I've spent the past week in Chennai visiting my sister and brother in law. During our evenings together we've enjoyed long conversations about all manner of things, reminiscing experiences and memories from the past – often triggered by a comment or something we've heard on the news. Things like "remember that last episode of M*A*S*H? - why was Hawkeye being treated for a breakdown?" or "whatever happend to that young Afghani woman whose picture appeared on the cover of National Geographic?"
As the conversations continuted and the questions arose each of us in the group would use the devices available to begin searching for answers – generally coming up with them very quickly, and helping fuel further questions. i
The experience provides a graphic illustration of how important access to the internet has become in our daily lives – without it, these sorts of conversations, or more importantly, our ability to inform ourselves in a timely and appropriate manner, would not be possible.
The internet: Not just for first world countries anymore. While high speed, broadband access may be much more ubiquitous in more developed countries, internet infrastructure and broadband connectivity is much more widespread than you may be aware of. Over the last decade, huge strides have been made, meaning many more students across the globe are being connected to the vast network of students, teachers, and the world.
So it's interesting to me to reflect on what's happening back in New Zealand in the lead up to the election, where it seems that the issue of access and connectivity has become the 'hot potato' – particularly in education. Not surprising, as it's been brewing for some time.
Back in 2012 Nikki Kaye championed a cross-party inquiry into 21st Century Learning and Digital Literacy. With all political parties participating in the process and having full access to all of the submissions etc., there was a plethora of information to inform future political agendas, and all of which provided a strong case for improving the level and quality of access to the internet (and the devices for doing so) for all learners.
Achieve equitable access to digital devices for every learner: Ensure all learners have access to suitable digital technologies, regardless of location, background, abilities or socio-economic status.
Seems like this has now become a key focus of all of the political parties – unfortunately not in the coordinated or cross-party way that we might have hoped for durng the select committee process, but that's politics I guess.
While we wait to see what may happen with the recommendations from the 21st Century Learning Reference group, the National Party have announced a new ICT advisory service for schools.
The Labour Party have identified providing kids with devices as one of their 'hot buttoned school issues', where they propose the provision of subsidised netbook/ laptop for all students to the tune of $120 million.
The Internet Party (not surprisingly as it's their primary focus) has a whole section in their policy on modern schools in which they propose triple the amount of annual ICT funding to state and state-integrated schools.(section 5.2).
So the ball has started rolling, and it looks like support for ICT in education, with an emphasis on connectivity and access, will be one of the things to watch.
All I can say is that I hope, amid all of the political manoeuvering and points scoring, we don't lose sight of the fact that whatever the strategy might be that we don't end up simply changing things for the sake of changing them – or to simply do something different from what the other parties suggest because it's another party.
At the end of the day, what I'm interested in is that all learners in our education system can have the opportunity to do what I was doing with my family, where I was able to use the device(s) available to me to access the information I required as and when required (ubiquity!) to help reinforce and inform my learning.
As the politics of pre-electioneering begins to take effect, let's hope it doesn't cloud (too much) the bigger dream we have for equitable and ubiquitous access – to devices and to the inernet – for all.
The focus of my talk was on how we need to work with our teachers and community to ensure we are able to identify and articulate our moral purpose - identified in the beliefs and values we share, and which should underpin our approach to change. If we simply tinker with altering parts of what we do or have (i.e. the furniture in our classrooms), or get carried away with building architectural delights, but without considering our purpose – or the 'why' at the centre of the golden circle that Simon Sinek refers to – then we're at risk of missing the opportunity of effecting change that is meaningful, sustainable and adding value to the lives of our students.
The innovation, then, is being able to set a transformation agenda, working from the core beliefs and values (moral purpose) of our staff and community, reflecting the particular character, aspirations and ideals that they hold in common – to move to a 'third place' in terms of how we think about school and schooling, instead of simply swinging on the perpetual pendulum of improvement.
Of course, we must carry our staff with us – so a special focus must be provided in the area of professional learning and development. This can't be achieved through simply attending the odd workshop or having a guest speaker attend a staff meeting. This sort of change will require a combination of systematic, inquiry-based practitioner reflection and action, combined with the mentoring and support of the 'agents of change' who can introduce the new thinking, challenge assumptions and help clarify the moral purpose that underpins the school's activity.
