If you're looking for a great way to start your school year with a large dose of professional stimulation, why not come and join everyone at the Learning@School conference from 22nd and 23rd January at SkyCity, Auckland.
The annual L@S conference provides an um-missable opportunity to link with hundreds of other educators from around New Zealand, and other parts of the world.
This year I'm really looking forward to hearing Professor Tim Bell from Canterbury University who is one of the keynote speakers.
Tim is a true innovator, with a great story to tell about how he has managed to bring computer science to life for young learners. Having to find an engaging way to explain the underlying concepts of computer science to a classroom of five-year-olds provided him with a platform for a novel teaching tool that has taken the computing education world by storm.
His "computer science unplugged" programme is used internationally, and now has a significant amount of support from Internet giant, Google. You'll be energised to hear Tim's ideas on how we can engage young (and old) learners with computer science, teaching them to be creators, not simply consumers in this digital world.
To help you plan your time at the conference there's a useful 'pick a path' approach that you can use to select the speakers and workshops you'd especially like to hear or participate it. The video below explains how…
Keynote Three: Knowledge is a Blessing on your Mind
Those who didn’t have to rush away to catch a plane were privileged to hear eminent historian, writer and academic, and current New Zealander of the year, Dame Anne Salmond as the final keynote at the ULearn13 conference. For me there couldn’t have been a more fitting climax to the conference.
Dame Anne’s message brought the perspective I’d been hoping for – a well articulated case for why we must be striving to see change in our education system if we’re to prepare our young people for the future they face – and deserve.
Dame Anne expertly combined personal stories, historical perspectives and elements of contemporary philosophy to describe possible futures in New Zealand, and the idea of education as a journey. She quoted her personal mentor Eruera Stirling who once told her that thinking of learning as a journey "helps your footsteps to find the right pathway."
Here teachers give their students the confidence and skills to navigate towards new horizons. Teachers stand at the nexus between our children and their future. No pressure here, just a challenge for us all as educators to consider what really drives what we do – the 'why' question again.
Dame Anne repeatedly asserted that every child is a Taonga. Our children are our guarantors of our future happiness and prosperity. She illustrated how in pre-European Māori tradition, children were afforded a special place in everything that occurred on the marae. They were not separated from the world of the adults, and so their learning was in the context of the everyday affairs of the marae and its people.
She contrasted this with the influences on our current Western society, citing the great chain of being that has left us with a legacy of hierarchical, top down structures and processes in almost every fact of our society. This approach, so ingrained in our thinking and behavior, can be seen in everything from the structure of our corporations and governments.
She also referred to The Order of Things, that has given us gridded models (think Linneus, calendars, spreadsheets), as a means for organizing ourselves, our lives and our society. This gridded pattern is deeply ingrained in how we have constructed schools – both as physical entities and in terms of the patterns of organization that exist within them (think timetables, subjects, exams etc.)
For me this was of particular significance, as I am immersed currently in thinking about modern learning environments and how these might be conceived of and developed. Dame Anne’s address has been helpful in understanding from an anthropological and socio-cultural perspective the tensions that exist in our discourse and behavior that cause us so often to retreat to what is known and familiar (the order of things) rather than take risks and explore the more open, connected and heterarchical approaches that will ensure our future – and the future of our children, our taonga.
If there's one thing I've taken from this conference it is the re-kindled determination to more consciously resist the traditional, hierarchical 'chains of command' that exist in our workplaces, our schools, our classrooms, and activley support alternative approaches. These are anathema to the state we should be endeavouring to create, and everyone who succumbs to this way of thinking becomes a block to progress being made.
The Sharing Nexus: Connecting, Learning and the 21st Century Educational Environment
Mark Pesce’s opening line was “at this moment, education is at its biggest crisis that it’s been in for centuries!” Now there’s a comment bound to polarize people – and it seemed to work. Not that that’s a bad thing, because whatever side of the debate you might find yourself, it helps to sharpen the receptors for what’s coming next!
Mark went on to explain that this crisis presents the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity in education.
