Learning Outside the Classroom as a digital service?
I’m working on a project right now that involves looking at the Learning Outside the Classroom scheme. This has been running since 2006, supported mainly by DCSF. It began as a manifesto to promote schools getting out to explore the natural and built environment, to get active and engage with culture. It has now grown to include a Quality Badge for providers and guidance on how to get the best out of different sectors.
It looks to me a scheme that will survive whatever bonfire (and regrowth) of quangos happens after the election (though don’t hold me to ransom for saying it). One reason is that it has been established, and is well run, as an independent charity (the Council for LOTC). I also think it will succeed because it is comprehensive enough to provide an efficient infrastructure for maximum value. It’s not focused on single regions or sectors of provision.
However, the more comprehensive any scheme the more robust you need your information system to be. It is extremely difficult to portray the landscape of ‘enhancement providers’ or resources for schools. That challenge is being tackled by BECTA in a major taxonomic exercise in the creation of a digital content ecosystem for education. LOTC is only dealing with a subset of that, offers that are primarily outside the classroom. But I think their information system is rather confusing, as you can see in the sliding racks on their home page. There are several categories of provider that don’t fit their categories, such as libraries and science centres. Museums and galleries are within heritage, which is unusual. There isn’t an overt attempt to explore a range of practice that blurs the boundaries between the classroom and beyond it (e.g. using mobile technologies or creating museums in schools). I wonder whether, if this could be redevised as a strongly digital service, responding to users’ own terminologies and heirarchies, it would function much better.
I needed to test Gliffy, a free online tool for making diagrams, so I spent a quick 20 minutes working up a visualisation that shows a spiral of provision outwards from the classroom. I didn’t particularly like Gliffy, and because it was a bit clunky, I didn’t make a very clear or finished diagram. But, the picture is starting to suggest a more complex but understandable way of categorising offers outside the classroom. The only issue is that my model assumes a fairly urban context for schools, where built environment is more accessible to them than countryside, wilderness or adventure. Most schools are in such a situation but not all. Maybe the LOTC service could be developed so that you could configure the map according to your context?
Overall the point I’m making is that LOTC has been devised mainly as a manifesto, an accreditation system and a means of ensuring child safety on trips. There is a mountain of great, worthwhile guidance in here but it is all one way, and relatively buried. It hasn’t been devised as a digital service. The website has emerged to provide information about LOTC. But this is different from an approach where tools such as visualisation, user tagging, data feeds and also a wider web strategy, are fundamental to the thinking about how the service can be effective.
If the brilliant LOTC scheme is to survive and be effective it should really be looking now at reinventing itself with digital engagement, including more voices of teachers, CYP and providers, and more visual content.