"Hey, look! We're gonna be partners next quarter!"
Why Open Source Learning?
I’m going to be frank. I scoffed at the idea of open source learning and its ability to redefine education in the 21st century as over-idealistic, cheesy, even, when it was first mentioned 23 weeks ago. The first set of readings by John Dewey, the chapter titled Democracy and Education, in particular, presented education in new light—as an apparatus based on social and democratic ideals—but I was not convinced that the apparatus (education itself) had the ability to affect change in these values. With that, I proceeded under the impression that the learning model would come second to the architecture. In hindsight, that was a self-imposed obstacle that would give me some trouble throughout the first ten weeks. In the first of the two studios, I was never fully convinced that open source learning would work. However, in making and referring back to our conceptual puzzles, I began to see glimpses of how space and education can play off of and reinforce one another to affect social change, first through the reevaluation of programmatic adjacencies and, later, the kinds of spaces themselves.
Discovering Open Source Learning
Over the course of two quarters, the Open Source Learning Academy consistently grew in complexity. First, it was expressing and reinforcing the concept of learning through the architecture of the school’s extensive program. HVAC, circulation, site, and structural assemblies slowly made their way into the discussion. With the ever-growing complexity of the project, we had to find a way to synthesize and piece everything together. We had to tell the story, but we had yet to discover the all the pieces to the puzzle.
First, the challenge was to define open source learning in terms of the curriculum. With our trip to multiple High Tech High Schools in San Diego, the open source learning model was reinforced as learning by exploring and learning by sharing. It was our first glimpse at interdisciplinary project-based learning. While interdisciplinary project-based learning and open source learning have become virtually interchangeable for us, it was difficult to remember that we had to reinforce the open source with the project-based learning.
With our trip to Chicago, the focus fell upon the spatial manifestation of open source learning. From an early stage, I took open source learning to mean accessibility and inclusivity for all kinds of learners, or simply providing a range of environments. At the schools we visited, Intrinsic, in particular, I came across the idea of structured flexibility, a key driver in my spring quarter project that almost became too open and too flexible.
Despite the focus on the curriculum and space, we had to return to the ideals that they ought to reinforce. As one of the more difficult and thought out pieces of writing this year, the manifesto proved to be the piece that got me 100% on board with the idea of open source learning. In concise detail, we explored the cyclical relationship between the curriculum, the ideals, and the physical environment of open source learning. In brief, the manifesto’s aim is to promote the ideals of self-determination, empowerment, identity, and self-awareness in the individual. As a collective, the goal is to promote collaboration, the free exchange of ideas, collective ownership of ideas, and a sense of community. This is achieved by providing choice and accessibility, physically and intellectually. With the manifesto, I found the big-picture understanding that I needed. Everything we had touched on up until that point finally made sense, preparing me for a spring quarter project with depth and rigor that I have never experienced before.
Piecing It All Together: Telling The Story
"The one thing that we can't draw is the thing we're after—space—so we must consider how walls and structure work to create space."
It’s a fact that often gets overlooked. We really can’t draw the negative that is space. To capture it, we have to consider how walls and structure work to create space. In our project, this was achieved through the plans in the early stages. As we moved beyond the wall and into the other systems, things we not as clear-cut. The development of the circulation proved difficult until we looked the system as a type of space in itself that played off of the boundaries expressed in plan. Working in three dimensions, we were also afforded the opportunity to explore and capture the qualities of a space not possible in two-dimensional representations. Most notably, in the Day in the Life diagrams and renderings, we were able to capture the effect of the split-level components that essentially act as filters between two adjacent spaces and the experience created by the column and facade elements. Working in section and elevation, we worked through roughly 4-5 vastly different envelope strategies before finding one that worked. In dealing with site, we faced a similar, iterative process in search of a strategy that would enhance the educational experience and architecture. Trial, error, and refinement defined our design process in the spring quarter.
To work through and connect all these components, we relied heavily on the geometry set-out. As intended, it was and continues to be the backbone of our project, helping us reference and convey the relationships between seemingly unrelated elements in our building (think circulation and HVAC). In effect, we were literally assembling the OSLA, one piece at a time, knowing that every piece had to fit in relation to the others.
- While our studio has come to a general consensus on the balance between structure and flexibility in the physical environment, we have yet to agree on the degree of student autonomy that should exist in the curriculum. Is there a right level of structure? Are we giving students too much freedom and choice, so much so that they begin to lack the incentive to learn when parts of the curriculum don’t interest them?
- When do you see Open Source Learning, as the OSLL has conceived it, implemented in full? Ten, twenty, fifty years from now?