Archive for the ‘Data’ Category

Innovating workplaces

The slow and steady demise of manufacturing in Australia has sparked interesting debate in recent times over competitiveness in a global economy.   I was interested in the discussion following on from Toyota’s recent announcement and whether workplace arrangements had jeopardised the big car manufacturers presence in Australia.

The need for contemporary practices impacts also on the education sector.  It seems these discussions have always been framed around productivity and performance but I think we are still looking at the problem through the wrong lens.

Daniel Pink proposes an interesting theory of 20th century motivation vs 21st century motivation and the changing nature of work in a knowledge age.  The knowledge economy requires a new mindset and skillset.  Innovation is key and key to innovation is human capital.

I heard Professor Bill Harley from the University of Melbourne talking recently about the need for workplace innovation in Australia.  He said research around the world shows that there are three things that make productive workplaces:

  1. Employees have appropriate skillset (teachers up-skilling and re-skilling)
  2. Approaches that allow people to collaborate and solve problems (de-privatised practice)
  3. Motivated workforce at every level (managing and rewarding performance)

Professor Harley reflected on the fact that a strategic approach to implementing these practices has been absent from Australian workplaces.

The practices that have prevailed in education over the past century are obstructions to innovation. We need to change our practices by changing culture.  The three points Professor Harley refers to demonstrate the shift from industrial to knowledge, from convention to evidence.

Ironically, Toyota is one of the companies recognised for its innovative culture.  There are numerous case studies on what drives Toyota’s success but it comes down to investment in its people (skillset) and organisational capabilities (problem-solving and intrinsic motivators).

Listening to Professor Harley made me think about education in terms of our manufacturing industry.  Only for us, it will be our students not car manufacturers who will walk away in search of something more relevant and rewarding.

A different level of insight

Following on from last week’s blog post on big data, I had the great pleasure of meeting researcher and educator George Siemens recently.  George is the Associate Director, Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University in Canada.  He was also one of the first people ever to facilitate the use of MOOCs.

George has been immersed in learning and online networks for such a long time that he presents a different level of insight.  He shared some of his insight when I asked him about the opportunities of big data on education.


Framing the right questions

In the past few weeks I’ve read at least three articles on ‘big data’. We are moving rapidly from knowledge capture to data generated insight and innovation.  I think that the questions being posed for business in the age of data can be equally applied to education.

How can we ‘create value for our students/teachers using data and analytics?  And if data is helping companies like Google and Amazon to develop new models of delivery, providing the customers with personalised and targeted information on likes and dislikes and information and opportunities which they may previously not known about, can this sort of data help education develop new models of personalised delivery?  The answer for me has to be yes, or we risk irrelevancy in the schooling space.

Schooling will benefit from looking at the innovative businesses who are capitalising on the opportunities being powered by the Internet.  Companies who are learning from and transforming what they do and how they do it through the data and tools available.  Imagine if schools had access to student data from pre-kindergarten or if primary schools shared student data with high schools? We wouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel time or start from square one because a student changed schools.  Critical information would be available for teachers who could then pick up the ball so to speak and identify new learning challenges. Imaging capturing data on career progression 10 years plus from exiting school and using that data to inform planning and learning opportunities for current students.

There is a great article in this month’s Harvard Business Review about using data to drive growth.  It’s well worth a read.  The authors pose five key questions for businesses.  These are questions that deserve our immediate attention.

1. What data do we have?
2. What data can we access that we are not capturing?
3. What data could we create from our operations?
4. What helpful data could we get from others?
5. What data do others have that we could use in a joint initiative?

Good data helps us frame good questions and good questions will help us find new ways of individualising content and personalising learning.  We need to be working smarter not harder in a connected online world.  

Know your learners

Here’s a question – do you believe all students can learn?  If you said yes and you’re a teacher or leader, are there examples at your school of students who aren’t achieving gains in their learning?  How do you reconcile the two?  Here’s another question – if you were asked to list ten things that knew you about each learner in your class or school could you?  More importantly, would they know you knew these ten things about them?   If you said yes, then you are doing well at knowing your learners.  If you said no, then you would be wise to read Lyn Sharratt and Michael Fullan’s book “Putting the Faces on Data“.