So what is the crisis he was referring to? It’s the challenge of connectedness – the fact that everything is now challenged because all of us are now connected all of the time – to all forms of information and recorded knowledge, to each other and to events.
It’s a crises arising from the patterns of an old education system where knowledge is regarded as rare and valuable being confronted by a new system characterized by connectivity and sharing, involving knowledge sharing, and shared knowledge construction, with no tops or bottoms, no respect for “falsity”
Mark cited the example of Wikipedia which has matured into a definitive, online factual resource. “We didn’t know what was coming with Wikipedia until we got it – couldn’t see that this heralded a new form of knowledge creation and sharing until it happened” he says.
In this connected world we absorb the learning of others. Where imitation was previously bounded by proximity, it now has global scale. We’re learning from everyone all of the time – this is natural behavior, in our genes, but is now being amplified beyond the scale that any formal system can contain.
The challenge then is how does the classroom cope with that? How does the educator face this challenge?
And this haring isn’t going to be restricted to the rich, Western countries with high infrastructure and GDP etc. – it will be available to everyone. Where once the cost of the technology created a so-called ‘digital divide’ separating those with from those without, now these digital necessities are coming within reach of everyone everywhere, as illustrated in the case of India providing the $29 Aakash tablet to all students. It is powerful enough to provide a rich, online learning experience to everyone
So what will be left for teachers to do – if students are going to have such unfettered access to the vast knowledge store of the world? Pesce argues that educators are going to be left with the ‘hard problems’ – the problems that can’t be solved through peer mentoring. Professional educators will step in to bridge the gap where existing knowledge sharing and peer mentoring fail.
Every day will present unique problems to solve – not following a pre-set curriculum. 21st century educators are successful to the degree that they are innovative, collaborative. Everyday brings a unique challenge
There will be a tremendous cultural and institutional pressure to connect children before they’re ready or prepared for this. Connectivity doesn’t immediately imply wisdom.
Pesce argues that if we resist the tide of change we will be swept away by it. So we need to assess what needs to change if we’re to enter the era of hyper connected education.
Situated within a networked community, connected learners can begin sharing across timezones, languages, cultures, – a classroom on a global scale. In such an environment, how can anything be centralized?
Scaffolding for this must begin in the first years of formal education. Without these skills meaningful participation in a culture of shared knowledge building is impossible.
This raises the issue of assessment – most often performed today by separating students from the resources they need to complete the assessment. In a pervasive sharing culture, assessment is intrinsic to the act of sharing – you cannot share unless you have some level of expertise. Every moment of peer mentoring will be a moment of assessment.
Mark expertly made the case for a radically different approach to assessment in our schools – moving the focus entirely from a measurement made at the end of a period of study, to something that occurs throughout the learning process. He argues that this fits perfectly within the culture of a competency-based curriculum. Students learn to assess and be assessed by their peers to power their way through a curriculum.
Mark’s keynote had me following every word – it was one of the most well articulated explanations of and case made for connectedness that I’ve heard, and supports the premise that I’ve argued for some time now that this is one of the three ‘game-changers’ for 21st century learning as illustrated in the diagram below.
It was my pleasure to interview Mark immediately after his keynote for a video that will soon appear on EdTalks. Meantime, there’s a shared Google doc containing the thoughts and comments of delegates who heard him speak.
Inspire and Motivate Through Transformational Teaching and Learning
US Educator, Ken Shelton, was the opening keynote for this year’s Uearn13. When he received his invitation to come to NZ to speak at ULearn13 he said he was so excited he thought he might swim!
Ken’s presentation provided a perspective of a youthful, enthusiastic and optimistic user if ICTs as a vehicle to engage and motivate learners. He modeled this by making extensive use of online tools – including a collaborative backchannel on TodaysMeet which was used by delegates to record their responses and reflections on the things Ken shared. As he noted, “the smartest person in the room is the room” and so this provided a space for delegates to add their collective wisdom.
