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We Talk About 21st Century Learning While Looking In The Rearview Mirror!

Schools have always been under-rated! Politicians and some media outlets like to concentrate on the problems while ignoring the fact that they’ve educated vast numbers of people. Yes, there is room for improvement, and no, the occasional spelling mistake does not make that person (and an entire generation) “functionally illiterate” !

So, in a profession where one is constantly given harsh feedback – forget the media, think Year 8s on a Friday afternoon – it’s only natural that when teachers are presented with the “new, improved” model of education called 21st Century learning that there’s a certain amount of cynicism. Of course, some teachers will point to the distractions of technology and suggest that it’s just being pushed by people who love their toys and gadgets, while others will complain that they don’t have the capacity to embrace it due to poor resourcing and Internet access. When concepts such as “20% time”* are suggested, some educators often react as though “100% time” has been suggested for student projects.

While much of what people call “21st Century learning” is just what good teachers have always done in one form or another, but repackaged and rebranded, the phrase itself suggests massive change and disruption. And while most people find too much change stressful and threatening, we now live in the twenty-first century and the world around schools will change no matter how much individuals want to cling to the “way we do it here”.

Some of you will have heard the term “disruptive innovation”, which describes how many companies continue with their old business model and ignore the threat of new ideas or inventions because it doesn’t seem a threat to them. By the time they understand, it’s too late! Think old large computing firms ignoring the PC; think Kodak ignoring digital cameras. For schools, the innovations in the world around them can either by “disruptive” or made “sustaining” by adopting and adapting them to suit the needs of education. At first, some maths teachers wanted to ban the calculator, but it’s become a compulsory item. Similarly, many teachers have embraced word processing in order to allow students to draft and improve their work. These innovations have sustained and supported what teachers do.

However, the main problem with the way schools are looking at learning in the current century is that they’re looking at what WAS, rather than what IS, and very few educators see at as their role to help shape what WILL BE. Schools often merely take textbooks and put them online, rather than embracing the potential of the technology.

For example, just forget education for a moment. Let’s look at life in the twenty-first century: many people have a fitbit or smart phone which tracks all sorts of things from the steps you take to sleeping patterns. Google and Facebook are constantly recording the sites you go to, your preferences, your habits. We live in a world where all sorts of things are tracked. Yet, apart from a few standardised tests, most teachers would find it hard to access information about what Johnny did last week, let alone last year.

Historically, being able to access what a student has done in the past would have had two concerns: Privacy, and workload for teachers recording the data. But while protocols and safeguards around privacy would need to be addressed, how much information could we be collecting now about where students are having difficulty and falling through the cracks by simply using existing technologies in an education setting? And when the technology that allows us to see when a person looking at a screen is losing focus or concentration, should schools embrace it or not?

Oh wait, technology like that is already here. Just not widely available.

Yes, as William Gibson said, “The future is here, just not evenly distributed”!

Whatever your views on software that can track kids progress, whether you think that Big Brother is coming or whether you think it really is a brave, new world, these are the sorts of conversations we need to have now.

What is the potential of the technologies that will be here before we know it and, just as importantly, what are the ethics of the coming technologies?

*In simple terms, giving students free rein to work on any project of their choice. Based on Google’s one day a week to work on projects.

First Published Victorian Professional Development

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  1. Rossleigh

    Thanks. bobrafto, that about says it all when it comes to disruptive innovation!

  2. michael lacey

    We continue to alienate the true purpose of teaching and learning! The neoconservative global system has failed them. Our society reaps what it sows! We set them up to fail, we give them little to no purpose, we reward an elite few, and we continually blame the victims. We embrace Free market ideology, the abandonment, and alienation of working people in our country, “every man for himself” and then we want people to cooperate. As larger and larger segments of society are forced because of declining economies to become outsiders, the use of coercion, under our current model, will probably become more widespread. Neoliberalism is one of the greatest threats to the future of progressive education, it is data-driven it works against the development of a student’s ability to think critically, thereby undermining the formative culture and values necessary for a democratic society. If we keep looking at educational policy and practice through the lens of market-based values, there is little hope that progressive education, with its aim of educating students for critical citizenship and social and economic justice, will survive.

  3. auntyuta

    Hi, Michael Lacey
    ” . . . educating students for critical citizenship and social and economic justice . . . ”
    I gather, this is the aim of progressive education. I reckon, it is of the utmost importance for a well functioning society that this not only survives but also expands! Which politicians could help us with that?

  4. michael lacey

    Auntyuta: Yes definitely! Unfortunately Governments must also have an unquestionable belief in Public education.

  5. David Bruce

    We are going to need Chinese added to the curriculum? Trump changes tack, backs ‘one China’ policy in call with Xi apparently a deal has been struck to let china take over Indonesia and Maylasia plus Australia … Just made my day!

  6. Grant

    “Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being “with it,” yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.”

    “School has become the world religion of a modernized proletariat, and makes futile promises of salvation to the poor of the technological age.”
    ― Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

  7. Red Leaf

    I homeschooled my five children up till high school. That was a mistake, I should have continued to homeschool. Educational standards are dropping and in a global economy this puts Australians at a disadvatage. My children’s highschool doesn’t even have a library. It is a sport specialist high school with no library. Only in Australia would you find this. This is bad because students are now only reading the necessary books required for their English courses. Students now do almost all of their work on their expensive laptops and their handwriting is deteriorating, so what you might say, but studies have shown that handwriting is a crucial aid to memory and important for dexterity. The basics are being neglected and you can’t improve on education is their is an inadequate foundation to build upon.

