REVIEW- ELF19: Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers

July 31, 2019

How a cross-section of New Zealand educators shared insights and strategies for optimising the positive learning benefits of digital learning developments while minimising harmful effects. This article first appeared in Education Central  on 30 July 2019.

The 50th anniversary of the Moonwalk reminds us that Apollo 11’s inboard computing power for the amazing return journey was less than we each carry in our smart phones.

Real lunar crusaders in 1969 were followed a decade later by fictitious galactic raiders like Darth Vader and addictive arcade games such as Space Invaders.

The portable touchscreen device, hardly a teenager, denotes another chapter in an interwoven science fact and fiction narrative. It is a double-edged lightsabre.

Educators from across the learning spectrum and around New Zealand met at the thirteenth annual Education Leaders Forum: Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers in Dunedin on 17 & 18 July to grapple with digital issues and opportunities.  The focus was on strategies for bridging digital divides, unlocking digital dividends and avoiding digital dangers.

ELF19, the 13th in an annual series, was run by SmartNet and hosted by principal sponsor Otago Polytechnic. Te Kura was a sponsor and supporters were Enterprise Dunedin (DCC) and the Ministry of Education.

The forum was timely because of digital developments and topical concerns which have dramatically altered the online environment.

In response the Ministry of Education has revised and strengthened the National Curriculum to include Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko learning, effective 2020. Whatever pathway they choose to take, children and young people will be equipped with the necessary digital skills to take part and thrive in a fast-evolving connected world.

Technology

After several billion years the last few human centuries have introduced into the equation of Planet Earth’s evolution an exponential factor- technology. Digital and other technologies have transformed the way we learn, work and take time out.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence and engineering mean science fiction is now science fact. Drones, electric cars, 3d printing, hover boards, augmented and virtual reality are fast becoming our collective reality. Netflix recommends the movies we view and Spotify organises the personalised sound track of our lives.

Educators feel the depth of digital challenges. They can either be overwhelmed by them and opt out or share and implement strategies to cope.

 

Democratisation of Learning

Phil Ker, CEO of Otago Polytechnic opened ELF19 with a keynote on Integrating Learning and Work in the Digital Age. Information technology has led to a democratisation of learning. “The digital transformation of life enables individuals to play a bigger role in their own learning and careers, in partnership with educators, who have an important role to play helping learners integrate learning and work.”

However, highly relevant learning is often not captured in the workplace, despite the fact that there are severe labour and skills shortages. Two of Otago Polytechnic’s innovative services remedy this by using digital tools for learners to personalise learning and capture evidence of an individual’s knowledge and skills.

Edubits (also known as digital micro-credentials) allow learners to show what they know by submitting examples of their skills to be assessed and recognised. Each assessment is small enough to be manageable for busy people, but big enough to be meaningful to employers and give them a better picture of an individual’s potential to add to an organisation’s productivity.

CAPABLE NZ assesses and values the prior learning of individuals who want to become qualified, and support the workplaces that employ them. The service measures a person’s existing capability, gained through years of work and life experience, against an actual qualification and give academic credit for what they already know.

Digital Divides

Access to technology and digital skills have become increasingly essential for people to fully participate in society and the economy. Digital exclusion is a new measure of poverty. The poor and low skilled are being left behind in the digital world. 100,000 students in New Zealand do not have access to internet from their home.

Irihāpeti Mahuika, Director of Learning at Haeata Community Campus shared Haeata’s experience with ConnectED, the Greater Christchurch Schools’ Network Trust programme of Equitable Digital Access for learners and their community. Launched in 2018, in partnership with Chorus, N4L and MoE, Project ConnectED connects students and whānau to their education from home and has had a positive effect on the whole school community.

Internet access is one key indicator of digital inclusion, but as well as access people must also have the motivation, skills, and confidence to go online. It is important for learners to be digitally savvy and creative in an online world. There needs to be a bigger shift from digital consumption to creative production. The focus on access is now shifting to building and assessing digital capability.

Bridging digital divides and digital inclusion is also a challenge in respect of some teachers, education leaders and policy makers.  An increasing number of schools are turning their classrooms into BYOD environments, with financial demands on parents to buy prescribed devices.  University of Auckland researcher Jiansheng Cui says we need to be aware of whether teachers are fully prepared and well supported to make the most of this.

Digital Dividends

With the ongoing shift from paper to digital and from traditional classrooms and lecture halls to more flexible learning environments with big and small group activities and individual learning spaces, blended learning approaches are improving  learner engagement and learning outcomes. The experience of learning itself as being profoundly changed by immersive technology.

The challenge is to balance access via connected digital devices with the mediating power of human cognition and imagination.

The promise of lifelong personalised learning pathways is increasingly being turned into practice with learners becoming more autonomous and powerful in shaping their own learning and career destinies, in partnership with responsive educators.

Nicola Ngarewa, Principal of Spotswood College spoke at ELF19 on DISRUPT-ED: Embracing the future. She shared the transformative journey from a traditional learning context to a future-focused educational model, drawing on her experience of leading this shift in two schools of different contexts – an underperforming decile 1 area school, and a high performing decile 5 traditional high school.

Mike Hollings
, Chief Executive of Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu shared experiences from Te Kura’s transformative shift online in using digital technology to enhance learning in terms of access, engagement and learner agency.

Te Kura’s award-winning online learning environment “My Te Kura” provides engaging, accessible personalised learning opportunities, adapting the international Big Picture learning approach to each learner’s context.  Students engage in real life learning opportunities, with their passions and interests at the centre and their whānau and community connected to their learning.

Learners develop relevant skills and knowledge with learning that extends well beyond the traditional concept of the classroom. The music video ‘Echoes of the Sun’, was created through online collaboration in My Te Kura between more than 50 students.

Cheryl Adams, CEO, Animation Research and Jimmy McLauchlan, Business Development, Methodist Mission Southern demonstrated their joint Prison Virtual Reality Learning Project.  65% of people in New Zealand prisons lack NCEA Level 1 literacy and numeracy skills, severely limiting their educational and employment opportunities on release and increasing their risk of re-offending on release.

With support from University of Otago Information Science Department and Ngāti Kahungunu, the two organisations, are working alongside prison-based learners at Otago Corrections Facility to co-design, develop and evaluate virtual reality learning tools – with the aim of significantly improving engagement, completion and achievement rates for learners in prison literacy and numeracy programmes.

Jessica Tulp, Business Associate, Soul Machines spoke on Humanising Technology via the world’s first Digital Brain™. She demonstrated how Soul Machines’ breakthroughs in Experiential Learning add Human intelligence to AI, taking interactions beyond algorithms and enabling “digital humans” to “accumulate experiences, learn, and respond emotionally”.

Paul Stevens, GM, Open Knowledge Group at Catalyst surveyed Education and Open Source IT Innovation. Kiwis have a unique perspective and are famous for their ingenuity and innovation. As a young country we’re not constrained by the same boundaries as others.

NZ-headquartered Catalyst’s solutions reflect this. The Open Source organisation has implemented some of the world’s largest Learning Management Systems using open source technologies to outsmart larger international competitors. Paul also had some lessons for educators in how to avoid digital lock-in to proprietary platforms and ensure delivery flexibility.

Fraser Liggett
, Economic Development Programme Manager at Enterprise Dunedin, DCC spoke on education-business links and the fostering of innovation. He also updated participants on Dunedin’s evolving Centre of Digital Excellence. The business case for CODE is being led by Enterprise Dunedin. “Once developed the Centre of Digital Excellence will build on the city’s entrepreneurial and digital strengths, particularly in game development and associated sectors, including education and training,” said Mr Liggett.

The CODE initiative is one of the projects tagged for funding through the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund. A robust application is being developed before plans to invest $10 million over 10 years to enhance Dunedin’s thriving gaming industry can be confirmed.

Prof Tim Bell, Department Computer Science and Software Engineering, University of Canterbury emphasised that the New Digital Technologies Curriculum sounds like it would be mainly about devices, but in fact it is more about people because devices aren’t an end in themselves, but a means for helping people to achieve their goals. He clarified ideas and terminology key to digital systems and reflected on how to help teachers get up to speed with the changed curriculum.

Tim is involved in the Kia Takatū Ā-Matihiko Digital Readiness Programme which the MoE has put in place to support the implementation of Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko (DT & HM) learning.

Andy Kilsby, Director Employability, Otago Polytechnic ran a workshop on EduBits – a new way for learners to show what they know. EduBits is a micro-credentialing service which Otago Polytechnic provides to partner educational delivery beyond the classroom, making learning accessible and visible to industry and learners. This can dovetail into the Polytechnic’s CAPABLE NZ assessment service.

