I love the word potential. It is full of hopes, dreams and possibilities. I believe we all have unlimited potential and the journey of our lives is how we cultivate and utilise opportunities to achieve our hopes and dreams. There are however challenges in how many opportunities we can create and how many opportunities we have access to. Unfortunately these challenges are harder for some groups than others, and as an educator, as a parent, as a human being, this frustrates me.
Public schools in more affluent suburbs have self-fulfilling prophecies. They attract their cohort because of their perceived success and have success because they attract affluent families. This does not necessarily correlate to good teaching and learning, but it does mean that they can demand more of their families in terms of contribution; be that money; devices; uniform; or extra-curricular involvement.
As schools increasingly innovate and utilise technology to improve learning, this generates a greater disparity for schools with higher numbers of low-SES students. If schools in more affluent communities can insist (as does my own children’s school) that families provide a device (in my case an iPad) for middle school and another for secondary (in my case a Macbook Pro), how does this leverage opportunity?
There is undeniable evidence that when students have access to technology it increases their opportunity for learner led construction of understanding and personalised learning. If schools are able to demand the best of devices to be accessible to individuals 24/7, this of course enables a range of innovative approaches including the breaking down of traditional education. When students do not have access 24/7, this limits the opportunity for schools to challenge traditional systems, approaches and structures and ultimately makes it more difficult for them to foster and cultivate learning that leads to critical, creative and independent thinkers who can leverage a range of technologies.
The ultra-conservative approach to education reform and funding is failing a significant proportion of our young people to compete with their privileged peers. I do not believe for a second that the young people I work with could not have the same opportunities as those living in the leafy greens. In fact, I truly believe that the resilience and determination embodied in their daily actions would lead to the achievement of even greater potential if they were afforded the same opportunities as more affluent teens.
If we do not address this issue, and do not support schools by subsidising technology in lower SE areas, then we will not long see the limitations upon social mobility, further widening the gap between the rich and the poor.
I think often when we talk about “innovation” in schools, there is a tendency to accompany that with new devices, or developing new spaces.
The dictionary defines innovation as;
I believe innovation to be a mindset, not a title, nor something that occurs in a special space.
It’s how we disrupt our actions and methods to always seek something better. It may be in the routines we have created or the rules we maintain. It may be in the content we teach or the way we teach it.
It may be hard to conceive of innovation without some form of digital technology participating, but innovation is definitely not limited in this way.
I believe it’s about the willingness to explore and challenge ideas, to take on the status quo and to implement change. To test and try and to respond to the results.
Not everything will succeed nor will all change be sustainable, thus there is inherent risk involved. Whenever there is risk, we need to ensure there is trust. I believe this is the biggest challenge in developing cultures of innovation, they must be cultures of trust first and foremost.
Understanding —> Shared Vision —> Trust —> Innovation
What do you think?
For some articles and perspectives on innovative mindsets check out these links:
We no longer need to know as much “stuff” as we did in the past when a device in our pocket can provide the answer ultimately in under 10 seconds. Mobile technology is no longer a thing of the future, it is here and we need to harness it.
“At school, I want to be able to learn in the same ways that I do in real life.”
Me too! (You can see his post here)
With access to reliable internet and multiple devices, what our students need are skills to navigate what is useful and reliable information. Beyond that we want them to access and use tools to produce meaningful materials or products for an audience with purpose.
This is where we hit some barriers for both staff and students.
Staff remain apprehensive because they don’t feel confident using a technology or process and students become risk averse, not willing to try something new for fear it won’t gain them the grade they need or want.
Approaching my final workshop with 3rd and final year Education students at Flinders University, I began to think about what message I wanted them to take away. I always endeavour to provide as many practical tools and examples for managing their first years in the profession, and have previously left them with the final advice of always being a learner and developing a network of support. This time I decided to leave them with…
“Don’t wait to be an expert, just give it a go!”
I hope that they dive in!
Developing innovative teaching is not a “get class and just add iPad” fix. In fact innovative teaching doesn’t require iPads, computers or devices of any kind. These things are just tools that enable the production of the same “stuff” just in different ways. It’s the approach that makes learning innovative.
I was recently at a school that has a great reputation for providing students with “21st century” learning. They have amazing spaces, facilities, technology and materials. I was able to see two classes in action. One group of students were constructing iPod cases which were to hold speakers which they soldered themselves.
Sounds like a great design challenge doesn’t it?
The second group of students were racing cars they had built. They were constructed from the same materials and as they raced in pairs, the slower car was eliminated.
Sounds like fun yeah?
Both tasks provided opportunities for students to engage in relevant content that they could connect with. Both tasks provided opportunities to engage with peers and/or work independently.
One task had students follow an explicit sequence of instructions. Every end product looked identical except for the colour or decoration on the outside.
The other task had students challenged by a design problem. They had to consider how to make the BEST product with the materials provided and test the end product to see if their design was successful. Each end product looked different even if the colour matched others.
Only one of these tasks was different than a traditional build from the 20th century tech class.
I remember woodwork in high school. We built paper towel holders and coffee cup trees. Each one looked the same, some were sanded finer or stained darker, but generally the end products were hardly different. I know that some schools still complete very similar tasks and thus we would consider them static in their progress. I argue that the first task I mentioned above might as well be a paper towel holder. The only difference is that kids would prefer to make it over the paper towel holder!
Whatever the product, the change in the innovation is giving students the opportunity to approach it in authentic ways. Given a design brief with limitations, not a sequence of instructions which results in identical products at the end.
The same can be said in all class rooms. If we are just providing options to do the same task in different ways, for example instead of writing your narrative, type it on the iPad/computer or record it in audio, this is differentiating the learning yes, but it is not transforming the experience for the student. It is not challenging them to think about their learning in different ways. It is merely making the learning look pretty. Don’t get me wrong – I LIKE PRETTY!!!
Developing an innovative learning experience is not limiting our students to topics or ways of expressing themselves, it is about inspiring our students to think beyond the examples we provide. It is about establishing a culture of exploration, adaption, modifying what we know and making it better!
This is what I endeavour to do each and every day. How about you?
Having been amongst the “twittersphere” for almost a year now and diving in amongst a dedicated network of teachers who are passionate about learning and technology and continue to be the minority, it makes me wonder if the take-up of tech will continue to be an uphill battle with many educators. Will the teachers who are learners continue to adapt and respond to the needs of students and will the reluctant others ever be budged?
Is it time to turn the focus onto students? Should the tech dynamic teachers be focussing more on the development of students as leaders and less on staff? This is not to say let the teachers be, but perhaps if we empower our students with skills and tools, it will become a necessity not a choice for staff to step up!
Just a thought.