We need to do more than just ‘tinker at the edges’ in the high school space

images (2)I want to begin this post with reference to the latest findings of the 6th annual NMC Horizon K-12 Edition that was released overnight. Link to the video of the report here. I have referred to this report each year in my own work and the latest edition announced in a special session at the annual ISTE Conference in Philadelphia provides some timely reminders.

ISTE is a conference I have not yet attended in person but I plan to in 2016. If you are not in Philly having a face-to-face experience at this 20,000+ delegate ‘tech fest’ of learning and development held each year in June then there is a # that is really useful #notatiste to keep up with what is going on. Also the # means a chance to follow many terrific tweeps from Australia – almost feels like being there in person.

download (2)The 2015 NMC Horizon Report K-12 Edition describes emerging technologies that are likely to have the most impact on teaching and learning. Key themes in the annual round up by the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the Consortium for School Networking (CfSN) involve students moving from passive recipients of information to active participants and collaborators who need new types of support and opportunities.

It describes six key trends in K-12:

  1. Re-thinking how schools work, for example, it notes that the overly structured nature of the school is hampering learning
  2. Shifting to deeper learning approaches, for example, students working on local and pressing global problems
  3. Increasing use of collaborative learning approaches
  4. Shifting students from consumers to creators, for example, citing cases of students creating stop-motion animations to help other students understand abstract concepts.
  5. Increasing the use of blended learning, and the
  6. Rise of STEAM learning.

download (3)The full report details what it deems are significant but ‘solvable’ challenges, including creating authentic learning opportunities, integrating technology into teacher education, personalising learning, scaling teaching innovation, teaching complex thinking and re-thinking the role of teachers.

There are a number of challenges identified from time to adoption and the report cites BYOD and Makerspaces, 3D printing, Adaptive Learning Technologies, Wearable Technology and Digital Badges as key contests. It also estimates that the blended learning designs currently on the rise in schools will reach their maximum impact in the next one-two years (p. 6).

images (3)Furthermore there are three meta-dimensions that impact schools: policy, leadership and practice. In my experience and based on research conducted over the past decade or more it is action to seriously adopt “deeper learning that includes models such as project- and challenge-based learning, which connects curriculum to life outside the classroom” (p.6). This learning approach must become mainstream. Leadership in schools needs to focus on “innovative learning approaches that may require removing limitations of traditional bell schedules and assessments while encouraging the creative application of technology”. In the report, Finland is cited as the country that is “emerging as a leader in rethinking how the school day is structured” (p.17). Both dimensions of policy and leadership impact teaching and learning practices.

download (4)As I thumbed through the 2015 NMC Horizon Report K-12 Edition I kept nodding … so much of what I read is reflected in findings of the High Possibility Classrooms research (Hunter, 2013). However I also feel a sense of disquiet since finishing this latest account of where we at in the ‘tech space’ in 2015. It is only one report, but it is often a point of reference for education jurisdictions both nationally and internationally

I want to explain why I feel an unease.

Over the past six weeks I have spent significant time in high schools doing research and technology enhanced learning projects with teachers and students.  Some of this work will be written up in peer-reviewed papers – which frustratingly takes so long from initial research to publication – usually about 9–12 months – you might like to watch out for  such articles in 2016.

download (5)In the meantime, I want to share some ‘voices of students’ from this work that concur with findings in the latest NMC Horizon Report.

What high school students are saying is important.

In total I have spoken with 164 students in years 7-10 in four diverse high school locations in NSW about what they like about using technology in their learning in classrooms and how it does/doesn’t enhance their learning – including their favourite lesson/s. Data from this work is research ‘of the particular’ but it is rich and revealing.

For some time now I have observed that primary schools in NSW generally are doing a terrific job of ‘stepping up’ and using technology to enhance student learning – teachers collect data on what works and they review their practices – I detect and have seen a real shift in the minds and practices of many primary school teachers, especially in the past two years. They are using technology where pedagogy is the focus and various devices and apps enable more interesting, engaging and creative classroom learning. Students in these classrooms are achieving excellent results and positive outcomes from more tech-rich teaching are reflected in standardised tests and school-based assessments.

download (6)Fabulous work of TeachMeets and various professional associations like ICTENSW and the State Library Association of NSW are great examples of teachers taking responsibility for their own PD in the tech/content/pedagogy/school space. The ‘one-off shot’ of PD is becoming a relic of the past.

