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Teaching as an Art

Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”

Seth Godin

 

 

During my global journey for Learning {Re}imagined, I learnt about the absolute importance of the teacher and their engagement with their students. Indeed research by Gallup presented at the WGSI Equinox Learning 2030 Summit in October 2013 by their executive director for education, Brandon Busteed, showed a direct correlation between teacher and student engagement in relation to learning outcomes and wellbeing. The research also suggested that up to 70% of the teacher workforce were not engaged.

 

“We definitely want to show that these ‘soft’ measures move the ‘hard’ measures, like grades and test scores,” Busteed said. “But we’re also asking: is engagement more important or are grades more important? If you ask a parent whether they’d rather have a kid who is getting mostly As and is only mildly interested in what they’re learning or mostly Bs and is super engaged, I can tell you what most parents would pick.”

 

 

Quest to Learn, a school in New York that uses gaming mechanics within its practice and curriculum design, are a featured case study in my book. On the subject of teacher engagement Quest to Learn’s Co-director of School, Arana Shapiro, goes further telling me that when recruiting teachers:

 

We’re also looking for teachers who are really open to learning new things who are risk takers, who are passionate about kids learning, not just passionate about them passing the test. We’re looking for that kind of teacher who thinks of themselves as, for want of a better word, an artist

 

This certainly resonated with my experiences “on the road”. No matter how much, or little, technology was being used within a class or school it was the teacher who made the difference, who brought the room to life and engaged students in their learning. That’s not to say that the technology wasn’t valuable when used intelligently and with purpose but I would suggest that the technology-centric, teacher-less classroom is not only some way off in the distance, it isn’t even desirable. We may, however, need to think about the skills we are looking for in the teachers of tomorrow, or even today.

 

Learning {Re}imagined is published by Bloomsbury/WISE on October 1st 2014 and is available for pre-order now.
 

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Experience vs Qualifications

Yesterday I caused a bit of a Twitterstorm in a cyber cup by suggesting to young people that being able to demonstrate their ability rather than their qualifications might give them a better chance at winning a job.
 


 
Admittedly it was a tad brash and I do admit to  taking a certain juvenile pleasure in teasing the Twitter attack dogs over breakfast. I received more than 150 replies, got sucked into Facebook “holy wars” and then finally had to get back to work. Like all good Twitterstorms it was a mixture of derision, agreement and knee jerk reactions suggesting that, well, I might be a bit of a jerk.

My tweet was conceived after reading an item on a section of the BBC website aimed at young people titled “It’s not too late to learn code and here’s why you should“. The gist of the message for young people was that if you learn to code you’ll get a well paid job. Another article that caught my eye had the headline “BBC aims to make programming sexy with new coding TV shows for kids” which pretty much had the same message about the road to riches.

 

It’s coincidental that both of these articles refer to the BBC. It’s not their fault as they can be easily forgiven due to the tsunami of nonsense that has now permeated every conversation, conference or policy that has anything to do with digital technology in education. It’s as if technology was supposed to be the outcome of learning with it, and as for the path to riches angle, they might as well recommend kids to learn to play guitar so they might be a rock star. That isn’t to say  I don’t think kids should have the opportunity to experience computer programming but, in so far as future employment, programming is a craft as much as playing the guitar and if you all you do is copy the notes then you might play music but you won’t be a star.

 

But why all this latest noise around “coding”?  Well, here in the UK, after much pressure from the business community including privacy dilettante, Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google, computing has been made part of the school curriculum where kids as young as 5 are expected to tinker with code. Given that the UK and the BBC have a fondness for nostalgia when we led the world in computer programming as a result of a national programme based around the BBC Micro in the 1980’s this seemed, at first glance, a good idea. And I think that it’s probably a good thing as after our 80s heyday the UK drifted into teaching kids how to become office workers with technology which was also the advice given to government by business at the time.

 

These rather strange lurches in education policy present a rather polarised view of how our kids might engage with technology and somehow the digital community managed to steal the words “making”, “makers” and even “creativity” to mean exclusively digital pursuits which is as stupid as teaching STEM disciplines without the arts. But then again when kids are genuinely creative or provocative with technology, amassing a huge following along the way, they getcriminalised by a legal system designed to protect property rather than citizens.

 

The emphasis around computing in our schools shouldn’t really be on coding at all but providing our children with an understanding of how the digital world, their world, the world we created for them, works. By this I don’t mean staring at a Raspberry Pi and naming components which is what we did in the 1980’s when we learnt about computers. What I mean is understanding how proprietary algorithms work and how they shape and bias our view of the world. This, I believe, should be the learning outcome of the new computing curriculum so that our kids leave school with a degree of intellectual self-defence in the digital world.

