Category Archives: pedagogy

Computing our future

I've been privileged to be attending the Google CS Outreach Partners Summit in Sydney over the past couple of days where the conversations have focused on how we can promote computational thinking and coding in our schools for students of all ages. It's a timely visit, particularly as the Hour of Code is gaining momentum currently around the world.

Lots of reference has been made at the Summit to the Australian Federal Government's recent announcement that they will spend almost $1.1 billion in the next four years to promote business-based research, development and innovation, which includes money to be set aside to help students in years 5 and 7 learn coding. (I wonder if we'll hear a similar announcement on our side of the ditch in Auckland next Monday?)

Google has, of course, been providing support for programmes like this for a while now, including the successful CS4HS and CS-First programmes – plus they offer a huge amount of other resources and support on their Google For Education website. And so too does Microsoft, with their Virtual Academy, and their support for Hour of Code, and computer science student resources (app) for example. 

Despite this, however, the uptake of interest in computer science and digitally-related careers lags well behind the level fo demand – with CS and digi-tech yet to be appropriately recognised within the curriculum of many international jurisdictions. 

computing our futureSo it was of interest I read a publication recently released by the European SchoolNet organisation, titled Computing our Future (PDF downoad) – documenting what is happening in this area across the European context. 

The preface to the document includes the following:

The challenge for the Education sector is to upskill the future workforce, but more importantly to empower young people with the competences to master and create their own digital technologies, and thrive in the society of today. We believe that teaching and learning how to code, in formal and non-formal education settings, will play a significant role in this process.

I like the fact that the focus is wider than simply preparing kids for future employment, and includes the notion of 'thriving in the society of today'. 

While this report is austensibly focused on providing an update on what is happening in the various countries in Europe, there is a lot of valuable material in here for educational leaders who are considering the place and value of computer science and coding in the curriculum – particularly those who may be at the start of their journey of thinking about this. The document includes some really useful graphics and definitions that will be helpful. 

Of particular interest to me is section 3 of the document which looks at integrating coding into the curriculum (very timely in terms of the NZ context). Among the 21 countries in this report, coding is already part of the curriculum (at national, regional or local level) in 16 of them. Countries generally have multiple reasons for integrating coding in the curriculum – reinforcing the understanding that this is about much more than simply preparing kids for future jobs as programmers, in fact, the aim of fostering employability in the sector is key for only eight countries. The majority of countries aim to develop students’ logical thinking skills (15 countries) and problem-solving skills (14 countries), thus addressing 21st century skills. More than half of the countries, namely 11, focus on the development of key competences and coding skills. 

Key questions I'm pondering:

  • how should computational thinking, computer science, coding (interchangeable terms to some degree) be included in our NZ curriculum for the future?
  • what are the key messages we must develop to ensure this is not simply about preparing for future employment – but about developing essential skills, knowledge and competencies to thrive in the digital world of the 21st century?
  • How can we best utilize the abundance of resource already available to support what can happen in schools – but needs to be distributed more widely?


Does ICT assist learning?

The latest report from the OECD titled Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection has attracted lots of attention in the past week. The report's main claim is that computers do not improve student results, and news feeds around the world have picked up on this using headlines suggesting school technology struggles to make an impact and  schools are wasting money on computers for kids.

Lying behind the headlines are revelations that technology in the classroom leads to poorer performance among pupils is that it can be distracting and that syllabuses have not become good enough to take make the most of the technologies available. There are also concerns about plagiarism with concerns that if students can simply copy and paste answers to questions, it is unlikely to help them become smarter.

Such headlines are bound to appeal to the 'digital doubters' and those calling for 'back to basics' as the panacea to education's woes – but what does this report really tell us? Given the level of investment involved with the use of technology it's certainly not inappropriate to ask whether it makes a difference, but in doing this we need to ask: “Difference in what?"

The OECD researchers found no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. It adds that the use of technology in schools has done little to bridge the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. The report concludes that ensuring that every child reaches a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech devices and services.

