Craig Blewett, University of KwaZulu-Natal
The Collins English Dictionary unveiled a thoroughly modern concept as its word of the year for 2015: binge watching. It usually refers to consuming endless hours of movies or series on Netflix, one after the other. But binge watching is about the more fundamental issue of the world’s obsession with content consumption.
A recent report on media use reveals that teens are now spending more hours consuming media than sleeping. The average American teenager is spending about nine hours a day on entertainment media alone. Is this really the huge problem it’s made out to be? Partly, yes - because while they are engaging with a lot of information during those nine hours, they are creating barely any content of their own in this time.
This passivity is being replicated in classrooms. What will it take to replace these with engaged, active classrooms?
Consuming - but not creating
All too often, parents see their children on devices and say: “You’re wasting your time.”
There may be times when this is true. But today’s devices are not like the single function radios and televisions their parents grew up with. In the past if a child was spending lots of time in front of the TV it was obvious they were doing only one thing - watching TV. Modern devices allow for a wide range of activities from consumption to conversation to creation. Even sitting in front of a TV a child today could be doing anything from having a conversation, playing a game, watching a movie or creating a world in Minecraft.
The problem arises when children aren’t doing any of these things during their nine hours of entertainment media. The research shows that on average, kids are spending about 40% of this time on “passive consumption” compared with just 3% of their time on content creation.
It would be easy to dismiss this if it only happened at home, in children’s own time. But there ought to be concern when this trend is picked up and implemented in classrooms. This is unfortunately exactly what’s happening.
New tech, old methods
Schools are making a headlong rush to digitise the classroom. The media is awash with stories about tablets being rolled out, smartboards being installed or YouTubed classrooms. All of these technologies have great potential - yet at their core they are all about consumption. They do little to move the learner from a passive consumer to someone who is actively engaged.
The result is fuelling our students' “binge watching”, passive consumption diet. It is also leading to more and more studies suggesting that technology is not working in the classroom.
However, maybe it’s not the technology that isn’t working, but the way we’re using it. There is no doubt that our education system needs a revolution. That doesn’t mean doing what we have always done and just silicon coating it. A revolution needs new approaches to teaching and learning. It must be based on activity, not passivity.
Active classrooms are possible
What is exciting is that the seeds for an activated classroom approach are already found in children’s current media habits. All that teachers and parents need to do is harness them. Another way to look at Common Sense Media’s research is in terms of the active things children are doing with media.
While they may be spending 40% of their time on passive consumption, they are spending 3% of their time creating content, 25% on “interactive consumption” and 26% communicating. That means they’re spending more than half their time actively engaging with media. It is these activities that hold promise for the future of classrooms.
Teachers must encourage a move away from passive content consumption towards active engagement with media in their classrooms. For example, rather than providing students with prepackaged course content, students can source and curate their own content using tools like Flipboard. Rather than passively watching videos, students can be actively involved in creating their own videos about the content.
Rather than simply reading content through books or ebooks, students can rather engage in conversations around the content, with tools like Google Hangouts.
Towards an activated classroom
While the binge watching trend may signal a worrying focus on consumption, research shows that active teaching and learning approaches are good for students. The future of our classrooms relies on teachers harnessing this energy, combining it with the benefits of technology - then activating learning in the classroom. By moving students from passive readers and hearers to active curators and creators, teachers can significantly impact both students' enthusiasm in the classroom and how much they learn.
“Video killed the radio star,” laments the catchy lyrics of the old 80s song by the Buggles.
This trend, of one technology killing another has continued, as streaming media killed videos, smartphones killed cameras, and tablets killed PCs. But once more we have been surprised, this time by the technology taking over classrooms.
Schools are faced with a difficult decision - what technology would work best in the classroom? Laptops, tablets, smartphones, or something else? And, does it really matter? It turns out, contrary to what most would had predicted, the technology most used in the classroom is not what was expected, and this may have a huge impact on how our students learn.
There's little debate now. Technology will be used in our classrooms. Even schools who are resisting the move will inevitably be swept along by the biggest change to impact education since the invention of the printing press. Most schools have narrowed down their options to two contenders - iPads/tablets or laptops? However it’s still difficult for schools to decide, especially when multi-billion dollar corporations woo them with impressive presentations as they compete for a market predicted to be worth $50 billion in 2016. However, maybe its not the device that schools should be preoccupied with, but rather how students use these devices.
Lean Back vs Lean Forward
One way to look at how students use technology, and hence its potential impact on education, is called the “lean back” vs “lean forward” approach. This model, originally developed by Jakob Nielsen in 2008, considers the position we adopt when we engage with technology and the resultant impact this has on how we use technology, in other words our engagement style. For example, when I grab a laptop I naturally want to sit at a desk. This is referred to as lean forward device usage. By contrast when I use my iPhone or iPad I am more likely to use it sitting on a chair. This is called lean back device usage.
A lean forward device, like a laptop, typically sees the user more active but with shorter attention spans as they switch tasks and skim content. They are designed to be used with a mouse and keyboard, more often seated at a desk. The benefit of lean forward devices are that they lead to greater activity, with increased brain activity associated with skim reading, searching, and content creation.
By contrast a lean back device, like an iPad, sees the user more passive, but often with longer attention spans as they consume content. They are designed to be navigated with the flick of a thumb, while sitting comfortably on a couch. The benefit of lean back devices are that they lead to greater reading, and consuming of content, especially during “dead time”, such as while commuting or waiting (Whirlpool).
What goes around...
When it comes to learning, lean forward and lean back approaches have been around for centuries.
However, while elements of Lean Forward 1.0 and 2.0, and Lean Back 1.0 and 2.0 are the same , there are also elements that technology has introduced that are different. One of these is the impact on attention spans. For example, while Lean Back devices, such as TVs, are considered to have longer attention spans, the newer instantiation of smartphones and tablets has resulted in what is called “second screen” syndrome, where users simultaneously use their smartphones or tablets while watching TV.
