What I like about the McKinsey report is that it attempts to look beyond the usual hype and speculation that comes with an emerging technology, and dig a little deeper to examine the potential impact of that technology, why they consider it disruptive, and what both the benefits and challenges may be.
The report identifies twelve disruptive technologies, and provides a very useful analysis of each – supported by clear and easy to interpret graphics that make the task of digesting all of the information that much easier.
The image below is captured from the pop-up gallery of disruptive technologies that can be accessed from the web site. It lists the twelve technologies that are examined in the report, showing the estimated potential economic impact of each.
Of interest to me is the criteria used to determine what the McKinsey group actually mean by a disruptive technology. They identify three key things – speed, range of impact, and potential scale of economic value, which are represented in the report as follows…
The technology is rapidly advancing or experiencing breakthroughs. Disruptive technologies typically demonstrate a rapid rate of change in capabilities in terms of price/performance relative to substitutes and alternative approaches, or they experience breakthroughs that drive accelerated rates of change or discontinuous capability improvements.
The potential scope of impact is broad. To be economically disruptive, a technology must have broad reach.
Significant economic value could be affected. An economically disruptive technology must have the potential to create massive economic impact.
Economic impact is potentially disruptive. Technologies that matter have the potential to dramatically change the status quo.
Then there's the 'so what' part of thinking about all of this. Towards the end of the report, the authors summarise what they see as the implications for governments and policy makers. Among their advice is the following which I see as having huge implications for those of us involved in preparing young people for their future;
The biggest challenges for policy makers could involve the effects of technologies that have potentially large effects on employment. By 2025, technologies that raise productivity by automating jobs that are not practical to automate today could be on their way to widespread adoption. Historically, when labor-saving technologies were introduced, new and higher value-adding jobs were created. This usually happens over the long term. However, productivity without the innovation that leads to the creation of higher value-added jobs results in unemployment and economic problems, and some new technologies such as the automation of knowledge work could significantly raise the bar on the skills that workers will need to bring to bear in order to be competitive.
With the world of work predicted to change so markedly, it's simply no longer acceptable to sit back and us the nature of our assessment and other excuses as reasons for no pushing forward with a more future-focused view of our curriculum and how we present it. As educators we need to be thinking more critically about the offerings we provide in our curriculum, and just how seriously we take the 'front half' of our (NZ) curriculum framework that deals with key competencies, for example.
In our schools, and in society more generally, we have some serious questions to address…
Do we truly understand and have grappled with the implications of what it means to 'raise thebar' on the skills that workers will need to bring to bear in order to be competitive? What does this mean for our students? what does this mean for the current and next generation of teachers in their own professional lives?
In our vision for the students in our schools currently, what is the emphasis we give to creating 'knowledge workers' for the future? Do we have an accepted understandin of what that means? How do we assess this?
As we move towards a more knowledge-based economy, with greater levels of automation of how do we avoid the consequent potential for unemployment and negative economic impact?
I have a 15 year old son who is in year 11 at high school this year. Since age 10 he has been keen on learning how to program computers, beginning with Scratch while he was at intermediate school, and moving onto building his own mods for Minecraft and teaching himself a bit of Java by watching videos on YouTube in more recent years. He had to wait until this year however, his third at high school, before a course was available for him to participate in at school, where he could receive credits for one of the areas he is passionate about learning in.
He's not alone – I know if several families with kids who are keen to learn how to 'make the applications' that others use on their devices – to understand what makes it work and to be able to problem solve for themselves anything that may go wrong. Some schools do a great job in providing courses that allow students to do this, a lot of is is extra-curricular. For the most part, however, there isn't too much emphasis on teaching programming in our schools – at any level. There are, of course, many reasons for this. While it's true there are kids out there wanting to do this, there are often not the numbers in any one school to make it a viable option to offer. Second, we simply don't have the number of teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge in all of our schools who can teach it competently to be able to staff all of our schools.
