Networked Education

How can we build a future of education where institutions, teachers and learners are connected, not isolated? More »

Modern Learning Practice

What will the future of teaching and learning look like in environments where the focus of activity is on participation, collaboration and contribution? More »

4 D Learning

A conceptual framework for understanding how learning activity can be supported and enhanced through the use of digital technologies More »

Layered archtecture

Where do all the pieces fit in terms of technical infrastructure for schools, who decides, and on what basis? More »

A Future MLE

How will learning be different into the future? Have we taken account of the changes in expectation, and the changes in the way learners can engage with their learning? More »

 

Let’s start with the experience of the learner

Reflecting further on my two days at the Deep Learning Lab in Christchurch where the conversations canvased a wide range of issues facing teachers in schools at the moment. Not far below the surface in many conversations was the concern at being held to account for national standards, and how this expectation (real and imagined) is driving what actually happens in classrooms in many schools. The tension between what teachers believe about makes for ‘deep’ learning and the pressure to conform and focus on standards is not easily resolved, but generally results in the latter taking precedence in most school programmes it seems.

The gap that is thus generated between espoused theory and theory in action (ref work of Argyris and Schon) means that the experience of so many learners in our school system today falls short of what we might term ‘engaging’ or ‘deep’! Reflecting more on this I reviewed the interview (above) with Connie Yowell, director of education for the MacArthur Foundation and visionary leader for its Digital Media and Learning initiative. The movie was made by filmmaker Nic Askew who was asked by the McArthur Foundation to make a series of films about connected learning, a new approach to learning he called “courageous” and “transformational.”

This film examines the critical role of curiosity and engagement for today’s youth and in connected learning, the outcome of a six-year research effort supported by the MacArthur Foundation into how learning, education, and schooling could be reimagined for a networked world.

The film asks:

  • ‘What might be the consequence of reframing education around the experience of the student?’
  • ‘Might curiosity have always sat at the heart of an extraordinary education?’
  • ‘How might our imagination bring the experience of education to life?’

As we start the new term here in NZ, I wonder if this might be a useful point of reflection, and perhaps even viewing and discussing in a staff meeting using the questions posed above to generate some thinking about what could be done differently if we really places the learner at the centre of everything we’re doing?

Staying ahead of the game

I’ve just had the pleasure of being a part of an intensive two-day Deep Learning Lab in Christchurch with educators from the NZ schools involved in the global NPDL project. Final day keynote speaker was Kaila Colbin, a TEDx licensee, and NZ Ambassador for Singularity University. Kaila shared a compelling message about the impact of exponential change, explaining how our traditional, linear approaches to coping with change simply won’t cut it as we step forward into the future.

Much of this change is can be seen in the area of technology, across all walks of life, from education, to transport, to health and so on. New Zealand current stands pretty well in this area according to the recently released Digital Evolution Index (DEI) from the Fletcher business school at Tufts University in Boston. This report is basically a digital pulse of 60 developed countries.

The report is a data-driven holistic evaluation of the progress of the digital economy across 60 countries, combining more than 100 different indicators across four key drivers: Supply Conditions, Demand Conditions, Institutional Environment, and Innovation and Change. It segments the 60 countries into Stand Outs, Stall Outs, Break Outs and Watch Outs. New Zealand is one of three countries are notable as standouts even within the Stand Out segment, the others being Singapore and the UAE. The report identifies these three as having a unique policy-led digital strategy and a narrative that may be considered by other nations as worthy of emulation or adoption.

This is great news for New Zealand, and credit to the many innovators and risk takers in our midst who have stepped out and created opportunities to develop new products and services that utilise these technologies. It’s also a testament to the many businesses, tertiary providers and schools that provide opportunities for staff/students to pursue their interest in digital technologies – and gives weight to the argument for a digital technologies curriculum I can hear some say.

While we have good cause to celebrate the result, Kaila’s words regarding exponential change keep ringing in my ears – and reminding me that in this world we cannot afford to sit on our laurels. As the DEI report highlights in the section about countries in the Stand Out category:

“…sustaining consistently high momentum over time is challenging, as innovation-led expansions are often lumpy phenomena. To stay ahead, these countries need to keep their innovation engines in top gear and generate new demand, failing which they risk stalling out.”

Herein lies the crunch. The biggest challenge, according to this report, will inevitably come from the group of countries in the Break Out category – those that are low-scoring in their current states of becoming digital but are evolving rapidly. According to the report key Break Out countries that have the potential to become the Stand Out countries of the future are China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Russia.