While second screen usage allows for users to engage with others about the content they are seeing, from a learning perspective this is resulting in shorter attention spans and increased cognitive load. So, while a useful model, Nielsen’s model predates the rise of smartphones and tablets, and as such doesn't consider other potentially important aspects that need to be considered, especially when it comes to education.
What’s best for learning?
Schools are trying to select a technology that will best enable effective teaching and learning in the classroom. Craig Will, argued that its no longer as simple as lean back and lean forward, and proposed a Mind:Engagement model.
In this model he maps activity and absorption. The middle area is dominated by consumption, while the upper right quadrant, which would be considered the goal of educators - high activity and high absorption, is where students are using their devices for search, curation and communication, in other words activity. Gigaom Research, referring to marketers, suggests they “direct their advertising dollars to the upper right quadrant of the Engagement Style grid.” Educators should be doing likewise.
It’s not what device should be used in the classroom that educators should be concerned with, but rather how the device is used in the classroom. Current approaches are failing because schools are simply attempting to replicate old consumption based approaches with new technology devices. And so blackboards have become smartboards, books have become ebooks, and teachers have become YouTube videos. Approaches grounded in consumption are simply receiving a new silicon coating.
What is needed are approaches that encourage active engagement in the classroom, not passive content consumption. Lean back devices, such as tablets encourage more passive content consumption, while lean forward devices tend to encourage more active content creation. However, despite this, as Will's model points out, what is more important is how the device is used.
The rapid rise in tablets has seen reports predicting that tablets will take over the classroom, thereby making it an easy decision for many schools to make. However once more analysts have been “shocked”. A recent report has now revealed that Google’s Chromebook makes up half of US classroom devices. Unlike laptops, Chromebooks (aka Netbooks) are lightweight laptops that have little on-board storage, with most applications and data residing on the web.
"While it was clear that Chromebooks had made progress in education, this news is, frankly, shocking. Chromebooks made incredibly quick inroads in just a couple of years, leaping over Microsoft and Apple with seeming ease.” ( J.P. Gownder, Forrester)
Is this a shift arising from the failure of iPads that was widely reported in the media over the past two years? Is this a shift that signals a move by schools' from consumption-based approaches to more activated classrooms? Whatever the reasons for this shift, it seems Apple has already noticed as indicated by their recent entry of the iPad Pro into the market. This new device, which combines a larger screen size plus an optional keyboard and pen, is clearly targetted and not only content consumption but also at content production - everything from the middle to the top-right of the Mind:Engagement model. And according to early reports, its being suggested that the “shocking” swing towards Chromebooks in the classroom is already being eroded, as once more we witness another shift.
Forget the device
“Forget the device. Focus on web-based applications that best meet the needs of your students and teachers...more schools will officially embrace what has already been happening under the radar for years: BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Students will bring in all kinds of technology ranging from smartphones to laptops.” (HuffingtonPost).
I would add, when it comes to Education Technology, focus on the education, not the technology, focus on training teachers not choosing devices. It's when we consider how we use technology more than what technology we use that our schools will have the best chance at transforming the classroom.
I recently came across an article entitled “5 apps educators should use”, but in my enthusiasm I misread it as “5 apps educators shouldn’t use”. I must admit that I did a double-take for a moment. How could someone tell educators what apps not to use? It would really be bad to be an app on such a list… which of course got me thinking. Are there any apps that educators shouldn’t ever use? I think there are, but maybe not the ones you would expect. Here are 5 “apps” educators should never use plus 5 “apps” every educator must use.
5 “Apps” Educators Should Never Use
5 “Apps” Educators Should Always Use
Hey, but surely we need some apps installed in our iTeacher life if we are going to be successful, right? Sure we do. So after removing the previous 5 apps from iTeacher, here are the 5 apps every iTeacher must use!
Originally publisher here
Recently the Collins English Dictionary selected the 2015 word of the year. The word was “binge watching” a word that reflects our drastically changing lifestyles. It basically means "to watch a large number of television programmes (especially all the shows from one series) in succession.” Lexicographers noticed that its usage was up 200% on 2014, hence awarding it the “word of the year” title. Binge watching may be exactly what’s wrong with education.
Binge watching is not just about consuming endless hours of Netflix movies one after another, it's about a more fundamental issue - our obsession with content consumption. It’s an obsession that extends beyond our living-rooms and into the very hallowed sanctums of our classrooms. It’s an obsession fuelled by student habits and misguided teachers. It’s an obsession that is resulting in what might be termed “binge watching classrooms”.
CONSUMING MORE THAN SLEEPING
There are many exciting opportunities for us to use technology in our classrooms, however we are increasingly seeing reports that technology is not improving learning. What’s going wrong? Is it technology that is at fault or is it how we are using technology that is the problem? I believe part of the answer to this important question may be found in the 2015 word of the year - binge watching.
Common Sense Media’s recent report on media use by tweens and teens reveals that teens are now spending more hours consuming media than sleeping! The average American teen is spending about nine hours a day on entertainment media alone. However we must be careful of sensationalism that paints all media usage with a single brushstroke.
All too often, when seeing children on their devices, parents respond with, “You’re wasting your time”. Yet, while there may be times when this is true, these devices are not like the single function devices that parents grew up with. In the past if a child was spending lots of time in front of the TV it was obvious they were doing only one thing - watching TV. However modern devices allow for a wide range of activities from consumption to conversation to creation. Even sitting in front of a TV a child today could be doing anything from having a conversation, playing a game, watching a movie or creating a world in Minecraft.
So what are children doing with this 9 hours of their day? In support of the word of the year, more time is being spent on “Passive Consumption” than on any of single activity. As the chart below shows, on average children are spending about 40% of their media time on “passive consumption” as compared to only 3% of their time on content creation.
The Passive Classroom
If this was all that was happening it might be easy to dismiss this as, “well it’s their time, let them do what they want.” However it's when this trend is picked up by teachers and implemented in classrooms that we have cause for concern, and that is exactly what we are seeing.
