Digital Vs Human – Richard Watson

9781925321173My previous holiday read ‘Mobile Learning Through Digital Media Literacy‘ was a strong advocate for the integration of digitally based learning through careful application of several key principals. This book, “Digital Vs Human” by Richard Watson, is a far more cautionary tale. Watson is a futurist (interviewed here on Radio NZ) who was mentioned and recommended by Derek Wenmoth in his presentation on future trends.

The main them of the book was around the impact of automation and digitalisation: “How new technologies change the was that humans relate to one another, and ultimately, how technologies change human identity and purpose” (172). However, Watson is clear, boldly announcing in his preface “the problem we currently face is not technology, it’s humans” (xv). He encourages us to take control of the changes going on, to ask questions about purpose and impact, and evaluate ethically any technological change.

He considers the impacts of technology change on jobs, the economy and privacy, identifying that an “imbalance has emerged between work and life…individuals and community …liberty and equality…economy and the environment…physical and mental health” (16). The imbalance is leading to loss of connections and isolation of individuals. Watson implores us to stay in the driving seat, keeping creativity and empathy at the fore. Instead of blindly accepting new technology as progress, we need to ask what is it for? Who does it serve? Watson also considers the development of AI in depth. Where is the line between human and non-human? To what extent will humans “be happy to use machines in place of people and in what roles? Is there an obvious limit?” (58).

A chapter is devoted to education, but strung throughout the book is a challenge to rethink the relationship between technology and education. We live in an era “where our opinions are increasingly based on very little knowledge” where “knowledge of the fact a thing exists or is happening” is more important than knowledge itself (153). Are we over-schooling and under-educating? Are devices conditioning young minds “away from deep reflective thought”? (157). Is our tiered education system skewing our outcomes through the favouring of wealth and social status?

I think the issues discussed pre-date our current era; however, they have been exacerbated by technological change. The underlying issue, which he tackles, is the emphasis on learning to pass, or short-term knowledge. He promotes education through portfolio and people. Watson is particularly cynical about MOOCs and CoOLs which contradicts the research that people and relationships are what make the biggest difference to learning.

The final chapter of the book contains some ideas to address the themes in the book:

  • “consider the physical and digital domains as one” (240)
  • “challenge the myth that the intelligence of a large number of people online can exceed that of a single individual” (241)
  • “individuals should be granted the legal right to be forgotten…this might encourage more experimentation and act as a counterweight to conformism” (242)
  • “we must be vigilant against the threat of human extinction” (243)

Earlier in the book Watson suggests only when things are rock bottom, does humanity really truly reflect: “the threat of impeding death or disaster does focus the long lens of perspective” (93). I think the biggest takeaway from the book is the need to promote this wider perspective more often to have more ethical conversations about the progress society is making. The last six words of the book are a great question to start with:

Who do we want to be?


Watson, Richard (2016) Digital Vs Human: How We’ll Live, Love and Think in the Future. Scribe Publications: Croyden.

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Wa Ako – Active Learning Stories

visionActive learning is taking place in Wa Ako at the moment. Wa ako is our regular period four slot which has enabled a diverse programme focusing on learning to learn and realising the Newlands College vision. We are building towards two days off timetable in Week Nine where a number of projects will manifest and some impressive ideas will come to life. The following magical stories were just two of the many shared today at the staff’s professional learning session, shared here with permission from the students. Last year a similar post captured student voice and here is some reflection.


Capture1

Active learning is something that more accidentally happened for me this year. I didn’t have a active learning project to begin the year with so I turned my focus into what was happening for me in 2018. Through a connection on staff I ended up emailing Steve Logan from Logan Brown and was invited in for a coffee. This led to working shifts at Logan Brown, not doing dishes, but actually preparing the food.

I’m not just on websites trying to figure out what to do next year, I’m actually out there doing it trying to figure out how to keep doing it next year. I simply started with the question: ‘What am I going to do and how am I going to do it?’ And followed through from there. The key challenge for me is not actually knowing what to do when on the job in the kitchen. But the learning for me is about asking questions and being open to advice, guidance and support so that I can develop the skills to be successful.

 – Ben Murdoch (13WG)

I am part of a group of Year 12 and 13 students have been planning a project as part of Active Learning, which involves a day of amazing Science experiments that we hope will inspire more students to develop an interest in the Sciences.