Which brings me to the point of my reflection. Our continued success in this area will require a substantial amount of effort and focus if we aren’t to be overtaken. In our schools this means a significant change in emphasis in the way we think about the ways we teach about, with and through digital technologies, for while the evidence at the ‘output’ end is currently encouraging, the evidence of what is happening for the next generation of digital expertise in NZ isn’t as hopeful.

Rachel Bolsted’s recent research published by NZCER paints a picture of increasingly focused use of digital technologies to support both student and teacher learning, but falls well short of being convincing that the sector really has a grasp of the significance of the exponential nature of the change afoot.

The latest OECD report on Students, computers and learning paints a similarly concerning picture, highlighting across all countries involved that while teachers say they value 21st century pedagogies their practice doesn’t reflect that. In several of the cross-country comparisons in this report, New Zealand appears close to or below the OECD average.

The issue here is about the pace of change, and the fact that we cannot afford to maintain an approach based on our traditional ‘linear’ models of change management and approaches to PLD. While NZ may be able to celebrate having a high level digital strategy approach as identified by the DEI, we have to ensure this is being exploited fully at the everyday level in our schools and kura, and taken advantage of to ensure that our young people are given the opportunity to grow fully as innovators, design thinkers and digitally fluent young people. This is not about simply focusing then on developing a greater number of coders or computer engineers (as necessary as those skills may be) – but must focus on building the capabilities and contribution of a wide range of people, that includes the coders and engineers, but also the writers, communicators, designers, artists… building and creating multi-disciplinary teams for whom collaborative activity comes naturally, and where the principles of design thinking strategies guide their involvement.

A shake-up for education?

lynfield-students

This week I had the privilege of attending an event in Auckland where Minister of Education, Nikki Kaye, officially released the final draft of the Digital Technologies-Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum for consultation. The event was opened with a group of students from the Lynfield College Robotics club who gave an outstanding presentation about their work as a team to design and develop robots which they have been entering into various competitions since 2008 – winning multiple national and international titles in that time!

One by one the group of year 11 – year 13 students gave their perspective on what contributed to the team’s success – the key takeaways from my notes included:

  • this is a team effort, requiring the most sophisticated levels of collaboration to succeed
  • the team requires a diverse mix of skills, including coders, engineers, web designers, communications specialists, designers etc.
  • this provides the context for deep, authentic engagement in learning in a truly cross-curricular manner
  • the skills they are learning through this process are transferrable, equipping them fully for an ever changing world once they leave school
  • the entire process is essentially student driven
  • there is a lot of peer mentoring involved – the team changes each year as older students move out and younger ones join, so the continuity of the team culture is evolved and maintained through this internal coaching and mentoring process

One thing struck me the most – and was emphasised to those in the audience as a central challenge…

  • all of this is done outside of the regular school hours – after school, before school and in the weekends – the challenge being, imagine just how engaging and more likely to achieve the goals of the NZ Curriculum it would be if this sort of learning was what students across NZ had access to in the context of the regular school day?

It appeared to be a difficult challenge to respond to – on the one hand I noticed a wave of agreement with the sentiment being expressed by these young people, then, as the day progressed, concerns about the impact on other subjects, the demands on school facilities and resources, and the lack of teachers with specialist skills and knowledge to support this sort of thing emerged as reasons why such an approach may not work in all contexts.

dtcurriculumcoverAnd so these students set the scene for what was a really interesting day, as leaders from the education community discussed and responded to the details of the announcement about the new Digital Technologies Curriculum/Hangarau Matahiko. In her address Minister Kaye described the release of this curriculum as the most significant ‘shake-up’ in our education system for many years – reflecting her belief that this move is about more than simply adding yet another area to be addressed into the existing curriculum, but instead, working to introduce into the broader context of our curriculum an emphasis on digital technologies that reflects the nature of the world our young people are going to be living and working in into the future.

There were many on the room who were strongly in support here, including Ian Taylor, fresh back from the America’s Cup where his company, ARL has been responsible for the incredible on-screen graphics that we’ve become so familiar with as we watch the live action. Ian and others spoke of the urgency around introducing digital technologies into the curriculum, while others lamented the stresses felt by principals and teachers to keep up with all of this, and to find space in an already over-crowded curriculum for yet another area to be taught.

In the discussion at one table I was at a teacher was concerned that in her school the technology classes were given a lesser number of hours in the timetable that other subjects such as maths, English or science. She was keen to see more mandates coming from central government to require schools to give more hours in their timetable to this subject.

While I am empathetic to her sense of injustice based on the fact that this is the dilemma most schools will face given the way they currently organise their curriculum and subject lines in the timetable, I simply don’t agree with where this argument would lead – inevitably it would become a case of shuffling things around so that someone else would miss out!