Schools are making a headlong rush to digitize the classroom, yet this mostly implies digital consumption. The media is awash with stories about tablets being rolled out or smartboards being installed or YouTubed classrooms. All of these technologies have great potential, yet at their core they are all about consumption. They do little to move the learner from a passive consumer to an active engager. Reading ebooks on a tablet, or watching YouTube videos, while digital, is all about content consumption. Yet this is where many schools are spending their energy and resources. The result is fuelling our students “binge watching”, passive consumption diet, and resulting in more and more studies suggesting that technology is not working in the classroom.
However, maybe it’s not the technology that is not working, but our use of the technology. There is no doubt that our education system needs a revolution - but a revolution is not doing what we have always done and just silicon coating it. A revolution, with revolutionary devices that we are now equipped with, needs new approaches to teaching and learning. One based not on passivity but activity.
The Activated Classroom
What is exciting is that the seeds for an activated classroom approach are already found in our children’s current media habits - all we need to do is harness them. Common Sense Media’s research shows that while children are only spending 3% of their time creating content, they are nonetheless choosing to spend some of their “down time” actively creating. In addition to this teens are also spending 25% of their time in “interactive consumption” and 26% communicating. Relooking at teens and tweens use of media we see that they both spend about 55% of their time on active online tasks. It is these activities that hold promise for the future of our classrooms.
With more than than half children's time spent on active media engagement we need our teachers to encourage this activated style of learning in their classrooms. Where teaching and learning is not about consuming prepackaged content but engaging in active content curation. Where teaching and learning is not about passive content consumption but exciting opportunities for conversation around content. Where teaching and learning is not about watching recorded video lesson but learning through creating their own videos.
This is the call to an activated classroom. If we are to escape the portend of 2015’s word of the year, the Binge Watching Classroom, we will need to, as teachers, step forward and become education activists!
An avalanche is coming
I’m standing on a pristine white slope. The snowcapped peaks rise to touch the blue sky above. It’s a postcard scene. It’s tranquil, and it’s only the faint rumble that heralds what is coming. For most sitting languidly enjoying their drinks on the ski slope, the rumble goes unnoticed. Yet in minutes everything, and everyone, will be swept away! I look up and see a blur of movement on the slope, and the rumble becomes more noticeable. Someone nearby leans over to his friend and says, “I think there’s an avalanche coming.” “You’re right,” they reply, “We should move to another table.”
#RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall, it’s obvious that we’re hearing the rumbles of discontent on our higher education landscape, but what’s not as obvious is that these are the warning sounds of a fast-approaching avalanche. It’s not the statues or the fees, that are the issues, but rather lies beneath - a common call, a common need for white and black, rich and poor to unhindered, equal access to quality education.
It’s long been known that education is the surest route to liberation from poverty, inequality and injustice. Yet while we have made huge strides in our country in many aspects, our educational advances have been dismal. And so disruption and protest are becoming the voice of our students seeking change. Yet as Jonathan Jansen, the Vice Chancellor of Free State University, points out, these rights to protest may carry long-term consequences, as it did for the University of Zimbabwe, that destroys the very thing our students are seeking - quality education.
Rearranging the chairs
Moving to a different chair in the face of an impending avalanche hardly seems like a sensible thing to do. Yet this is all that President Zuma’s “zero percent fee increase”, or moving statues, or renaming buildings, is doing. Let’s for a moment imagine not only the zero fee increase, but the goal of free higher education. Does this mean academic staff salaries, which are already low and lag industry levels, will further decline, causing more quality staff to leave?
“Just as investors do not invest their money in chronically unstable societies, so too top academics do not spend their time on serially disruptive campuses. Parents who have choices send their children elsewhere for higher education, including out of the country, leaving behind moribund institutions where the only students and academics left are those who cannot move.” (Jonathan Jansen).
And so in a bid to stem the rising discontent, numerous suggestions have been mooted, such as cutting budgets, finding more funding, linking fees to income. Yet all of these are symptomatic treatments. All of these are seeing us rearranging the chairs when the fundamentals remain the same. We’re simply replicating what we’ve always done, and the demand for quality education will continue to exceed what we are able to deliver. #ReplicatorsMustFall
The rumbles we’re experiencing are not unique to our country. First world countries, such as the USA also have a greater demand than there is supply of spaces at top universities. Yet while our students are excluded based on not having enough money, their students are given credit which saddles them with crippling lifelong debt. Education, the surest route to liberation, remains the sanctum of the wealthy, or those with access to vast sums of money.
The juxtaposition of Revolutions
Yet at the same time as we are seeing a revolution on the campuses of universities, we are witnessing another revolution happening online. While students fight over access to limited resources on our campuses, online quality educational content has become ubiquitous as top universities like Harvard, MIT, and Berkley, amongst many others, provide their content for free. While our universities languish in the shadow of ancient statues and symbols, the online world has seen the rise of a digital behemoth - MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses.
“Massive open online courses are arguably the most revolutionary facet of higher education today. Building on the foundations of existing online courses, these classes are open to anyone, anywhere, with enrollments in the thousands, at some of the best colleges and universities in the country—all for free” (Katie Sluiter).
If we have a demand by hundreds of thousands of students wanting quality education, and world-class universities are providing quality education for free, surely we should be rethinking our higher education system. #InnovatorsMustRise
MOOCs may have their problems, such as the impersonal nature of online, lack of feedback, and no accreditation, amongst others, but we need innovative thinking, not bandaid repairs of endlessly replicated old approaches. We need to rethink how we educate our students before the avalanche sweeps us all away.
Empty Rooms, not Empty Minds
I lecture at a University, and more often that not I see half empty lecture theatres. Sure they’re full to start with, but quickly the numbers dwindle. Schedule a lecture early in the morning or on a Friday afternoon, and you could be lecturing yourself! Why? Students are not learning in the way they used to. Learning has moved from content consumption to conversation around content. Learning has moved from physical places to online spaces. Learning has moved from preset times, to anywhere, anytime. Learning has moved from dry lectures, to engaging media. Yet universities persist with approaches invented by Gutenberg and the printing press era.
We are not going to solve our education crisis simply by dropping fees and statues. We need innovative solutions, otherwise what comes after #FeesMustFall…#EntryRequirementsMustFall, #ExclusionsMustFall, #ExamsMustFall? And why not, if the goal is equal opportunity for everyone to higher education.
