What if teachers and schools were less risk averse?

This text was originally prepared for Educational Services Australia and published on the Scootle Lounge, and has been modified to suit this post.

ssrbakvxaos-alex-wong (1).jpg

A photo by Alex Wong

Developing the positive connotations around failure, effort, and growth mindsets is one of the most powerful gifts that we can give to our students.

People would agree that if students are not making mistakes and learning from them, they’re not developing as they should be.

I would argue that if you are not making mistakes as a teacher and learning from those, you are not developing as you should be either.

Of course, mastering the classroom curriculum is very different to mastering the fine art of teaching. However, when it comes to the professional standards for teachersI would argue that a teacher cannot possibly develop through these standards unless they are willing to try new things, reflect, and learn from their practices.

Modern students are encouraged to take risks in their learning. Therefore, we as teachers should be encouraging ourselves to do the same. If we are not failing and learning from these failures, we really need to be asking ourselves if we are daring audaciously at all.

We are creatures of comfort

Teachers tend to find the familiarity of daily practice comforting and predictable. A new process, idea or organisational change becomes a very threat to that because it is in opposition to what we know and expect.

The human brain is hardwired to keep us safe, the consequence of which is to be habitually averse to change. We tend to stick to tried and tested units of work rather than embrace new methods. We wouldn’t want to look silly in front of our students if that new gadget or gizmo didn’t behave on the day, and we certainly wouldn’t want to deal with the mess or chaos that might ensue if we gave a bit more freedom and autonomy to students in the classroom.

Change is both hard and uncomfortable.

We plead with our students to take risks in their academic work, yet many adults in our system seem to stay frozen in time, rarely changing their classroom structure, embracing a new technology, redesigning a curriculum unit or reimagining a lesson plan.

If we are serious about providing the best possible education for our students, we need to face the reality that the traditional schooling that we have inherited is inadequate. If we want to change the way our classrooms and schools operate, then we must put the expectation upon ourselves to dare to do things differently, better and more deliberately.

Previously, I have discussed the need for schools to think and act in agile ways if they are to remain relevant for modern students. Progressive change in our schools goes against the traditional notion of schooling where educators teach masses of content in an orderly and easily digestible way that is ultimately measured on a report card or a test score. We can avoid the ‘same old, same old’ if we decide it is time for us to embrace change and approach our professional practice with a willingness to innovate, try new technologies and pedagogies, and constantly reflect upon and improve students’ classroom experiences.

Pausing to reflect

To progress is to learn more about what we don’t know, which requires a curious mindset and a willingness to be investigative by giving something a go.

All teachers should be encouraged to innovate in their classrooms if they are to reimagine the possibilities for their students. This requires thoughtful reflection around asking the right questions about the current state of the school or classroom, and thinking about where the desired outcomes should be.

This happens best when we slow down and step back. This is seemingly difficult because humans can be very task and goal orientated. Especially, when it comes to workloads, teachers can have the feeling that there should be no time for pausing and reflecting, but rather, getting on with the task at hand. It is hard for individuals, and even harder for organisations to build a culture where reflection and questioning is prioritised.

Stopping may be perceived as the antithesis of progress but, when you stop, you pause and invite questions. These can lead to insights, ideas and new possibilities. For example:

  • Why is teaching content decided by teachers?
    Asking ‘Why’ can provide insights and offer perspectives on problems and challenges that can be used as opportunities for improvement.
  • What if students had genuine co-creation in the curriculum plans?
    Asking ‘What if’ invites the creative imagination and brings an innovative mindset to the fore, allowing for the exploration of new possibilities in the classroom or school community.
  • How might we include student voices in the design of the curriculum?
    Asking ‘How’ invites action and the execution of ideas, which can be explored in an iterative manner, embracing risk and failure as part of the process.

Taking a leap of faith

Organisations and schools are facing times of dramatic change, reflective of the world around us. Therefore, the school community and individual teachers need to be comfortable with constant questioning of and reflecting on current practices.

We may find that each time we challenge ourselves it becomes a little easier and that, in doing so, we gradually expand our comfort zone and deal with our fear of change. It is through deliberate practice that we can build our own capacity for change, just as we tell our students.

Every day we have the opportunity to improve ourselves. Let’s think about our own practices and the bold path and required actions towards great educational experiences for our students.
In the wise words of Dr Suess:

“If you never did, you should.

These things are fun and fun is good”

(From ‘One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish’)

 

Mind the (Digital Technologies) gap.

This text was originally prepared for Educational Services Australia and published on the Scootle Lounge, and has been modified to suit this post.

mind the gap

(Image credit: A photo by Pawel Loj)

With the nation’s first Digital Technologies Curriculum available here and now, many schools have begun implementation into their own school settings, or are looking to do so in 2017.

As a new curriculum which brings challenges that either excite or terrify teachers, how do schools prepare themselves for successful implementation?

Below is a list of questions, key considerations, and resources that might be useful for school communities who wish to successfully implement the Digital Technologies Curriculum.

