Tuesday, 27 October 2015

New values for modern education

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26% of Australian students – more than 1 in 4 – fail to complete year 12 at school or a vocational equivalent, according to the Educational Opportunity in Australia2015 report by the Mitchell Institute.  And the numbers are worse for those from socio-economically disadvantaged areas and worse again for Australian Indigenous students.

Is this a failure rate that a business would put up with?  What if your business lost 1 of every 4 of your customers a year?  Every year?  Wouldn’t your business be in crisis mode?  So where is the panic from government?  Why aren’t the customers of our education system – the students and their parents and guardians – up in arms?  And the ultimate end-users – the businesses that need bright, creative new employees – why aren’t they screaming for change?

How did we become so complacent about failing the next generation of employees and employers, of entrepreneurs and innovators?

In poorer countries, where the provision of schooling is weak or non-existent, young people are desperate to get an education – because education is seen as a way out of poverty and into a better life and a better world.  Why don’t young people in affluent countries have the same vision and aspiration? 

I believe it is because our education system lacks the flexibility to teach to future needs and not to past ideals.  The world is changing – has changed and continues to change – and schools are not keeping up.

We need a new set of values for our education system:

1.     We must value diversity over conformity.
The school system was designed to pump out workers for the industrial revolution – people who could all do the same job in the same way with the same level of supervision.  In the modern world we should not only value our differences in culture, language and abilities but also be prepared to teach in ways that allow for diverse ways of learning and succeeding.  There is no one size fits all way of thinking, of behaving or of being – so why do we persevere with an outmoded system that teaches to the common denominator.

2.     We must value curiosity over obedience.
Once we dispense with the idea of the common denominator we can allow students to follow what interests them, allow them to investigate and to speculate, allow them to be curious.  Blind obedience is not a desired outcome for modern businesses as we are no longer expecting the majority of school leavers to perform identical roles to identical standards and in identical timeframes on a factory floor.

3.     We must place diagnosis above grading.
Rather than using (or over-using) tests to give students grades – to pigeonhole them – we can adopt an assessment for learning framework that uses data gathered from student responses to tasks, activities and exercises to diagnose what has been learned, where support is needed and where practice is required.  Rather than worrying so much about where Australians fit on the NAPLAN, or how we rank on PISA scales, let’s pride ourselves on how we deal with students who need help.

4.     We must seek passion before demanding delivery.
Teachers are handed a curriculum document – essentially a list of outcomes for all students – and expected to deliver knowledge (content) to allow students to pass tests of whether they have absorbed the required information.  Why?  Because that’s how we’ve always done it.  How many of us as adults recall all the content we were meant to have absorbed at school?  Not many!  Some of us were lucky enough to have had a teacher who ‘saw something in me’, who encouraged us in a subject that we had an interest in, who developed our passion.  It is likely that if you are one of these lucky people that you continued to study in a related field, or developed a skill that you used in employment.  Why isn’t this quest to discover and develop every student’s passion the number one objective for every teacher?  I believe it is because teachers are measured on delivery of content, judged by the grades that their students achieve.  What if we instead trusted them to seek and develop each student’s individual talent, something they have a passion for and encouraged them to develop skills?  In my opinion we would end up with more artists, more dancers, more engineers, more mathematicians, more designers, more coders.  And perhaps fewer generalists, fewer drop-outs, fewer sceptics, fewer de-motivated school leavers.

Who needs to advocate this kind of change? 
We all do – parents, teachers, employers, politicians and students.

Why?
Because we are failing 1 in 4 of our children and this is unacceptable.  In fact we may be failing more than 1 in 4 if we consider that many of the 3 in 4 do not discover their passion while at school.

Can we afford not to do this? 
I’ll leave that one with you.






Friday, 18 September 2015

The Personalisation of Education


I’m acutely aware that I work in an industry filled with creative people.  People who have a talent for interpreting a syllabus, for understanding teacher and student needs and for fashioning and developing a product or a service that meets those needs.  I’m also aware that this is an industry with a conscience.  That we believe in what we do and that it makes a difference.