Firstly, I believe that centrally mandating that schools give extra time to this new curriculum is the last thing we should consider, (a) because we already have the freedom and flexibility to make decisions about how time is used and allocated in our schools and mandating such things removes yet more agency from school leaders, and (b) considering the implementation to be counted in terms of hours to be allocated seems to be missing the point entirely of what this curriculum is about – or at least, how it should be implemented.

For me the lesson lies so explicitly in the message we had from the Lynfield College students – make this sort of experience a central plank of all learning, and work towards taking a far more integrated and trans-disciplinary approach. Instead of isolating these subjects into their own lines on a curriculum, each competing for hours on the timetable, work to create new ways of identifying and addressing the opportunities for learning in and across disciplines in the manner in which the Robotics team did at the beginning of our day.

Like Nikki Kaye I believe this curriculum could herald a ‘shake-up’ in education – but the experience will vary. For some it will mean shaking up the way in which learning occurs, with teachers and students working in trans-disciplinary teams on engaging and authentic challenges, whole for others the shake-up will occur only at the level of “shifting the deck chairs on the timetable” and discipline-based experts competing for the attention of the same students for their classes.

I’m for the former – but it’s going to require a lot of courage, commitment and partnership across a wide range of stakeholders! This simply isn’t going to work if it is received as yet another curriculum area we need to find space for.

 

Going deeper with learning

npdl-dll

In his preface to A Rich Seam, Michael Barber writes about a revolution that is impacting almost every area of society, noting…

This revolution is already in homes across the developed world and increasingly in the developing world too. And there, it is transforming the way children and young people play, access information, communicate with each other and learn. But, so far, this revolution has not transformed most schools or most teaching and learning in classrooms.

Amid the barrage of new initiatives, assessment demands, achievement challenges and the like it’s sometimes difficult to lift your eyes to a horizon that’s focused on the greater purposes of education, with the long-term good of young people at it’s heart. This is why I’m really proud to be a part of a global collaboration headed by Michael Fullan and his team called New Pedagogies for Deep Learning.

With participation from schools in the USA, Canada, Finland, Uruguay, the Netherlands, Australia and a growing number of schools here in New Zealand, this project is successfully helping teachers, schools and school systems to build knowledge and practices that develop deep learning and foster whole system change.

The programme has been going for a little over three years now, and is gaining traction through the sharing of experiences and research that demonstrates what is effective in creating these rich and deep learning experiences for our young people. Educators are provided with a suite of tools to help them plan for, assess and evaluate programmes that enable deep learning to occur, and connect them to a global community where these experiences are shared and explored further, allowing insights to develop that transcend the limitations of specific country contexts.

Regular Deep Learning Labs are held in various parts of the world where these experiences are shared and the latest insights and knowledge are explored further. We’re holding on in Christchurch, New Zealand on 20-21 July this year where we’re looking forward to sharing with the growing number of teachers from NZ and Australia who are participating. Kaila Colbin is a keynote speaker. Fresh from her participation in last year’s SingularityU event in Christchurch, Kaila has some challenging perspectives on the future where exponential growth of technology offers exciting opportunities to disrupt education.

I’d welcome inquiries from anyone who may be interested in attending – this is a unique opportunity to find out more about this global collaboration and how you can be a part of it!

Supply and Demand – the big issue for schools of the future

I’m currently attending the ConnectED conference of principals in the Newcastle region in Australia, exploring the theme of professional learning communities and enjoying hearing from speakers with a wealth of experience in this area including Alma Harris, Michelle Jones, Helen Timperley and Peter Goss. A constant theme in the presentations and workshops is change, and how, as educational leaders, we need to be disciplined in the ways we work with teachers to embrace and deal with change, empowering them through the process of inquiry and professional learning groups. Many times in the discussions with secondary teachers in particular the challenge of providing quality instruction in specific curriculum areas has been raised as one of these issues.

Today I read the article in the NZ Herald titled Secondary schools facing a ‘perfect storm’ as teacher shortage deepens that reports on the issue of high school students are being taught maths and science by teachers without specialised skills as schools struggle to fill gaps created by a worsening teacher shortage. The article quotes Secondary Principals’ Association president Michael Williams: “Schools were making do, but students were not getting the scope of curriculum they deserved. For instance, he had heard of one school dropping its robotics course in the senior school because the principal could not find a teacher to take it.” Sadly, making do isn’t good enough if you’re the student lining up for your ‘one chance’ to receive a quality secondary education in year 12 or 13!

