Category Archives: pedagogy

Multi-tasking vs Self Control

We live in a world of instant gratification, exemplified in the oline world with a growing obsession with attending to the demands of email notifications, instant messaging and 'tweets' etc., illustrated well when we think of the friend who cuts you off mid-sentence because their mobile phone beeps with a notification of another message being received. 

There's been much written in recent years about the emergence of the Net Gen learner, and the assertions made about their ability to multi-task, including claims that those with this ability can be more productive. But similarly, there is a lot of doubt being cast around whether this is, in fact, the case, and whether multi-tasking has a negative effect on how we live. 

A recent EdWeek article titled Studies on Multitasking Highlight Value of Self-Control makes this conclusion:

The pervasiveness of technology and social media, coupled with a fear of missing out on something important, has led students to pay "continuous partial attention" to everything, but has resulted in their having difficulty concentrating deeply on anything.

I'd have to say that, from my experience, this rings very true for me. I see this playing out in a number of circumstances in my professional life, for example,

  • At conferences where a Twitter back-channel is being used – very successfully by some who are using it to productively record notes about what they're listening to and then use the hash tags later to review what the community has collectively recorded – and poorly by others who become so caught up in the moment of the back-channel conversations that they lose connection with the speaker. 
  • In face-to-face meetings where some will prefer to have their laptop open to record notes and look up information as the meeting progresses – but then become distracted responding to the relentless emails and twitter feeds that come through on the automatic notifications, and then end up placing a post on their facebook account when the discussion becomes 'boring'. 
  • In classroom inquiry activities, when students begin by looking up material related to what they are searching for, but end up following embedded hypertext links to the extent that they end up completely distracted and 'off-task'. 

Of course, none of the original uses of the technology listed above is inherently bad, but in each case, the differentiating factor is the extent to which self-control is exercised.

This thinking was reinforced for me when I cam across the cool video at the top of this post of a New York City teacher explaining how he uses the 'Marshmallow Test' to teach self-control in his classroom.

So the key thought for me is, the importance of teaching self-control within the framework of experiences we provide for students. This shouldn't be too much of an ask, after all, it fits well within the concept of managing self which is identified as one of the key competencies in the NZ curriculum.



Arguing the case for ICTs in education…. again!

My last day of camping at the beach for my summer break was interrupted by a phone call from Andrew Patterson at Radio Live wanting to interview me regarding an article in the New York Times titled Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools. (unfortunately their 7-day Catch-up feature isn't working so a recording of the interview doesn't seem to be available.) The interview helped 'lurch' me out of holiday mode and begin thinking about some of the issues that are bound to face me as I return to work in the new year. 

The NYT article reports on the overwhelming decision of the state legislature to pass a law requiring all high school students to take some online classes to graduate. To enable this to happen, students and their teachers were to be given laptops or tablets. The idea was to establish Idaho’s schools as a high-tech vanguard.

Naturally, such a decision will face criticism and resistance from some and be greeted enthusiastically by others, with all shades of response between – partcularly because of the compulsory nature of the decision. It seems that it's much more acceptable if such initiatives have some degree of 'buy-in' (or 'opt-out?') rather than making it compulsory. In this case (as in others around the world) the Idaho state legislature appears to have been persuaded by the argument that this isn't something that they can afford to leave to chance, and that providing all of their students with some experience of online learning should be an essential part of their schooling experince. 

In my interview with Andrew he asked me whether I thought this sort of thing is a sign of things to come – including here in NZ. I answered with an emphatic 'not only is this a sign of things to come, it's really another illustration of a trend that's been building up over the past decade or so'

He asked about what evidence we have of the benefits or impact of ICTs on learning, and I referenced BECTA's research on the impact of digital technologies on learning. He quizzed me about Orewa College requiring students to bring iPads to school in 2012 and I explained that Orewa is just one of a growing number of schools that are making the decision to require laptops for students through adopting a BYOD approach. In regards to the introduction of online learning, I explained that the time for virtual learning has indeed arrived, and explained the growth of activity in the Virtual Learning Network in NZ over the past decade.

