Archive for the ‘Web 2.0’ Category

How technology will make teachers more human

When Yong Zhao was last in Australia, I asked if he would consider contributing a guest post to bluyonder.  I’m pleased to say his Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 12.54.51 pmpost, which is adapted from his newly published book ‘Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 Ed Tech Mistakes‘ is below. Yong suggests that we need to consider handing over some of the tasks traditionally done by teachers to technology. Look forward to your comments on this.  

With increased ease of access to vast amount of information and learning resources online and big-data-driven adaptive learning systems, will technology ultimately replace human teachers? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe technology will help make teachers more human educators. But this requires us to reimagine the role of teachers and the relationship between technology and human educators.

“Never send a human to do a machine’s job,” a statement from the movie The Matrix, is good advice for us to reimagine the relationship between humans and technology in education. Technology is developed to extend or replace human capacities. It is designed to do things that human beings are unable or unwilling to do or do things more efficiently than human beings, either more effectively or at lower costs. By design, technology is meant to replace certain human abilities. In other words, if technology can do certain things better with more efficiency or even things that are impossible for humans to do, we should let technology do it. There is no reason for humans to compete with machines. As a result, technology has replaced human beings entirely in cases where human involvement is straightforward and simple. For example, ATMs have replaced certain banking jobs and robotics has replaced certain manufacturing jobs.

Education is much more complex than depositing a cheque or getting cash from a bank teller. It is fundamentally a human endeavor. Technology will probably never be able to replace human teachers entirely. But many tasks that have traditionally been performed by human teachers can and should be done by technology so as to free human teachers to do things that machines cannot do or do as well. In other words, technology can make education more human if used properly.

To better capitalize on the potential of technology, schools and teachers need to reimagine the relationship between technology and human educators so as to determine what can be delegated to technology and what must be done by human educators, or can be done better by them. The reimagining can happen at multiple levels, and how it looks like depends on student characteristics, present arrangements and resources, grade levels, and educational objectives. But the advice would be the same: Never send a human to do a machine’s job. To paraphrase, we should not send human educators to do things that technology can do more effectively or at lower costs, and we should certainly allow technology to do things that human teachers cannot do or are unwilling to do.

A realigned teacher-machine relationship is essential for realizing the reimagined paradigm of schooling. As previously discussed, a personalized curriculum and product-oriented pedagogy requires schools to transform from one-size-fits-all factories into personal learning ecosystems. In a personal learning ecosystem, learners pursue their interests, create meaningful products, and take on the responsibility for their own learning. To realize this transformation, schools have to provide a lot more resources and opportunities and rethink how to organize and develop them. The increase in demand for resources and opportunities cannot possibly be met by human teachers alone. Thus schools will need to rely on technology, but not use it to replace human teachers. Instead, technology is meant to expand human capacities.

An essential element of the learning ecosystem is social and emotional support and personal guidance so that individual learners are properly challenged, supported, and mentored on their personal learning journey. No technology, even so-called big data, can be as socially and emotionally engaging to the human learner as another human being. No technology can understand the psychological conditions of an individual human learner, nor can it interpret human purposes. No technology can have the same level of wisdom, intuition, and caring as a human teacher. Thus emotional and social support, as well as mentoring, can be achieved only by human teachers.

However, no human being can compete with Google in terms of how much information one can hold and give access to. No single human can present information in engaging and multimedia ways that rival the computer, nor can one single human store as much information as banks of data servers. Additionally, no human teacher can be as patient as a machine when dealing with repetitive mechanical tasks. Thus human teachers should withdraw from such tasks as information gathering, storing, and transmission, as well as tasks as mechanical exercises.

After all, there is no reason for teachers to compete with Google or YouTube!

Are raspberry pi(es) good for you?

I am often asked about what technologies and devices will be like in the near future. Given the innovation, the rate of change,  and the exponential power of new technologies, not to mention the cost, this question is understandable. Up unto the last two to three  years it was all about “picking the winner” in an ever increasing market of devices and operating systems. Remember the VHS versus Beta race and the cost of getting it wrong. More recently the PC versus Mac was fought out almost like a religious war each side with its own zealots eager to purchase the next big thing and thus strive for market dominance. All this at exponential cost to the market in the relentless search for the most sophisticated device.

The rise of open source and the invention of the App has certainly reshaped the technologies world. The focus has shifted from the device to the software The devices are quickly becoming agnostic as programming has become what I call  “democratised” as users develop their own Apps to make the devices do what they want them to do, not what the original programmers necessarily intended them to do. We have thus seen a shift from the device controlling the learning to the learner controlling the device,. The device is now just an idea, they invite the user to be creative, inventive, and innovative. They become a powerful personalised tool at service not in control of the user.

What we do know about the future for technology is that quantum computing with be more powerful, faster cheaper and provide more storage. Wireless will become more ubiquitous and pervasive. Devices will be smaller more embedded in and on our person and into the built environment. Skills once considered essential to living in a modern society like driving a car, organising you personal life or for employment will be replaced by new skill requirements.

