Today, I’m excited to formalize the #DisruptEDU pet project from the incubator. It aims to amplify disruptive thinking and actions in education by providing useful resources for people, and assist myself and others to find their tribes.
You can read more about how and why I chose to be bothered with the status-quo of education by reading these twoposts.
The DisruptEDU logo above depicts a speech bubble within a representative D. To me, amplification of disruptive thinking and ideas in our schools requires dialogue; that is, understanding perspectives from multiple sources within the school community and beyond, conversations and questioning around the current status and intended status of school as we know it, and communication of ideas that helps us to understand that it is possible to design our own relevant futures if we believe we can.
There are a few ways that people can be involved in this dialogue:
At a simple level, you can check out resources that I am collecting through a Flipboard Magazine. Useful for sharing a provocation with that fixed-mindset colleague, or to lobby your school board, or just to have a read to fuel the heart and mind.
It’s no secret that I am advocating for change in education whenever I have a captive audience. You can view relevant posts and updates by following the #DisruptEDU category on this blog, or view talks and presentations on the subject from the static #DisruptEDU page at the very top of this blog.
A question worth considering is, ‘Are our schools agile enough to evolve with society?’
Do they move quickly and easily, with clear purpose? Or are they clumsy, stiff, and slow?
Most importantly, are they responsive to changes happening in society? If so, how responsive are they, and in what way?
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said ‘Everything flows and nothing stays’ — a striking reminder that the only guarantee in our complex world is that change is constant. In modern society, change is occurring all around us, at a seemingly exponential rate. In particular, technology has changed the way in which we live, work, play, and socialise. Yet at times, it seems that our schools are stagnant, unresponsive, and unwilling to adapt, reinvent, and reimagine learning opportunities in order to stay relevant.
Let’s rewind only a modest 10 years ago. No iPhone existed, nor did any iPad. Instagram was unheard of, and Facebook had a mere 12 million users.
Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to argue that technology hasn’t fundamentally shifted our world as we know it.
But has technology pervaded our schools in the same way that it has augmented our lives? To a degree it has, in scattered classrooms, with teachers and leaders who recognise the potentials and pitfalls of technology, and are agile enough to adapt.
Has technology pervaded into every classroom, or has every teacher changed their processes and structure in response to technology? Not a chance.
Our ignorant inheritance
Today we live in an ‘innovation economy’. The skills required to succeed in life have intersected with the skills required to be an effective citizen. Several decades ago, well before teachers and students used the internet, it made a lot of sense to teach the facts and content of a specified curriculum. This ‘factory model’ of education, where the teacher was the ‘dictator’, was acceptable for the time, but bears little relevance for today. However, the influence of an industrial era model can still be observed in schools now.
The tragedy of this inheritance is that we hold a lot of traditional structure that has become engendered in us. Generally speaking, learners are grouped according to age, with the teacher then deciding how to unpack the specified curriculum to those groups of learners. We tend to favour the telling of content to students rather than allowing them to discover. We tend to teach to the cohort rather than personalise pathways. Innovative teaching methods that involve technology such as flipped-classrooms, blended learning, game-based learning, makerspaces, inquiry, and project-based learning are yet to become the ‘norm’ in every school community.
Above all, technology has made access to information ubiquitous. Students no longer have to rely on only the teacher to learn or discover. Yet, the majority of our schooling system reinforces that students should come to school ready to listen and memorise the content from the teacher, or risk a demotivating failure on a test.
There should be no competitive advantage on how much ‘Student A’ may know in comparison to ‘Student B’. Both have, or should have, the commodity of knowledge available to them with the swipe of a finger. Instead, both students need to be able to ask great questions, critically analyse information, form expressive opinions, create products and solutions, and collaborate and communicate with one another, with and without technology. These are the skills essential for life in today’s world.
Essentially, school as we knew it, depended on how well pupils could passively consumecontent and retain facts and knowledge from the teacher, assessed by what students knew. School as we need to know it, should depend on how well pupils can actively consume then create content, critically ascertain facts from multiple sources, and be assessed with what students do with what they know.