Returning to the NYT article, however, the title of it reflects a bias in the perspective it represents; Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools. this resistance is qualified further into the article:

"Some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training. And some say they are opposed to shifting money to online classes and other teaching methods whose benefits remain unproved…"  and "Teachers are resisting, saying that they prefer to employ technology as it suits their own teaching methods and styles. Some feel they are judged on how much they make use of technology, regardless of whether it improves learning."

Now I completely agree with the need for proper training, and the need to demonstrate the value in any new initiative, but I can't help feel this article exposes some of the 'avoidance' thinking I see creeping into some of the discourse in this area, and the naivity of some of the claims being made. Take for instance the main argument attributed to teacher Ms Rosenbaum who claims that rather than use technology she'd prefer to engage students with questions – the Socratic method. Those who've been around the education traps for a while will understand the Socratic method is a form of guided questioning, of teaching by asking rather than telling. It's not about face-to-face or online – it's about a pedagogical approach that could be used in both circumstances.

There's no inherent face-to-face requirement for the Socratic method – the success of this approach lies in the careful design of the questions and how the answers are responded to, rather than the physical arrangement of the teacher and learner(s). I first came across reference to the Socratic method in my early studies in distance education, when my lecturers referred to the adoption of the principles of the Socratic method in approaches to instructional design for correspondence materials, and later, online discussion forums. 

In The January 2009 issue of The Journal of Educators Online, Bridget Arend from University of Denver wrote a paper titled Encouraging Critical Thinking in Online Threaded Discussions (PDF) in which she explored how asynchronous discussions within online courses influence critical thinking among students. In it she notes…

"The success of the technique seen in this study is consistent with the literature on inquiry methods of teaching, commonly known as the Socratic method, which is often suggested for online discussions (Bender, 2003; Garrison & Anderson, 2003)."  (Page18)

Jan tucker and Patricia Neely in the June 2010 issue of the International Journal of Technology and Distance Learning titled Using Web Conferencing and the Socratic Method to Facilitate Distance Learning in which they describe the success of using synchronous online technologies to facilitate/enable the sort of question-based teaching and learning based on the Socratic method. 

Seems to me that the main argument here is simply a bad personal experience with online learning, which is now being dressed up with 'edu-speak' to thinly disguise a personal preference;

"[Ms Rosenbaum] said she was mystified by the requirement that students take online courses. She is taking some classes online as she works toward her master’s degree, and said they left her uninspired and less informed than in-person classes. Ms. Rosenbaum said she could not fathom how students would have the discipline to sit in front of their computers and follow along when she had to work each minute to keep them engaged in person."

My own daughters would argue the following based on their experience of face-to-face secondary schooling and university work (in some of their classes):

"We are mystified by the requirement that students take face-to-face classes… we cannot fathom how students have the discipline to sit in front of their desks and follow along when they have to work each minute to keep themselves engaged."

Creating a world of good thinkers

Second keynote at the ICOT conference involves a fellow New Zealander, Bek Galloway for Bohally Intermediate School in Blenheim. She's presenting alongside an international team led by Robert Swartz and Rebecca Reagan for the National Center for teaching Thinking (NCTT) based in the USA, together with Sheryl Dwyer (US), Manal Aboud (Saudi Arabia) and Monika Borch (Spain). The focus of their work is on illustrating ways of infusing thinking (both creative and critical) into content instruction. The NCTT website has collated some useful teacher resources that illustrate the kinds of 'infusion' being promoted. If you scroll to the bottom of that page you can find special mention of Bek and a link to some of her work.

Their presentation covered:

  1. Making skilful thinking an objective in the classroom – everyone thinks, but not everyone thinks as well as they could.
  2. Using skilful thinking to think about curricular content – applying specific thinking organisers to important curricular content.
  3. Fostering commitment and internalisation – students guiding themselves buy thinking about their thinking (metacognition).
  4. Taking this from classrooms to whole schools – involving teacher collaboration and coordination, assessment of thinking as well as content, and leadership commitment and support.