These are the questions that Lyn Sharratt asked us to reflect on when she was here earlier this month.  This is Lyn’s second visit to Parramatta and we are grateful for her assistance in helping us put faces on our own data.  It’s a strategy that takes personalised learning to a much deeper level because it requires us to continually and collectively analyse student learning and plan the next sequence. Sounds simple but as Lyn says it is hard hard work. It requires a relentless focus on a shared goal.

As former superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in the York Region, Canada, Lyn says that literacy became their goal and their system mantra. They asked themselves what they expected of their literacy graduates and once they determined this, they worked backwards.  Stephen Covey refers to this as beginning with the end in mind.  It required coming up with a definition that everyone could live with from K-12.  “Literacy” was defined as language and mathematically competency. They then asked what were the foundational literacy skills necessary in the 21st century?  These were the ability of graduates to think, understand, analyse and to critically reflect.

Lyn says they worked hard at embedding the definitions and professional learning so that every single teacher was working toward the same goal – literacy.  It paid off; they achieved significant gains in Year 1 reading levels.  They analysed data relentlessly and looked closely at what was working in the ‘high focus schools’.  As Lyn and Michael drilled down, they discovered these schools hadn’t taken their eyes off literacy.  In the midst of flux, they were able to stay focused.  The other schools blamed everything from a change in principal to a leaky roof on why they couldn’t maintain focus.

Lyn’s experience shows that implementation is often our Achilles’ heel. We have a tendency to move on to something new every year than stay the course.  As Lyn puts it, we need to move beyond the modelling stage to the doing otherwise nothing actually happens in schools.  This means looking at the data, knowing the learner and asking what comes next.  We want our learners to be independent but we need teachers and leaders to be interdependent when it comes to implementation.  If something is fully implemented in your school, it means that 90% of teachers, according to Lyn, are doing it as part of their practice.  The short of it is we all need to know the same things about our work. We all need to know our learners.

On the last page of Lyn’s workbook is the quote: You can’t lead where you won’t go.  Lyn has given us permission to say no to the things that won’t make a difference to students and to go where we may not have been before.

NAPLAN: friend, foe or on the fence?

Late last year, the University of Western Sydney’s Whitlam Institute commissioned  a national survey of over 8,000 educators on the impact of the annual National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).

There were very few surprises in the results which found that many teachers believed NAPLAN had negatively affected their practice and narrowed the curriculum:

  • More than 70 per cent of respondents agreed that NAPLAN means they ‘teach more to the test’ and spend more class time on areas they knew would be tested
  • Just over two thirds believed the focus on NAPLAN had led to timetable reduction for other subjects outside of literacy and numeracy in their schools
  • 64 per cent agreed that there had been a reduction of ‘face to face’ time with students
  • 55 per cent thought NAPLAN had narrowed their range of teaching strategies.
While these aren't officially endorsed publications of the NAPLAN program, and produced independently of Australian governments, they prove that these are high-stakes tests.

Parents can buy off-the-shelf practice tests. Is this sending the right message?

We should be shocked and dismayed to learn that over half of our primary schools are preparing their students with weekly practice tests five months in advance of NAPLAN. It’s not the test that counts but the teaching that is critical here and good teachers know this.

The most depressing thing for me about the survey was the fact that less than 50 per cent of teachers spent any time looking through the data at their school to drive improvement.

It defies logic that we have introduced a national assessment measure designed to diagnose students on basic skills to drive improvement, when over half of our schools aren’t actually using the data.

The obvious question is why are we spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on preparing kids for NAPLAN when many of our teachers and schools don’t actually use the data to inform their practice?

At our 2012 Ann D Clark lecture, Professor Andy Hargreaves warned educators to ‘beware the tool’:

‘Beware when you bring in a tool, even if you think you are using the tool optimistically, because, at some point in the future, people will take the tool and use it for a completely different purpose that you never imagined it would be used for.’

