For the past five years we have been working with our ‘learning partner’ Michael Fullan. Michael has acted as a system coach/mentor, helping us to sharpen our focus and stay the course. The benefit of having Michael as our learning partner is that he has a deep understanding of system change but is at arm’s length from the day to day work. He brings a balanced perspective that challenges and motivates. It’s a long road but we are starting to see change where it counts most.
When Michael was here with us a few weeks ago, he shared his latest work ‘Alive in the Swamp: assessing digital innovations in education’, co-written by Katelyn Donnelly on behalf of Nesta and New Schools. I think it’s one of the first times that I’ve seen technology in the context of system change and not as an acquisition.
As Michael and Katelyn write:
Up to this point, technology has not impact on schools. Billions have been invested with little thought to altering the learning system. There are also potentially destructive uses of technology on learning; we must be aware of distractions, easy entertainment and personalisation to the point of limiting our exposure to new ideas. We focus not simply on technology itself but on its use.
And so the question is how do we assess the impact technology is having on the learning and on system change? The authors have developed an Index that allows system leaders to ask relevant questions in the areas of pedagogy, technology and system change. It challenges system leaders and policy makers to focus on HOW technology is making a difference; how it is supporting ‘collaboration and effective interaction.’
This doesn’t mean that schools investment in technology has somehow been a waste. On the contrary, we need to ensure the technology works to support good teaching. What we do know is that technology as a tool in the hands of great teachers has the capacity to be transforming.
If you’re wondering why the ‘swamp’ metaphor, it’s based on the understanding that technology is part of today’s learning ecosystem today; interconnected to pedagogy and system change (with students at the centre) but the waters are still murky. The framework will hopefully help schools and systems navigate their way through the challenges.