Unfortunately Ken experienced a little difficulty near the beginning of his talk, just as he was connecting us to an online polling site – thanks to a contractor somewhere in the North Island who managed to severe the fibre connection, causing it to be re-routed through a ‘throttled’ line – causing problems for the more than 1000 concurrent users attempting to connect to an international site at the time!
Despite this, Ken made a valiant come-back, and went on to challenge us to think about “What does it mean to transform?” and “What does transformation look like?”. The transformation theme was really at the heart of his message, urging us to think about how we need to consider embracing the opportunities that ICTs provide us with in education to actually transform practice, not simply replicate things we currently do by substituting new for old ways.
This was a familiar message to many of the delegates who have been at the vanguard of ICT innovation for a while now, but for others it was a timely and refreshing challenge, reminding us new and inspiring ways that we cannot become complacent.
Ken demonstrated that the foundations of pedagogy and learning haven’t changed – just our way of doing things. When it comes to using ICTs in the classroom, the foundations of use, the reasons for use etc. haven’t changed – but what we use, how we use it and what it does for us – the items themselves and the mechanisms of gaining access to them have changed. This, according the Ken, is where the transformation occurs.
Ken emphasized that fun can change behavior for the better – using video clip of the Stockholm experiment changing stairs into a keyboard to illustrate how a simple thing can significantly alter behavior.
His key message – “all we need to do is use one thing to make a huge difference. Don’t get hung up on the technology – focus on what you want to achieve – the pedagogical intent. Sometimes a very simple change produces a major result. It’s not necessary to always think of making big changes, multiple changes etc.”
Ken also exhorted delegates to consider taking risk when they return to their schools and classes, emphasizing the value in risk and asking, “Are we risk assertive, or risk avertive?”
If there was something missing from Ken's presentation from my perspective it was a more compelling argument regarding why this transformation is necessary. We've become very used to hearing speakers implore us to embrace these new technologies in our schools, frequently based on the argument that they create learning that is more engaging, more motivating and more authentic for learners. But this on its own appears not to be enough to convince the literally thousands of teachers and education leaders who don't attend conferences such as ULearn. Nor is it enough to convince politicians and holders of the public purse to invest the significant amounts of money required to provide the support and resources needed to achieve this.
That said, the challenge Ken left me with was to think again about what it means to genuinely transform what we are doing in our schools – and in our education system. He also reminded me of how important it is to take risks and be creative in order to allow the real potential of the ICTs become apparent in what we’re doing.
I’ve spent the weekend relaxing after an intense four days in Hamilton at the ULearn13 conference with more than 1400 educators from New Zealand and a handful from Australia. It’s been an opportunity to reflect on the event and the things I learned and observed, and about the contribution of this event to the learning and development of schools across our country.
I recall one of the first of these conferences (not known as ULearn then) that we organized back in 2001 (I think). Nick Billowes and his team were determined to include a conference like this as a sort of ‘staff meeting’ for teachers across the country who were involved in the ICTPD programme as it was then known. I was invited to present the opening keynote, after which there were just a handful of workshops run by NZ teachers. There were around 70 people at that event – and I recall the organizing group struggling to think of people they might invited to run the 5-6 workshops they needed for the programme. How things have changed!
This is the thing that makes the ULearn event a little different from many other conferences. While there are the keynotes and spotlight presentations for inspiration, the 300 or so workshops run by teachers for teachers makes it most significantly a peer-to-peer, knowledge-building event. Further, the face-to-face workshops provide simply one aspect of this – the catalyst for connecting if you like. The extraordinary back-channel communication (e.g. Twitter and Google docs etc.) that is generated from these workshops creates a wealth of information for delegates to reflect on and use when back in their schools, and many of the connections made are continued well into the year ahead – sometimes leading to collaborative projects that become the topic of a workshop at a subsequent ULearn conference.
As an example of this, this year we had a delegation of participants from the University of the South Pacific. A contact made at last year’s conference with Geoff Wood from Rosmini College led to a connection with teachers in Fiji as part of his ‘over the back fence’ project, which was presented as a workshop at ULearn13.
