Friday, 26 August 2016

COOL schools option: a long term view of the potential political agenda


The Minister of Education has announced that Communities of Online Learning (COOLs) will become a feature of the compulsory education landscape in New Zealand. Apart form this being yet another ramping up of the privatisation of our education system, it reminds me of a prescient short story from way last century. I'll refer to that in a moment. First, here are some snippets of bonhomie from those in political power here: "Mr Seymour hopes it'll involve foreign-based providers as well" Mr Seymour is the one and only ACT party member of parliament, representing the hard core of neo-liberalism activism in the country. His presence makes the National Party's work in chipping away at dismantling our system for private enterprise look benign. He also says "It'll replace going to a traditional school, and a brilliant idea."

Claire Amos sees a rosy future for the idea - and good on her for such a positive spin. She has a firm grasp of the educative possibilities. Her post outlines some possibilities where learning is enhanced by the option - and why shouldn't it be? In the right hands, it can be a strong and positive adjunct to deliberate acts of teaching and learning. When students are ill - or even teachers- then learning need not be as disrupted as it might be currently. It can extend students and provide options for accounting for and creating new knowledge. However, I think there is more afoot.

The politics perhaps? 

Hekia Parata as Minister, meanwhile, is talking up this innovation by saying it provides existing schools with opportunities to enhance current practices and offer students greater variety in their learning. But what if future governments also keen on privatising education wanted to completely dismantle public schools and make then less than viable in the face of private companies taking the lion's share of public money?  Derek Wenmouth issues a caution in his very good blog post on the issue when he talks of the apparent influences on the regulation regime that might eventuate here to police this change.

We might even find ourselves in the position Miss Boltz found herself in the satirical (and scarily prescient) short story by Lloyd Biggles Jr And Madly Teach in a collection called A Galaxy of Strangers (1957 but out of print) let me explain:

In this sci fi story (well it was futuristic in 1957), Miss Boltz comes back to Earth after teaching 'overseas ' in Mars for a while. There, she'd had classes full of kids, and taught them English - books, talking, arguing ideas, writing and building connections. Back on Earth, she needs to keep teaching, so goes along to find out what her new appointment was. After all, she had been teaching for 25 years, loved it, and was respected for her expertise. The Deputy Superintendent of tSecondary Education however, suggests she immediately retire because teaching is a "young person's profession". Mr Wilbings goes on to tell her that there had been a 'revolution in education" and that for 5 hours teaching a week, she would need forty hours preparation. There would be 40,000 students who attended class by watching her on television. The success of her teaching would be measured by a fortnightly Trendex rating, but the only thing students had to do was to register.  Assessments, feedback and any kind of communication with students other than pushing material to them, was frowned on.

On her way to being shown how to use the tv studio, she wonders to the engineer who shows her the controls for broadcasting herself, how she is to teach 40,000 students written and spoken English without ever hearing them speak or see their writing. A few weeks later she meets another teacher, who explains, in response to a similar wondering that
Let's not be dragging in abstractions like progress... The New Education looks at it this way: We expose the child to the proper subject matter. The exposure takes place in his own home, which is the most natural environment for him. He will absorb whatever his individual capacity permits, and more than that we have no right to expect... What the New Education strives for is the technique that has made advertising such an important factor in our economy. Hold people's attention, make them buy in spite of themselves. Or hold the student's attention and make him learn whether he wants to or not" (p. 9).  
Miss Boltz protests that students would not learn social values, to which the other teacher replies
"On the other hand the school has no discipline problems. No extra curricular activities to supervise. No problem of transporting children to school and home again.... The most potent factor in this philosophy of the New's money...we save a fortune on teachers' salaries... The bright kids will learn no matter how badly they're taught and that's all our civilisation needs - a few bright people to build a lot of bright machines...Anyway, in the not too distant future there won't be any teachers. Central District is experimenting with filmed classes. Take a good teacher, film a year of his work and you don;t need a teacher any longer. You just run the films..."(pp. 9-10)
The story shows how the Trendex works to 'judge' the success of the teacher through how many students are watching, but the quality is not a factor. So, the story descries a variety of scenarios of 'teachers' doing a slow striptease to "all you cats and toms out there" to explain the predicate in English, ostensibly to students who are US 11th Grade. Another teacher juggles, and another draws caricatures while supposedly teaching history. All for Trendex ratings. Forget the pedagogy or the challenge in learning.

