Category Archives: research and papers
We've seen a significant uptake of digital learning in all forms and guises in schools over the past few years, driven by a number of things, including the desire to 'keep up' with what other schools, a sense that this is important for our young people and their digital future, or to replace traditional approaches of using text books with something more relevant and engaging.
But how do we know our use of digital technologies is actually contributing to powerful learning? The Evergreen Group have recenty published their annual review of policy and practice titled "Keepng pace with K12 digital learning" in which they present the findings of their research into what is happening with digital learning across schools in the US.
The report authors found that, overall, more students than ever before have access to digital learning opportunities (no surprises there), including online and blended learning, but indentified that state policies and other factors often limit digital learning’s availability. Most school districts in the US use digital learning tools and resources, but the extent, type, and goal of that use vary widely. Different grades use digital content and tools differently, too, according to the report:
The report identifies four reasons schools are increasingly incorporating digital learning opportunities into teaching and learning:
- Improving student access to a variety of schooling options
- Ensuring that students reach their maximum achievement levels
- Increasing technology skills, which parents, teachers, and stakeholders believe to be essential for college- and career-ready students
- Reducing costs
The report also identifies varying patterns of use between school types:
- High schools tend to offer fully online courses and many forms of digital content.
- Elementary schools tend to offer self-paced interactive activities that are topic-focused and collaborative
- Middle schools are a hybrid of high schools and elementary schools, in which younger middle school students are more likely to use interactive and skill-based lessons
- Older middle school students use other forms of digital content and begin venturing into online learning opportunities
Some ineresting reading here for those interested in trends and patterns of use re digital learning.
Like many other countries, New Zealand put all of its eggs into the 'ICT and digital literacy for all" basket from 1990, when the first MoE-funded professional devleopment programmes began. That philosophy has underpinned all of the ICT-PD strategies and spending to the current day – the argument being that ICTs (or digital technologies as they're now being referred to) are a part of everyone's experience, not simply those who are programmers.
This strategy has been reasonably successful in gaining a system-wide acceptance of ICTs within the educaiton sector (although I still come across teachers and schools who see ICTs as one of those 'optional' things for them to focus on!)
As we are now in the fourth decade of having computers in our schools, there's a growing awareness that, as the tide of digital literacy has risen, and we're seeing ICTs used routinely by students in schools across a wide range of contexts to support their learning, simply teaching learners to be users (or consumers) of the technology, without teaching them fundamental skils of creating or constructing with these tools is tantamount to teaching kids to read, but not to write, to listen but not to speak, or teaching them to appreciate art, but not to draw etc.
The simple truth is that while we all marvel at what these new tecnologies can do – someone has had to design, create, build, program and test them. So it makes sense that somewhere in our system we're creating opportunities for our young people to learn skills that are foundational to an ever growing need in our future workforce.
The UK Department of Education has been working on this for awhile, since deciding to scrap its traditional ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) curriculum almost two years ago. Earlier this year they announced the coding requirement for schools, and in September they introduced the new national curriculum for computing for all children from five upwards. This is being given a boost with a half million pound initiative known as the “Year of Code.”
Of course, skills for employment are only one part of the reason for introducing such an initiative. This recent report from European SchoolNet emphasises the wider significance of teaching coding and computer science within our curriculum. The report states..
Coding is becoming increasingly a key competence which will have to be acquired by all young students and increasingly by workers in a wide range of industries and professions. Coding is part of logical reasoning and represents one of the key skills which are part of what is now called "21st Century Skills".
The report outlines responses from 20 countries to a survey where their Ministries of Education gave an overview of their current initiatives and plans. Across this sample of countries it is evident that they see a wider range of benefits accruing from including coding and computer science programmes in schools, including fostering logical thinking skills, coding and programing skills, problem-solving skills, skills for employment, as well as fostering other key competencies.
I was a part of the generation who grew up introducing computers into my classroom under the influence of Seymour Papert, being fascinated with what could be achieved using Logo, and later with Scratch, as well as learning the fundamentals of Basic and later HTML. Finding out what made the computer work the way it did intrigued me, and so discovering that I could create instructions that would get the response I desired seemed a natural thing to do.