 

mind-the-digital-technologies-gap

Key considerations and questions to ask in order to prepare for implementation and sustainability of the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Audit Teacher Readiness

  • Are teachers willing to shift?
  • Are teachers familiar with the curriculum?
  • What is their level of expertise?

Some teachers might sigh at the thought of continued ‘meddling’ with our curriculum, but we need to face reality; advancements in technology are rapidly shaping the world as we know it. It is our obligation to ensure that students are best prepared for a world which is increasingly reliant on technology. The Australian Government’s National Innovation & Science Agenda is one reflection of this response to a shifting workforce and innovation economy.

It should be of no surprise that the NMC and CoSN reported that these trends are already having an impact in schools as identified in the 2016 Horizon Report; with the idea of ‘Coding as Literacy’, and ‘Makerspaces’ as the new classroom. The report certainly puts into context the changing landscape of education in light of technology, and will remind teachers of the need to be responsive educators that provide the best possible learning for their students.

In July of this year, the ABC produced a compelling documentary titled ‘Future Proof’: 44 minutes of provocation that will ignite plenty of healthy discussion around the need to introduce concepts of Computer Science at an early age.

TED talks can also be useful for sparking conversation. Mitch Resnick’s ‘Let’s teach kids to code’ talk clearly outlines the benefits of  students learning to code. Also worth looking at is a talk by Linda Liukas titled ‘A delightful way to teach kids about computers’. Linda is the author of the picture story book Hello Ruby.

 

Audit Student Readiness

  • What prior knowledge do students have?
  • What are their needs?

With several toy manufacturers placing toys that involve computer programming into the marketplace, some students are becoming exposed to certain skills and concepts of Computer Science before their teachers even deliberately provide these opportunities.

Modern students who grow up with technology are fluent with ICT, and navigate technology easily. Teachers will be called upon as expert learners to assist students to be effective at using those fluencies for productive learning, and designing solutions with technology. A key distinction between the ICT Capability in the Australian Curriculum and the Digital Technologies Curriculum, is that the Capability assists students to be effective users of ICT, whilst the Curriculum assists students to be effective creators of solutions with ICT.

 

Digital Leadership

  • Which teachers or programs can be used?
  • How is ICT embedded in curriculum?
  • How is ICT supporting Learning & Teaching programs?

The introduction of Computer Science concepts into our curriculum is unfamiliar to most teachers (I am yet to meet too many teachers that have degrees in both Education and Computer Science!)

Teachers on the front line will be the crucial linchpin to determine implementation success. TPACK is a framework that identifies the type of knowledge required for effective pedagogical practice in light of technology. Leaders should be aware that the knowledge and practice of concepts such as computational thinking or algorithms is adding another layer to the already complex problem of leveraging technology with students in the classroom.

The University of Adelaide has been pioneering teacher education of Computer Science in recent years, and offers a free MOOC for teachers to prepare them to be effective educators with the curriculum. More recently, the university has also provided access to a lending library for schools, and supporting project officers in each state. More information can be found on their website.

The Digital Technologies Hub which contains plenty of links, curriculum resources, implementation advice, and access to professional development is also an invaluable resource for schools.

 

Curriculum Leadership

  • Where are the strategic links between Technologies and other curriculum areas?
  • Is there solid planning in place for weekly, termly, semester, yearly overviews?

Schools must make deliberate decisions that consider when the knowledge and skills of the curriculum are taught, and how evidence of student’s development is captured, assessed, and reported upon. It will be up to the collaborative expertise of teachers to design cross-curricular opportunities to develop students’ knowledge and skills in purposeful and engaging units. This will require dialogue and support with a variety of stakeholders within the planning process, and should not be left to one individual, or the resident ‘technology expert’ in the school.

The Rise of the Chromebook

This text was originally published in the February 2016 edition of ‘Educational Technology Solutions Magazine’ and has been modified to suit this post.

 

Foreword

According to recent figures from the USA, the Chromebook has quickly became the best selling device in Northern American educational markets and is continuing to grow in popularity (see here). But are Chromebooks really a panacea for the ever growing and ever evolving educational market? Or are they merely a fad destined to burn out in the years to come? (Netbooks, we are looking at you). And what should schools consider before dipping their toes into the Chromebook realm?

 

chromebook-logo

 

The Rise of the Chromebook

A Chromebook is a laptop of a different breed, one which runs Google’s web-based Chrome operating system. At the core, a Chromebook is designed to be used with an internet connection with most applications and data residing “in the cloud” which is accessed through the Chrome web browser.

The first Chromebooks to go on sale were manufactured exclusively by Acer and Samsung. Announced at the 2011 Google I/O Conference to much fanfare, they haven’t quite gained traction in the consumer market.

This is a different story in schools; where tight budgets exist, and when it comes to technology expenditure, bang for buck is paramount.