We can’t fix our education crisis by simply silicon coating our failing, outdated education institutes - we need to innovate, we need #OutTheBox thinking. This is not simply about installing SmartBoards, and handing out iPads. It’s time for a revolution…not in the streets, but in our minds.
It’s ironic that universities, the bastions of research and future directions, are mired in the relics of the past. It’s time for future thinkers to come together, to rethink, reimagine, and redesign our educational landscape. The avalanche is upon us, but so too is the opportunity to avoid the mistakes of other countries. We already have a generation who not only increasingly have access to technology, with the majority of South Africans having at least on mobile phone, but a generation who also knows how to use this technology - as exhibited in the social media avalanche they created in the current crisis. Let’s harness this potential and forge new directions for higher education in South Africa. #InnovatorsMustRise
It wasn't many years ago when Sir Ken Robinson made a landmark speech from the TED stage calling for a revolution in education...before it is too late. Amazingly many educators rallied to the call and soon schools around the world were rolling out technology in their classrooms - iPads, laptops, smartphones, BYOD...the fervor was palpable, the excitement electric, the results...dismal!
The media was soon filled with bad news stories, such as the failed iPad program in LA, research "proving" that technology is making our kids "dumber". Yet amazingly thousands more schools every day join the revolution, waving their iPads victoriously to celebrate change - when nothing has changed. The revolution is ending before it has even started. We need a paradigm change urgently, however paradigm changes are not easy...or are they?
Watch this short video to find out about the urgent need for us to change how we are using technology in our classrooms, before its too late!
My son Joshua (10) wants to know what it would cost to build a bridge between South Africa and Australia. That’s the third question in the last ten minutes. “I dunno,” I confess, and he replies: “But how much do you think?” I direct him to Google.
There’s just no getting away from young children’s questions. They are naturally inquisitive.
In my university lectures, it’s a different story. Wrapping up, I ask: “Right class, any questions?” Thirty silent seconds pass. “There must be a question. Anything?” More silence, and then a hand goes up. The student asks: “Umm, will this stuff be in the exam?”
That’s not the type of probing question I was hoping for. Children’s insatiable curiosity and search for new knowledge is getting lost somewhere along the way. Where have we mislaid the art of the question?
Seek and ye shall … get impatient?
More and more, children are being told to shut up, take notes and do well in tests. Participation is discouraged. This attitude follows them to university: former Yale professor William Deresiewicz complains in his book Excellent Sheep that “curiosity is dead”.
Deresiewicz believes that even elite schools are simply manufacturing students: they’re smart, they’re driven – but they have no intellectual curiosity. They don’t ask questions.
Former maths teacher and tech guru Dan Meyer agrees. Modern students are “impatient with things that don’t resolve quickly”, says Meyer. He explains:
There’s a strange paradox at work here. We live in an era where information is more freely available and easily accessible than ever before. Learning has, broadly speaking, evolved in three stages. First, knowledge resided in books or was held by experts. Students had to “knock” – to go looking – to find the answers. Then came Google, and with it students learned to “seek” because it was right there at their fingertips.
With the advent of Facebook and other social networks, we’ve entered the era of “ask”. Knowledge resides in the minds of the network, so students can just throw out a question on their Facebook page: “Hey guys, how would you answer this question that our professor set?”
My PhD research traced the impact of this shift by exploring student learning on Facebook. Students don’t read lengthy documents – like academic papers – any longer. They don’t go hunting for answers. They just put a question out to their network, sit back and wait for the answers to come their way.
There’s the paradox: in the online world, asking is ubiquitous. But offline, in spaces like the lecture theatre, asking questions is a dying art.
The quest for the question
There are several ways in which teachers and parents can instil a love of questions that will last a lifetime. Take my son’s bridge question. “Josh,” I say, “that’s a great question. I don’t know the answer but it would be fascinating to find out. I wonder if anyone has ever thought about it? Why don’t you Google it and see what you can find?”
Now the kicker: “And while you’re searching, see if you can figure out what material would have to be used”. He looks at me for a moment, replies "OK”, grabs his phone and starts tapping away. We’re starting with one question and one answer – then going in search of more.
This building curiosity floods the brain with dopamine, which gives kids a positive push to learn and know more.
One recent study suggests that teaching children philosophy and guiding them through questions that lead to more questions has a positive impact on their progress with maths and reading.
For university students – like my silent class – one process of using questions to stimulate critical thinking and idea generation that works well is the Socratic method. This provides a space in class for questions, debates and for students to challenge their teachers and each other – respectfully.
In a research paper about the method, Sharon Jumper says that Socratic discussions are:
This technique is being applied well by a number of websites that flatten traditional classroom power structures. The sites try to encourage learning through questioning. Socrative, for instance, turns learning into a game: students compete through questions and answers.
Other sites like Socratic use gamification and also encourage students to put questions to the online community which has gathered there to learn. This sows the seeds of discussion – and paves the way for more questions.
Technology is a powerful way to get children and students asking questions. Researchers have found that widely available tools like WhatsApp can be used to encourage questions. Even the shyest person can be emboldened to use the messaging service rather than sticking their hand up in front of classmates.
In a world full of questions desperately needing answers, isn’t it high time that we reignited the dying art of asking questions?
Dr. Craig Blewett is an education technology consultant, speaker, author, and developer of the #ACT_ digital-age teaching approach.
I have spent a lot of time explaining to teachers and other educationalists the need to shift our pedagogy from simply silicon coating old approaches to one that is more appropriate to the digital realm. We have to move away from our copy/paste approach where we simply copy our offline teaching approaches and implement them in the online world to an new appropriate digital pedagogy. Our copy/paste approach is not only failing but seriously limits the amazing opportunities of what we can do with technology.
While I have been passionately trying to share this message and the importance of developing a new digital pedagogy, I am largely seeing inappropriate implementations of technology being lauded as great EdTech solutions. However, I was encouraged after reading an insightful post by TechCrunch writer, Danny Crichton, who while having spent his life working in Silicon Valley, was recently exposed to teaching for the first time.
