We recently ran our third leadership event for the Southern Central Divide Regional Cluster. Once again we focused on analysing the possibilities of networked schooling, but this time we did it out on the West Coast for the WestNet principals. There were many similarities to the event we did in CantaNet last year, but this time the workshop / think tank approach was broken up by presentations from us, Eddie Reisch from the Ministry and some of the West Coast Project teachers.
In the initial morning session participants broke into three groups and discussed the opportunities, barriers and solutions networked schooling will provide for the learner, teacher and school. The time for this was much less than in the CantaNet event, but in a way I think that provided a tighter focus. I have included a snapshot of the results of the facilitation, but it is probably useful to highlight a few interesting aspects.
In the opportunities section terms like limitless, collaboration, flexibility and ubiquitous draw my attention, because they nicely encapsulate what is possible. The reality is that learning should be able to happen anywhere, in anyway and there should be ample opportunity for learners (including teachers) to connect and collaborate with the wider community. I particularly like this idea of it being limitless – that learners will have far less barriers to how, when and what they learn.
As discussed there are major barriers to this happening possibly the most significant for me being current approaches to learning, the current ability (or lack of) of teachers to use the web in a way that enables the learner, traditional school structures, high stakes assessment and system wide policies (especially at the government level). This last point may see some change in the near future, but the reality is our schools are not currently in a position to really take advantage of what high speed broadband offers. It just seems to be more of the same, rather than any real paradigm shift. The majority of teachers seem to recognise the need for change, but feel hamstrung by workloads, restrictive school structures and high stakes assessment. In my opinion the latter can be overcome by some innovative thinking about how you put courses together, but there is no doubt it is difficult to take innovative approaches to learning when national exams determine that certain content has to be learnt.
The solutions section of the discussion is where the ideas waned somewhat. Never easy of course, but as you can see PD was a common call and it is needed, but the progress of teachers professional learning is currently dependent on the culture and priorities of the school. An interesting note was at the top – “wait until we are ready or act now?”. Who knows the answer to that one, but personally I wouldn’t be waiting.
In the afternoon session we used the recent select committee inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy as a guide for more group discussion. More specifically we focused on two key terms of reference:
consider how the rollout of ultra-fast broadband (UFB) will affect teaching techniques and processes, and whether additional resources or training may further enhance the positive effect of UFB on teaching and learning outcomes. In particular, investigate the role and efficiency of the Network for Learning
investigate the opportunities for technology to increase collaboration between neighbouring schools, and between distance learners
Each group was asked to future thinkand look ten years down the track based around these two points. Being someone who is particularly interested in examining different ways of approaching learning I was interested in what came out of the discussion on the first point. I liked the fact someone commented that they would expect that the New Zealand curriculum would be fully implemented. It is such a wonderful document that if it was, then we would really be in a space to take advantage of networked schooling. In the end while everyone saw enormous possibilities for change we all agreed that the technology would not bring about that change. It will take a shift in thinking and approach across the board to really harness the possibilities that technology and more specifically the web offers education in this country. I’m optimistic that will happen, but how long will it take? People have been talking about change in education for decades and while there has been some change it isn’t the shift that some might have expected. I think the difference now is that the web is changing all aspects of our lives so significantly that it would be foolish to think that education won’t adapt and change as well. We will see I suppose.
Anyway, we all thoroughly enjoyed the day. There was a relaxed atmosphere and while it is always difficult to facilitate these sorts of events, the majority seemed to get something out of it.