I don’t know what the next must have device will be but I wish I did because the profits in getting it right are enormous. The way I like to think about this is that the future will see the emergence of a post device era. This is the age of the algorithm where the high priests will not be the privileged few who understand the sacred mysteries and mathematical intricacies but the kids who understand that programming is a core skill.

This has huge implications for schools.  What value is being placed on teaching programming?  If computer literacy was about knowing how they worked, computer programming is about doing the work.  We’re already seeing a shift especially in the UK and US to train more teachers to code software and in doing so encourage young people to develop these critical skills.  This movement has been boosted by access to cost-effective computers like Raspberry Pi, designed to encourage kids to program.

Bill Liao co-founder of CoderDojo explained coding as a language skill -“You need to be a native speaker and for that you have to start young. We start kids at seven.”  He believes coding should be a “creative experience – the best coders are like poets, able to express their thoughts thoughts powerfully.”

Is this the new literacy for schools?


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.


‘Connected’ learning

Canadian principal George Couros spent last week sharing his  ‘connected’ learning with our teachers and leaders.  Several school leaders said they felt ‘inspired’ after hearing George talk so passionately about his students, profession and his professional learning.

The workshops with George and our Principals Masterclass may look like ‘stand-alone’ or ‘one-off’ events but they are actually part of a learning continuum that began seven years ago.  The mere fact that our leaders have an opportunity to collectively engage in deep conversations on learning is powerful learning.

At the start of the 2012 school year, we set our collective focus to ‘learning by inquiring’ – how we could engage in the inquiry and knowledge building cycle within schools and across the system.  It builds on the work of Helen Timperley by responding to the emerging needs of ‘our class’ – whether it be school leaders, teachers or learners.  It requires a commitment to engage in continuous learning through collective problem solving and data analysis to improve the learning outcomes for each student.

PMC-98For me, the principals masterclass was a high point in this journey to improve learning and build capacity.  When we started we relied heavily on outside experts but last week we had our own leaders sharing their learning.  Although the context of the school communities may be different, there is a shared vision that transcends physical and virtual borders.

As I listened to the keynotes, three things became clear.   The first is we are beginning to get the language right – we are crafting a new narrative shaped by the best of what we know when it comes to improving learning and teaching.  The second is we are developing greater precision around the work by getting rid of the ‘noise in the background’.  We are focusing on the things that make a difference – the high effect strategies to drive change where it counts most.  Thirdly after listening to our school leaders, we are now seeing tangible evidence of building teacher capacity and its impact on student engagement and learning.  It’s starting to make a difference.

All of this leads into new areas for discussion and new ways of working but we are doing this together.  In the past we’ve “intellectualised” the process of improvement but ignored the implementation process.   Competing narratives haven’t led to sustainable change – the discussion was broad and shallow.  Yet what I saw and heard last week was a significant shift at the point of delivery – system leaders working with school leaders working with teachers – everyone as George said ‘elbows deep in learning.’

If there is one thing that resonated with me when listening to George it was the importance of modelling the what, how and why of what we do.  It challenges us to lead in the way we ask our leaders to, teach in the way we ask our teachers to and learn in the way we ask our students to.

A learner’s voice

I have often asked my colleagues to write guest blogs as a way of sharing expertise from those at the coalface. In reality, those at the heart of schooling are our students.

CCSP - kidsIn May, we hosted the Council of Catholic School Parents’ Conference.  The theme was iConnect and the weekend was in part an opportunity to assuage the fears of parents by allowing students to showcase the technology being used in many of our classrooms. It was a case of students teaching the adults – a wonderful thing to see.

Among the senior students at CCSP was Lois from Loyola Senior High at Mt Druitt.  I asked Lois if she would write a guest blog on how technology has helped enrich her learning.  Lois jumped at the opportunity to share her reflections on the use of technology:

As students we are actively engaging and learning with technology to enhance and support our learning. Educational tools, such as the iPad (which many schools have rolled out an implementation program for) are not only simple to use but the availability of apps helps us learn and enables us to present our work in a variety of ways.

Of course, “What apps are there really out there that can truly be deemed educational?” and “How is it really benefiting the learning of students?” are questions that deserve an answer. There is never a clear, concise answer or a right or wrong answer. However, as a student who has firsthand experience with growing up in an education system that focuses strongly on technology and uses iPads in the classroom, I would like to share from my perspective as a young learner about educational apps for learning and the real benefit technology has on students.

Many have heard of iMovie, Garageband, Popplet, Pages, Creative Book Builder etc where students have created work based on Challenge Based Learning projects and present their findings through a chosen option such as mind maps, short film clips, songs and possibly even their very own iBook creation. The highlight about learning with the iPad is that it potentially allows every student to express their learning as they like it best. An auditory learner can effectively showcase their learning by creating songs and clips just the same as a visual learner can through creating mind maps and iBooks.

With technology expanding and growing, I see the role of a teacher in a technology rich world as someone who is able to use technology wherever and whenever appropriate and applicable. A number of educators I have come across have not only supported our use of technology in learning but also took the initiative to create their own resources for their classes that students can access on their iPad.