Digital Dangers

All technologies have downsides as well as upsides. The new technologies of today grow faster and affect more people more quickly.  This leads to big challenges as well as big opportunities.

The business models which support a largely free and open connected world, where people can use technology to empower themselves and have their voices heard, can also be used by the unscrupulous for nefarious purposes via digital addiction and improper sharing of personal data with third parties for political or commercial purposes, as in the Cambridge Analytical Scandal.

At the personal level the deleterious effects of technology binging are exacerbated in still developing young brains. There has never been a greater need to invest in digital capability and protection. All learning communities need to develop strategies to support their students’ development of digital skills, citizenship, online safety and wellbeing.

Dr Mary Redmayne, Independent Researcher at Victoria and Monash Universities, addressed The Dangers of Screen Overuse and outlined the emerging effects on child development in terms of physical and mental health. Extensive screen time can lead to behavioural problems, anxiety and depression. Without conscious steps to be in control of one’s use of screens, the journey to screen-dependence can follow.

Netsafe education advisors Anjie Webster and Pauline Spence picked up on topical issues of Online Safety and Wellbeing in a presentation and a workshop. There is a need for all learning communities to develop and update strategies to support student development of digital citizenship, online safety and wellbeing.

Netsafe provides resources and funds and runs workshops with interested schools and groups, either after social media incidents which may have occasioned adverse publicity or as proactive learning sessions linked to challenges presented by digital technology. The focus is on raising awareness of challenging digital issues and providing resources for developing appropriate school and home strategies.

Donald Matheson, Media and Communications at the University of Canterbury spoke on Fake News and Flaky Views. Educating young people to stay safe and not do harm is important, but just as important is educating them about how to participate and share constructively online, listen across differences, think critically and access credible sources of information.

Social media platforms bring huge benefits such as a more open and inclusive society and opportunities for collective action. But they also diffuse responsibility for the public good and remove filters.

The March Christchurch terrorist attack has prompted more urgent debate about regulating social media sites and educating users to tackle online prejudice by handling information critically.

Technology Uptake

Amara’s Law states that we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

The hype cycle encapsulated in Amara’s law depicts the maturity of emerging technologies through five phases: 1. A technology trigger with early interest in a potential technology breakthrough; 2. The peak of inflated expectations through early success stories; 3. The trough of disillusionment as implementations failed to deliver; 4. The slope of enlightenment as understanding of how the technology can benefit becomes more widespread; 5. The plateau of productivity when mainstream adoption starts to take off, with the technologies relevance clearly paying off.

Educators need to be adaptive and adopt proven edtech from the ‘plateau of productivity’ to help grow brains and open minds in order to develop in their learners the mix of knowledge and technical and soft skills necessary for an innovative economy in an open society.

A balanced learning diet is the key, incorporating an appropriate mix of hi-tech, low-tech and no-tech learning resources and activities aimed at inculcating self-knowledge, deepening scientific knowledge, sharpening digital skills and developing soft skills such as critical thinking, communication, empathy, collaboration and decision-making.

Natural Intelligence > Artificial Intelligence

By analogy some products of the Age of Artificial Intelligence can help us better understand and appreciate Natural Intelligence: the power of the Spine-Top Computer and the importance of human development in the first 1,000 days.

Machine learning has advanced in quantum leaps to resemble aspects of human neural activity. For highly focused tasks like playing chess AI is now demonstrably better than humans. Two decades after IBM Deep Blu’s chess victory over Gary Kasparov in 1997, Google’s AlphaZero programme comprehensively defeated the then world computer champion the Stockfish 8 programme by winning 28 games and tying 72.

The latter had access to collated human chess experience as well as computer experience. The new digital champ was not taught any chess openings or strategies by humans. Instead it used the latest machine learning principles to teach itself chess by playing against itself.

From total ignorance to creative mastery this took the programme 4 hours, without the help of any human guide.

But in a far wider range of human tasks the human brain is still impossible to match, especially in synthesising sensory and mental information to make reality intelligible and being creative, asking questions and making predictions. But it must be constantly challenged and kept active throughout life.

As Michael Hewitt-Gleeson warns “If you don’t do your own thinking Artificial Intelligence will do it for you.  But, there is no guarantee that AI will think in your own interest at all.”
Lyall Lukey convened Education Leaders Forum 2019 Digital Divides, Dividends &  Dangers  Dunedin 17/18 July, 2019.


Digital Divides, Dividends and Dangers -The Key Role of Education

May 15, 2019

FACEBOOK-INTERFACEBOOK

[First published on Education Central on 12 May 2019.]

The March Christchurch terrorist attack has prompted more urgent debate about the policing of social media sites. In a digital world awash with information and misinformation educators are more important than ever as knowledge navigators. Two parts of education for each part of regulation is the way forward according to Lyall Lukey, Convener of July’s Education Leaders Forum Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers 

 Connecting and Ensnaring
“Never has there been a greater need to invest in national digital resilience, capability and protection as there is today.” Don Christie, MD, Catalyst IT

The speed and scope of the transformation of the communication environment by the Internet has transformed the way we live, learn and work. There are around 60 billion webpages.  As well as problems of variable accuracy, the sheer amount of online information available is overwhelming.

Electronic threads both connect and ensnare us. The democracy of the web – the opportunity for individuals to access information and have a voice online – is a double-edged sword.

The Wild West Web
“The Web as I envisaged it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past.”  Sir Tim Berners-Lee

30 years ago Berners-Lee created the “public” internet, aka the World Wide Web as an information-sharing tool with a free source code: an “open and democratic platform for all.”

Three decades on, with smart phones, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Trademe, Instagram and Netflix, it’s hard to imagine a world without the internet.  Associated digital advances in A.I. and engineering have made Science Fiction Science Fact.

The extent to which the internet distorts information as much as it shares it, which was the original utopian hope, has become painfully obvious in the age of President Donald Trump.

Strewth!
“President Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims.” Washington Post 29/4/19

In our so-called post-truth age, according to US-based former Google engineer Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Centre for Humane Technology, we are caught in a race to the bottom of the brain stem. Big IT platforms have been upgrading technology but downgrading humanity by shortening attention spans, rewarding outrage over dialogue, addicting children (and adults), and  turning life into a competition for likes and shares.

The trick is to balance access via connected digital devices with the mediating power of human cognition via every learner’s free spinetop computer.    

Some worship digital technology, especially that in the palm of their hand. Others demonise it as a dark electronic satanic mill grinding out mental opiates for profit, distorting world views and enabling electronic surveillance apps for political control.

The dynamic balance lies somewhere between. Edtech is a key ingredient but neither the beginning nor the end of a balanced learning diet.

Regulation and Education
 “…our relationship with tech has both been darker and more muddy because it becomes increasingly clear that all the bright and shiny positive potentials of tech are at the risk of being darkened by forced misuse of data… Margrethe Vestager, EU Competition Commissioner

After years of largely unregulated growth, in 2018 the worm started to turn against Facebook, Google and other online platforms that compete for our attention and personal details.   Now regulators are closing in.

The live streaming video of the Christchurch terrorist attack, watched by many local students during the lockdown period, has prompted more urgent debate about the policing of social media sites.

12 years after the launch of the iPhone changed the digital game irrevocably it’s high time to strike a better balance between the very real upsides and the obvious downsides of digital life and learning. Two parts of education for every one part of regulation is the way forward.

Educators as Knowledge Navigators
“Technology and social media continue to disrupt education. Classrooms are morphing into maker spaces; STEM labs and media centres are filled with fascinating electronic gadgets. Teachers spend less time in front of the class and more time in the middle of the action”. 10 Big Ideas in Education.

Society has been reshaped and the world of work is changing irrevocably in terms of what is done, where and by whom, with huge implications for education and training.  Educators feel the depth of change but can be also overwhelmed by it.

Information and misinformation travel at the speed of light – not so knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is power; data and information are just ingredients.

In a world awash with digital data it is important to affirm that educators are more important than ever as knowledge navigators, the education equivalent of Shackleton’s Kiwi navigator Frank Worsley.

This puts the emphasis on critical search and interpretative skills to improve the quality of written, oral and visual communication.

Blended learning combining active teaching methodologies and online learning appears to improve students’ engagement  and produce better learning outcomes

The issue is not just teaching teachers more about learning technology; rather it is them learning to let go of their gatekeeper control of information and use their coaching skills to facilitate the search for information, the acquisition of knowledge and the development of other skills.

As well as presentation, group learning and DIY tools, edtech helps teachers facilitate and track personalised education programmes, with individual goals and pathways, for what Jude Barback calls the Fidgetal Generation .

Digital Divides
 “The internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” Barack Obama

Access to technology and digital skills have become increasingly essential for people to fully participate in society and the economy. The poor and low skilled are being left behind in the digital world.