Great presentation with loads of authentic, classroom-based examples of development of thinking skills. Key point made throughout – we can't improve thinking skills by simply introducing new tools and techniques. We still need to teach teachers and students how to process information effectively – and how to use these tools and techniques effectively to achieve this.

Murdoch: education failing

Here's a gem from Digital Learning Now with the text of News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch's address to the e-G8 Forum in Paris on 24th may this year. Murdoch urged Internet companies to pull out the stops in developing digital education programmes to revolutionise the world's classrooms, complaining that pupils are still condemned to dreary "Victorian-age" classrooms despite the potential of the web for revolutionising education.

I haven't often felt aligned with what this chap has had to say, but there's some compelling stuff in this talk. He holds nothing back, accusing schools of being the last holdout from the digital revolution.

he argues that simply throwing money at the problem doesn’t work (and cites his own experience of having tried this as proof.) To those who argue that the problem is the kids – that they're too poor or from bad families – he responds strongly with "…absolute rubbish. This is arrogant, elitist and utterly unacceptable."

His solution is straight forward, and has a sound pedagogical basis; "Every study will tell you that the more interactive and intimate learning is, the better the student will perform." The key here? Software that will engage students and help teach them concepts and learn to think for themselves. Murdoch also argues the case for personalisation as a second key to resolving this.

His final quote captures the intensity of how he feels about this:

In our own backyards, we have millions of young people whose minds are the key to our future. It is time to insist that our schools use every technology we can to unlock their potential – and treat them as the precious resource they are.

Certainly something for us to think about – for those outside education, how we can respond with resources that will meet this challenge, and for those inside, to stop defending the status quo and opening the doors for this sort of learning to happen.

Pedagogically driven…?

Over the past few  years I’ve frequently heard the comments; “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the pedagogy”, or in relation to the advent of ultrafast broadband; “we’ve got to drive it from the teaching and learning.” These are well intended sentiments, but why is it that the technology still dominates much of the discussion, and so often becomes the starting point by default? And just what do we mean by letting the teaching and learning lead? How would you explain that to someone outside of education – or, for that matter, someone inside?

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now and this week I had a chance to share some of my thinking with Russell Burt, principal at Point England School. I’ve captured our jottings at the whiteboard in the diagram above (click on it for a larger version). Key points are:

The fundamental activity of students as learners is shown in the ‘process’ line, consisting of:

  • Learn – This is the part of the learning process where learners are exposed to intentional teaching, access to content, the development of pre-requsite knowledge and skills etc.
  • Create – this is where learners work with, manipulate and re-present the information they have gathered in the ‘learn’ scenario. This may be done independently or collaboratively, and may involve a range of tools and environments.
  • Share – where learners communicate with others what they have learned, being especially aware of the audience. May involve a celebration of some sort, and feedback where appropriate.

These three things are underpinned/supported by a comprehensive assessment process – both for and of learning. The assessment band is deliberately shown this way to emphasise the fact that it isn’t driving the learning, but is an integral part of the learning process.

Below that are the three principles that we think are key to developing an effective, future-focused approach to teaching and learning:

  • Ubiquity – focusing on learning that happens anywhere, any time, any pace and through/with any device. Learning is no longer confined to the ‘box’ of the classroom, the ‘fences’ of the school yard, or the period between 9-3 in a school day. It also reflects the underpinnings of life-long learning.
  • Personalisation – learners in charge of their learning, with the ability to make meaningful choices about all aspects of what and how they learn. Also recognises the imperative on teachers, as learning designers, to recognise that all learners learn differently and in ways personal to them. 
  • Collaboration – recognising that the ability to work with others is an essential skill in a future-focused world. Acknowledges the theoretical underpinnings of social constructivism and connectivism, and the need to recognised and work with each other’s strengths (and weaknesses).

The layers below this illustrate the way the services and infrastructure supports our intended learning outcomes/teaching approaches. Working from the top, it becomes relatively straight forward to see how the teaching and learning may drive the technology decisions. Take this example for instance:

Beginning in the ‘learn’ area, a school decides it is important that students have unfettered access to a broad range of online resources and materials to support learning in the classroom as it is required (just in time).