The idea began when I began to notice that there were many students that didn’t choose a Science subject as they passed through high school, or there were some students that didn’t choose to follow through with Science to Year 12 or Year 13. As I thought about it, I realized that most of these students did not leave the Sciences behind because they didn’t like it, but rather because they didn’t want to study it for the purpose of passing a test. I also noticed that the majority of students that did keep Science as a subject had a genuine desire to learn more about the Sciences.

So, I decided that there must be a way to inspire people to take an interest in the Sciences so that they can see it as more than a subject, and rather as the study of how the world works. When we were presented with the opportunity to take up a project of our choice for Active Learning, it was the perfect opportunity to do something about it. So together with some other eager Year 12 and Year 13 students (Rachel Wilson, Becka Tiongson, Shine Wu, Ruth Cabahug, Aneesa Delpachitra and Ryan Mass) we set about doing something that could make a real difference, and have an impact on the future generation. As a group we came up with the idea of involving our neighbour, Newlands Intermediate.

We plan to use the two days we have been given at the end of June, June 29th and June 30th for this ‘programme’. We have several options of how we can run these two days, and we will arrange it to suit however many classes the Intermediate would like to send to us. The plan is to have sessions which last for an hour with three stations. We aim to have a class (or 1/3 of the group) at each station for 20 minutes, and rotate through all three of the stations.

We are well on the way to making this a reality and have even begun taking steps to turn this into a business venture as well.

 – Clarice du Toit (13CO)


These are magical learning stories enabled by teachers letting go of the control and having the students led their own journeys. So many amazing things are happening around the school and the energy is so contagious. It’s very exciting times!

The Attention Industry Vs Today’s Classroom

A few weeks ago on National Radio, I caught Columbia University professor Tim Wu discussing the “Attention Industry” which he unpacks in his new book The Attention Merchants. He spoke about how our attention is a business – media companies, the
the-attention-merchantsentertainment industry, politics and just about everyone in the public sphere all want our attention. What is new for today’s society is the volume of competition and the ubiquity. There has never been so much competition for people’s attention with hundreds of things trying to grab our attention all day. As Wu point it: “It’s like we’re in a carnival non-stop all day”.

The implications of these ideas impact education. Educators too are in the attention business. We are competing for the attention of our students. When we consider the global competition for attention, can a teacher really be angry about a student who succumbs to click bait and ends up off task for a few minutes? What is the appropriate response when a student is taken away from the class discussion by a notification coming from their pocket?

I feel educators need to embrace being part of the attention business. The ubiquity of technology and the competition for attention that comes with it is part of the modern world and our students need support to navigate it. Wu says “the presence of all those technologies in our lives is driven by this business model and its appetite for more and more of our time.” Students need to be conscious consumers in this market and make autonomous decisions to contribute effectively. We have to be realistic about the world our students are navigating and make it transparent that we are also navigating it alongside them.

There’s deeper thinking to be done around the biological impact that the attention industry is having; but in the meantime, I think our focus should be nurturing agency and self-directed skillsets and focusing on the front half of the NZ curriculum.

The Power of Inquiry – Kath Murdoch

poibookI spent some time thinking about why ‘The Power of Inquiry‘ had made such a difference for my thinking above all the other literature I’ve engaged with dealing with inquiry. From about halfway through the book it became really clear that the point of difference was how holistic Kath Murdoch‘s ideas were around inquiry. Teaching through inquiry wasn’t about just about a process – it’s about a inquiry mindset that drives everything that we do; it’s a “way of being” (180). While this book appears to be more targeted at primary education, it was the idea of the inquiry mindset that I really latched onto and strongly feel is worth engaging with regardless of your sector.

The ideas in the book are really captured by the chapter headings, as titled below. For the purposes of this blogpost I’ve recorded something that each chapter triggered for me as a way of taking these ideas further in my practice.

Creating the Space: How can we design learning environments for inquiry?

I was struck by how this chapter didn’t just consider the physical environment, but also the emotional environment. I would argue these exist concurrently; design physical spaces for positive relationships. To me this means inclusive classroom spaces designed for diverse learners. The ideas of Universal Design for Learning sit nicely alongside this chapter.