According to the Digital Inclusion Research Group about 100,000 New Zealanders don’t have access to the internet. That equates to about 15 per cent of families, but in some places it’s likely to be 50 per cent or more.

ELF19 speaker Arnika Macphail , Greater Christchurch Schools’ Network will focus on equitable digital access for students by telling the story of Project ConnectED, a collective effort to connect students and whānau to their education from home.

As well as digital access there also needs to be a shift to building and assessing digital capability. While many young people are confident using digital technologies for social purposes, a large number do not appear to have the skills necessary for productive work.

New Technology Curriculum from 2020
“This change signals the need for greater focus on our students building their skills so they can be innovative creators of digital solutions, moving beyond solely being users and consumers of digital technologies.”  New Zealand Curriculum-Technology

The Ministry of Education has revised the Technology learning area to strengthen the positioning of Digital Technologies in the New Zealand Curriculum. Schools will be expected to fully integrate this into their curriculum by the start of 2020.

The goal is to ensure that all learners have the opportunity to become digitally capable individuals.

Digital Dividends
“Ideas that would have previously would have only lived in the printed word…may now find better expression in the app, the blog, the game and the website.” Michael Lascarides

Teachers and learners have unprecedented access to a wide range of stimulating learning resources, many on quality attested sites.  Digital pearls of information don’t have to be cultivated from scratch, but can be easily re-threaded and re-purposed.

The digital transformation of life enables what Dr Peter Smith calls “free range learning”. With educators as guides and meaning makers, learners and earners can take charge of their learning and career destinies.

The goal is to integrate technology into classroom learning and out of class projects in ways which optimise its positive benefits and minimise its harmful effects.

Doing it the Kiwi way
“We just have to be smart about what we’re doing and focus on doing it the Kiwi way.”
Don Christie,  MD  Catalyst

Several ELF19 speakers will demonstrate digital dividends in a learning context.

Phil Ker, C E Otago Polytechnic’s opening keynote is on Integrating Learning and Work in the Digital Age. It  will pick up on the fast evolving vocational education and training landscape and cover challenges, benefits, tools and a micro-credential qualification mechanism.

Nicola Ngarewa, Principal Spotswood College  will share the transformative journey from a traditional learning context to a future focused educational model based on her experience of leading this shift in two different schools– an underperforming decile 1 area school, and a high performing decile 5 traditional high school.

Mike Hollings, C E Te Kura speaks on the school’s transformative shift to online provision in order to greatly enhance teaching and learning in terms of access, engagement and learner agency via the use of digital technology. Students engage in real life learning opportunities with their passions and interests at the centre.

Dr Phil Silva, Founding Director of the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, provides changing technology insights into the research evolution of the world renowned Dunedin Study. He also shares tips to help people employ, enjoy and survive new technology.

Previewing the real world
 “… the education system… doesn’t prepare students for the real world. .. students are letting a world of opportunity slip by, as they leave high school completely unaware of how our world is rapidly changing…” William Reynolds   Open letter to educators: please prepare us better for the real world

Other ELF19 speakers will give registrants insights into innovative digital  learning developments.
Cheryl Adams, CEO of Animation Research   founded by Ian Taylor,  Innovator of the Year, is passionate about introducing tamariki to the opportunities that tech opens up for them. Together with Jimmy McLauchlan, Methodist Mission South, she will demonstrate some Virtual Reality Learning Tools aimed at improving literacy and other skills for those in prison.

Hilary O’Connor, Director of Technical Sales, Soul Machines, will introduce and demonstrate a new type of Artificial Intelligence called Experiential Learning and the world’s first Digital Brain™. Soul Machines is radically humanising technology, enabling “digital beings” to accumulate experiences, learn and respond emotionally.

Paul Stevens, GM  Open Knowledge group, Catalyst IT, provides revealing insights into IT Innovation, opportunities for Generation Z and lessons for educators. Catalyst has implemented some of the world’s largest Learning Management Systems using open source technologies to compete internationally and outsmart larger competitors.

Fraser Liggett , Economic Development Manager, Enterprise Dunedin overviews Education-Business links and outlines the evolving plans for a Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE) in Dunedin which will build on the city’s digital strengths, particularly in game and app development and education and training.

Digital Dangers
“We are fundamentally changing the way kids think and the way their brains develop.” Dr Jim Taylor, author of Raising Generation Tech.

All technologies bring benefits and problems. The new technologies of today spread faster and affect more people more quickly.  The business models which support a largely free and open connected world and enable technology to empower themselves can also be used for unscrupulous purposes.

There is growing evidence of some inherent dangers.  All learning communities need to develop strategies to support the development of online safety and wellbeing.

Technology Binging
“We all know that carrots and broccoli are good for our health, but would you spend your whole day eating them?  Anything in excess has its downsides, yet many of us seem happy to binge on technology.” 
Tech Diet BBC

Just as there are healthy foods, super foods and junk foods, there are several types of technology. If we want a healthy relationship with them, we need to understand how they impact our brains. Some experts argue that certain online games are like junk food and should be used more sparingly by still developing young brains.

ELF19 Day 2 speaker Dr Mary Redmayne, an Independent Researcher at Monash and Victoria Universities, will address the dangers of screen overuse. She points out that in less than ten years most mobile phones have moved from being phone-call and texting devices to an indispensable, instant-access remote source of information, social connection and entertainment.

For many people the immediacy and ‘rewards’ increasingly over-ride the very real need for face-to-face interactions, outdoor exercise and time with nature.

Smartphone addiction
“…We are all just prisoners here of our own device.” 
  Eagles “Hotel California” 1977 prophecy?

There is a growing body of evidence on the addictive, brain changing power of digital technology. Psychologists are learning how dangerous smartphones can be for teenage brains. Research has found that a young teenager’s risk for depression jumps 27% when social media is used frequently.

Teachers should not just leave learners to their own devices. In a classroom setting they are simply tools to be used appropriately to search, learn and produce.

Online Safety and Wellbeing Strategies
“…today’s complex digital landscape… offers young people incredible learning and social opportunities… with increasing prolific use of online platforms and digital technologies, the likelihood of risks and challenges arising also increases. ” Angela Webster, OnLine Safety Adviser, Netsafe

Netsafe’s Angela Webster will underline for ELF participants the need for all learning communities to develop preventive and responsive strategies to support students’ online safety and wellbeing and the development of digital citizenship.

Handling Fake News and Flaky Views
“The Christchurch shooting tragedy underlines the role of education in tackling prejudice and hate in social media and other online contexts…” A/Prof. Donald Matheson, UC

Educating young people to stay safe and not do harm is important, but just as important is educating them about how to participate and share constructively online, listen across differences, think critically and access credible sources of information.

Donald Matheson Head of Media and Communications, University of Canterbury, will show ELF19 participants how the  Christchurch shooting tragedy underlines the role of education in handling online information critically and tackling prejudice and hate in social media and other online contexts by demonstrating the links between hateful comments and action.

Adaptive Leadership
“When life itself is changing dramatically, so must we and so must the learning process.” 
Leon E Panetta quoted in Dr Peter Smith’s Free-Range Learning in the Digital Age

To lead credibly and effectively education leaders need to keep adapting..

The 2018 KPMG New Zealand CEO Outlook Survey suggests that New Zealand CEOs understand the challenge, with 98 percent positively viewing digital transformation as an opportunity rather than a threat. However 64 percent acknowledge that their organisation is struggling to keep pace with technology innovation.

It’s unlikely that the situation is any better across the education sectors.

There is a widespread need for leadership which is adaptive, collaborative, distributed and based on BES leadership principles .

Education leaders need to understand not just the technological side of leading change but also the cultural side in order to harness the edtech knowledge of their colleagues, their students and their community.

In the words of Jeffrey R. Anderson: “We have another chance to navigate, perhaps in a slightly different way than we did yesterday. We cannot go back. But we can learn.”

Lyall Lukey, Convener, Education Leaders Forums

 

Education Leaders Forum 2019 Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers Dunedin 17/18 July
Otago Polytechnic  -Principal Sponsor, Te Kura-Sponsor, Enterprise Dunedin-Supporter.

 


TOMORROW’S SKILLS, YESTERDAY’S BUREAUCRACY

February 27, 2019

 Lyall Lukey, Convener of Education Leaders Forum 2019 Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers, argues that while there are undoubtedly big system and funding issues to address in the vocational education and training sector, the centralisation concept announced on 13 February is not the most effective way forward.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo credit: Andrew Lukey   Post Quakes1

Guns not Roses

Echoes of Chicago 90 years ago: just in time for St Valentine’s Day, Industry Training Providers and Industry Training Organisations were lined up side-by-side, with large targets affixed, blinking in the media spotlight.

