Monday, 1 September 2014

Future-focused learning part 2

This is the second part of my review of the report (published in May 2014) by the 21st Century Learning Reference Group, a committee convened and appointed by the Ministry of Education.

Today, I want to examine recommendations which relate to some of the 10 identified strategic priorities the group identified.

1. The first 'strategic priority' is related to meeting the needs of 21st Century learners. In this, there is a focus on programming skills, echoing the changes in the UK overturning a broader ICT curriculum to focus instead on teaching programming from a young age. Two recommendations are linked to this priority: seeing digital competencies as 'essential foundation skills for success' and supporting these competencies with resources, responsive assessment (links to NZQA creating online anytime assessments) PD and a 'programme of evaluation'.

Here are a couple of observations and questions:
(a) the digital competencies as 'essential foundation skills for success' point: success at what? for whom? in what contexts? and what are these competencies? On page 9 of the report, it suggests that a competent digital learner has 'the essential foundation knowledge' and goes on to mention only one kind of knowledge (but called a skill) - programming literacy. By default, this must be 'the' essential foundation knowledge.
(b) a 'programme of evaluation': It's not clear if the assumed programme of evaluation is intended to judge the value of resources, assessment and PD, or just the latter item. The first justification - ie about 'curriculum design and delivery needs' - is entirely focused on digital competence. There is no mention in this part of wise, safe or thoughtful use - competence suggests a howness, not necessarily a whyness or an awareness of an impact on others of any creation or appropriation. There is the danger that digital competence will be understood as a tick box/driver's licence expectation if this isn't explored and understood more deeply.

2. The third priority (pp 12-15), centred on investing in people and innovation, argues that this investment is key to changing practices (implying that practices need changing) and taking full advantages of digital technologies' affordances. The report writers recommend three specific actions to support 'effective leadership and learning', the first of which is to require all providers of initial teacher 'training'(!) to 'fully integrate digital technologies into their training programmes'. (NB: It is important to note that I think they mean initial teacher education and education programmes, for you cannot train people to deal with messy, complex, and diverse contexts - but you can educate them to purposefully and deliberately harness their experiences, talents, theoretical and subject knowledge to address whatever they are faced with.) Embedding digital technologies into such practices requires extensions to that knowledge and education-building, as well as a recognition that the funding models for universities currently under-serve the complexities of teacher education programmes. The PBRF model for research funding also runs counter to programmes centred on pedagogy, for the research funding opportunities available to education are almost non-existent, and yet praxis (ie the intimate relationship between research and practice) is hugely important to understanding the relationship between new technologies and pedagogical practices. Research is imperative, for there is a lot of hype and a lot of assertions about digital technologies, yet research about how these technologies are supposed to support learners to develop critical thinking and the ability to create rich multimodal texts that have power and influence is thin on the ground.

This third priority also includes the ONLY mention of initial teacher education and its place in the educational scheme of things. This mention suggests that the government should 'require providers of initial teacher training (sic) to fully integrate digital technologies into their training (sic) programmes. Require them to include digital competencies in the standards for all teachers'. This second sentence also misunderstands who sets the standards for all teachers, for it is not initial teacher education providers.

Investing in educational success (p. 14) plans, also mentioned in the report, also ignore the role further qualifications and the role of initial teacher education can have in supporting schools to grow knowledge and expertise. One example of this is Dianne's post on a recent book a colleague of ours co-wrote. It did not come out of only practice; it came out of praxis. Without such expertise, we are doomed to repeated the errors and misinformation of the past.

One last point: the the Education Innovation Hub idea in the report is a bright spark, and one I will be following the development of with great interest.

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