Starbucks, College, High School and Tech-Enabled Learning

Initially, I was thinking I might write about global digital citizenship, but I think I would prefer to share a few insights about two outstanding learning communities: one is a plugged in, collaborative post-secondary learning community, the other is continuously striving to build their plugged in collaborative learning community through innovation.

My day began as it often does these days, with me at Starbucks, grabbing a coffee and trying to figure out where my calendar, which has a life of it own, would take me today.  I have, as of late, really been fascinated by the Starbucks phenomenon.

What strikes me?

  • Starbucks is always busy – in fact, it is tough to find a table some evenings
  • It is always busy because there always seems to be people on devices doing work (both students and many professionals)
  • Starbucks, in many cases, is more a hub of learning for students – how you noticed how many kids are there doing homework on any given night? 

In may ways, Starbucks has become the public learning commonds of the 21st Century.

Visit to Humber College

Humber College, North Campus in Etobicoke was my destination for the day.  I was joining colleagues in a meeting where I would, hopefully, get a better grasp of OYAP – the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program.  The drive to Etobicoke was surprisingly uncomplicated, the search for a parking spot a little more circuitous.

As I walked from the parking lot to the main building, my spidey senses on full speed, I began to take note of my surroundings and of the people that breath live into this post-secondary destination.  There were students hopping on an off of public transit, others running from one building to another.  As I entered the building, there were people lined up (always line ups where ever you go), others lounging with their phones and earbuds, and still others sitting clustered in groups around books and laptops and ipads and in laps working on a variety of media and research and essay writing and…

Having gone to university, I didn’t have much experience with the college campus and I can tell you that in terms of portable technology, the best anyone could hope for was going for a run with your Sony “Walkman.”  In terms of computers, I can still remember the big clunky “Wargames” monitor (anyone remember THAT movie?) and the printers that spit out the perforated printer paper.

Two things struck me:

  1. For all intents and purposes, college, it was very much like a university campus.  
  2. Students were uber-plugged in but engaged in the business of learning.

In short, this post secondary destination was very much a plugged in, collaborative 21st Century learning community.

Fast forward to the meeting in the afternoon….

Meeting with a colleague and here team at one of the high schools in our board.  As I walked into the building, the hum of student activity was palpable, and the warm of the staff and admin readily apparent.  The walls adored with inspiring messages and student work.  Again, students engaged in the work of learning.

Purpose of the meeting? While this is a very tech-enabled school, wifi pervasive, BYOD school, the teachers and admin want to great an even more collaborative and plugged in learning environment for their students.

In essence, my colleague wanted to pick my brain around re-imagining her library space.  They wanted to make the space more of a learning commons and quite truthfully, my colleague is an enthusiastic and especially gifted administrator and really, she already had a lot of wonderful ideas for what she and her especially open teacher librarian wanted to do.  All I did was provide them with the sounding board and asked them a few questions that helped (I hope) to frame their thinking.

We talked about rearranging the furniture – feng shui-ing the space so to speak so that clear lines of sights could be created around areas that will eventually house collaborative work stations, soft spots for students to sit and use their own devices, etc.  The conversation eventually made it’s way to putting together an active learning classroom and again, it struck me, that they already had wonderful ideas in mind for what they wanted to do.

The meeting wrapped up with a brief tour of the new google sites (which is uber user friendly – I used “uber” twice in one blog – double points for me).  My colleague wanted to create an online platform/blog for her school community to replace the current newsletter which her secretary typically put together.  It was my colleague, her head secretary and I, talking about what you can do, how you can do and with me reassuring the secretary, that the extensive skill set she has acquired naturally as a part of her position and her work with Microsoft Office, made her more than capable of learning how to use google sites to achieve the goals they wanted to achieve in acquiring information and presenting it online for community consumption.

To summarize, I left them with the thought that learning can happen in a comfortable environment (after all, Starbucks is probably the fastest growing learning commons – more than the public library – that I know) and I helped to validate ideas that they already had themselves.

What struck me?

  • you don’t have to create something new – sometimes, what you want to create is already out there (Starbucks has inadvertently, by being as accommodating as they are with free WIFI, additional wall sockets and yummy treats, has encouraged a whole generation of students to take advantage of the coffee learning commons)
  • sometimes, all a person needs is a sounding board or someone who isn’t afraid to ask those naive, innocent questions challenging a tradition or room layout which makes them see or consider things from a different perspective.

Heading out to the car, I felt good, because they felt good about learning, about moving forward and about seeking out the help to prepare students for the future I described in the first part of this blog – a plugged in, collaborative learning community.

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