Acknowledging the ‘ubiquity principle, the decision is that access should be available anywhere on the school premises, but shouldn’t be confined to the school day and school premises.

This leads then to decisions about mobile, internet capable devices, school-wide wireless, cloud-based content servers and filtering solutions that aren’t unnecessarily restrictive.

Although this isn’t a particularly detailed explanation, and there are a range of other factors and possible scenarios that could be developed to meet the original ‘learning’ need, you’ll get the point. The important thing is that the model is an attempt to initiate some dialogue about how we articulate our teaching and learning needs, and how they can then be appropriately supported by the technologies available to us.

The promise of UFB

There’s a great deal of talk around the country now that the government has finally announced the providers for the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband (UFB) in New Zealand.  In the wake of this announcement there have been all sorts of speculation about what this will mean, from those who believe it is a waste of tax payers money at one end, to those who make bolder claims about revolutionising education and enhancing learning outcomes at the other.

Now while I believe strongly that we could do with a revolution in our education system, and that in 20 years I hope we can look back and see that the roll out of UFB played a significant role in that, I am unconvinced that laying a bit of fibre in the ground will achieve that on its own.

We need to get things in perspective. A week ago I was in Sydney for the official launch of the first mainland connection to the Australian National Broadband Network (NBN) at which Prime Minister, Julia Gillard announced, “This is a transformative infrastructure for our nation’s future!” – a sentiment similar to those expressed  by our own Steven Joyce at a conference I attended late last year.

When people ask me what will UFB deliver, I have a pragmatic response. I say that it will provide us with connectivity that provides for greater:

  • speed
  • capacity
  • reliability

Now, if we have those things, we can really begin to ‘cook with gas’ on the many things we’re currently trying to do on the (very limited) commodity internet connections that we have in our schools. Things like video conferencing, accessing multi-media resources, having multiple classes at a time accessing sites like Google Earth, utlising off-site storage and backup etc.

It’s important to understand that the UFB itself is simply a part of the picture – an important and expensive part at that – but it only lays a foundation upon which a range of other things are required. I’ve put together the diagram at the top of this post in an effort to show this relationship very simply (click on it for a larger image). I’m hopeful that it might be useful to others as we engage in the process of explaining what sort of benefit we hope to achieve from getting ourselves connected to fibre – and there are a great many advantages in my view!

However, as to making a direct, causal link between being connected to fibre and improved outcomes for learners, particularly those currently under-served in our system, I simply can’t buy it. Sure – the fibre will assist, but it will only assist where we have educators who are taking risks, exploring new pedagogical approaches, letting go of their traditional roles and engaging meaningfully with the sorts of imperatives outlined in the NZ Curriculum Framework.

The trouble with innovation in schools

An feature on TVNZ’s Closeup programme last night captured my attention. It featured a small, decile one primary school near Kaitaia where four year 8 students have just won the opportunity to attend the world problem solving champs in the US, based on what they’ve been doing in their school. The curriculum at Oturu School includes bee-keeping, organic gardening and making products from bee’s wax and honey. As the principal, Fraser Smith comments on the programme:

“We’re allowed to do what we’re doing – it’s called authentic learning, and it’s wrapped up in the NZ Curriculum – hallelujah!”

It’s a wonderful example of the sort of creative approach that the NZ Curriculum does allow us to take in NZ schools and I congratulate Fraser and his students for their initiative. In saying that, however, I am mindful of the courage, passion and determination it takes to ‘step outside the box’ and do this sort of thing. I read recently an article in the Washington Post titled ‘The trouble with innovation in schools” that reminded me of how we need to protect the freedom we have in our NZ Curriculum to create learning experiences for students like this. The article focuses on the irony (in the US system at least) of how innovation gets in the way of the things that are really important, such as numeracy and literacy test scores etc. An extract from that article illustrates my point:

Michelle Rhee, former D.C. schools chancellor and one of the rock-star “innovators” in education, famously told Time magazine in 2008:

“The thing that kills me about education is that it’s so touchy-feely. People say, ’Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning.’ I’m like, ’You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

On the other hand, Sir Ken Robinson, professor emeritus at the University of Warwick and author of Out of Our Minds, argues in two widely circulated talks from the TED conference that schools too often end up stifling kids’ creative spirits. “Creativity is as important in education as literacy,” Robinson says, “and we should treat it with the same status.”