So we need to ask ourselves, are we consciously and actively developing these opportunities with our students in mind? Or are we falling short? As the 2016 education machine turns out the next graduates from a system that teaches and tests narrow aspects of a curriculum that any smartphone can handle, we potentially set our future generations for failure, unhappiness, and social discontent.
We need to face the facts and recognise that technology has caused disruption to our economy and society. However, embracing technology will also be one answer moving forward, with many schools having already done so. Has technology fundamentally changed the machine of education? Not yet… but it certainly has started to put the wheels in motion.
Change in our schools
With the rapid change in the last 10 years, one has to wonder what the next decade will bring. Will schools be responsive enough to meet the needs of today and tomorrow, with one eye on the present and one eye towards the future? Will they be agile enough to remain relevant for students and their parents?
Schools will need to be prepared to change, adapt, and reimagine the established machine of school as we know it.
Change is taxing and requires effort. It requires us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It requires us to challenge the status quo, recognising that what we have always done may not be the best solution; and being dissatisfied with ineffective and no longer relevant pedagogies, procedures, and structures. It requires relentless dialogue and shared vision with all stakeholders about the purpose of school, the alignment of our beliefs and practices, and asking the question: ‘is this best for our students right now’?
We have natural a disposition to protect the tried and tested, rather than embracing the ‘new’. This is why new and innovative ideas are difficult to launch and gain traction, as the natural response of the status quo is to favour the known road rather than the risky foreign pathway.
Creating the space for innovative change to occur requires risk, trial and error, and an open mindset. After all, no real learning happens with failure, for either students or teachers. This means schools, leaders, and teachers need to be prepared to try new techniques if we are to disrupt conventional methods of education. We also need to be prepared for the status quo push-back, and allow space for positive conflict, disturbance and uncertainty to occur, in order to find ideas that will provide the highest level of value and outcomes for all stakeholders.
Schools need to create space for innovation, and at times, tolerate the messy and chaotic rather than the predictable and ordered. (Image credit: A photo by Azrul Aziz)
The age of disruption
Examples of disruptive innovation and its impact on society can be observed at an increasing rate, as more and more organisations exploit technology and the consumer. Uber and similar ride-sharing services are changing the way in which we travel, Airbnb is changing the way we sleep abroad, and Google Cars and other autonomous vehicles are changing the way we commute, deliver, and transport goods.
The innovators behind these initiatives have a few things in common:
They are agile and responsive. They have grown quickly, and have a ‘fail fast, fail quick’ approach to rapidly improve their services.
They leverage technology to find gaps and meet the needs of clients in new ways.
They are not afraid to find problems and tackle them head on.
Schools could probably learn a lot learn from these examples!
American businessman Jack Welch once said: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”. As tomorrow comes around, current and future technology trends will continue to push the boundaries of traditional schooling.
Can schools keep up with the pace of change on the ‘outside’? (Image credit: A photo by Tim Gouw)
Responding to these trends will be crucial for schools. They may struggle or embrace, dissolve or evolve with society. Those schools that are not agile or responsive may eventually be scrutinised by society. It is possible that we could see the whole notion of school questioned, and formal education challenged.
A useful resource for schools and teachers alike is the NMC Horizon Report, which discusses developments in technology, short to long term trends in education, and the associated challenges for schools. It is essential reading and research for any educator who wishes to stay abreast of the influences that will drive educational change and policy.
There are no easy answers available to shift schools in the right direction. The ‘right direction’ will need to be determined by the schools themselves, who will write their own futures. It is reliant upon the stakeholders within school communities to acknowledge the need to take appropriate action. The obvious stakeholders who wield the heaviest axe are teachers and staff leaders.
It is up to us to challenge ourselves to embrace change, so that we might evolve education to a rate that reflects evolution in the society in which we live.
It is up to us to challenge ourselves to let go of the past, recognising that it’s not about what we know from past experiences; but about being open to what could be, and what might better suit the needs of young people today.
