Hang on a minute, it’s the 21st century

Presenter: Prof Stephen Heppell

Slightly sparse audience this morning – which is a shame, as this was brilliant. Perhaps it is a sign of a good talk that it is hard to blog. I need more time to reflect on some of what has been said. Stephen jumped around quite a bit using a lot of examples – but all the time challenging our notion of how people learn, the nature of the spaces they learn in, the way we engage with them.

My notes capture only bits and pieces, although hopefully some of the links will lead to more examples.

Everyone should hear Stephen Heppell speak – inspirational. (and you can by subscribing to his podcast)


Stephen starts out by saying that universities seem not to be designed around learning – architecturally or socially – and he is challenging us, as we are in a uniquely privileged position to change this.

So, Stephen suggests that the difference between the 20th and 21st century is:
In the 20th century we built big things that did things for others
In the 21st century we build things that help people to help each other

Stephen is working with the Chinese government at the moment – and suggesting that within the next 5 years China will be a net importer of students. This is a pretty big issue for UK HE.

If the World Bank understands that learning is changing – why don’t universities?

Try typing ‘buy an essay’ into google. Huge number of hits. Who is writing these? Students of course. Even suggesting that you ‘work your way up’ when purchasing essays – don’t go from failing to A grades – start with a few Cs and Bs.

So – why are we going around trying to find ways of trapping this, rather than setting tasks that are really challenging in a 21st century way? As an example, get students to critique other essays (possibly bought online) rather than writing their own.

Stephen is mentioning a project he is currently working on – learnometer which is about how we measure learning.

Teacher’s TV – aimed at teachers. But students are watching it. Students are reflecting on learning more than we are? Quite amazing. An example of a project in primary school with 2 girls who have composed a ‘grammar rap’ – and reflect on how it’s helping with boys literacy. Also an example of students engaging with an immersive online environment as a story, complete with characters who text them, and interact with them. This stuff will be available at heppell.net shortly.

An example of a learning space in Thailand – on the 6th floor of a department store – so different to our typical learning spaces. Instead of rows of computers and books, it is a really exciting space, with funky furniture, and forces interaction – you have to climb a climbing frame to get at the bookshelves.

How often do we involve students in the design of our buildings?

Why do we wait until children are 18 to get them into University – some examples of students at 11 sitting in on university classes.

Every 4 days a new school opens in the UK – can this possibly be true? Building spaces that ‘just work’ – example of a school in Richmond upon Thames where Stephen was aiming for any device the student brought into the space would just work – phones to PSPs to …

Look at notschool.net – an example of engaging children in learning in new ways. Apparently shortly to be joined by a similar scheme for prisons – notnick.net

Universities are obsessed with measuring learning by counting words. They are assessed by essays that are 1500 words ‘or equivalent’. But what is equivalent to 1500 words? There seems to be a real issue with other tasks being judged as somehow trivial next to 1500 words. But which is harder – 1500 word essay, or a 3 minute scripted podcast? Why should these not be seen as equivalent? There is a tendency to undervalue non-essay tasks when judging what is ‘equivalent’

New model of research. From ‘we know what we know’ – peer review, external research, submit, review, publish. To – detective work (look in unexpected places), reflective practice (workplace – embedded).

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