I want to begin by saying that in NSW high schools I have stepped into recently there is terrific work being done by really dedicated, highly intelligent and creative teachers who are working so hard with colleagues and their own students to make technology enhanced learning happen in successful and sustained ways. But in my mind it is not yet happening in enough classrooms for enough students (sorry …. I am getting impatient).

Teachers must stop talking at their students in 2015 … for every lesson and for the whole lesson (there is too much of this happening). Students told me repeatedly that they “don’t like it”. We may need to get out of the way of their learning?

download (2)Nothing wrong with explicit teaching of concepts from time to time – you have to do that – but when a teacher stands at the front of the room and talks at their class for 40-50 minutes it is not ok. We, as a profession, can do better than that?

High school students love opportunities to do projects focused on real issues and problems. They want their work to count but everything starts to shift … in late year 9 and into early Year 10 in their minds because of the …. big test … the Higher School Certificate (HSC – final year of schooling in NSW for those overseas readers). This test is a significant impediment to accelerating the uptake of technology enhanced learning in high schools across most KLAs.

Professor Eric Mazur

As Professor Eric Mazur has so convincingly researched and then argued at EduTECH a few weeks ago: “Assessment: the silent killer of learning”. Assessment is killing what technology-enhanced learning could look like for high school students, especially in the senior years. This is where good, savvy education policy must come in – the kind that is being advocated in the 2015 NMC Horizon Report K-12 Edition.

I understand there are plans underway in NSW by BOSTES for online HSC versions … but until that happens the preference for note taking and writing with pens and paper – and stand and deliver will remain in the later stages of schooling.

Students in many of the focus groups I conducted reflected this view: “We are worried we won’t be able to write fast enough in our final exams so we have get ready for that”. I ask … in Year 10?

One group of Year 10 students reported to me how much they liked Science because download (7)their teacher used Kahoot and another Science teacher in another school used Verso – new apps that are highly interactive motivate content learning (Ying Shao Hsu, 2015). Other students in Year 7 for example, liked opportunities to do meaningful week-long projects.

In terms of BYOD many students in this sample report that they are only using their devices for 30% of the school day. Many students don’t bring them to school and some report teachers actively asking them to put mobile devices away and write with pens. Students recognise mobile devices are distracting to their learning at times and they all report using the ‘alt screen tab’ to quickly hide off-task activity. But, they want teachers to notice this and help them limit this kind of behaviour – they also want teachers to assist them to be better information searchers.

download (8)“We don’t know how to search well”: said many of the students across all year groups that I spoke to. And, when teachers do set research tasks using technology devices the links provided must take students to sites where they will find relevant and useful information.

What I have stated here is just a taste from recent research and projects in high schools on technology-enhanced learning. It is complex. However what I am seeing and hearing is worth sharing at this early stage in view of the just released NMC Horizon Report K-12 Edition.

If you are a high school teacher or a school leader looking for what works in terms of technology enhanced learning then the case study of Kitty is an excellent starting point. I mention this because Kitty is not only a case study in my book but also her successful practices in technology enhanced learning in the BooksNSW high school context are explained featuring different data sets in work now published in a 14,000 word chapter in a new research handbook – it has ideas for pre-service and in-service teachers.  There is NO excuse not to when it comes to student learning in schools – the Handbook of Research on Teacher Education in the Digital Age has terrific ideas from recent research to support technology enhanced learning in schools and universities. Link to the paper if you would like a copy is here.

No matter what – I believe as education leaders and teachers we have to do more than just tinker at the edges in technology integration in high schools. Pre-service teacher education must do more in universities in preparing the next generation of secondary teachers and ALL teachers in ALL school contexts must step up – we owe it to students.

Let’s quicken the pace … to a run in the next 12 months – so what is predicted in the 2015 NMC Horizon Report K-12 Edition becomes reality for ALL students in high schools.