Of course there's nothing new in studies comparing educational outcomes using technology with those that don't. Back in the early 1990s the "No Significant Difference" study provided an analysis of several hundred reports comparing student outcomes between face to face and distance delivery courses. It concluded that an overwhelming number of studies showed that when the course materials and teaching methodology were held constant, there were no significant differences (NSD) between student outcomes in a distance delivery course as compared to a face to face course. 

One interpretation of the NSD conclusion holds that the use of technology to deliver courses does no harm – that is, face to face learning has no inherent advantage to students over learning at a distance. The other interpretation is that technology does not help – and if a course can be delivered for less expense without technology, there is no need to use technology at all. 

In the early 1990s Stanford historian of technology in education, Larry Cuban set out to find out if computers were changing education practice. His findings mirror the original NSD study. In his book he writes "In the schools we studied, we found no clear and substantial evidence of students increasing their academic achievement as a result of using information technologies." Further, he found "…the overwhelming majority of teachers employed the technology to sustain existing patterns of teaching rather than to innovate."  In other words, by simply using the ICTs as a substitute for traditional approaches it was not surprising to Cuban and his colleagues to find no significant difference in achievement. 

Acknowledgement of this is made in the foreword to the OECD report…

The report leaves many questions unanswered. The impact of technology on education delivery remains sub-optimal, because we may overestimate the digital skills of both teachers and students, because of naïve policy design and implementation strategies, because of a poor understanding of pedagogy, or because of the generally poor quality of educational software and courseware.

So here remains a big question for us to answer as educators, leaders and policy makers: "is the apparent lack of 'difference' in achievement attributable purely to the affordances of the technology, or is it more to do with the wider issues of teacher and student digital skills, pedagogical practices, assessment regimes etc.?" 

In their response to the NSD phenomenon, Diana Oblinger and Brian Hawkins of Educause suggest that asking whether technology makes a difference in student learning implies that learning is a high-tech or no-tech phenomenon. They argue the issue is not that simple. Learning occurs as a result of motivation, opportunities, an active process, interaction with others, and the ability to transfer learning to a real-world situation. 

This is the key focus of educational leadership guru, and more recently technology advocate Michael Fullan. His book Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge is about how the ideas embedded in the new technology, the new pedagogy, and the new change knowledge are converging to transform education for all. Fullan claims that…

Technology has had its own pace, wildly outstripped the other two in sheer quantity and in aimless quality. It is now time to reconcile how technology can join the fray in a more purposeful way in order to transform learning for educators and learners in the 21st century.

The OECD's Andreas Schleicher appears to support this position in his final paragraph in his foreword to the report:

If we want to mobilise support for more technology-rich schools, we need to become better at communicating the need and building support for change. We need to invest in capacity development and change-management skills, develop sound evidence and feed this evidence back to institutions, and back all that up with sustainable financing. Last but not least, it is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too.

Computers can be useful when teachers sufficiently understand the technology themselves, believe it will enhance learning, and have the power to shape their own curricula. But these conditions can’t be met without a broader and deeper commitment to public education beyond preparing workers. More attention needs to be paid to the civic and social goals of schooling, goals that make the question of how many computers are in classrooms trivial. As the OECD report points out…

Empowering young people to become full participants in today’s digital public space, equipping them with the codes and tools of their technology-rich world, and encouraging them to use online learning resources – all while exploring the use of digital technologies to enhance existing education processes, such as student assessment or school administration – are goals that justify the introduction of computer technology into classrooms. (OECD report, page 186)

So what are some lessons for us all in this…

  1. Don't read the headlines only, read the substance of the report to find out what is really being reported.
  2. Take note of what the report confirms about comparative studies – if it can be done without technology then it possibly should.
  3. Consider the appropriate response to concerns about plagiarism and digital distraction in your school.
  4. Don't expect technology to, on its own, result in improved student outcomes. 
  5. Don't give up on the idea of embracing technology in your school – but ensure it's not simply as a substitute for existing approaches
  6. Improving levels of digial literacy and digital fluency among teachers and learners is vital – where is our PD focus?
  7. Focus on how technology, combined with new pedagogies and change knowledge, can transform our practices as educators.