Of course, that's fine for someone like me who has a natural interest in such things. But introducing a curriculum requirement for all schools to include coding in their curriculum begs a simple question, "who will teach it?". In an already crowded curriculum, and with change being naturally resisted by many, this is an extraordinarily big challenge. I noted with interest that even England's 'year of code' initiative has attracted cynical responses when the director of the programme herself revealed that she doesn't know how to code.
I see these issues becoming a big challenge for New Zealand into the future. We are a small country, 10,000 km from our markets, with an economy reliant on the export of primary produce products. Into the future we'll need to put more emphasis on the development of knowledge economy skills, because (a) of the impact of much of our primary produce production on our local environment, and (b) the fact that our traditional export markets are now establishing their own means of supply negating the expense of long distance exports. If we're to heed the challenges of the late Sir Paul Callaghan and others, we need to find ways of appropriately incorporating more coding opportunities within our school curriculum across all age groups.
As a parent and as a grandparent, I am increasingly concerned that we act now to ensure my kids and grandkids are equipped with the skills, competencies and dispositions they will require to enable them to function effectively in an increasingly digital world – and exposure to the delights of coding and computer science must certainly be considered here.
The 2013 TALIS report has just been released and makes for some interesting reading in light of the work I'm currently focusing on regarding modern learning environments and modern learning practice.
This is the second cycle of the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey. The first survey was conducted in 2007/2008.
The main focus of TALIS is on the learning environment and working conditions of teachers in schools. It offers an opportunity for teachers and school principals to provide for education analyses and policy development in relation to the issues being studied in TALIS.
I always find this sort of 'meta-level' research of interest, as it provides an opportunity to verify – and dispel – many of the myths that exist about teachers today. In addition, it then provides the opportunity to look specifically at comparing the cross-country data with what is happening specifically in my own context. From my initial read of the report here are some of the things I think are relevant to what's happening currently in NZ…
This issue reared its head a couple of years ago when the NZ government announced a policy of increasing class size (albeit incrementally), based on research that suggests this isn't the most significant factor influencing student achievement. When teachers in the TALIS survey are asked about class size and whether it has any detrimental effects on their job satisfaction or feelings of effectiveness as a teacher, their responses reveal that it is not the number of students in a class but the type of students (such as students with behavioural issues) that has the strongest association with the teacher’s job satisfaction and feelings of self-efficacy.
Workload is an increasingly 'hot topic' among teachers in NZ schools – many of those dedicated to their profession that I know are working well in excess of the 40 hours a week that might be considered a 'normal' working week. Yet teachers in the survey report that they work an average of 38 hours per week across countries, which could be considered an average work week for many fields. On average, half of teachers’ time is spent teaching and half is spent on all of the other daily tasks that are required of teachers.
A key issue affecting workload that emerged in the report from my perspective is that more than a third of teachers work in schools with significant staffing shortages of qualified teachers, teachers for students with special needs, and support personnel. This inevitably puts a greater strain on the other teachers in the school, and may be linked in part to the teacher responses to the class size questions.
Collaborative teaching practice
A key feature of modern learning practice is the emergin emphasis on collaborative teaching. The TALIS data indicates that most teachers are still teaching largely in isolation, as over half of teachers report very rarely or never team-teaching with colleagues, and two-thirds report the same rates for observing their colleagues teach.
As we move into teaching in more open, flexible and dynamic learning environments, understanding how to work effectively as a part of a team and to demonstrate collaborative teaching practices will become a requirement of being a teacher.
In the TALIS study teachers who work collaboratively with their colleagues report a stronger belief in their ability to teach (self-efficacy), as do teachers with more than five years of teaching experience. In almost all countries, teachers who report participating in collaborative professional learning at least five times a year report notably greater self-efficacy.
Professional learning and development has been a key focus of my work for more than 20 years, and in that time I've seen all sorts of 'fads' and emphases come and go – but nothing changes the fact that it is one of the most essential parts of maintaining a vibrant, current and self-renewing education system. In NZ we've been pretty well served in this area, with a sizeable amount of money being invested annually by the MoE for PLD in a variety of areas.
Yet despite this, the data the MoE use suggests the impact is minimal in terms of raising student achievement – and so we're seeing a move towards channeling the money allocated for PLD towards school-level activity, including teaching as inquiry and clusters of schools working together to address identified achievement challenges.
