Monday, March 24, 2014

Realising the Future of NZ Education - an open letter to all NZ educators (and Minister Parata)

On Saturday I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at The Festival of Education as a supposed 'mover and shaker'. Here is an overview of my presentation on 'Realising the Future of Education' which endeavored to look at why, how, what, when we need to change education and what the government could do (IMHO) to support it. Okay, so not so humble...more righteous really.

Why must we change education?
As Ludwig Lachman stated, "the future is unknowable, but not unimaginable" and whilst we can't see into the future, we can look to a strong body of research to try and divine our present and future learners' needs. Put simply, we need to change education, because the world is changing...and changing rapidly. In the Western world we have moved through the 'Agrarian Age' where the land and agriculture were central to existence. We then moved into the 'Industrial Age', it was in this period that what we know as modern school structures and curriculum really came to the fore...and by and large there they have stayed. We are now however entering the 'Knowledge Age' where increasingly society and the economy is driven by ideas, information, problem solving, creativity and innovation. In a world where our learners are faced with more information, more people, more careers (but fewer jobs available) and fewer resources - our learners need new skills. Add to this the notion that the rate of change is accelerating, see Moore's Law based on Intel founder Gordon E. Moore's prediction that the power and speed of computer processing power would double every year, a prediction that holds true 50 years after it was made. It could be argued that we are, in fact, entering a period of hyperchange. Indeed. As Heraclitus once stated, "the only constant is change".

How do we need to change education?
Firstly we need to change our focus. We need to ensure we are focusing on actual 21st Century skills. This does not mean we need to throw out traditional learning areas with the proverbial curriculum bath water, but we do need to overlay these subjects with skills such as complex communication skills, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation as well as digital and information literacy skills. These are skills that need to be developed in a way that reaches across traditional subjects and silos. With this traditional subjects and silos may also need to be challenged so as to find more authentic connections and contexts to make the learning more relevant to our learners' worlds. 

We also need to address our models of teaching practice. As Scott McCleod highlights in his blog Dangerously Irrelevant three educational shifts are needed which will have the most impact on our students future and their success within it. There is a need to move from low level thinking such as recall and rote learning to high level thinking and complex problem solving. We must engage shift from analog to digital (or I would actually argue 'blended') and as Sugata Mitra states "unlock the power of new technologies for increasingly self-directed education". Which leads us to the final shift - teacher centred to student centred. Critical thinking, digitally rich and increasing levels of self direction will ensure we are developing learners who can survive in the knowledge age and flourish in the age of hyperchange.

I would actually argue that self-direction and developing student agency and efficacy is the fundamental shift. In a sense we want step away from our 'caged' classrooms to develop increasingly 'free range learners'.

Free range learners who are:

  • Free to choose how they learn
  • Free to choose where they learn
  • Free to choose how they process their learning
  • Free to choose how they evidence their learning
  • Free to experience learning that is relevant and responsive to their needs not our limitations
This does not mean the teacher becomes redundant, quite the opposite as they are challenged to provide authentic relevant contexts for learners, with just enough 'enabling constraints' to ensure that our little chickens don't accidentally cross the heavy traffic. Our roles need to change from teacher, to facilitator and ultimately to learning activator. Providing triggers and opportunities to learners to develop the relevant skills needed for their world (whilst somehow pleasing those pesky bloody UE requirements....universities of have a lot to answer for in relation to slowing progress).

I would argue if we are to realise the new MoE catchphrase 'Education, Excellence, Equity' then I would suggest we actually look very closely at the concept of 'Universal Design for Learning'. We need ensure that we are actually using pedagogical approaches that are reaching all learners. We need to ensure all learners are provided with multiple means of representation (or ways of receiving information...think visual, oral and written, offline and online). We need to ensure all students have multiple ways of expressing and evidencing their learning (again think visual, oral and written, offline and online) and multiple ways of engaging. This is equitable, but it is also challenging for educators have not had the methods or means of teaching challenged (in any rigorous way) for some time.

At HPSS we are in our infancy (we only opened this year), trying our best to meet these challenges. doing our best to learn and share along the way (see this earlier post to see how we are going about it). We are looking at delivering secondary education in increasingly authentic and engaging ways, offering up a programme that addresses a desire to develop both personal and academic excellence through a mixture of specialised learning (in both integrated and single subject modules), learning hubs, project learning and a generous serving of MyTime. We certainly don't claim to have nailed it...yet, but I would say we are wearing our future focused nappies rather well. You can check out both Steve and Maurie's recent reflections on our progress. 

