January 16th, 2013 § § permalink
There are strategies that teachers and schools can employ to ensure that technology becomes purposeful and systematic. There can be little doubt that its potential is very great, as it provides the opportunity for effective teaching of skills, of finding and using information within a context of high student interest. This unique combination is too great a value to be wasted.
Celestine Kemunto Nyamari lives in Kenya, where she attends St. Theresa’s Girls’ Secondary School in Kithimu, a couple of hours drive North-East of Nairobi. Celestine took part in the first student-led Education Fast Forward debate (in November last year) as a guest debater and is set to join EFF6: From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders on January 28, 2013.
January 13th, 2013 § § permalink
The knowledge necessary to function successfully and follow a career was seen to already exist: it could be handed down from experts and leaders to learners and workers. In the Industrial Age, curriculum development was a matter of selecting the most important knowledge to transmit to students; experts decided what knowledge to mass-prescribe and in which sequence.
Jane Gilbert and Rachel Bolstad (amongst many others) questioned the traditional concept of curriculum development in their 2008 book Disciplining and drafting, or 21st century learning? Rethinking the New Zealand senior secondary curriculum for the future. Their words are quoted in a new White Paper, sponsored by Promethean’s Jim Wynn, and authored by Gavin Dykes, Michael Furdyk, Sara Hassan and Jennifer Corriero for Education Fast Forward, entitled From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders (downloadable PDF).
The authors agree with Gilbert and Bolstad and state their position clearly:
…this model of curriculum development is difficult to maintain given that: it is no longer possible to accurately predict the type of knowledge youth may need as they move through life, the rapid pace at which technology is changing and new knowledge is developing, the rate at which career possibilities are proliferating (ones with which we are familiar and ones we have yet to imagine), and social, economic and environmental challenges are becoming increasingly complex.
They ask the question:
How can learner voice help address these uncertainties?
And the seemingly simple answer?
By giving learners an authentic say in what and how they want to learn.
The White Paper will underpin discussion at the next Education Fast Forward debate, to take place as part of Education World Forum in London at the end of this month. The paper, which will be presented by Sara Hassan, of Taking IT Global, joining the debate from Toronto, is an excellent summary of the issues surrounding this critical question, and the authors have been able to offer a combination of sound thinking, practical advice and a way forward for those in education (still too few, I would say) who believe that curriculum design, pedagogy, the role of technology and national education policy-making all should be influenced and shaped by the voice of the learner.
The event will combine a live presence at EWF and a global presence via the magic of Telepresence, An articulate group of young education leaders will debate the issues around ‘From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders’.
The primary aim is twofold:
to bring the voice of youth to the policy-makers’ table, to let the young people hear some views on the big issues, and to let them debate them openly and fully
to bring the policy-makers (kicking and screaming if necessary) to the learners’ table so that they have to face up to the issues that are critical to the learners before they make their policy decisions
And it will all take place across a truly international matrix of connections, crossing countries, cultures, and communities.
The event itself takes place on Monday 28th January at 11am and you will find the link to the live video broadcast on the day itself on the Education Fast Forward page on Promethean Planet. Promethean’s Chief Education Officer, Jim Wynn, will be opening the EFF6 debate, which will once again be moderated by independent education consultant Gavin Dykes. Discussion will be led by Sara Hassan and three student presenters. Closing the debate will be Michelle Selinger, Director of Education at Cisco.
Twitter users can follow the debate itself using the hashtag #eff6, while there will be some interesting discussion around many of the key issues in the debate using the hashtag #learningmatters.
Finally, a reminder that you can download the White Paper.
January 8th, 2013 § § permalink
Howard Gardner, speaking in a video on the DML Central site:
I don’t believe for a moment in technological determinism. I believe any technology can be used benignly and malignantly. You can use a pen to write beautiful poetry. You can also use a pen to poke peoples’ eyes out.
Gardner doesn’t ‘believe’ in technological determinism, in the same way that someone might choose not to believe in a deity or the existence of Santa Claus. Fair enough. However, the example he gives to support his unbelief is not only misleadingly simplistic but also specious. A pen used to poke an eye out is not being used as a pen and is therefore not a pen at that moment in time. It is merely a pointy stick. If he had said that the same pen can be used to write beautiful poetry and also to sign the death warrant of an innocent person, his argument would have been a little more cogent, but still only within the somewhat narrow limits to which he chooses to restrict his notion of technological determinism. We expect better from a Harvard professor.
