Comprehensive Learning Spaces

First Draft of a unified learning spaces theory

I wasn’t able to fly to San Francisco this week to attend the annual NAIS conference, but I’m still doing my best to follow the blog posts from Demetri and others about the events.  I’ve been impressed by the ideas and quotes from the sessions so far.

Back here in cloudy and wet London, however, I’m thinking about learning spaces.  We worked last week on a new open air lab (photos to follow), and also how to improve the environments of existing classrooms.  At the same time, we’re working on the Veracross migration that will have a strong online space, to complement our Moodle system, yet that hasn’t stopped us from building a pilot project for blogging in DrupalGeez.

Anyway, in looking for a common thread for all this work, it’s learning spaces.  In fact, I’m curious about a unified learning spaces theory.  How does a classroom relate to a campus relate to online networked learning relate to home learning.  Maybe this too big picture, but some of the decisions we’re trying to make deal with at-home academic work as much as (or more than) in-classroom work, and that is interesting.

As seen in the post below about the Khan Academy, even pure academic learning does not only exist in the classroom, and it’s time to try and understand how students become self-sufficient learners, or expert learners.  Much of this happens outside of the classroom, but all of the features of a school (from lunch room, to gyms, to art workshops, to the front steps) contribute to a larger learning space.

Here’s a copy of the draft idea above:

Comprehensive Learning Environment

Feel free to comment– obviously, I’m only at the start of this work.

Khan Academy

It’s worth watching this short video about the Microsoft Education Award winner this year:

He was also featured on the PBS News Hour last night.


Cold, Wet and Fun Sailing

It was February break, and I worked about half of the week, but earlier this week we took off to the boat and sailed to the Isle of Wight for an overnight on the Medina River.

That may sound great, but it was just a few degrees above freezing, it rained frequently, we have no heat on the boat, and our favorite pub and restaurant on the island was closed.  No food, and no water taxi to get to it.

So, we spent the afternoon and night in a very cold boat, trying to heat it with candles, a lantern and the stove.  Good dinner, but seriously cold overnight.  The next morning we sailed for home– proud of a winter sail, but ready to warm up again back in London.

SR at Folly In

Full photo gallery from the trip at

A Zimbra Trouble-Shooting Story

Okay, if you read this blog and others, it will seem like new technologies like Zimbra and Drupal are set and forget.  Five minute installs followed by months of enjoyment and feet on the desk.

Most untrue.

Here’s one that plagued us for almost a month– the main log in screen to Zimbra (for the web clients) would stall.  Not all the time, but maybe one out of ten times.  A typical log in is around 20 seconds.  When stalled, it may be 2-5 minutes, or not at all.  Users were unhappy.

So, we tore our hair out– the server looked fine, nothing in the logs, so it had to be the clients.  The problem was occurring on Macs and PCs, Firefox and IE and Safari and Chrome.  We tried turning off plug-ins, rolling back JIT Java compilers, the works.  Nothing seemed to prevent the problem.  Some felt we were just overloading the server, but nothing indicated that server-side.  In fact, the stalls could occur with very few users on.

About the same time, our Zimbra Admin noticed that he had lost login access to a key shared account– one that shared out briefcases, RSS feeds and a mailbox with sub folders to all users.  No go on login– we were cut off from accessing the account.

The reason– when we deleted student accounts from last school year, there were still shares in their accounts from the master account, and they may have been renamed or altered.  By deleting them, we corrupted the main account.

On that issue, we worked out complicated processes to change to a new shared account, but then our Zimbra admin found a way to remove the corrupted shares from the account, and we go access back to it.  Then he built a script to remove all corrupted share.

At that moment, the stalled logins stopped.  Apparently, they were related to the semi-corrupted shared account (for mailbox, RSS feed folder, briefcases) to most users.  Once it was cleaned up, the loading at login for users returned to normal.

Supposedly, the bug in Zimbra regarding shared account corruption when accounts are deleted with existing shares is still around.  We have a script now that removes all shares before accounts are taken out.  However, we lucky to have such a strong Zimbra admin who can write these scripts and get us out of trouble.  Cheers to him.

We like Zimbra a lot, but we are using it at a high level of complexity, and it runs at a relatively high level of complexity.  If you are considering it, proceed with growth in a careful way, and have a lead admin who understand the Command Line Interface and can write scripts.

Meanwhile, I’ll put my feet up.

Life Drawing

February break has started. We head to a cold boat on a train.

Rolling Along with Drupal

We worked on Drupal most of the week.  Actually, I started the week before with a simple Drupal installation on my account.  This week, we built a proper Redhad Linux server and installed Drupal to start building it as a production server.

Our goal is a pilot project for the rest of the year with three or four middle school classrooms.  They are looking for better ways for students to post writing and other creative work and media online to each other, and to allow commenting on it.  Our Moodle system can do some of that, but it’s not great with the commenting and broader sharing with students outside of the class groups.  (Moodle could be enhanced to be better at this, but it’s our main homework delivery and listing system for dozens of classes, so we are very hesitant to start trying out add-in modules in the middle of a school year.)

