"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.
"Important achievements require a clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning."
- Attributed to Carol Dweck
Disclosure: My attendance at EduTECH 2017 is under a media pass provided by the event organisers.
The process of selecting sessions to attend once again resulted in a spreadsheet of each stream with session details, much frustration as I realised that two sessions I wanted to attend were on at the same time, and balancing the challenge of getting to as many sessions as possible with my own mental health. I am quite happy with my selection and am looking forward to the first day of EduTECH.
It will begin early, as I am co-hosting a webinar with Ryan Gill focusing on Cultures of Thinking from the ClickView office in Pyrmont, just a short stroll away from the ICC (click here for more details and to register), and it will end, quite possible, rather late, as I am attending the EduTECH Gala Dinner (I am particularly looking forward to hearing Sam Kekovich as, like many, my knowledge of him is from the Australia Day lamb advertisements).
The opening plenary sessions look rather interesting, with Professor Carol Dweck delivering the opening keynote. I am passingly familiar with her work, but have never had the opportunity to hear her speak on it before and am looking forward to hearing about her theories on Growth Mindset than what I have had the opportunity (or time) to do so in the past. I have heard some educators comment that they believe growth mindset is an overdone theory, but I certainly have not heard enough about it to comment either way. I will of course be live-tweeting and will hopefully be able to expand my understanding of growth mindset.
Following Carol Dweck is an interesting panel session titled A Global Context for Education in meeting the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. This seems an interesting topic to have in a plenary session, and the personnel involved are a broad mix of education and corporate/charity. I have to profess a complete ignorance of the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development goals as a concept, though a quick look at the list indicates that achieving all of the goals would be tantamount to a miracle. With the background of the individuals involved in the panel, I look forward to hearing their take on this broad list of goals and how we can contribute to them as educators.
The final session in the plenary session is being delivered by Bradley Loiselle and will be addressing the changing needs of education in emerging countries such as India. Specifically, the abstract for this presentation indicates that technology will be the equaliser, giving the impression that this talk will focus on how to put the technology in the hands of educators and students in those emerging countries in, presumably, an appropriate and sustainable way.
Following the plenary sessions is where my juggling act begins. I need to get to each stream at least once, allow myself time to eat (at least) lunch, give myself time to decompress and mitigate conference-itis, as well as get some writing done and catch up with colleagues and members of my online professional learning network.
I plan to start in the Higher Education stream, with Jack Hylands' presentation on Preparing Students for the economies of the future as the start facts presented by Jan Owen at FutureSchools earlier this year highlight this as being an interesting insight into how the higher education sector is adjusting to the demands placed on them by our changing society and work forces. I will be staying on theme, though shifting across to the Tertiary Education IT Leaders conference, to hear Professor Louise Stoll speak about professional learning communities and why building those networks and relationships is important.
Following Professor Stoll's presentation, I am looking forward to Kim Maksimovic speak in the K-12 Ed Leaders stream on the topic of engaging students who lack self-efficacy with technology. This whole topic is an interesting one as it really destroys the notion of digital native vs digital immigrant (which I have written about briefly before, see here). I have seen a fantastic re-imagining of the gap between those who are au fait with technology and those who are not, however, I can find no trace of it in my previous writings. It was a video shown at a conference, and it was a brilliant discussion of the difference and why digital native/immigrant was not an appropriate way of conceptualising the gap.
The next session, presented by Greg Whitby, is of particular interest to me both with my teacher hat on and my ClickView hat. Schooling in a one-to-one world is billed to be an analysis and exploration of the frameworks within which one-to-one schooling operates and how these shape pedagogy. One-to-one is not quite at the level that I would call pervasive, however, the terminology is now widely known and the vast majority of schools that I have visited this year have either moved or are in the process of moving to this scenario. The one school that I have visited who have indicated that there are no plans to roll out one-to-one have done so because of the extreme low socio-economic status of the area and the school )I did not enquire into their RAM funding as that would clearly not have been appropriate).
After Greg's session, I have about twenty minutes for a mental break. I will most likely spend it reviewing the breakout session that I will be presenting, yet will ensure that I take some time to stop and breath. The lunch break will be shortened so that I can ensure things are ready to start on time as immediately afterwards I will be presenting three x thirty minute breakout sessions. I rang the contact person to chat abut what I wanted to achieve and discovered that, where I would have been excited to have thirty people in each session, that over one hundred had chosen to attend my breakout session on flipped learning. There may have been some stunned silence on my end of the phone. I have had to tweak how I wanted to run the session due to the numbers, however, I have still been able to flip the session (pre-learning video below) to ensure that the session is as useful as possible to attendees. I have also had a few people in my twitter network indicate that they are attending which increases the (self-imposed) pressure.
After the breakout sessions is the afternoon tea break, which I will undoubtedly spend coming down from the adrenaline and nerves; and hopefully engaging in some follow up discussions with various attendees from the session, before heading into the final plenary sessions for two very interesting talks.
Abdul Chohan will be presenting on utilising classroom technologies to lead effective pedagogical change. The pedagogy should absolutely lead the choice in technology rather than the other way around, and it is a difficult balance to find. Schools that I have visited who have succesfully implemented various changes including one-to-one, makerspace, project based learning, flipped learning, have done so by beginning the change by asking what the desired impact on pedagogy and learning is. The conversations that I have had with Ryan Gill around Cultures of Thinking and the courses that he runs at Masada College; and the work they do with other schools in that area, all stem from asking what is the desired outcome, what is the pedagogical need or question driving the choice to engage with cultures of thinking. The dog/pedagogy should wag the tail/technology, not the other way around.
Finishing the day, before the networking drinks and gala dinner, is Peter Adams who will be addressing PISA, the myths and the facts around the data that emanate from PISA and what we can learn from the success of others. I have heard talks on PISA in the past (this presentation by Brett Salakas for example) and the arguments for an against PISA are plentiful. I look forward to hearing Peter expand on the facts of what PISA tells us and what, if anything, we can learn from other countries and their own PISA results.
Thank you for reading through this article. If you are heading to EduTech, let me know via Twitter as it would be great to catch up with some of my PLN, especially over dinner and a few drinks if you are attending the Gala Dinner.
For all articles in this series on EduTECH 2017, please click here.