Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Edutour #1 Where we are going...and why

One of the most exciting things about being on this establishment senior leadership team is the opportunities we have to travel and to visit key schools in person. In April this year, we are lucky enough to be traveling to Providence, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to explore Big Picture Learning and the Canadian Self-Directed Schools movement.

The aim of our first tour is to visit schools that exemplify one or more of our values and have succeeded at a delivering an education that genuinely goes beyond the four walls of the classroom, that stretches and challenges our notion of powerful partnerships and demonstrates how genuine self-directed learning can be realised.

Big Picture Learning - The Met School

Our first stop is Providence, Rhode Island to visit the founding Big Picture School, Dennis Littky's Met School. The Big Picture schools describe there mission as:

"Big Picture Learning’s mission is to lead vital changes in education, both in the United States and internationally, by generating and sustaining innovative, personalized schools that work in tandem with the real world of the greater community. We believe that in order to sustain successful schools where authentic and relevant learning takes place, we must continually innovate techniques and test learning tools to make our schools better and more rigorous. Lastly, we believe that in order to create and influence the schools of the future, we must use the lessons learned through our practice and research to give us added leverage to impact changes in public policy"
(Source: http://www.bigpicture.org/about-us/)

Much of what WE hope to achieve can be heard here in Dennis Littky's TEDxNYED talk:

CCSDL - Canadian Coalition of Self-Directed Learning

The second group of schools we are visiting are all part of the Canadian Coalition of Self-Directed Schools, including Westmount, Mary Ward (Toronto), Bishop Carroll School (Calgary) and Thomas Haney (Vancouver).

The objectives of the CCSDL are outlined as:

"The purpose of the organization is to promote within, and externally, an understanding of each member school’s program and culture, and foster a knowledge of self-directed learning. Using the strength of our varied geographic locations, our educational experiences, and the uniqueness of our member schools program’s we will disseminate information and promote self-directed learning.

Through a collaborative approach to professional development, member schools are encouraged to undertake joint projects, which will allow us to learn from each other. This supportive approach will assist members to address common concerns and seek solutions which will be of benefit.

Members of the organization will enhance self-directed learning through periodic review of the founding principles, research, current and best practices and utilize the skills of the membership to enhance the model.

Member schools will serve as a resource to those groups who are interested in learning about self-directed instruction and will, where applicable, assist schools wishing to undertake self-paced, self-directed learning."

(Source: http://ccsdl.ca/fundamental-practices/)

The video below introduces Bishop Carroll High School and introduces how they, whilst not being a typical Modern Learning Environment, use self-directed learning and learning advisors to engage students and support their learning.

Over the course of our travels (7-21 April) I will be posting up regular reflections and posts about each school, sharing what we have seen and learned as well as attempting to process how this may support and/or challenge what we have planned for Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The "novelty effect", "Hawthorne effect" and reflecting on ICT related pedagogical change

The novelty effect, in the context of human performance, is the tendency for performance to initially improve when new technology is instituted, not because of any actual improvement in learning or achievement, but in response to increased interest in the new technology.

The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they know they are being studied,[1][2] not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.

Source: Wikipedia

As someone who is passionate about the potential for e-learning and Teaching as Inquiry to be real change makers, I think it is paramount that the potential for the "novelty effect" and "Hawthorne effect" to cloud our results and what we now believe to be true is openly discussed and considered.

Without question I believe that increased access to technology and the Internet have the potential to improve and accelerate student learning and more importantly the ability for the learner to navigate their own way through their learning on their own terms...that's if we actually do let them do it on the OWN terms.

