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Technology as a “Sat Nav” for learning?

Digital learning entrepreneur Donald Clark is someone that I find myself often in complete agreement with, or in fierce opposition, but always entertained. On the board of numerous e-learning organisations he is a bonafide contrarian, regular speaker at conferences, and a prolific blogger.

 

I’ve known Donald for nearly 30 years as we both ran digital design companies that produced learning materials since the 1980s when “new media” was genuinely new and came in the form of 12″ Laserdiscs. It has to be said that he was a more shrewd businessman than I and by focusing his attentions on the corporate training market while I decided to go and disrupt the music industry he made a tidy return when he sold his company, Epic Group, in 2005. He has won numerous awards for the design and implementation of e-learning, winning the ‘Outstanding Achievement in e-learning Award’ at the World of Learning Conference (WOLCE).

 

I met with Donald at the WISE Summit last year and asked him why he thought digital platforms had not made as much progress within our educations systems compared to their impact in other sectors. His position is that higher education and schools are resting on their laurels and tradition rather than embracing the future. Here’s a short excerpt from our conversation:

 

 


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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Teachers as designers

What is the role of today’s teachers?

 

Are they like commercial radio DJ’s who are given a prescribed playlist and are left to try to innovate within those limitations or are they able to design their own show?

 

John Dewey in The Child and the Curriculum (1902) suggested that there might be at least two alternate schools of thought within state-directed education. One school, he says “fixes its attention upon the importance of the subject matter of the curriculum as compared with the contents of the child’s own experience.” Thus he suggests that, “Subject matter furnishes the end, and it determines method. The child is simply the immature being who is to be matured; he is the superficial being who is being deepened; his narrow experience which is to be widened. It is his to receive, to accept. His part is fulfilled when he is ductile and docile.”

 

The other school Dewey suggests is where “The child is the starting-point, the centre, and the end.” He continues, “To the growth of the child all studies are subservient; they are instruments valued as they serve the needs of growth. Personality, character is more than subject-matter. Not knowledge or information, but self-realisation is the goal.”

 

More than 100 years later these arguments are still being debated as successive policy makers and educators lurch from one side to the other.

 

I spent a day at High Tech High in San Diego, who are a case study in my book, Learning {Re}imagined, and I left inspired by what I saw. The school is built around the Dewey traditions of project based learning where subject material and disciplines are taught within their application and across disciplines rather than the subject silos that are so typically of our high schools throughout the world. I met with their founder and CEO, Larry Rosenstock, who is a force of nature if ever there was one. His full interview and discussion of High Tech High will be published in the book but here is an excerpt from my interview with Larry where he discusses teachers as designers.

 

Larry tells me:

 

So the idea of teacher as designer means that the teacher has control over what they’re basically doing. There’s nothing canned about it. And it has not only teacher voice and choice but student voice and choice. What I want to see kids doing is creating new knowledge and I want teachers creating new knowledge and doing so means that basically the teacher is the designer

 

 


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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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.