mining.

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Australia. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. & Council of Australian Governments.  2009,  Belonging, being & becoming [electronic resource] : the early years learning framework for Australia  Dept. of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for the Council of Australian Governments Canberra, A.C.T

Koller, D. (2012). What we’re learning from online education. [Website.] Retrieved from 24th Jan, 2016.

Tezuka, T. (2014). The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen. [Website.] Retrieved from 24th Jan, 2016