Sugata Mitra's recent TED Talk 'Build a School in the Cloud' demonstrated clearly the power of technology, Internet and self-direction to improve student learning. You can't fail to be impressed and inspired by what he has achieved, and the evidence seems undeniable - huge change has been achieved. But I do wonder if we are often swept along on a sea of TED Talk auto-response of oohing and aahing, collectively worshipping at the alter of TED. On second viewing and further viewing of earlier Sugata Mitra TED talks I do wonder if the improvements can be sustained long term? Or even replicated in an environment where ubiquitous access to the Internet is the norm? At what point does a "hole in the wall" computer cease to appeal to curious children in the slums of India? Will the SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environment) continue to meet the needs of learners once the novelty has worn off...or will the "Granny cloud" provide the surveillance needed to prolong the "Hawthorne effect" indefinitely? You may think I am foolish (quite possibly I am) to even question someone as indisputably brilliant as Mitra, but it does make me think - are we really considering the impact of these effects when celebrating our own and others successes achieved by introducing technology based intervention - particularly if it represents a radical change to what the learner experienced in the past.

So how do we factor in these effects when measuring improvements in learning outcomes as a result of introducing ICT or the Internet? Or should I say...do we even factor in these effects at all? And should we?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Developing the school of the future today...whilst arguing with yourself

Discussing potential week and term structures is an excellent way to torture one's romantic notions of what a future-focused school could or should be. This is not a bad thing, it simply presents you with a challenge that will ultimately result in A LOT of deep discussion, research, pragmatic problem solving and hopefully a whole lot of creativity.

It is incredibly revealing to go through this process, especially as your deep seated and often deeply repressed notions of what a secondary education should look like is dredged to the surface. Again and again I find myself engaged in an internal debate. The right-on lefty liberal self clashes with the WASPy rather conservative self. The one telling the other that we need to throw out the whole concept of a timetable (weehee - let's just run one big unconference! Now that would be groovy!) whilst the other retorts that this will only end in one thing - chaos.

What is it that drives this internal discourse? Is it the emotional vs. the rational, a fear of the unknown or simply a fear of getting it wrong? I suspect there is an element of all three, combined also with the mind's struggle to conceive and visualise something that has yet be fully realised by others.

This is where looking around is so important. Whilst I do not expect we will find THE answer, I do believe we will get close enough to feel a sense of confidence in what we do create. Maybe if just similar enough to validate doing something different from what has been done before.

One thing I do believe is that we will probably need to err on the side of extreme change. Why is this? Because I suspect that if we were to simply tweak existing models, we will achieve simply achieve that, a tweaked version of the same. If we really believe that the whole educational paradigm needs to shift (and I do think this...I think), tweaking simply won't cut it...and actually tweaking will only too easily allow for retreat. Tweak and retreat. Not sexy. I suspect we will need to be brave and shift our thinking in a BIG way. By this I don't mean scrapping the curriculum, the curriculum is a non-negotiable and will be delivered with love. I don't mean that we will discard traditional assessment, in fact I know we expect excellence for all our learners - in every sense of the word. What we can completely renegotiate is the structure, the traditional mode for delivering curriculum subjects and re-imagining how students might personalise their learning, engage and grow their passions whilst challenging themselves to think beyond themselves and explore how they might serve and support their community. The self-directed schools in Canada (thanks to both Maurie, my Principal and Maurie,from Ormiston for recommending) seem to provide some insight into how this MIGHT be realised. Check out their student handbook here: http://www.cssd.ab.ca/bishopcarroll/students/bishop-carroll-handbook-2012-2013/ The structure is different enough to at least challenge and at the same time settle my repressed WASPy self.

I have to admit I am relishing this journey. It is as much a journey of self-discovery as it is school-discovery. I am loving the opportunity to think, learn, research and challenge myself. It is also oddly cathartic to to engage in these internal dialogues, you learn quickly that it is terribly easy to be all liberal and radical from the safety of relatively traditional and highly successful school, it is however really challenging to realise these liberal and radical ideas when you have the license to actually follow through - suddenly deeply repressed conservative ideals start bubbling to the surface. But just because it's bubbling doesn't mean it will stop me being my right-on self. In fact, I think it is actually a real positive to possess these seemingly polarising beliefs, because I suspect, or at least I hope, that this inner "rationalism" will actually enable the radical to be realised in such a way that it won't scare the self...or more importantly, the community.