This much we can agree on: technology is only technology when it is being put to use. Otherwise, it is merely passive artefact. At the level of the instrument (such as the pen), technology can be used for good or ill. But that is not a condition unique to technology; it can be posited for virtually every product of the human hand or mind. Richard Feynman put it succinctly when he quoted a buddhist proverb:
To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.
I made that point in a post back in 2006 when I compared certain characteristics shared by education and technology: they are both instruments that can be put to good and bad uses; they are both instruments that can be truly transformative or deeply destructive. Given those shared attributes, I used that post to appeal for care in how we choose to bring about their conjunction. But these are attributes that bear no relation to whether or not technology is deterministic; hence the problem with Gardner’s position.
If we want to see how truly deterministic technology can be, and is, we must elevate our point of view so that we can see beyond the individual instrument and allow ourselves to comprehend the broad vista of the technology landscape within which that single instrument is utilised. Whether a pen can write beautiful poetry or consign a person to their death really tells us nothing about how, at a much broader level, systemic shifts in the underlying nature of technology undoubtedly do influence societal interactions and, quite simply, how we do certain things, amongst them, education. To try to pretend, for instance, as Gardner must inevitably do with his ‘unbelief’ in technological determinism, that the way we learn — or for that matter, the way we teach — can remain the same in the digital era as it has been for centuries of print is just naive.
Karl Marx, writing in The Poverty of Philosophy in 1847, understood that better than the good professor obviously does today.
The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.
The digital era — the computer, the network, the Internet, the Web, social technology, universal search, and so much more — changes radically all of the relationships that are critical to how we learn and how we teach: the relationship between teacher and learner; the relationship between the learner and information; the relationship we all have with the concept of learned authority; and the social relationships between ourselves and the rest of the human race. It is of course a hugely complex process of determination, with nuance layered on nuance, but it is undoubtedly true that broad global shifts in technology, such as that between print and digital, determine how learning can happen and therefore should (and inevitably will) determine what it means to teach.
December 19th, 2012 § § permalink
Almost everyone involved in education agrees that leadership is important.
That, however, is where agreement ends and debate begins. Beyond that point, we cross a turbulent landscape where competing definitions of leadership abound, where the very nature of leadership is the stuff of argument, where conflicting philosophies of education each generate their own understanding of what makes for an effective leader and how a good leader should behave, and where notions of how we must go about educating and training the next generation of education leaders scatter in every direction at once.
But such observations are not a counsel of despair. Far from it! Just as education itself can never be a science in any accepted sense – it is a sphere in which battles will always be fought between philosophies, beliefs, ideologies, cultures, prejudices and histories – so these same battles are reflected in the ever-restless and exciting debates and discussions around leadership in education.
Whatever our own standpoint might be, we should accept that one voice is often missing from this unruly discourse: that of young people, the very group most often affected by the decisions of education leaders. Just as they are absent from educational debates generally, so youthful voices are too often muted when the topic is the leadership of the social good that is utterly central to their futures: their education.
Education Fast Forward (EFF), an organization, sponsored jointly by Promethean and Cisco, that brings together leading global experts and change agents from the world of education to discuss ‘the topics that matter most’, wants to begin to change that by bringing together some articulate and intelligent voices from the world’s youth to discuss issues that are relevant to young people themselves and to their education.
In July 2012, in the most recent of the five debates organized by EFF to date, a group of eloquent and youthful voices debated the topic ‘From Learner Voice to Global Peace’. The young people were located all across the globe and came together primarily through the wonder of Telepresence (TP), a high-definition video conferencing technology. The discussion that day was not only intelligent and thoughtful: it was truly inspiring for everyone involved.
The full debate can be watched and listened to on Promethean Planet.
bring the voice of youth to the policy-makers’ table, to let the young people hear some views on the big issues, and to let them debate them openly and fully
to bring the policy-makers (kicking and screaming if necessary) to the learners’ table so that they have to face up to the issues that are critical to the learners before they make their policy decisions
And now, in January 2013, during the annual Education World Forum, to be held in London, another group of exceptional young people (including some of the voiced from EFF5) will come together through the magic of TP to talk about ‘From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders’. Those of us involved in EFF have some hopes and expectations of what might come out of the event, but we are also highly aware that there must be a genuine space in amongst our presumptions for the hopes and expectations of the young people themselves to come to the fore during and beyond the discussion.