A story I read this week titled Teaching our kids to code: an economic and social justice issue prompted this post as I reflect on this issue. The article reports on the work of entrepreneur and investor, Hardi Partovi, who wants all high schools to offer computer science classes because it represents a growing cluster of job skills. To fix the problem Hadi launched Code.org, a non-profit foundation dedicated to growing computer programming education. The front page is worth a look with its extensive list of high profile people adding their support for the initiative – and the video above is from the site. A quote from the article sums up the motivation for the site:
[Code.org] is packed with stats that make the case for coding. For example, did you know that coding jobs aren’t just in tech? In fact, almost 70% of them are in other sectors–most businesses need people that can code. However, there are fewer schools, teachers, and computer science students in the US than 10 years ago. By contrast, every high school graduate in China must take 4 credits of Computer Science–and yet in the US it’s not even on the menu in most schools.
This is where we need to start thinking more creatively about how we address the issue of providing coding courses in school. In the case of my son, the course he is now doing comes courtesy of Code Avengers. Each child in his class is provided with a log in, and the teacher becomes the mentor, guide, encourager etc as they work their way through the tutorials and assessments at their own pace. Not only does the use of this site provide the essential, instructionally-designed resources to support the course, the fact that it is online and bale to be accessed from home or school enables the students to complete the requirements at their own pace and from their own place – personalisation at its best!
The desire to 'take control' of the code and modify, adapt or simply build something from scratch is something we need to foster and encourage in our students if we're to successfully develop a generation of knowledge workers who can contribute to the economic future of NZ. This applies to more than simply learning to code – as illustrated in CORE's user+control focus in the Ten Trends for 2013.
I've been developing some thoughts for some time now about what I see as the key drivers of change for 21st Century learning – the things that will differentiate how learning occurs and how our learning insitutions and structures from what they were just a few decades ago.
The framework I've come up with consists of three key ideas:
Ubiquity - Anywhere, anytime, any pace, any device
Agency - ‘the power to act’ –informed/empowered/enabled learners
I explain a little of the thinking behind this in the video above which I prepared in response to a request from Wayne Mackintosh from the OER foundation. It's being used as a part of a series of 'video signposts' where international thought leaders to identify what they believe to be key uncertainties for the future of education. Please visit the pages on Wikieducator and post your thoughts and feedback on what the different speakers have to share.
I took a moment over lunch today to watch this recently released TED talk video. It's of Dr Geoffrey Canada, President of the Harlem Children's Zone in New York. Raised in poverty and the son of an alcoholic father, Canada introduces himself as black and mad. What he's mad about is the state of education, and the fact that few people seem to be bothered to do anything about it. He recognises that our traditional system caters well for the top achievers, who go on to be successful as leaders in our communities etc., but that it is hopelessly inadequate in dealing with a vast number of children who are then 'trapped' in the cycle of poverty and underachievement.
Canada's work with the Harlem Children's Zone is inspirational reading – I am particularly attracted to his vision of an education pipeline, from cradle to grave, which is outlined in the HZC's Path to Sustainability strategy.
Canada's TED talk doesn't provide answers, or explore solutions – they are evident through exploring the work he has done with the HCZ for more than two decades. This talk is of a passionate educator, speaking from the heart, provoking, convincing, persuading, appealing – that enough is enough! It's time for real change. There are some real gems in here, including the story of how banks changed their business model, and of the importance of data, but how useless it is if it isn't available when we need it to inform educational decisions.
While the context Canada speaks from and about is a long way from New Zealand, his underpinning concern resonates with me. Enough is enough. Time for a transformation agenda.
It's now 20 years since the WWW was brought into the world, and to celebrate,The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) has recreated the website that launched it.
CERN is not only preserving the original site, but also a range of information and artefacts associated with the origins of the web, including Tim Berners-Lee’s original proposal for the web.
Preserving this unique piece of the world's history is really important. As Dan Noyes, the web manager for CERN’s communication group says:
I want my children to be able to understand the significance of this point in time: the web is already so ubiquitous – so, well, normal – that one risks failing to see how fundamentally it has changed. We are in a unique moment where we can still switch on the first web server and experience it. We want to document and preserve that.
The whole project is being housed at the original web address info.cern.ch, and is worth visiting as it contains the history of the web, as well as CERN’s plans to preserve that history.