To be honest I see great value in the underpinning intent of encouraging teachers to be more critically reflective of their own practice, and also of the principle of incentivising teachers to work with other teachers in sharing effective practice and seeking solutons to common problems etc. TALIS teachers who reported participating in professional development activities involving individual and collaborative research, observation visits to other schools, or a network of teachers are also more likely to use these practices.
I do have some serious concerns, however, about how and where in this process we get sufficient impetus to drive innovation and to introduce new thinking – transformative thinking, as distinct from simply improvement thinking.
Relying solely on the injection of new ideas from within the circles that teachers operate is fraught with difficuty – surely we need a dual approach that supports and incentivises both ends of the spectrum.
The reasons most often cited by teachers in the TALIS report for not participating in professional development activities are conflicts with work schedules and the absence of incentives for participation. In general, teachers report higher participation rates in professional development in countries where they also report higher levels of financial support. In some cases, even when monetary support is not offered, teachers who are offered non-monetary support, such as scheduled time for activities during the school day, report participating in professional development.
There's plenty in the report about school leadership – such a vital influence of change, at the school and system level. There's been much criticism recently about the level of leadership in our schools, despite considerable investment in professional learning in this area. The NZ government is currently looking at esablishing a new approach to developing leadership in our schools – from induction through to experienced principals.
A reason that I feel we're waning in this area is that so much of what we do is focused on developing the individual leader, creating a sense of self-sufficiency in leadership and building 'iconic leadership' models. In my view there isn't enough emphasis on the practice of distributed leadership – including how it is modelled at the top level of our system.
It is pleasing therefore to read in the TALIS report that principals are increasingly distributing leadership and decision-making tasks, which can benefit both the teachers and the principals themselves. Principals with heavy workloads who distribute tasks and decision making less also report lower levels of job satisfaction.
Distributing leadership also saves principals valuable time for what some consider the most important task: instructional leadership. Principals who report more instructional leadership tend to spend more time on curriculum and teaching- related tasks and are more likely to observe classroom teaching as part of the formal appraisal of teachers’ work. In some countries, these principals more often report using the results of student performance and evaluations to develop the school’s educational goals and programmes.
Job satisfaction is a critical element of teacher recruitment and retention. Workload, support, PLD etc, are all contributors to this.
TALIS findings show that, in nearly all countries, when teachers perceive that appraisal and feedback lead to changes in their teaching practice, they also report greater job satisfaction. When teachers believe that appraisal and feedback is performed only for administrative purposes they report less job satisfaction. In addition, teachers who report that they participate in decision making at school also report greater job satisfaction.
Indeed, although fewer than a third of teachers believe that teaching is a valued profession in their country, those teachers who report that they can contribute to school decisions are more likely to report that teaching is valued in their society.
Teacher-student relations have an exceptionally powerful influence over teachers’ job satisfaction. In almost all countries, when teachers have more students with behavioural problems, they report significantly less job satisfaction.
So there it is – a quick summary of key thoughts aligining the TALIS report with the situation in NZ. As the report authors suggest, their data helps to support or debunk many of the myths that exist in our teaching profession. There may be some here that you want to explore further and I encourage you to download the report and read it for yourself, for these are purely my opinions. The most important thing, as with any of these reports, is 'so what'? How will it now inform what each of us does in our practice? How might this data inform changes in our schools or in our education system?
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.
I've had the privilege of participating in the DEANZ conference, surrounded by a veritable smorgasbord of national and international experts in the field of open, flexible and distance learning.
This morning we had Curtis Bonk join us by video conference for a short presentation as a part of the SITE panel presentation on teacher education. Curt introduced us to the book that he has co-authored with NZer Elaine Khoo from Waikato University titled Adding some TEC-VARIETY – 100+ activities for motivating and retaining learners online.
This book has been released just today as a free download viat the TEC-VARIETY website.
The book's title is an acronym for the 10 fully documented successful motivational principles for engaging online learners that the authors have identified.
The content is a useful mix of theoretical underpinnings and practical strategies to be employed – making it an essential addition to the library of anyone involved in planning, developing or facilitating online learning programmes.
In addition to print and Kindle versions, this book is freely available to you as an interactive PDF document to download, share, and use both in total as well as by chapter; see http://tec-variety.com/
I've just come across this report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation detailing the results of 3,100 teacher surveys and 1,250 student surveys on the kinds of digital instruction tools that are useful and effective.
The foundation asked teachers and students what they need when it comes to digital instruction, aiming to close the communication gap between commercial developers and schools.
