What creates access to better education?

Little local research exists towards professional development of teachers into STEM (Science, technology, engineering, maths). As it stands, the E is misleading as there isn’t an ‘engineering’ syllabus in the Australian curriculum. The lack of training or the existance of a syllabus hasn’t prevented politicians announcing how important it is, how they are going to make it happen. It follows that education systems have echoed the ‘need’ and keep the funding flowing.

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We have lost the focus on new media literacy. The last political panic created the “every child will have a laptop” agenda and the infamous “digital education revolution”. That plan is long dead, and there’s no real evidence of its success or failure in the literature. Today, the BYOD policy perpetuates and accents disadvantage, widening the participation gap in new media literacy.

I could use a number of conferences as rails to run my discussion on, but I’ll use this one, as I wasn’t there – so can only interpret it through the communication of those who did. The event was billed as “A gathering of educators, policy makers and other stakeholders from all sectors in NSW education”. I’m wondering whether STEM was a visible theme, or whether it’s simply an object in the ongoing meta-issues of reform.

The above photo from #nswedu16 is a vivid reminder of how we still attempt to reform education in the modernist paradigm.

The obvious:

  1. Everyone in education is well aware of the growing disadvantage. Politicians and bureaucrats also know that teachers are deeply embedded in social media based communication. This conference – and invite only affair of ‘top thinkers’ – was by an large a list of social media names  and system ‘top brass’.
  2. The event isn’t based on scholarship of teaching, but an enviornment to further generalize and promote the idea of “a future that is better”. Humans generally like this idea – so most of the social media communication was representative of  the ‘technological rationality’ problem which is widely known in research.

As I stated, this event – like so many around K-12 education, is not based in scholarship and therefore doesn’t require any empirical evidence to support the claim being made. “Every child has access” is in the legislation, and so every child in NSW should be at school. Every child isn’t – and that’s because of a raft of issues, the least of which is access to robot.

This idea of ‘the best’ can be left undefined at a ‘peak’ event is problematic. These people are presumably the key stakeholders in education. Without clarification, this is assumptive, contextual and clashes with a a raft of known soci0-economic issues that cause disadvantage.

This isn’t a statement of reform – other than to vilify certain groups such as teachers (not present) who are not providing access to it.

From the distance created by social media, the central ‘discussion’ at #nswedu16 was familiar – and much of the ‘solutions’ have been shut down before (despite their success) – Please take a bow, everyone involved in the NSW “PLANE” professional development project. I is noticable that many of those who have worked on such projects were not invited. So the solution is this: another ‘think tank’ where people who have failed to deliver in the last decade, or had closed down things that do – are once again proposing they keep doing it – and to recruit new faces to provide their labour.

The confrences seemed to wander. I picked up this Tweet which seemed STEM related, and typical of the dogma that has bogged down EdTech – and I accept that this is an unpopular opinion … however, should someone release this into the public channel, then it seems worth taking to task. I see Audrey Waters doing the same in the US … so that’s at least two of us with raised eyebrows.

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Recent research emphasizes into STEM and inquiry learning in participatory cultures (Jenkins, Ito, Gee, Buckingham etc)  describe the need for teachers to deliver compelling, contextual and relevant content, using new media literacies etc, They emphasise the connectedness of children who can access networked congnition, play and transmedia spaces. This helps minimize disadvantage (gender, SES, culture, geographic etc.,).

I don’t agree teacher and student performance is  measured by ‘inspiration’ either. Clearly a vast amount of todays K-12 education is not delivered though sustainable, equitable or cutting edge technology. There is no evidence to suggest teachers have more than a working knowledge of learning management systems, communication networks and controlling’real world’ objects though the “internet of things”. Some teachers have already been replaced by technology, but I think ‘robots’ and a visual over plays cultural concepts of science fiction narratives.

The role of professional networks which have focused on efficacy, content and practice (as I’ll talk about) such as PLANE have been killed off  – more than once. Who remembers EDNA or Learn Scope?

The aim of setting this post out – is to reflect on a central question about whether or not I would participate.  Why is the new STEM agenda going to be any different – if it  will have the same minds driving the agenda, making choices and attending events etc.,

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What does effective professional development look like?

We also know much of #edunsw16 style events suffer from the “technical rationality” problem. Teachers and administrators can see problems in their practice but not yet devise solutions for them – and a range of opinions emerge under the broad human interest of creating a better future. It’s only days after that we reflect on these things. Reflection is a key element of teacher self-assessment, which is embedded within the framework of social cognition theory.

Self-assessment is seen as integrating three processes: (a) self-observation of aspects of instruction considered relevant to success; (b) self-judgments about meeting or not proposed goals; and (c) self-reactions or interpretations of the extent to which goals have been attained and degree of satisfaction about the process.

It’s therefore more interesting to ‘see’ other teachers at work, than listen to someone who vaguely does something with education, once was a teacher or occasionally visits ‘one of my schools’ etc., i.e. managers are rarely capable of reform and keynotes generally leave five minutes after their ‘talk’.

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The power of efficacy beliefs

Self-assessment influences self-efficacy beliefs and in turn affects future decisions about teaching The big question is: do these ‘think tanks’ and pithy comments  have any positive impact on teacher efficacy?

