Everything works somewhere nothing works everywhere - Dylan Wiliam

What is the classroom of the future? We so often talk about change, let’s say 20% at a time. The challenge with this is that we often have in mind a particular model or space, however such ideals are not always ideal. I think one of the biggest challenges is having a consistent why as a starting point for further conversations.

I respect that it can be difficult to work collaboratively with each new staff or student to explicitly incorporate their particular thoughts and experiences, but it is important to provide a clear and compelling narrative that sits at the heart. This is often captured in the form of values that everyone comes back to. The challenge with such an exercise though is to come back to and refer to these regularly, to incorporate these into everyday thinking.

The issue is that too often decisions based on what is deemed to provide the highest impact or who is paying. These compromises can also come in regards to choice of tools or learning spaces. The challenge with all of this is being more informed about the intent behind such decisions and where they fit within the overall values. A useful thinking tool to help with this is the Modern Learning Canvas. Based on Business Model Canvas, the Modern Learning Canvas is broken into eight parts and helps capture a wider view of a context and situation.

Template can be found here.

The canvas allows users to drill down and focus on particular parts of the canvas, at the same time, considering the wider implications.

As an example of such fluidity, consider inquiry and its many flavours, whether it be problem-based, project-based or challenge-based. The question I feel is not which one is right, but rather what is the particular intent and who does this marry with the wider context. This challenge is addressed neatly in Peter Skillen and Brenda Sherry’s image which instead places all the ingredients on a scale.

Image via Peter Skillen

Curriculum standards are a best guess for the future. The question is how to own this future. Take the digital technologies curriculum. Often people jump to particular outcomes or ideas, whether it be robotics, coding or ICT. However, it has the prospect of being far more open than this. In addition to just focusing on digital technologies, it can also be integrated with other areas. Anthony Speranza captures this possibility through the use of hexagonal planning as a narrative device.

The danger with all of this is pushing hard against the dominant narrative. Although lean methodologies prescribe testing new ideas, going wholesale can be like taking snow to the tropics, nothing more than an exhausting gimmick. Although it may offer a sense of alternative, this is simply undone when students return to the dominant model in the next class.

In the end, I am happy to imagine a day made of glass or coalescent spaces, but my hope for the classrooms of the future is one where there is more awareness and understanding about what occurs and the decisions that may have informed them.

As always, thoughts and comments welcome.

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A quote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book ‘Black Swans’ describing our tendency to avoid randomness

Technology offers many opportunities. The challenge is sometimes how to make the most of these. Thinking of things from a system perspective, the desire to scale is often in contrast the reality of each school context.

Todd Rose opens his book, End of Average, with a discussion of the early fighter jets and the design of the cockpit around the ‘average’ pilot. He tells the story of Gilbert Daniels, a researcher who explored this problem in the 1950’s. Daniels measured ten dimensions, including height, chest and sleeve length. What he found, once he had averaged out all the measurements, was that an average pilot does not exist.

The tendency to think in terms of the ‘average man’ is a pitfall into which many persons blunder … It is virtually impossible to find an average airman not because of any unique traits in this group but because of the great variability of bodily dimensions which is characteristic of all men.source

Rose’s book unpacks this further, but again and again he comes back to the principal;

If you want to design something for an individual, then the average is completely useless.

Lately, my work has been focused on supporting schools with reporting and assessment. The application I support is very flexible, utilising Crystal Reports to produce the final product. Usually it is set up on a school-by-school basis, however we are deploying a multi-tenanted environment. With this comes the opportunity to create a solution that can be used for each of our schools, without having to go through the rigmarole of development from scratch each time.

My work has focused on creating a template that acts as a starting template of subjects and assessment items that feeds into the Crystal Reports. This was built on-top of the standardised configuration. The thought was that this would save users time in setting up their reports. It was easier to start with something, rather than build from scratch. However, the learning that has stemmed from setting up a number of schools is that no one has used this average starting point. There is nothing wrong with the underlying configuration, but it is often easier and quicker to build from the various solutions from scratch.

