Monday, 25 February 2013

Back to the Future

This is a video of American author, Isaac Asimov, where he discusses how computer technology will change the way people learn and the role of schools:

In this 1988 interview, Asimov shares his predictions for the future of learning. What a visionary - he discusses many of the changes that education is still grappling with and aspiring towards, 25 years later!

  • The end of information scarcity - computers [particularly the Internet] have 'changed the game' regarding access to information. We no longer need to seek out a rare expert / master / [teacher?] to access information.
  • Prescriptive curricula - not necessary when people have access to abundant information in their own homes, via computers.
  • Personalisation of learning - people are increasingly able to use technology to choose what, when and how they learn, rather than having little choice over any of these elements, as has typically been the case in traditional school systems.
  • One-to-one learning - before formal education was opened up to the public, the wealthy and powerful would access learning via a tutor / master / etc [one-to-one for a few... ]. The invention of schools enabled access to education for many, but in a less-personalised, one-to-many relationship. Computer technology sees an opportunity to return to a one-to-one learning arrangement, but this time for many, rather than just the privileged [one-to-one for many... ].
  • Life-long learning - we shouldn't 'finish' learning at school. It's not prison, where the aim is to 'get out'... 
  • Digital Divide - it won't be possible to supply all children with computer technology initially, but we should embrace the learning potential of new technologies, anyway, whilst working towards equality of access.
So, a quarter of a century on, should we be happy with the progress schools and education systems have made towards this vision, or is there still lots of work to do to realise this "revolution" in learning and the role of schools..? 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Reforms worth fighting for

Popular viewpoints about what systemic education reforms should be aiming for have evolved over time. The 'Fourth Way' builds upon previous movements that have had some differing foci and features:
  1. First, we had the [relatively] high trust of teachers, but low accountability and collaboration, resulting in the 'silos' mentality and greater potential for a lack of awareness of current theories, research, innovations, etc... 
  2. Then we had the zealous drive for consistency - pursued via standardisation, high accountability, prescriptive curricula and programs, narrower [that which was tested... ] learning experiences for students, etc. Many of these elements are still popular [often increasingly so!]. 
  3. Building upon the previous movement was the collection, analysis, comparison and use of DATA - to measure, to assess, to inform, to justify, to group, to 'target', to personalise, to differentiate, to report, to determine salaries, etc, etc... Surely the more information we have about our students, the better..? Right..???

The article above features two professors who, in analysing education systems around the globe, have identified and synthesised the best elements of these respective systems that need to be spread and incorporated globally. Some of the points that jumped out to me as important and worthy of aspiring towards were:

  • Decentralised governance - schools need to be able to adapt and target the unique local communities that they serve.
  • Broad, flexible curricula - allow teachers and schools the freedom to follow unique, localised pathways towards curriculum goals. i.e. Give them the destination and let them determine the course that best suits their students, rather than prescribing directions that are written for the masses.
  • Principals who focus on maximising and improving the performance of teachers, rather than 'administration'...   

What do you think? Are these some of the right 'ways' for education to be reformed..?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Big Question

This week, we introduced a concept we are calling 'The Big Question', where we elect a single, complex question or problem that we as a staff will 'ponder' for a number of weeks, before revisiting the nominated question / problem down the track for thorough discussion.

There were a few reasons why we wanted to try something like this...


Schools tend to be notoriously busy places, often with little time and opportunity for deep thought, reflection and discussion about issues. The sheer quantity of decisions and tasks we have to deal with often leads to an efficiency mindset - useful for completing a high number of tasks and decisions, but perhaps less so for dealing with complex tasks and decisions in a quality fashion. 
We wanted to provide time and space for deeper, more thorough thought, reflection and discussion.


Whilst many people are inherently suited to fast-paced, instinctive decision-making and are naturally confident about airing their views in group settings 'on the spot', many others prefer time for reflection, often in quiet, individual settings. 

Improved decisions

Big, important questions and problems deserve well considered responses and decisions, rather than 'snap' judgements. 
Providing time and a suitable context for all people to develop and flesh out their views will better-enable the full range of perspectives to be considered and lead to more informed and more democratic decisions.


So, how we are trialing this is by having staff 'vote' for one of a selection of 'potential' big questions, then giving time [the duration of this first school term] and space [probably an online, forumish space... ] for their individual viewpoints to 'percolate', before revisiting the question early next term for thorough discussion.

If being realistic, not everybody will engage with this and drag themselves from the busyness of day-to-day school life, but hopefully we will get a few people to 'lift their eyes' and spend some time thinking about the bigger picture...