How can we lead change in our schools
So how can we all lead this change, particularly when not given the gift of a clean slate. Put simply we will all need to get good at changing. We will need to lead our educators to become adaptive experts who as Linda Darling Hammond states "know how to continuously expand their expertise, restructuring their knowledge and competencies to meet new challenges.” All leaders in schools need to be firmly focused on the future. Future focused leadership is  about change leadership. Luckily, that continuous cycle for developing adaptive expertise already exists within the New Zealand Curriculum, the Teaching as Inquiry cycle in a sense represents an effective model of change management on a micro or classroom level. It is actually just a matter of ensuring that all teachers (and leaders) actually engage in robust, longterm inquiry. They need to be looking to student data, getting to know their learners' interests and needs and trialling new strategies. In fact, they need to become learning designers who are willing to iterate and prototype their teaching practice on a daily, weekly and annual basis. And it is important that the cycle is continuous so as to build on growth achieved from previous cycles of change management. As the Sigmoid Curve demonstrates, long term gains are more likely when transformation happens in periods of growth rather than decline. Put simply, it is better to be proactive than reactive. We simply must all keep evolving and moving forward. It might seem brutal, but quite frankly if you aren't willing to move forward, maybe you should consider moving out of the way. It isn't about innovation for innovation sake. It is about innovation for improvement sake.

How can we be supported to make the necessary changes?
Firstly we need to be acknowledged by the present MoE as active partners in our own future and knowledge building (letting educators help select the foundation members of EDUCANZ might be a good start...just saying :-). As Keri Facer stated "the future is not something that is done to us, but an ongoing process in which we can intervene" - please let us all intervene...we are more than capable of doing so. If there is one thing (more like a few things) I could say face to face to Minister Parata, it is this. Be warm but demanding! We have the technical infrastructure (or at least we soon will have that) and for that we are incredibly grateful. I can only look forward to promising developments such as Network for Learning evolving in to an even richer platform and portal (please get ESAA working and mash up a solid range of pre-provisioned SMSs and LMSs for all schools to easily engage with...just a suggestion). We have phenomenal educators - yes some are better than others (just like our learners..we vary), but with the right support we can all fly. We have spectacular students - I actually wish you would stop labeling them so bluntly - your term 'priority' is potentially problematic. I am sorry, but for me, ALL students are my priority learners. I know we have a tail that desperately needs addressing, I am just not convinced that label actually helps. We have a stunning curriculum - don't waste resources and time on changing it...just yet. It is slim, it is creative, it is both freeing and just constraining enough. I adore the NZC from front to back and front again. So you if could just leave it be (for now) that would be ace. Yes, please have high standards for us as we have (and you want us to have) for our learners, and if you must, measure results, but just don't publish them. Use achievement data as you would have us use achievement data, for identifying teachers (who are learners too), school and geographical areas that need your resourcing and support. In publishing that achievement data, all you are doing is creating shame, and you know as we do that shame only does harm. It creates resentment, it creates loss of face, it eats away at confidence and knocks the very communities you claim you want to support and rebuild. This doesn't mean we want you to be soft, quite the opposite - we need you to be firm. Firm, warm and supportive. What we need for all educators and all schools, whether they are struggling or 'successful' (and achingly traditional) is recognition, celebration (The Festival of Education was a good start) but more than anything we need resourcing so WE receive the education WE need as well.
Demand high standards.
Demand excellent outcomes.
But mostly, provide generous amounts of ongoing professional learning and support. Provide support that is as relevant and authentic as the education we must provide for our learners.

Where and when will we make the change?
So whilst my last paragraph might have been targeted at those who support us, I would like to end with a call to arms to all educators. All challenges aside, we are actually more than capable of leading positive change ourselves. We need to set aside any perceived barriers, be it our leadership, our school, our socio-economic situation, classroom or class size - the reality is we can all start making changes in what and how we teach our young people. We can begin by supporting one another by sharing our stories, our resources and our strategies. We can create our own networks and support systems, whether they be the teacher next door or teachers on Twitter across the country or globe. Without resorting to singing some Whitney Houston or John Farnham at you, we need to acknowledge that the change actually starts with you - you wanting to change and then actually, quite simply, changing. As Ford once said, "if you think you can, or think you can't, you're probably right". The change can start here and now… …it’s simply a matter of developing a growth mindset.

