Tag Archives: change

21st century learning

‘Our students are changing … but schools are not.’
This is a leitmotif of a professional development program, Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) run by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson, which will run in Australia soon, and in which our school has the privilege of participating.

As stated on the PLP website, ‘Powerful Learning Practice offers a unique opportunity for educators to participate in a long-term, job-embedded professional development program that immerses them in 21st Century learning environments. The PLP model is currently enabling hundreds of educators around the country to experience the transformative potential of social Web tools to build global learning communities and re-envision their own personal learning practice’.

As a result of our participation in the Web2.0 program through School Library Association of Victoria, we were invited by Jenny Luca, who is organising the Australian contingent of the 100 educator-strong global cohort , to join the 7 or 8 Australian teams of 5 educators per school. We almost jumped for joy, but remembered our respectable standing and did some mental leaps instead. After all, how long had we been passionate about transformative learning environments, recognising the potential of emerging web technologies in engaging students and creating global learning communities? And how difficult it is to create a voice that is heard above the clatter of the old school machine? How helpless and ineffective we often feel, like door-to-door evangelists in our own schools, with the door being slammed in our faces, people telling us they have their own god, or that they have no time to listen. At best, we’ve ‘converted’ small, isolate pockets of educators but not had any significant effect on the school community.

Now we have the opportunity to take part in a program based on a highly successful pilot carried out in Alabama and supported by internationally recognised practitioners of 21st century learning technologies. Not only has this given us the opportunity to formulate our thoughts in a proposal to the principal class, but it has also created interest from staff, led to conversations where we have had to explain and justify the cause, and opened up planning for a collaborative team. Suddenly we had something that was worth doing across the school, that was supported both from the top and the bottom. We weren’t isolated any more!

Two of us were able to attend the initial talk by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at Toorak College this afternoon. I was excited to meet Jenny and Sheryl, and they were as passionate and inspiring as I had expected. Sheryl was amazing – stepping off the plane and straight into the talk, her body clock still at 3am, and engaging the audience with her passion and ideas. I asked her how she managed to deliver an hour-long talk after travelling halfway across the world, and she said that her tiredness was evident in her slower than usual speech, which, for us in Australia, was a comfortable speed to follow.

I thought I’d mention some of the things that stood out for me as I listened to Sheryl’s presentation. Firstly, she emphasised that 21st century learning, although based on technologies, was primarily a human network. These technologies enable global connections and wisdom of the crowd. Sheryl gave the example of Twitter as a means of finding the best information about buying a new car. I suppose it’s an extension of the network of friends and colleagues people turn to when looking for a good car, or finding a good plumber, only the global aspect facilitates expert knowledge more effectively. In a fast-changing world, where the information today will be outdated tomorrow, rather than teach memorisation of content from a single text, we need to teach students how to work collaboratively. As Sheryl said, ‘don’t think computers, think innovation’. Our students need to be able to be productive, self-directed and effective communicators, understanding digital communications, and not be overwhelmed by the fast pace of change in their lives. It’s not about the tools, the technology, but about learning.

Sheryl challenged us about the relevance of school education, and spoke about the low percentage of students who thought that what they had learned at school would be relevant to their future lives. She spoke about the learning that takes place outside of school within the networking communities of young people. We saw Darren Draper’s film that asked educators if they had been paying attention to students in their classes, if they had been watching them or listening to them, and challenged educators to use the technologies that these students loved in order to teach and engage them.

What inspired me, towards the end of the talk, was Sheryl’s prediction that members of the PLP cohort would eventually have the courage to be bold and challenge the status quo. How true, that, in order to inspire change, we have to model it. As Sheryl said, ‘you can’t give away what you do not own’. I’m ready to share what I’ve learned. I’m not learning to keep. It isn’t much, and so I’m also ready to keep learning. We need to keep up with the pace of change. We hope to help diminish the digital divide – between those who know how to collaborate digitally, as the world shrinks through global connections, and those who don’t. Our job is to prepare students to be responsible, global citizens. We need a change in pedagogy, playing to students’ strengths instead of their weaknesses (ie. what they don’t know, what they’re not good at). We need to cater for different learning styles. We must become 21st century educators. These are the main ideas from Sheryl’s deep-reaching talk today.

What I’d like to say to teachers is what I read on Darren Draper’s excellent blog, when he talked about Kevin Honeycutt and one of his ‘favorite quotes regarding teachers and our relationship to our students: “We’ve got to be willing to play where they play… even if we don’t feel comfortable.” ‘

I’m looking forward to an enriching, collaborative, global PLP experience.

Is school bad for kids?