The primary aim is twofold:
Issues such as the structure of the curriculum, how education is delivered (including differences in this across the world), the relevance of education to their lives, how we might encourage real change in the relationships between people in education systems, seeking to realise the extraordinary value that can be sought by tackling education’s challenges with people rather than doing it to them. We need all policy makers to take on board the knowledge that they are making decisions now that will affect the generation ahead, and perhaps more than one generation ahead.
And all of this will be happening across a truly international matrix of connections, crossing countries, cultures, and communities. I will be blogging again in the New Year with details of the date and time, and with information about the key speakers, young and not-so-young, who will be leading the discussion.
Watch out for that!
October 27th, 2012 § § permalink
Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.
“.…you’ve got to speak with it too.”
Taylor Mali, poet.
Wonderful, and of course true!
September 27th, 2012 § § permalink
In a piece in the Independent, in 2011, Gordon Brown wrote:
.…the international aid system for education is failing the world’s children.
He was introducing his UNESCO report — Education For All: Beating Poverty, Unlocking Prosperity.
On a number of occasions over the past 6 years I have been able to watch the work of UNESCO at close hand and in the process gained considerable respect for the organization. In keeping with that, I do believe that this report is a superb, detailed and compassionate summary of the state of education for millions upon millions of children across the developing world. It offers a description of a state of affairs that should bring shame to the rest of the world — we are failing all those children very badly.
Early in the report, he states that:
No education system anywhere in the world is better than its teachers.
And he goes on later to say:
Teachers are the backbone of any education system. Ultimately, learning is the product of what happens in classrooms through a relationship between pupils and teachers. That is why no education system is better than the availability, accessibility and quality of the teachers it provides, and the level of support that it delivers to those on the front line of education in the classroom.
With I Am Learner in mind, this begs many more questions than it answers, but it would be churlish in the extreme not to accept the core point being made, that good quality teaching should be central to a good educational provision, and most especially for the education of young children.
It is a dismal and unassailable fact that there is a massive shortage of good quality teachers across the developing world, especially, but by no means exclusively, across the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Gordon Brown’s report, the world’s poorest countries need something like 1.8 million additional teachers over the next three years alone to provide even basic primary education to their children, as well as around 4 million more classrooms and all of the most basic items of equipment that we might expect to find in those classrooms.
Brown is absolutely right therefore to state that:
The world is today facing an education emergency. That emergency does not make media headlines. But it has disastrous human, social and economic consequences. It is consigning millions of children to lives of poverty and diminished opportunity, holding back progress in health, reinforcing disparities linked to wealth and gender, and undermining prospects for economic growth. And it is destroying on an epic scale the most valuable asset of the world’s poorest nations – the creativity, talent and potential of the young generation.
An education emergency indeed, and one on a vast and massively consequential scale for humanity worldwide. It requires equally vast and prolonged global investment to put right.
Elsewhere in the report, Gordon Brown enthuses over the potential for harnessing technology to improve educational provision. However, he believes that:
New technologies do not offer a quick fix for systemic problems in education systems. What they do offer is a vehicle for improving access to opportunities for education and the quality of service provision.
The last thing this global emergency needs is any kind of quick fix. But I do believe that there is a potentially powerful application of digital and networking technologies that could play a significant role, alongside all the other big investments needed, in contributing to a much better quality education for many millions of the poorest children in the poorest countries around the world.
From Massive Open Online Course to Massive Open Online Classroom (MOOCl)
Anyone with even the remotest interest in higher education of late will be aware of the MOOC. The basic concept of the Massive Open Online Course (a term devised by Dave Cormier) is a simple one, but the implications of the MOOC for the future of higher education in particular are the stuff of a debate that is washing around global education at the present time.
I will trust that anyone reading this already knows what a MOOC is, although I will not necessarily trust that everyone knows that there are MOOCs and there are MOOCs. If your knowledge of the concept of the MOOC is restricted to those ‘delivered’ by the likes of Coursera or Udacity, then I would urge you to go back to grass roots and read some of what you might find, for instance, in MOOC.ca, set up by Stephen Downes to host news, information and discussion around the concept, in the writings of George Siemens, Dave Cormier, already mentioned, and others. Open, experimental and connectivist in nature, the MOOC is an explicit and conscious attempt to use the incredible affordances offered by the Internet to change the nature of education.
The massive-ness, openness and online-ness of the MOOC are all givens, of course, and are all critical to the effect that the development is having at the present time. But I, for one, am less sure that the course-ness of the concept has to be a given too. I would recognise that the fact that the MOOC is built around the course is probably what is keeping the concept fairly firmly within the broad arms of higher education, for the moment at least. As Martin Weller has written:
…after a decade of OERs, it’s interesting that we’re coming back to educator constructed courses…
Classroom instead of Course?
