Dangerous Ideas (3)
I like this idea a lot. I have been thinking along these lines for quite a while especially with my experiences recently in Paris. Re-designing schools physically with more common areas, or a wider variety of reconfigurable spaces is a great idea. It is perhaps a revolutionary idea now, but not disconnected from other thinking:
With information technologies like cellphones, SMS, email, web, skype, video conferencing, and free wifi networks we (students and teachers and student-teachers and teacher-students) should be able to organise into adhoc learning clusters whenever we need to. Of course, we do, only we call them conversations.
Rapid prototyping technologies should enable new physical learning spaces at schools like Emily Carr Institute every year. Imagine having a special cross-disciplinary class (with students from each year of the school) that is devoted to designing and recreating the courtyard behind the cafeteria into a studio that encourages new work that doesn't fit anywhere else in the school. The rules of the space (or lack of rules) would be created, run and documented every year as would the work of the students who used the space (not necessarily the same students who designed it).
An alternative would be to design a cultural/conceptual framework that could spread around enabling both students and teachers to allow each other to work in new directions. It could be a passport, it could be a password, it could be a photocopiable script for navigating the school with a list of available resources and great little facts like: "yes, it is possible to take a 300 level class in foundation" or "no, you don't have to be a Comm Design student to take this typography class" or "need a stepping-motor in your sculpture? Talk to the technician." It could be a public chalkboard in the cafeteria for ideas for change.
Learning can happen anywhere, of course. The main question is how to coax a large organization in the direction of ideas of leaving the classroom, taking on a more social approach to learning. Being less fixated on attendence and more interested on quality of work and dialog I feel would be important. There is probably a lot that can be learned from Nokia and Ideo (Design company in California) which have very flat and reconfigurable ways of operating. Colleges like Sarah Lawrence College are well known for mentor-based learning and focusing on written evaluations instead of grades. I'm guessing that the main difficulty for Emily Carr Institute is probably how to interface with the outside world (acreditation) and the internal culture (territoriality, comfortable bureaucracy).
Everyone I talk to likes the idea of interdisciplinarity and certainly refers to it often, but it is still far from a widely available reality in the school (and in other institutions). Of course, even if all the administrative barriers between different sections of the school were dropped, students would still group into specific streams themselves.
I had better stop my ramblings there.