Educational publishing has an opportunity to use its creativity, experience and social conscience to explore how technology can improve what we do and how we do it so that modern school needs can be better met.

Here is a phrase that gets bandied about a lot.  “School is broken.”  But is it?

In 1899, William T. Harris, the US commissioner of education, celebrated the fact that US schools had developed the “appearance of a machine,” one that teaches the student “to behave in an orderly manner, to stay in his own place, and not get in the way of others.”

In other words – school was effectively teaching students to conform; to be obedient; to work silently and alone.

And here’s why.  In 1899, school was about preparing students to become factory workers for manual industries.  Photos of these factories, showing rows of staff working alone on repetitive tasks still have a look of familiarity today because they look like a lot of classrooms that you may have seen or experienced.

So, the school system is not broken.  It is functioning perfectly for a world that no longer exists.

I picked up a quote recently from a teacher’s blog.  “I’m not against technology, but I don’t want to use it in my classroom.”  Since the average age of teachers in Australia is the far side of middle age, this is not an uncommon opinion.

But how acceptable is this?

How would you feel if your doctor said to you “I’m not against technology but I don’t want to use it for your surgery.”

The world has moved on.  And technology has had an impact on almost every aspect of our lives.

So why is it taking so long for technology to have an impact on school? We need to ask ourselves what skills businesses are looking for from new recruits straight out of the education system?  Our economy needs young people who are creative, innovative, collaborative, who can problem solve and who are financially literate.

None of this is a criticism of teachers or of schools.  Teachers generally do a fantastic job within the parameters they are given to work in.  We all know teachers who are inspirational, who care deeply about teaching modern life skills and who work in schools that try desperately to give every child the best possible chance.  More often than not these are the teachers that educational publishers seek out as authors.

But too many school leavers fail to find their talent while at school.  Fail to find a passion.  Fail to find a purpose.

Talent can be found later later – and for some of us it is.  But why can’t finding your talent be a fundamental purpose of school? 

When my son was 15 he sat through a double period history lesson at school.  He’s not usually particularly outgoing but at the end of the class he waited until the other students had left the room and approached the teacher.  He asked her why she had lectured non-stop for the whole 80 minutes.  She replied that it was very important that they covered the material in the curriculum, that this content was critical and that the students must know this content because it would be tested.  My son then proceeded to point out that modern teenagers have short attention spans.  Why didn’t she show a short video?  Give the students some research to do – anything  - just break it up a bit.  For the under pressure teacher it was about getting through – or delivering - a mountain of content in a short time. 

But if all the students have switched off then no-one is learning. What purpose does this serve? The act of teaching does not mean learning is happening – just like the act of dieting does not mean that weight loss is happening!  Teachers are not simply a delivery mechanism for the syllabus. 

We all (I hope) had that one teacher who “saw something in me”.  What if all teachers were empowered to look for the talent within each student? What if the student was able to see something in herself?  What if the focus was on personalised learning so that every student discovered their passion and did the best that they could do?

True passion for something, true talent is liberating; it is motivating.  Students who leave school having discovered their talent are more likely to create jobs – perhaps jobs that never previously existed.

To enable more school students to find their passion we have to consider limiting standardized instruction; stop treating every child as if she is the same as the next child; and personalize education.

And this is where educational publishers can make a difference. 

I believe the future for this industry is to facilitate the delivery of personalized learning.  And technology provides us with the opportunity to do that.

How?















1. By using experience and expertise to define ‘pathways’ for learning.  If we have depth and breadth of content, written by experienced teachers – we can design pathways for teachers to help students navigate their own path through a subject.

2. By reporting on outcomes in real time.  Digital publishing allows for the collection of data to provide feedback to the teacher on class performance and also individual performance – so that teachers can take immediate corrective action.

3. By diagnosing when and where help is needed – data can be used to diagnose areas that need attention and automatically generate additional practice or revision.

