Is Strong Leadership in Education Coming Anytime Soon?

US and Chinese students lack Science reasoningLast Friday I attended a seminar at Hong Kong University’s Centre for Information Technology in Education. There was hardly anything of revelation in the seminar which was about: How Research into ICT can support development in Policy and practice: reflections on Pedagogy and Learning with ICT: researching the art of innovation

The researcher was Prof. Bridget Somekh of Manchester Metropolitan University.

I have to say that I was not very impressed with the seminar which might be summed up thus:

If the use of ICT in schools is to reflect the natural comfortable way that students use it, you have to change lots of things about the classroom like assessment and curriculum.

Funny but the researcher quoted the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) research that reached this conclusion in 1996. There are great deal of research papers from Melbourne, Australia that found this when MLC first went to a 1:1 model in around 1988!

On top of this we have newspapers, yes even the mainstream media, making folks aware that our insistence on the rote memorizing and regurgitation of facts on test papers is failing our students. The one opposite about science reasoning is almost identical to a paper I read in around 1990 about First Year Physics students being able to get questions about electrical circuits 100% correct but not being able to explain why the answers were the way that they were.

The other article below about meaningless multiple choice tests that students are expected to take to show that they “know stuff” is right on the money for a teacher (me) who was compelled to teach MS Word in great detail to Year 11 students (16 year olds) for 6 weeks and to teach HTML coding to Year 9s (13) who had IT as a compulsory subject! This was in high-tech Hong Kong in 2005!

Going outside of the mainstream media, the blogosphere is full of intelligent discussion on what really matters in Education like this post from David Warlick which I read today.

SCMP:Multi-Choice a waste of time

One can only hope that the change is in the wind and will lead to the emergence of some strong leadership in International Schools in particular. In my humble opinion, these are the perfect candidates to adopt innovation as they are well funded, well staffed with very able teachers and have a very supportive parent body who should themselves see the need to do things differently.

Unfortunately the leaders in these schools have adopted the “No one ever got the sack for buying IBM” mentality to set up schools where the goal is accountability based on the rigorous testing of content. Even many of the schools who say that they want to go to 1:1 learning for students fall back heavily on content testing.  No thought from any of them that they might consider students being able to take their laptop into these tests.

The clear indication of the heavy emphasis on testing and external examinations in this region comes from the large number of secondary schools that have recently announced that they are going to offer the International Baccalaureate at the school, only to go on to say that they would only offer the content and examination oriented IB Diploma course for Year 11 and 12 but not the internally assessed and more inquiry-based Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate which does not offer an external examination.  Instead, 6 of the 9 schools I am aware of who have gone 1:1or are going there in the next academic year are opting for the IGCSE so that they can report the results of a high-stakes external examination to parents at the end of Year 10.

I can’t help thinking that if I were an employer or someone controlling access to further studies at a prestigious higher education establishment, I would be far more impressed with a student who was able to send me links to a digital portfolio of reflective writing, and digital artifacts that inspire and aim to make a difference to the world. Much like the artifacts that came from the flat classroom conference last week.

When you look at these artifacts, keep in mind that these were produced in 2 days by middle school students who had not met each other, spoke various different languages and came from entirely different cultures. They used laptops that were not their own and applications that they had never heard of.

I can only begin to imagine what empowered kids might do if they were encouraged to really create, communicate and collaborate for the greater good of their communities.

For those who might have interest in my notes from Prof. Somekh’s seminar, they are copied below for you:

Pedagogy and learning with ICT. Researching the art of Innovation.

  • She is promoting a new book.
  • Started with a view of the Taj Mahal from the rear and a story about trying to see the Taj at the right time. There was something about only seeing the back of the Taj that made it special. This is a metaphor for the work that she has done has allowed her to have an appreciation for what is happening even if the ICT in Education does not live up to the expectations.
  • Technology is such a new innovation that it really changes what happens when teachers take it up in class. Teachers no longer at the front.
  • The focus of her book is on the theory of innovation. Trying to develop a new theory rather than the accepted laggard/early adopter model.
  • Interesting point that Paul Hurst talks of “forms of knowledge” and Howard Gardner “multiple intelligences” one never refers to the other!!
  • Dr is trying to cross boundaries. Makes the point that we made be bound by previous research.
  • Big Question: How can we find ways of using research to support creative, collaborative process of change that combines imagining, experimenting with, and evaluating new social practices with technology?
  • Must change regulatory framework of schooling!!
  • Meta-analysis of theories
    • Action Research

§  Reflection and discussion(learning)

§  Making tacit knowledge explicit

§  Giving participants agency (through knowledge)

§  Changing power relations (eg. Between teachers/students, teachers/policy-makers)

o   Complexity Theory

§  Inter-relationships of things

§  Spontaneous self-organization

§  Systems change to maintain their coherence

§  Change in complex systems is not predictable

o   Chaos Theory (Kompf 2005)

§  ICT is an innovation that is happening spontaneously and has its own order

§  Innovatory programmes in education can’t buck the bigger process. (This is indicated by policy makers not starting with what students are doing.)

o   Wittgenstein – Theorist of sociocultural practices (Burbles and smith 2005; Smeyers and Marshall 1995)

§  Human activity is rule governed

§  We learn rules by “learning how to go on”

§  Rules that govern behavior can only be understood “from the inside”

o   Socio Cultural theories

§  Changes in practice depend on delveloping new internal “representations” in the mind, at the same time as learning skills.

o   Cultural-historical activity theory

§  Response to something can be a powerful mediator. Change requires that there is some sort of imperative.

§  We give teachers a board for expressing their knowledge. When kids get laptops there is a problem with the way that the schools are set up.

o   Communities of Practice Theory