 

Perhaps we could commission a YouTube series called “How to Train your Algorithm” for surely these are the dragons that present and future generations might need to slay.

 

So coming back to my original tweet which is really about experience vs qualifications. Is it more important to demonstrate skills or show a certificate? I wonder if I read about swimming enough I’ll be able to swim?

 

I don’t think this is an either/or question but if you could only pick one which would you choose?

 

While you ponder on that I leave you with this talk that I curated from graffiti artist, Evan Roth, who applies a hacker philosophy to an art practice. It’s a 40 minute talk and absolutely worth watching until the end. The clue is on his T-shirt.

 


gbm-faceGraham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.

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What do we mean by “Transformation”?

One of the key things that I learned on my journey, and discuss in the Learning {Re}imagined book, is that transformation is contextual. By this I mean, for example, that a lightbulb can be transformational where there has been no light. The Worldreader programme in Ghana provides school children and their families with basic Kindle devices that provides them with access to the worlds books in places where the printed versions were scarce. In Jordan, school children are encouraged to create learning experiences and share them with their friends via Facebook. A school in Lebanon provides every student with an iPad so they can connect with each other and their teachers in and out of the school day. In rural India one of the world’s largest deployment for mobile learning uses the most basic of mobile phones to promote maternal healthcare and well-being.

 

Here in this 10 minute excerpt from a discussion hosted at last years WISE Summit I am joined by some of the people featured in my book plus learners from the WISE Learners Voice programme to explore what we mean by transformation.

 


gbm-faceGraham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.

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Noam Chomsky on Assessment

Herewith another teaser from the Learning {Re}imagined transmedia project coming out on October 1st from Bloomsbury. This time is an excerpt from an interview with social and political theorist, Professor Noam Chomsky.

 

In this 7 minute excerpt I ask Chomsky about his thoughts on the value of the way we currently use high stakes examinations to test our high school students.

 

He says:

 

Passing tests doesn’t begin to compare with searching and inquiring and into pursuing topics that engages and excite us. That’s far more significant than passing tests. In fact, if that’s the kind of educational career that you’re given the opportunity to pursue, you will remember what you’ve discovered. There’s a famous physicist, a world famous physicist right here at MIT who, like a lot of the senior faculty, was teaching freshmen courses, he once said that in his freshmen course, students will ask, “What are we going to cover this semester?” His standard answer was, “It doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what you discover.”

 

That’s what teaching ought to be; inspiring students to discover on their own, to challenge if they don’t agree, to look for alternatives if they think there are better ones, to work through the great achievements of the past and try to master them on their own because they’re interested in them. If that’s the way a teaching is done, students will really gain from it and will, not really remember what they studied, but will be able to use it as a basis for growing, on their own. Again, education is really aimed to just helping students get to the point where they can learn on their own because that’s what you’re going to do for your life, not just to absorb materials given to you from the outside and repeat it.

 

 


gbm-faceGraham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.

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Malcolm McLaren on Learning and Technology

Malcolm McLaren, artist, innovator and provocateur, former manager of the once notorious punk rock band The Sex Pistols, passed away on April 8th 2010. One of the last public speeches he gave was to an audience of educators and technologists at a conference series that I curated for more than 7 years.

 

Whilst looking through my archives I happened once again upon his talk that is in equal parts challenging, biographical and thought-provoking. If you have an hour to spend to watch theentire talk I recommend it but only if you don’t mind language that some consider risqué or adult themed. It is however the last 5 minutes of the talk where I think Malcolm really nails it in regard to the debate around how we use technology for learning.

 

He says:

“Technology has unquestionably put something else in its place. But it’s not used necessarily correctly. If you can use technology to rediscover the idea of a flaneur, the idea of the romantic notion of learning for learning’s sake, the idea of art of art’s sake not career then maybe. Because information is accessible now, of course, and at extremely low cost, of course. Everyone knows that. We can’t fall into the trap that you can just flit around online. Use the internet and technology to discover new ideas maybe, be a virtual flaneur maybe, debate, go further and deeper maybe.

 

 

Don’t take information for granted just because it’s free. One did at school and we learned back in the fifties that the UK was a nation of liars and simply taught a culture of deception. Use technology in the right way, don’t become a slave to it. That is don’t become so reliant on it that you can’t calculate or read a map, because how do you know then to turn left rather than turn right? How do you know how to even spot a lie? Use technology as a tool just like a pencil for learning. It’s not a replacement for applied learning basically, it’s not a replacement either for experience. That’s it.”

 

 


Graham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.