The problem isn’t simply one we face in NZ. In his keynote speech at the COBIS Conference 2017 Mark Steed highlighted the growing problem of supply and demand of schooling worldwide and examined how technology and innovation may provide solutions to teacher shortages and a growing population. To illustrate his point he highlighted the statistic that 28 per cent of Physics lessons in the UK are not taught by a qualified Physics teacher. I’m sure there’d be similar statistics available if we were to explore the current situation in NZ schools in depth.

The Herald article quotes several education leaders expressing very valid concerns about the impact of this on our learners, and includes reference to the Minister of Education, Nikki Kaye, who has announced funding and new initiatives this week to help boost the numbers of quality teachers. This is all very good and commendable, and will hopefully go some way towards addressing the issue at hand.

There was one statement repeated twice in the article that caught my attention, however – “that the situation would get worse before it would get better“. Sadly, this is evidence yet again of the stable state thinking that Donald Schön makes the focus of his 1971 publication “Beyond the Stable State“. I love the way he introduces his book:

schonstablestateI have believed for as long as I can remember in an afterlife within my own life–a calm, stable state to be reached after a time of troubles. When I was a child, that afterlife was Being Grown Up. As I have grown older, its content has become more nebulous, but the image of it stubbornly persists.

Schön takes it as a given that things will never settle down. The appropriate response to any change, in his view, is to understand it, not to fight it or even to surrender to it: “The task which the loss of the stable state makes imperative, for the person, for our institutions, for our society as a whole, is to learn about learning”–to become capable, in other words, of making continual transformation a given rather than reacting to it as an anomaly. This is where using inquiry as part of a collaborative process of ‘inventing the future’ becomes important – not to ‘fill the void’ until things return to normal, but to give effect to that continual transformation.

I believe this is the case with our ‘perfect storm’ in the teaching profession. It’s not a case of putting in a number of measures in the hope that things will ‘settle down’ and return to ‘normal’ (whatever that is). The fact is that the very foundations of our education system have been and are being changed. It is unlikely that we will ever be able to provide the numbers of specialist teachers required – most certainly not if we expect every school to have a full quota of them, especially in our rural and remote schools.

I agree with Mark Steed that innovation is the key to tackling these problems, and that disruptive technologies will play a part in this – although I am less enamoured with his idea of education being offered at three price points according to preferences such as class size, facilities and the qualification of teachers!

For me the future lies in the sorts of innovation that we are already seeing in some areas, including the Virtual Learning Network that has been brokering connections between skilled teachers and students for nearly twenty years now, as well as the sterling work of Te Kura (The NZ Correspondence School) that caters annually for approx. 10,000 dual enrolled students. These very successful approaches, although not widely acknowledged as significantly as programmes offered in traditional, face to face schools, do cater for the preferences and interests of students first and foremost, allowing many to access their first choice subject options where otherwise they’d be denied.

Besides embracing this sort of online access to quality programmes as ‘normal’ (rather than ‘second best’), we need to be open to other forms of innovation that will enable our learners to have access to the subject options they desire – taught by specialists in those areas. This is likely to include far greater use of online, self-paced learning programmes, supported and reinforced by engaging and high quality tutorial-style sessions in face to face settings; engaging specialists in various areas to work alongside schools and teachers to ensure the quality of the subject matter expertise being offered; extending the school day to provide for ‘shifts’ of students and more flexibility for teachers; creating opportunities for learning ‘in situ’ with experts in the field (otherwise known as work-place experience, but with a greater degree of focus on the learning taking place – along the lines of programmes offered by the Big Picture schools for instance.)

To face the future we must accept that the stable state is simply an illusion, that things won’t ‘settle down’ once we’ve put a few temporary measures in place, just to tide us over! As educational leaders we need to be more courageous, more visionary and more disciplined in our efforts to create the future that will ensure our students get the education they deserve and that the issues of equity and quality aren’t lost in the process.

I’m sorry, but “making do” simply isn’t good enough!

What if all of this really is true??

In the 19th century the Industrial Revolution created a huge urban proletariat, and socialism spread because no other creed managed to answer the unprecedented needs, hopes and fears of this new working class. Liberalism eventually defeated socialism only by adopting the best parts of the socialist program. In the 21st century we might witness the creation of a massive new un-working class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society. This “useless class” will not merely be unemployed — it will be unemployable.

This morning I spent some time reading and reflecting on a challenging article I came across by Yuval Noah Harari titled “The Rise of the Useless Class” in which he asserts: “just as mass industrialization created the working class, the AI revolution will create a new un-working class” – a group he calls the ‘useless class’.

This is challenging stuff, and not entirely palatable for those of us who are ‘long in the tooth’ and concerned now about the future for our kids and grandkids. The central tenet of Harari’s thesis is that what we do as humans is the product of organic algorithms (occurring in our brains and consciousness), and that eventually these can, and will be replaced by the non-organic algorithms of machines and artificial intelligence.

