Archive for the “research and papers” Category

Teachers know best

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.

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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:

  1. "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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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'.
  5. 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. 

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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)

Ham_Scholarship

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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.

  1. Among Teens 12-17, social network site growth has slowed particularly Facebook, but Twitter use is growing rapidly.
  2. Today's teens are sharing more personal information online than teens have in the past
  3. Today's teens do care about online privacy
  4. Today's teens do take active steps to manage their online reputations
  5. Parents of teens are very aware that online content can impact their teens' lives
  6. Most teens educational environment include the use of at least some digital technologies
  7. The internet has fundamentally altered how teens do research, but not necessarily for the worse
  8. Digital tools can benefit kids' writing skills and abilities according to teachers.
  9. Teachers are divided as to whether "digital natives" are all that unique.
  10. 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. 

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PEW_using tech

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.

 

 

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AvalancheComing

I'm currently attending the CoSN conference in San Diego, which has the theme of 'audacious leadership'. The opening plenary featured Lord David Puttnam and Punya Mishra, discussing the issue of the changes being experienced in education (and elsewhere) in the 21st century. 

Hearing them speak raises themes familiar in much of the literature, forums and online discussion regarding change and leadership in 21st century education. In particular is the issue of the value vs cost of education, and the argument about whether we can work within the current system (and funding) to achieve change, or whether we need to commit more resources to achieving this. 

This issue is discussed in a recent publication titled An Avalanche is Coming which features a quote from Lord Puttnam on the cover. The main question addressed in this paper is whether a university education is a good preparation for working life and citizenship in the 21st century or, more precisely, whether it will continue to be seen as good value, given the remorseless rise in the cost of a university education over recent decades.

While the focus of the report is on tertiary education, there is much in this analysis that is relevant to the compulsory school sector also, since the issue of working within the broader context of the global economy is relevant to and impacts on all areas of education. A key point in the report for me is the section addressing the issue that the cost of [higher] education is increasing faster than inflation – conclusion, we can't keep on doing what we've always done, we need new models, new approaches, new thinking. 

In all of the talk about change, and leadership for change we can't ignore that there is a cost involved in providing a high quality educaiton – the cost of resources (physical and virtual), the cost to teachers, the cost of professional development, the cost of technology etc. etc. What is evident from this report is that we cannot continue to expect greater and greater investment in the current models of education – we need to invent very different models that can be sustained into the future, while ensuring the quality outcomes continue to be achieved. 

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The long awaited report from the parliamentary inquiry into 21st Century Learning environments has just been released and makes for some good reading IMHO.

I had the opportunity to contribute to four of the submissions made to this committee, wearing different hats for each, and so have a keen interest in the process and its outcome. Despite the rather confusing terms of reference that the committee was charged with reporting on, the final report provides a pretty fair summary of the things I heard being discussed by the submitters I spoke to. 

One of the things that came through very strongly for me as I read this report is the repeated plea for leadership. There are 24 separate references to this in the document, with the following recommendation summing up pretty much where I think things need to be focussed:

That [government] recognise that 21st century learning will require significant change across the education sector, involving a wide range of stakeholders; and that the Government recognise achieving such a change needs government- and sector-wide leadership to develop and promote a vision, and to lead an integrated series of work programmes to implement that vision. (italics mine)

The latter part of this recommendation could apply to a myriad of programmes and projects within the education sector at the moment where significant change appears to be the norm. This is highlighted for me as I read another report released today, this one from the ombudsman's office, concerning an investigation into the Ministry of Education’s management of OIA requests about proposed Christchurch school closures.

The apparent breakdown here is a failure to demonstrate leadership in the way communication was (or wasn't) maintained with the wide range of stakeholders as the Ministry worked with them (and the Council) as everyone worked together to develop and implement a shared vision. 

This, together with today's announcement of the resignation of the Secretary of Education, demonstrates to me that we have a crisis of leadership in our education community at present – at a time when, more than ever one may argue, it is required. 

The point I'd like to emphasise here is the fact that the sort of leadership being urged in the select committee report isn't bound up in a single person – it is government and sector-wide leadership. The call is for a unified and focused approach across the sector, an approach that reflects then the process of consultation and engagement with the sector and stakeholders. That is the leadership we need. 

Back to the parliamentary inquiry report, setting aside the fact that most of the recommendations are couched in non-committal language that the cynics will recognise allow freedom for political 'wriggle room' (the word "consider" appears 27 times in 44 recommendations, along with 'investigate, "explore" and  "review" for instance), the themes and issues raised by the recommendations are all very worthy of consideration and important to be addressed. 

Taken together, these recommendations have the potential to form the framework of a vision to be promoted (something we don't currently have, unless you consider a focus on system deficits a vision). These recommendations allow us to think aspirationally, to consider a future that is bigger than what we currently have, and opens up the opportunity for conversations about system level change in structure and thinking that could create a better learning experience for our young people. 

It is encouraging to me that, in relation to an inquiry into learning environments, a substantial amount of discussion is devoted to the virtual world, and the anticipated role of the Network4Learning. I am a strong advocate for the inclusion of the virtual in any discussion about 21st Century learning environments, as already we must acknowledge the significant amount of learning that takes place outside of the school environment, and of that, an increasing amount takes place online.

