Realism, Relevance, Retention

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This is a bit of a passion piece, but I think it’s important to say. I listened to some of the audience’s questions during Will Richardson’s presentation in Sydney last Friday. As ever Will was pulling out the main issues that face parents and teachers. As ever, some questions were very specific ‘which blog do I use’ or system-damming ‘but it’s blocked’ and ‘but I don’t have time’.

The Industrialist 3Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic), are still being cited as the capstones of learning –  when learning is cited as ‘failing’-  the call is to go back to basics – as if technology is somehow disconnected from these things. Learning with technology is part of the ‘digitial’ 3Rs – realism, relevance and retention. These are things to strive for in relation to a broader array of classroom activities. They are enhancing the capabilities of gifted teachers, not displacing them. But even motivated teachers find it difficult to access professional learning that is going to allow them to learn to do it. We have the ability to transform learning  and increase motivation though technology, and still address traditional ‘values’.

Imagine a global virtual world in which students have to negotiate through the complex politics surrounding a wildlife habitat construction project in the developing world, making the case for its economic and environmental benefits. Students take on the ‘role’ of diverse stakeholders, and though classroom research – the can role-play, using exploratory and explicit learning to put forward their solution for a negotiated outcome. They interact in a virtual world, develop models and ideas – blended these with reflection and discussion in other online media such as a blog or wiki to collect and justify their collective action.

picture-11We now have 6Rs, Reading; Writing; Arithmetic; Realism; Relevance and Retention. The above experience can be created using a range of technologies; MeetSee, Edublogs; Skype; Google Docs etc., and easily blended into the classroom. Teachers can connect with other schools (see Jenny Luca’s recent presentation), and can easily ‘chat’ using very low bandwidth, low-tech web tools such as Tiny Chat. In primary years, this can be created with Quest Atlantis, or ever the excellent eKidnaworld (an Australian parent developed virtual world – that needs your support!).

What is critical is that teachers have access to ongoing ‘mentors’ that can show them how to create this – though adaptation of existing, readily available technologies.

To be effective, teachers need to learn about more than Bloom’s taxonomy, but to learn how to develop learning frameworks that contructively align outcomes (what do we want them to learn), activities (how to be create motivating classrooms) and assessment (how to we know they did it). Teachers also need to learn about ‘communication’ with digital media. More often that not, they focus on ‘marking’, and not ‘talking with’ students using more informal strategies.

So before teachers begin to utilize new laptops and faster networks, there remains a huge need to help schools develop goal-orientated, achievable learning frameworks to renew curricula, and will place valid, relevant arguments to the Department of Education as to why students need to access curricula that motivates. Duty of care relates to a physical state, not a virtual one.

The current policy of ‘banning’ sites is at best inconsistent. Are schools breaching Google’s AUP in schools?. If a child is bullied on their way home on a mobile phone – does the school breach it’s duty of care? If someone complains about a ‘blog’ then, despite following policy,are teachers are left at the mercy of the legal system? In short, unless ‘we’ move to a  position where we have effective policy, effective leadership, professional learning and on the ground ‘help’ for teachers, we might as well return to the 3Rs of the 1950s. We will fail and continue to orbit the issues and not end the digital winter. The best professional learning is happening inside personal networks, not systemic ones – and I don’t see any movement forward in public schools.

The DET needs to be brave, it needs to release teachers to mentor based professional learning, and link that with clear assessment via the NSW Institute of Teachers, in co-operation with the Teaching Unions to ensure equity. Instead we find Queensland and Western Australia blocking Quest Atlantis (as the data is held off-shore) and the DET using Twitter to make announcements, but blocks it in school. In short it is a mess and the debate over laptops and school intrastructure is meaningless unless clear policy and action is taken at DET level. I’d love to have that conversation.

Will’s session was another demonstration that teachers want to learn, but lack access to people who can help curriculum leaders, libraries and classroom teachers renew curricula and develop 21st Century pedagogy. There is no preparation for the introduction of fibre connectivity or laptops in the classroom, and well over a decade since the DET ‘re-trained’ teachers.

Realism is not present; what we are doing is no longer realistic. Relevance; current professional learning is limited to policy implementation. Retention; motivated teachers are ‘expelled’ by systems unable to recognise the significance of what they are trying to do. In our desire to be equitable, we fail students. Access to powerful professional learning and therefore powerful schools is increasingly limited by geography and social capital. Bringing any scale to what is a massive problem is difficult in Australia, imagine how much more complex it is in the UK or USA.

However, I wonder at what point someone (maybe me?) form some organisation to deliver 21st Century Learning in whole school, public access level in Australia. PLNs are great, but I think that we need to start something far more significant, that is recognised as professional learning and in some way aligned to recognition and motivation, and in such a way that it transcends the organic and provides constructive advice, policy and lobby for change.