Of course, Harari isn’t the only person speaking about such change. In 2015 Darrell West of the Brookings Institute wrote about the impact of emerging technologies on employment and public policy in which he cites computerized algorithms and artificial intelligence as key influencers of this change. West argues as one of the solutions we should consider the establishment of activity accounts for lifetime learning and job retraining.

Almost daily we see reference to this sort of thinking and the impact it is having on a changing job market. In New Zealand we are seeing robots being used increasingly in a range of industries, including areas not previously considered such as on dairy farms. And this change is occurring rapidly, as illustrated in a recent Bloomberg article suggesting economists may be underestimating how fast robots are coming. A July 2016 report from Mckinsey predicts that 45% of all jobs in the US could be replaced by technology that currently exists – although when asked about this US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin doesn’t see it this way, saying that the artificial intelligence revolution and its impact on the US workforce is “not even on our radar screen.”

This is not the first time I’ve felt confronted by bold predictions about the future. Back in the 1970s when I was training to be a teacher we were encouraged to read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, much of which I’ve seen come to pass in my 40 year career. While my peers and I might have read the material, very few of us (myself included) took these predictions as seriously as we might, and soon found ourselves immersed in the culture of schools and teaching of the time, finding little opportunity (or need) to actively pursue new ideas and approaches in our practice. For me that came later in my career!

While I’m sure there will be many others besides Mnuchin who have a similar ‘optimism’ that nothing will change (or if so then very slowly), there are indeed plenty of signs that they indeed are. And if this is the case, then we need to be concerned about how best to prepare ourselves. This is the question that Liam Dann responds to in an excellent article in the NZ Herald  titled “how to prepare your kids for the robot revolution“, in which he explores whether they will kill our jobs, and how we can future-proof our children.

Reflecting on it all this morning I find myself asking

What if we were to take this challenge seriously – and I mean, really seriously??

What if all of this talk about robots and artificial intelligence really is true? As Harari points out in the article…

Since we do not know how the job market would look in 2030 or 2040, today we have no idea what to teach our kids. Most of what they currently learn at school will probably be irrelevant by the time they are 40. Traditionally, life has been divided into two main parts: a period of learning, followed by a period of working. Very soon this traditional model will become utterly obsolete, and the only way for humans to stay in the game will be to keep learning throughout their lives and to reinvent themselves repeatedly.

In view of this sort of challenge…

  • How might we reconsider our models of school and schooling?
  • How might we reconceptualise our thinking about curriculum and assessment?
  • What about our pedagogical practice – who teaches who and how?
  • What will be the role of teachers – and who will those teachers be?
  • What emphasis needs to be on things like citizenship, ethics and equity – alongside the development of job-ready skills?

These questions have been asked for as long as I’ve been a teacher – but our schools and schooling system remains largely the same as when I started. Sure, there are now more computers being used, a number of walls have been knocked down between classrooms and vogue terms such as learning styles and personalised learning have entered our vocabulary, but for the most part these are what I call first level changes (where the change takes place within accepted boundaries and leaves basic values unexamined and unchanged).

If the challenges presented by Harari and others are really true, then perhaps we need to be actively pushing at the boundaries of existing practice and examining the assumptions that influence first order thinking (second level change). Then we need to push on to develop a deep understanding of alternative world views and ways of doing things, seeking change that is transformative – for both individuals and the whole of society (third level change).

So I ask again….

What if we were to take this challenge seriously – and I mean, really seriously??

Balancing internal and external expertise in professional learning

canadian-pd

I’ve spent a number of days recently in a couple of schools where I’ve been working with school leaders and staff for an extended period of time now, assisting them with their strategic visioning and planning, and in coaching and mentoring staff leading their in-school professional learning programmes. I find this highly satisfying and rewarding work – and it reminds me of just how complex the setting of a school is, and  how important it can be to have a variety of perspectives included in the process of designing and implementing an effective PLD programme that will (a) help a school achieve it’s strategic goals, (b) enable individual teachers to develop and grow professionally, and (c) contribute to raising student achievement as the ‘end game’.

New Zealand schools are currently coming to terms with what the new environment for professional learning means for them. The Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako that they are being encouraged to form are described as a group of education and training providers working together to help learners achieve their full potential. The significant difference here is that previously the agenda for government funded Professional Learning was determined by the Ministry of Education in order to meet their objectives – where now the onus is on schools and Kāhui Ako to take on this responsibility – and then proceed to find the approach that will best suit them to achieve this.

