Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Purpose of Learning: Creating Learners

Are we preparing our students for their futures?

Digital and Collaborative Learning in Context

Week 1 - Reflect on how your understanding of the purpose of education is visible in your classroom.

On Thursday evening I began my new learning adventure: the post graduate course being offered
through Nga Pumanawa e Waru (the local elearning initiative with Ngati Whakaue), The Mind Lab and Next Foundation: Certificate in Applied Digital Technologies and Collaborative Learning. We meet for four hours a week November to May.


This, of course, is not a new learning journey for me; I’ve been infatuated - yes, that’s the right word - with the importance of digital pedagogies in today’s world for years and the impact of new technologies for most of my life.

When Stephen Lethbridge reminded us that we should be using today’s technologies today, I reflected that that is what I do. I am, on most occasions, an “early adopter,” and I have outlined before my fascination with science fiction in novels and on screen.  I love that art is often the jumping point for science: the writer gives flight to his or her ideas about how to solve some of the world’s problems, while the scientist makes it happen.

As in Stephen’s recent Ted X video, where he references the tools of Star Trek, we now have the communicators and tablets that started as intriguing props.  Stephen's vision - which is bearing fruit, encapsulates the combination of digital technologies and core competencies.

So to my “classroom.” As I’m a school deputy principal, my classroom is the school as a whole, and much of the time, the people who populate the staffroom when we all come together for professional learning. As the report, “Future Focussed Learning in Connected Communities” outlines, “wide variation in pedagogical practices within and between ECE services, schools and kura is one of the biggest challenges facing New Zealand education.” (page 13).

When I started at my school I felt very much alone and a “geek” with my use of digital technologies.  Five years later, I’m still regarded as a geek, but I share that geekiness with a group.  I’ve tried a number of ways to get my colleagues on board, from mild mannered optional mentoring to creating frustration because using a cloud platform is the only option. The point is, digital pedagogy is still not the norm.

Our class notes for this week suggest that “our great-grandparents would see our lifestyle as bizarre,” and includes the quote that we are ‘“...electronic nomads wandering among virtual campfires.” (Mitchell, The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003)

It’s not just our great-grandparents.  This dichotomy of understanding about what and how we should learn spans generations.  I know young parents and teachers who still believe we should teach “the old way” in case the internet goes down!

What there is a misunderstanding about, is that digital pedagogy is not just the inclusion of digital technologies.

This week the Daily Post reported on a local principal’s sabbatical summary to the principals’ association about “the importance of human interaction, not digital devices, in the classroom.”  I can already see some readers wagging their fingers, or more likely their pencils, in glee.  I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean abandon all your digital technologies.

The Future Focussed report ends by outlining that: “...digital pedagogy is about much more than simply teaching about or with digital technologies. Digital pedagogy recognises the fundamental shifts in the way learning is occurring, and responds in ways that value what we know about effective teaching. Digital pedagogy applies effective teaching in a context where learning is ubiquitous, where learners have agency over their learning, and where knowledge and understandings arise through the connections that are made in a network of provision.” (page 37)

Tony Wagner goes on to tell us about the seven important core competencies today’s students must have:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. ...
  • Collaboration and Leadership. ...
  • Agility and Adaptability. ...
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism. ...
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication. ...
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information. ...
  • Curiosity and Imagination.


He answers those who cry that this type of curriculum has no place for the “Googlable facts” that were central to the learning programmes of past generations.  We need to use content to teach core competencies.  He still wants his children to know when civil war affected his state.  He still believes that learning a second language is important.  It’s just that, as our class notes say, we need ‘students who are "learners" rather than setting out to achieve the end goal of making sure they are "learned”.’

As the report says, we use the tools we now have to open those pathways: "In modern societies, new and emerging technologies power the skills that drive knowledge creation: complex problem-solving, innovation, communication and collaboration. Twenty-first century skills go hand-in-hand with technological advances.” (page 6)

The reference group behind the report have some urgency when they say: “We agree that achieving coordinated system-wide change is crucial. We must act decisively, act as a whole system, and start now.”  My biggest challenge is to see the need for a coordinated system-wide change being embraced in my staffroom, and each person take on responsibility for their part in this change.