Friday, 26 February 2016

Learning and Teaching in the 21st Century

I came across this video recently and thought it was one of the better ones I had seen because it could be a really useful video to show parents and whanau of our learners, who often yearn for an education similar to the one they received.  It really tells the tale of how different education needs to be in the 21st century.
It starts by questioning if the role of the teacher is obsolete.  Students can obtain facts, dates, content and formula on anything, anytime, anywhere so where does that leave the role of the teacher?

It goes on to explain that students need to be taught skills of handling limitless resources like skills for using search engines.  They need to be able to validate, (check the soundness of)  synthesise, (process and make sense of), leverage (take advantage of and use), communicate (translate into meaning for others), collaborate  (work together with others on) and problem solve with the information.
Teachers need to ask students to create their own knowledge.  This could include creating a podcast or a blog, animate, plan or record, design or programme.
There are a whole lot of other ICT skills as well.  
  • Bookmarking - so to find resources again easily
  • Paraphrasing - rewording to show understanding
  • Mashing - using a number of apps together
  • Experimenting - taking risks
  • Attributing - not stealing others work
  • Subscribing - allowing easy access to useful resources
  • Posting - exposing opinions and creativity in a safe context
  • Uploading - sharing work to the world
  • Editing - adjusting, trimming, adding value
  • Reflecting - a metacognitive activity to really show deep understanding
  • Locating - sorting through millions of resources to find the right one
  • Tagging - adding a label to enable easy searching later
  • Twittering - using the power of 140 words and mixed media wisely
  • Commenting - being positive and aiding understanding
  • Searching - finding exactly what you want online
  • Integrating - mixing one medium with another
  • Networking - finding and knowing the right people at the right time
  • Linking - making connections
Do our learners know how to do these?  And can they do them reliably, responsibly and with integrity?   Do they know how to be professional - to avoid plagiarism, pirating, and slander?  Do they honour copyright, crowdsourcing and confidentiality?
Our roles have certainly changed from being the sage on the stage. We need to be able to gather data from a whole new set of resources - facebook, twitter, RSS feeds, crowdsourcing and online surveys, be able to assess its reliability.  
Students need to be able to create and collaborate in new ways.  We need to be able to provide multiple forms of representation, engagement and expression and action using the UDL principles.

The video gives some examples of kinds of problems that could be put to students to answer in many different ways.
  • How many grains of sand on the average beach?
  • What is the current relationship between India and Pakistan?
  • Which organisation would you give money to for hunger relief?
  • Where would the best place in the earth be to live according to data?
  • What are the top rated jobs in your country and what are the common skills for those jobs?
  • Which is the best presentation programme?
  • What are the key ideas in Youtube's terms and conditions?
The video also addresses the idea of behaviour management when using devices.  This is a favourite topic of mine as I often see teachers trying to manage behaviour through removal of "privileges" of using devices.
Managing devices (laptops, phones, ipods etc) at school should be the same as managing all the other tools available in the past (books, pens, pencils and paper).  You don't remove those tools when students misbehave.  If learning is engaging, relevant and challenging, then issues of distraction and temptation rarely arise.  The devices are not there to entertain, but to engage our learners in learning.  
In summary, the video exhorts us to make changes. The responsibility lies with us, as teachers, to take risks and move into 21st Century teaching by up-skilling, collaborating and trialling and asking ourselves, what does it really mean to teach?  I do think the video will help whanau and communities understand what this means as well.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Are you in the right profession?

So here is a bit of a miserable post.  A reflection on some challenges that I have faced over the years.

Teaching is a great profession.  Teachers are passionate, committed to their students and their learning, and, they are hard working - in the main.  There are a few exceptions as with every profession.  I do meet them in the context of my work from time to time.  They exhibit signs of

  • not wanting to improve or shift their practice
  • being satisfied with mediocre
  • negative energy towards their leaders
  • negative energy towards their students
  • disruptive behaviour that they would not tolerate from their students
  • lacking in perseverance
  • unprepared to challenge themselves

In their behaviours, I sometimes see myself as the disruptor in earlier years when I was feeling dissatisfied with the status quo.  Sometimes all that is needed is a quiet word in their ears - just saying I have noticed that their behaviour is that of a non-engaged participant.    Sometimes I just to ask them what they do with a student in their class who is disruptive/ apathetic /unengaged when they throw their digital tools out of the cot.   This often brings the change in behaviour that I desire.

As a facilitator, it is my job to engage these people in much the same way as a teacher would strive to engage a reluctant student.  I look at my practice and the language that I use.  I  ask myself how they have got into this state - which is a bit of deficit theorising, but I do also often ask myself - have they asked themselves if they are in the right profession?    

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Devices off, please.

A couple of years ago, I was talking to a large group of teachers about using digital devices for learning in their classes.  The session was for the whole staff and it seemed to be well received by them.  After my 15 minute introduction, the teachers went on to do some work on their laptops around what I had discussed with them.
I asked the principal at the end of the session to please send me any feedback about how the meeting went and any feedback he had from staff.  The principal sent me an email the following day to say the staff thought that things had gone well but that he just had a few pointers for me about facilitating.  One of the pointers (his idea) was that I should have asked all staff members to close their laptops while I talked.
Now, this idea had never even occurred to me as I quite naturally use my laptop nearly every part of my working day and expect to see others doing the same.   Sometimes I am answering emails, and sometimes blogging or tweeting about whatever I am listening to.  Sometimes I am researching the background or sites related to the presentation topic and sometimes I am just checking my work schedule.

But the principal went on to say that some of his staff were not on task, they were checking emails and doing other tasks and not paying attention to what I was saying.  I have to say that the tasks that they were given were all completed despite his allegations.  I was quite happy with the outcome of the session but he was not happy with his staff.  I suspect that he felt I did not have control over my audience.  I, on the other hand, was outcome focused and was quite happy that teachers were multitasking in their busy day.
My response to the principal at the time was that he had raised an interesting point and I felt it was a good conversation starter.  We never did have that conversation but I often wish I had the opportunity to open it up further.

Recently I attended another meeting where we were asked to close our laptop lids and put away all our devices while we listened to the speaker as he facilitated for two hours. The speaker spent a lot of time talking and leading the session over several hours which involved some interaction with other members of the audience, and moving around but when some of us went back to our devices after a while, we were directed to close them again
Now while I understand how this strategy is useful for short periods of time, but cannot understand how a presenter can realistically expect that learners would not be able to use their devices over prolonged periods of time.  It smacks of the "sage on the stage" unidirectional type of pedagogy that I had hoped would be on its way out.  It does not give any agency to its participants, nor does it allow participants to interact with online content which would have strengthened knowledge about what he was talking.

The argument that devices are distracting is one I have discussed before.  Are they a distraction from learning or are they now an integral part of the learning?  Do they allow participants to interact and process content in may different ways or is multitasking just a myth?  Can new knowledge be created while a presenter/facilitator speaks?  These are all questions that are relevant for todays teachers and learners.  Multiple means of representation, action, expression and engagement are all part of the universal design for learning principles. I think we need to bring these principles into our everyday work and "way of being".

We might need to let go of the obsession for being in charge.  What do you think?