Making of a Learning Theater

| September 24, 2016
"Library Orientation" in the Learning Theater, Summer 2016 by Yuntong Man

“Library Orientation” in the Learning Theater, Summer 2016 by Yuntong Man

I just had the great fortune of spending two days with Leakey Foundation members exploring the meaning of evolution (and human origins) in relation to the theme of “human survival.” It was an amazing experience led by seven thoughtful and well-spoken scientists speaking about diverse topics such as physiology, virology, climatology, behavioral psychology, and more.

It not only led me to reflect on how to describe my work, but (perhaps predictably) how to describe it at a cocktail party in under two minutes. And for me, that’s the challenge of describing EdLab.

What are folks at EdLab doing?

At EdLab, our work touches on many of the ideas that were explored during two days of discussions on the survival of humans—namely, how can education help us solve our most difficult problems as a species?

We do a lot of experimental software and multimedia projects at EdLab, and we also run the Gottesman Libraries—a local, service-oriented side of our work that keeps us enmeshed in the immediate, day-to-day work of the Teachers College community of 5,000 teachers and researchers. And for the past two years, some of us have been involved in making a “learning theater”—an extension of both the “experimental” and “practical” sides of our work.

Creating a “Learning Theater”

I’ve been deeply involved in this project of conceptualizing, developing, building, and programming the Smith Learning Theater. Indeed, just recently I’ve spent many hours optimizing the workflow of the soon-to-be-completed AV system; multimedia, however, is only one aspect of this expansive project. In light of my recent cocktail party experience, I’ll risk summarizing the purpose and mission of this experimental space as follows:

The Learning Theater is designed as a multi-use space for active learning supported by innovative multimedia technology, a unique software platform, and the most knowledgeable teachers in the world.

(Oh, did I forget to mention that it’s a unique and complex architectural endeavor at one of the world’s leading educational institutions, and possibly the most advanced space of its kind in the world!? That’s right: pretty cool stuff.)

We’ll be unpacking this mission over the next decade, and trying to live up to the potential this space affords us and our collaborators. But if someone asks me right now what that means to make this space work, these are some of the ideas that come to mind:

  • Exploring the pedagogical and technological potential of such a space with everyone who uses it.
  • Working smarter, harder, and finding the right colleagues who are willing to undertake this inherently interdisciplinary work.
  • Taking risks, and resisting institutional pressures that diminish creativity.
  • Making an effort to share Learning Theater experiences with the whole world.
  • Thoughtfully supporting even modest efforts to use the Learning Theater.
  • …and rigorously demonstrating how learning happens in an active, comfortable space!

The Learning Theater should change the world. It should change education and, importantly, perceptions of education; it should deepen respect for teaching as a noble, complex, and valuable vocation.

This week I witnessed a handful of caring, thoughtful, visionary, and eminent scientists agreeing that, above all, the well-being of the human race essentially rests on the ability of teachers (of all kinds) to inspire billions of people to be more imaginative, curious, and empathetic.

It’s a complex problem a whole bunch of people need to work together to solve.

Join us!