In the recomendations I am pleased to see mention of community use of school IT facilities, as well as school use of community owned IT facilities (libraries included). This all seems to make sense to me – something I've advocated for some time, and which has been effected here in Christchuch with the South Learning Centre and Riccarton Library for some years now as an example. 

The report also addresses some of the digital divide and privacy issues that will inevitably arise as we move in this direction.

It's pleasing to note that the report has the support of the Labour Party and the Greens (in principle at least, with their obligatory extra points noted).  Let's hope the government now looks seriously at the recommendations in this report, with an horizon that stretches well beyond simply 'considering' and 'exploring', to actually taking some hard decisions, showing leadership, and inspiring leadership in others.

We need all of our politicians and sector leaders too to take serious note of the recommendation "…that the Government recognise achieving such a change needs government- and sector-wide leadership to develop and promote a vision, and to lead an integrated series of work programmes to implement that vision."

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Education Week has just released  their second report in an ongoing series on virtual education titled Evaluating What Works in Blended Learning, that examines a number of examples of blended learning approaches  in the US context,  and aims to identify what is working and where improvements are needed.

The initial paper provides a useful definition of blended learning and the 4 approaches described by the Innosite Institute – and the cases studies that follow are taken from a number of US-based schools and school districts to illustrate a range of implementation models from which useful lessons can be learned. 

With increasing interest in incorporating blended learning approaches in NZ schools, this report will make useful reading for principals and school leaders looking for models to adopt or lessons to learn from as they develop their own.

The paper is presented an e-book that can be read on your laptop or mobile device and can be viewed here.

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I've just been browsing a report recently published by Ofcom titled "Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report." [PDF]. Much of my work in schools and with teachers involves discussions about the sorts of skills and dispositions young people need to be considered 'literate' in an increasingly digital world. The research carried out by Ofcom reveals some useful data to help inform how schools think about a response, including…

  • an increase since 2010 in the number of children aged between 5-15 who have a PC or a laptop
  • an increase from 93% from 88% of children aged between 12-15 year olds use the Internet from home
  • children say that they would likely to miss their mobile or the Internet rather than TV
  • 33% believe that the information on a website must be truthful
  • only 23% of parents are concerned with what their kids see on the Internet
  • 49% of parents state that their children know more than them
  • 88% of the kids feel confident and know how to stay safe on the Internet

A quick scan down this list reveals some key areas of potential 'disconnect' between what many adults (incl. teachers) and students think is the case, and what is reality. Of particular note is the final statistic, revealing a very high percentage of young people who consider themselves to be responsible and safe online. The questions raised for me are; "who is helping our kids navigate this complex world of the WWW?, How are they learning to feel confident and safe?" As a parent of school-aged students I'm not convinced this would be accurate in practice (- which is why I spend time with them talking about and modelling responsible online behaviour). 

Understanding digital literacy is a complex issue, largely because of the way the thinking about it is evolving. There's certainly no shortage of useful links and article son the topic online.

These, and the many other posts and reports, convince me that all schools need to be placing a high priority on developing programmes addressing the information literacy needs of students. Failure to do so will be as significant in their lives as if my teachers had failed to ensure I could read and write when I went through school. 

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The Internet of Things will be the most complex structure mankind has ever created. In a generation, there will likely be a trillion nodes measuring anything on Earth that can be measured, and with the insights culled from that data, we’ll control every aspect of our built world.

We live in a connected world, where millions of people and objects are interconnected by the Internet. In many of my presentations over the past couple of years I've referred to the Internet of Things (IoT) as one of the key trends we need to be watching for – this topic was one of CORE's ten trends in 2011 - in that year it was estimated that there became more 'things' connected to the internet than people. 

Tonight I downloaded a free e-book titled The Internet of Things, developed by Accenture in conjunction with the Bankinter Foundation of Innovation. The publication describes the state of the art of this promising technology.

The e-book is over 70 pages long, and provides an excellent overview of the range of areas of our lives and the societies we live in that are being or potentially will be impacted by the Internet of Things. 

Anything imaginable is capable of being connected to the network, become intelligent and therefore offers endless possibilities.This topic can be quite mind-boggling for some, and a focus of real fascination for others. Whatever your thinking, there's a lot to think about with this topic, and it's definitely worthy of some time to consider. 

For those who'd prefer a more visual introduction to the thinking about IoT, the video below is quite useful, and I've used it in some of my presentations to set the scene for thinking about the implications of all of this for schools. for example:

  • maintaining the temperature and air flow in the learning spaces
  • monitoring student presence in class (no more roll calls)
  • monitoring where teachers are in the school (teachers contactable where-ever they may be, no more lengthy delays tracking them down.)
  • ensuring rooms are set up appropriately as people enter (A/V turned on, screens down etc.) 
  • managing room usage and traffic flows in busy parts of the buildings
  • moving digital resources to be available in areas when they are needed – rooms set up for the particular class/teacher as they approach/enter the room.

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