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Archive for September, 2017

Data, Quality and Innovation

Posted by jturner56 on September 24, 2017

Some thoughts from three readings this week

Lesson I took from this included

  • the importance of community-wide understanding and acceptance of purpose (the WHY)
  • the importance of total commitment, with partial implementation a corroding approach
  • the importance of trying to understand where “child-driven” and “education/school-driven” can and should meet; how this should devolve with age (even if school too often are going in the wrong direction). We sometimes get lost between learning (personal), school (community) and education (societal) rather than working together getting drowned out by ‘simplistic ignorance (as in ignoring complexity and political realities).

As one example, regarding Digital we too often find ourselves

  • in conflict between personal and system spaces (a still confused why)
  • with a lack of alignment between school decision making and what digital has to offer
  • facing an increasing pressure from the personal/social elements of digital on systems such as school education, as evidence in more recent times by the BYOD, Online learning choices and social media.

Education and School as a system is under pressures previous unseen on their roles as

  • a pathway to employment
  • as valued communities
  • remaining relevant to advancing lifelong learning needs
  • adjusting to the fast changing demanding nature of digital
  • data becoming a stronger ‘determinant’ on decision-making

Marketing and glossy ‘initiatives’ can provide superficial justifications. But education for a Digital Age still has a way to go.

Perhaps a more useful way to look at this is provided in Mitchel Resnick’s How to Make Every Grade More Like Kindergarten which highlights the four P’s: Students making projects, around their passions, collaborating with peers, and maintaining a playful attitude. 

Academic depth is still relevant to build  deep understanding and powerful models of learning. New data structures may help or hinder this. But in conjunction with the four P’s value can be added through stronger engagement, focus and the “21C learning approaches” of collaboration, problem solving and constructive critical thinking. This may also head off being run over by the likely next digital ‘innovation’ in education, that of machine learning led data and algorithms. It just needs a winning game plan and leadership by example. Then we will have true innovation for ages.


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What should a School’s IT Department look like?

Posted by jturner56 on September 11, 2017

I ponder this question from four perspectives. First, recently, while watching a Vice-Principal teach himself to filter spreadsheet averages using an online tutorial. Thirty years ago a Mathematics teacher was appointed Head of IT for having this same said skill. Second, thinking back to 30+ years ago in the public service when the IT Department was inaccessible behind a locked door. I wonder if this is still the case in many places? Thirdly, when a Head of school had a iPad profile problem that was promptly fixed by a group of Grade 5 students. Finally, seeing app management being used to push out requested apps and updates in timely and well managed ways.

What then should an IT department look like in a school? As a separated entity? As integrated so that lines are blurred? Totally immersed and interconnected. Or somewhere else?

Perhaps the IT focus is more a product of the School’s culture and history. This would explain the several levels I have experience

  • those like the Yes Minister episode where a hospital won awards as the best run hospital in the UK. One who’s efficiency is predicated on not having any patients. In IT this equates to the integrity of the system overriding personal diversity. An equation of the fewer and less challenging the changes the greater the system integrity.
  • balkanised approaches where IT is externalised in culture and intent. Continually defending from as high a wall as possible. Boxing and labelling to the fore.
  • dynamically trying to cater from as wide a range of requests while balancing system and personal objectives.

This last has to cater for changing times. Where the interaction of personal learning spaces come up against external and systemic demands that schools have to respond to. Learning is personal. Education is systemic. It is both systemic and person. Our hope is the twain can meet.

To judge how well the IT approach in a school is one can look across spectrums that include

  • from Proactive to Reactive
  • from Leading to Defending
  • from Helpful to Hindering
  • from Connected to Boxed
  • from Developing to Vendors Rule
  • from Learning to Justifying
  • from ROI to Penny Counting
  • from Open to Closed

It’s a complex interplay where change, culture and common understanding can either run up against each other, or seek empowerment through appreciation, calculated risk and commitment to the core being of the ecosystem. Where is IT in your school?

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Digital Mindset of Teachers and Educators

Posted by jturner56 on September 11, 2017

We seem to be beset by advocacy of this or that technology for schools and teachers that is transformative, or at least inspirational. Yet in the classroom the pre-digital status quo dominates. This was brought home in the recent Larry Cuban post that talked of smartphones and the need for ‘distraction boxes’ for in-class storage. Why does this dichotomy of value endure across schools, in schools, and sometimes between one class and the next? Are we heading for a tipping point when one approach will be swept aside. As reported today, are ‘Inspirational’ robots to begin replacing teachers within 10 years?’

Some blame the debilitating culture of traditional print-based literacies holding sway over schools. Others standardised testing, ineffective pd, or plain teacher defensiveness. On the other hand, Lee (2016) points to the overriding need to normalise digital  approaches in all workplaces, including school. Are we helped or hindered by a plethora of single case examples of possibilities connected in many ways to particular vendors? Recent articles on entrepreneurial teachers with links to digital enterprises shed an interesting insight into views from outside and within.

For what Lee contends is an absolute necessity digital mindsets need to be at the fore. LearnInnovators (2016) identify such mindsets as a commitment to agility, collaboration and communication, handling ambiguity, pursing exploration and acceptance of diversity.

For teachers tending to look inwards none of this is fuel to challenge the status quo. Even if their personal digital mindset was open to this (Tour 2015), and this is debatable for some, the systemic demands of School as an institution would have to be overcome. Only by committing as educators to consider and engage with  wider contextual understanding can a positive proactive digital mindset shine through.

Leadership beyond this individual perspective is needed to unite, focus and add value, something sadly lacking in too many areas in education where defensive gatekeepers hold sway.

So we still debate even the fundamentals of the role of digital in education. Should it be used to amplify (with concomitant consideration of the dark sides)? Or is it about acceleration or transformation  without friction?

For the individual teacher perhaps its more about surfing the tidal waves that seem to wash over. For educators it may feel like a Bizarro (Superman ref) version of Plato’s Cave. Instead of trying to find true meaning in the shadows, there are now so many distracting shiny lights that meaning is just as elusive. Many who put themselves forward as light masters are merely the modern sophists. A commitment to critical thinking as more than just a buzzword for education might never have been so needed.

Perhaps a way to categorize where people are at might follow contentions like:

Level 0: Cave Dweller – leave me alone in my cave. Mindsets (Digital or otherwise) towards education are a personal choice and only that.

Level 1: Unidirectional –  here are tools and views….”if…only” you did what I contend

Level 2: Gypsy – in Plato’s Bizarro Cave, trying to make sense of the lights and their connections. Trying to look beyond.

Level 3: Ecological – Acknowledging complexity worth taking on. Understanding the Orwellian/Huxley juxtaposition of choices facing any approach to digital

Level 4: An Ethos of Learning and Action – that is both practical and worth building. Using Student Agency and Teacher Agency as bedrocks. A mindset of change is needed. Seeing educating and learning as both distinct and harmonious. Something philosophically defensible. An approach that can work through the micro-politics of school to add value beyond the personal.

Level 5: Transcendent – Developing a pathway through the cave for others to use. So few worthy of this. Perhaps Dewey. Perhaps we have not met a Digital equivalent yet, although many claim to be our John the Baptist.

I do think we are too much tied up in the western thinking of either this or that as a solution. It is our relationship with technology and what we can achieve together that should drive ideas and understanding. Within changing spaces for personal and systems. Chaotic times. But also ripe with opportunity.



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