Every decision we make contributes to this. When we teach in a certain way, question a traditional paradigm, leverage technology to new potentials, nudge a school in one direction, or influence today’s generation, we co-create what is coming next. It is up to us to be responsive. If we are passive, we will be too late. We can make change happen. We are all, each of us, practising futurists and world-makers. Let’s do so with open eyes, hearts, and minds.
Let’s think differently, learn differently, and disrupt the machine of education as we know it.
How might we amplify disruptive thinking in education to bring about positive change in our community?
In some ways, this presentation aims to amplify disruptive thinking with colleagues who will attend the session. In a broader sense, the amplification of disruptive ideas in education for wider communities beyond DigiCon15 is something that I am still grappling with, coming to terms with, and immersing myself with. One of my goals this year is to start that course of amplification in other communities, however, DigiCon15 will be a great place to share my thinking and progress thus far.
Abstract: Schools can be incredibly hard places to change, and at times, difficult spaces for re-imagination to take place. Too often we are bogged down by the day-to-day structures and internal / external forces and influences that dictate the learning for our students. Fixed-mindsets and the proud traditions or methods of “doing things we have always done” can be a toxic combination. Whilst there are pockets of innovation happening around the globe, we can’t really say that education has hit its mass tipping point as yet.
This session will unpack the importance and impact of disruptive thinking in education, as well as the methods that educators might seek in changing their classrooms and schools for the better. Examples will be provided of ideas and technologies that are disrupting our lives and shaping the future of education.
Last Thursday’s GEG Melbourne event “Feed Forward” was another huge success. Google Teacher Academy participants shared their journeys, their moonshots, and their intended journeys for the months to come.
I shared my moonshot and a little bit of thinking that I have been doing about the area of innovation in schools. As I started to explore the problem a little more deeply in an almost re-immersion of the problem, I have been grappling with the reasons why education can be appearing to move so slowly. Maybe some of this issue revolves around the obvious notion that change can be hard to achieve, but I think that challenging the “status-quo” of the system and changing fixed-mindsets is the real problem. Whilst some of us might view ourselves as change agents by standing up in our schools and leading the charge, true educational change requires challenging the thinking of every educator, student, parent and bureaucrat in the system. This might seem a little more challenging and risky then simply standing up in one school community!
I spoke to a few people in the breakout sessions about disruptive ideas in education, and several were excited to find a common ground with others who were also frustrated with the slow pace of innovation in education. If you haven’t yet done so, please fill out this form to share your ideas.
How did I arrive at this? A striking difference from previous academies was that a Design Thinking process was employed, as a vehicle to generate a problem for solving and creating sustainable change by educators who attend the academy. Attendees were encouraged to think about an area of interest and a “chunky” problem that they wished to solve. These ideas were to be brought to the academy for further investigation.
It was during the immersion phase prior to the academy and within the very early stages of the 1st day that I started to narrow in to an area of interest….that of system reform, hack schooling, or disruption in education from traditional norms and systems.
My overall sentiment on this issue is that often in schools we are bogged down by the day-to-day structures and internal / external forces and influences that dictate the learning for our students. Coupled together with fixed-mindsets, schools can be hard places to change, and at times, difficult for re-imagination to take place. Whilst there are pockets of innovation happening around the globe, we can’t really say that education has hit it’s mass tipping point as yet.
This was confirmed during the synthesis phase where fellow attendees at the academy were grouped to think critically about their area of interest by using hexagonal thinking. The aim of the exercise was to think of the factors within the issue and consider where the links and connections exist.
Whilst the hexagons can be placed in an almost infinite number of ways, here is just one way of viewing the problem with all signs pointing to “conformity”. (Humorously, the group decided that the the surrounding factors around conformity were too many, so therefore justified the use of a 7-sided shape).