Triggers were not yet pulled but fingers were twitching as Minister of Education Chris Hipkins announced the vision of an over-arching New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology.

NZIST-not to be confused with Winston’s mob- would replace the 16 autonomous institutes of technology and polytechnics, (ITPs) and 11 industry training organisations (ITOs ) with a single entity to establish a “unified, coordinated, national system of vocational education and training” for around 200,000 New Zealand students by the end of 2020.

But does this display 20/20 vision?

Polytechnics employed 8,150, and ITOs 1,300, full-time-equivalent staff in 2017. In a double bureaucratic whammy the current roles of ITOs would apparently be split between the new national organisation and the Tertiary Education Commission.

The role of the TEC in ensuring the integrity of funding via trough protection and snout muzzling has already expanded after it swallowed Careers New Zealand in 2017 to become a hybrid funder/provider.

Absolutely Negatively…

Try this thought experiment, with last week’s eighth anniversary of the lethal February Christchurch quake in mind.
Can you imagine happening, under a centralised governance model, the same kind of prompt response as actually occurred through collaboration between Christchurch Polytechnic (now Ara)  and local ITOs  to address the skills needs of devastated Christchurch businesses?

If you can, Christchurch people with experience of especially created central government bodies like Cera and  Ōtākaro,  with a focus just on Christchurch’s  recovery not the whole country, will quickly disabuse you. These entities often sidelined local knowledge and input.  Even local civic governance bodies have been left incommunicado. Que Cera Sera.

Roger Smyth’s recent EC article tells how it took a seismic crisis for key parts of the vocational education system to work really effectively together, despite funding constraints, on the skills needs of the Canterbury rebuild.

There are lessons to be learnt. Those immersed in the local knowledge ecology, with an understanding of local business needs, trump absent planners with whiteboards and spreadsheets every time.

The Empire Striking Back?

The Minister acknowledged that the proposed changes are significant. “However, the risks of not making changes are also significant,” he said. “Disruption now will strengthen the vocational education system for the long term.”

Sceptics may point to the infamous quote in Peter Arnett’s 1968 AP Vietnam dispatch: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

The aim is to create a new, more streamlined and sustainable funding system and a more co-ordinated sector that can better respond to technology-driven workplaces. Both are long overdue and are changes the sector itself has long proposed.

The aims are forward looking, but the organisational solution proposed is a bureaucrat’s retrospective damp dream. In 2018 the Minister himself said that a highly centralised system faced issues relating to a lack of flexibility

Innovation

In a digitised world the nature of learning, work and everyday life is changing rapidly, with huge implications for education and training.

There is a direct link between a nation’s future prosperity and its ability to develop the knowledge and skills that deliver innovation. The ability to identify and prepare for present and future skills requirements is increasingly critical for education and training organisations, businesses and individuals.

Specific hard skills and soft skills sets are in increasingly high demand. There is a growing emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving, communications and collaboration, digital literacy and career and life skills, with an emphasis on flexibility and adaptability, initiative and cross-cultural interaction.

In the words of the Minister “Instead of our institutes of technology retrenching, cutting programmes, and closing campuses, we need them to expand their course delivery in more locations around the country.”

Some are doing exactly this now and are performing well, having succeeded in spite of, not because of, the present funding model.

Ara Institute of Canterbury has reported surpluses since its 2015 amalgamation and name change. Chief executive Tony Gray has expressed concern about how effective the proposed regional leadership groups would be.

A Balanced Alternative

Another well performing ITP is Otago Polytechnic. Here are some excerpts of what CE Phil Ker said in a post-announcement interview on Radio New Zealand: 

Q: Are the proposed changes good for the sector?

A: Yes and no.

“Yes . . . Polytechnics are haemorrhaging because of a grossly inadequate funding system that’s not fit for purpose.”

Yes . . . we applaud it being fixed. Ironically, if the funding model had been fixed 2-3 years ago, we wouldn’t have had this haemorrhaging.”

Yes . . . we applaud the intention to move towards more seamless learning via institutions and work-based solutions….”

No . . . the proposed model of one institution – head office and branches – completely removes the autonomy of the current institutions. We thought there might have been a move to a model that combined the best elements of a centralised system approach with a semi-autonomous institution approach….”

“Under a combined model, certain central functions could have been mandated – buildings, back-of-house systems, staff training are a few examples. But the combined model meant we could also have the autonomy to offer programmes of learning that made sense to local regions. That autonomy would also mean we could respond not only locally but nationally – to areas where there’s a need but perhaps a relatively low volume…”

Q: Do you think such centralisation and rationalisation threatens the local characteristics of polytechnics?

A: “… It’s a model-of-delivery issue. I’m arguing for the retention of autonomy – to enable institutions to respond to industry demand. I think the proposed model will, in fact, drive out responsiveness and innovation…” 

His subsequent ODT comments had this postscript “…I am not opposed to rationalising and a degree of centralisation of our polytechnic system. I am opposed to the particular model proposed by the Minister – it will throw out a lot of babies with the bath water. There is an alternative model which will still see a unified system, but which also preserves the autonomy of the individual institutions… We can have the best of both worlds.”

Civic Support

In support of Otago Polytechnic Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said ”The proposed merger risks undoing a lot of good work and would see Otago Polytechnic potentially being subservient to an organisational structure that may not understand or care about our local needs…We need Otago to remain autonomous, and flexible and responsive to local needs.”

The promoters of the current government’s Provincial Growth Fund talk about getting “buy in from local communities”. But vocational education demands more than that from regional stakeholders: it needs active collaboration, participation and partnership.

Dunedin’s digital ecosystem provides great examples of the cross-fertilisation between the education and business sectors.  Innovator of the Year Ian Taylor,  Animation Research has worked in this space for a quarter of a century.

He first came to public attention in the 1990s by making America’s Cup racing watchable via digital graphics and animation. He is currently working in Dunedin on a Virtual Reality prison literacy programme, in collaboration with the Methodist Mission South.

Alignment of Education and Training 

The Review of Vocational Education inevitably spawned the acronym ROVE. Perhaps the more appropriate acronym is RIVET for Review of and Intentions for Vocational Education and Training.

But just how riveting is the announced vision?

While the words “education” and “training are often used as synonyms it’s useful to  distinguish between them. The difference is evident when comparing “sex(uality) education” with “sex training”. (Now there’s an industry which missed the opportunity to set up its own ITO.).

Oversimplified, but the distinction does help clarify aspects of the respective roles of ITPs and ITOs, the first institution-based and the second located in the workplace.

The two vocational sub-sectors have often been like two trains travelling on parallel tracks to the same destination but with often poor communication between the respective drivers, to the detriment of passengers.

Integration of learning with work

The ROVE document says that the system needs to increase the amount of vocational learning that takes place in the workplace. Phil Ker agrees with better aligning trades training with polytechnic study, ”… integration of learning with work is critical. But that has to be designed for; staff have to be trained to do it.”

The most effective learning comes from a parallel process of knowing and doing, not through an analogue approach of accumulating lumps of knowledge first and then focusing on thinking skills and problem-solving.

But progress in integration does not require a single governance body. Joining the dots is not the same as erasing them. 

Qualifications and Employability 

According to the OECD, “Skills are the new world currency”. There is a growing demand for just-in-time learning to meet changing skill needs.

How do you improve knowledge and skill acquisition and make it easier for learners to demonstrate what they know and can do? 

National rationalisation of the tangled mess of qualifications is long overdue and now underway A big benefit in having a more integrated vocational education system is that it will make overhauled vocational qualifications more relevant and attractive-and more manageable time-wise.

Micro-credentials are an increasingly valuable part of the new skills currency. They enable people to show what they know and can do through digital certification, validating new learning as well as skills and knowledge already acquired.

Learning institutions handle quality control. For example, Otago Polytechnic’s micro-credential service EduBits works closely with the business sector and helps employers focus on their particular requirements.

Micro-credentials make visible employees, present and potential, who have got key skills or knowledge not indicated by conventional qualifications.

Trading Up 

One aim of the vocational shake-up is to correct the tertiary/ trades imbalance. According to the Minister of Education “Our thinking needs to shift from the idea that the ultimate goal of senior secondary schooling is to prepare young people for university,” 

Shorter workplace-integrated programmes will distinguish more clearly the offerings of polytechnics from those of universities.

Important v Urgent

Just as Wintec’s dirty washing was being re-aired publicly may have seemed to be a good time to play a reverse trump card and make a wall demolition announcement.

Minister Hipkins said that the vocational education sector is currently unsustainable and financially unviable “and the Government is moving to find a solution quickly”.

