I have just spent three days in Sydney attending a Congress and a conference. Firstly, I attended Day One of the three day K-12 Technology Conference held at Darling Harbour, Sydney Australia. This was followed by two days at the Association of Catholic School Principals (ACSP) Conference held at the Sofitel Wentworth. Over the course of the three days I had the great pleasure to listen to many learned people about contemporary education; their strong message being that now is the time for schools and systems to dramatically change.
Alan November’s message is that it is more important to address pedagogy than it is to utilise technology. However, in saying that, there are many opportunities where technology can assist pedagogy which takes into account student choice and interest. If you wish, visit http://bit.ly/LW4AZI where Alan November speaks about the importance of ‘updating education’. Stephen Heppell spoke about the need to make learning spaces appear inviting and engaging for students. Part of his presentation displayed examples of some amazing learning spaces, very different to the traditional ‘rows of desks’ classroom. For an insight into his work, you can visit http://bit.ly/g1tGNb. Another one of three international speakers I heard was Sir Ken Robinson. He argues that education needs to change in order to prepare students for the world which awaits them. A fantastic summary of his message is a well-known You Tube clip, http://bit.ly/dtwXou. In one sense I did not learn a lot that was new; in fact, many other principals felt the same. The message has been around for a few years now; the message being, it is time for schools to be bold, be innovative and take a few risks when delivering an education for the students under their care.
There are some fine examples of ‘leading schools’ who were bold and took action a few years back. Schools such as Northern Beaches Christian School and Corpus Christi, Oak Flats changed their pedagogy by ensuring that student interests were addressed. Parramatta Marist is another such school. It is the oldest Catholic school in the country, but it is a great example of contemporary education and their story can be found at http://bit.ly/H7sroS. In summary, there is now far better engagement with students because of their commitment to be learner-centred. I am assuming that the students were not the only ones seen as learner! These ‘leading schools’ focused on pedagogy and then looked at how the technology could support learning which is student centred. They did not start with the technology, nor did they see it as the ‘magic bullet’.
A recent article by Charlie Osborne, found at http://zd.net/Im0Xdi, refers to a study by Economic & Social Research Council of America. The study finds that Web 2.0 technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr can be distractions rather than learning tools. From my witness, that is where leading schools have got it right. When necessary, they explicitly teach skills to use technology but only when it supports student-centred pedagogy. Often, it is the students who teach the use of such technology. They share, they collaborate and they critically think about how to use the technology. These “21st century skills” are ones that Robinson, November and Heppell argue students will need when they enter the work force. Instead of just simply embracing Web 2.0 tools for information transmission, leading schools have decided to embark on creating a curriculum that utilises technology as part of a larger creation process. Like the writing process, which requires planning, prewriting, drafting, editing, and revision, leading schools commit to learning which sees student utilisation of audio, still photos, and video. Also, students learn how to collaborate using Google Docs, analyse images and video in the context of literature and narrative, and apply photo rules when they shoot, interview, edit, and sequence all of their raw footage and images. They create photo essays, audio slideshows, and short documentaries from start to finish, then collaboratively critique each other’s work. All the while, these schools continue to explore best practice pedagogy and test out new programs and technology applications to enhance the course.
Enough of the rhetoric and more of the action! I would dearly love the next conference I attend to be wholly and totally about hearing and seeing student generated evidence of what is working in schools. My hope is, that with the effort, energy and actions planned over the next 12 months, that the school I lead is one of those schools.