"An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn’t teach them how to make a life."
What is a good teacher? A great teacher? An average teacher? A terrible teacher? Any EduTwitter chat where those questions are asked will see a series of one-liner well-meaning platitudes reeled off. Various teacher accreditation systems have sought to codify what good practice is and judge teachers based on those standards, and everyone you meet will be able to tell you a story about what a good/great/average/terrible teacher is based on their own experience and a teacher their child had, or even, that they had themselves as a student.
I was born in 1983 and my generation (though which generation I am in varies wildly) is the one that has crossed over the most. My parents' and grandparents' generations had watched as life changed around them with various wars, political crises, financial ups and downs impacting their lives. Technology, however, though changing, was doing so relatively slowly. I have recollections of my mother doing a night course at the local Tech sometime around 1986 when we lived, briefly, in Queensland. Technology, or more specifically, computing technology, was not a mainstay of life for previous generations.
I grew up learning how to use an Apple IIe on my Pop's lap, with him showing me how to use some of the basic functions, as well as play games like The Ancient Art of War and Prince of Persia. My first recollection of seeing a computer in the classroom was during 1994, when my Year Five teacher, Mr Davies, had a DOS computer running that classic game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego which Mr Davies used as a reward for good behaviour, as well as time on the game being awarded when it was a students birthday. We also had Encarta Encyclopaedia on the library computers. I remember using the internet for the first time at (high) school, logging in via Netscape Navigator and using Ask Jeeves to ask some sort of question.
I remember being excited when I was able to buy, on special, a 1Gb thumb drive for the then cheap price of $55 and a host of other technical milestones since. The rate of change, especially in regards to technology, has been increasing and so we are now seeing more and more instances of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR respectively) in the classroom as technology becomes cheaper to build, the content cheaper to make and easier to access, and teachers more open to trying.
That is just the change we have seen in technology.
How mobile phones have changed. Mobile phone evolution, respectively, from left to right: Motorola 8900X-2, Nokia 2146 orange 5.1, Nokia 3210, Nokia 3510, Nokia 6210, Ericsson T39, HTC Typhoon, iPhone 3G, Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy S4 mini, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 Plus. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mobile_Phone_Evolution_1992_-_2014.jpg on 13 January 2018
There have also been significant changes in policy surrounding education with The Education Portfolio going from being a relative backwater to being the hot-seat portfolio. I remember many days of strikes by teachers with the work the Teacher Federations did here in Australia through the 1990s, whereas I hear many teachers, particularly long-serving teachers, talk about how toothless the Federation has become and many graduate teachers not joining (for the record, I was a member and am not now only because I am not in a school-based role).
Particularly in the last decade, it feels like we have been inundated with change. The MySchools website, the focus on NAPLAN and PISA, arguments about the place of computers and digital technology in the school with the Digital Education Revolution, the growing administrative tasks that teachers are required to do, the funding battles, the growth of coding, STE(A)M, robotics, and a host of other pedagogical strategies combined with the increase in youth mental health issues and suicide rates, with Dolly Everett being the latest tragic victim.
It feels like, and this is just my personal opinion, that things are coming to a head. A conversation with an experienced teacher will yield at some point a discussion about the changes they have witnessed (some interesting article on this exact topic can be found here, here, here, and here).
There have been so many changes, back flips, side steps, shock announcements, useless polices, poorly thought out programs etc that it feels like we are on the way to a proverbial re-balancing of the scales, I could, and quite possibly, am seeing something that is not there, but it feels incredibly like we are heading for a monumental shift in education. I do not know what it is, but I also do not see how it is feasible for education and our society in general to continue on our current pathway; rising social issues around mental health, gender equality, Indigenous issues (such as education, health etc.), an ageing population, housing, childcare, education, teacher abuse (including murders), and a Government system that seems unable to think beyond the next soundbite, let alone the next election cycle, and issues.
Something [monumental] this way comes. Meanwhile, teachers across the country continue to teach, doing the best they can with the resources they have.