But the 6 weeks allowed for feedback is derisory, especially when contrasted with the timeline and process for the Tomorrow’s Schools Review.

Reform of the fragmented and competitive vocational sector may be well overdue but the important shouldn’t be dressed up as the urgent. It is not a National Emergency; rather it is a national opportunity to come up with an appropriate confederate balance of regional and national arrangements.

A large degree of governance autonomy, separate identities and distributed leadership models are the keys to credible local engagement in a networked digital age.

At the same time, curriculum and qualifications  reform,  professional development, digital  learning resource sharing and physical infrastructure, HR, health and safety all lend themselves to more national “back office” co-ordination and cost saving, so long as the “front office” identity and professional and business relationships are maintained where they are demonstrated to be working.

If not, some further amalgamations may be required such as those which over the last 4 years have led to the formation of Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and Ara Institute of Technology.

Leading not Imposing Change

“People will support what they help to create.” Marvin Weisbord
Finding appropriate solutions to real issues is not just about why change should happen. It is about what change happens, how it happens and when. A  Roger Douglas big bang approach may force things through, but with unacceptable collateral damage.

The fallout after a policy announcement bombshell needs time to clear for the way forward to crystallise. More time needs to be spent on the vision and strategy, working with all the key players, before the focus turns to implementation.

The effective way to bring about change that lasts is to really engage with key players in order to do more of what is working well now. This is the Appreciative Inquiry approach to organisational change. It focuses on strengths rather than on weaknesses, deficits and problems.

As Industry Training Federation chief executive Josh Williams points out, the reforms should aim to strengthen industry-led training organisations rather than dismantling them.

Warwick Quinn, Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation chief executive says that while he understood the need for change, “We must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater…”. The changes needed to protect what was working well, and retain the positive aspects of on-the-job training and apprenticeships, especially in high-needs areas, such as building and construction.

Removing system blockages is a valid activity for political plumbers. But while it is important to repair, rejig and replace some parts of the present vocational reticulation system, it is just as  important  to reinforce those parts which are working well and so avoid  disrupting the flow of skills acquisition.

What is not required is a KiwiBuild-type approach, giant in concept but pygmy on delivery, for instilling the skills of the very people required to build houses and the nation.

Mobilising knowledge and expertise

At Education Leaders Forum 2018, UK speaker Prof.Toby Greany  explored the    intersections between policy, practice and evidence and the ways in which knowledge, expertise and capacity moves around within and between organisations.
His models for knowledge mobilisation, the development and impact of networks and collaboration, along with his approach to education leadership and professional development are highly relevant for building momentum for positive step changes in regards to vocational education and training.

The cold logic of ideology and the selective use of financial data from a chronically underfunded sector should not drive out the knowledge and experience of key players.

** https://conversation.education.govt.nz/conversations/reform-of-vocational-education/have-your-say **         (You’ve only got until 27 March!)

Lyall Lukey Convener of Education Leaders Forum 2019 Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers Dunedin 17&18 July.

 

 

 


NCEA Trivial Pursuit?

November 18, 2018

Exams-Getty

“New Zealand students say word ‘trivial’ in exam confused them.”
  BBCNews Headline 16/11/18

Year 13 Level 3 NCEA exam students (usually aged between 17 and 18 at exam time) were recently asked to write a History essay based on the Julius Caesar quote: “In war, events of importance are the result of trivial causes.”

More than 2,600 people signed an online petition over the “unfamiliar” word, demanding not to be marked down as a result of their lack of comprehension.

Examiners said the language used was expected to be within the range of the year 13 students’ vocabulary. However, in a statement, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority [NZQA] added: “If candidates have addressed the quote and integrated their ideas with it, then they will be given credit for the strength of their argument and analysis and will not be penalised for misinterpreting the word ‘trivial’.”

That’s all right then-and at least the petitioners displayed some digital and collaborative skills as well as their surprising semantic deficit.

But perhaps the old-fashioned exam format, involving writer’s cramp-inducing marathons for those who use pens of any sort infrequently, is the real trivial pursuit.

All concerned will watch the continued roll out of the NZQA’s digital transformation process with interest.

20/20 Vision

NZQA’s vision is for NCEA examinations to be made available online by 2020.

The approach to online examinations reflects the teaching and learning happening in classrooms and the capabilities of the technology to support a good digital examination user experience in a given subject. This means that it may be some time before all subjects are available for online examination.

While the approach is currently focussed on digitising the paper-based examinations to help schools manage the transition, the opportunity exists to support a transformation in the way in which external assessments when digitally supported teaching and learning is pervasive. See https://www.nzqa.govt.nz/about-us/future-state/digital-assessment-vision/.

At the same time, since 2017 NZQA has been digitising its approach to external moderation of internally assessed work, since learners are increasingly producing and submitting learning evidence digitally. The vision is to see 100% of moderation materials, in subjects where it’s appropriate, being submitted digitally by 2020.

A more effective and accessible digital system for accessing and sharing learning evidence from internal and external assessment will benefit learners, educators  and employers alike.

Lyall Lukey 18/11/18

[Lyall Lukey was a History teacher and external  History exam marker many moons ago. He still holds the world records for the number of pages he filled in his own School Cert. History Exam and for the smallest fraction of a mark awarded per completed page. He has given up playing Trivial Pursuit. Among other things, since 2007 he has been  the convener of  annual NZ-wide Education Leaders Forums .]

 


Teachers’ Strike: Premature Exhortation?

September 6, 2018

Lyall Lukey, Convener of the recent Education Leaders Forum “Valuing Educators-Revaluing Education” argues that precipitate strike action is counterproductive to lifting the status and salaries of present teachers and recruiting the next generation. This article was first published in Education Central and Education Review on 4/9/18.
https://educationcentral.co.nz/teachers-strike-premature-exhortation/

Even in pursuit of goals that many support, and in a favourable political environment, albeit with fiscal constraints, it is still easy to deliver a lesson on how to lose friends and not influence people, as primary teachers may be discovering.

Industrial Action?

Around 400,000 students and their families were affected nationwide by the one day primary teachers strike on 15 August, as were many employers.

“Industrial action”? In the learning coalmines and the dark satanic mills of pedagogy?  In the post-industrial 21st Century?   By tertiary educated people perfectly able to articulate a compelling case via old and new media and work through multiple political and community channels in ways that don’t inconvenience their natural allies and alienate others?

Rather than thinking outside the soapbox, the NZEI, the primary teachers’ union, appears to have simply dusted off anachronistic teacher salary campaigns and pushed go.  The front page headline in The Press on 16 August was “Industrial action could escalate, teachers warn”.  It was alongside a recycling story.

On 29 August, far from the front page, NZEI president Lynda Stuart was quoted  as saying that primary school teachers were disappointed not to have a new pay offer two weeks after striking.  From inside a rapidly shrinking non-painted corner Stuart said they had expected a new offer by now. After all, the nurses’ negotiations earlier this year produced a new pay offer roughly every two to three weeks.

Two further days of talks were planned.


Not The Art of the Deal

Not playing a trump card, Stuart said the union would not consider opening a vote on further strikes until it had a new offer from the Ministry of Education.

The Ministry had confirmed the day before that it hadn’t changed its offer of pay rises over three years ranging from 6.1 per cent to 14.7 per cent, making the entry salary $55,030 for university educated teachers and bringing the maximum classroom salary to $80,600.

NZEI is going for a 16 per cent pay rise over two years, among other claims to improve staffing and workloads it says have contributed to a national teacher shortage.

While the median wage has outpaced teachers’ salaries over time, as the NZEI has demonstrated, the Ministry of Education points out that the latter has outpaced the Labour Cost Index (LCI) which it prefers to use for comparisons.

Perhaps there needs to be a new measure, linked to an agreed percentage of an MP’s salary?

All Black role models?

Meanwhile primary teachers nationwide donned black to express “frustration” about the lack of a new offer after a whole fortnight had elapsed. For their learners this may not be the best example of exercising patience and self-control on the grounds that good things take time, especially with a newish government still shaking down.

Hopefully there are not also too many all-white exemplars like the mob of bullying sheep in  Oat the Goat, the interactive bi-lingual anti-bullying tool which is proving a big hit in schools.

Goodbye Mr Chips

Placards were mainly well punctuated but hardly emphatic: “A school is not a McDonald’s. Stop upsizing our classes and workload.” “The 80s called they want their pay back.” “We are not walking out on our kids. We are walking for them.”

At least they didn’t trot out the old corporal punishment canard, “This is going to hurt me more than you”, though it may be true.

At one placard stop a passionate parent spoke in the third person about the great work of teachers, comments most of us would support in most cases.  The accolade rang a little hollow when it turned out that she, herself, was also a teacher.