I'm currently putting the finishing touches to an online course due to go live next term (referred to in my previous post) that will provide the stimulation for groups of staff within a school to activate and lead change in the area of modern learning practice, by challenging together their thinking and assumptions in four key areas:
I'm really looking forward to this opportunity of working with groups of staff from a variety of schools where we can collaboratively seek to find and share our answers to these questions – and from that, build some new frameworks to guide our practice into the future.
The New Media Consortium (NMC) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), with the support of HP, are releasing the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 K-12 Edition at a special session at the 2014 NMC Summer Conference in Portland, Oregon. This sixth K-12 edition describes annual findings from the NMC Horizon Project, an ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.
2014 K-12 Edition identifies "Rethinking the Role of Teachers" and the "Shift to Deeper Learning Approaches" as fast trends accelerating the adoption of educational technology in K-12 education over the next one to two years. The "Increasing Focus on Open Educational Resources" and the "Increasing Use of Hybrid Learning Designs" are mid-range trends expected to accelerate technology use in the next three to five years; and the "Rapid Acceleration of Intuitive Technology" and "Rethinking of How Schools Work" are long-range trends, positioned at more than five years away.
I'm really inteterested to see this emphasis emerging in the Horizon Reports – shifting thinking to the changes in our practice that are required for schools to be effective in the 3rd millennium. It affirms the focus of an online course that I'm running from the start of next term (NZ) to introduce schools to the concept of Modern Learning Practice – the graphic below is of the course map of this course:
The NMC Horizon Report > 2014 K-12 Edition is available online, free of charge, and is released under a Creative Commons license to facilitate its widespread use, easy duplication, and broad distribution.
The report outlines ten priorities for equipping learners with 21st century skills and digital competencies. But it is not simply another set of recommendations about how to 'add' ICTs to what we do in education – it goes far deeper than that. The report builds on the recommendations of the cross-party select committee inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy, which drew submissions from a wide range of indviiduals and organisations, and emphasised the critical role of digitial technologies in the lives of New Zealanders as we look to the future.
One of the most important recommendations we have made in this report to achieve this is the implementation of a coordinated, system-wide effort to align curriculum, digital technologies, property, infrastructure, funding and legislation Integrate the core elements of digital learning with a relentless focus on promoting learning in safe, future-focused environments. Integrate curriculum, effective teaching and leadership practices, technologies, property and system infrastructure.
The recommendations are certainly ambitious, but reflect the emerging milieu and the need to prepare every young New Zealander for living and working in a world that will undoubtedly rely on an increasing level of digital infrastructure and digital literacy.
Continuing with my learnings from the DEANZ conference in Christchurch – we've been hearing a lot about how the use of open, flexible and distance learning strategies can assist in achieving global connections that lead to meaningful and pursposeful change for a better world into the future.
The importance of engaging with communities from around the world in developing a collective view of what is important and where we should expend our energies (and money) is important here. Dr Park introduced us to the MyWorld2015 initative where individuals can set their top six priorities for change, and then become a part of a global community contributing ideas and actions to achieve this.
As New Zealand teachers prepare to go back to school for the new term next week, this site may well be worth bookmarking as a place to take your students as a starting point for some authentic, inquiry-based social action projects.
A couple of years ago I began using the promo video for Google Glass in some of my presentations to illustrate the way technology is beginning to become a 'part of us', rather than something that is entirely external (i.e. on our desk or in our pocket). My prediction was (and is) that this sort of convergence will continue, and with the recent announcement from Google about it's development of wearable technology, we see more evidence of this occurring.
From a technical point of view this is all very interesting, and provides yet more gadgets for the technophiles to eagerly wait in line to purchase. For educators, however, it provides an interesting set of challenges and conundrums. Even now I visit schools that have a 'no mobile phone' policy, posting warnings to students of 'invisible, inaudible or in the office' etc. because we perceive student use of such devices as being a disturbance to the task in hand – learning.
And disruptive they can be – the perpetual texting that can occur, mindless trolling through YouTube or watching sales on Trademe – we've seen it all. But what about when students are actually engaged in their learning, and have no time for such trivia – what use could be made of these devices to support their learning?