My first response to this was to create a second starting point that was dependent on the style of reporting that particular school was after. Although this alleviated the challenges associated with some of the differences, this still required somebody to add and delete various elements.

This all reminded me of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s discussion of anchoring in his book Black Swans. Anchoring is a bias used for working around unknown possibilities. It involves reducing complexity by focusing on a particular object:

A classical mental mechanism, called anchoring, seems to be at work here. You lower your anxiety about uncertainty by producing a number, then you “anchor” on it, like an object to hold on to in the middle of a vacuum.

In my case, this object was the initial setup. We have since started exploring a different approach, which instead focuses on users working with the various dimensions. The hope is to provide some constraint, but also flexibility within this, rather than assuming that all schools are alike.

This all has me thinking. Too often the conversation around technology is around efficiency – replacing work and saving time. However, my experience with supporting schools with setting up reports, timetables and attendance, and technology in general, has me feeling it often changes things. This touches on the reality that technology is a system. In saving in once spot, it often adds to another. As always, comments welcomes.

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Technology as System

A reflection on changing positions within a complex system.

I have a confession to make. I am not the #EdTech coach who you think I am. Let me rephrase that, I am not the #EdTech coach I imagine others to be. The title associated with my current position was ‘eLearn Implementation Coach’. The job description was littered with mentions of technological change and transformation, I was sold.

As is often the case, the reality on the ground is vastly different to the stories we are told. The transformation I felt I was a part of was that of my role. I went from supporting schools through a change management process to learning a whole new set of applications and becoming a proverbial ‘fixer’.

Things will change again. My work is progressively realigning to being more reactive, but these things take time. The question in this situation is how one responds.

I came into the position believing I would be supporting schools with technological transformation and innovation. Instead, it has become focused on responding to policies and implementing transactional processes associated with as enterprised system. This has me rolling out student reports, booking programs and pastoral applications.

It is a very niche roll in education. Although it is a part of schools, it does not necessarily involve students or teaching. It certainly does not feel what my own education prepared me for. Yet it has highlighted to me how technology is a system with many parts, people and processes at play.

Some days I wish I was still in the classroom, especially when I attend regional meetings. Other days I envy those explicitly leading technological change within schools, especially when I listen to the Design and Play podcast. However, when I stop and consider the worth of the work I am doing I feel it is purposeful and does have an impact.

The further I dive into my current work, the more I appreciate the ground that change is built upon. It would be nicer if it were someone else testing, documenting and working everything out, sadly though I am yet to meet this someone else is. So for now it is me.

It is not the ideal of the #EdTech coach that I had envisioned. However, maybe this is the reality of the #EdTech leader, always doing many things? As always comment and webmentions welcome.

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Are schools on the cusp of change? Will all jobs be transformed by 2030? And what is change anyway?

In the recent Google Education on Air conference, Jan Owens discovered that the biggest lesson learnt looking ahead to 2030 is that every job will be transformed. It would be easy to just add this as another Countrafabulist predictions. However, it raises wider questions associated with transformation and our role within it all.

During a discussion on the Modern Learners podcast, Bruce Dixon discussed the notion of ‘the end of school as we know it’. He shared an exercise where teachers are given three options to choose from in regards to the current state of education:

  • We are seeing the end of school as we know it
  • We are not seeing the end of school as we know it
  • We should be seeing the end of school as we know it

To me this touches on Audrey Watters’ discussion of the invented history associated with the Prussian origins of (American) education. In time we manage to bend the past into a linear narrative. One where all roads lead to innovation.