Rise of blended learning

Blended learning is the ‘buzz’ word around the world at the moment it would seem. It appears regularly through recent Ministry of Education documents on eLearning and effective teaching, and is a centre-piece of the latest round of eLearning professional development contracts.

We’ve certainly seen a rise in blended learning approaches in some NZ schools in recent years, particularly within the Virtual Learning Network, and now within some of the UFB schools, such as the GCSN in Christchurch.

A report just out from the US brings a timely perspective to this phenomenon, focusing specifically on the schooling sector. Titled, The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning, the report concludes that, in the US, what was originally a distance- learning phenomenon no longer is. Most of the growth is occurring in blended-learning environments, in which students learn online in an adult-supervised environment at least part of the time.

The report is co-authored by Michael, Horn, who, along with Clay Christiansen and Curtis Johnson, wrote Disrupting Class, in which they address the dilemma of why, despite massive investment in technology over the past two decades, schools have failed to see the significant changes that have occurred in so many other areas. Their conclusion, schools have simply ‘crammed’ the technology into existing structures – they haven’t allowed it to disrupt the traditional ways of doing things.

Blended Learning may well prove to be a form of disruption that brings about the change we’ve been seeking. However, the K-12 report brings a stern warning:

The growth of online learning in brick-and-mortar schools carries with it a bigger opportunity that has not existed in the past with education technology, which has been treated as an add-on to the current education system and conventional classroom structure. Online learning has the potential to be a disruptive force that will transform the factory-like, monolithic structure that has dominated America’s schools into a new model that is student-centric, highly personalized for each learner, and more productive, as it delivers dramatically better results at the same or lower cost.

Policymakers and education leaders must adopt the right policies for this to happen. There is a significant risk that the existing education system will co-opt online learning as it blends it into its current flawed model—and, just as is the case now, too few students will receive an excellent education.

The point is, if we’re to successfully embrace the potentially huge opportunities that a blended learning approach can offer, we have to be prepared to disrupt our existing structures, mindsets and ‘comfort zones’. That will take leadership (see my previous post) – not just management.

For those in classrooms, the essential focus must be on pedagogy. Online learning doesn’t automatically mean effective teaching – in fact, it amplifies the pedagogical practices of the classroom, both good and bad. Sadly, from my experience, what tends to happen most is that it amplifies the fact that we still live in a world where the primary pedagogical construct focuses on content as king, with delivery of content the norm. This is a killer in the online world. this is reflected in many of the comments posted under the article about the report, including this one from a teacher…

Teachers in traditional schools can use an online component- as I do- to replace uninspired worksheet style homework assignments. Instead of requiring my high school English students to complete analysis questions or reading comprehension questions that take hours to grade, I now use my structured online discussion forum- Collaborize Classroom- to engage students in dynamic student let discussions. I have tried blogs and wikis with students to little success, but my Collaborize site actually lets me post different types of questions- multiple choice, yes/no, vote and suggest and forum- to structure discussion and add variety to conversations.

The blended learning phenomena looks like it’s here to stay – and I say “bring it on”. BUT, let’s also take note of the insights provided in this report (and others) that point to the need for shifts in policy and pedagogical practice.

For more commentary on the report read this eClassroom News article.

Professional standards?