As someone who has spent much of the past two decades working alongside schools and teachers I am very interested in the approaches being taken (and in some cases not being taken) to engage with external expertise as a part of this process. In the Best Evidence Synthesis, Helen Timperley et al. (2007) emphasise the role of external expertise, which they say can assist in creating more challenging dialogue across a group. They found that “all studies of professional communities that did not lead to improved outcomes for students lacked external input. In these studies, challenges to assumptions held by community members typically did not happen” (p.203)**.

So it was with interest today that I came cross a report titled The State of Educators’ Professional Learning in Canada (pdf) from LearningForward, which provides a  useful overview of the experience in Canada – across the diverse approaches taken across the ten states and three provinces – of the provision of professional learning in schools.

Overall, the study findings indicate that valuing, respecting, and promoting a range of professionals’ and students’ outcomes is important in Canada. Student achievement matters; however, outcomes are not only about test scores. Generally, professional learning content needs to develop teachers’ efficacy, knowledge, and practices in order to support students’ efficacy, engagement, learning, and equity of outcomes.

In relation to my point above regarding the role of external vs internal expertise (and direction setting etc.) the Canadian report concludes..

Overall, the findings indicate that system- and school-directed professional development can be important to support current priorities; however, such development also needs to be balanced with flexibility for teachers and other educators to identify specific professional learning needs for themselves linked to their students, schools, and contexts. Opportunities for teachers to lead their own learning, and that of their colleagues, can benefit individual and collective professional learning and support changes in practices to benefit students’ learning.

This finding should offer some encouragement (and direction) for New Zealand schools who now have the mandate to operate with similar agency as they identify specific professional learning needs for themselves linked to their students, schools, clusters and contexts.

The key findings in the report are:

  • Evidence, inquiry, and professional judgement are informing professional learning policies and practices
  • The priority area identified by teachers for developing their knowledge and practices is how to support diverse learners’ needs
  • A focus on a broad range of students’ and professionals’ learning outcomes is important
  • The appropriate balance of system-directed and self-directed professional development for teachers is complex and contested
  • There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to professional learning; teachers are engaging in multiple opportunities for professional learning and inquiry with differentiation for their professional needs
  • Collaborative learning experiences are highly valued and prevalent within and across schools and wider professional networks
  • Teachers value professional learning that is relevant and practical for their work; “’job-embedded” should not mean school-based exclusively as opportunities to engage with external colleagues and learning opportunities matter also
  • Time for sustained, cumulative professional learning integrated within educators’ work lives requires attention
  • Inequitable variations in access to funding for teachers’ self-selected professional development are problematic
  • System and school leaders have important roles in supporting professional learning for teachers and for themselves
**Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., and Fung, I. (2007). Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES). Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Practice-based learning

learningtoteach

The start of the school year in NZ is not far away now and I’ve been gearing up for a number of teacher only days with schools in various parts of the country. As part of my preparation I’ve been talking with some of the principals and senior staff in these schools to determine exactly how my contribution will assist them in achieving the goals they have set for staff etc.

A common theme that is raised in these conversations concerns how well (or not) teachers are being prepared for their work in schools the approaches taken to initial teacher education in many of our pre-service providers. A critical concern is around the perceived gap between theory and practice, and what appears to be the limited amount of time pre-service candidates spend in classrooms practicing and refining the things they have learned in the lecture halls and classrooms of their initial teacher ed provider.

It’s an age-old debate – one that was certainly alive and well when I was a lecturer in one of these institutions, and that was before the amalgamations with Universities had even occurred. And it’s not simply the domain of education in focus here – we’ve seen similar developments in health, with nurses being trained in primarily in tertiary institutions and less on the ground in hospitals for instance.

It always seems to polarise opinion. Advocates for greater amounts of time in classroom-based experience argue that it ensures candidates are more ‘classroom ready’ when they graduate, particularly when it comes to aspects of behaviour and classroom management. Those advocating for more theory argue that building such a base of knowledge better prepares students for the diversity of experiences they may encounter in their career. A sub-argument in this group is the fact that it’s often cheaper and less resource intensive to cater for larger groups in a lecture-style environment.

practice-based-importantI am personally disposed toward a practice-based approach. Just a few  years ago I had the privilege of being part of the team that designed and developed a new pre-service teacher education programme for the Eastern Institute of Technology. This three-year Bachelor of Teaching qualification is a practice-based teacher education programme providing a balance between theory, research and practice. The practice-based approach involves the candidate teachers working alongside experienced teachers in local primary and intermediate schools for two days a week as part of the programme. The other days in the week are spent on campus exploring the research and theoretical aspects of curriculum and pedagogy etc.

