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Mission Improbable? March 30, 2007

Posted by davidit in Education, ICT Integration, Inquiry Model, mission, TUANZ2007.

The Lady's not for turning!

The title of this blog is not an impressive start! In fact you would be justified in thinking that it is negative in tone. I hope that it is not that. I have chosen the title with due consideration of the enormity of the task that lies ahead. What is the task? What lies ahead? This is the reason for the blog.

I want to share with you the trials and tribulations of my journey. It is a journey that has had and will have its triumphs and set backs. At the moment you are probably thnking, ‘what is he on about?’ Before I expand on my ideas I want to share a simple joke, one that will, I think, illustrate the enormity of my task.

Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: One, but the light bulb must want to change!

The change that I am alluding to in the joke is pedagogical. My mission is to encourage, cajole and coerce classroom teachers to change their pedagogical approach, in order to enable them to prepare the students in their charge for the rigours and demands of the C21 workplace. The reality is, however, that teachers will have to want to change. Making teachers see the light, screw up their courage and take the plunge into a new pedagogical role is my task.

I was at a GKP mini conference a couple of weeks ago and one of the statistics bandied about was that 80% of our current year two students will be employed in jobs that have yet to be invented or created. That is a staggering figure. Just spend a few moments thinking about that and if you are a teacher, spend a few more reflecting on how that impacts upon your current practice.

That one statistic alone, I think, should challenge you all. I believe that this one statistic is reason enough for change to be immediate. The reason that it should challenge is simply lesson relevance. The argument goes like this: if 80% of all careers that the current year two students are to fill have yet to be created, then how can the lessons that we are currently teaching be of any relevance to them? Or to put it another way, 80% of what we currently teach is irrelevant to the students in our classes and we wonder why we have control issues in many of our classes! The current model has inbuilt boredom, irrelevance and dis-enfranchisement. This is a bleak prospect, what are we to do? The answer is pedagogical change and hence the title of the blog.

Supertankers are great at delivering bulk cargoes, but once you set them in motion, turning them is a mission! They work well on the high seas, but navigating round the fiddly bits, like coasts and ports takes some planning and needs the combined effort of a skilled pilot and many attendent tug boats. To carry the analogy further, the pilot represents school management and my role is that of a tug boat pushing, coercing even forcing a dramatic change within my school! For decades teachers have been like supertankers, delivering bulk cargoes of knowledge, but now they too need to change direction. And even whilst their thrusters and motors may well have been put into reverse by the pilot, such is the current momentum of pedagogical status quo that the supertanker is still surging forward, although it is slowing down.

The recent TUANZ conference in Auckland was a wonderfully affirming day, these events usually are, but then it is usually a case of preaching to the converted! It was just as valuable to speak to other colleagues as it was to listen to the presentations. Education is quite an isolating career, we are always locked into our own spheres of influence within our own institutions, getting out is good for us! The keynote speech by Miguel Guhlin was excellent and two of his slides I would like to bring to your attention, for like the 80% prediction above, it was another staggeringly explicit argument for pedagogical change and now! We do not have time to wait, as a profession we must move quickly.

The first slide was a quote, I am not sure if it is from Miguel or from another source, however the niceties of referencing are silenced by the enormity of the quote itself. To set the scene Miguel was talking about how kids today communicate and collaborate online, out of school in their own time, doing the stuff that makes them tick and makes sense to them. The true digital natives, to paraphrase the Nike ads, just do it! They do not see what all the fuss is about, it is their world and it is qutie natural for them to be doing several different tasks with different people or resources all at the same time and very likely from a range of geographical locations around the planet. If you have teenagers, computers and attendent peripherals in your house you will know very well what I mean. They manage it all with aplomb, it is natural, just like falling off a tree. The quote was this:

“If technology is irrelevant to how you communicate and collaborate, then schools are irrelevant to your students.”

For me this quote served to highlight my supertanker analogy, in fact the first iteration of the name for this blog was ‘flogging the dinosaur’ (!) But I felt that perhaps it might be seen as being a little too inflammatory and potentially counter productive!

This quote needs some unpicking and examining. It is clearly aimed at those amongst us who have yet to see the light, or have seen it and have firmly stuck their heads back into the sand! So how do we communicate? Well I for example, and I know that I am not exceptional, communicate in the following ways: e-mail, blogs, wikis, skype, podcasting, texting and the land line if I have too! I know that there are a panopoly of other resources and methods out there, but not being a digital native I am not as au fait with them. I know that sites like Flixster, Mebo, My Space, MSN, Skrbl, Utube etc are used to communicate and crucially to collaborate. My list of communication methods are principally asynchronous and non collaborative just like the good digital immigrant that I am, but at least there is a range. As teachers we know that our students are doing this and the age at which they are doing it is getting younger. How much of this kind of communication is happening in class? Sadly the answer is very little and often when these tools are being used, it is contrived and smacks of tokenism. There is certainly no collaboration. One thing is for sure, I suspect that pencil and paper communication does not feature very highly on the list of tools available to our digital natives, but it sure does in their classrooms!

If we know that our students are communicating and collaborating online at home, why are we not doing so in class? By not doing so we are fulfilling the second half of the quote. The age of the sage on the stage has gone, we are no longer the conduit through which students are exposed to knowledge. We do not have to know it all in order to teach. Why not? Because our role has to be one of facilitator. Knowledge manipulation adding value to existing knowledge are the skills needed for success in C21. Knowledge is growing at an exponential rate, it can have a shelf life of hours or even minutes, we can no longer know it all. What is more, fact based learning is irrelevant, the advent of Google saw to that. I find myself increasingly telling students to “…just Google it.” If the content is becoming irelevant, because Google can do that and quickly, if the methods of communication are becoming irrelevant, then the whole institution of school could be argued to be becoming irrelevant! I believe that it was Seymour Papert who first predicted that if we do not make our classrooms relevant to our students then they will vote with their feet. Miguel’s quote only heightens that impression.

It seems to me that no longer is it the realm of the high school student to claim that their time at school is irrelevant, I am continually amazed at what primary school students can do and are doing in their spare time. Our students are immersed in the digital world that surrounds them. More and more students are creating programs of their own and to quite a sophisticated level, programs like Gamemaker have enabled this kind of learning for these students. I was monitoring students in my computer lab last Friday, two students were sitting on separate workstations, but right next to each other. One turned to the other and said, ‘Hey fancy an online chat? To which the other said yes. The irony in this situation was completely lost on the students, because there was no irony, this is one of their chosen methods of genuine communication.

Margret Thatcher once famously said that “The lady is not for turning.” I am affraid that is not a sentiment that teachers can afford to take. The supertanker needs to turn, it is our duty as teachers to ensure that we prepare our students with the requisite skills needed for them to succeed in the workplace of the twenty-first century. This is my mission, to foster pedagogical change within school and to facilitate the use of ICT’s to assist teachers and students to harness the skills needed to succeed. And so what of the second slide? Well it is not a quote, but slide 79 from Miguel’s presentation, it is below, make up your own mind, suffice it to say that students are increasingly cutting out the middle man, us! For those out there not sure about who Margret Thatcher and Seymour Papert are, “…just Google it!”

(Slide 79)