It’s amazing to me how unprepared I was for the actual pedagogical challenges of educating my students.
He looked around for advice from lecturers and found it wanting. He then turned to technology to see what solutions Silicon Valley offered - after all, it's solved so many other problems, surely it is helping education move into the digital age?
So I did what any person in the 21st century did, and I searched Google. It was here that it hit me just how basic our pedagogical thinking really is.
And it's here that Danny puts his digital finger on the nub of the matter - pedagogy. We have not shifted our pedagogy to one that is appropriate to the digital age. And this is having serious consequences as we simply switch ebooks for books, videos for lectures, smartboards for chalkboards, and so on. This is not using technology for teaching, at best it is silicon coating old pedagogies to dress them up in the guise of a new approach.
Despite all the technology gains made by students, educators have received just a handful of useful tools to help with better management of their classrooms and the learning process. There have been far fewer “revolutionary” attempts to transform teachers than to just entirely replace the education experience.
Exactly! It's what Ken Robinson called for years ago in his famous TED talk. We need a revolution. Technology companies responded with a silicon coating. Teachers responded with passive acceptance. And now we have the biggest danger of all - we think the revolution is taking place as schools "transform" from the old chalk and talk to the digital world. Yet it's an illusion, an illusion that is in danger of killing the much needed educational revolution before it ever happens.
This is a renewed call for the education revolution. It can't be led by technology companies that know lots about technology but little about education. It won't be led by tenured academics comfortable with their ancient teaching practices. It must be led by passionate teachers, intent on exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new pedagogies, and boldly going where no teacher has gone before.
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“If you've never failed you've never tried,” proclaims the adage. So...
It's right to be wrong
being wrong is right
it's right to be right
This conundrum leaves me not only nonplussed but...
in the uncomfortable place
What has all this right and wrong got to do with anything?
It's about a world fixated with certainty but striving for change.
It's about a world espousing tolerance but celebrating conviction.
It's about a world selling final solutions but providing beta tools.
It's about a world encouraging trying but only celebrating winners.
It's a world of poles.
Left - Right.
East - West.
It's a world of labels.
Labels are great.
They allow us to make sense of things.
Modernist - Post Modernist
Positivist - Interpretivist
Conservative - Liberal...Aah, what weighty labels this pair is, whether used in politics, religion, education, anywhere.
Labels are great.
Once you attach them to a person you no longer need to think.
He's a Vegan.
She's a Goth.
He's a Muslim.
She's a Greeny.
Labels come with [predefined packages].
How they dress.
How they think.
How they speak.
How they act.
Run preinstalled thinking routine.
Labels are great.
Once we attach them to ourselves we no longer need to think.
Run preinstalled thinking routine.
“The dominant Western worldview is not based on seeing synergies and connections but on making distinctions and seeing differences. This is why we pin butterflies in separate boxes from beetles - and teach separate subjects in schools.” (Ken Robinson)
Yet what makes us think our world fits so neatly into our predefined labels? Each of these labels unpacks into a myriad of other issues.
Each of these labels has stolid supporters who genuinely espouse the views. Not just crazy radicals, although they may exist, but reasonable people just like me...just like you.
Each of these labels has stolid adversaries who genuinely reject the views. Not just crazy radicals, although they may exist, but reasonable people just like me...just like you.
Where does this leave us if we toss out labels, if we toss out our neat categories?
It leaves us in the uncomfortable place (between).
A place where every person we meet, must be engaged and assessed.
A place where every issue raised, must be reasoned and examined.
A place where every idea proposed, must be explored and imagined.
Now that's truly an uncomfortable place to be.
A place where we can't blithely tar and feather people, issues, and ideas, with the broad stroke of a label.
- A place where we treat people as individuals,
- issues as opportunities,
- and ideas as possibilities )
Labels are wrong.
But if it's right to be wrong then labels are right, because they're wrong...which once more leaves me in that uncomfortable place
where if labels are wrong,
then paradoxically I should be labeled as
which would be a comfortable place to be.
I could reject all labels as trivializing and shallow.
I could RAGE against those who mindlessly categorize.
I could disparage those who shallowly reduce complexity to simplicity.
What makes us think our world does not fit beautifully into amazing patterns given life by labels?
What makes us think that our world of complexities cannot be reduced to the beauty of a number, of a pattern, of a label?
Rather let's be in the uncomfortable place - between - labels - and no labels.
Rather let's be in the uncomfortable place - between - certainty of what's right - and confusion about what's wrong.
A place not of solid ground...
“The world is not made of stable, rock-solid forms, but only of front lines in a battle or love story between actants.” (Harman)
Like Dadaism...an anti-art.
Art that was not art.
A non-movement that protested against society through non-art, only to become...
A movement that became representative of society's protest through art.
No sooner had Dadaism eschewed labels and classification, than it became a label, and a classification.
Between is not a place of rest,
it is not a place of stasis.
It is a place of imbalance,
a place of movement.
In this movement,
in this imbalance,
there is learning,
there is growth.
Let's celebrate vulnerability because it's the heart of learning.
Let's embrace corecting because it's more valuable than correct.
Let's treasure uncertaint... because it's the genesis of innovation.
Whether you're theorizing in academia, debating in society, arguing in religion, discussing in politics, or teaching in schools, let's question our quixotic certainties and step into the uncomfortable space called “between” - because therein lies our greatest opportunities to learn, to grow, to become.
Now I know I am right.
Now I know I am wrong.
Now I know I...
BE (In The Uncomfortable Place) TWEEN
Hi, my name is Craig and I am a dopamine addict. I'm from a family of addicts. But I guess as you're reading this you're also an addict, but that's OK, because it's time to accept it as part of our modern society.
We have a real problem in our education system today. Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to keep children's attention, with some studies reporting a 42% increase in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder over the past 8 years. This is resulting in falling grades and increasing dropout rates.
There are three approaches to deal with this rapidly worsening problem:
The solution may however lie in a combination of the second and third approaches - chemical and technological, however not in the chemicals we make, but rather the chemicals our bodies create.