So far, we’ve been following Bill Fitzgerald’s book (noted in last post) and trying to upgrade the file management system.  We had one scare when we lost all admin access, but we found the solution the next day.  Now that we have over a dozen modules installed, we’re finding the system to be a bit fragile.  (Views module can crash repeatedly and need to be reinstalled, etc.)

However, we are excited about getting Organic Groups working, so that teachers can create their own class groups as desired (instead of us locking everything down with student information class list exports).  We also like the idea of the portfolios having many publication options (private, teacher only, class only, grade level only, division only, school only, and possibly public in the future).

It’s good work, and we’ll continue next week with a hopeful launch the following week (once students are back from February break).  We are also building an open air lab in the MS/HS library next week, and I really like the idea of students using paper and digital resources at the same time.

The Latest in Open Source Online Portfolios

Although I missed Bill Fitzgerald’s Educon 2.2 presentation about online portfolios in Drupal, I’ve been studying his demo site for that presentation:

I need to overlay his recent work with his book about the educational development of Drupal (, but he’s stating some very intriguing ideas about a more simplified portfolio structure that servers several purposes at once.

We normally think of portfolios as a way to students to select and share work for assessment, but his approach is to build the portfolio concept right into the development of units by teachers. Thus, they are building and sharing multi-year teaching portfolios with each other, while also using the units with students, who develop their own portfolios in response.

He speaks of this as possibly creating more openness and searchable examples between faculty, much in the way that curriculum mapping has attempted in the past. We are spending next week building and revising a pilot Drupal system for middle school students to use for blogging (using ideas from his book), but at the same time we’ll try to think about larger issues like this as we map out the information and access design of the site.

Should be fun.

Back at Ray’s

Always nice to visit Ray’s Jazz Club at Foyles. Worked on Drupal today.

Some Brief iPad Comments

A very simple comment: the iPad is a step forward to larger computers becoming more like mobile phones. Many people will like that, given that there is nostalgia for land-line phones because of their simplicity and durability. (The black rotary in my parents home has been working about as long as I’ve been alive.)

If we move into a realm where more of our users (faculty and students) use their own computer hardware for school work, then the more reliable it is the better. Even the lack of multitasking could be a benefit, since it prevents users from overloading system resources with a pile of background widgets.

Maybe the biggest lost is a definite shift from laptops being creative tools to iPads being information access tools. I’ve already seen that with iPhones– why carry a laptop when you can do email, calendars, contacts with the phone. It’s not that iPads can’t create content, but…

I think we’re going to lose a lot of related to computing becomes a sealed environment, and you toss it if it stops working (like a mobile phone). At the same time, it will make computers boring in a technical way, which Clay Shirky believes is the key for them becoming socially interesting (and trans-formative).

So it goes.

Educon 2.2 Wrap Up

Okay, let’s conclude my notes about Educon 2.2.

School Policy Panel Discussion: I listed to some, but the parts I heard were very general– “we all make policies all the time” sort of thing. I won’t comment more, since I switched to working online.

Invitation to Inquiry: This was a relatively fun session, because different groups got different inquiry materials for a project design. We had science, and articles about the earthquakes in California and Haiti. Members of my group did a great job of discussing different inquiry project designs for the material. My only wish was that the leaders were a little clearer about scaffolding inquiry learning. How much focusing do students need to stay on topic? For example, our content could have been used for social/political inquiry projects, but could you allow that to happen in the same classroom (and probably not if you are a science teacher).

Lunch Meeting:
fun discussion with an open source developer and planner. We shared a lot of views about truths and misconceptions about open source software for schools. Perhaps like Veracross, the goal of open source is to become a service more than a product. Getting started may be “free” in a few respects, but sustainability is only achieved with support (for both upgrades, modifications, new modules and new ideas). It is fun to think of multi-school collaborations for new open source modules or tools– curriculum mapping for Drupal or Moodle, anyone? (I should also note that Zimbra benefits from an open source version and community, and a paid-support contract.)

On the Development of Learning Spaces: it was fun to hear David Jakes leads conversations and share ideas about changing physical learning spaces, and actively integrating virtual learning spaces with the physical. Some basic ideas: move your desks into a fish-bowl design (inner facing circle inside a larger inner facing circle of desks). Bring in floor lamps from Oxfam, Goodwill or Walmart, and turn off the in-ceiling fluorescent lights. In fact, in one classroom he removed all the ceiling tiles and went for an industrial look, changing the eye lines of his students by raising the ceiling by four feet (and then using that space creatively). Ask the students what they think should be changed. Create a Genius Bar for the school. Create a Starbucks space in the library. I need to get the book he referenced: Learning Space Design. I also liked how Jakes was using Etherpad.

After that session, I took public transport to the Philadelphia airport (getting there far too quickly) and then flew over the Atlantic, over-night. I’ll be processing more ideas from Educon over the next few days, and I may post a bit more. Good conversational conference– my main request would be for a bit more focus instead of too many major ideas mixed together too briefly.

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