This is true of NAPLAN. We have to put the tool (the data) in its rightful place. We have stigmatised NAPLAN and turned it into something it is not. NAPLAN is given far too much emphasis on judging school performance rather than on helping to inform the bigger, richer picture of how our students are tracking. And, most importantly, how we are helping them to improve.

I want to make this point which seems to get lost in the discussion of declining performance, withholding some students from sitting the tests to boost school scores, and so on: These tests, particularly in our NSW experience are to test basic skills. They are located within the curriculum and are designed to determine what a student should be able to achieve in literacy and numeracy at a particular age level. We are not asking kids to sit an astrophysics test for MIT here. This is to check to see if they have attained the skills they should have attained through the teaching of the curriculum. Again, it’s not the test – it’s the teaching that’s important here.

The general agreement by State and Federal Education Ministers last year to move NAPLAN testing online in 2016 will hopefully improve the usefulness of the data to inform learning and teaching. ‘Just-in-time’ data can provide teachers and leaders with the means to better diagnose students’ learning needs and areas for improvement so they can be more responsive in the areas of literacy and numeracy.

But we are beginning from a narrow starting point. We need to find new tools to assess our students across a broader range of areas including the development of key 21st century skillsets like critical thinking and collaboration skills. I will be very interested to hear what new ACARA head Rob Randall presents this month around this very idea.

The point I want to make here is that regardless of how good the data is, if we aren’t using it it’s no good.

Data, in and of itself, like technology or any other tool in a teacher’s kit won’t make the difference – it’s neutral. If we want to get serious about school improvement, we need to actually use the data to inform our work and change our practice.

Hopefully, UWS’s survey will help influence the necessary changes so our schools can use NAPLAN data to this effect.

Building Professional Capital

Recently, YouTube in partnership with the Khan Academy put the call out for educational content creators to train and mentor a growing online learning audience. In many parts of America, mandated participation in online courses as part of students’ K-12 schooling is on the rise. Massive online open courses (MOOCs) are emerging in the higher education sector, challenging traditional approaches to tertiary education, which is evidenced by declining enrolments in some tertiary courses. Senator Stephen Conroy last week challenged Australian universities to rethink their business models to incorporate MOOCs or risk becoming irrelevant. This raises alarm bells for me about the quality of instruction and students’ engagement in learning.

If we agree that teachers make the biggest difference to student learning outcomes, we need to ensure online learning models are not harnessed in such a way as to reduce education to a self-serve product.

While the proliferation of online educational content certainly provides an opportunity to influence the delivery and engagement of contemporary learning and teaching, we cannot lose sight of the important role that teachers play in engaging students in deep learning. We know the relationship between the teacher and the student in the presence of content (Elmore, 2009) – the instructional core – is paramount to the learning and teaching process. If technology supplants teachers and students become learners in isolation, this is not only detrimental to the development of critical thinking skills, but also for their capacity for deeper learning and understanding.

Andy Hargreaves and myself at the 2012 ADC lecture.

The focus for education, then, needs to be in building teachers’ capabilities: individually and collectively. We were privileged to have Andy Hargreaves deliver Catholic Education’s annual Ann D Clark lecture recently to over 300 educators. He warned of the increasing prevalence of the ‘business capital’ approach to education i.e. short-term investment (e.g. online delivery models) for quick return, saying the education sector had become a lucrative market for investors.

‘When we begin to move the whole profession of education to serve the short-term interests of business capital, it comes at an immense price and carries dangerous assumptions about the nature of the teacher and whether or not this is even a profession,’ (Hargreaves, 2012)

In their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) identify three components of ‘professional capital’ – human, social and decisional – which he says, when developed in concert, will build the teaching profession.