As a parent, I spent more than just a few moments over the Christmas break wondering how my son was going to transition into his first year at secondary school this year. So far so good! This evening he came home and without prompting, secreted himself in his room to complete a homework task for his Spanish Language class – which he then proceeded to show his mother and invite feedback!! I may sound surprised, but you have to understand that in his previous two years at intermediate school this sort of thing had never happened. Evidently his Spanish teacher has captured his interest and inspired him to learn, and he thinks Spanish is pretty cool now. Seems this is his experience across all his subjects. So far so good 🙂

So with this being the experience in my household, I was somewhat taken aback to read an email that arrived from a friend of mine about an hour ago, describing the experience of her 13 year old daughter starting secondary school. The email is copied here in its entirety with her permission:

So….. my daughter has started with excitement and nervousness at High School! 13 years old, keen and eager to learn… 2 periods of health over the last 4 days = 5 pages of written RULES copied from an overhead projector.

The learning intention is “become familiar with health class routines.”
Success Criteria – “completed all overheads” – thereafter follows the 5 pages with headlines such as:

  • Be prepared
  • Get ready fast
  • Be quiet
  • Behave

Followed by more paragraphs on what will happen if these basic expectations aren’t met.

  • Not prepared  – “copy out the lack of equipment essay in your own from from the window in C4 and hand to your teacher at the end of the next lunchtime. NO equipment will be loaned to students.”
  • Not quiet -” copy the talkative behaviour essay in your own time from the window in C4 blah blah blah blah…”

As you can imagine this is only part of it!

What is a parent to do????????? Where are all those incredible 21st century teachers and learners hiding?????

Any words of wisdom on how to approach this in a professional manner??? LOL

My heart goes out to her. As a parent it is soul destroying to see your kids not enjoying school and turned off learning. As an educator it is downright concerning that this sort of behaviour is still tolerated in our schools.

And here is the problem. In our schooling system we have teachers both good and bad. We have schools that are both good and bad. Problem is, too often the whole system gets tainted by the bad, and the good gets overlooked or forgotten. We’re lulled into believing that the whole system is  characterised by the sort of teacher my friend’s daughter has encountered.

So – what is the solution. While I may find it easy to go to my son’s teacher and provide positive feedback and offer some sincere thanks for the impact she is having, what would I do in my friend’s case? What is the appropriate response when such an experience may well shape her impression of secondary school and influence her participation for the next five years?

I, like my friend, would be interested in your responses.

Classrom makeover winners

The eInstruction Classroom Makeover Contest winners have been announced, and they are:

Each will receive classroom makeovers valued at more than $US60,000 dollars each. This press release has more information about the winners.

I had the pleasure of being one of this year’s judges, which I thoroughly enjoyed – but also found extremely challenging, as each class/school chosen as finalists had contributed something that was unique and reflected their particular ‘personality’ and perspective. Having worked with classes to enter video competitions back in the 1980s (yes, using tape and editing gear – no computers) I marvel at just how sophisticated young people have become in their ability to create these sorts of movies.

As judges we were provided with criteria against which to score each entry, and I’d have to say that I spent a lot of time considering the ways in which the entries portrayed the use of technology for what I’d describe as genuinely transformational purposes, demonstrating what I’d see as a learner-centred pedagogy, rather than simply as a teacher presentation tool, or simply using technology for the sake of it. It would be inappropriate of me here to share how I voted (all had merit to win in my view) – but if you care to spend time viewing the range of finalists on the e-Instruction site, I’m sure you’ll be able to see what I’m driving at here.

I guess it’s something on my mind at the moment. I’m currently presenting a ‘hotseat’ in a Master’s course offered by Middlesex University in the UK.The group of teachers enrolled on the course appear very enthusiastic and motivated – and have participated fully in the forum I set for the first week’s challenge in which I asked them to share an example of a successful learning experience with students involving the use of ICT. I also asked them to share why they felt it was successful. Interestingly, over half of the teachers shared an experience where they used technologies (i.e. interactive whiteboards, powerpoint, prezi etc) in the classroom as presentation tools, and judged the success by the apparent increased interest shown by the students. As you can imagine, it has generated lots of discussion as we’ve unpacked more of what it means to be learner-centred in our classrooms, and adopting constructivist pedagogical approaches.

I guess it all attests to the notion that technology in and of itself does not change poor pedagogical practice, but technology in the hands of a pedagogically adept teacher has the power to transform teaching and learning in ways we haven’t imagined!