To date, customers from the education market have formed the most common type of user for Chromebooks.  Big names like Dell, Toshiba, ASUS, Acer, Lenovo, and Hewlett Packard are competitively manufacturing a variety of Chrome devices to satisfy the market, with some companies producing up to 3 different models. The consumer here wins, spoilt for choice when it comes to size, power, form factors, warranty support, and accessories.

But under the hood, the principle of the Chromebook remains the same; they all run Google’s Chrome operating system, rely almost entirely on cloud-based storage and apps, and – most importantly for schools – cost between $300-$400, much less than a tablet or traditional laptop. They come with USB slots to support an array of devices, integrated web cameras,  headphone/microphone jacks and HDMI display ports. Some manufacturers even offer cellular LTE connectivity, touch screen capability, Gorilla Glass screens, rubberised edges and anti-spill keyboards to last the distance in children’s hands.

Popularity for the device is picking up pace around the globe, like in Malaysia where the national school system utilises Chromebooks for 10 million students in their primary and secondary schools. Their efforts of integrating the web through the Chromebook and Google Apps for Education forms part of their national plan to reform its educational system (see here).

Chromebooks merge perfectly with Google Apps for Education, which is now used by more than 50 million students and teachers around the world. The productivity suite, which includes already popular apps such as Docs, Gmail, Calendar and Drive, also includes Google Classroom which allows students and teachers to collaborate on homework and other assignments in real-time.

But Chromebooks are not only limited to Google Apps products. Through the Chrome Web Store, web apps and browser extensions can be installed to increase productivity, with a bevy of apps and extensions that can enhance the technology experience for teachers and students who use Chromebooks in the classroom. Moreover, as a fully fledged web browser, a user is only limited by their imagination when it comes to tapping into any pocket of the vast World Wide Web.

Upon opening the lid of a Chromebook it boots up in seconds and prompts the user to log in with an associated Google account. Once connected the device automatically sets up the user’s profile and synchronizes the preferences, apps, bookmarks, and Drive data. (The system is even more speedy when returning from sleep mode from the closure of the lid, resuming almost instantaneously). Within moments anyone can be surfing the web, authoring Docs, or checking emails. Speed and simplicity at it’s best, having a Chromebook at one’s disposal makes it easier to get on the web and get on with it.

The secret behind the Chromebook is the operating system ChromeOS. Lightweight on resources it doesn’t require massive amounts of CPU cycles of RAM storage to run the laptop or boot from scratch. This means the end user is not paying the price for high end processors and memory storage employed with traditional operating systems. Moreover, battery life figures on Chrome devices are extremely impressive as the device efficiently consumes minimal power on basic hardware in operating modes and in hibernation.

As a thin client based on the cloud model, massive amounts of hard disk drive storage is neither required nor warranted. All Chromebooks come with minimal amounts of solid state drive space for any local files or downloads, as the whole ideology of using a Chromebook is to utilise cloud storage.

All of this “down specced” hardware equates to a lean package which means that Chromebooks are incredibly light-weight and portable machines. And considering that there are no licensing fees to pay for neither operating system nor office tools, it means that the device also becomes extremely affordable.

Updates occur automatically, don’t break the internet, and won’t take seemingly forever to install. A quick reboot when the update is ready and the user is running the most recent version of ChromeOS, which continues to improve in performance, functionality and security over time.

Chrome features built-in multi-layer security architecture which eliminates the need for antivirus software. HTML rendering and JavaScript execution threats through the browser are neutralised through “Sandboxing”, a security mechanism which runs processes in a restricted environment. In the event of a malicious exploit against the browser, the Sandboxing technique contains the threat and prevents the code from modifying or reading any information on the system.

The Chromebook doesn’t come without it’s perceived caveats and limitations. It doesn’t run Microsoft Silverlight web applications, which some rich web interfaces require. It doesn’t run legacy software, or premier multimedia suites. However, what developers are currently achieving through a web browser using HTML5 standards of late has been very impressive and is continuing to improve.

Want to edit and produce that video on the Chromebook? Install the free WeVideo web app and edit your film in the cloud. What about editing that image with multiple layers? Install the free Pixlr web app and import your images directly from any location.

All in all, Chromebooks are an extremely affordable option as a purchased computing device, but also in the upkeep and management of the device. There are no setup times or imaging requirements. Google support most Chromebooks for up to 5 years with free ChromeOS updates. There is no need to automate backups of files.

For this reason, Chromebooks have been a hit with school deployments as they don’t require extensive IT departments to support and manage each device. To deploy technology across a classroom, school or even sector, computing devices need to be simple, manageable and secure. Chromebooks make this ideal. Administrators can make changes to a whole fleet of Chromebooks through a web-based console without even having the device physically present. Teachers can share them throughout the class, under individual student logins, for each session. Schools can set the appropriate measures for accessing content, and design the user experience with pre-determined bookmarks and apps.

With reduced overhead costs, Chromebooks are a cost-effective option to deploy technology at scale. Many schools are releasing this as an affordable option for closing the technology-equity gap whilst promoting the kind of rich digital learning that we all believe in.

For case studies of Chromebooks in education see https://www.google.com/edu/case-studies/