ProverbThe buzz words around many areas of education at the moment include STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and the Maker Movement – both of which emphasise 'hands-on' learning and 'learning by doing', emphasising engagement in real world problems and the use of design principles and approaches.

This interest has been  building for some time now – Mark Osborne discusses the Maker Culture in CORE's Ten Trends in 2014, noting that active learning increases the rate of learning faster than passive learning. Simply watching others build or make things fire up parts of our brain that are left untouched by passive learning.

Mark is one of the featured speakers at this year's pre-conference workshop day titled Permission to Play, which will provide an opportunity for the sharing of ideas and activities that are taking place in classrooms around NZ. 

MakerspacesIn his Trends talk, Mark references the fact that the idea of making, of building, of constructing has a strong basis in research. Seymour Papert introduced us to the notion of Constructionism in his book Mindstorms, back in the 1980s, and since then there has been a growing body of experience and literature supporting the call for more of this sort of experience in our schools. 

Thus I have been interested to see the release of a document from MakerEd titled MakerSpaces – Highlights of Select Literature (PDF download). This review looks at a selection of the latest discourse and thinking emerging from the growth of makerspaces and their developing roles in education and communities. 

Not motivated by the same political agendas that lie behind the STEM movements in many countries, this publication provides a useful read for those wishing to get their head around the Maker Movement and its impact in schools. There are sections that explore the types and categories of maker space that are emerging around the world, a whole section on benefits for participants and one on the interdisciplinary roles of maker spaces which has to be one of the defining benefits of this movement in my view. 

From the section on benefits to participants I particularly liked this quote:

“ … the most important benefits of maker-centered learning are neither STEM skills nor technical preparation for the next industrial revolution. Though these benefits may accrue along the way, the most salient benefits of maker-centered learning for young people have to do with developing a sense of self and a sense of community that empower them to engage with and shape the designed dimension of their worlds."

At the end of the day this is what we ought to be striving towards in our education system – not simply that our young people will be equipped to get a job in the modern world, but that they will be equipped as individuals and as human beings to live as citizens in tht world and contribute in positive ways to creating a 'decent society'. 

Tech-enabled personalised learning

Personalised ICTI've just been browing a new report A new report tiled "Technology-Enabled Personalized Learning: Findings and Recommendations to Accelerate Implementation," from the US. The report is based on the recommendations and observations of over 100 educators who gathered last year for the TEPL summit at North Carolina State University's Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. It summarises advice and insight on how to use technology to facilitate personalized learning, and seeks to help users work towards goals based around: data, content and curriculum, technology architecture, research and development, and human capacity.

It's always interesting to read this sort of document, particularly as it has been developed through the collaborative activity of practitioners. While there are a number of references to specific technololgies such as student data projection, student ownership of devices and calls for the development of technology standards, it's interesting to not an emphasis also on more professional development as the role of the teacher shifts from presenter of knowledge to facilitator/coach/guide

The link between the pedagogical construct of 'personalised learning' and the role of technology is something that needs much more discourse among educators. There has been a lot of use of the idea of personalising learning as a justification of pursuing 1-1 and BYOD programmes, but too often, it's nothing more than a 'smokescreen' attempting to provide a pedagogical rationale for a technological imperative – and too often also, the learner centred pedagogy turns out to be based purely on the assumption that a personally owned device will provie a more personalised experience of the 'delivery' of content. 

The document offers this explanation of personalisation:

Personalized learning is not simply about differentiating the method or approach of instruction or about individualizing the pace of learning. Personalized learning further seeks to empower the learner to shape what, how, and when they learn, thus engaging them through their explicit and implicit choices. Authentic implementation of personalized learning requires fundamental redesign of the school structure and of the role of teachers.

This appeals to me – it suggests more than a personalised delivery experience – and gets more to the point of learner agency. This is a key affordance of technology – empowering and enabling learners to have choices about what and how they learn, and the power to act on those choices in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them.

