Informal thoughts on informal learning blog post:
For thoughts on informal learning, I decided to explore a recent hobby horse of mine, namely interactive hallways. I started thinking of them as spaces to find playful “writing on the wall.” What do we do when we have a concept and want an image to accompany it? We “google image” it, of course. And so I did, and came up with the picture you see here, cryptically referred to as “Primary school with wall writing and map.”
In this photograph, you see a primary school hallway covered in a map of India and writing in what seems to be Hindi. This appears to be permanent writing on the walls, presumably an attempt to provide permanence of information, perhaps to emphasize rote learning, perhaps in response to lack of paper. The writing does seem more purposeful than graffiti, and designed by instructors for learners. However, what would it be like for students to do the writing on the wall?
In my last teaching post, I let the students write on the wall. Because of a unique situation in which one of my walls was “temporary” and was to be torn down in 2 years, I received permission to use it as a creative space for students and paint/repaint it throughout the school year. In the first instantiation of the writing on the wall project, I had all 10th grade students (160-ish) contribute to the painting.
culminating activity of a project that involved a number of writing activities, they then placed a visual representation of something from their writings as an ‘offering’ to our wall. This project was a great example of controlled chaos, and I learned from the experience that not all wall art was equal. It was a wonderful experience for students to participate in, but the resulting product was much more like grafitti.
We left that wall up for a couple of months, and then took the bold plunge to cover it and start again with a new project.
This time, I selected artistic volunteers to be in charge of the design and creation of the new wall art, with me providing the thematic structure, as before. The result was a much more aesthetically pleasing product, but one for which only a handful of students were able to claim ownership. This wall stayed in tact until the end of the school year, because we didn’t have the heart to paint over it again, even though that had been my intent all along.
So, I tell this story to explore the notion of “permanence” versus “changeability” as something that could inform informal learning. If we get “attached” to something informal, we may formalize it and destroy the very thing that made the informal event work.
But what does this have to do with interactive hallways? Well, it’s been a bit of a rabbit chase, I confess, but to return to the topic at hand, I think we can capture, and semi-formalize informal learning in hallway spaces in schools. Here is an example of a school in Atlanta that is moving in this direction: http://www.examiner.com/elementary-education-in-atlanta/interactive-learning-georgia-schools
I would love to see “structured” informal learning moments captured for participants to then reflect on how these seemingly informal learning spaces have or have not worked. The Atlanta school example cited above provides some examples that fit with the museum experience described in Rossett and Hoffman (2007), especially concerning the attraction for authentic objects (p. 169). I like the museum example as one that explains how something seemingly unstructured can have very structured design and well thought out origins.
Imagine a hallway with museum-like exhibits, or better yet, a hallway in which the students create these exhibits through daily interactions with whiteboards or canvases or other spaces that they can add their mark to. Then, at the end of a specified period, the creation is captured and saved, then wiped clean to start anew.
Aside on play: Informal learning & play are key components missing from the standardize-stymied NCLB regime. Various research and community organizations are lobbying for a resurgence of the old school notion of mandator recess. For more information, follow the No Child Left INSIDE movement.
Rossett, A., Hoffman, B. (2007). “Informal learning.” Trends and issues in instructional design and technology. NJ: Pearson. p. 166-172.