I see and hear lots of reference to game-based learning these days – the concept isn't new, but is certainly seeing a resurgance of interest with ongoing development of computer-based games and the application of the principles of this sort of game-playing being applied to the design of learning experiences for students.
The report first considers how the notion of game-based learning is defined, with a review of the literature and then offering some thoughts for moving forward. It then addresses the impct and potential impact of game-based learning on education, before considering specifically the implications for future reserach and implications for teachers and schools.
An excellent publication for anyone interested in game-based learning, particularly those looking at doing research in this area.
The main findings are as follows:
The literature was split on the extent to which video games can impact upon overall academic performance.
The studies consistently found that video games can impact positively on problem solving skills, motivation and engagement. However, it was unclear whether this impact could be sustained over time.
Despite some promising results, the current literature does not evidence adequately the presumed link between motivation, attitude to learning and learning outcomes. Overall, the strength of the evidence was often affected by the research design or lack of information about the research design.
Blended learning is certianly the buzz-word at many levels of our education system at the moment. Seems that students in both the school system and in tertiary insitituions are being offered 'blended' approaches to how they can engage with their learning. Plus there's also the whole area of professional development which is becoming more 'blended'.
So how are these approaches working – and are they really helping take us forward towards the visions for 21st century learning tht we are seeking to acheive?
While the title sounded appealing – the report really focuses on the role of technology and provides more of an anlysis of a 'technology-rich' approach to education, than on blended learning specificlly.
Despite this, the key finding of the study is something we need to take notice of, and that is, any use of educational technology (and thus blended learning) is ineffective without ways of analyzing its results. No surprises here, but a salient reminder that we must always be reflecting on and adapating our teaching behaviours in response to what we see happening in order to ensure that the goals we are aiming for are being met.
Here's where the link to blended learning is made. The report identifies that the use of educational technologies (ICTs) should be enabling blended approaches – focusing on empowering independent learners and supporting learner-centred programmes.
Schools that use technology to deliver content, collect data, or improve technical literacy are not engaged in blended learning when they are simply marrying technology to traditional methods," the report says.
The report provides case studies from a number of US schools where ICTs are being used to differentiate instruction (and lessons) based on specific students' learning levels and needs. In these schools the common characteristics include:
Constant, real-time data monitoring being used to streamline the formerly arduous task of analyzing student results.
Teachers having more time to plan and individualize lessons to accelerate and enhance learning.
Continuously looking for ways to improve their own models and re-think overall instructional design.
We've read it a thousand times before – using new tools to do old things in old ways won't lead to any change, and in fact, will stifle innovation and likely lead to even more cynicism in the system. So it is with blended learning. We need to be constantly examining our practice to ensure we're meeting the expectations of our learners.
Last week I had the privilege of working with the staff at Auckland Girls Grammar School, where they've been working for some time on how they integrate digital technologies into their teaching and learning programmes. The strategic approach to their thinking and planning extends to the way they've re-designed their library space to provide a wonderful open 'learning centre' that provides a sense of 'flow' that embraces access to traditional paper-based books and resources through to a technology support area where students can book out netbooks and other technologies such as cameras etc. for them to use in conjunction with their learning in this space. Also included in this end of the space are rooms that can be used for audio and video work (including a green room), plus plans to introduce a video conferencing room in the near future.
I am very impressed with what this school has done, transforming some traditional classrooms into a vibrant, multi-use and future-focused learning space that incorporates a lot of the features emerging in the literature and practice around modern learning environments - open-ness, flexibility, group space, personal space, quiet space etc. The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) suggests there are seven broad types of library space:
Public electronic workstation space
User seating space
Staff work space
Special use space
Non-assignable space (including mechanical space)
An article I read over the weekend from the NIBS provides some excellent insights into some of this thinking for school libraries as opposed to public libraries, and digs deep into where this thinking has come from and how it is manifest in modern library design.
Of course, having the space alone won't change the experience of learning or learners in the school – which is why time and effort is also being invested professional development activities for staff, providing inspiration, support and guidance around how this space may be used to its full potential within the overall teaching and learning at the school.