Efficacy is a person’s sense of being able to deal effectively with a particular task. Agency is the capacity to coordinate learning skills, motivation and emotions to reach you goal. So the slide above assumes that teachers and student have sufficient efficacy to act. That’s the problem with drawing circles.

The difference between the two being that self-efficacy actually effects human agency…depending on how well you think you can do something, your human agency which controls making choices will be effected.

I’m less and less convinced we’re building efficacy, an so unable to activate the agency so many ‘presenters’ talk about. The result is a plurality conflicting and unproven ideas.

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  1. To meet expectations of public involvement (including teachers) in STEM-related decisions there is a need to assure citizens have fundamental understanding of STEM concepts.
  2. Driver, Leach, Milar, & Scott (1996) argued without prompting or encouragement, young learners will naturally develop and hold STEM-related conceptions and misconceptions. Therefore, from early education, there is no need to teach STEM related concepts, but to follow these conceptions and interests using STEM-content. – To correct mis-conceptions and to nurture their natural curiosity and interest. As I’ve said before, this means maths, science and technology content. Arguably ‘engineering’ is held in the intersections of these.
  3. So far, almost all the STEM projects I’ve see represent TEACHER CENTRISM which assumes students have no self-efficacy in this domain themselves.
  4. Teaching STEM requires teachers to have more than a system perspective and broad content knowledge. This supports the need for content expertise.
  5. The body of research in the last twenty years shows it unlikely that without considerable continuing education K–12 teachers can be prepared to teach effectively STEM curriculum around themes being suggested at the meta-political-system level.
  6. The literature shows  STEM training has been in decline in last decade and that teachers have limited training towards methods of inquiry in the same period.

That makes sense, as teacher professional development in the last decade has been dominated by technological determinism and the never ending “EdTech” conference.

Efficacy is the key to improvement in practice

Those systems, schools and leaders who understand it also invest in teachers – towards themes they are passionate about. There are some good reasons to put efficacy and content at the top of the professional development agenda. I guess if your principal spends most days at these ‘events’ then they don’t understand or at least, don’t read much.

  1. Zeldin, Britner, & Pajares (2008) argued efficacy beliefs are of particular importance for success within the STEM domains  and efficacy may be a proxy for the larger issues of teacher knowledge and preparedness for teaching STEM content, particularly primary teachers.
  2. Efficacy is a known major barrier to school improvement.
  3. Research shows in-service teachers  increase their efficacy due to their engagement in professional development which gives them skills, knowledge and experience that can be explicitly used in their context.

I make no bones of saying that it’s the same people at conferences offering anecdotes above evidence, visions of the future in place of understanding of the present resolves itself as the “technical rationality problem”. But, if you’re in power and get to attend these things, it is probably very rewarding.

On balance, the literature tells me that STEM will be corrupted by the dogmatic behavior that failed to deliver the 1:1 laptop “revolution” and create a professional development agenda – beyond the existing elites. My view is this is the oligarchy at work and it’s in bed with commercial brands. Evidence: the message education is about delivering better workers to the existing system; there are a lack of workers in jobs that don’t exist and the number of commercial company executives presenting  nonsense at educational entertainment themed conferences. This is exactly the fluff you find at EduTech and has an overall negative impact … seen in the decline of efficacy in the last twenty years.

This also makes sense.

The research shows STEM should focus on enhancing content knowledge as a means of impacting an array of variables that influence teacher practice. That means getting teachers to build efficacy though their understanding of the discipline itself, and not how to use robots and other fancy-goods that are being symbolized as “STEM” learning though commercial companies.

The next line to be crossed is where we see ‘leaders’ actively allowing brands into their schools as ‘partners’. The leaders will identify themselves though their unceasing engagement with social media spaces and appearances at events which appear on the surface to be the ‘apex’ of civic thinking.

The ‘better education’ isn’t achieved through access, but a much more complicated set of behaviors, impeded by the technical rationality problem. I propose three things to reflect on – how do you feel about these things … are they happening to you or around you?

  1. Increasing teacher PD towards content in their discipline towards STEM?
  2. System acceptance that children will naturally develop and hold STEM-related conceptions and misconceptions and the focus is on content not concepts?
  3. Teacher efficacy can be built though a framework of social cognition theory – but has been corrupted by commercial agendas and elite-self interest? What networks are you in, what access to ‘elites’ do you have? Have ‘elites’ changed their opinion and dialogue as a result?

I do believe that STEM is worth promoting in schools, however I also believe all stakeholders have a professional obligation to ensure their practice is ethical and based in scholarship if children are to get a ‘better education’ and that starts with think tank reform, and investing in professional associations, scholarly short courses relevant to their discipline and more opportunities to be involve in the process that create the all import ‘shared vision’. I am on-board with the message of hope, but unconvinced that education is investing in the professional development needed to see classroom reform towards many of the statements set out in the National Curriculum.

Refs.

Zeldin, A. L., Britner, S. L. and Pajares, F. (2008) A comparative study of self-efficacy beliefs of successful men and women in mathematics, science, and technology careers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45: 10361058

Driver, R., Leach, J., Milar, R. and Scott, P. (1996). Young people’s images of science, Buckingham, , UK: Open University Press.

 

 

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