And so too we’ve invented a history of “the factory model of education” in order to justify an “upgrade” – to new software and hardware that will do much of the same thing schools have done for generations now, just (supposedly) more efficiently, with control moved out of the hands of labor (teachers) and into the hands of a new class of engineers, out of the realm of the government and into the realm of the market.
The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’

If I had to choose one response it would be that we are seeing the end of school as we know it. However, I also feel that this is that wrong question. Whether we like it or not, the world changes each and every day. For example, smartphones have had an impact on schools whether we allow them in the classroom or not.

Another way of looking at change is using Raymond Williams’ historical model where he differentiates between emergence, dominant, residual.

We can find terms which recognize not only ‘stages’ and ‘variations’ but the internal dynamic relations of any actual process. We have certainly still to speak of the ‘dominant’ and the ‘effective’, and in these senses of the hegemonic. But we find that we have also to speak, and indeed with further differentiation of each, of the ‘residual’ and the ’emergent’, which in any real process, and at any moment in the process, are significant both in themselves and in what they reveal of the characteristics of the ‘dominant’.

There is a constant flow of meanings, values, practices and relationships, where even if a certain aspect were to remain ‘dominant’, it cannot inoculate itself from new influences.

As I discussed previously, much is learnt as things are pushed to breaking point. The question is not whether we are seeing the end of school as we know it, but how do we want school (and society) to change for tomorrow? Gert Biesta uses a quote from Jacques Derrida which makes this point clear,

To live, by definition, is not something one learns.

Our focus therefore should be what education do we want and collectively work towards that.

So what about you? What is your choice? Is this the end of school as we know it? As always comments welcome, even better when they are from your own space.

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Generous Orthodoxy
“Generous Orthodoxy” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

In Episode 9 of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, he looks into the concept of ‘generous orthodoxy’. The term comes from theologian Hans Fry, who said,

Orthodoxy without generosity leads to blindness, while generosity without orthodoxy is shallow and empty.

The challenge is finding balance between the orthodoxy of the past and a generosity to the world of the present. Putting this differently, you need to respect the body you are trying to heal. To illustrate this Gladwell uses the example of a Mennonite pastor, Chester Wenger, who had to give up his position in the church to wed his gay son, but also move the orthodoxy forward. The question that needs to be considered is what you might give up or recognise to bring about a change in orthodoxy?

You do not have to look very far online to find arguments why education is broken. Although change is always needed within any organisation, the danger of the ‘broken’ myth is that it portrays everything in every school as being wrong. This call for transformation maybe passionate, but it denies the reality of the past and in some ways the present. Subsequently, when the conversation moves to developing education there are many who are off-side. Although one solution seems to be starting a school from scratch, this does not seem realistic or sustainable. Another solution is to start by celebrating the strengths that already exist within education and working from there. Some recent examples of this are the various interviews on the Modern Learners podcast, with people like Pam Moran and Art Fessler, as well as Richard Wells’ book A Learner’s Paradise. 

Coming at the problem of ‘generous orthodoxy’ in his own way, Ewan McIntosh talks about the ideas of ‘rocks and whirlpools’. Borrowing from Leicester, Bloomer, Stewart and Ewing’s book on Transformative Innovation in Education, McIntosh talks about the dangers of being pulled too far either way.

If you spend all your time protecting the Rocks of the status quo in Horizon One then you risk becoming a dinosaur, isolated as the world sails by. But spend all your time thrashing about in the Whirlpools of Third Horizon innovations then people might perceive you and your ideas a little bit like Scotland’s national animal, the Unicorn – magical, mysterious but leaving people never quite sure whether the ideas become reality, never quite sure whether they can take you seriously. A balance between the two is where innovation lies: creative ideas that borrow from the heritage of the organisation’s founding values. (How to Come Up with Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen)

The challenge is finding a balance between creativity and the status quo, something that is unique to each context.