  8. Matters Not

    Red Leaf, could you provide the name of the HIgh School that doesn’t have a library? And re

    … studies have shown that handwriting is a crucial aid to memory …

    Could you provide a link or two? Thanking you in anticipation.

    David Bruce I invite you to provide links for your latest nonsense as well. You can make my day as well.

  9. Matters Not

    Red Leaf thanks for your response. I followed up on your link and perhaps more importantly I also checked out evaluations of the Mueller and Oppenheimer studies. Here’s some findings:

    Rarely does one single study prove a hypothesis. This point is made by educational psychologists Stanovich and Stanovich (2003) who write about:
    The mistaken view that a problem in science can be solved with a single, crucial experiment, or that a single critical insight can advance theory and overturn all previous knowledge. This view of scientific progress fits nicely with the operation of the news media, in which history is tracked by presenting separate, disconnected “events” in bite-sized units. This is a gross misunderstanding of scientific progress and, if taken too seriously, leads to misconceptions about how conclusions are reached about research-based practices.

    One experiment rarely decides an issue, supporting one theory and ruling out all others. Issues are most often decided when the community of scientists gradually begins to agree that the preponderance of evidence supports one alternative theory rather than another. Scientists do not evaluate data from a single experiment that has finally been designed in a perfect way. They most often evaluate data from dozens of experiments, each containing some flaws but providing part of the answer. (Emphasis supplied.)

    Thus, it’s too early to conclude that laptop notes are inherently inferior to handwritten notes. At present, the studies are far too narrow or limited to generalize them to broad types of notetaking from all kinds of lectures. The lectures in the Mueller study were based on TED talks, which were 15-20 minute lectures on “topics that would be interesting but not common knowledge.” By contrast the lectures that are encountered in college as well as in law school synthesize readings students had earlier been assigned. It’s a big leap to argue that laptop notetaking is inferior to all types of lectures.

    I have one grandson who is in a class where all students use I Pads extensively and therefore I have a passing interest in their use. handwriting does deteriorate over time. These days I can barely sign my own name but that about the only downside. Your claim that: studies have shown that handwriting is a crucial aid to memory and important for dexterity is not really supported. Sorry.

    As for Henley High School, while it does cater for a range of specialised sports, I think your claim that it doesn’t have a library would be hotly disputed. They seem rightly proud of their ‘virtual library’.

    Too Early to Say that the Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard

  10. Red Leaf

    Matters Not, their ‘virtual library’ has been sporadically available, it has been, yet again, “broken” (my son’s word) since the beginning of this year. It has been proven to be completely unreliable and the student’s have not been able to use it. Therefore it is pretty much a school with no library. It sounds good in theory but in practice it is not as successful as they had hoped.

  11. win jeavons

    I taught Futurology in the early 1980’s ; Introductory task was to imagine one’s life in 10 years time . Sadly most projected the present forward . I worked hard to change that. Now retired I am talking ‘workless future’ to anyone who will listen. Those who can’t or won’t imagine he future are condemned to live it . This specially applies to climate change and the disruption ( not necessarily creative) that it will bring.

  12. win jeavons

    Matters Not ; the only way I could memorise was by WRITING IT DOWN ! Still applies to my shopping list now I am old, once written I don’t need to take it with me to the shop. Anecdotal, I know , but it does work for some . Similarly I record (on paper) my week’s task plan, which is far more complex now I and my spouse are old and need more health related actions.

  13. Matters Not

    win jeavons, I tried to use ‘mnemonics’ if I really wanted to recall worthwhile information. Still do – and it doesn’t seem to matter whether I ‘type’ or ‘ hand write’ same.

    Here’s examples that have been around for some time. Children prefer the ‘funny’ ones. Teenagers the ‘risqué’. But it’s a matter of preference I suppose. No generalisations I am afraid.

    As for the ‘workless’ (as currently defined) future, I can only agree. Time for leaders who can think outside the box. Why use people when technology can do it faster and better. Wealth redistribution then becomes the issue.

  14. jimhaz

    [Your claim that: studies have shown that handwriting is a crucial aid to memory and important for dexterity is not really supported]

    Here is another study….only a military college though. I’ve only very briefly scanned it – academic docs are not my cup of tea. I’m just curious as my gut feeling thinks it might be a possibility that a negative memory effect ensues. I’m thinking that when note-taking the concentration levels that the brain expects and therefore puts into play are more intense, than when typing verbatim, on devices that are also used for a lot of minimal or light thinking such as entertainment and texting.

    Perhaps this other study will prompt adequate research – there would be a lot of vested interest rejection if it actually did turn out to be true.

    “The results of our study suggest that permitting computing devices in the classroom reduces final exam scores by 18 percent of a standard deviation”

  15. Matters Not

    jimhaz, I looked at your link – but not for too long. The Abstract was enough for me. It was an example of ‘research’ for its own sake (with too much funds at hand) as evidenced by:

    we uncover evidence that this negative effect occurs in classrooms where laptops and tablets are permitted without restriction and in classrooms where students are only permitted to use tablets that must remain flat on the desk surface.

    Shit, ‘research’ that focuses on the ‘physical posture’ of students re computer usage and ‘educational’ outcomes has to be a joke. I also note it was undertaken in a ‘military college’. Another oxymoron example of ‘military intelligence’ writ large. FFS.

    Education, broadly defined, is not about ‘final exam scores’. In fact the concentration on ‘exam scores’ is often counter productive.

    But that’s another story.

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