What will be the straw that breaks the camel's back? What will be the issue that causes you as an individual and us as a profession to say no more? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
"Why have a computer lab? You wouldn't put the pencils and paper in their own room."
- A teaching colleague
Greg Whitby was next on my dance card, speaking about schooling in a 1:1 world in what promised to be an interesting presentation. As someone who follows Greg on Twitter and has interacted with him on occasion, I have found him to be honest and forthright vis-a-vis his opinions. Never in my experience to the point of being rude or disrespectful, but you know exactly where he stands. 1:1 as an approach to education is a topic of much interest and in which many schools have invested significant financial resources into rolling out, however, sometimes forgetting to put appropriate investment into infrastructure, teacher professional development, or into the students around ensuring they understand how to get the most out of the technology.
1:1 schooling is still a contentious issue as was seen in March 2016 when then Headmaster of Sydney Grammar School, Dr. John Vallance, was quoted in this article that technology in the classroom is nothing but a distraction. Whilst I disagree with that sentiment, I completely agree with him that I personally would invest in staff before technology, however, I believe that to discount technology as a legitimate pedagogical tool en masse is a mistake. What I can agree with is that it can be a distraction and a money pit; if the appropriate investments in staff pedagogy are not made. However, I digress.
Greg began by reminding us that the pace of change in technology is so rapid that as a society we cannot possibly keep up with everything, especially when we take into account that there are self-learning algorithms in play and that Microsoft recently shut down Tay, its AI driven supercomputer. Referring to the current trend of getting coding into as many schools as possible, Greg asked why we need our students to learn to code when the algorithm can do its own coding. There are a lot of obvious responses to the literal question, however, I suspect that Greg was driving at something deeper, questioning the wide-sweeping move towards embedding coding into the curriculum, however authentically that is or is not being done. It is a critique I can understand and share, I am not sold on the need for coding to be embedded into the curriculum. What is being taught that cannot be taught in a different way that does not result in more being added to the workload of teachers?
Greg moved on remark that he would be happy with glacial movement in the design and development of curriculum in NSW. This would mean there is at least some movement as opposed to no movement. I found this interesting. I have no experience with the process of writing a curriculum document, either now or at any point in the past, however, from what I have gleaned from staffroom stories across different schools is that the process is the same but the focus in the new curriculum is simply a little bit different according to the flavour of the decade.
This frustration seems to come back to the supposedly new skills often referred to as twenty-firsty century skills, in particular, (critical) thinking. SInce when, Greg argued, has thinking been a soft skill? I have written about the oddity of twenty-first century skills. With regards to thinking skills, the argument was made across social media that many students (and adults, for that matter) detest actually needing to think for themselves, at least if you ask teachers; whilst they are also used to the game of school wherein they are often drip-fed the information and answers they need to pass the test or exam at the end of the unit.
Greg's fire and passion for the topic was coming through loud and clear as he exhorted the audience to let go and be learners ourselves. Part of this continual learning is about being flexible to each day as we school pedagogical and timetabling structures change to meet the needs of society. There are now many teachers who do not know what their timetable looks like each day until they arrive as it is dependent uopn what their students want or need to learn. THis was exemplified in a video of Rusty from High Tech High. Rusty said that his focus is on asking students what they need to learn in order to achieve the big objective and to act as their guide and mentor as much as their teacher.
Good learning, Greg continued, has always involved STEM subjects integrated together. STEM is another area that I find puzzling. I do not deny that STEM, as individual subject areas are important, by howver, I do question why those subject areas? Why not The Arts, oratory/rhetoric, or philosophy? One of the lessons of my own education that stands out to me was from Year Six with Mr Hawkins (long since retired I suspect). We read The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch by Ronda Armitage and one of the tasks that we needed to complete was to devise a way to get the Lighthouse Keeper's lunch to him without the seagulls getting into it.