In lieu of me attempting a power ballad (my colleagues will attest that it wouldn't be a wise idea), I leave you with this...a short poem by Claire "Righteous" Amos. ;-)

The Future of Education
The educational revolution will not be televised.
It will be blogged, tweeted and co-constructed in code.

The future is unknowable.
Change won’t be slowed.

So hurry up, build your own map.
And whatever you do, at least get on the road.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

So, why we are focusing on Blended Learning at HPSS?

For many years now I have been championing the need for all schools and all students to engage in e-learning, and whilst I definitely sense there is a ground swell of support for this notion I am still patently aware that it is important to be clear about why this should be a priority. I initially trialed e-learning because I suspected it would engage learners and would provide an opportunity for students to continue learning and engaging in the work I set, anytime, anywhere. These continue to be compelling arguments for blended learning, however it is becoming increasing clear that this is in fact just the tip of the pedagogical iceberg.

Firstly let's talk about the term e-learning. It is easy to write this term off as twee or outdated, and I agree that it should be about the learning full stop. However we are still, and will continue to be for sometime in a period of transition, and whilst there still remains to be many teachers and indeed many schools who are yet to use e-learning on a daily basis, it is useful to highlight the "e". Personally I prefer the concept of  'Blended Learning' - it allays the fear that we are trying to replace pen and paper, traditional modes and methods of teaching, and instead suggests that we simply want to 'blend' the pen and paper with electronic modes and methods. So for now, until everyone is clear about the potential and need and facilitate learning using both modes - blended learning is fine for me. Remember to look beyond your personal educational circles and echo chambers - e-learning or blended learning is not a norm yet. Far from it.

There are a number of reasons as to why we have decided to make blended learning a non-negotiable at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. We are aware of World trends, we have based it on compelling research findings, we want to prepare our students for NCEA (which is becoming increasingly blended). Blended learning is an incredible enabler of differentiation and delivering learning that aligns with the notion of universal design for learning. Then there is our guiding document- the New Zealand Curriculum which highlights the ways in which e-learning can support effective pedagogy in and beyond the classroom. 

World Trends
Core Education explore a wide range of world trends to bring together an annual summary of trends pertaining to ICT use in education. These provide an excellent starting point that go beyond our own experiences or opinions and encourages us to consider what these trends might need for our learners. We need to consider also the period in which we actually live. Our ancestors came through an Agrarian (agricultural) age where the ability to farm and work the land was essential. Our parents and maybe even we have come through an Industrial Age where the need for industrial and technical skills were very important. We are now entering what is referred to as a Knowledge Age  defined on the NZCER Shifting Thinking website as

 "a new, advanced form of capitalism in which knowledge and ideas are the main source of economic growth (more important than land, labour, money, or other ‘tangible resources). New patterns of work and new business practices have developed, and, as a result, new kinds of workers, with new and different skills, are required."

and as they also state

"Knowledge Age worker-citizens need to be able to locate, assess, and represent new information quickly. They need to be able to communicate this to others, and to be able to work productively in collaborations with others. They need to be adaptable, creative and innovative, and to be able to understand things at a ‘systems’ or big picture’ level. Most importantly, they need to be to think and learn for themselves, sometimes with the help of external authorities and/or systems of rules, but, more often, without this help."

 These are our students, and many of these skills are best learned in an online space - this is where they can, very quickly, locate, assess and present information. Tools such as Google Docs is what enables them to collaborate and co-construct anytime or anywhere. Blended Learning is key to enabling learning that meets the demands of a 'knowledge' rather than 'industrial' age.
Research Findings
Research by it's very nature is backward looking, so it is important that we do not sit back and wait for the evidence that e-learning is effective before we even deign to dip our toes. It can be tempting to simply say there is not enough evidence yet. However I would suggest that whilst relatively small there is plenty of compelling evidence and research available. This is particularly true if you look at the evidence gathered as a part of 'Teaching as Inquiry' projects where e-learning has been a focus. Literature reviews such as Noeline Wright's 'e-Learning and implications for New Zealand schools: a literature review' brings together a wide range of findings. In her conclusion Wright highlights a wide range of potential benefits, ranging from motivation and engagement to the development of critical thinking and multiliteracies. It is important to remain critical about the benefits of ANY pedagogical approaches, not just the e-learning ones. We seem quick to defend traditional methods and modes when there is little more evidence that they are in fact effective. For this reason it is important that we reflect on all of our approaches, gather pre and post data and feedback from students to ensure that all practice is indeed evidence or research based. We need to ensure our practice (and the research we base it on) is actually current and responsive. It is not okay for teachers to base practice on an approach that might have been exciting when Pong was a cutting edge video game.