  • ‘Human capital’ refers to highly qualified teachers having the content knowledge and an understanding of child psychology, individual pre-service training and preparation, emotional intelligence and capability in relationships
  • ‘Social capital’ refers to trust, collaboration, collective responsibility, peer pressure and support, mutual assistance and networks
  • ‘Decisional capital’ (a term coined by Fullan and Hargreaves) refers to the teacher’s judgement, in case experience and lots of practice, in a teacher’s ability to reflect alone and together on their practice and to adjust their practice to improve students’ learning accordingly.

Building professional capital needs to take place throughout a teacher’s career in various ways at various stages because Hargreaves suggests it takes around eight years or 10,000 hours to develop expertise in the profession of teaching through practice and concerted effort.

Hargreaves says quality teachers need to:

  • understand that teaching is technically difficult
  • know cognitive science
  • understand a range of special education abilities
  • know about differentiated instruction
  • be able to assess in a sophisticated, diagnostic way
  • have massive emotional intelligence
  • have high levels of education and long periods of rigorous training
  • be able to use judgement, wisdom and discernment to know what’s in the spreadsheet of data to connect it to the students and to the knowledge they’re trying to acquire.

Teaching is not an individual task, but is something that is done collectively with other people as a community that takes time, investment, conditions and support. These human capabilities and the collaborative aspect of teaching (social capital) cannot be substituted with an online learning system alone.

I was pleased to read Khan Academy founder, Salman Khan, tackle the concern that the Khan Academy was a way to replace teachers:

‘Human teachers will become far more valuable in the future because [the classroom] will be a more interactive place and they are going to be doing the things computers cannot do, which is form bonds, motivate, mentor, diagnose,’ (Salman Khan, 2012).

I couldn’t agree more. There is, and always will be, a role for teachers.

Good practice is good theory

Too often, educators fall into the theory-practice trap. How many times have you heard a teacher say, ‘All that theory’s fine, but it doesn’t work in my classroom,’ or the theoretician say, ‘It’s a shame teachers don’t use the theory to inform their work.’ So it was refreshing to meet with a school leader who understands that good teaching involves both sides of the coin – you can’t have good practice without good theory.

Greg Whitby with Michael Fullan, Lyn Sharratt and James Bond

Michael Fullan, Lyn Sharratt, James Bond with myself.

Yesterday we met with Michael Fullan and Lyn Sharratt from the University of Toronto and James Bond, who is the principal of Park Manor Public School. The work James and his staff are doing to improve the learning outcomes of students is one of the case studies profiled in Fullan and Sharratt’s new book, Putting faces on the data.

I have written about this in an earlier post, but it was great to meet with James and discuss his approach in detail.

James has an interesting background. He originally trained as a teacher but when he couldn’t find a position, spent several years working in industry where he gained an insight into cultural change, particularly the application of both good theory and practical strategies to deliver sustained change.

What was really fascinating in listening to James describe his school’s approach, was the space he created to do the work – the staff learning centre – where, regardless of what teaching area they work in, teachers come together to share the data, analyse it and collaborate.

James didn’t start this work by leading a discussion on educational theory, rather he focused at the very centre of the teaching process, asking his teachers how they could improve their students’ learning.

He clearly values his staff and knew they had the answers. It was his role as the leader to help them find the answers by ‘putting faces on the data’; starting with the practice and ensuring it reflects good theory is what good leaders need to know how to do.

So what does the data look like?

There is a data panel for every student which is personalised and displayed on the data wall according to their levels of achievement in such a way that staff can see and take collective responsibility for each and every child (see below).

A personalised data panel for each student.

The data wall records:

  1. Student achievement at varying intervals
  2. Hypotheses for student performance
  3. Suggestions for change in teacher practice
  4. Verification process for effectiveness of change

Michael Fullan describes this as a powerful ‘pull and nudge’ model.

We can’t ignore the evidence of James’ student achievement data. For us it is a great example of how theory and practice come together to the direct benefit of each student at Park Manor Public School. It is also evident that his theory-practice model is changing the whole culture of the school.

Of course this approach is deeply rooted in good theory. Interestingly though, James never once referred to it.


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