As a senior high school student, an app I recently came across called ‘Prelim Legal’ was designed by a senior high school teacher which involved videos packed with straightforward, uncomplicated material along with annotated pictures to make it much easier for any student to grasp the content and understand it easily. Filled with hours of videos including mp3 audio with clear explanations, the syllabus can effectively be taught and be accessed at any time, not restricting learning to only take place in the classroom.

Other teachers have created their own iBooks for distribution to students. The content is straight to the point and focuses on what needs to be learnt in the most effective way possible.  This allows students to comprehend the information at their own pace and in their own way as each student absorbs and remembers content differently.

Lessons that involve technology suddenly become more exciting, and students tend to become more engaged. It may be that when we hear ‘technology’ we immediately think of lessons being appealing and stimulating, or it could possibly be that we acknowledge and appreciate when teachers incorporate the use of technology in the classroom. Then again, it may just be that with technology at the touch of our fingertips and all these resources suddenly available to students, we can begin to take charge of our own learning.

I don’t think Lois is an atypical high school student. I meet so many like her. These are students who understand the world in which they live and the tools needed to enable them to learn, communicate and contribute. Are schools good at listening and learning from these voices?

Big data buzz

A few months ago I came across an ad for IBM in the Harvard Business Review.  The title was “The more we know, the more we want to change everything.”  Ads don’t normally capture my attention but this one did.  As I’ve written before, there are many things that schools can learn from business.  We share the desire to continually improve our product (learning and teaching) and to use technology in smarter ways to understand our students (clients) in order to deliver a better experience. The ad says:

Across the world, a distinct group of leaders is emerging who possess both a wealth of data and an acuity of analytical insight that that their predecessors never had.  So they feel freer to act – with a calculated boldness – to lead the big shifts that are reverberating through their organisations. They are making bold decisions and advancing them on the basis of rich evidence; they are anticipating events, not merely reacting to them; and they are toppling the conventions that stand in the way of thinking and working smarter.

The adage is knowledge is power but data is knowledge. The more we know, the more we can do and in this age of personalisation, big data is big business.  I think however its impact on education is yet to be fully realised. We’ve always known that data is critical to our work but it’s been the case of what to do with it and how to use it effectively to anticipate [learning needs] rather than merely react to them.

There is obviously a buzz in education now around big data or learning analytics.  The 2013 K-12 Horizon report includes learning analytics as one of its mid term trends.  According to the report, “learning analytics leverages student data to build better pedagogies, target at-risk student populations, and assess whether programs designed to improve retention have been effective and should be sustained.”

This is taking personalised learning to a whole new level.  As more and more schools move to online learning, this will make it so much easier for teachers to examine students’ progress in real time and to respond accordingly.

symbol1The Khan Academy is one organisation that has been developing its metrics in order to understand learners’ progress and performance.  Two years ago I met Ramona Pierson who used her own extraordinary journey to develop tools for blind people, which then segued into education.  Ramona is now the CEO of Pierson Labs, which is developing tools to help teachers create more personalised lesson for students that combines learning analytics and social networking platforms.

Learning analytics will not only significantly impact on students’ learning but also on teacher learning.  Imagine as Ramona says mapping the learning progression of teachers against the needs of students – this means being one step ahead instead of five years behind.

As Lyn Sharratt and Michael Fullan write in Putting Faces to the Data, effective teachers combine emotion and cognition in equal measure.  Teaching is a balance between art and science, data and humanity.  The proliferation of learning analytics will enable every teacher to make decisions based on rich evidence not assumptions.

I’d like to think that the more teachers know about their students, the more they want to change everything. These teachers don’t see artificial divides between performance data and student well being, they see it as a symbiotic relationship that gets richer the deeper you dive. The test is how feedback is given and it’s used to improve our core business – learning and teaching.

The 21st Century Textbook

Don Tapscott’s latest book is not actually a book but an iPad app New Solutions for a Connected Planet.  It was created in partnership with Thinkers50 and sponsored by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

What makes this app innovative is that it is an evolving ‘book’ full of real-time, rich media content that allows readers (users) to navigate and interact in a way that a hardcopy or even eReader book couldn’t accommodate.

This is the start of a new breed of reference books that shows what you can do to take digital content to the next level. Think of the potential for learning and teaching… a 21st century textbook that allows the learner to navigate, press, wipe, slide, watch, listen and share all in the one place. It’s served up in a highly interactive and engaging way for a digital savvy generation.

The app itself is well worth a look offering Don’s latest thinking on how we can rebuild 10 institutions, including education, for the networked age.

In his Ted Talk, Four principles for the open world Don talks about the notion of sharing IP (intellectual property) to provide the rising tide in order to ‘lift everyone’s boats’. He sees the potential of the digital, global ecomony as a ‘turning point in human history’ requiring organisations and businesses to become more open, porous and fluid. It’s likely this thinking is the reason why he has made his new book free via iTunes.

There are some tools already available like iBooks Author app for users to create something similar with text enriched by multimedia and the ability to publish/share the book via iTunes and other channels.

I’m sure we can expect to see even more sophisticated ‘books’ like this in the future. I would love to hear your thoughts on the 21st century textbook?