Instruction meets the carnival

Yesterday was my home institution’s Librarians’ Forum – a very interesting mix of new and not so new librarians presenting their ongoing research projects, held mid-April for the past 12 years.

There were many fascinating research projects presented, but one of them struck a chord. My colleagues Rosarie Coughlan, Information Literacy Librarian, & Isabelle Roy, Special Projects Manager & Architect both at Concordia University Libraries were presenting on the various semi-directed focus group sessions that aimed to design our new classrooms in the Webster Library. I remember being invited to such a session but I had to rush out because of an emergency.

So, here is my unsolicited rather off the wall thoughts on the topic of “dreaming up a classroom – no budget restrictions” under the theme of instruction meets carnival.

What is more fun than a carnival? I remember when it came to town, I would love the bumper cars and the small, rickety roller coasters one could ride for a few tickets. So, if PT Barnum could design a classroom, here is what it would look like.

This spacious room with very high ceiling would have many desks, say about 50 0or 60. Each one would look like a bumper car, single seat narrower at the front and larger in the back, like a triangle with the front cut off (trapeze). Instead of a steering wheel, you would have a console comprised of a screen, keyboard, joystick, camera, microphone and speakers. There would also have enough room for a book, tablet or laptop on each side of the keyboard (it could be fixed to the console table).

These pods would be mounted on a network of rails (you still need wires to get electricity to the IT equipment, one could get batteries on these pods, but then you get into recharging & capacity issues). These rails would actually be mounted as a network of square tiles with perpendicular ovals rails in the middle to allow for lateral movement. This flexible smart grid would be the “under-floor” and would allow pods to rotate in their axis or move around the room in a fluid motion.

The floor would have a synthetic self-cleaning and regenerating grass-like covering, soft to the naked foot but robust enough to survive the wear and tear of the rails from the pods. It would smell like grass too if you stepped in it. Fresh grass is just the happiest smell.

Because of their shape, pods could come together to form hexagons or octagons of inward-facing occupants, allowing for group work. They could also form a square matrix and face in any direction. Actually, because of the shape of the networked tiles-as-rails, they could form any classroom structure.

Pods would be equipped with detachable wall & ceiling mounted zip-lines attached to the torso of occupants. Occupants would be able to leap from their pods to traverse the room in any fashion, assisted with cervo-motors and a really small, cool, hand-held controller.

All the walls are actually retractable smart glass that can become clear or opaque as well as become a projection space, a tactile smart screen. They could also be embedded with two-way capture technology, tiny cameras every few decimeters to record motion around them, but also an easy occupant-controlled “print-screen” function. So, you can use your finger or any object to write on these glass-screens, but also project, capture and share content on them or in front of them.

The environment would be controlled by really smart software. Heuristics could determine the best temperature, humidity or air pressure based on historical or actual outside weather, season or based on the biometrics from occupants (heart-rate, temperature, clothing they are wearing, etc.) or any other aspect (elections? winning local sports team? earthquake?) using the capture devices embedded in the smart glass-screen or open web datasets.

Of course, the synthetic grass floor-covering would emit the appropriate smell based on the heuristics of the environmental control (wet soil in spring, chlorophyll for summer, damp hay for fall or even snowy cool).

The classroom would be at the ground floor of the building or close to a busy passageway. Smart-glass walls are retractable so that passers by can look into or engage with the occupants of the classroom.

All pods double as podiums or desks. They are all equal but successful completion of classroom objectives or learning outcomes allow for badges that allow the occupant to pimp their pod. Of course, pods have an customizable exterior made of smart materials that would allow to show badges or tchatchkas earned from the learning process. If occupants misbehave, so would their pods, disabling certain features or even ejecting them (remember the zip-lines?) if they really fall out of line.

You could also have Pods without occupants. These could be rail-mounted or not – in that case, they would be robots. They can deliver print jobs (old fashion paper or 3D printouts of objects) as well as refreshments or other equipment.

So, there are a few examples from fictional works. Remember the flying pods in the Imperial Senate from the Star Wars saga (Episodes 1-3)? I also like the devices soldiers use in Attack on Titan to move around. Also, I’d like to thank the late French Bande dessinée articst Moebius (Jean Giraud) for his graphic style of science fiction. And of course, just classic bumper cars and roller coasters…

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