The document also states…

Personalization is necessary for educational equity. Educational equity is not simply about equal access and inputs, but ensuring that a student’s educational path, curriculum, instruction, and schedule be designed to meet her unique needs, inside and outside of school.

With this level of understanding of personalisation we can begin to consider the contribution that technology can make in quite different ways. 

The report goes on to identify specific challenge areas and ways in which technology can support and enhance personalised approaches. There are some useful ideas and recommendations, supported by case studies and descriptions in this report – all of which will help prompt further thinking in your own context. 

Thinking about engagement…

engaged learners

It's official… excellent teachers, supported by gifted and visionary school leaders, keep students engaged in the learning process and hopeful about their future. These are two of the crucial outcomes the recent Gallup Student Poll measures.

I was speaking with a school principal yesterday who is working to develop his school's strategic focus for next year. Placing student achievement as the overarching priority for the school, his focus moved to student engagement as the critical success factor for the cohort in his school.

Our discussion then moved to what the indicators of engagement might be that he and his staff could agree should be the focus of their efforts in 2015. The criteria used in the development of this Gallup Poll could be a useful starting point – they ask students, teachers, principals, and other professionals about their levels of hope, emotional engagement, and well-being at work or school.

In the New Zealand context engagement is described in a variety of ways – in their Handbook of Research on Student Engagement, Christensen, Rechly and Wylie point to the following:

  • Behavioural engagment – referring to student's actual participation at school and in learning
  • Emotional engagement – referring to a student's emotional response to teachers, peers, learning and school
  • Cognitive engagement – referring to investment in learning, seeking challenge and going beyond what is required 

Using these criteria as a guide provides a useful framework for developing a shared understanding of engagement and what it looks like in the classroom. Unfortunately, our system tends to stress the indicators of 'dis-engagement', drawn primarily from the Behavioural Engagement category – including stand-downs, suspensions and exclusions. And so the focus on engagement becomes more a case of "how can we mitigate these things occurring?" instead of "how can we increase the extent of engagement, behaviourally, emotionally and cognitively?"

According to the Gallup survey, and using their wide range of measures, 55% of American students scored high on engagement. That's a pretty disappointing score in anyone's book I feel. I wonder what the equivalent might be in NZ schools? Across the board? And in specific schools? I imagine we'd find a wide range of results – but the fact would remain that every child represented in the percentage of un-engaged, or dis-engaged is a child unlikely to achieve in his or her academic studies either. 

One of the key findings from the Gallup survey is that students who strongly agree that their school is committed to building students’ strengths and that they have a teacher who makes them excited about the future are more engaged than their peers who strongly disagreed with both statements. Again, no surprises, with clear messages there about taking a learner-centred approach, and promoting student agency – and for teachers, that their relationships with the learners, and their interest in and passion for what they are teaching is 'infectious'!

The contentious aspect of this logic is another finding in the Gallup research, which reveals that, unfortunately, most teachers are not in a position to share excitement with students. About 70% are classified as disengaged, which, according to the report, puts them on par with the workforce as a whole.

Now that's what's got me thinking about engagement…

The conflict continues…

Mail Online - chalk and talk

It had to happen… after decades of pursuing 'modern learning practices' in developed nations, the pendulum appears to be swinging (in the UK at least) back to adopting the age-old approach of 'chalk and talk' as the pedagogical approach of choice. And the reason – that this is the approach found in China where the students are achieving on average at a higher rate than their western counterparts. 

It all seems a quite straight forward argument really – particularly when eminent educational researchers are quoted thus..,

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: "English education was overtaken with progressive ideas in recent decades, which held it was better for children to learn by themselves and at their own pace. This was clearly madness, and it has taken 40 years to realise this."

So that's it then – let's sit back and watch the pendulum swing. With politicians and university professors professing it to be so it must be correct – right?

Wrong. Let's put a bit of perspective on things shall we.

Fact – many schools in the UK (and NZ?) have struggled to fully realise the promise of the 'personalised' approaches to education that have been promoted in recent decades, due to a combination of factors including parental expectations, lack of professional development and the impact of standards-based assessment regimes.