When I look at the situation faced by those millions of children worldwide, in a context of potential massive global connectedness, and yet in circumstances where so many of them have no access to good teaching, I can’t but help wonder how the MOOC might be taken, re-shaped, and made into something that could begin to ameliorate some of the worst effects of that generally awful situation.
I recognise, of course, that such a simply stated change is, in fact, anything but simple. The course is a generally uncomplicated thing, usually (although by no means necessarily) linear, structured, a comprehensible process in which ideas or concepts or information are introduced, discussed, dissected, re-shaped, combined, understood; it can be a single unit of ‘instruction’ or a whole programme of learning, or something in between; and it can be delivered or presented (taught) by a single teacher or in some senses by everyone on the course (as the original conception of the MOOC seeks to achieve).
The classroom, even the virtual, conceptual classroom, is a quite different beast. It is a ‘place’, a platform; it is the site where courses can happen, where teachers can offer lessons across all disciplines, where learners can go to access learning, debate, insight, expertise, authority; it is a meeting place in which education can happen; it is the locus for teaching and learning activities of all kinds.
I believe we have many, perhaps most, of the elements already that would have to be brought together to create the MOOCl. Instinctively, however, I feel that a MOOCl would not be nearly as simple as a MOOC to start up and sustain. It would require an operational core of a kind and scale that is probably not true of the MOOC, although that operational core, I would suggest, need not be a single organizing unit: it could be an open, distributed affair, sympathetic to the origins of the MOOC. It should offer access to masses of great teaching and learning resources — the Khan Academy is an obvious example of what could be utilised, but so too could the thousands of other high quality, freely available teaching and learning resources that increasingly throng the web, and across so many of the world’s major, and not so major, languages.
So far, so what? All of these resources are available today. But the MOOCl would have to incorporate some kind of organizing layer, a simple interface that would allow any individual anywhere in the world not only to access the resources as such, but also to access courses, communities, teachers (who can be, and probably will be, other learners), expertise and guidance. The MOOCl might also be a device for those teachers who already are on the ground, so to speak, in the poorest countries, to grab hold of and use as a means of enhancing their own teaching expertise. The MOOCl would be the teacher’s global mentor, guide, teaching assistant, just as much as it would be the learner’s teacher too.
Again, you might say, this sounds like a description of the World Wide Web. But the MOOCl would have to be more than simply ‘available’: it would have to be set up in a way that would allow it reach out in a proactive way, to find its way into those places in the world where we know there are young children who currently have few or no teachers to help them learn, where there are few or no teaching and learning resources. This will require much thought, huge organization, and of course investment. Is there a role here for the big philanthropic foundations as well as governments? I believe so.
But what of access to the network, access to connected devices? Of course, the MOOCl would have to be capable of being used across the world’s mobile networks and accessible on mobile devices — Gordon Brown’s report tells us that mobile cellular penetration has reached 50% in the developing world and is still increasing fast. The cell phone is the default access device for many millions of people in the world’s poorest countries, and that is likely to be the case for many years to come.
How much of this can be done in the same spirit as the original MOOC? I don’t know, I suspect not much, but I would love to be proved wrong. I know I am merely scratching the surface with an undeveloped and potentially stillborn idea — but if the acute minds of thoughtful and creative people can come up with the MOOC, I would like to think those same, and other, minds could be applied to how we can turn the Massive Open Online Course into the Massive Open Online Classroom to serve the desperate desperate needs of so many millions of children in dire economic and educational poverty across the world.
August 1st, 2012 § § permalink
Simplifications are legion, and emotions are a factor
“Schools kill creativity”, “Does Google make us stupid?” are press-worthy attention-grabbers, but the realities are more nuanced, for a world that refuses to deal with its nuanced self.…Everyone brings in their own biases to an education conversation (this author included), but most often fail to be aware of them as the biases they are.
My good friend, Charles Fadel, has offered his personal list on www.thefivethings.org
They are all interesting points, but two in particular caught my attention because, to me, they are two sides of one coin. His point above is so true when we look at most education ‘debates’ being conducted today, especially, but by no means only, in the traditional media. Nuanced educational debate is a rare thing indeed in the press, and that includes the so-called quality press. But too often, even in debates between people who ought to know better, the crude attention-grabber is king and the importance of fine distinctions, subtleties, shades of grey are thrown by the wayside.