A point to be made here is that practice-based approaches are about much more than simply finding a place for candidate teachers to spend time observing and then mimicking what they see being modelled by their host teachers. An argument against practice-based approaches is that they can simply result in a ‘replication’ model of classroom practice – where bad habits and poor teaching strategies are perpetuated. Practice-based approaches will only work where both the candidate teachers and the host teachers are working together to resolve the issues and concerns they face in the classroom on a daily basis, drawing from experience, evidence and research as they do so.  The strength of the EIT programme is that it is a true partnership between the candidate teachers, EIT as the provider organisation and the schools which provide much more than simply a place for the candidate teachers to ‘practice’.

The report illustrated at the top of this post titled ‘learning to teach‘ outlines essential features for providing high-quality, structured, and sequenced opportunities to practice within teacher preparation programs. The report recommends that programmes should fully incorporate the following features into all practice-based opportunities:

  • Modelling is how teacher educators provide candidates examples of what expert performance looks like in practice.
  • Spaced learning opportunities are those that offer candidates opportunities to practice the knowledge and skills acquired in coursework over a period of time, that are sustained and repeated, and that are scaffolded to deepen candidate expertise.
  • Varied learning opportunities are those that provide candidates with opportunities to practice the knowledge and skills they learned in their coursework across varying contexts, with a diverse range of student learners, and with differing degrees of support.
  • Coaching and feedback opportunities are those in which supervisors provide explicit coaching and constructive feedback as candidates practice the knowledge and skills they acquired in their coursework. The focus of the coaching and feedback is on improving candidates’ practice and expertise.
  • Analyzing and reflecting opportunities are those in which candidates practice the knowledge and skills they acquired in their coursework while engaging in analysis and reflection upon both their practice and their impact on student learning.
  • Scaffolded practice-based opportunities are those in which candidates apply the knowledge and skills they acquired through their coursework, within teaching experiences that gradually increase in complexity over time with fading support from teacher educators to promote deeper learning of content, improved instructional implementation, and, ultimately, autonomous performance.

Arguably, these same features could (or should) just as easily characterise effective in-service professional learning. The point is that the relationship between pre-service and in-service teacher education so often focuses on what makes them different, rather than what makes them the same or similar. If we are truly committed to principles of life-long learning, teaching as inquiry and responsive practice, then we need to be thinking more of developing an approach to professional learning that is more collegial, more collaborative and more inquiry-focused – where the openness to changing practice in light of evidence is the norm.

So let’s stop the rhetoric that ‘blames’ others for the perceived failure to adequately prepare for or grow within the profession and let’s start 2017 with a commitment to working together to find new ways of addressing the issues and concerns in our classrooms, schools and clusters, using methodologies and approaches that draw upon the vast pool of experience, research and evidence that exists in our midst.

Whakahaerehia tētahi Hour of Code Mahimaina mō tō akomanga

minecraft-header

December 5-11 is Computer Science Education Week, and everywhere I go there seems to be all sorts of activity going on with children in schools learning to code and use computers in interesting ways.

One of the initiatives that seems to have taken off this year is Hour of Code™, and as part of this initiative the organisation I work for, CORE Education, has worked with with Microsoft, OMG Tech! and High Tech Youth support this by assisting with the development of a new Minecraft tutorial, which was developed in close partnership with Code.org.

The tutorial includes Minecraft characters and Minecraft-inspired challenges that will be familiar to the expansive Minecraft community, while still being approachable to newcomers interested in learning the basics of coding and game design. The new Minecraft tutorial is for students ages 6 to 106—anyone can learn to code!

Our Māori team at CORE have contributed to this effort by ensuring new Minecraft tutorial is available in Te Reo Māori. This now makes this significant resource available to students in the many Māori Medium schools we have in New Zealand.

Why code? In a society continually transformed by technology, the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills gained through computer science education provide the essential tools needed to innovate, pursue in-demand jobs, and understand the world. All young people should have the opportunity to learn the skills needed to fulfil their passions.

It’s easy to sign up your school or class to run an Hour of Code programme – with everything you will need to lead your own Minecraft Hour of Code, including a facilitator’s guide, quick tip sheet, and PowerPoint slides. These materials are available for you here.

The Future of Education


I’ve spent some of the time over the past few days preparing for two conferences that are coming up next week – the first being the NPDL Southern Deep Learning Lab in Christchurch, and the second being the huge ULearn conference – being held this year in Rotorua and expecting nearly 2000 educators from all over New Zealand. Each event provides an opportunity for educators to delve more deeply into the things they’re interested in and to be exposed to a wide range of new ideas and new thinking that they can translate back into their context.