Addressing the converted rather than the big issues is great therapy but not very effective. Rather than  ritual triennial salary war dances why not a more effective on-going strategy to develop cross-party consensus by engaging the wider public in an informed conversation about enhancing the vital status of teaching?

If there have to be painted up public appearances how about doing them on a Saturday morning? Not the best time to get TV traction, with or without a tractor mounting the stairs of Parliament, but a great time to interact with the community in a positive way while using social media to disseminate video and other messages.

 Strike Me!

Speaking pre-strike the Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said that the Government’s current offer was already double, on average, what the primary school sector received by way of increases under the National Government.

The Minister said he’d prefer the strike was cancelled in favour of further bargaining and discussion on the issues. He would, of course, after a pretty good opening offer. But he had a point about premature direct action. Well before negotiations even started in the current primary teachers round there were rumblings of trouble at rumour mill.

Timeline

A fortnight before the surprise announcement on 19 October 2017 of the formation of the new Coaltion Government by Winston Peters,  teacher unions were  warning of likely strikes to seek pay rises costing “hundreds of millions of dollars”, including an extra allowance for teaching in areas of expensive housing such as Auckland.

Targets were obviously being prepared pre-election for the next pay round with a National-led government likely to be in the crosshairs. The winner turned out to be a hybrid horse of different colours.

A Labour-led Government is usually a time for advances in education, if it is in power long enough. There could be unintended political repercussions for Labour (think 1960 and 1975) in teachers going for a bigger initial hit than is wise in the circumstances and helping to scare some other horses, rather than going for significant progress now but playing a longer-term game.

With the Government facing the most aggressive push for public sector rate wage hikes in recent times and private sector employers sitting watching nervously on the sidelines, teachers took a big risk sending themselves off early.

Losing the War?

There are undoubtedly endemic quantity and quality issues in teacher and support staff supply, even if the Ministry has played them down in the current negotiations.

South Auckland Middle School principal Alwyn Poole argues the case on Stuff that “striking teachers have already lost the war, even if they win a small pay battle”.

“The current collective agreement round for teachers takes us back to the 1970s, and teachers and their unions (with the approval of their members) are screwing this up very, very badly. They have already lost even if they ‘win’…How on earth does all this moaning and complaining inspire the next generation into this amazing career? It doesn’t. The unions are making it embarrassing to want to be a teacher.”

He argues that it is well past time for another bargaining agent under the Employment Contracts Act – “something like a Professional Association of Academic Teachers (PAAT) – that has a high bar in terms of qualifications and stated ethics. This will elevate the profession and give the better teachers an opportunity to seek their best pay and conditions, as is possible in all other professions”.

Members of a Profession?

“… the committee considers that teaching is a profession and that teachers are, and should be encouraged to regard themselves as, members of a profession.”
1978 Marshall Report

For many teaching is a vocation. But to what extent do teachers-and more importantly others-see teaching as a profession?

Auckland Point School principal Sonya Hockley said on strike day that the most important issue faced by teachers was “raising the profile of the profession so that it was viewed as a valuable career option for graduates.”  But as Alwyn Poole said, having other colleagues throughout the country trashing the job doesn’t help.

What might help lift professional self-esteem and recruitment is an emphasis on the real value of teaching and the mix of tangible and intangible rewards. While underlining the attributes and skills necessary for teachers to succeed it is fair to touch on some of the benefits of the challenging job. These include reasonable job security for most established teachers and family friendly “at school” hours and weeks.

This doesn’t mean glossing over the amount of homework necessary to prepare an ongoing diet of food for thought for hungry young minds, nor playing down the undoubted challenges of the classroom, ancient or modern.

For balance, what about a bit of emphasis on the satisfaction of seeing young eyes and minds open and brains develop?  Think of Ernest Rutherford’s headmaster at Fox Hill School, who first sparked Rutherford’s  interest in science, watching his protegee’s later progress at Canterbury College and Cambridge University.

The intangibles have to be complemented by appropriate salary levels, adequate support staff and opportunities for professional development in a positive learning environment. But salary is not necessarily a big factor at point of entry, though it may be in terms of retention. NZEI ranked salaries fourth on its 2017 10 point plan to solve Auckland’s teacher shortage.

Many ex-teachers in all walks of life demonstrate that teaching is an excellent springboard for other things because of the skills and experience gained.

Organisational Survival

Reg Revans in “The Learning Organisarion” says: “For an organisation to survive its rate of learning must be equal to, or greater than, the rate of change in its external environment.” 

Collective pay negotiations are the raison d’etre of the NZEI and PPTA and their permanent employees.  The NZEI got off on the wrong foot in the current negotiating dance.  Shooting itself again in the same appendage won’t help its survival prospects.

Perhaps it is time for the NZEI to do some self-reflection and reinvention to enable it to play an enhanced leadership role by building cross-party consensus about the value of education.

Spreading change by positive diffusion, like two gases meeting and mingling, takes time. But being the opposite of confrontation  it works effectively at the molecular level.

Valuing Educators

In their role as knowledge navigators, teachers are more important than ever in showing learners how to navigate the ocean of information while avoiding the icebergs of misinformation.

Research shows that countries with a greater proportion of the population tertiary educated generally have higher levels of innovation and productivity. Opportunities to learn and to apply that learning result in both public and private good. Education provision in New Zealand is already undergoing some rebalancing to reflect that duality.

The foundations for lifelong learning and adaptability need to be laid down early.

Revaluing Education

From 1990 Finland brought about a revaluation of the Finnish public’s estimation of the teaching profession through tougher entry standards and a cross-sector consensus of the key role of education and training in a fast evolving society.

This forward-looking approach to adapting to the rapidly changing world and learning to innovate was demonstrated pre-iPhone by the way Nokia shifted its focus from pulp and paper to cellphone technology.

In this country there are calls to lift the entry bar for teacher recruitment: “Given the future capability teachers require…there is a strong case for lifting entry requirements for academic capability generally, literacy and numeracy, and content knowledge that supports teachers’ ability to work with the relevant curriculum…..having high entry standards may help to reposition teaching more generally as a high status profession and one that it is a privilege to enter.”

Given the increasing importance of education for the future of this country and all its citizens, it would be a pity if the current negotiating imbroglio deflected the focus away from much needed attitude, value and system changes.

Lyall Lukey Convener of annual Education Leaders Forums since 2007.

Source: Education Review

 


Job Currency: By Degrees? Without Qualifications? With Micro-credentials?

September 3, 2018

Speaking at the recent 12th annual Education Leaders Forum in Rotorua, Phil Ker, CE Otago Polytechnic generated  interest  with his presentation “Micro-credentials: an old dog with some new tricks!”  ELF Convener Lyall Lukey explains why. This article was first published on Educational Central on 29 August 2018.

See you later?

By itself a degree or a diploma is no guarantee of appropriate workplace performance. Some may argue that the Texas student who recently posed for graduation snaps  in the water, with an alligator  another snap away, should have her degree replaced forthwith with a Darwin Award.

“Tertiary qualifications not required”

Last year more than 100 New Zealand organisations signed an open letter saying that tertiary qualifications are not required for a range of skilled roles in their workplaces. Instead, they were themselves willing to assess the skills, attitudes, motivation and adaptability of candidates in order to cope with a shortage of skilled workers in a rapidly changing employment  environment.

Likewise reports The Wall Street Journal U.S. employers are dropping both work history and degree requirements in order to attract a larger pool of job candidates. This seemed to work for  one newish  high office incumbent .

Micro-credentials: Some new tricks!

At the points of entry and promotion, fast filters developed by independent experts are obviously useful for both employers and job  seekers.

Enter micro-credentials- specific mini-qualifications which recognise smaller, more discrete sets of skills and knowledge than a degree or diploma.

At ELF18 Phil Ker said that micro-credentials are enjoying an international resurgence, both in response to time and money costly traditional qualifications and to meet employer demand for training that meets specific work needs at a time of rapid technological and social change.

The “old dog” turns out to be a very lively greyhound, especially when compared to existing Clydesdale qualifications. It can take 10 years to complete a part-time degree and two years plus to do a part-time certificate.

Traditional qualifications are also slow and costly to develop and cannot respond quickly to new skills needed by industry. Micro-credentials can be custom-made in short development time-frames.

Showing you’ve got what it takes

“Edubits validate sets of skills and knowledge developed through experience or through new learning. They are flexible, online, anywhere, anytime and cost effective.” Phil Ker, CE Otago Polytechnic

There is a growing demand for just-in-time learning to meet these changing skill needs. Micro-credentials enable people to show what they know and can do through digital certification, validating new learning as well as skills and knowledge already acquired.