Beyond Topics: What is Worth Inquiring Into?

Murdoch consider catalysts and contexts for inquiry, but also emphasises the big picture. The Newlands College vision contains the destination for our students. Any inquiry question posed can be evaluated by asking “how does this fit into the big picture?” (50). So for our Newlands College akonga we should be asking “how does your inquiry fit into our vision?”

Inviting Uncertainty: How can we grow a culture of questioning and curiosity?

The power of the question “what is this making you wonder?” really struck me (58). It’s a question that promote metacognition and allows thinking to be externalised. The process of learning becomes uncovered and questioning may indeed begin to flow. Other parts of the chapter recalled John Loughran’s ideas around questioning in What Expert Teachers Do (2010).

Finding our Way: What role can frameworks and models play in scaffolding inquiry learning?

The balance between formula and freedom was embraced here: “The challenge then is to acknowledge the way we can scaffold our planning and teaching by referring to a process without becoming overly prescriptive” (77). Essentially, I feel one needs to just get over yourself and let go. But also the notion of one lesson inquiries – deepening our understanding of the inquiry process through modeling it in one off lessons.

Assets for Life: How can inquiry nurture skills and dispositions for lifelong learning?

Drawing on Claxton’s learning power, Dweck’s work on growth mindset and Costa’s habits of mind, Murdoch makes a compelling case in this chapter for the way inquiry can prepare a student with toolkit for learning. The takeaway here is the importance of identifying the links to the skills and underlying dispositions that add value to the learning. In the Newlands College context, I believe this sounds like using the words of the vision actively to describe the learning taking place.

To each their own: why make it personal?

The idea that shone in this chapter was the power of letting go balanced with the challenge of letting go. Murdoch spoke about “holding the space” – giving the learning environment enough structure so that students can still find their way even if they find self-management difficult (124).

Staying Accountable: What does assessment look like in the inquiry classroom?

I felt like this quote summed up the entire book really:

Teacher who use inquiry-based methodologies have a firm belief in the transformative power of ownership. When students feel they are the ones ‘doing the learning’ rather than the teacher ‘doing the learning to them’ they are undoubtedly more engaged, and with engagement comes increase potential for learning (147).

Together is Better: How Can We Grow an Inquiry School?

Underlined the importance to me of not just having a vision, but having a deep and shared understanding of what that vision is. The shared aspect of that statement speaks to Murdoch’s section in this chapter on collaborative cultures which have been shown to increase student achievement (171).


Murdoch, K (2016) The Power of Inquiry. Seastar Education, Australia.

eFellow – Hui #2

The CORE Education Dr Vince Ham eFellowship programme continued last week with the second hui of 2017. I’m privileged to be one of seven teachers on this year long journey that will see us challenged and inspired as we all take on individual inquiries that will be presented at uLearn17. Continuing the trend from my blogpost on the first hui, I’ll capture the journey with three ideas and three questions.

New Ideas

1. Te Pā o Rākaihautū

Te Pā o Rākaihautū is the school that fellow eFellow Heemi dubbed “the school that whānau built”. It was a magical visit from which I am still buzzing. EFellow15 Steve Mouldey wrote about the school in his blog as “truly living their vision”Te Pā‘s vision uses the verb imagine – a really provocative way of framing a vision: “imagine a world where learning is exciting, challenging and meaningful; where our marae, our whenua, our moana are the classrooms; where our kaupapa, stories and knowledge are central to the curriculum; and where our tamariki, mātua, toua and poua can learn side by side.” This vision was in action in every classroom we visited. It was a privilege to walk through the classrooms, observing learning in action and observe an authenticity that I am still reflecting on many weeks later.

2. Hagley College20170405_131737

Our visit to Hagley College captured some similar themes. A completely different environment, but it too was incredibly connected to its community. The authenticity here was striking. When entering classrooms, it wasn’t immediately obvious who the teacher was. This wasn’t just because adult students are part of Hagley, it was also because of the design of the classrooms and the way that learning was being approached. In every context, from the animation room, cooking spaces and the fashion hub, the feeling of a traditional school simply wasn’t there. It didn’t feel that students were compromised in order to fit into the environment – students were at the centre. This is made all the more impressive by how the special culture of the school means that the roll picks up a lot of students that don’t succeed in other schools – drop outs, exclusions, or students that fall short of a qualification. This was another magical school to see in action.

