Session 87 - Are schools (as physical spaces) necessary to facilitate learning in the 21st century?

Session Summary:

The early stages of this week's chat were dominated by a debate around the merits of home-schooling and the need for social interaction. Reviewing the tweets, I'd argue that the majority of people involved favoured the latter suggesting that schools (as a physical space) are necessary to facilitate specific (mostly social) learning experiences; that may be diminished through home schooling. Online tools such as forums and video conferencing was subjected to criticism implying that as a form of interaction something gets lost.

The discussion evolved breaking out into a number of connected threads. There was some debate about what the purpose of school is, with a number of participants arguing the case that schools are about much more than knowledge. They contended that schools are about teaching skills as well as aiding social and emotional development. This was complemented with a discussion about the important role schools play for some students in providing a safe place, away from difficult home lives. There was briefly some reflection on the role that teachers play in this: 'In loco parentis' or glorified 'babysitter'?

As the discussion continued the attention moved back towards the initial question considering the school as a learning space. The need for a physical space was put under scrutiny with some participants promoting online learning citing 'iTunesU' and virtual environments as ways of delivering content/learning. This part of the discussion became more disjointed. Picking up some of the key threads, it was clear that a number of people want to see schools reinvigorated as public spaces within the community. Many of these tweets re-iterated the importance of social interaction. This evolved further into consideration of how learning spaces hinder/support learning. Another strand of the discussion focussed on the teacher, advocating the value of 'teaching'. It was debated as to whether online tools such as 'YouTube' and 'Wikipeadia' could replace teachers, with a the consensus being that this was not the case, however, these tools were seen as being valuable in enhancing learning inside and outside of the classroom. A third strand considered more alternative ideas, such as whether students should be grouped by age or not. It was becoming clear that thee were many varied opinions about what schools are for, what they should be like and how they should facilitate learning.

Having passed the half way point, the discussion made a leap to considering more idealistic and extreme notions about what a school might be. Echoing Keri Facer's vision for schools in her book: 'Learning Futures', a number of participants argued that schools needed to be better connected to their local communities. Others commented on the need to blend physical and virtual spaces to suit varying learning needs. It was argued that learning at primary school was more open/curious, whereas at secondary, it is more restricted. This more open discussion continued with questions being raised over the timing of the school day; consideration of whether students should be involved in designing their own learning; and how a school is to be defined.

The last fifteen minutes focussed on what people would like to see change to improve the way schools facilitated learning. The following ideas were shared:

  • Schools to be community/communal spaces
  • To adopt cross-curricular/cross-year learning opportunities
  • Specialist rooms
  • Blended between physical and virtue spaces
  • Libraries to be at heart of learning space
  • Bigger rooms/more dynamic spaces
  • Some mention of mobile devices: phones / tablets
  • Smaller class sizes
  • More teachers/people to support learners
  • Considered integration of technology

There was certainly not a consensus but I believe that there was a strong case made in favour of schools (as physical spaces) still being valid in the 21st century. I think the ideas listed above describing what schools could/should become deserves further consideration and would make an excellent, future #ukedchat topic."


@learningjay: schools are necessary for social learning but should transcend 9-5 mon-fri more cloud learning for kids plus community use

@Badgerove: Though I don't hold that the physical space actually needs to be a 'school'. Can be anywhere

@mrpeel: I wonder if we need 5 days a week in school after a certain age - embrace online fora possibly

@RavenEllison: a school of fish, like a school of thought, is not called a school because of walls.

@carolinebreyley: Such a waste of valuable resource when schools empty for so much of time and community could use, would love to see more joint use

@Ideas_Factory: In the future we will see the end of classrooms & have the whole school inc grounds as a class space-learn everywhere/anywhere.

@CarpenterMat: Are we not all over rating ourselves at sole givers of education? Kids learn shed loads with out any interaction with a teacher.

@jamesmichie: @PatParslow I would like to see communities of learning inc. libraries, open spaces, community centre etc...

@Spencerayres: @jamesmichie This is very true-play, experimentation, failure, curiosity - all amazing ways to learn, but almost banned at 2ndry!

@Jon_Torbitt: @jamesmichie no age groups, muli-teacher cross-subject groups in rooms with lots of space and move to cafe culture & maturity

@piersyoung: School elevator pitch: Schools should be co-constructed by students, teachers and parents, tailored locally with a global outlook

@Jon_Torbitt: 21st century education needs a complete reboot, open teaching where it's transparent and can opt in/out of class collegiate style


@tmeeky: My 8 yr old is sitting in... she says friends are important in the learning environment  .. social learning is important

@kvnmcl: Schools may be with us for some time to come, but limitations in their physical space are being eroded by online space

@mberry: @jamesmichie learner & teacher autonomy, collaboration and community, creativity and curiosity, challenge, purpose. Less testing


@jamesmichie: Provocation:

@nick_chater: In response to the question: are schools (as physical spaces) necessary to facilitate learning? #ukedchat -

@mberry: Her's what that great educationalist M. Gove and visionary futurist had to say about schooling:

@dcbphd: Our research on learningspaces finds active learning classrooms have a positive & significant impact on student learning:

@jamesmichie: Learning should be comfortable: What I did with my Year 8s yesterday:                 


James Michie is Leader for Media Studies and Key Stage 4 English at The Chalfonts Community College, located in Buckinghamshire, England. He has been teaching for nine years and is currently studying towards a Masters in Education. He writes a personal weblog ( about Education, Technology and Productivity and is an active member of the educational Twitter community.

ukedchat Archive 1 March 2012

Archive Session 87

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