By using technology effectively, dopamine induced learning could not only solve education's problems, but result in highly motivated learners with good memories.
The legal drug
Dopamine is a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter. It's role is related to reward-motivated behaviour. Rewarding behaviour results in an increase in the level of dopamine in the brain. Quite simply, this chemical gives you a mini high when you do certain things. Every time you read your email or scour the web or read social media posts, you are getting bursts of dopamine.
These little bursts of dopamine make you feel good, and keep you coming back for more. In fact reading this post is probably giving you a dopamine high.
Hugh McGuire, who dedicated his life to books, and started numerous online book repositories, confessed that he just couldn't read a book anymore. However he is hooked to reading emails, checking on Twitter, and scouring social media sites.
Because new information creates a rush of dopamine to the brain, and this makes us feel great, which then compels your brain to ask for more dopamine, and hence you must go and find more new information.
Could we use this drug to impact how we teach and learn, and even enable us to read books or other long content pieces?
Dopamined and ready to learn
A study conducted on the impact of dopamine on learning found that mice who were dopamine deficient showed no evidence of learning on a task they were set, compared to those with dopamine.
The study concluded that the
“lack of dopamine results in a performance/motivational decrement that masks their learning competence.”
The key impact of dopamine is on motivation.
If you doubt it's power, then try be away from your mobile phone for a day, or don't look at any social media, news, or emails for a day.
For most of us this is not an easy thing to do. We miss our content. Often we miss it so much we even have to be on our digital devices while we're watching TV. The bottom line is that we are motivated by dopamine to come back again and again.
So how could this natural chemical be used in education?
There are many ways in which technology can be used to motivate learning through dopamine production, such as;
using social media,
creating digital content,
conversation-centric learning, etc.
Take gamification, as an example. Gamification seeks to use elements from games, especially elements that cause games to be so motivating, such as levels, challenges, rewards, etc. to motivate learning.
Gamification makes use of small reward cycles that get learners hooked into the learning experience.
The myth around dopamine is that it is produced when we are rewarded for our actions, like getting a badge for completing something. However this is not true. A challenge produces an achievement which results in pleasure because of dopamine being released.
The result is we seek another challenge, so we can have more achievement, and hence more pleasure/dopamine. It's not simply completing a game that attracts a gamer, but rather the cycle of getting through increasingly difficult levels.
The same applies in learning.
It is not the reward or badge in a gamified courses that is important, but getting through the challenges. Modern education focuses on the reward; the mark. Even gamified courses often do this with their focus on badges.
This is not what generates the high. It is the achievement itself.
High on Learning
There are two essential parts to motivating students to learn in our modern technological age:
“When we compare trials where people are highly curious to know an answer with trials where they are not, and look at the differences in brain activity, it beautifully follows the pathways in the brain that are involved in transmitting dopamine signals,” said Ranganath. “The activity ramps up and the amount it ramps up is highly correlated with how curious they are.”
A combination of novel activities,
with smaller chunking of tasks,
that potentially weave together to unlock stories, or levels, or further information,
will be highly motivating for learners.
As Ranganath concludes, “once you light that fire of curiosity, you put the brain in a state that’s more conducive to learning.”
Maybe it's high time we prescribed dopamine rather than Ritalin to solve our education problems.
“Also: please note that we NEVER link to Wikipedia,” reads the email about an article for The Conversation Africa. I’m not surprised. The same sentiment is expressed in many course documents at universities and schools.
Wikipedia, the pariah of content resources, is frequently considered an unacceptable and unreliable source of information. It’s critiqued as being “a mish-mash of truth, half truth, and some falsehoods".
But, in 2005, the journal Nature conducted a study comparing the accuracy of Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Britannica. The results showed that the average Wikipedia article had four errors while the average Britannica article had three. A more recent study found that:
What’s important about these studies is not Wikipedia’s accuracy rate. Rather, the research reminds us that all content contains errors.
Technology has changed the way we document, share and access knowledge. First came the shift from oral learning and communication to text. This meant that knowledge could be thought about carefully before it was recorded and transmitted. Once recorded it could be assessed and discussed even though the originator was not present. This increased the necessity for content to be correct before it was recorded.
Then the printing press was developed. Now written content could be replicated and shared almost without limit. Mistakes would be seen by even wider audiences, so once again correctness became crucial. The job of proofreader was even developed to guard against mistakes.
The next big advancement was the development of the computer. Now content that was recorded could be changed after the fact – a crucial change from paper-based content. Word processors, made popular by office suites like Microsoft Office, became common tools. Text could be cut and pasted, words inserted, deleted or changed, or additional content added. Proofreading was still necessary, but no longer as important. After all, content could be changed at any point in the process.
What word processors were to writing, the Internet became to printing. Now for the first time not only could content be digitally recorded, it could be shared almost without cost or limit. The explosion of content across billions of websites bears testimony to this.
We’ve always been correcting
As the research comparing Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia Britannica shows, even printed content has errors. But before digital media, we deemed content to be correct simply because the feedback loop was much slower and not as obvious. The errors in those encyclopedias were corrected in subsequent editions – and, invariably, new ones would be introduced and have to be corrected in another edition down the line.
In academia, published research would eventually be read and critiqued. This would spark new research that improved on what was previously deemed as correct.
All of our scientific development and writing, at a meta level, has essentially been a huge wiki experience. Content evolves and improves as people read and add to it. So our disdain for wiki-type, correcting spaces is essentially a rejection of the process we’ve been undertaking for centuries. The main differences now are that the correcting cycle is far quicker and many more people have input.
From content to conversation
I’ve written this article as a process born of my modern technologies. I wrote a draft without being concerned about grammar or exact phrasing, because I knew I’d return to it later. Most important was the capturing of ideas and arguments. Even these were only partially formed and after each reading some were added while others were discarded.
The process of correcting continued until the piece was complete. Complete, but not correct – because this is itself just another voice in the conversation that is correcting as we continue. This is just a wiki of voices filled with content that is surely incorrect but right in our desire to keep improving.