The sample size makes this a pretty comprehensive survey by any account, so the results are worth considering.
One of the findings that interests me is that most teachers surveyed (54 percent) reported that they don’t find many of the digital tools they use effective. That’s partly because teachers often aren’t making purchasing decisions. They say that when they do have a say in tool selection they often report on its effectiveness more favourably.
This simply reinforces for me one of the key dilemmas we have in any part of our educational system where decisions are being made around investment in ICTs without consulting the educators who will be using them. Think of the hundreds of IWBs that lie unused or underused in classrooms, or school BYOD programmes where students stop bringing theirs because there's no opportunity to actually use them in classrooms.
My point is that there needs to be a clear process of well-facilitated consultation that drives back to the values and beliefs that drive what is happening in the classrooms of any school before significant purchasing decisions are made – about anything!
And that process must provide the opportunity for the introduction of new ideas, new ways of operating and new forms of technology too. There must be a way of opening up the possibilities in areas where teachers don't know what they don't know – as well as building on their existing, successful and effective practices.
This point is reinforced for me in the Gates Foundation report where teachers identified the following six instructional purposes for which digital tools are useful:
- Delivering instruction directly to students
- Diagnosing student learning needs
- Varying the delivery method of instruction
- Tailoring the learning experience to meet individual student needs
- Supporting student collaboration and providing interactive experiences
- Fostering independent practice of specific skills
While I don't have any issue in particular with the things listed here, it's what's missing that concerns me. Where is the emphasis on student use of ICTs for the creation and expression of new ideas and knowledge? Where is the focus on student use and ownership of the technology to empower them and give them agency in their learning?
Of the six purposes listed, only one is suggestive of this sort of thing – the other five focus on instruction, delivery, assessment and skill development – all characteristics of the traditional teacher-oriented approach to what happens in classrooms.
I suspect that one of the key reasons teachers reported not finding many of the digital tools effective is because they simply aren't being used effectivey – by students! In too many cases the focus is on the appropriation of the technology by the teachers to do things they used to do in other ways – not to do new things in new ways, in particular, release students to be creative, agentic and empowered in their learning.
The purpose of the report was to discover how commercial providers might better serve the needs of schools. While I believe there are probably plenty of ways commercial providers could develop products that support learning better, the more significant thing in my view is for us, as educators, to re-think much of what we actually do in our classrooms so that students are given greater opportunity to learn with, through and about the technologies.
I attended a meeting of the Minister's Forum today where we had further discussion around what we can learn from the latest PISA results, and implications for future policy and professional decision making in the NZ education sector.
We began the day by viewing a webcast from Andreas Schleicher, the international 'architect' of the PISA process (see video above). A key point he makes is that global comparisons such as PISA allow us to see what's possible in education – a useful perspective I feel as we begin to see the media frenzy begin.
An old colleague of mine, and member of the forum, John Langley, chaired the meeting, and spoke about five different reactions he predicted we'll see emerge over the next weeks/months:
- "She'll be right" – those who continue on with business as usual, ignoring what the data is showing us, and hoping that in the fullness of time it will all blow over and somehow rectify itself.
- Puglaistic – where people initially retreat away into their respective corners to prepare themselves before coming out fighting with anyone who opposes their ideas or thinks differently. Includes those who choose to use the circumstances for personal or political advantage.
- King Hit - the often seen, knee-jerk reaction where people of influence select a seemingly obvious solution and pursue it with vigor in the (often misguided) belief that it will be the solution.
- Shotgun – where a range of strategies are selected and applied in a 'shoot and hope' approach, scattering them in the hope that some might hit the mark and 'solve something'.
- Mr Spock - in memory of the famed Star Trek character who always approached a problem by collecting data, analysing it and using it to identify the most appropriate course of action.
As with most lists like this, it's the last one that provides the preferred solution. In this case I agree – the collection and analysis of data is essential because we cannot assume that any group of people will share a common set of understandings about anything unless they're provided with the opportunity to make their thinking explict, or to share in the construction of shared knowledge. Only then can the community identify and pursue the 'next steps' to be taken.
And so it is with PISA – we need to add this data to our pool of information from which we can explore and construct together the strategies that will take us forward – for the sake of our future generations.