4. By making education available anywhere and anytime.  Learning is no longer constrained by the 4 walls of a classroom or the 9 – 3.30 schedule.  Let students follow their curiosity whenever the urge takes them.

5. By providing multiple entry points, engaging interactivity and diversity of learning objects.

To deliver personalized learning teachers are going to need resources that engage with 4 basic tenets – 4 values that educational publishers can embed in resources we create:

DIVERSITY above conformity
CURIOSITY above obedience
DIAGNOSIS above grading
PASSION above delivery.

There is some great publishing in this vein happening already.  There are some great teachers who have always striven to make education personal.  But businesses in our economy need more creative, free-thinking, employees and entrepreneurs.

Educational publishers have the opportunity to be part of the solution by providing teachers and schools with modern solutions – solutions that haven’t been thought of yet. 

As we consider the use of technology to deliver more innovative products and services, let’s remember that we are only just beginning.


Educational Publishing Awards 2015

Friday, 2 January 2015

Useful content

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Adapted from Reynolds, R  The Future of Learning Content 2012

Is content still king in schools?  The learning process is evolving because of technology.  The shift from analogue content to digital content is causing a number of changes.



1.     Tethered learning has become mobile.  Students are no longer tied to their classroom or their bulky textbook.  They can study anywhere and at any time on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.  Study materials have become tactile – we can touch, feel and interact with content in ways that we previously couldn’t.  Content can be presented in a variety of ways – useful video and animation complement text and flat illustrations. Example - http://dynamicscience.cambridge.edu.au

2.     In the ‘traditional’ chalk and talk classroom information was broadcast to students all at once.  Whether the students were listening to the teacher - reading a text or doing exercises, activities or tasks – they did it together, at roughly the same time.  But it is no longer a necessity to only teach to the common denominator any more.  Some online learning resources have built in Task Managers that allow teachers to assign different things to individuals or groups of students.  This allows teachers to alter the pace and difficulty depending on each student’s ability and current level of understanding.  This is powerful because it helps those falling behind to catch up and it prevents those who find a topic too easy from getting bored. Teachers can assign useful content according to the needs of each student. Example - http://www.hotmaths.com.au

3.     Generic content – exercises, activities and tasks that are used in a classroom by all students - can be, and are becoming, personalized.  Feedback is often instant.  Online resources offer hints and tips when a student makes a mistake – encouraging exploration and self-correction.  Teachers can see instantly how each student in their class is performing and identify areas that need whole class revision or take action to help one student with a particular recurring problem. Some resources have multiple-access points to lessons.  A student can approach a new lesson by watching an animation, trying out a ‘walk-though’ trial and error exercise or simply reading a text – there are useful personal choices to be made about how a new subject is approached.
Example - http://www.hotmaths.com.au

4.     Homework, tests and some classroom work have often been done in isolation.  Students sit alone, work alone and submit work to the teacher in isolation from their peers.  Tools are becoming available to allow students to interact with their classmates online but in a ‘safe’ environment regulated by the teacher.  Students are connected outside the classroom and can collaborate on group projects, seek feedback from peers and work with friends to improve their understanding and the quality of the work they submit – much as we would expect in a real-life work situation.  Isn’t this a more useful preparation for life after school? Example - http://learningfield.com.au

What all this adds up to is a change in direction of how students interact with learning content – from inside to outside.  Instead of content being served up to all inside the classroom, it has become much easier for students to interact with more useful content, relevant to the individual, outside the classroom.

So, for digital content to be useful, it needs to offer the same curriculum relevant learning material as was always the case in the analogue world, but content also needs to be tactile and visually engaging, personalized or ‘personalizable’ for the learner and should promote student learning outside the classroom as well as inside.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Cambridge HOTmaths for K-6


Introductory webinar for using HOTmaths to teach primary school children.  Parents can also use the site to help struggling children understand concepts or for advanced students who are ahead of their schoolmates and need extra stimulation.

Visit www.hotmaths.com.au for a free trial.