In the past two or three years I've seen an increasing number of schools and teachers begin to promote this sort of responsible use with their students – with encouraging results. I've interviewed students who have articulated very capably how the ability to use these devices for 'just in time' learning has been a real assett to their learning for instance.
So as we move towards greater convergance, when it will be increasingly difficult to identify exactly when a student is 'connected' via their technology, what sorts of learning experiences will we need to design for them – and what sort of assessment practices will be required?
Granted, at the moment it would still be possible to demand the removal of glasses and watches as students enter an examination room – but what about when the 'device' becomes a part of the jewellery they are adorned with or the clothing they wear?
In thinking about the way forward on this we should not be focused on the technology and ways in which we can harness or control it in our learning environments. Instead, we should be focused on what we are doing to promote forms of modern learning practice, that foster creativity, collaboration and connectivity – and where learners will be encouraged to make use of these emerging forms of technology to enable, empower and embrace their learning.
Education Week have just released their latest issue focusing on Blended Learning. With all of the initiatives being promoted in schools currently it's a very timely publication with a number of articles providing perspectives on what works, what doesn't and what to consider when thinking about introducing things like BYOD, 'flipped classrooms', pedagogical change etc.
I found the article titled "Bringing Blended Learning Home No Easy Task" of particular relevance to what's happening here in NZ. The challenges associated with ensuring access to devices and the internet for all students is something that is high on the agenda of Minister Kaye's 21st Century Reference Group, with models of practice emerging in places such as the Manaiakalani Cluster and what is being proposed in Otaki and Porirua where access from home is a part of the plan.
Some thought provoking reading here, and the best part is that all of the articles are available online – so for NZ educators it's possible to access them without having to send for the paper copy.
Teachers and school leaders are being challenged to transform educational outcomes, often under difficult conditions. They are being asked to equip students with the competencies they need to become active citizens and workers in the 21st century. They need to personalize learning experiences to ensure that every student has a chance to succeed and to deal with increasing cultural diversity in their classrooms and differences in learning styles. They also need to keep up with innovations in curricula, pedagogy and the development of digital resources. The challenge is to equip all teachers, and not just some, for effective learning in the 21st century.
This will require rethinking of many aspects, including: how to optimize the pool of individuals from which teacher candidates are drawn; recruiting systems and the ways in which staff are selected; the kind of initial education recruits obtain before they start teaching, how they are monitored and inducted into their service, and the continuing education and support they get; how their compensation is structured; and how the performance of struggling teachers is improved and the best performing teachers are given opportunities to acquire more status and responsibility.
The status of teachers within a community/country has been identified in the OECD work as a common characterisic of those countries where student achievement is highest. Since the publication of this report there has been much written and acted upon in OECD countries around the world, including New Zealand, to help raise the status of the teaching profession in order to attract and retain the very best teachers we can. The announcements made earlier this year by the New Zealand government of plans to recognise the contribution of our best teachers is premised on this objective.
Whether we agree with the strategy or not, the fact does remain that we are suffering in New Zealand from teaching being regarded as a lower status job, indeed, seldom referred to as a profession in many circles.
When I was training to be a teacher (last century!) I recall we had a long debate in one of our education classes on whether teaching is in fact a profession. This led to rigorous examination of the 'hallmarks of a profession' (For an expanded list see here), and an analysis of whether teaching met these or not. Consider the following list of the commonly cited traits of a profession (distinguishing a profession from other occupations)…
skill based on abstract knowledge,
provision for training and education, usually associated with a university,
certification based on competency testing,
adherence to a code of conduct,
Within these (4 & 5 above in particular), professions are usually identified by the autonomy they exercise in terms of maintaining the integrity of the knowledge and actions of their members, including the induction of new members into the profession. In terms of what sets them apart, many would argue that it is the monopoly over a body of theoretical knowledge which is the most fundamental characteristic of professionalism because it creates the need for the other elements.
Also to consider is the fact that the conditions under which teachers carry out their professional tasks have changed significantly in the past couple of decades, so that the predominant pattern is no longer that of the free practitioner in the provision of services, but that of the salaried specialist in a large organization, where the determination over things like the national educational goals, national curriculum, national standards etc. reflect the tension between a government taking action to address issues of national significance (in their view), and the profession acting with autonomy and professional knowledge to address the same things.