We need to shift our conceptions of content. We need to shift our ideas of “correct”. We need to embrace an era where everything is in beta. Everything is correcting. Everything is in conversation. Wikipedia is the ultimate exemplar of such a space. Already, teachers are showing how effective it can be as a tool for learning once we change our perspective. It shatters the illusion of perfection and encourages creativity and critical thinking.
Our attempts to ban students (and writers) from using these modern digital spaces will inevitably fail. And, in the meantime, it will rob us of the opportunity to engage in conversation, rather than blind content consumption. Let the conversation continue.
The short post below, published on the blogging platform Medium, is not directly about teaching, but is important. It asks the question as to why we write - which should form a core part of any teaching and learning program. So...why do you write? Click the post below to find out the most important reason for writing.
One of the most desirable characteristics of school graduates is that they can think critically. This helps them individually and also helps the societies in which they will play a role. It’s a game in which no one loses. So why is it so difficult to achieve?
Teaching critical thinking is not something that teachers are explicitly trained to do – in fact very few people are. Nor does the curriculum generally demand it. Too often an instructing syllabus focuses on the recall of content, and this in turn forms the basis for assessment.
In standardised assessment in particular it is simply cheaper and quicker to algorithmically mark multiple-choice questions than it is to read and assess nuanced responses showing an advanced use of cognitive skills.
South Africa has a standardised system including a highly regulated matriculation programme and national testing that together act as the barometer of good schooling. But there is some debate as to how effectively these kinds of tests measure the outcomes of an education in critical thinking, let alone their value as an educational device.
People often define a rigorous course as one that is heavy in content. This is misleading. Intellectual rigour lies in the sophisticated use of a range of cognitive critical thinking skills such as analysis, justification, synthesis and evaluation. Recalling content or demonstrating algorithmic procedures makes up only a small part of this.
The desire to teach to the test at the expense of skills not measured by them is a universal characteristic of standardised testing. The danger is that if critical thinking is not explicitly assessed, it will not be valued and therefore not taught.
The South African context
None of this is unique to South Africa, but several things make the problem more acute.
Attendance in South African schools is generally high but some schools are struggling to provide continuity of learning because of problems with student attendance and engagement.
A stated objective of the relatively new CAPS curriculum in South Africa is to develop critical thinking. This is an important step in the right direction, though a strategy needs to be developed for how this can be achieved.
I recently spoke to a number of schools throughout the country as a guest of Thinking Schools South Africa (TSSA), a non-profit organisation encouraging and resourcing the teaching of effective thinking in schools.
Faced with these problems, TSSA has developed several principles that seem, to this international observer, quite effective. These principles (the phrasing is mine) include:
This is intended to produce sustainable, whole-school transformation through globally tried and tested methodologies involving local communities of practice. TSSA-affiliated schools and teachers become part of the TSSA Network to support and train others.
There are many advantages available to students who can think critically. One significant but overlooked advantage is that it develops resilience.
Students who have an ability to think their way through problems, a confidence in their ability to do so, and who can apply critical thinking skills to understand their circumstances and explore options open to them are more likely to successfully navigate through their school years.
Within the context of South Africa’s complex social and economic challenges and opportunities, resilience is likely to be a vital virtue.
Teaching critical thinking
There are a variety of approaches to developing courses in critical thinking though it’s preferable that critical thinking pedagogies are used in the delivery of all subjects. In this comprehensive model, students are taught the explicit skills of thinking as they learn their discipline knowledge.
But as teaching Mathematics, Science or English is not just about knowing the subject matter but knowing how to teach that subject matter (called pedagogical content knowledge), so too the teaching of critical thinking is about more than just knowing some useful thinking tools.
It’s not enough to know about critical thinking, you have to know how to teach for it. It’s difficult to create students who are critical thinkers without teachers who are critical thinkers.
Teaching someone to surf by just handing them a surfboard seems less than optimal, as does teaching students to think by simply delivering worksheets. Without knowing what to do with them, without an insight into their purpose and function, goals falls short of being realised.
In the case of surfing, it also helps to have a beach. In critical thinking, it’s about the community - social, educational and institutional.
This is the advantage of the TSSA approach, and all approaches that focus on working collaboratively and inclusively to build capacity in schools, teachers and communities for sustainable and effective teaching and learning.
Like a language, critical thinking is not something you can learn alone. The best way to produce a critically thinking student is from within a critical thinking community.
Our current education system is flawed, as has been ably highlighted by Paulo Frere and more recently Sir Ken Robinson. Our outdated industrial paradigm is no longer able to keep children engaged in a world of ubiquitous digital stimulation. The chemical “solution” of medicating learners into becoming compliant products on the education production line, is increasingly being viewed as not only dangerous and inappropriate, but also not addressing the real problem – the flawed system. Now schools are turning their attention towards a technological solution, one that may be even more disastrous than its forebear - one that bears many of the hallmarks of the emperor’s new clothes.
While businesses have adopted technology for over a quarter of a century, schools remained largely unchanged and irresolute. As the pressure mounts from vendors offering “solutions”, to parents pointing to other schools, to decreasing attention spans of children, schools are suddenly scrambling to implement educational technology solutions and governments and industry are wantonly throwing money at this new “solution”.
Failure in the air?
However, unlike business that instructed technology companies about their needs, schools are being instructed by technology companies about how they should teach.
Now we are seeing the first signs of concern, as these technology solutions fail, and some in a grand scale as was the case in the failed Los Angeles iPad initiative. Already schools are glancing nervously at each other as they begin to wonder, “have we been sold the emperor’s new clothes?” This immediately leads to a cycle of blame – it’s the wrong technology, it’s the wrong strategy, it’s the wrong content. While all of these may be partially true, the issues are far simpler, yet far more critical. The impending failure of educational technology will be due to a lack of appropriate experts and an appropriate digital pedagogy.
