Posts Tagged ‘SFU’

My apologies up front if this comes across as part blog-post, part infomercial.

I am really looking forward to being part of the upcoming symposium: Targeting Technology for Maximum Student Benefit, to be presented by the Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy at Simon Fraser University.

While much has been bandied about around technology relating to the BC Education Plan, we’ve only just touched the surface. So far, much of the conversation and views expressed have taken quite a simplistic approach;  the conversation has fractured on the one side to notions of embracing personal devices as forward steps to a privatized or American-style public education system, and on the other of charging ahead noting that increased digitization of schooling is inevitable.

The SFU session on February 9th will (hopefully) allow for deeper discussions. Coquitlam Technology Leader, Brian Kuhn, and I have been each given an hour in the morning to respond to the following imagined scenario:

Imagine that you have a budget to support the educational use of technology in a school district that has previously constructed all the necessary technical infrastructure, but has not yet introduced a plan for the use of technology to support learning. Your budget is one-third of what you would require to do all that you feel would be effective given the rate at which staff and students can learn to effectively employ technology.

 Provide a way of thinking about the broad array of potential uses of technology in education, including a conceptual  overview of the options that you believe have been shown to be most important for improving student outcomes through ‘personalizing’ their learning in ways suggested by the BC Education Plan.

Describe how you would use the resources at your disposal over a 5-year period to initiate technology use in a way that would maximize both immediate and eventual benefit for students in a sustainable and generative fashion. Include a rationale for what you choose to do, and to defer.

It is an interesting and challenging scenario, and I am committed to pushing out some thinking, as well as to sharing some thoughts on the future (or perhaps, the lack thereof) of online learning, and a road-map embracing personally owned devices while ensuring equity, and how, using Michael’s Fullan’s words “We ensure we have the right drivers for this change”.

And, personally, as much as I think there is a list of things we could or should do, I also believe there is a list of things we need to stop doing, or not start doing, to keep our focus clear and on student learning as our goal. 

We need to commit our focus on Grades 4 – 10, to focus on a space for learning that allows for personalization, to have expectations for leadership from our administrators and librarians,  to have our learning leaders become our digital learning leaders and integrate, integrate, integrate with the arts, as well as throughout the curriculum.  

On the flip side, we need to take a critical look at the future of distributive learning, to not allow technology to solely report to the business side of our organizations, to be cautious and not go slate (iPad) crazy, and to be wary of digital ‘drill and kill’ or the ‘shiny new thing’ syndrome and, to  not get stuck in the endless loop of technology strategy planning sessions.

Following our responses and participant discussion, Kris Magnusson, SFU Dean of Education, will also have a chance to share his thinking on the above scenario, which will then lead into panel discussions.

I understand from Bruce Beairsto, who has organized the event, there are about 170 people who have signed-up including teachers, administrators, parents, trustees and other educators, leaving only space for about 10 more registrations.  You can find out more about the event from Bruce (here) or register directly (here).

Of course, you can also participate online via Twitter at #bcedsfu.

The simple idea of learning empowered by technology is not so simple.  The more opportunities we have to engage, challenge, press on, pushback, and move forward to some common thinking, the better it is for our system.


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Over the course of the past year, I had the opportunity to hear Kieran Egan speak several times on a very simple idea — that students be randomly assigned a topic to study in depth for 12 years.  And just what topics did he suggest?  In A Brief Guide to Learning in Depth, produced by the Imaginative Education Research Group at the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, possible topics included paper, skin, gold, cotton, storms, leaves, castles, jungles and coffee.  In addition to the usual curriculum, students would study their assigned topic throughout their elementary and secondary education.

The first time I heard Egan present the concept, I was as skeptical and cynical as many of those who commented on Janet Steffenhagen’s blog post last fall about Egan’s new book, Learning in Depth.  I had the “yeah, buts” that Egan addresses in his book, like: “wouldn’t students become bored with a topic for 12 years?” “it is unfair to randomly assign topics?” “it would be difficult to organize;” “how do we know this works?” and “would this learning transfer to their other parts of school?”

With the perceived complications around making systemic changes so many believe are needed to evolve our education system, Egan’s idea is simple, doable, and is already happening in many places.  One of the concerns I share with the many, is the minutia in the curriculum — the hundreds of specific outcomes which do not allow one to ‘go deep’ on topics.  I believe it matters little what students can go deep on — it is that they have the ability to do so, and move beyond surface level and recall.  While I am still not sure I want my five-year-old son studying silk for the next 12 years, I do like the idea he could do deep learning outside the bounds of what we normally think of as school.

In Learning in Depth, Egan suggested that “for each student, by the end of her or his schooling, [the goal] is to know as much about that topic as almost anyone on earth.”

The  benefits included a deep understanding of the nature of knowledge; engaging students’ imaginations and emotions in learning; building confidence and pride in knowledge; developing research expertise and organizational skills.  There are similar benefits suggested for teachers and schools — enriching experiences, a de-emphasis on assessment and grading and an enriched school culture.

As part of his presentation last week, Egan spoke about the thousands of students who are participating in this program in Canada, the United States and around the world.  Participation has grown rapidly over the last few years.  While some have modified their study to only one year, or a few years, and in advanced grades some all choice, many schools are carving out time for this in their week.

Before you quickly dismiss the concept like I did at first, take some time to explore the Learning in Depth Project.

While we continue to explore many grander changes to schooling, I am becoming convinced we need to carve out specific time, each week, for this new, deeper, integrated learning (attach the buzz phrase of your choice).  It may seem ludicrous on the surface — blocking out time for something intended to be part of everything we do — but, somehow, on the journey we may need to set aside time to do something different.  Whether it is a project like Learning in Depth, or an initiative like  Destination Imagination, or engagement in DreamBox (more on both Destination Imagination and DreamBox in future posts), we need to systematically move forward and make a commitment to do similar ‘new’ activities — not just one teacher, one class at a time, but entire schools and districts.

Egan’s project reminds me of Dennis Littky’s Big Picture schools  that were started in the United States; albeit, Littky builds projects around student choice while Egan’s are randomly selected.  On the topic of rethinking secondary school learning, I find Littky to be one of the most thoughtful and important voices and his book Big Picture: Education Is Everyone’s Business is a must-read.

With so many educational reformers speaking and writing about deep learning these days, Egan provides us with a simple entry point.

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