Further to my recent post about open assessment tasks and true learning, you may want to have a look at Clay Burell’s posts on his blog Beyond School. I suppose I’m late to discover Clay but I figure others will be able to share my new discovery. Here’s what he says in his post entitled ‘Beyond school’ : on the death of genius for the sake of college’ (he’s talking about young people’s time being taken over by ‘education’:
‘I mean the ones who are so over-scheduled with schoolwork, homework, SAT test-prep cram schools, and all the other madness that keeps them focused on memorizing the data and pounding out the grunt-work, one assignment and one GPA-increment at a time, year in and year out – from what, grade 9? Or is that too late to begin worrying these days? – that they rarely have time to pull back and reflect on anything at all’.

I can’t help thinking back to my primary school years; for some reason memories of those days keep coming back as a kind of lost paradise, and what stands out is the time spent in idleness. And during that idleness, whether it be walking home from school in the slowest way possible, or sitting in a tree, creating a cubby house – a long-lost sense of freedom full of possibilities, ideas and dreams is evoked. So much time to reflect, time that is taken up now as an adult with adult responsibilities, and sadly, for many young children, this is also the case. By the time they’re in secondary school, the freedom is gone, the dreams taken over by instruction, the self-initiated learning through curiosity replaced by delivery of prescribed content during the school day, and fulfilment of prescribed homework tasks at home.

We would do well to remember that our students were awake to the wonders of the world as very young children – not knowledgeable wondering, but eager to experience, keen to ask questions. But do we, as teachers, ask young people what they’re interested in, or do we make their learning relevant to their world? Do we give them time to reflect? Is reflection valued?

Clay Burell, some time ago (not sure when), set up Students 2.0 to give young people a voice. In the ‘About’ section of the blog, he talks about the past paradigm of schools being effective for the times, but not so any more:

‘For decades, students have been stuck in classrooms, behind desks, being told how and what to learn… However, we have now entered a new age: an age where thinking is more important than knowing, where thoughts out-do the facts. Borders are melting away; project teams collaborate across the globe and intelligence is being continually redefined. The world’s information is at our fingertips and anybody can publish their thoughts for virtually no cost… Everywhere, we see changes: with how business operates, how people interact and how success is accomplished. There is unfortunately one place that remains unchanged, the place that could benefit most from the changes we see today… the classroom.’ He then explains the purpose of the blog: ‘This blog is an attempt to give students a voice in where the future of education is headed.’

I looked up some of the individual blogs of the students involved; it’s great to read what they have to say, their ideas, etc. Here are some of them:
Two penguins and a typewriter
Love and logic
The bass player’s blog

Newly ancient

Another thing I’d like to get off my chest:
if we as educators are working towards integrating Web 2.0 tools in order to engage students and create authentic learning, then we drop all that at year 11 because we have to focus on preparing students to regurgitate prescribed curriculum content so that they can get the highest scores and get into university, etc. then it’s crazy. Surely we need a bigger change. Surely this is a mindset change. Otherwise, we’re doing a little Web 2.0 here and there, then we say, hang on, we just have to go back for a bit; this is really important. Just doesn’t make sense.
Does anybody see a bigger change to the whole system in the near future? Is this really going to happen unless we change our assessment criteria?

Wait a second, which life is this?

While thinking about how problematic Second Life can be, I came across a phrase by Alex Iskold in a post he wrote last year on the ReadWriteWeb site, ‘our inevitable digital future’, and it got me thinking. We can kick or turn away as much as we like, but the future will still be digital. Iskold coins the term ‘Digital Life’, defining it as ‘a collective of the virtual world technologies that are bringing life to the digital realm’. He also points out that the core of Second Life is social, unlike virtual world video games which are quests. Digital Life, according to Iskold, is a set of technologies that aims to put a digital realm on top of our reality. He compares this to ‘magical glasses that overlay digital information on top of real-world scenes as you walk around. The closest modern version of this technology is Google Earth, a detailed 3D visualisation of the earth’. This application tags and annotates our physical world with digital tags which, according to Iskold, makes our world much richer.

It’s natural for us to sometimes resist change or, at least, to be uncomfortable about it. I suppose it’s a basic survival instinct, testing the waters before jumping in. But I think that, over time, we will be able to see more practical and inspirational applications of Digital Life. The bigger picture is yet to become clear for us. I agree with Iskold – life is becoming more digital and digital is becoming more alive.

Rip Van Winkle feels at home in our schools

Time magazine cover how to bring our schools out of the C20th century

Originally uploaded by tania.sheko

Here’s a dark little joke from an article featured in Time magazine in 2006 that may touch a sore spot in educators. The article is entitled How to bring our schools out of the C20th century.

Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred-year snooze and is, of course, utterly bewildered by what he sees. Men and women dash about, talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears. Young people sit at home on sofas, moving miniature athletes around on electronic screens. Older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic. Airports, hospitals, shopping malls–every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when he finally walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school,” he declares. “We used to have these back in 1906. Only now the blackboards are green.”

For all our technological advances, our new ways of communicating, how much have our schools really changed?