Following the wrong leader
The lack of experts, may seem somewhat surprising, especially in a world where there is no shortage of experts. However it is the lack of appropriate experts that is the concern. Ironically schools are eagerly following the dictates of non-educational organizations to inform them about their area of expertise -pedagogy. This is somewhat akin to an aircraft manufacturer telling farmers how to farm because they want to use a plane for crop spraying. And so we are seeing a flood of schools using iPads, or rolling out laptops equipped with eBooks, and “valuable” learning videos, because the technology experts have told them to. The problem we have is that while technology companies understand technology and teachers understand teaching, we have few who understand technology-based education.
The Copy-Paste mistake
The second core issue is the lack of an appropriate digital pedagogy. The heart of this problem may be put down to a single word – skeuomorphism. Most people have a natural aversion to the new, and so technology giants such as Apple, Google and Microsoft have long employed skeuomorphic design principles to soften our transition from old technologies to new ones. Skeuomorphism is quite simply the retention of the form of the old without its function. This is classically seen in smartphone cameras that click like a DSLR camera, or pages in an ebook reader that curl as they are turned like a paper book, or a diary app with a “leather” cover and bookmark. None of these elements has any functional value, but simply carry a resemblance to the form of the past, thereby imbuing the user with a sense of familiarity and comfort.
However, it is the widespread adoption of skeuomorphic-based digital pedagogies that is causing technology-based teaching to fail. Schools are wearing their digital clothing, where they have the form of the offline world, with little valuable function in the online world. For example, lauding the use of ebooks as a remarkable implementation of educational technology. Besides saving trees, there is no difference in pedagogy. Or, applauding a school’s smartboard implementation, whereas they offer little teaching or learning differences to their old blackboard counterpart. Or, the enthusiastic use of videos on iPads for modern teaching, whereas these videos are no different, pedagogically, to a real teacher presenting a class. Simply copying offline teaching approaches and pasting them into an online world is not only limiting the potential of educational technology, it is further damaging our tottering educational system.
A new digital pedagogy
Ken Robinson called for a revolution in education because the system is failing. Schools are responding by pouring technology into classrooms. But what we're actually seeing is the silicon coating of old industrial paradigms and pedagogies while boasting about new innovative approaches. Dipping our kids in silicon by essentially replacing their chemical tablets with digital tablets will no more solve the problem than our first failed attempt at medicating our kids into learning did.
We need to seek out appropriate guides who are attempting to understand the affordances of new technologies. We need to develop appropriate pedagogies that don’t simply copy offline approaches and paste them in skeuomorphic subservience into the digital world. We need to rethink, reimagine, and redesign how we teach and learn, otherwise the revolution may be over before it even begins.
This post forms the basis of the thinking for the article published in The Conversation entitled "Outdated teaching methods will blunt technology’s power"
Watch a seminar dealing with this issue in more detail
Outdated teaching methods will blunt technology's power
The man who runs state education in South Africa’s richest province has no time for old-fashioned classroom accessories. In January, Panyaza Lesufi, who heads the education portfolio in the Gauteng province, told journalists at Boitumelong Secondary School just outside Johannesburg:
Lesufi was at the school to promote the Big Switch On pilot, a project in which pupils are given tablets loaded with textbooks and their schools receive interactive whiteboards. “You will never accuse me of failure to deliver textbooks,” he said. “You will now accuse me of failure to download.”
But is making technology available to schools without adapting curricula or teaching methods to a digital platform actually worthwhile?
The trouble with copy-pasting
According to John Hedberg from the Australian Centre for Educational Studies, e-learning can only be successful if there is a “revolutionary move away from replicating traditional classroom-based teaching practices”.
At the heart of Hedberg’s critique is the idea of skeuomorphism, which is keeping the form of the old but discarding its function. Think of smart phone cameras that “click” like a DSLR camera or pages in an e-book reader that “curl” as they are turned – just like a paper book. Thanks to Hollywood star Tom Hanks you can even make your laptop’s keyboard sound like a quaint old typewriter.
Technology giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft have all used skeuomorphic designs to soften the transition from old technologies to new.
These features don’t have any functional value but their resemblance to forms of the past gives users a sense of comfort and familiarity.
Tablets and smart whiteboard won’t magically make pupils smarter unless teachers know how to use the devices properly and in a way that encourages learning. When Brandon Martinez and his colleagues from the University of Southern California started training teachers to use educational technology, they looked to the aviation industry for inspiration. Writing about their experiences, Martinez said:
In 2011, Clintondale High School in Michigan became the global poster child for “flipped” classrooms. This is an exciting example of how educational technology can change teaching and learning if it is properly used and doesn’t just become a copy-paste substitute for old methods.
A flipped classroom inverts traditional teaching methods. “Lectures” happen after hours, usually at home – students watch instructional videos at their own pace.
During formal class time, students are given activities that help them engage with concepts. Rather than just standing in front of the class and reading from a textbook or tablet – what some theorists call the “sage on the stage” model – teachers become “guides on the side”, available to answer questions and lead discussions.
Clintondale High’s combination of new technology and radically different teaching methods has pushed up its pass rates, improved discipline and seen more of its students securing college places.
The educational technology boom isn’t limited to the developed world. It is growing rapidly in countries like India and Brazil. If teachers are exposed to new digital teaching approaches, and given the space to experiment with technology, we can begin to produce a whole new generation of pupils: those who think and create and not those who just sit in classrooms waiting to be told what they should do or know.
Avoiding the white elephant syndrome
In August 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District launched a US$1 billion project designed to make its schools high-tech havens. A month later, officials discovered that nearly 300 students at one high school had hacked through security and were using their district-issued iPads to surf the Web rather than study.
Then, in April 2015, it emerged that a digital curriculum developed by publishers Pearson and loaded onto pupils' iPads as part of the district’s ambitious project was simply “unusable”. Critics complained that the project had been rushed from conception to execution far too quickly and without any proper planning.
Why wasn’t the technology pre-tested by the teachers who were expected to use it every day? Technology companies may understand the mechanics of their products, but it’s teachers who understand teaching and who must be involved in making those products more than just electronic white elephants in the classroom.
Dr. Craig Blewett is the author and founder of the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach. He helps schools and universities around the world towards the effective use of educational technology.
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