Category Archives: Education Futures

The purpose of education


I presented a talk on leading change in a networked world to the School Leaders Network in Christchurch yesterday afternoon, focusing on the importance of understanding the emerging paradigm of the networked world and the implications for schools and school leaders. 

As a timely introduction to my talk I referred to an article in the latest copy of the NZEI magazine, Educaiton Aotearoa, written by Professor Ivan Snook titled "The Purpose of Education" in which he compares two rival models of education and how these different ideologies shape our thinking and approach as educators. A key point he emphasises, around which his article is based can be summed up in one of his statements:

Education is not centrally about test scores but about preparation for life in its broadest sense.

Having recently been through an election here in New Zealand the presence of competing ideologies (or philosophies) of education became evident as different parties (and politicians) endeavoured to promote their education policies. I've often used the table below to illustrate how these different perspectives play out in our world…

Competing philosophies

As education leaders we need to…

  1. be aware of these competing philosophies and how they play out in the political directives we face, the expectations of parents, and the underpinning behaviours of teachers.
  2. understand that they are simply competing ideologies, and that we need to intentionally and intelligently reflect on our own ideas and understandings to identify our personal beliefs and where this positions us in the various continua.
  3. seek ways to lead those in our school communities to estbalish and articulate the shared beliefs that will underpin what we do.
  4. work with our teams to explicitly link our practices with these  beliefs, to ensure our coherence between our espoused theory and our theory in practice.

My key message to the APs and DPs at the meeting was to ensure that their thinking and planning is anchored in a 'Future Focused' mindset – not simply replicating what we've done in the past. This is where the emphasis on considering education as a 'networked' endeavour comes into focus – challenging our existing assumptions about the stand-alone school, competitive mind-sets and 'patch protection' among other things.

There is a significant difference that emerges when we genuinely place the learner at the centre of our thinking – considering all of the factors that impact on their learning, including where they learning, what they learn, how they learn – and why they are learning. Much of our previous thinking about how we might reform/transform education has been structurally focused, i.e. the placement and construction of physical schools, the governance and management of the schools, class size and teacher workload etc. While these things are all important in the overall milieu, they don't define the purpose of educaiton – that is clearly around the learner, and equipping them as citizens of the future (or future workforce units, depending on your ideological position ;-)

Food for thought – lots to ponder here….

Thinking more about Globalisation

Global Economy maps

I've just arrived back from a trip to Chengdu, China where I was present for the signing of the Sichuan Christchurch Education Alliance. Nearly 40 educators from greater Christchurch were present, with a key focus of the time spent on developing relationships that are intended to lead to opportunities for educational exchanges between Christchurch and Chengdu teachers and students.  

Globalisation will undoubtedly be one of the most significant influences on modern learning practice as we look further into the 21st century. The need for students to have well developed understandings of cultural literacy, inter-cultural awareness and a basic grasp of international language(s) must inform how we shape our curriculum and the sorts of learning experiences we provide for our young people. It's no longer satisfactory to simply teach about these countries and issues – we need to be exploiting the power of online technologies and authentic learning contexts to enable our students to interact directly with people in other places, and to collaborate on projects that lead them to these deeper understandings of the impact of globalisation.

The trip to Chengdu has reinforced this for me – and coming back to NZ on the day of the national election and the associated conversations about what people in our nation consider important even more-so. We cannot ignore the impact that being a part of a global village, with its global economy, will have on the lives of our young people into the future. Preparing them in this way must be a priority in our curriculum ad everyday practice. 

The map at the top of this post links to a post of 38 maps that explain the global economy – a useful resource for educators interested in thinking about the impact of the global economy and how to relate this to students – as is this link showing where the oldest and youngest people live in the world's populations. This sort of information can be very useful in forming a more global picture of the sorts of issues that face us here in NZ, now and into the future. 

It’s all about access


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 graphic at the top of this post comes from an article in Edudemic titled "how the world really connects to the internet". The opening paragraph in the article reads:

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. 

Since the release of the report of the select committee being released early in 2013 we've seen the release of a report from the 21st Century Learning Reference Group (of which I am a part) which suggests ten priorities for equipping learners with 21st century skills and digital competencies. One of the recommendations reads:

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. 


Where’s the innovation

I had the privilege of addressing the delegates at the annual conference of the Independent Schools of NZ today on the topic "Modern Learning Environments: Where's the innovation?" 

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:

  • rethinking learners
  • rethinking teachers
  • rethinking learning
  • rethinking support.

‚ÄčI'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. 

NMC and CoSN Release the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 K-12 Edition

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:


There are still opportunities to enrol if you're interested – more information here

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.

> Download the Report (PDF)






Future Focused Learning Report released

FFLearningReportAfter what seems a very long period in gestation, Minister Nikki Kaye today released the report of the reference group that I have been a part of, titled Future Focused Learning In Connected Communities

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.

Priorities for a better world


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. 

One of the morning's speakers has been Dr Jonghwi Park, programme specialist in ICT in Education at UNESCO Bangkok. She provided us with an excellent overview of initiatives that are in place to address UNESCO's Millennium Development Goals, with an overarching emphasis on education as a way of addressing this. 

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. 

It's interesting to note that to date, over 2 million people have contributed, with education appearing at the top of the priority list based on the votes from these people (see below)

myworld graph_s

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.



The convergence continues

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. 

Blended learning special report

19srblendedlearningcover200pxwideEducation 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. 

On being a profession…

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 extract above comes from the foreword to the OECD publication Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from around the World which summarizes the evidence that underpinned the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession held in New York in March 2011.

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)…

  1. skill based on abstract knowledge, 
  2. provision for training and education, usually associated with a university,
  3. certification based on competency testing, 
  4. formal organization, 
  5. adherence to a code of conduct,
  6. altruistic service.

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):

  1. Education levels rising among the general public (everyone is an expert nowadays, or has access to expertise to challenge that of the teaching professionals).
  2. ICTs are  becoming increasingly sophisticated, providing access to specialist information/knowledge and programmes of learning (thus taking away the teachers' monopoly on knowledge).
  3. 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. 

But that's a post for another day…