Posts tagged ‘Don Tapscott’

No easy fixes – just good teaching

pirlsIn monitoring the commentary yesterday on the release of Australia’s latest rankings in PIRL and TIMSS exams, there was general agreement that our performance was well below par. A country like Australia cannot tolerate poor performance. We must lift our standard of learning and teaching and do so as a matter of urgency.

In noting the response, there was the usual long line of experts, policy makers, academics, teacher union and parent representatives across the various media channels all pointing the finger at the other saying teachers need to do better, spend more, get paid more, be smarter, get better training, work better with parents, and so on.

Glaringly absent in the commentary was the voice of the professional teacher.

If everyone agrees that good teaching makes the biggest difference to student learning why aren’t we looking to the profession to help drive the changes needed to ensure continuous school improvement?

We spend so much time and energy in the education sector adopting, adapting and applying – or arguing against and avoiding – yet another shortsighted, secondhand or unproven reform or initiative. As a veteran in the educational game I have lived through many of these reforms before and know they don’t work, so yesterday’s commentary about why Australia’s performance is below par and how we can ‘fix it’ made me throw my hands up in the air. When will we ever learn?

There are no easy fixes here. We have to be brutally honest if we are to substantially change our existing practices. We know they are not delivering the best for every student, so we need to stop tinkering at the edges and start transforming schooling. Old mantras need to be tested; everything must be scrutinised.

And the only way to do the work is for teachers to do the work. And if they don’ t know how – to learn the work. The simple fact is we need to get the distractors out of the way so good teachers and school leaders can get on with the job.

It would be nice if we all got paid what we thought we were worth. Additional pay might get a teacher up in the morning but it certainly won’t be the reason why they persist with a student who just doesn’t seem to be making progress. All the good teachers I know do the job because they love the job; even when it’s difficult and demanding. They persevere; they try everything in their toolbox and then some, to ensure that the kids in their class are getting it. And more than that – that they are thriving.

Think about the teachers you know that inspire you or challenge you. They aren’t doing the same thing they did last year or even last month, they change and flex to suit the needs of their students. They spend much of their time finding new and better ways to engage students; to make learning interesting, relevant and meaningful for their students. The learning experiences they create range from using pen, paper and string to fully charged, connected, digital experiences. Like the teacher from Northern Beaches Secondary College featured in last week’s Sun Herald who dug up half the school yard to create an archaeological site for her students. What motivates this breed of teacher? What makes them tick?

Often in the teaching profession we mistake complacency with collegiality. We convince ourselves it is better not to celebrate excellence or elevate a few shining examples for fear of denigrating the whole profession. This is wrong thinking.

Imagine the outcome if the medical profession didn’t push the boundaries, risk failure, dust themselves off and try again? Forget organ transplants, brain surgery or even penicillin. None of these life saving techniques or treatments would be around today if the few hadn’t persevered and looked for new and better ways of doing the work, and they wouldn’t have perfected and improved these techniques and treatments if they hadn’t shared their learning with their colleagues.

The same needs to happen in teaching. The best thing the profession can do for itself is identify innovative practice – excellent practice – and showcase it, celebrate it and share it. In essence good teachers need to teach other teachers how to do it too.

As I mentioned in a recent post, thought leader Don Tapscott says we need to share our intellectual property in order to ‘lift everyone’s boats’. This is true of the teaching profession in driving school improvement. Not one individual has all the answers. Good ideas require more than one head, great ideas even more heads. One teacher won’t improve the learning in their school in isolation… nor will two teachers. They might make a difference to the kids in their class but without the collective responsibility of all teachers in the school working together to lead the improvement agenda their influence will be limited.

I know I run the risk of alienating some of my colleagues, but that’s not my intention. After yesterday the last thing I want to do is point the finger.

What I do want to do is challenge the profession to take back the agenda; to work together with their colleagues and school leaders to drive change and improvement; to challenge the status quo; to find new ways, better ways; and to make that difference to the lives of their students. There is no other way to improve learning except through good teaching.

If we can reflect honestly on Australia’s performance, we can identify new possibilities rather than rehash old programs or experiment with new ones. We just have to focus with determination and precision and address the central issues related to the practice of good 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?


I joined a 1000 educators recently for the annual Quest conference in Toronto.  Hosted by the York District Public Schools Board, this conference is widely regarded as a ‘must attend’ event in Canada with a large international contingent.

Researcher and author, Don Tapscott gave the opening keynote and mapped the issues with precision.  He spoke about the industrial model of schooling in the context of mass media, mass production and mass distribution.  All of these share similar characteristics – one size fits all; recipient is passive.

The point that Don was making is that we don’t refer to ‘mass’ anymore in a collaborative world.  News and information is personalised and accessible anywhere, anytime.  Since we’re no longer recipients but co-creators, we need to see schooling differently.

Technology isn’t the singular cause of change, it’s the relationship between student/teacher and the learning process.

Don’s advice to educators and school leaders:

  1. It’s not a blame game. Everyone shares responsibility including parents.  Teachers can make the change if they are well supported and resourced.
  2. Focus on life-long learning not teaching to the test
  3. Use technology to get to know your students
  4. Leaders are those people in your community who look for new solutions (e.g parents, teachers, admin staff).  Leaders also have to engage with the technologies – become a blogger, edit a wikipedia entry, use a wiki.
  5. Learn from and challenge young people – don’t make learning a one way experience.

Grown up digital

I had the opportunity to catch up with Don Tapscott last week. Talking to people who are pushing the boundaries really energises and stretches your thinking.

Tapscott has written the best-selling books Growing up Digital, Grown up Digital and Wikinomics; these are must reads for educators who want to ensure schooling is relevant to today’s learners.

One of the most interesting facts in his recent book Grown Up Digital is that the youngest digital immigrant in our school system is 11 years old. The eldest in that generation is 31 years old, which means that two generations have passed through our schools since the dawn of the digital age.

Sadly, we are still running schools as if computers and other technologies were a recent invention!

In his presentation, Don made this salient point – we cannot act tomorrow or next month – we must act today otherwise we risk losing another generation of learners. Our teachers may not have grown up digital but they need to understand today’s context to teach today’s learners.