Please click on the image below to download a PDF version of the document outlining the CORE Education Dr Vince Ham Excellence in Postgraduate Research Scholarship with the changed closing date (now Monday 9th December)
I'm currently contributing to a reference group that is working on developing a strategic document around the development of digital literacy for all NZ students, as an embedded and fully integrated disposition required to function effectively as a learner and a citizen in the third millennium.
Like similar groups that are tackling this issue – from school staffs through to governments and NGOs – there's a continuum of things to address, from a focus on the ability to use digital technologies effectively (skills) through to the issues around responsible use and safety etc. (citizenship).
A couple of months ago, the PEW Research Centre published a report titled "Teens and Technology in 2013" in which they explored technology use among 802 youth ages 12-17 and their parents. The slideshow above was created by Kristin Purcel to present the key findings of this report , and outlines 10 important facts we should know about today's teens.
- Among Teens 12-17, social network site growth has slowed particularly Facebook, but Twitter use is growing rapidly.
- Today's teens are sharing more personal information online than teens have in the past
- Today's teens do care about online privacy
- Today's teens do take active steps to manage their online reputations
- Parents of teens are very aware that online content can impact their teens' lives
- Most teens educational environment include the use of at least some digital technologies
- The internet has fundamentally altered how teens do research, but not necessarily for the worse
- Digital tools can benefit kids' writing skills and abilities according to teachers.
- Teachers are divided as to whether "digital natives" are all that unique.
- A digital divide persists in the area of educational and technology
As educators we have a responsibility to explore how these sorts of findings are relevant in our context, and to consider how we must respond if we're to make our educational offerings relevant to today's learners. Further, we have a responsibility to ensure that both what we are teaching and how we are teaching it is modelling the sorts of knowledge and behaviours that will prepare our young people to live as confident, capable and connected learners in their future lives and careers.
Just this past week, Pew Internet have released a new study called How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms. It explores how teachers use the Internet for their own professional learning, with their students and for communicating with families.
The study surveyed 2,462 Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers in the US.
>With the increasing adoption of ICTs in schools around the country, teachers are under increasing pressure to adopt different approaches to teaching and accommodate different expectations form students (and parents). As with any change, the transition isn't always smooth or easy – with demands being made from all directions for which there isn't often an obvious answer or way of responding that can be drawn from prior experience. Literally, many schools and teachers end up 'making it up as they go' – with variable results.
The Pew study identifies a number of things that shouldn't be a big surprise to most – for instance, the fact that 92% of teachers "say the Internet has a 'major impact' on their ability to access content, resources and materials for their teaching" would be an expected response given the extraordinary adoption of web-based activity that is prevalent among the age group of their students.
One finding that we need to be taking notice of within the education community is the fact that "75% of AP and NWP teachers say the Internet and other digital tools have added new demands to their lives." Almost every day I hear from teachers how the Internet and other digital technologies have required them to learn more and stay up to date with more than just pedagogy – arguably no different from many other professions, however the availability of and access to professional learnin opportunities to help address this is a concern.
Of more concern is the difference in reporting from teachers in high-income schools who said that lack of access to digital technologies is an issue for their students (21%), while 56% of teachers in low-income schools reported this an issue for their students. The issue of a digital divide continuing to exist between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' is reinforced through the study.
Key findings from the study are:
- AP and NWP teachers bring a wide variety of digital tools into the learning process, including mobile phones, tablets, and e-book readers.
- Teachers worry about digital divides, though they are split about the impact of digital tools on their students.
- 54% of AP and NWP teachers say all or almost all of their students have sufficient access to digital tools while IN SCHOOL, but just 18% say the same is true AT HOME.
- Teachers of the lowest income students experience the impact of digital tools in the learning environment differently than teachers whose students are from more affluent households.
- There are notable generational differences in how teachers experience the impact of digital technologies in their professional lives.
- At times, teachers’ own use of digital tools can run counter to their concerns about and perceptions of student use.
- The internet and digital tools also play a key role in classroom preparation and professional networking.
- AP and NWP teachers outpace the general adult population in almost all measures of personal tech use, yet 42% feel their students know more than they do when it comes to using digital tools.
It would be interesting to test these findings out in schools around NZ – perhaps a discussion focus for a staff meeting or similar? It's not simply the findings that are important here – but how the issues identified might be addressed as we hurtle forward into the 21st century, where digital competence must surely be one of the essential life-competencies required.