When I think about my experiences of education, there are many factors which contribute to change, including technology, student action, relationships, passion, pedagogy, learning, trust and empathy. Each aspect involves finding balance. For example,

  • Integrating technology is even better if you reconsider how and what you teach, but that does not mean that students no longer use pen and paper for some tasks.
  • Agency and autonomy is even better when it is not reliant on control and punishment, but that does not mean there are no collective values and expectations.
  • Open planned classrooms work even better if such spaces are adjusted to fit the needs and purpose of the learning at hand, but that does not mean throwing away all sense of order and structure.
  • Relationships with students are stronger when teachers give something of themselves, but that does not mean they lay out their whole life story.

The challenge with many of these aspects is that they take time. Students do not become autonomous because there are no more detentions and open planned spaces do not become functional spaces because the rows of tables are scrapped. Joel Speranza captures this dilemma explaining that we can do things fast, but unless we outlay the appropriate capital to back this, it will not be right. If you are going to do something, you need to do it right and doing it right usually takes time and commitment.

So what about you? What does change look like to you? Does it involve balance? As always, comments welcome.

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

There are a lot of people who argue that the answer when it comes to transforming education is to start again. For some this is revolution, while for others it means starting again by building something new. Often the reason given is the opportunity to work with like-minded educators. The problem with this is that starting a new school is an exception to the case while revolutions are very rarely glorious. Another issue with this approach is that it often blames teachers for the state of education. If only we had the right people in the positions then everything would be ok, right?

This focus on the teacher could be construed as an influence of the work of John Hattie. For as Ivan Snook, John O’Neill, John Clark, Anne-Marie O’Neill and Roger Openshaw share in their analysis of Visible Learning:

There are; in fact, two different types of research on ‘school effects’. One compares the relative contribution made by social variables on the one hand and school variables on the other. The former includes social status, parental education, home resources and the like; the latter includes all variables within the school: curriculum, principal, buildings and the work of teachers. These studies typically find that most of the variance comes from the social variables and only a small part from the school (including the teachers).

As Snook and co explain, Hattie largely chooses to ignore socio-economic status and home background. This choice therefore places teachers front and centre.

So short of starting again with a bunch of like-minded teachers, here are five ideas for developing education without the blood and violence:

  • Student Action: So often people give credence to student voice, but as Nick Jackson explains that this is not enough, we need to be advocating for student action. For Jackson this comes in the form of the Digital Leaders movement, for Cameron Paterson it is involving students within faculty meetings.
  • Community Engagement: If a part of success is what happens at home, then one answer in regards to developing students is actually developing the whole community. Many schools offer literacy sessions to support migrant families, while others simply offer the means of gathering, therefore developing the school into a community hub.
  • Strong North Star: In many of the supposed innovative schools that I have either visited or read about, there is usually a strong vision that goes beyond the ‘learnification‘ of education. Grant Lichtman talks about having a strong North Star to drive change. This often starts with leadership, but goes beyond senior leadership to involve the whole staff school.
  • Distributed Leadership: A part of involving voices across the board is actually giving them some sort of autonomy. One model or method which does this is distributed leadership. This is not where menial tasks are delegated throughout the team, but rather where all members are given the chance to lead. This opportunity is as much about process and interaction as it is about formal titles.
  • Develop Capacity: To often I feel teachers stagnate because they neither know where to go next nor do they have the tools to get there. Fine we have standards to guide use, but they have their limits. They often lack context and nuance. It is for this reason that the Modern Learning Canvas is so interesting as it not only starts with a teacher’s own situation, but it also breaks teaching down into clear parts that can be developed further. Coupled with coaching, these the canvas allows for self-determined teaching.

Although working with an awesome group of like-minded teachers might seem like the best answer to fix our woes if this is not coupled with a clear understanding of the purposes associated with education them what is actually gained? In Good Education in an Age of Measurement, Gert Biesta explains how our focus on measurements has limited the conversation. As he states,

One effect of this redefinition process has been the depoliticization of the relationship between schools/teachers and parents/students, in that their interaction focuses primarily on questions about the “quality” of the provision (e.g., compared to other providers; an effect of league tables) and individual value for money (“Is my child getting the best out of this school?”), rather than on questions about the common educational good (“What is it that we want to achieve as a community for the community?”).