This would be considered a STEM project, however, it was just a way of combining a range of subject areas into one unit for effective teaching. We learned about angles, the hypotenuse, design principles, how to use hot glue guns and balsa wood, addition and subtraction with decimals, some basics of thermodynamics (what if it was a hot lunch and what about his coffee?), some introductory physics relating to gravity, mass, and momentum and that is simply off the top of my head (I think there was also some sort of creative writing task as well, however, cannot recall details about that part). That single unit stands out in my memory as fun, challenging, rewarding, and a highly effective use of teaching time from a single stimulus. It highlights Greg's point that an experiential learning framework can be part of the larger picture, especially when driven by an inquiry cycle.
Greg changed tack now, remarking that he no longer talks about improving schools. That conversation has been going on for over a hundred years and arguably has made no impact; they look the same, the pedagogy is often the same, much of the content is the same. The issue around schools is not that we need to improve them but that we need to transform them; and to this end STEM is merely a lens to look through, not the sole thing that we should be doing as STEM is driven by the business model, they are skills that business need. However, the business-driven model has not worked thus far for education and I trust that we all know the saying relating insanity and repetition.
There is no silver bullet or panacea in education as it is far to complex and varied and so we need, as teachers, to be able to adapt to what the demand is. There is change happening in many schools, however, as Lisa Rodgers remarked at FutureSchools this year there are pockets of excellence but the distribution is uneven.
This need to grow and adapt should be driven by the lead learner, which I saw from another congress should always be the Principal. As part of their leadership they should be modelling what Greg refers to as the three Rs, however, rather than reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, it should be radical, relentless, and resilient. This should be Principals empowering teachers to truly transform their classrooms. Simply putting new technology into old classrooms merely results in old classes with expensive technology and no transformation unless there has been pedagogicla development. This need for transformation is the radial urgency of the now according to Greg.
Thank you for reading this article. If you have missed any articles in my EduTECH 2017 series, you can find them all on this page.
“I don’t want my videos to be videos; I want them to be lessons”
In part one of my FlipConAus Review, I began exploring the learning from the FlipConAus Pre-Conference workshop I attended, which was led by Joel Speranza (@JoelBSperanza). This article will finish that,and set the stage for Day Two of FlipConAus. I closed out Part One with Joel’s video cheat sheet and a brief look at some video analytics. After Joel finished talking to us about tips for video creation, we moved on to a general discussion around the various tools that can be utilised for the purpose of flipping a classroom.
Joel posits that there are five categories of tools critical for flipped learning:
Joel indicated that having a formative diagnostic and feedback system within the flipped system (differentiated from your normal processes) and / or subject specific websites and programs are optional, but will enhance your flipping. Joel also indicated that if you want to compare tools in a particular category against others in the same category, then Googling X vs (where X represents the name of one of the tool options you want to compare) will bring up a comparison of that tool with its direct competitors.
This can be anything from your current tools including whiteboard/blackboard, butcher’s paper, workbooks etc, as long as you can capture what is being done in some way.
Capture device / software
There is such a huge range of options here, from a webcam, your smart phone or tablet, a DSLR camera, camcorder etc in regards to the device, and software also sees a plethora of options from my personal tool of choice (Camtasia), to screen-cast-o-matic and a number of others. Guido Gautsch (@gheedough) has put together a useful article that covers some of the various options (both hardware and software) in more depth than I can include here.
This, typically, is either YouTube, TeacherTube or Vimeo. Unfortunately, those three sites are all blocked for State schools in NSW and in many other regions both domestically and internationally, making video hosting and then access problematic. Some options to get around the blocks include MyEdApp with their proxy; iTunesU, where you can upload the video file directly into the course for students to download onto their device (which has other inherent issues), and the trusty USB or DVD. Some schools utilise the internal server for hosting which is fine for accessing at school, but problematic for access otherwise. If you have come across another video hosting option, particularly one that bypasses general blocks, please let me know in the comments section.
Interactive Video Tools
Again, this is an area that has a vast array of options, and I would encourage you to explore them for yourself and determine which ones you like. Some of the tools that we discussed included EduCannon, Zaption* and EdPuzzle.
Another area with an array of options, including super low-tech (using a workbook) to high tech using tools such as GClass, Edmodo, MyEdApp, or Moodle. This is another area in which you will need to do some exploration and testing to decide what your preference is.
