Floating Classrooms: A Model For Mobile Teaching
The nature of the Floating Classroom project is to develop the affordances around going into communities and opening up spaces which are equipped to cultivate threads of interest which reside in those communities. This means having everything that a classroom might normally have in a higher education context, except on a mobile basis.
Like UNICEF created their ‘School in a Box‘ scheme, providing the basic fundamental tools to communities to set up a classroom, the idea here is to have a ‘floating classroom’ where we apply learning taken from human development work. Specifically, Ernesto Sirolli and participatory action research, where the community are listened to and their learning trajectory is decided by their own interests and the issues which they face in their day to day lives.
The importance of a ‘floating classroom’ (a classroom which can be set up anywhere, and transported on public transport) is that in many of the places which most need facilities like this there is no space to develop such a facility. The Most Deprived neighbourhoods are social, educational and economic deserts, often with only a pub, cafe, bookmaker, payday lender and fast food outlet. A ‘floating classroom’ then brings the affordances necessary to do educational and social activities which are relevant to the community of individuals.
Often people from the Most Deprived neighbourhoods have not had much educational opportunity in the formal sense, and what learning has taken place is self developed. The idea is to get into these spaces and appreciate what learning has gone on and provide complimentary tools, skills and activities – in that order. Bringing individuals, who are self led, into proximity with tools of a digital lab and the internet (the floating classroom) will extend their capabilities for producing what is of interest to them.
For example, an individual has an interest in hip hop music, and suddenly they have the ability to record, edit and produce sound recordings of their own compositions; then ensues a situation where there is the opportunity to teach digital – and other – skills which further extend their capabilities.
Once there has been interest generated and investment made, it will become clear what activities are most relevant to those individuals, and the equipment and group working can be used to develop structured scenarios which take them further towards their ideals and interests. For example setting up social evenings which might lead to an income stream, further creative and intellectual opportunities, and/or paid work in the field.
Similarly, regular events/opportunities can be brought together in tandem where people external to formal education can use (and/or develop) the skills which are most contextual to their life circumstance to bring them into proximity with more traditional forms of pedagogy. The model here is to take Sugata Mitra’s work and adapt it to the community context, where individuals will be taught how to find the relevant information to answer certain exam questions.
Using the internet to answer a standard grade mathematics exam for example. This cultivates a different kind of learning which is self led, and which generates meta skills that translate out into broader contexts.
These meta skills of being able to identify relevant information, being able to use digital equipment to search for relevant content, being able to apply it to a specific context, are all adaptable abilities which are highly important in the information complexity of the modern world. Teaching digital literacies in restricted circumstances must flow from the bottom to the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Using the floating classroom to create digital artifacts, the communities can start to generate and own their own blogs, social media, websites, films, audio; and retrospectively these can be valued by formal educators for the necessary skills that individuals have had to engage to create them. There is considerable evidence which show that publishing students work is a powerful way to cement learning, and gain investment from the individual. A sense of accomplishment comes with creating something, and then a sense of investment comes with owning something. On the back of this whole futures can be built which are always specific to the individual, and owned by the individual.
Not only valuable modern life skills can be generated but by looking at various educators work on accreditation of prior learning – specifically Prof Keith Smyth et al – for those who have an interest kindled, the floating classroom can act as a conduit to formal education or even employability once relevant skills have been grasped.
Finally, and possibly the most important, the sociological value of engendering Participatory Action Research in and around communities has a great public value. There are a great number of voices and stories which are under-represented in the Most Deprived communities. By using these techniques of valuing the authentic voices of disenfranchised sections of the population, important understandings can be built by the people themselves highlighting social justice issues that have gone hitherto unnoticed.
For example, examining why care leavers are not engaging in higher education, identifying why ex-offenders are not getting into gainful employment, identifying impoverished housing conditions or lack of local amenities.
All of this combines together to create a situation of ownership which can be build upon for the individual, and where community can find purchase to develop according to its needs. The project would be focused on seizing upon the emergent opportunities that are created by the individuals and communities of practice that have been exposed to an extension of their capabilities.
The Necessity of a Focus on the Communities Needs
The project is inherently focused on the the community and individuals which compose it. The values of sharing, developing and creating will act as a lens to focus interests amongst people. Offering guidance and support in a tailored fashion, and cultivating the trust which is the bedrock of community, the opportunities to promote community development can be engineered as the needs of that populace come to be understood.
On an elementary level, special attention will be paid to structuring situations where there is a mixture of bonding, bridging and linking forms of social capital that are specifically inclusive. This means bringing people together of like minds, bringing people together of different interests, and bringing people together of different socio-economic status. In plain language, building inclusive networks of people who like sharing their knowledge and skills.
As the introduction to the tools and the development of the skills comes together, then structured activities can be developed which are specific and relevant to that locale. Structured activities such as identifying and mapping community assets can be done to build awareness in the community. Websites and digital resources can be created for local amenities and organisations such as local churches, businesses, groups, clubs, community centres and artists.
The project will be community led in that, from understanding the development work of people like Ernesto Sirolli, the most important aspect of community development – outside of identification of assets – is that development workers do not walk into community contexts with preformed templated ideas of what that area needs.
Most importantly, we shut up and listen… This is when learning takes place. Reflective and reflexive relationships have to be formed before the needs of the community can be identified and acted upon.
Whatever the activity, whatever the skills, on a personal and collective level, the actions of the project will be to leave legacy artifacts and instruments. In simple terms, everything which is done should leave something which is owned by the individual or community, such that it plays a functional role in their lives and can be carried forward independently of the project.
Similarly, it is aimed to develop principality as well as agency meaning that, as a project, through the activities of storytelling and ethnographic method, it will help identify the structural questions which the community needs to ask to collectively improve its holdings.
For example, identifying a need to clear up a fly-tipping area on its doorstep which is an issue for the local authority to address, identifying the need for communal spaces, a disproportionate population of non-English speaking population, questioning discrimination by companies which do not respect the rehabilitation of offenders act or the requirement of an extra bus service.
Everything starts with the means to do. What the Floating Classroom provides are the means to make what the people want, and build what they need. It is a project about building human capabilities