Many would argue that NCEA is actually an argument for protecting the mighty 'paper and pen', indeed external exams are written by hand...for now. In April 2013 NZQA's Dr Karen Poutasi stated in a speech to SPANZ "we are reasonably confident that we can reach a position within 8 years where most students will be sitting examinations using a digital device." That means your Year 1-4 student will most likely be sitting their exams online. Our Year 9 students will most definitely be creating and submitting internal assessments online. To do this well, and to ensure our learners gain the skills they need to gain Excellence or at least achieve the very best results they are capable of, then we need to give them practice. More than that, we need to be explicitly teaching them, or giving the time and space to develop the skills to do this well. Learners will need to be able to locate, synthesize and present information. They will need to be able to do it safely, lawfully and effectively. This takes time. We need to start now. In fact all students need to have started yesterday.

Differentiation and Universal Design for Learning
There is also the fact that pedagogically speaking e-learning or blended learning is actually a no-brainer. We have a responsibility to ensure they way in which we facilitate learning and gather evidence of said learning is inclusive. All students have a right to learn and enjoy success, therefore we must be meeting the needs of a diverse group - not just the select few that learn the way you do or did in your day. Consider differentiation as defined by Carol Ann Tomlinson which seeks to provide a range of learning opportunities differentiated for student readiness' learning style and interest. This is possible in a paper based classroom, but choices will still be limited and controlled by the teacher and the resources made physically available to the learner. You might provide a small range of different activities and maybe texts that a either written or more graphic based. Consider this now in a blended learning environment where if a student can access the Internet they can access unlimited resources - written, visual and oral. A teacher may well need to support a student in locating appropriate material or may even curate a collection for them. The speed and ease in which differentiated learning can be facilitated in a blended environment is incredibly enabling. If a teacher can also let the student take the lead and have the power to negotiate methods and modes for learning and evidencing learning,, then you on to something quite magic. Similarly if you consider the diagram below with a blended learning lens it is again a no-brainer. As stated on the Cast website 

" Universal Design for Learning was initially is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs." 

Who wouldn't want this for their learners? Providing multiple means of representation (of information), means of expression (evidencing learning) and means of engagement is nigh on impossible in a purely paper-based  classroom, and again it limits it to a single teacher perception of what they think they know about the students ability, learning style, interests or even their mood or tiredness on any given day.

E-learning and Effective Pedagogy 
There is of course the small matter of our guiding document - the New Zealand Crurriculum. If nothing else,, look at the document, I think it's about page 35??? E-learning is clearly identified as a powerful means of supporting effective pedagogy in and beyond the classroom. As the NZC states:

"Information and communication technology (ICT) has a major impact on the world in which young people live. Similarly, e-learning (that is, learning supported by or facilitated by ICT) has considerable potential to support the teaching approaches outlined in the above section.

For instance, e-learning may:
assist the making of connections by enabling students to enter and explore new learning environments, overcoming barriers of distance and time
facilitate shared learning by enabling students to join or create communities of learners that extend well beyond the classroom
assist in the creation of supportive learning environments by offering resources that take account of individual, cultural, or developmental differences
enhance opportunities to learn by offering students virtual experiences and tools that save them time, allowing them to take their learning further.
Schools should explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning."

When all is said and done, it is simply important to realise that blended learning is not a priority just because I said so. Blended learning is not a priority because we spent all that money on wireless and the students spent heaps on devices (although we DO need to respect this investment). Blended learning is a priority because of world trends, because we want our students to ready for THEIR world, not our past. Blended learning is a priority because we want our students to achieve excellent results. 

But mostly, blended learning is a priority because we want our students to experience learning and express their learning in a way that suits THEM - that means face to face, paper and pen, online, anywhere and anytime.