This tension is highlighted for me as I read the announcement from the UK earlier last week, about the establishment of new teachers' body that aims to advise the government there on curriculum development. The sub-heading for the articles states that "the proposed College of Teachers will seek greater autonomy for teaching profession and reclaim ground from government".
Some quotes from teachers reported in response to this initiative suggest this is a positive move..
"Simply bumbling through for a four year political cycle is not appropriate and does little but cheapen the profession and the education that can be provided."
"It makes much more sense for excellent teachers to be at the forefront of driving standards forward than policy makers who are usually looking in from the outside with no real experience of teaching."
However, several of the comments made in response to the article aren't as wildy enthusiastic, reflecting the divide that exists as we struggle to justify the status of the teaching profession in society. Here are a few selected ones to illustrate:
"Typical state teachers. They want the funding, juicy pensions, bags of holidays and early retirement but accountability? No. They hate politicians, policy makers and the govt. Teachers call it interference, I call it accountability. Leave teachers alone and you end up with sliding results.. "
"Next thing you know teachers will be getting input into what goes on in schools – acceptable student behaviour, setting curriculum, student testing, etc. How absurd!"
"oh dear oh dear oh dear – all we need is teachers getting more autonomy …again….the lunatics take over the asylum. here we go ..>> back to the 70s – teachers decide content, methodology, assessment….i was there – i KNOW what happened"
So the issue is indeed complex. There is no doubting that the status of the profession requires improvement. While I support the introduction of strategies such as has been announced here in NZ, it will take significantly more than this to achieve the raising of the status of the profession in order to regain the trust of the community, and to attract and retain high quality teachers within it as identified as being so important in the OECD research. This must start with those of us in the 'profession' itself, taking greate professional responsibility for the things that matter, and demosntrating professional responses to the various political and societal pressures that impinge on our practice. We must also demonstrate a professional approach to workling together to re-think and re-imagine what the nature of our profession and our professional context(s) might be like in the future.
I'd like to suggest three reasons why the status of teachers as a profession is losing ground at the moment (aside from the obvious political ones):
Education levels rising among the general public (everyone is an expert nowadays, or has access to expertise to challenge that of the teaching professionals).
ICTs are becoming increasingly sophisticated, providing access to specialist information/knowledge and programmes of learning (thus taking away the teachers' monopoly on knowledge).
New occupations of para-professionals cutting into the teaching professionals' knowledge monopoly.
Consequently, the whole question of whether teaching is a profession, or can become one, is a bit of a red herring. The real issue is the degree to which teachers can resist deskilling and maintain some measure of autonomy within the schooling system. For that to happen I believe we need a complete re-think about what our schooling system might be like as we sail merrily into the 21st century using 20th Century models of thinking supported by a 20th century Education Act that fails to place the learner at the centre of all subsequent policy and resourcing decisions.
This story titled Teacher Colleges Seek to Shift to Digital Age appeared in my inbox this morning, and I felt myself sighing as I read it. The story is about Clemson University in South Carolina, where faculty are introducing a number of initiatives into their pre-service teaching programmes to encourage students to make greater use of digital technologies. The article observes…
Those strategies reflect a shift underway at some teacher colleges that are working to revamp their programs to improve the technology literacy of future educators—and address what many see as a major shortcoming in the profession.
You'll have to excuse my cynicism, but I found myself checking the date-stamp of the article to check that I wasn't reading something that should have been news two decades ago!
As a school principal in the 1980s I introduced computers into my school, recognising then that digitl technologies were going to change the world that my students would be growing up into, and that enabling them to become familiar with how computers could enhance their ability to work with information and communicate with others (yes, before the Internet we used StarNet!) was going to be an essential competency in their lives.
Following that I spent all of the 1990s working as a lecturer in educational technology at a pre-service teacher education institution. In that time I saw the introduction of computer labs, the Internet and digital photography as a part of the courses taught there. That particular institution has been running a 'digitial classroom' for more than a decade.