Otago Polytechnic’s micro-credential service EduBits  works closely with the business sector and helps  employers frustrated with deciphering omnibus qualifications focus on their particular requirements.  It also makes visible employees, present and potential, who have got key skills or knowledge not indicated by conventional qualifications.

The key components of the service, on-line and/or face-to-face, are the assessment of required competencies and either the identification of prior experiential learning or the delivery of developmental training.

Present EDUbits include Health & Safety, Team Management, Microsoft Skills, Project Management.

EduBits can quickly be tailor-made to satisfy organisation-specific requirements. Dr Lance O’Sullivan is using EduBits to validate the skills of the digital health assessors involved in iMOKO, the innovative digital health service for children  which has just gone national with the support of the Wright Family Foundation.

Once awarded, an EduBit digital badge can be added to online profiles like LinkedIn, personal websites, email signatures and CVs. The badge encapsulates the assessment metadata attesting to particular workplace knowledge and skills that are not necessarily linked to academic qualifications, though some EduBits can be NZQA endorsed.

Potted History: Mismatch and Mishmash

Changes in workplace practices are forever outrunning the attempts of education and training providers to keep up. Innovation and disruption creates an on-going mismatch between the mishmash of qualifications and those who use them as employment currency.

During the First Industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries a modicum of education was encouraged by some new industrialists for factory workers, presumably so the latter could read the on/off buttons on new machinery, thus avoiding being jammed in it and slowing production.

The Second Industrial Revolution in the final third of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th brought with it a new level of technological change, standardisation and the Henry Ford assembly line still beloved by some education policy makers.

By performing simple repetitive tasks manufacturing workers became extensions of their machines. They were encouraged to leave their brains at the factory gates.

World Wars I and II encouraged close ties between manufacturing and warfare. The nature of management itself underwent a military metamorphosis, becoming more hierarchical and incorporating terms like the span of control.

Post-World War II American W.Edward Deming , for a long time a prophet without honour his own country, was instrumental in the postwar Japanese economic miracle by encouraging higher standards of statistical education and practice on the factory frontline. This was based on the joy of learning and its application. It embedded quality into the whole manufacturing process rather than it being a postscript at the end of the assembly line.

Today’s Agile World

Today, in a more Agile world, hierarchies have flattened further. As the outcome of organizational intelligence the agile enterprise  uses key principles of complex adaptive systems to rapidly respond to change in a business environment and meet customer’s needs by taking advantage of available brainpower to continuously innovate or disrupt without compromising quality.

But many academic and trade qualifications remain analogue in a digital world.

A less testing school environment

“With the removal of National Standards and the flexibilities of NCEA and growing focus on internal assessments our teachers are going beyond the test and exploring new and interesting ways to capture and evidence learning…”    Claire Amos

As the emphasis shifts at the primary and secondary levels from the summative to the formative,  hopefully reducing assessment form-filling by teachers,  there  will be more opportunities for informal real-time feedback to encourage learners.

This means that what happens now in the tertiary qualifications space is especially relevant.

 

Stronger links with employers

Employers, among others, must be listened to and encouraged to accept the credibility and utility of new ways of providing evidence of learning and doing. The strength of the currency of evolving qualifications needs to be lifted and maintained to avoid triggering Gresham’s Law.

As Phil Ker points out, as the supply of micro-credentials grows a significant challenge will be the extent to which the market is regulated and the credentials are quality assured, as is the case with traditional qualifications.

In a recent Education Central article on micro-credentials and life-long learning  Roger Smyth marks the development of a framework for the creation of micro-credentials, announced by the Minister of Education on 1 August, as a first step in this respect.

No doubt hybrids will eventually emerge, with some micro-credentials becoming later components of diplomas or degrees, while having already served their purpose incrementally.

Lyall Lukey  Convener of annual Education Leaders Forums since 2007.

 


Miss Snuffy and Mr Snake Oil on 21st Century Learning

June 30, 2018

Lyall Lukey, Convener of Education Leaders Forum 2018, examines some of the views expressed by among others London Headmistress Katharine Birbalsingh and her host Roger Partridge, the New Zealand Initiative, before, during and after the recent researchED conference. This article was first published on Educational Central on 29 June.

Among the pigeons

The researchED conference on 2 June set the cat (and a partridge) among the pedagogical pigeons. It was no surprise that 21st century skills and modern learning environments were discounted or deplored.

Key speaker at the event and guest of the New Zealand Initiative was controversial Kiwi-born Katharine Moana Birbalsingh, the founder of “Britain’s strictest school” Michaela Park Community School in North West London.

New entrants attend a week-long military-style boot camp to learn the school’s strict rules, which include no talking in the corridors and demerit points for forgetting a pen or slouching.

Sniffy with Miss Snuffy

Birbalsingh’s Twitter handle is @Miss_Snuffy – “Headmistress/Founder Michaela: free/charter school doing it differently. Believe in freedom from state, truth on race, common sense….”

Some TV1 viewers got sniffy with her pre-event TV interview  though others sat up very straight.

Birbalsingh supports the traditional teaching methods of E. D. Hirsch in The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them (1999). She argues that education should be about teaching children knowledge, not learning skills.

Jude Barback’s Education Central piece on I June encapsulated Birbalsingh’s fears for New Zealand’s education system:   “You’re about to go off the edge of a cliff”.

The video of the cliff-hanging researchED presentation has now been “removed by the user” though other conference  presentations are still viewable.

Luckily New Zealand is devoid of lemmings.  It is also the birthplace of commercial bungee jumping and other innovations which use applied knowledge, a range of skills and plenty of initiative.

Content with content?

There was a quick response from Dr Michael Harvey:
“The key claim that Birbalsingh makes is… the paramount importance of content over skills …[ but] it is a misnomer to say that skill is not knowledge. Skill is knowledge, just of a different form. The fact-based knowledge that Birbalsingh champions [is] based on declarative memory (knowing that) whereas the skills she decries are procedural memory (knowing how)…”

The key to developing a skill such as playing the piano is practice and reinforcement. Knowing music  theory is not the same as tinkling the ivories. This is no black or white distinction but a reinforcing dynamic.

First cut isn’t the deepest

“At… researchED ‘Festival of Education’ conference in Auckland, 250 teachers and educationalists from around New Zealand had an opportunity to expose a modern-day version of Stanley’s snake oil: the so-called ‘21st-century learning movement.’” 21st century snake oil   Roger Partridge

What expanded the current education debate to a new, largely business audience was this opinion piece on the New Zealand Initiative website on 9 June and then on the NBR website.

Written by Roger Partridge  chairman and a co-founder of The New Zealand Initiative and a former commercial lawyer who led law firm Bell Gully from 2007 to 2014, it recounted the story of American Clark Stanley who created a dodgy medical cure-all he named Snake Oil Liniment .

In cutting to the chase the Stanley blade-wielding Partridge followed in Birbalsingh’s footsteps. He said 21st century learning adherents advocate ‘modern learning environments’ instead of classrooms, with 80 or 90 school children and a few ‘free-ranging’ teachers. The teachers are expected to promote child-centred, ‘inquiry-based learning’ rather than teacher-led instruction.

“There is only one problem with 21st-century learning; despite its seductive underpinnings, there is no scientific evidence it is equal, let alone superior, to more traditional, teacher-led instruction. And there is lots of evidence it fails children, particularly the disadvantaged. So 21st-century learning is seductive snake oil, not science.”

 Exposé or pose?

Partridge claims that limiting their exposure to the wealth of knowledge their parents gained at school a generation ago is dumbing down children’s learning.

“Now this wouldn’t matter if this 21st-century snake oil was simply being promoted by a few Mr Stanleys.  But it is not. It is advocated by our own Ministry of Education. Even the briefest foray onto the ministry’s website reveals how embedded 21st-century notions have become in the ministry’s approach to education.”

It was a very brief foray, not getting as far as the Best Evidence Synthesis section . The Ministry, via its internationally respected BES publications, makes accessible bodies of evidence about what works to improve education outcomes.

For more than 15 years New Zealander John Hattie has also done a great job, via his Visible Learning project, to collate research about what works best for teaching and learning in schools.  TES has called him “possibly the world’s most influential education academic”.

The snake oil metaphor may shed a little light in one or two dark corners but, like 19th Century whale oil, it is not very illuminating overall.

False Dichotomy

“[A] false dichotomy of reform versus status quo fails to capture the rich perspectives of teachers who believe in education improvements that are grounded both in research and in their own experiences with successful student learning.” Give Teachers a Voice in Education Reform

Birbalsingh’s very old school approach may demonstrate the magnetic power of a leader able to articulate shared values and practices, whatever their evidential foundation or fashion status, in order to attract funding in a low socio-economic catchment area and enthusiastic teachers and parents  who share her education philosophy.

