Defining a New Learning Environment

 

By Aline Garcia-Rubio ’93, Head of Upper School

Change in education is oftentimes described as moving at a glacial speed. It is difficult to make quick progress within an institution and within larger systems. Whenever there is a disruption, we find ourselves in a situation that may catalyze change. This is an era of disruption. There are some silver linings and benefits from the situation.

The situation requires us to examine the intentions of our courses and education environments—what are the most essential learning goals in the life of school? What skills are students developing? What content knowledge do they need to acquire, and what conceptual understanding are they going to carry forward? What about all the social interactions, the character building, their emotional growth, their awareness of others, their agency toward justice? Suddenly, we’re in a situation where we are forced to really identify the essentials, to articulate them, and then redesign our plans with them in mind.

This is perfectly aligned with the plans that we’ve been working on: making teaching visible to the student and learning visible to the teacher; and emphasizing experiential learning. The situation has propelled us into giving students more choice. While aiming for the same learning goals, we have to ask: Where is there room for students to choose how they want to approach the task?

In working from home, students are learning all kinds of things. They’re using 3-D printers to make face shields; in the absence of co-curricular activities they are taking online courses from colleges and independent organizations; they’re making all sorts of art. At the moment, Catlin Gabel doesn’t award credit for the learning that doesn't happen in our education environments. That has become an outdated way of thinking. I believe we're going to examine our practice and define what to award credit for that students are learning independently. It’s independent of Catlin Gabel education, but it's still education.

There are significant losses, too. The primary losses are in the social and extracurricular components of school life, in the exposure to the larger learning that the community is doing—the spontaneous interactions, music and other art, the interesting dialogues that happen in the hallways, clubs, athletics, and programs that are unavailable to us. This prompts some questions for the future: Could we redefine which environments are learning environments? What is the ideal balance for each different age group of independent work, collaborative work, interactive work, and in-person work? What’s going to invite them to grow?