Fact – the Chinese (Shanghai and Beijing that is) have outscored pretty much everyone in the recent PISA results.

Fact – a predominantly 'chalk and talk' pedagogy is only a part of the picture in terms of what contributes to the education of their young as highlighted in this article from the Brookings Institute…

Shanghai parents will annually spend on average of 6,000 yuan on English and math tutors and 9,600 yuan on weekend activities, such as tennis and piano. During the high school years, annual tutoring costs shoot up to 30,000 yuan and the cost of activities doubles to 19,200 yuan.

Before we get too carried away with simplistic 'cause-effect' arguments about what makes for an effective education system, we need to wrestle more profoundly with some of the deeper and more fundamental aspects of our education system – which, as it happens, have been the focus of some of my recent blog posts. 

Consider the question "What is the purpose of education" an the opposing philosophies that I outlined in that post. Could not the move to enforce a 'chalk and talk' model of education reflect much of what is suggested in philosophy A, where the system is perceived as broken, but can be fixed fast – and teachers also!

Or consider the question of "What defines success?" in our system – is it purely examination results (based largely on the regurgitation of memorised,  transitted knowledge)? The PISA results provide some useful international comparisons of achievement that is measured using a particular metric – but should our overall assessment of a country's success be attributed to that?

And what about the idea that individualised programmes are a fad of just the last couple of decades? I'm sure the significant educational theories who've influenced our thinking and system design with constructivist and social constructivist theories would have something to say here. Key theorists who started this thinking (Dewey and Vygotsky) were actively researching and presenting the case for more participatory, authentic and personalised approaches to learning a century ago. 

At the end of the day decisions such as the announcement yesterday from the UK will be driven not by the theorists or educational philosophers – or even teachers and principals in schools, but by politicians and bureacrats, looking for the 'quick fix' solutions. As a profession we need to be ready with a response that is formed out of our professional discourse, backed up with evidence from our practice. In the absence of those things, we're destined to being subject to the whims of whatever the next 'big idea' is that happens to emerge. 

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. 

An Introduction to Technology Integration

Edutopia have just released the video above to illustrate how effective technology integration is achieved when its use supports curricular goals. I'm always on the lookout for clips like this that may be helpful in my work with teachers, and like so many I've watched, this reminds me of how difficult it is for us as educators to constructively and effectively find the words to explain and describe what's being acheived with technology for a broad audience. 

The video begins with Salmar Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, describing his excitement about how technology is now transforming what we do with the classroom, and transforming the things that happen within it. I find the concept of transformation in education personally motivating – something I believe we need to be working towards achieving, and Salmar Kahn's work with the videos in the Khan Academy is certainly an example of a transformational approach. 

All too often, however, our thinking about transformation is limited by the existing practices, structures and expectations of our schooling system, so that what actually occurs is more of a 'veneer' over what we currently do. This is reinforced for me by the next quote in the video which labels technology as 'just a tool' – and that it's what we do with it that we need to focus on. While I'd certainly not disagree that it's our use of the technology that is important, I do have problems with the notion that technology is just a tool. This sort of thinking leads inevitably to a 'substitution' mentality – where once we used a blackboard as a tool, now we use a data projector, or a word processor instead of a pen or pencil. As Marshall McLuhan alerted us to some decades ago, the "medium is the message", and in his work with the tetrad of media effects, he demonstrated the ways a new techology/medium may change the overall milieu of the present. 

So, when I hear discussion of 'integration' of technology in education, I often observe the objective is limited by the expectation that the new technology will simply be used to support, enhance or expand existing practices. e.g.

  • using a word processor for written expression (instead of a pen/pencil)
  • creating videos or podcasts as an alternative to writing essays or making posters
  • creating slideshows to support oral presentations

In and of themselves, these things aren't transformational – they're substitutional. What makes them transformative is when we 'let go' of our traditional notions of what is important in this process (e.g. who decides on the timing, the purpose, the assessment etc of the learning) and move to a place where the learning and the learner's ability to control what is happening becomes the focus. 