From this phase, we were encouraged to generate a question for inquiry. This was developed around the following structure: How might we (ACTION) (WHAT) for (WHOM) in order to (CHANGE SOMETHING). The question I have developed is:
“How might we amplify disruptive thinking in education to bring about positive change in our community”
ACTION: Amplify – Encourage, highlight and celebrate were considered but to amplify means to make louder, increase, magnify, intensify, or heighten. I have chosen this word because I believe there are already great things happening in some schools which we should bring to the forefront for everyone to see, and that if we can create stimulus and aim to change mindsets in “laggard” schools then we might just reach a tipping point in education where we can realise a whole vision for the future of education.
WHAT: Disruptive Thinking – includes ideas, systems, process and models which throw away or “hack” the traditional norms of education and are not encumbered by the status-quo.
WHOM: Education – including all stakeholders. Educators, parents, students, systems / bureaucracy.
CHANGE SOMETHING: Positive change in our communities – This idea is two fold. First, that through disruptive thinking we are made aware of the possibilities for improving schools and ultimately students. Secondly, that the impact is not only on students in the present within their school and community, but for life and therefore making an impact on wider communities.
If this moonshot is to be a reality, I believe that we would see an incremental improvement in the conversations that take place around education reform, and the actions that schools take place around the globe to bring positive change in their communities (10x thinking).
I aim to make this moonshot a reality with a two pronged attack.
Firstly, I wish to make an impact within my own school community. I will need to consider the influencing forces in my school setting and the avenues to hack / rethink to improve opportunities for schooling. Having said this, I think my school setting does “buck the trend” from the status-quo in a lot of ways but there are always opportunities for improvement. Moreover, I hope to use these experiences as learning opportunities for myself and our school which can be shared to the wider community.
Secondly, I wish to examine what is happening locally, nationally and globally in education in regards to disruptive ideas. I aim to curate resources which highlight narratives of rethinking education which is not encumbered by traditional norms or influences. I also aim to share and provoke wider professional networks through teacher PD, conferences, and social learning networks.
Last week at the academy I created a Google Form and sent this out to my PLN. The aim of the form was to immerse myself in the problem again, and find out what other educators around the globe think about this issue. I am also using it to connect with people and to find out whether they are willing to help me curate some of the interesting ideas around disruption.
I have already received a number of responses from Australia and the US. If you are interested in helping this cause, I would love a response on the form below:
Last week I had the privilege of attending the Google Teacher Academy in Sydney. I had every expectation that the academy would be 2 days of high-energy thinking, mind-stretching paradigms, and dialogically rich conversations with existing and new-found members in my PLN. In this regard, the academy didn’t disappoint. As other’s have already pointedout, this year’s academy and possibly subsequent academies are taking a new direction in the way that attendees are selected, inducted and sent forth from the academy. Under the guidance and incredible facilitation of (NoTosh) Tom Barrett and Hamish Curry, this year’s intake had the prowess and wisdom of previous Certified Teachers from Sydney 2013 as mentors. Attendees were supported by teams and were stepped through a Design Thinking process as a vehicle of empowering attendees to create sustainable change in school communities.
It goes along way to answering the question, “how do you personalise learning for 50 incredibly passionate teachers?”, let alone those who are already “Google Savy”. For me, the process was very suitable for exploring problems in our school communities and seeking the opportunities for positive improvement. It meant that teachers could tailor the two days towards their own visions for education and make something meaningful of it.
In the early stages of immersion, themes were collected of all the topics that educators were interested in developing moonshots . Noting these it was interesting that they included common ideas in our professional practise like changing teacher / student mindsets, assessment, personalisation, leadership, learning spaces, pedagogy, curriculum development, change beyond the classroom, and even the notion of hack schooling or complete system rethink. Of all these interrelated issues, a similarity found in all was that they were about forces of change for the better of education.
My own moonshot that I have developed from the academy is along the lines of hack schooling, system rethink, and disruptive learning…more on those in another blog post!
For me, the Google Teacher Academy was incredibly energising. The most important part was not the fact it took place in a Google office, or that we used / discussed Google tools, or even technology for that matter. The most important parts were the connections that were made, the challenging conversations that took place, and the energy and belief that gripped each of us in those rooms that we can make a powerful difference within and beyond our school communities.