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Lost Generation

Julie Lindsay found this. It is very powerful, and very clever in how it works. It made me think that there must be a ‘teacher‘ version that could be applied.

I refuse to believe teaching is changing or that I can bigger difference with technology to improve learning if I engage with it

… could easy become …

if I engage learning with technology, I can make a bigger difference and I will refuse to believe that teaching can’t change.

Will Richardson has said this many times, that the change starts with you – not with the system, the school, the administration, the network, the institution. It helps if they openly assist and not cling to the mantra of 19th century industralists – but I for one seriously lack the social capital to change a great deal. I can do it for myself and for my own kids – and at least advocte to them (as they can’t yet to it themselves). For all our abilities and opportunities at the individual level we are frail. At the network level we are amazing. I think for me, like many, the network gives you the bounce you need. Reading about things, people and events on the other side of the world renews the spirit to push on, when logically you should log-off.

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The rise of the meta-teacher

1410539606_86f47b8e13Has 2008 been a significant juncture in education?. K12 Online was a huge hit, Connectivism ran online and numerous ‘fringe’ edu-events went mainstream. Of course the Australian government has decided it would like to filter the entire internet for us and drop low end laptops in schools.

We wonder why reforming ICT in school is hard … look at the vast differences in what is happening.

Regardless of 2008, it seems obvious that in the last decade – the power of the internet to connect us to things we want to know, buy or with people we want to know or could never meet has changed great parts of our society – of which students and teachers belong. You only have to compare the Australian Bureau of Statitics ‘Internet’ data from 1998 to 2008 to see how powerful the internet has become in our lives. We are not the same as we were.

It is not a ‘digital revolution’ any more than it was an ‘information superhighway’ a decade ago.

I see the rise of the ‘meta-teacher’. A teacher who understands that as information spews out of our desktops, laptops and phones – it sticks to the internet and potentially has to be navigated. These teachers are different. They have skills and understanding that makes them critical in the classroom, and the global ‘edu’ community. They lead, mediate, inspire and collaborate. More importantly they understand how to read, use, integrate, technology, and ‘meta-language’. They understand how ‘things’ get connected to other things. They are aware that ‘tagging’ is significant.

The teacher who thinks that a website address and Google are enough to navigate media and networks of information is gradually becoming media-illiterate – and passing that on to their students.  The ‘universal resource locator stopped working correctly as soon as we stopped hand-writing html and turned on our data-base driven interwebs. The internet is not a level playing field when it comes to content, nor does Google know which is the most relevant site for you. It has a good guess, but without critical literacy skills – how can you tell?

Meta data and meta language are how we tie information, people, ideas, resources and communities together – not links or search engines.

These teachers are power-influences . They can integrate web technology into the curriculum,  interpret, aggregate and organize information to help other’s do it too. Meta-teachers are seen as a ‘problem’ to the incumbents, and despite the enormous goodwill and passion they have – struggle to engage the laggards (who are too busy). When will parents start saying ‘enough’. Is it possible that we could blend face to face with online and rethink schools?

Right now schools are trying to stick a digital clock on a poodle.

Will Richardson recently talked about the school of the future and the discussion that followed was very thought provoking. Will increasing numbers of meta-teachers allow the school of the future – the ‘meta-schools’. Is that how we’ll reform pedagogy and curriculum. How much with Open Education influence this?

Will they appear in the same way ‘charter schools’ appeared. It’s not so crazy and idea as sooner or later someone with money will pay for it – and there will be both parents and teachers who want it. Perhaps the role of meta-teachers is not to  ‘change’ their schools. Maybe they represent an opportunity to create ‘better’ schools – or at least offer an alternative to what we have. It really would be nice to have the choice.

Yeah But,

Will Richardson’s statement @PLP this week made me realise just how many ‘yeah buts’ I’ve heard in the last couple of years, which must be tiny in comparison to the amount Will and Sheryl have.

What he said was so relevant “it’s not about the students, the system, the syllabus or the the technology … it’s about you … what do you want to do in your classroom that will better prepare kids for what comes next”.

He was talking about the real fact that teachers hold a massive moral and professional responsibility to recognise, as Stephen Heppell put it this week, “if we are intending to create 21st century centres of learning and in that 21st century – connected learners, then when you use technology to teach, then use in in ways that are not 20th Century.

What is your yeah but? – It doesn’t matter if you are in computer classroom all the time, are hardly at all, the key thing is that you answer your own yeah but.

So I made a poster of the ‘yeah buts’ I meet all the time. Got more?