I won't tell you the rest of the story - it's worth reading for the social and educational commentary it makes. It also highlights a point about those who make educational policy need to speak to those in the educational trenches - teachers and teacher educators - in terms of knowing about successful learning and what is needed for developing skilful, knowledgeable, socially adept and critical citizens. As a teacher educator for example, educational researcher and someone with 20 years' experience in secondary schools, I  actually know what I'm talking about. I'm not unusual as a teacher educator. People like me should not be ignored in the equation, for we have a wider view than the site of one school and we make it our business to keep an eye on wider implications of policies.

And then there's the potential problem of kids at home by themselves. Hands up, those who want to supervise the online learning of their own kids every day of the week from home? Consider what's implicated in this little bon mot on the MOE website about Cool Schools:
Who will be responsible for the supervision of a student enrolled in a COOL?
Enrolling COOLs and schools will be responsible for ascertaining and agreeing with parents and caregivers, about the supervision arrangements of students enrolled. In all cases where a student is accessing online learning, the enrolling school or COOL will have a policy that clearly states the supervisory responsibilities of the enroller and students’ parents.
So how might this work? What guidelines will be in place for the 'enroller' to create a fit-for-purpose policy with actual teeth? Will it be fair? Will it expect a staff member to pop in every day (if in an urban area - rural might be more complex) to check on progress (eg by video feed or actual physical presence)? A computer's camera being timed to take regular pics to prove a student is online? Or Analytics to check frequency and time spent? Or both? Is this potentially the equivalent of a GPS ankle bracelet for students? Or will the expectation be that students actually do this in a school so that surveillance can be more easily achieved?

As far as teachers and caregivers are concerned, what new learning might they need to make this work successfully? What does it imply for households' technological equipment and wifi needs? Who will be expected to supply it?

Teachers and Curriculum and Waikato Journal of Education

This is a shameless post to publicise two of the journals published by WMIER

The first is Teachers and Curriculum, which is calling for papers for a 2017 October issue date. The focus, as you will see below, is a Call for Papers for a special issue on Mobile technologies and learning as noted below. So, if you've been involved in, for example, some action research on your own practices (ECE, school, tertiary) then this might be for you. On the other hand, you might be starting a masters degree or a doctorate and writing a literature review that could offer insights to readers on the topic. You might be a researcher working with others in some education context and have been developing findings from this research. In other words, if you've been wondering about using mobile devices for learning purposes, then sharing your findings by contributing to this issue is timely:

Teachers and Curriculum

Call for Papers 2017

Special Issue: Mobile technologies and learning

You are invited to submit an article to Teachers and Curriculum for the 2017 Special Issue: Mobile technologies and learning. This will be edited by Nigel Calder and Carol Murphy. It will be published in October 2017.
Teachers and Curriculum is a peer-reviewed online journal supported by Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research (WMIER), Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education, The University of Waikato. It is directed towards a professional audience and focuses on contemporary issues, stories from the field and research relating to curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.
This Special Issue of Teachers and Curriculum aims to provide an avenue for the publication of papers that:
  • report on research in any aspect related to the area of mobile technologies;
  • provide examples of informed curriculum, pedagogy or assessment practices related to mobile technologies, and
  • review resources that have a curriculum, pedagogy and mobile technology focus.
For the 2017 Special Issue the Editor welcomes contributions that are:
  • research-based papers with a maximum of 3,500 words, including references, plus an abstract or professional summary of 150 words, and up to five keywords;
  • papers with a focus on informed, innovative educational practices with a maximum of 3,500 words including references;
  • opinion or think pieces with a maximum of 1500 words;
  • text, publication or resource reviews with a maximum of 1000 words; and
  • research project/thesis summaries from postgraduate students and teacher co-researchers and collaborators.