With such a crowd of people it can be difficult to cater for everyone’s needs, but the organization of ULearn is underpinned by the same conceptual framework that all of CORE’s professional learning is based on. Using a concerns based adoption model (CBAM) as a guide, the programme is deliberately planned to include opportunities for people to engage in ways that meet their particular needs – as well as the needs of their school.
Of course, there are always exceptions. On the last day of the conference I spoke to one of our conference sponsors who was in the trades hall area, who told me of how she’d been harangued by a delegate the previous evening, complaining that the conference offered her nothing new and was a complete waste of the money her school had paid to send her there. When asked if she’d used the break times to connect with other teachers and find out about the interesting things they were doing back in their schools the woman replied “there aren’t many interesting people here!”
But that’s an extreme example – the vast majority of people I spoke with and observed were making the most of every opportunity to connect, engage and learning with and from each other. In particular, it was again inspiring to observe and speak with many principals who had brought a number of staff with them to the conference, planning beforehand the things they wanted to focus on, and using the break times to reflect on and process the things they’d learned to ensure that when they return to their schools they have the opportunity to apply this new knowledge to the benefit of their students.
To me this is the way the ULearn conference should be approached. The greatest value is realized when it is seen as a part of the ongoing professional learning within a school, and when school leaders and teachers see themselves as a part of the rich tapestry of a networked, knowledge building community that extends well beyond the boundaries of their own institution and of the timeframe of the conference itself.
What does learning look like in a world that is increasingly networked? How can we harness the ever-increasing range of online technologies to support effective learning? What are the implications for teachers, for students, and for the wider community? And what are the implications for distance education providers as the boundaries blur between them and traditional face-to-face providers?
These are some of the questions I explored in my keynote to the AADES conference in Melbourne last week, in which I explored current trends in education and how these are re-shaping how we think about schooling, teaching and the role of learners. My focus was on how we might respond these questions in order to meet the challenges of learning in a networked world – particularly as traditional providers of distance education in the schooling sector.
The diagram at the top of this post is a re-hash of one that I originally developed over a decade ago to help explain this convergence. While the concept of 'blended' (or 'hybrid' learning) is emerging as a more common practice in our schools and universities today, I feel we need to be thinking beyond that, to a time when we won't be thinking about the blending of anything (which somehow keeps our focus on the separate entities being blended), but will simply operate in a completely merged, and networked, environment.
My complete presentation (adapted for sharing) is included below…
I presented a workshop this morning at the NZ Commerce and Economics Teachers Association conference here in Christchurch. The topic was 'growing up digital' and the focus was on developing understandings about how the world of our learners has been and is being shaped by their interactions with technology, and how this in turn is shaping their expectations as learners. The slideshow is represented above.
One of the topics raised in the workshop discussion was the issue of attention span, and the observation that many of our students appear to be less focused on going 'deep' into their studies, preferring instead to glean ideas from a wide variety of sources from which they gather only superficial understandings. This notion is consistent with what Nicholas Carr has written about in his book "The Shallows" (see video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGY_RjqlSRU)
This is certainly an area of concern that needs to be addressed in our staff rooms and professional learning meetings. Not as an excuse to condemn or criticize the use of technologies by the young people, rather, it needs to be used as a rallying call for educators to work together to plan how best to address the issue – how to leverage the considerable benefits and potential of such wide access to information, with the need to ensure there is depth to our engagement with it when and where it matters.
I had the privilege of attending the NZ Christian Schools Educ8NOW conference held at Elim Christian College today, where I presented a couple of workshops and hosted two 'connect' sessions for general discussion. My workshops focused on strategic issues – the first around how we can strategically plan our school's professional learning and development programme so that it caters for both personal needs and helps us achieve school wide goals. The second workshop was on using a pedagogical decision making model to support our thinking about technology investment, to ensure anything we do actually supports the teaching and learning in our schools and classrooms, as opposed to being introduced independent of that sort of thinking.
