Sunday, 15 November 2009

Inspirational learning environments

During the 8th AEC-NET conference in Denmark, I had the chance to visit Alssundgymnasiet in Sonderborg. It's a senior secondary school like ours, with about the same number of students (400). But what a difference in the design!
I won't go into the details of the wonderful building, since it would just make me and many others green with envy. Suffice to say that entering the building was close to getting into paradise, complete with its own snake, too!

Something else about the school impressed me even more than the creative achitecture. The school was a totally wireless campus, and everywhere we could see students working on laptops - their own that they bring to school every day, I was told when I asked them.

How can they afford this? Surely this can't be a requirement for all students! I learned that students don't have to buy their own course books, but can get them from the school library instead. Books are a major cost for high school students in Finland, whose families have to fork out hundreds of euros every 6-7 weeks. In a year, that money would easily be enough for a laptop or two, not to mention the positive effect of recycling books on the environment! Publishers in Finland would no doubt go up in arms if this was proposed. I also doubt whether our local authorities could afford to supply schools with the books. The Danish students also said that for students who don't own a laptop of their own, the school has got some to lend out. However, no student is forced to use a laptop, and some students still prefer the old pencil and notebook learning.

I wish I could see something like this in the hallways of my school. No wonder there is concern that Finland is falling behind in the application of ICT at schools. In my school, for example, the accepted wisdom is that wireless Internet would be impractical and too complicated to install and maintain. How does it work in Denmark then?

We were taken to observe a class where students presented their research on their ecological footprints in English and with the help of computer graphs and illustrations. Excellent!

We don't need a new school building to adopt similar 21st-century classroom practices. What we do need, though, is the wireless internet and the laptops. I wonder how long we will have to wait for them in today's economic atmosphere! To make the rest of us feel better, the Danish colleagues explained that their school was well ahead many others in their country, and that by no means all schools were as well equipped and advanced in the use of technology.

Even so, I dream on.


Hanna said...

This is something I would very much like to see in our University of Applied Sciences as well! We are still having trouble getting a proper WLAN up and running in our school. Well, there is a connection, but the hassle you have to go through to access the network is just too much. It's also unreliable.

A few years ago I visited a technical university in Bucharest, Romania. It was before Romania had even joined EU yet. You might already have guessed that they had a fully functional WLAN at the campus. And we thought we were somehow advanced in using technology in education! *Sigh*

sinikka said...

Hi Hanna,
Thank you for your comment! I have had similar experiences as you abroad - suddenly realizing that Finland has got stuck in a superior attitude, which actually has nothing to do with reality any more. I, too, have seen schools in Malaysia, for example, which are far ahead of ours as for net accessibility and tachnology in general. Most Finns wouldn't believe me, though! Not to mention South Korea, where they are even more advanced. *Sigh* indeed!