At the end of the two days we were asked to develop a six-word memoir that encapsulated our feelings at that point. I believe the memoir I developed (Dare to dream and discover empowerment) is a reminder not only for myself, the community of GCTs but all educators…that we have a responsibility to ourselves and to grow the profession together.
At ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I attended Alan November’s session on “Learn to Learn: First 5 Days of School”. Alan spoke about the opportunities within the first five days of the school year, and the range of activities and pedagogies that could be “invested in” during that time and carried into each term.
Whilst the topic of conversation was very interesting (See the November Learning resources and #1st5Days), there was something else that sparked an interest in me.
Alan showed a set of questions that he had been working on, named “Six questions to ask for transformed learning”. Alan’s point was that the we ought to consider more frequently how much of our use of technology IS in fact transforming classrooms. His questions could be used to “test” or analyse assignments, as one can easily get carried away in the urgency to use technology but not consider how in fact it is improving (or hindering) the learning process or opportunities.
Here are Alan’s questions in full:
1) Did the assignment create capacity for critical thinking on the web?
2) Did the assignment reach new areas of teaching students to develop new lines of enquiry?
3) Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?
4) Is there an opportunity for students to publish (across various media) with an opportunity for continuous feedback?
5) Is there an option or focus for students to create a contribution (purposeful work?)
6) Were students introduced to “best in the world” examples of content and skill?
Upon reflecting on Alan’s questions I thought that they ring true; in that if the answer is no to all of the above, then there is a danger that technology has merely substituted the task and not transformed it in any way. Educators often talk about how apps or software are “transformational” because they are engaging or motivating, or personal devices that are in the hands of students hands lead to transformational “approaches”. For me, the transformative opportunities in today’s digital age with technology are when the technologies are used to connect, share and widen classrooms, which in my opinion, are scarcely met in a genuine sense.
According to the SAMR model above (Dr Ruben Puentedura), transformation occurs when the technology has allowed for significant modification of the task and / or created new opportunities which were previously inconceivable. For more on SAMR, see Kathy Schrock’s awesome guide.
So you think you are using technology to “Transform” learning?
Taking Alan’s questions, I have modified them slightly and improved the wording of them for teachers to use more succinctly to get to the heart of the question; so that they could be used to think about whether technology is indeed transforming learning and teaching in classrooms.
The first change you might notice is that I have modified the word “assignment” to task. Assignment to me brings connotations of a moment in time, a “project”, and often used as an assessment piece. To me the word task is a lot more applicable yet still suitable to learning opportunities in the classroom.
1) Does the task create capacity for critical thinking on the web? – The extent to which critical thinking and higher order cognitive skills are utilised WITH the web. The word “web” here is particularly important as it offers the opportunity to broaden perspectives, break down the barriers of place and time, and share and connect across communities.
2) Does the task enrich the possibilities for students to develop new lines of inquiry? – The extent to which the technology is used in a way that sparks curiosity and provides the avenues for students to develop and seek questions.
3) Does the task broaden the conversation via authentic audiences? – The extent to which the technology is used to flatten classroom walls and open dialogue and interaction between other students, teachers, parents, and the wider community.
4) Does the task allow opportunities for students to publish with the possibility of continuous feedback? – The extent to which the technology is used to publish student knowledge and synthesis with the opportunity of viewership and feedback from others without the restrictions of place and time.
5) Does the task allow opportunities for students to create contributions? – The extent to which the technology is used for questioning, moderating, collaborating and co-creating with others.
6) Does the task expose students to “best in the world” examples of content and/or skill? – The extent to which the technology is used to demonstrate high quality examples of the learning objective’s content and/or skills.
Educators, what do you think? I would welcome you to “test” these questions to analyse tasks or curriculum against the SAMR model. Do you agree with Alan November? Would you include anything else in this set of questions?
As part of my Google Teacher Academy application, I have made a provocation that can be used for critical and creative thinking about the opportunities of transformational learning with technology. This might be useful to view when planning for deliberate tasks, or consider when delivering of lessons, or for post evaluations and analysis of tasks or curriculum.