Charles’ next point is equally valid, where he criticises the preponderance of ‘or’ debates over ‘and’ debates:
Conversations about education abound with false dichotomies, and absolutist views, that must be transcended.
The lack of a balanced-conversation mindset leads to many OR debates; for instance:
- Knowledge vs skills
– Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM) vs Humanities/Arts
– Didactic vs constructivist learning
– Formal vs informal learning
– All technology or no technology
– Character developed at school vs at home
The balanced reality is that these are all AND propositions, working in concert with each other, and reinforcing each other, in a judicious, impactful feedback loop.
It is just easier, I suppose, to take a stand at one extreme or the other in an argument. It is far harder to conclude that both sides have merit, and then to set out your arguments for leaning more in one direction than another, or setting out the particular circumstances in which one side might have more merit than the other.
Scepticism is healthy; cynicism and bad faith are not.
July 24th, 2012 § § permalink
Disputes and controversies and disagreements abound in every sphere of human knowledge and activity. That is the very nature of human discourse. The world would be a dreadful, boring place if we all agreed with each other all of the time on everything (some people, strangely, would define their heaven in just those terms). A little less disagreement here and there might avoid wars and bloodshed and pointless death and destruction, but that possibility does not appear to be a universal likelihood any time soon.
Disputation and debate differ in kind though from one sphere of activity to another. We can, for example, contrast the kinds of disputes that scientists might have with disputes between religious ‘scholars’: the former might arise out of differing interpretations of evidence whilst the latter are more likely to be debates characterized not only by a complete lack of evidence but often by a contempt for same.
My own principal sphere of activity, education, is an intense and constant battleground of crossed swords, conflict and contention, and it falls, I would attest, somewhere between those polarities of scientific and religious debate. The vigour of the manifold disputes in education is a function of its intrinsic nature as one of the humanities, as an activity arising out of the human condition.
As one of the humanities, there is simply no absolute right or absolute wrong in education. We make judgements and take positions based on our reasoning, of course, but also based on our values and principles, philosophies and ideologies, interests and self-interests, prejudices and, indeed, bigotries. There are, oddly, very many people — teachers, writers, philosophers, politicians, thinkers and non-thinkers alike — who will tell you, categorically, that their standpoint on any particular aspect of education is unequivocally right, and therefore that any differing take on the same issue is plainly wrong. Sometimes, these same people will point to ‘evidence’ that ‘proves’ their standpoint, all the while forgetting that undertaking research on education is a billion light years away from undertaking research on particle physics (for example). Educational research is in the same league as research in philosophy or sociology or anthropology: outcomes are heavily dependent upon the questions asked and the positions taken by the researchers. Evidence is useful, of course, but it will rarely if ever constitute ‘proof’ of anything in education — it gives us a starting point, if we are lucky, but never absolute validation.
Those who understand this distinction understand therefore that they can never claim any absolute validity for their views on education, since they recognise that their perspective on any or all education questions is inextricably bound up in the values they hold, in the political ideology to which they ascribe, in the psychology of their own learning experiences throughout their lives, in their (or their family’s, or their community’s) self-interest, whether conscious or unconscious, and in so many other imponderables in their lives.
Such people understand that they must argue and debate their standpoint constantly, and that they must be prepared to listen to other’s views, to learn from others and to change their own views through debate with others. Equally we are perfectly justified in seeking to explain and affirm our own philosophies in education, and even to seek to persuade others to see learning and teaching and pedagogy and all aspects of education as we happen to see them.
Don’t mistake my argument as one that endorses unalloyed relativism: we must always be willing to make critical judgements on the basis of our experience and, yes, on the basis of whatever evidence we can lay our hands on (going far beyond just the outcomes of academic research). But we use experience and intellectual argument and evidence to substantiate and support our own judgements, not to ‘prove’ that we are absolutely right and others are absolutely wrong. We must continue to judge, to evaluate, to distinguish between good and bad logic. Education, as a humanity, has to be based upon rigorous intellectual analysis and reasoning, as well as on moral and ethical considerations.
It is in that flux of ideas and conflicting opinions generated, maintained and developed by thoughtful, autonomous and rational minds that the beauty of coherent educational debate lies. We need not respect others’ views, but, mostly, we do need to tolerate them (I am with Frank Furedi when he decries the modern tendency to equate tolerance with acceptance and respect, and even the trend towards devaluing the meaning of respect itself). The caveat to such tolerance, of course, will be the extent to which we feel that others’ views on education are actually physically or emotionally harmful to children, to young people, or to learners generally.
And that is a whole other debate in itself.