Engagement is the secret

Stephen Heppell was in Melbourne last week for the Curriculum Corporation Conference where he delivered (with his customary wisdom and wit), a keynote address on learning and teaching in the 21st century.
There are three things you quickly discover about Heppell: his passion for learning, his understanding of technology and his optimism for the future of schools.  And when you combine all three, you realise that anything is possible.
Photo property of Edublogger
Photo property of Edublogger

Yet despite the technological revolution, Heppell says we (parents, teachers and governments) still value conformity and predictability.  For example, he asks why we still group children in classrooms by year of birth, why not by interests?  Why do we still build factory-like schools with corridors when students prefer small learning communities?

Heppell believes it is ‘catastrophic’ to impose an industrial model of learning on today’s students when their learning is being shaped and influenced by events that have never gone before e.g global warming, global financial crisis, record oil prices, digital revolution etc.

For him, the key to creating relevant learning is engagement and the question we all need to be asking in a Web 2.0 world is ‘how is what we’re doing engaging our learners when everyone else is vying for their attention?’

Admittedly, many educators struggle with this but Heppell says ask students what engages them and you will see how ambitious they are to learn and to make a positive contribution to the global community.

I have said often at conferences and in writing that while schools today face many challenges, the most significant challenge is making schooling relevant in the lives of every student – not just those who attain high marks or who have adjusted well to the school environment.

Young people are actively and deliberately disengaging from schooling as the primary place for learning when they discover new ways of learning and sharing ideas (often well mediated) in an on-line world.

What I do see is an increasing willingness and capacity of teachers to face this challenge head on and with outstanding results. Stephen Heppell’s work points to many other areas to seek this re-engagement with evidence based results. Some of these are really “outside the square” but we won’t find the answers in the past!

4 thoughts on “Engagement is the secret

  1. A student asked me a question today.
    I was teaching the class how to expand and factorise and up went the hand.

    Yes Olivia….how can I help you?

    Sir what does this have to do with life?

    And there you have it……student’s are seeking connections and relevance

    A well timed article Greg
    I’ve posted something similar

  2. Hi Greg,

    Been a long time reader of your blog and the efforts you go to in sharing your experiences and understanding with teachers struggling to keep up with an ever-updating world is really heartening. If only you were in public education with me… 🙂

    Engagement is a key problem and as Giovanni just said, connections and relevance as well. I really hope the National Curriculum doesn’t drop the ball – I fear it’s going to be our last chance to get back in the game proper.

    Thought I’d fill you in on an idea I had just after Christmas along the lines of engagement, participation and connections. It’s all finished now and living and breathing. I can see loads of potential for it for active learning in an interactive computer classroom.


    Would love to know what you think.


    P.S. There’s also Jeopardy – http://stuhasic.com/jeopardy

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