This is where the Edutopia video provides some valuable insights – although they're somewhat buried in the script – about two of the ways technology empowers learners to act, think and learn differently. The first is…

When you create  you take ownership of your learning, you understand it in a different way…

and the second…

Kids respond better when they can share their learning.. to an authentic audience.

(please excuse the liberties taken in the transcription). 

These two learning behaviours – create and share – are a part of the pedagogical model I promoted in a blog post last year. The top layer of this model was developed collaboratively with my colleague Russell Burt from Point England School, and is grounded in the practical experience of learning that he and his staff have been following over the past few years. The focus here isn't on doing old things in new ways – but on discovering the empowering potential of the new technologies to do new things in new ways, ways that enable individual learners to learn-create-share, and experience success in their learning. 

The other important thing that this video highlights is emphasised towards the end of the clip, particuarly in the final credits, where the claim is made that student achievement is likely to be improved where a mix of face-to-face and online approaches is provided. I couldn't agree more, and earlier this year posted a blog claming that the future is blended. This is something that we need to consider seriously in the way we organise, support and manage learning in our schools. When we now have students learning content by searching the Web, or by watching YouTube or Khan Academy videos, what is the role/purpose of classroom time? 

So – a useful video? Well, it certainly got me thinking about the work I do with teachers, and the sorts of professional conversations we have as a result. I think its usefulness will be in the conversations it stimulates (such as the thinking I've shared here), and the provocations it provides to do things differently. In terms of actually illustrating or exemplifying any of the changed practice we're talking about, I'd rate it only five out of ten. 

Pedagogical approaches for using technology for learning

Here's a useful resource for those involved in researching the use of ICTs for learning – have only just come across it 🙂 One of the most frequently asked questions I get is about the pedagogical use of ICTs, and how these approaches may be changing or need to change as a result of the ICTs themselves. This literature review provides some useful insights. 

Pedagogical Approaches for Using Technology Literature Review January 11 FINAL 1

Innovating Pedagogy

Following the model of development of the very successful Horizon Report, and in the vein of CORE's ten trends, the Open University have just released the first of a series of reports that explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, to guide teachers and policy makers in productive innovation. Innovating Pedagogy 2012 proposes ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education.

The report was produced by a group of academics at the Institute of Educational Technology in The Open University who first proposed a long list of new educational terms, theories, and practices. These were then pared these down to ten that have the potential to  provoke major shifts in educational practice, particularly in postschool education. (They have not deliberately excluded school education, but that is not specifically the area of expertise of the OU). Lastly, they drew on published and unpublished writings to compile the ten sketches of new pedagogies that might transform education. These are summarised below in rough order of immediacy and timescale to widespread implementation.

  1. Personal inquiry learning  – Learning through collaborative inquiry and active investigation
  2. Seamless learning  – Connecting learning across settings, technologies and activities
  3. MOOCs – Massive open online courses
  4. Assessment for learning  – Assessment that supports the learning process through diagnostic feedback
  5. New pedagogy for e-books – Innovative ways of teaching and learning with next-generation e-books
  6. Publisher-led short courses – Publishers producing commercial short courses for leisure and professional development
  7. Badges to accredit learning  – Open framework for gaining recognition of skills and achievements
  8. Rebirth of academic publishing  – New forms of open scholarly publishing 
  9. Learning analytics – Data-driven analysis of learning activities and environments
  10. Rhizomatic learning – Knowledge constructed by self-aware communities adapting to environmental conditions

There's plenty here to stimulate the thinking of anyone who has an eye to future focused trends and developments. What I find useful about this publication is (a) the explanation provided of each of these innovations, and (b) the way the team look beyond the technological innovation to explore the pedagogical benefit(s) and potential of these things. Like the Horizon Report, there is also a list of links to further readings and examples at the end of each innovation. 

As noted also, while the focus is on tertiary education primarily, it's not difficult to see the applicability of many of these innovations in the compulsory schooling sector.