What happens in practice when a school adopts the aula platform?
aula is based on a commitment and a contract: the school leadership team commits to taking up any proposal decided on the platform, as long as that idea is acceptable within the terms of the school’s aula contract. Click here for an example of one of these contracts. The contract sets out the ways students can participate in the project, but also the limitations on what they can do.
Students are given a user account and can log into the platform anywhere and anytime. They can put forward ‘wild ideas’, then discuss and develop them in the lobby. After a period of 3 weeks, the school leadership team decides if an idea is compatible with the contract and achievable in practice. Then the idea is put to a vote. If it passes, the proposal once again becomes the students’ responsibility.
See below for a more detailed description of each stage of the process.
Participants in the aula project
Students All students taking part in the process have their own individual account. They can submit ideas, discuss them and vote on them.
Moderators The aula platform is moderated by teachers and students who want to take on more responsibility and some administrative roles. Moderators can submit and edit ideas, and also edit and delete comments and suggestions for improvement.
School Leadership Team: The SLT (or other appropriate body) scrutinises the ideas to ensure they are consistent with the terms of the aula contract and also achieveable in real terms. The SLT can also submit ideas of its own.
Parents: Parents have the option to request accounts that allow them to see the ideas and discussions taking place in their child’s school or class. They have no other access to the site.
The Contract: The first stage of the project is to establish a robust basis for handling students’ ideas, making clear to all participants what their rights and obligations are. This is done by drawing up an aula contract. Ordinarily, this contract involves the SLT voluntarily committing their school to taking up ideas decided on the aula platform.
A Wild Idea
Any student can submit an idea whenever they want. All ideas begin their life on aula as a ‘wild idea’. Wild Ideas are unsorted and don’t have to be perfectly worked out yet. They can be drafted at home or even on a mobile on the bus. Ideas can be put forward for different groups such as the whole school or an individual class. Other students can suggest ways that wild ideas can be improved.
They might ask how idea would work in practice: (‘Can you describe your idea for a summer festival in more detail? Will parents be invited? Is it for everyone or just us in our class?’). Someone might point out financial costs (‘Can you say a bit more about what it will cost and where you’re going to get the money from?’). Or they may add something extra to the original idea (‘We could have a bake sale at the party too.’)
Students can show their support for suggestions by giving them a heart. This allows the author of the idea to see which proposals are going down well and are likely to get more votes. They can integrate suggestions into the description of their idea.
Ideas can be assigned to various predefined categories such as ‘classroom’, ‘playground’, ‘timetable’ and so on.
What about the silly ideas? Because every ‘wild idea’ has to be selected to move into the lobby, silly ideas get filtered out. All it takes is a click. In order to go forward to the ‘lobby’ phase, each wild idea needs to reach a certain level of support from other students. Until this level is attained, an idea stays out in the wild. This is the first hurdle the proposal has to clear.
An idea can’t make it to the lobby on its own: it has to be assigned to a topic by a moderator. Topics are collections of ideas all sharing the same focus and they are voted on together. (For example, “What should we do with the €3000 donation?” or “Summer Festival”). Some ideas within a topic will contradict each other, some will be complementary, but they are all interdependent. When a wild idea has gained enough students’ votes a moderator can create a topic for it. When a topic has been created, other related ideas can be added. The development phase is focused on topics, though at this stage students can still add suggestions to ideas.
The most intensive work in the development phase is done offline. Weekly class meetings are a chance to present proposals and sift through for duplicate or contradictory ideas. It is also a time to campaign for particular ideas, make posters or work out how much a given plan will cost. A teacher should be on hand to offer help as needed. During the development phase students can also exchange ideas and meet up in their own time. The development phase is limited a period of two weeks (though this can be modified by an administrator). (Read more about this lesson and how they work in the Guidelines, ‘the aula lessons’, p 33 (German)).
Even if no ideas exist for it yet a moderator can create a new topic and add ideas as they are submitted, allowing democratic processes to be initiated from above. This can be useful, for exapmle, when discussing the curriculum or financial donations.
Once each development phase is complete the topic is locked in its final state and passed to the school leadership team for scrutiny. It only takes a click for the SLT to mark an idea as feasible and not in violation of the contract. The SLT is not being asked to offer an opinion on the idea, but to evaluate its feasibility. This task can be delegated to a person chosen by the SLT. If the SLT or their representative judges an idea infeasible, they can offer a brief explanation of their decision to the students directly via the aula platform.
The scrutiny phase serves to prevent students passing frivolous ideas which could never be implemented or would be blocked by the school leadership.
When an idea is forwarded to the SLT, it should seek to answer any remaining questions, as well as providing full details of how it is to be implemented. After this point, it is no longer possible to make further changes to the idea.
The Voting Phase
Votes are held on individual ideas which are grouped together in topics. Students can vote for or against an idea. An idea held to be accepted when it reaches a certain number of positive votes (the threshold is set by the administrator: for example, 5 for a whole-class vote). It is possible to accept all ideas in one topic at the same time. If two ideas are incompatible then only the more popular of the two will be implimented. It is up to the moderator to identify contradictory ideas and mark one as the winner. Hence, if two contradictory ideas are accepted, the idea with the greater number of positive votes is marked as the ‘winner’ and goes on to be implemented.
Voting on a given topic is limited to a specific period of time (e.g. 2 weeks). During this period students can cast votes or retract their votes and allocate them to different ideas. Delegations may change. Votes are only counted at the end of the voting period.
All ideas that gained sufficient votes are implemented, the only exceptions being those conflicting with another more popular idea. The primary responsibility for implementing the idea lies with its originator. They may ask for help from their class representative, the SLT or their class teacher. They should also, whenever possible, document the implementation of their idea. By mutual agreement a student can ask someone else to take on the responsibility for implementating their idea.
Once an idea has been implemented students reflect on the process during an aula lesson. How was the idea developed? What helped? Where did problems arise? How satisfied are all the participants with how the idea was implemented? What have the participants learned?