What is clear is that we are in a time of change and disruption with recent events only compounding this. So what about you? What steps are you taking? What dreams are you giving birth to? As always, comments welcome.

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

It is easy to become disheartened when it comes to the challenges associated with change and reform in education. However, Richard Wells’ book A Learner’s Paradise: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand Is Reimagining Education provides hope. Throughout the book, Wells recounts his experiences teaching in New Zealand. Throughout he describes the trust invested in teachers, power of connections, celebration of culture and level of support provided via various government and nonprofit agencies.

To support Wells’ description of reform, he provides case studies of the following schools: Kid’s Domain, Taupaki Primary School, Breens Intermediate School and Hobsonville Point School. Whether it be student agency, use of space or fluid nature of the timetable, each school is going through a process of rethinking education in their own way. Interestingly, this is something called out in the recent Horizon Report.

One of the things that stood out in Wells’ reflection is that it was not something that happened over night. The changes to curriculum and assessment in New Zealand have developed over fifteen years and involved many adjustments along the way. This reminded me in part of the story Pasi Salberg details in his book Finnish Lessons. Salberg describes how it took Finland over fifty years to get to the point where they are at today.

In the end, A Learner’s Paradise provides a snapshot of what is possible. However, it is best seen as a conversation starter. Although Wells shares some advice, including questions to eradicate and actions to consider, it is not necessarily a step-by-step guide. I must admit I was left wondering about some of the intracies, in particular, the process surrounding the practicing certificate in New Zealand. The reality though is that this simply does not within scope of this book. A Learner’s Paradise is a book for all educators, not for its solutions, but as a provocation as to what change might mean within any context.

For a different introduction, I recommend Well’s book trailer:

DISCLOSURE: I was not paid for this review, while I purchased the book myself.

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

After eight years, I am moving on. I recently received a job supporting the drive for transformation through the use of digital pedagogies. A unique position that offers a great opportunity to work with schools and teachers from across the state.

Leaving a place where I have spent a quarter of my life, I am left reflecting on what I have achieved and the impact that I have had. This process also makes me think about what I might have done differently if I had my time again.

In regards to this, I was reminded of a post Doug Belshaw wrote a few years ago that was a letter to his past self. During the last few weeks as I have been on leave, staying at home with our newborn, I have been wondering what I would say to my younger self beginning at the school all those years ago.

So here is my attempt to write a letter to the newly married teacher who arrived from the bush all the way back in 2009:

Dear past self

I am writing from the future, hoping to help you so that you don’t make the same errors that I did. I wanted to say mistakes, but I don’t think that is fair. Although I adapted and evolved during my time, I think that life would have been different if I’d have known these things from the beginning.

So here are five things that I would recommend:

Keep on Moving

It can be easy in any organisation to be typecast as having a particular strength or skillset. Some see this as a good thing, but in the wider scheme of things it is a fixed point of view and may limit your possibilities. Therefore, whenever you get the chance, break the mould. Engage with different teams, observe different classes. Whatever it is, don’t let other’s box you in!

Don’t Wait

Often in schools there is a feeling that someone else will step up and do a job, someone else will help out, someone else will take on that role. Don’t wait for someone else to give permission to try something out, to make a change. Show initiative. Be innovative. Don’t wait for support in the form of someone else’s answers. Seek feedback on what you are doing and why you have chosen to do it that way.

Implementing Ideas is Never Black and White

Sometimes people will provide you with supposed ready made solutions, presented in colourful booklets, with a clear set of answers and plans. Don’t be fooled. It isn’t that these things won’t work, rather they will need to be unpacked, interpreted, made sense of as a team. Rather than starting the conversation with a statement encapsulating some simplistic solution, begin with an open-ended question that supports further engagement and inquiry.