As I look through the abstracts and programme for ULearn this year, I am heartened to see a distinct change in the themes and topics that are the focus of the three days. Alongside the usual array of workshops sharing new ideas for using technology in the classroom, there is a more significant focus on the ‘bigger picture’ issues impacting our education system – consistent with the themes of the conference , and the focus on Transformation that is common across this  year’s keynote speakers.

Seems to me that now, more than ever before, we need to create room in our busy lives to take time for this sort of thinking, as now more than ever before, we’re facing times of exponential change in all facets of our lives – including education! In these exponential time we are faced with a number of wicked problems that will require much thought, consultation and innovation. They cannot be solved by the simple stroke of a politician’s pen to implement some new strategy, neither will the be solved by learning about some new app that one can install on a tablet to assist with reading.

productivity-commissionAs part of my preparation for the conference I’ve been reviewing a number of the ‘big ideas’ that are impacting education at present – and pondering these in light of the various political agendas that seem to be driving change at present. One of the things that set me thinking along these lines was the release of the draft report from the Productivity Commission on New Models of Tertiary Education (PDF). Not surprisingly the draft report has drawn immediate reaction from a wide range of people – including politicians, universities, tertiary teacher unions etc. as it makes some very bold recommendations for what might happen in our tertiary sector.

What interests me in the report are the key messages that have emerged through the process of consultation so far, and how these have influenced the recommendations being made. These include…

  • Need to agree on the purpose of education – focus on developing personal skills to live an enriched life, but includes public benefits too: a stronger civic society.
  • Students are disempowered in the system – there needs to be a strong focus on placing students at the heart of the system, recognising the agency of learners, and the need to meet the needs of all learners, from diverse backgrounds and with diverse goals.
  • High levels of regulation and compliance have the effect of perpetuating traditional approaches to tertiary education.
  • A high degree of central control [of the system] stifles the ability of providers to innovate,
  • Providers are more responsive to the government than to students.
  • While some teachers and providers innovate, core business models have persisted i.e. there isn’t evidence of innovation at a system level.
  • Inertia is an emergent property of the system – and government control is pervasive.
  • Quality is a concern – the system appropriately seeks to ensure minimum standards are met, but overall the system lacks a mechanism for rewarding quality or responsiveness to students.
  • The system is educating fewer students over time and continues to serve some population groups poorly.

Astute readers will recognise that many of these points are also made about the compulsory schooling system – in fact, similar points are made in almost all of the reports about education systems around the world at present. Not surprising then, are the familiar kinds of recommendations that have emerged, including…

  • allowing more providers into the market – including those providing for international qualifications and those with different approaches such as MOOCs etc.
  • breaking open the EFTS (currently measured in hours of ‘seat time) – allowing the introduction of innovative models of delivery
  • giving institutions more autonomy and responsibility – including over all of its financial concerns
  • promoting student access and mobility – mix and match courses from multiple providers to build their qualifications

Whether or how these recommendations are acted on will depend on the feedback in the next round of consultation – what we can be more certain of, however, is that the rate and pace of exponential change will continue to impact on us, demanding that changes are made to our system – and these must be transformational in nature, not simply incremental.

The video at the top of this post is a salient reminder of the types of issues we face – not because it is necessarily an accurate prediction of what the future may hold, but because of the way it captures and illustrates the potential futures that may emerge based on the actual present and recent past events that are a part of this exponential change in society. There are a lot of important indicators embedded in this video that are consistent with the messages coming through the Productivity Commission’s report, and as educators we will do well to deeply engage in the debates and issues – not devote all of our energy to the superficial themes that are distributed by the ‘sound bite’ journalists in the media.

The salient point of this video comes right at the end where the narrator attempts to conclude that there are two possible directions the future may take. The predictions are concerning at the very least, and verging on apocolyptic at worst – but serve to illustrate the point I am trying to make, that in the times ahead, the times that will define the future for the kids in our schools, for our own kids and grandkids, the challenges we face will be wicked problems (problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise) and to address them will require that we all are proficient in the skills of critical thinking/problem-solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration, and that we demonstrate the character qualities of curiosity, initiative, persistence/grit, adaptability, leadership, social and cultural awareness.

The fact is that we’ve needed to steer this course for some time now – but the fact is that our pace of change is being outstripped by the pace of change in the world in which we live and in the lives of our students!

As we make our way to the various conferences and events we have lined up over this student break, let’s be prepared to raise the level of our thinking and allow ourselves to be challenged, made uncomfortable and to engage deeply in the issues that we most urgently need to address. Or, as the move above warns, we will by default subject ourselves to the decisions of ‘the leader’ (whoever or whatever that may mean!).