My two presentations are available on Slideshare, and are linked from the presentations tab on this blog, and also from the links below:
Here at the CoSN conference in San Diego there is much talk about the Common Core standards that are being implemented in the US, and how a strict adherence to meeting these can and is stifling creativity and flexibility in educaiton. The same debate is going on in NZ over the implementation of national standards. My own view is that national standards can be helpful to our education system, if the main purpose is to provide general guidelines about what students should know and be able to do as they progress through school. Their purpose should be to act as an aspiration defining what schools are expected to do, not not as a demand for compliance by teachers. Sadly, the latter perspective currently dominates in practice.
During my brief time here in San Diego I have had the privilege of visiting two local schools, High Tech High and The Met School. Both of these schools place a high priority on preparing students for life, and have stong links with community and business as a part of their curriculum. At the Met, for instance, students spend two days per week in their 'internships' working in local businesses to apply and further develop the things they are learning in school in an authentic context. Both schools still meet their requirements for assessing students against the national standards, but each works with a more aspirational focus for their students rather than being driven by the compliance agenda.
The video at the top of this post provides a cynical illustration of what can happen if we allow our education system to be driven by the standards agenda, rather than using a standards framework as a guide to what students should knoe and be able to do as they progress through school.
I've just finished four days of learning and forming relationships at the AESA Annual Conference held in Tampa, Florida. It has been a great opportunity to engage with over a thousand educators from all over the US who are providing in very similar services to education as we are at CORE in New Zealand.
There's lots still to process and bring together as I reflect on what I've learned, partucularly the stimulating keynote presentations, each providing messages that were both inspirational and aspirational, connecting with the passion and commitment of everyone in the room for their work in supporting schools, teachers and students.
Marcia Tate delivered a top notch presentation highlighting strategies we can use to connect with learners, modelling everything she was talking about in explicit and understandable ways – including the use of humour, story telling, scaffolding, music etc.
Rob Mancebelli's presentation was a well-argued case for 21st century learning, highlighting the imperatives for change and providing practical illustrations of how to achieve this.
Manny Scott used his personal life story to connect with us emotionally, and engage with us intellectually, and to emphasise the significance of an effective teacher in the lives of young learners.
While the tone of these keynotes helped flavour much of my experience of the conference, the 'other side' of what is the current reality in the US system wasn't far beneath the surface in most presentations – specifically the focus on Common Core (standards) and moves to link teacher performance with student achievement.
The trades hall at the conference was packed with companies offering online solutions to monitor and manage student achievement in relation to the standards in the Common Core, automated teacher evaluation processes, accountability and performance software (for teachers and students), and content providers who have 'packaged' learning into bite-sized amounts to be 'delivered' to students via the latest online learning systems, designed specifically to monitor and evaluate student engagement and achievement.
The apparent 'discord' between the aspirational messages of the keynotes and the pragmatic requirements of the current reality posed a tension for me that I felt throughout the conference.
At the heart of the dilemma here is the challenge for educators to define what is important, and to ensure then that the system and all of the support mechanisms involved work together to help achieve this. Here is where I strike competing philosophies – on the one hand, the narrowing of curriculum to those things deemed to be important (and measurable), and on the other, a broader view of developing the whole child with skills, knowledge and competencies that will enable them to participate fully in the world of the 21st Century.
In his keynote, Rob Mancebelli referred to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement on 21st Century literacies, which states that 21st century readers and writers will need to:
Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments multiple streams of simultaneous information
As aspriational (and necessary) as these things are, they aren't the sorts of things that get reported on in most standards-based assessments, as they're not the sorts of things that can easily be measured using multi-choice tests or other summative forms of assessment. I'm not going to argue that we don't need to keep a close eye on the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy, but we can't afford to make that our only focus in education. We have to look beyond 'the basics' and 'skills' level competencies – as a recent NYT article reminded me, Skills don't pay the bills any longer, highlighting the importance of critical thinking and problem solving in the modern workplace.
I'm sure I'll get time to reflect on this some more as I prepare to fly back home to NZ where the situation isn't terribly much different – it's just that we don't have the legislation in place to make this all a requirement – yet!