Paper submission due:1 April 2017 (all articles submitted via website)
Issue Publication: October 2017
Any queries on paper foci please contact: Nigel Calder (
Note 1: It is expected that all papers submitted will have been “colleague reviewed” prior to submission to ensure a starting point of high quality.
Note 2: Teachers and Curriculum is published online only.

Note 3: We welcome expressions of interest to join the paper review team.

The second journal to shamelessly promote is Waikato Journal of Education. Both of these journals use an open source platform to share educational research that we think will be of use to the education community worldwide. Waikato Journal of Education (WJE) recently celebrated its 20th year with a special issue. Next year, an issue will focus on the politics of education in New Zealand: Nine Years of National’s Education Policy: Where to Now? The call for papers for that issue has gone out, so if this is your area of interest, consider contributing! This year, the first issue focuses on family literacy while the second one will be a bumper crop of articles spanning a wide array of contexts, countries and sectors. 

These two journals are open to anyone to read and submit to. Please take advantage of these Creative Commons licensed journals to see what's being reported in the part of the world. We also welcome your feedback and your submissions to either journal. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Summer Research Scholarships: Earn and Learn at the University of Waikato

I'm thrilled that a project I want to undertake has been approved for summer research scholarship funding. This means the university will pay a student to help me with my research project this summer! I feel compelled to write a blog post in order to help make students aware of the benefits of a summer scholarship, and to spread the word about my project so that it attracts some suitable applicants.

Each year, researchers from our university submit projects for summer scholarship funding, hoping to employ a student as a research assistant for ten weeks of full time work between November and February. In return the students who are employed receive $5000 tax free and learn a few research skills in the process.

Last year, I received funding for a project I was working on related to social media in tertiary teaching and learning. The summer scholar worked on a literature review related to this topic, learning how to search effectively using electronic library resources, and how to construct a Zotero group library full of annotated references. For the student (a marketing/management major), the work was flexible, mostly completed online, and an opportunity to learn about new searching tools and techniques, as well as to investigate an interesting subject area. The payment was a significant boost to a recent graduate, and the learning (attending sessions with library staff, and researching the topic) was a fun aspect too. In this win-win situation, I had the opportunity to learn and work alongside the summer scholar, and the annotated bibliography produced continues to be a useful resource in my research and writing.

This year, my project is about blended learning at Waikato, and I plan to investigate the instances of blended learning (see this previous post) that are happening in various faculties within our institution. As part of the data gathering process, I want to conduct video interviews with lecturers (or other university teachers) who are integrating aspects of online and on campus teaching and learning as part of their courses, across a range of disciplines. With appropriate ethics approval (of course), I am also hoping to talk with students taking the courses, to hear their views about the pros and cons of blended learning in our tertiary context, the varieties/forms it takes, and what enables and constrains the learning in a blended format. The intended outcome will be a series of small case studies, comprised of short video clips, and accompanying text. The project is #17 in this full project list.

To assist with this case study research, I am looking for a research assistant who is interested in video interviewing. The suitable candidate might be finishing their second or third year of undergraduate study, or could be a masters student taking taught papers, in any discipline at any university in NZ or Australia. The full regulations for the scholarship are here.

Could this be you or someone you know? One of your students? One of your peers?

The summer scholar for the BlendedLearning@Waikato project will be:
- eager to learn about interviewing as a method, and to have a go at interviewing with me at first, then independently
- confident with a video camera or willing to learn
- available to work in Hamilton during the summer period (with holidays in the middle encouraged)

I am interested in hearing from potential candidates, who then need to apply to the scholarships office by 31 August.

In summary, the summer research scholarship is a mutually beneficial opportunity for me to work with a research assistant to progress my project,  while the scholar learns and earns at the same time!