3. Universal Design for Learning

Chrissie Butler was our guest on the second day, who was charged with the task of disrupting our thinking through introducing us to UDL. This was my second introduction to the framework – but it may as well have been my first, such was the way that Chrissie disrupted my assumptions. I need to do a lot more gathering of my thoughts around this, but a quick easy takeaway was the need to “plan for predictable variability”. More on UDL via Chrissie on EdTalks.

Questions

1.Letting them Try

Te Pā o Rākaihautū told us about their trying policy. If someone has an idea and it’s not against the law or the lore – then they can try it. If it works, try and make it better, if it doesn’t try something else. This reminds me of Welby Ings who in his recent book Disobedient Teaching claimed “waiting for permission means very little ever gets changed” (20, 2017). What needs to happen in the spaces I work to empower every teacher feel like they can make significant change?

2. Christchurch20170404_125827

With the hui being in Christchurch, we were right in the heart of a city that was in the process of transforming; I vow never again complain about the volume of Wellington’s roadworks. In travelling around the city we saw the remarkable way that disruptive thinking was challenging the way the think about space and community. The pop up, gap filling culture focused on creating temporary initiatives that invested in connecting people to the space. The TED talk below makes it clear that the movement is about people – how people understand space in the city and how they use it. What can education settings learn from this approach? How can we gap fill our schools to improve our learning spaces?

3. Inclusive Pedagogy

Questions I am taking forward with my project. Asking teachers to consider:

  • How do sexuality/gender minority students know they are safe in your classroom?
  • How does your practice support the disruption of heteronormativity or binary views of gender?

Learning with the Community

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poibookThe photo above was taken on the school’s first ever Community Hour where members of the community were invited in to tell their stories and respond to student questions. It was organised by our Deputy Principal, Deb King, as part of launching our 2017 programme of Active Learning – weekly inquiry based learning time free from the constraints of curriculum and assessment.

The community was incredible at taking up this opportunity. Politicians, City Council, our feeders schools, police, fire department, the SPCA, InsideOUT, Newlands Community Centre, lawyers and a funeral director all came to speak to various groups of students un-conference style. The concept for the day came from the principles of curiosity found in Kath Murdoch’s book (pictured) which emphasises the power of inquiry and student questioning. The structure was supported by Sugata Mitra’s mantra of “learning at the edge of chaos” with the hour appearing unstructured and the school being alive with uncontrolled opportunities.

The group I sat with was talking to John Robinson from Challenge 2000. What struck me was the level of questioning that the students delved into – really interrogating John in terms of social justice. They really challenged the ideas being presented and the depth of their inquiries impressed me. Is this the result of giving the students free reign to respond authentically? What was also interesting was how little they listened to each other. It’s a small sample size, but the room’s questioning was erratic. Instead of building on from each other and asking questions along a consistent line, it really was pot luck as to where the next question would target. It’s a new part of teaching questioning I hadn’t thought about. The subject is important, but the room is equally so.

Media Studies – Class EduCamp

I often preach that the students in my class have the experiences, knowledge and understanding to teach me as much – if not more – than I am capable of teaching them. This year I tried a new way of walking the talk by taking the time to run an in-class EduCamp. We took the time as a class to understand the EduCamp, un-conference style of learning and each prepared a slide for the smackdown:

To listen to the students talk about their area of interest and their questions about the world was fascinating. It was authentically student centred and it revealed more about some individuals than any google form could.

The class responded to the topics and contributed postits to the board with things they wanted the opportunity to explore further. We made a timetable based on these areas of interest and voted with our feet – at one point all migrating into the one room for a tutorial on how planes fly.

The sessions contained fascinating conversation about road ranging topics including how schools can best support mental health issues, the nature of leadership, photography and drones, film and empathy, doing exchanges to other countries, and using the science of microwaves to transfer data from Wellington to Auckland. The opportunity saw several students have a chance to facilitate, jump on the whiteboard, share their knowledge and have their understanding and experience validated.

This to me speaks volumes about not only the value of student voice, but also the EduCamp structure as a means of creating space for it. That’s my highest possible endorsement on the eve of #EduCampWelly17.