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

During a recent ICT planning session the age old argument was raised again, where is the promised digital revolution that everyone promised? Really, it was argued, we are not doing anything different than what we did in the past. For example, the new Digital Technologies curriculum, awaiting endorsement, calls for a focus on coding. However, it was argued by some members that this is no different to the focus on Logo in the 80’s. In response, one participant suggested that one significant change technology has brought about is the ability to communicate with parents on a more regular basis. Instead of being restricted to the usual diaries and school newsletters, technology allows schools to foster deeper connections between home and school.

I agree with Eric. I think that technology has the ability to make listening to voices both in and out of the classroom more doable. The question though is whether such messages that are enabled are always worthwhile. In his book Open, David Price discusses this problem, saying:
Most parents, I believe, would prefer to know about their child’s confidence, their sense of well- being, their capacity for independent thought, or their ability to ask critical questions – the language of milky coffee. Instead, parents only know the language of black coffee, because that’s all they hear. Are they on target for good grades? Are they getting enough homework? What were their last test scores?

For whatever reason, schools often use new mediums to provide same old information. Complaining that parents do not read printed reports, some believe that making them accessible digitally somehow makes them different. I am not so sure. Although it can be easy to blame parents, if we do not give them a reason to engage, can we blame parents when they do not show any interest?In a conversation about education reform on Twitter, Alan Thwaites shared a documentary video including the usual voices, such as Sir Ken Robinson, Tony Wagner and Thomas Friedman.

Education Documentary Clip from One Potato Productions on Vimeo. Although many of the arguments were not necessarily new, what stood out to me was the discussion of High Tech High and project based learning. For the culmination of the project, students had to present what they made to the community at an information night. I know showcasing student work is nothing new, but there just seemed to be something different about what was happening in the video. Maybe that it seemed more authentic than usual, with students enthusiastic about their work. Or maybe it was the space that was created. Whatever it was, parents seemed to be genuinely interested.

Coming back to the planning session, there were many quotes bandied around to create conversation and spur us on. One that stuck out was Michael Fullen’s discussion of technology in Stratosphere, where he states:

New developments must be:
i) irresistibly engaging (for students and for teachers);
ii) elegantly efficient and easy to use;
iii) technologically ubiquitous 24/7; and
iv) steeped in real-life problem solving.
What stood out in this quote was the reference to students and teachers in the discussion of ‘irresistibly engaging’. I was left wondering, what about parents? Don’t they have a part to play in all of this, shouldn’t developments be irresistibly engaging for them too? Are they not important?

Too often when it comes to involving parents in schools it seems to be a one way transaction, simply focusing on informing them:

  • Putting on chalk and talk information sessions for technology
  • Publishing digital newsletters discussing what has been going on
  • Sending texts and emails to parents when a child is absent
  • Providing access to academic and behavioural results online
  • Advertising school events and information on public webpages
  • Putting on showcase events once a semester to celebrate students work and achievements

Many of these things are simply substitutions, with little augmentation. While coming back to Fullan’s argument, I question whether they are irresistibly engaging.

Reconsidering the list and thinking about how they could be changed, here are some ideas:

  • Developing information sessions that are co-constructed and incorporate the practise in question, as Jon Andrews has done when introducing PBL to parents
  • Having year levels/classrooms openly publishing a blog celebrating learning
  • Engaging with parents in regards to supporting goals and homework, as Alan Thwaites has done using Compass as a means of dialogue
  • Provide parents with live updates about student activities, as Andy Hair has done using Google Hangouts during sporting carnivals
  • Publish student work online and showcase to the world, as Bec Spink has done when creating eBooks and putting them on iTunes
  • Engage the wider community using video conferencing, as Alan November has done by Skyping grandparents from overseas into the classroom

Each of these ideas and activities involve a modification of practise, but also in regards to mindsets. Many of these mediums provide the potential for parents to comment, ask questions and provide their thoughts. For some, this is fraught with danger. What if this or what if that. Such fear and trepidation though gets us nowhere. As Price points out, the world is going SOFT whether we like it or not, the question then is how we are going to embrace it. For me, it starts by fostering a culture of trust.


The reality is, many parents work irregular hours and do not necessarily always have the time to participate the way that we would like them to. The ideal of 9 til 5 is fast becoming a figment of the past. However, technology makes connections and communications that were previously not necessarily possible. Maybe there are schools already embracing such changes, if so I would love to know, please share. Or maybe ‘engagement’ is a poor metric, as Richard Olsen has suggested. Having said all this, we must always remember to never loose the human element. As always, comments welcome.

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creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs

I recently started reading David Price’s book OPEN: How we’ll work, live and learn in the future. After extracts, reviews and recommendations I entered wondering what he would have to add to the debate about education. What interested me about Price was that, along with others like Graham Brown-Martin, his take on the future of education did not come via the usual teacher, turned academic, come consultant. Instead it was a bit more indirect. Such a point of view helps by bringing an outsiders perspective, rather than being caught up within schools and politics. It is a focus on learning, something not constrained to the classroom. Questioning what it is and what it maybe in the future.

Many of Price’s thoughts and observations touch upon various facets of society, pointing out that things are not always as the seem. One of the ideas though that really stood out was the notion of SOFT. When I first saw it mentioned I thought that Price was going to touch upon Thomas Friedman’s analysis of what matters in the 21st century are soft skills, such as leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. However, this is not what Price means by SOFT.

For Price, SOFT is an acronym standing for four inter-connected, consequental values which he sees as integral for being open in the the 21st century.

  • SHARE: Whether it be adding ideas to a wiki or posting an update on Facebook, sharing involves connecting and collaborating  with others. There are two key characteristics to sharing, the speed at which knowledge is able to spread and the ability to work together to take action.
  • OPEN: Whether it be providing corporate data online or living life through social media, open is about being transparent. What is interesting is that for many it is something we have taken to whether we were aware or not, some are just more radical than others.
  • FREE: The notion of free includes such things as the value of knowledge, the consumption (and production) of digital goods, as a business model, the ability to fail and an entitlement. Many of these examples are about mindsets and adjusting existing models to add free into them.
  • TRUST: For each of the other elements of SOFT to work, they depend upon trust. When we read an update on social media, we trust that our friends are being honest. When data is provided openly online, we trust that it would not be used to undermine us. When we foster a culture of prosumers (producers and consumers), we trust that people we at least provide attribute when content is made available through Creative Commons licences. When trust is stripped away, we are usually simply left with accountability, this is particularly true of schools.

In many respects, Price’s description of SOFT touches upon David Weinberger’s ideas about networked, society, where just because you are in the room, it does not make you smart. The warning is that going SOFT is now inevitable. It has allowed us to take control of our lives and make decisions which were often left to the experts in the past. As Price states:

It’s simply inevitable that, having helped shape how we now live, and work, these values will become central to how we learn. Embedding SOFT values into innovative learning environments is not without its dangers. Giving employees and learners greater freedom demands greater responsibility. Being transparent may provide disgruntled employees with the means to act maliciously. But we have to learn how to adapt, and we have to adapt how we learn. As W.E. Deming once said ‘Learning isn’t compulsory…neither is survival’. (Page 74)

So how are you adapting and learning in the 21st century? More importantly though, how SOFT are you?


 

For those interested, here are a couple of resources unpacking David Price’s book in more detail:


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