A coherent learning culture in one school might be in complete contrast to a different mix in another. Each may get some effective outcomes for at least some learners by “the way we do things around here”.

Vive la difference!

Modern Learning Environments

“There is always more than one side to an argument; always more than one good solution to a problem – often many. Learning is a complex matter…. The issue isn’t Traditional Classrooms OR Modern Learning Environments. It is about what works for each individual child and having highly effective teachers trumps everything!” Dr Lesley Murrihy 

In the current debate there has been a lot of emphasis on physical learning environments, for example Kia King’s interesting parental perspective . This may have overshadowed discussion on other well researched teaching and learning factors. 

Dr Murrihy, Principal at MLE Amesbury School has written on the limitations of a binary argument between the traditional classroom and a modern or flexible learning environment.

She points out that John Hattie shows that what really makes a difference is what happens in the classroom (presumably of whatever configuration). Within-school variation, the difference between the most and least effective teachers in a school, is much greater than between-school variation.

As one might expect education quality largely comes down to the quality of its teachers. There are more effective and less effective teachers in traditional classrooms just as there are in mles.

Murrihy continues  “… it is not so much the architectural environment that matters in terms of outcomes for students; it is what we do for students within those physical environments that makes the real difference.”

We could add, plus what learners are encouraged to learn and do for themselves, either individually or in small groups, in a flexible range of learning settings, from teacher-led input to personal and team projects, with or without the use of enabling technology.

The process is just as important as the outcomes in terms of acquiring and accessing knowledge and developing hard and soft skills. 

The Digital+ Revolution

“The true revolution of digital technology’s effect on culture is not that it replaces what has gone before, but that it shatters it like a supercollider, reconstituting the fragments into many different forms, some familiar and some completely new. ”  Michael Lascarides 

We all know that in a digitised and globalised world the nature of work and everyday life is changing rapidly with huge implications for education and training. What are we doing about it?

There is an accelerating fusion of technologies across the physical, digital, and biological spheres. This includes Artificial Intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology,   energy storage and quantum computing.

“Tomorrow’s Schools”, soon to be yesterday’s, was implemented a quarter of a century ago for a world which no longer exists, despite the apparent yearning of some to recreate it. 

Disruptive Workplace Change

“Many of the major drivers of transformation… are expected to have a significant impact on jobs, ranging from significant job creation to job displacement, and from heightened labour productivity to widening skills gaps… the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago…” World Economic Forum 2016 report The Future of Jobs

Since the 1980s governments internationally have attempted to develop strategies to help present and future workers meet the demands of rapidly changing workplaces. 

The WEF 2016 report points out that the ability to identify and prepare for present and future skills requirements is increasingly critical for education and training organisations, businesses and individuals, both to seize the opportunities and to mitigate undesirable outcomes.

But Roger Partridge seems to disagree. 

21st century skills

“What is even more concerning is the cult-like status the 21st-century skills approach occupies within many schools. Teachers at the researchED conference talked about being afraid to express their concerns that modern learning methods were not working. It is as if the 21st-century skills approach has a sacred status; anyone questioning it is at best a Luddite and at worst a traitor to progress.” 21st century snake oil

It might help to define the catch-all phrase. 21st century skills comprise skills, abilities, and learning dispositions that have been identified as being required for success in 21st century society and workplaces.

They are complementary to basic building block knowledge and skills like literacy and numeracy, not substitutes.

Specific hard skills and soft skills sets are in increasingly high demand.  There is a growing emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving, communications and collaboration, creativity and innovation, digital literacy and career and life skills, with an emphasis on flexibility and adaptability, initiative and cross-cultural interaction.

Far from “dumbing down” education many of the 21st century skills are also associated with deeper learning based on mastering skills such as analytic reasoning and complex problem solving.

The focus is not on content for its own sake.  The test is understanding why and demonstrating how, not regurgitating what. As Henry Ford has it “An educated person… is one who not only knows a lot, but knows how to do a lot of things.”

The sequence is the secret. The most effective learning comes from a parallel process of knowing and doing, not through an analogue approach of accumulating lumps of knowledge first and then focusing on thinking skills and problem solving.  

Out of step with his peers? 

“65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.”  WEF ibid

Given the business antecedents and membership weighting of the New Zealand Initiative, one would have thought that its chairman would feel at home with the sentiments expressed in the WEF’s report. A Partridge, as it were, in a peer tree. Why is he out of step with the denizens of Davos?

Perhaps because until quite recently he was a senior leader in a well known law firm. By its very nature the legal profession encourages retrospective thinking. It is hardly at the cutting edge of innovation, apart from IP policing duties.

The profession also seems to find it difficult to keep up with social change, witness the unseemly scrambling for fig leaves in the wake of revelations about dodgy legal workplace cultures which senior leadership in some blue-ribbon firms had failed to address.

Many lawyers do a little better in adopting new information technology, but Partridge himself is critical of 21st century learning tools:  “In place of exercise books that help students remember new knowledge it favours digital devices, in which students record their individual learning journeys.”

Do lawyers and accountants still use quill pens and parchment to track their transactions? What about remembering new knowledge?   In 1775 Samuel Johnson said “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”

Partridge gives the example of “the blacksmith’s son.”  Perhaps he is struggling to come to grips with the 20th century, let alone the 21st?  Maybe he is even more at home with 19th century Gradgrinds?  (Thomas Gradgrind, you’ll recall, is the school board Superintendent in Dickens’s novel “Hard Times” who is dedicated to the pursuit of profitable enterprise via a repressive approach to education and a limited focus on cold facts and hard numbers).

Knowledge Navigators

Savvy teachers are more important than ever as knowledge map-makers and navigators in a world awash with digital data.

Recognising this is not the same as insisting that teachers themselves are the storehouse of all knowledge which they impart, mother bird-like, to passive pupils with open mouths. Growing open minds is the thing. So is understanding the hierarchy of data, information, knowledge and wisdom.

Of course teachers should not just leave learners to their own devices. These are simply tools to be used selectively, in an action learning setting, to create and produce not merely to search and play.

A recent Education Central item said “There are some fantastic initiatives afoot, from an amazing STEM programme that sees students working on projects to help their community to a pilot to provide home internet access to students who currently don’t have access.”

But beyond the use of enabling technology the real focus should be on developing the critical and creative thinking power of the free neck top computer with which every human is equipped. New neuroscience insights can help teachers and learners alike tap this amazing resource.

Performance Indicators and Comparisons

“Not surprisingly, the 21st-century results of education’s embrace of ‘21st-century learning’ are damning. Since the turn of the century, the performance of New Zealand school children in reading, maths and science has fallen dramatically in international tests. And the decline is not gradual,it is startling…21st century snake oil

Partridge states that “whether it is the PISA, PIRLS or TIMMS rankings, since the beginning of the millennium our children have been sliding down the international league tables-and not just falling behind the rest of the world, they are falling behind their 20th-century predecessors.”

Representatives of employers, universities and trade training have also expressed recent concerns about literacy  and preparation for tertiary education and the world of work.

A quick scan of some symptoms and an off-the-cuff diagnosis is not the same as an in-depth exploration of causes and effects  inside realistic time frames. Nor is it a reason to accept the Birbalsingh and Partridge prescription for improving teaching and learning is the only treatment.

The great majority of New Zealand learners have not been and are not in mles, which are still evolving, as is collaborative teaching expertise. 21st century learning principles and practices are not stirred, bottled and dispensed from Wellington through a monolithic pipeline.

In New Zealand’s highly autonomous education system, with wide ranging curriculum choice, a smorgasbord of resources and vastly differing teaching and learning practices, the uptake of anything pedagogical or technological is uneven- and even capricious.

As well as crunch education challenges such as quality teacher recruitment and retention, salary revaluation, leadership development and on-going professional practice development there are also complex economic and social issues affecting cohort learning.

These include the developing trend of extreme behaviour among ever younger children with significant behavioural needs, including conditions like foetal alcohol syndrome and “P babies”.

Embracing the Future

“…the choice between cocooning ourselves in the past and shutting out all the inconvenient noises of change, or embracing a future based on innovation, disruption and using our brains is stark. Alex Malley CE, CPA Australia

According to Malley there is a direct link between a nation’s future prosperity and its ability to leverage innovation and change to improve international competitiveness.

Focusing on the downside of technological change deflects debate from the more important topic; how to best take advantage of the opportunities arising from the digital and other revolutions.

We don’t want to squash the initiative of any young New Zealanders by confining them, however upright, in neatly aligned single desks in passive one-dimensional learning settings.

The challenges of now and the imperatives of the future demand better.

Lyall Lukey  Convener,   Education Leaders Forum 2018: Valuing Educators-Revaluing Education