The key point for me is the fact that libraries in schools must be considered as an essential part of the overall learning environment, and their use must be integrated at every level into what is happening. The ideal, in my view, is for these spaces to be used continuously, not by formal 'classes' coming to use them (although that may happen occasionally) but by individuals and groups coming to make use of the space, the resource and the facilities provided, to carry out their learning tasks.
To achieve this requires much more than clever and future-focused building design – it requires changes in the way learning itself is organised (timetables, subjects, transmissive pedagogies etc.). Hats off to AGGS for embarking on this journey, and for the innovation shown so far in how they are achieving this.
For some time now I've used Minecraft as an example of the sort of gaming experience that I believe has application for education. Minecraft is essentially a computerised version of lego on steroids, allowing players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3Dprocedurally generated world. There's no pre-determined script or objective – just a mass of construction materials and opportunity to develop whatever you want.
The video above, from PBS Idea Channel, provides a persuasive argument for Minecraft as an educational tool – based largely on the premise that it's so customisabe. I have a son who began using Minecraft soon after its early release in 2010, and have watched with interest how this game has engaged him during the years since. Using this game he has built entire cities, complete with electricity generation and reticulation (which meant he had to solve how to generate the electricity, how to construct circuits etc. and how to solve the storage issue). He has worked with friends to build their own server and manage an installation of the game, and he and his friends have also taught themselves how to program and upload new objects into the Minecraft environment.
From my perspective it's a pretty compelling 'tool' for learning – and it seems that a number of educators from around the world think likewise. The resource Minecraft – a mountain of marvelous learning ideas – has been created as a Google Doc for people to add their own ideas and links to resources to support the use of minecraft in education. already there are several pages of ideas an links there that illustrate how Minecraft can be and is being used to support learning.
Of course, there's always the risk that when a tool or resource such as Minecraft is assimilated into the formal education environment it will end up killing interest and creativity, as highlighted in a recent article in edudemic which looks at the pros and cons of Minecraft in education, but I do believe there's a lot we, as educators, can learn from the phenomena that is Minecraft, and we'd do well to consider how we might embrace the principles upon which the game is based in our formal education system.
While I've been at the CoSN conference this week there has been a lot of discussion about the Common Core in the US and other standards-based approaches being adopted in various countries around the world (incudiing NZ). The focus of these initiatives is on defining a set of standards which represent the goals and assessment targets for students at various stages in their learning journey.
The promoters of such initiatives argue that standards-based instruction allows teachers, students and parents to be on the same page, providing explicit and shared understandings of expectations at different levels and how these are assessed.
Detractors point out how standards become quickly viewed as a 'minimum competence' requirement, and can end up limiting innovation, creativity and the aspirational aspects of a good education.
Truth is that good teachers and schools have been using standards forever in one way, shape or form, the arguments appear to be over national applicability, the quality and relevance of the standards, and the reliability and validity of the methods of measurement.
The focus on using standards to assess student achievement raises the inevitable of standards for teachers. NZ has these in place for graduating and practicing teachers, as does the US. The idea of requiring practicing teachers to maintain a level of professional knowedge and action seems reasonable, particularly in light of some of the findings reported in my previous blog post that highlighted the reported mis-match between teachers’ own use of digital tools and their concerns about and perceptions of student use for instance. After all, we have the same expectation of other professions (you wouldn't be inclined to go to a dentist or doctor who hadn't unpgraded their knowledge and practice since graduation for instance).
The video at the top of this post provides an overview of the Australian professional standards, comprising of seven standards that outline what teachers should know and be able to do. For me the clip presents an aspirational view of what we expect of those working in the profession – of individuals who will be successful in leading, mentoring and engaging those in their care. I like the emphasis on creating a career path as an objective, and also the emphasis on cultural literacy, something I believe will become increasingly important in our system.
For me the reflection on these matters as I wait for a plane to fly back to NZ, thinking about the professional conversations I've had while out of the country, lead me to thinking about how important the alignment is between what we expect of our students and those teaching them. Whether we accept the notion of standards or not, one cannot avoid acknowledging the fact that if there is a mis-match between what teachers say and do, or between espoused theory and theory in action, our students are not being well served and expectations of them achieving the aspirations we have for them are unlikely to be achieved.