Yet somehow there remains the perception that our pre-service teachers still aren't being prepared with the 'technology literacy' they'll require to teach effectively in the digital age. I hear the comment often expressed by NZ school principals where every effort has been made to integrate digital technologies into the classroom programmes in their school, but they find it difficult to recruit new teachers who are sufficiently 'digitally literate' to seamlessly embrace these practices.
For me the problem needs to be addressed more broadly than simply confining attention to initial teacher education programmes (although they certainly need to be in the mix) – we need a more comprehensive system-wide 'kick in the pants' to accept that digital literacy is indeed an essential competency for all teachers and students in our third millennium education system.
Four decades after the first computers began appearing in classrooms why is it still news that our teacher ed programmes are now "seeking ways" to address this "shortcoming in the profession"?
Perhaps a clue lies in the final comment in the article…
Those charged with helping teachers weave technology into their instruction say doing so will take time, given that change doesn't necessarily come easily to colleges and universities steeped in tradition.
"This is all still fairly new for a lot of us in higher ed.," said Ms. Herro of Clemson. "The idea that we no longer hold all the expertise is hard to accept."
Thinking about the start of the school year and all of the teacher only days coming up next week, it's a good opportunity to think about the 'why' of what we do as educators – what makes us get out of bed in the morning to do the jobs we do.
One of the books on my shelf that I refer back to at least once a year to help anchor me in this thinking is Neil Postman's "The End of Education". Postman's thinking has helped ground the work I do over many years, providing a balanced perspective on the role of technology in education.
I've just finished watching the video clip above as I prepare for some of my work in the coming weeks, and am reminded again by Postman of the importance of thinking about the 'why' of what we do. This is pretty important at the moment, given the rhetoric appearing around the recent announcements here in NZ of incentives for teachers as a means of increasing the status of the profession.
Early in the interview, Postman submits that we need to be addressing the metaphysical or philosophical purpose of school, arguing that if parents and kids don't believe in the purpose of school, then it becomes a place of detention, not attention. Postman believes that the debate over the future of schools focuses too much on "engineering" concerns — curricula, teaching methods, standardized testing, the role of technology, etc. — while very little attention is paid to the metaphysics of schooling. As the title of his book suggests, he feels that "without a transcendent and honorable purpose schooling must reach its finish, and the sooner we are done with it, the better."
Postman isn't alone in this thinking (see also Michael Fullan, Peter Senge, and others) but I like his analysis and find it very helpful, particularly in the current climate where there is a strong emphasis on the economic utility of education – i.e. education for employment and contribution to the economy. Postman argues that this is a problematic stance because, he claims, there is no compelling evidence that the economic performance of a nation is directly linked to the quality of its education system.
His alternative is to emphasise the sorts of things that he believes are required to develop 21st century citizens who are prepared to live, work and contribute to our future society. He argues that if it's true that things are changing so rapidly that we don't know what jobs will exist for our young people into the future, then it's futile promoting vocational training programmes in our schools – instead, we ought to be designing curriculum that cultivates the capacity for open-mindedness and the ability to accept and respond to change etc.
In the interview Postman goes on to speak about the role of technology, the nature of curriculum and the impact of language – all themes I may save for future posts, but definitely worth watching the video clip for here.
In the meantime, the challenge left for all of us as educators about the begin the new school year is "are we committed to a shared understanding of the purpose of school?" My challenge is, let's make time in our teacher only days for some discussion on this.
Postman's final remarks are particuarly pertinent:
"What [teachers] are faced with is th emptiness of schooling – that there is no sense of serious and profound commitment to learning. I think that they could all discover that if there were ideas in the culture, profound ideas, that the children believed in and their parents believed in, then teachers would overnight seem great to us…
… teachers are no different to other people. If their spiritual life is empty it wouldn't surprise anyone that they are not effective in working with the young – what would they teach them?"
As we prepare for the new school year, we can become consumed with focusing on the structural aspects of our system (schools, clusters, standards, curriculum etc.) in the hope that we can improve it, or on the cultural aspects (relationships, equity, career pathways etc.) – but without a profound commitment to an understanding of purpose of schooling at both a personal and corporate level, we are likely to fall well short of the lofty goals and aspirations embodied in our national strategies and school mission statements.