Build Capacity, rather than Provide Solutions

You may be good at what you do, especially regards integrating technology, but unless you can get others on board then it will all be to no avail. You need to focus on building up the capacity of others. Sometimes this is about asking questions that might support them, other times it is being a plus one, that voice who celebrates the awesome stuff that other people are doing. Whatever it is, you need to be the support not merely the solution.

Get connected

I can not encourage this enough. You work in a multi-campus environment, with over 500 staff. Any opportunity you get, connect with others. This is a priceless opportunity, look out for different perspectives and points of view. Ask questions. Seek advice. In addition to this, get connected online. You have access to people all over the world. Engage with them. Share your ideas. Build on the feedback. You will benefit so much if only you put yourself out there a little bit.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Your future self.

So what about you? What advice would you give your past self if you could? As always, comments welcome.

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

It is easy to be mesmerised by the purported benefits of the digital age. The ability to easily and efficiently communicate, consume, connect and create though often comes at the expense of older more established modes and mediums, such as telephones and newspapers. A vision of supposed freedom and hope has been converted over time into the poster child of digital industrialisation and growth-based economics.

Grounded on the operating system built by the chartered monopolies of the 13th century, companies like Apple, Twitter, Google, Pearson and Amazon are in a race to become ‘the one’ company to rule them all. Sacrificing sustainability, the focus is on cashing in on short term gains via acquisitions and public offerings. This culture of disruption, of sprints, start-ups and pivots, often leads to a scorched earth policy of success at all costs. Whether it be the automation of jobs or the decimation of communities, change and innovation is not always positive or productive for the majority of people.

According to Douglas Rushkoff, it is not all doom and gloom though. For just as we can identify where these ideas of capital at all costs come from in the past, so to can we look back to find alternative solutions to such perils. Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus provides a vision for a future built around the exchange of value, rather than the extraction of capital. A future that focuses on a mixture of local and national currencies, as well as focusing on both family cooperatives and international corporations. A return to the ethos of the bazaar, that is spaces designed to maximise the exchange of value and the velocity of money. A digital renaissance if you like.

Similar in vein to David Price’s OPEN, Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus is a story for our time. With eye to tomorrow, Rushkoff provides suggestions and solutions already being explored by some today.  The choice though is left to the reader to make the next step to link these seemingly disparate ideas to help form a better tomorrow together.

For a different view of the book, flick through the slides for a collection of quotes:

While for a visual introduction, see the following clips:

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To move forward in education - to create a vision for education that then comes to life - we must take more than a top-down or bottom-up approach; we will need all hands on deck. George Couros ‘Innovator’s Mindset’

I was recently asked by a colleague about my ‘vision’ for eLearning and 21st century learning. Inspired in part by Gary Stager educational philosophy in 100 words, as well as my work with with DET exploring the EDUSTAR planning tool, this is the list of attributes that I came up with:

eLearning …

Is Transformative: More than just redefined, learning is purposeful and involves wider implications.

Is More Doable: Makes things like critical thinking and collaboration more possible.

Enables Student Voice: Technology provides a voice for students to take ownership over their work and ideas.

Involves Modelling Digital Citizenship: More than a sole lesson, eLearning should be about foster competencies throughout the curriculum.

I supported this with a list of readings to clarify where my thoughts had come from. Although as I have stated time and time again, it takes a village and recognising everyone in the village can be a futile act.

My concern with this whole process though is two-fold. Firstly, a vision is not created by one person, however compelling that may be. A point that George Couros makes in his book Innovator’s Mindset. This is a problem I had with the DET EDUSTAR training where a few random representatives were expect to be the voice of a whole school. While secondly, an eLearning vision needs to marry with the school’s wider vision for ‘learning’. The question then remains as to how we make a vision for learning and technology which supports the whole school with a common goal?

So what about you, what is your eLearning vision? How is it integrated within the wider school vision? As always comments are welcome.

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