This discussion of the various tools available to use with flipping led to a discussion around workflow, or the process by which you flip a lesson and Joel showed us a rough sketch of his own workflow:
This takes each of the categories of tools, and arranges them in order of use for the workflow and is designed to help you crystallised exactly what you need to use for your specific context. He then asked us to consider this image:
Joel’s contention was that when deciding what tools you planned to use in your flipping, that you limit the number of tools that the students were expected to have the ability to use to the school standard plus two additional tools. For example, if your school is a Google Apps for Education school, then your students would already have the expertise to utilise those apps, and you only be adding, at most, two further websites requiring expertise. Joel’s theory here is that by keeping the technical skills needed to manageable limits that we increase the ability of our students to master using the tools that we require them to use, resulting in a higher probability of engagement with the tools and the learning. You will notice in Joel’s image that the list of tools requiring teacher expertise is substantial relative to the other two columns. This is deliberate, and reflective of the processes involved in presenting, recording, hosting and delivering the flipped learning lesson.
Joel also indicated that he has on occasion allowed students to demonstrate their learning using the tools in the workflow. For example, allowing students to create a ‘bulb’ within EduCannon as the process of creating the bulb requires students to have the conceptual understanding of the topic, in order to create not only their video, but also the interactive elements, with conceptual accuracy.
We then entered a discussion around Flipped Learning experts. Joel reminded us of the research popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers indicating that it takes around ten thousand hours of focused practice to master something indicating that there has not been enough time for anyone to be considered an expert flipper. The point here is to remind us that flipping a new craft, and thus has only limited research behind us, and that as the leaders in flipping, in time as there is a greater weight of research and pedagogical practice behind flipping, that we will be considered poor flippers. This was not meant to be discouraging, and Joel likened it to the advent of the chalkboard.
The chalkboard has been around, as a pedagogical tool for approximately two hundred years, and has a vast amount of research and pedagogical experience behind it to help us know what good use of a blackboard looks like (which I think transfers naturally to a whiteboard). Teachers in the mid-twentieth century were better teachers when it came to utilising the blackboard then the pioneers who first used it as they had the experience of their forebears to learn from, bring this famous quote to mind:
We are making the mistakes in flipping that our descendants will (hopefully) not make, as they will have learnt from our experience; we are setting the stage for them to use flipping as a pedagogical tool in better ways than we are able to currently with our dearth of experience and research to guide us. This is an important point I believe. It seems to be forgotten (or perhaps just not made explicit?) that when you are leading the way in a field, that you only have a limited amount of experience and mistakes from predecessors to guide you, and that it is in fact you who are making the mistakes for others to learn from. As early adopters of flipped learning, we will be the giants upon whose shoulders others will stand.
Joel closed with a critical discussion focused on questioning the norms around why things are done the way they are; why do we do what we do? We began by talking briefly about classroom layouts, and quickly moved on to schooling norms such as two straight lines outside the class before going in, how we move around the school etc, with some discussion around what people do differently, before moving onto the focus question for this segment, which is how do we make learning goals clear in a flipped class?Typically, in a traditional learning session, students are told up front what they will be learning and why, but doing this in a video is not necessarily a normal process yet.
Ideas discussed included having the goal appear on screen, either consistently throughout the video, or at intervals, verbalising it as you traditionally would or some combination thereof. Joel indicated that he asks his students to “write down your goal and do it” or, if not the goal, then the learning focus. This led to a discussion of how we can utilise the what does success look like? as a strong differentiation tool when flipping, and what motivates people. The final comment was that everyone learns differently. This means we need to teach differently. Flipped learning as a pedagogical practice enables us to do this.
The below video is an amusing scene from West Wing and encapsulates common feelings about change quite nicely. Joel showed us this while talking about the fear of change that some people have and the common question of “why do I need to change?”
Thank you for reading. The next article will begin looking at the conference proper, which began with a keynote address from Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams.
Since this article was originally posted, the Zaption platform closed down.