Education technology: catching on at last
29 June 2013; Pages 11, 21–23
Technological innovations, including modern ICT, have often failed to deliver the educational benefits foreseen for them. This situation may soon change, as education technology lays the foundations for two key reforms to schooling. One reform is personalised education. Students, like adults, are increasingly able to learn independently through online channels such as podcasts or training videos, where they set the pace of their own study. Learning may also be personalised through adaptive technology. For example, the software in some digital textbooks can periodically adjust the complexity of content that students encounter, in response to their answers to inbuilt assessments. The second reform is the flipped classroom: lectures are delivered by experts online, instead of the classroom teacher, whose role moves toward coaching students. Beyond these reforms, education technology is also allowing isolated schools and students, eg in remote locations, to access far more learning resources, and expand their curriculum offerings. For teachers, ICT opens up new possibilities for sharing ideas and resources with peers, eg through sharemylesson.com and Edmodo. All these reforms are permitted by the convergence, and plummeting costs, of high-speed mobile networks, tablet devices and software, and by the emerging capacity and mindset to process large amounts of data 'gathered on the fly'. However, these changes and potential reforms have also generated concerns. The learning benefits that these reforms promise should substantially allay the concern that online gaming, 'always-on computing' and texting are 'dumbing down' young people. Another concern, that education technology companies will store vast amounts of students' personal data, can be addressed by suitable extensions to data-privacy laws. But other concerns may be more difficult to allay. Education technology is likely to increase inequality between rich and poor in the short term, as it is mainly taken up by wealthier schools. Government investment will be needed to close this gap. Teacher unions fear the replacement of professionally trained educators by a combination of ICT and less educationally qualified personnel. Such concerns 'are not completely unfounded'. A related worry is the possibility of far higher teacher-student ratios. A further concern is 'heavy-handed monitoring of teacher performance', reinforced by a proposal to place cameras in every US classroom. The article also discusses corporate providers of education technology, the commercial issues they confront and the strategies they are using to overcome these barriers. (The abstract includes material from a summary 'leader' article, Teaching and technology: E-ducation in the same edition of The Economist.)
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Tensions and dilemmas in leading Australia's schools
Volume 32 Number 5, 2012
The authors examine a number of trends, tensions and dilemmas affecting Australian principals and other school leaders. There is tension between the trend toward personalised learning on one hand, and a centralised curriculum, demanding accountability measures, and lack of suitable school buildings on the other. The topic of school buildings carries its own tensions and dilemmas. While there has been an unprecedented level of school building and renovation over the last three years, principals have had little control over building design. A further dilemma for principals is how to balance current and anticipated future needs when new buildings are designed. There is also the issue of how staff are to work in new learning spaces. A number of new models for school leadership have been proposed over recent years. The authors broadly endorse current, familiar roles for principals and middle level leaders, but call for them to be supported by a 'professional learning community that unifies all in trying to improve the school'. Teacher quality is another major issue. The pursuit of teacher quality has seen the development of teacher standards as a public statement of what constitutes professional quality. Standards are seen to provide accountability, to recognise quality and to offer a guide to teachers seeking to improve their performance. However, this quest for teacher quality also impacts on the principals' role. As well as their traditional role of deploying teachers, principals may now have to find, attract, retain and develop them. Some jurisdictions, including Victoria, have supported principals in these tasks. Nevertheless, some thorny issues remain. The focus on teacher quality has brought with it a focus on underperforming teachers, with current processes for their removal seen by teachers as 'clumsy, inadequate or non-existent'. Principals are 'caught in the crossfire' between competing calls to sack or develop underperforming teachers. Attracting and retaining good-quality teachers is likely to be more effective for principals than attempting to develop those who are underperforming. More generally, appraisal processes tend to be seen by teachers as empty formalities. A 2011 Grattan Institute report proposed a national appraisal process for teachers, which would involve feedback from peers, students and parents. These ideas have also been supported by AITSL.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Teaching and learning
Independent state-funded schools: some reflections on recent developments
Volume 32 Number 5, November 2012
Independent state-funded schools (ISFSs) have emerged in many countries around the world. These schools receive public funding while also enjoying substantially more autonomy than traditional state schools. Their autonomy typically covers freedom from restrictions governing curriculum, geographic enrolment, and agreements negotiated with teacher unions. However, they usually remain subject to centralised accountability mechanisms. Some schools develop strong links with business; the schools' managers are often drawn from faith-based, business or philanthropic backgrounds. ISFSs are part of 'a wider neo-liberal political agenda', promoted by think-tanks influential with policymakers. In England ISFSs, called Academies, were introduced in 2000, with business sponsorship playing a significant role. They were initially set up in heavily disadvantaged areas characterised by low attainment and aspiration in schools. In 2007 the government committed itself to applying the academy model to all schools. In the USA, ISFSs are known as Charter Schools, the 'charter' referring to the school's mission, vision and methods. They are now widespread through the country. In Sweden, Free Schools were established in 1992 and now comprise over one fifth of all schools. They are usually run by parents and community groups, and tend to use alternative teaching systems such as Montessori. Across the world, individually operated ISFSs have largely given way to 'performance federations' and 'academy chains', also referred to as networks or franchises. These chains have a number of prominent characteristics. One of these elements is highly structured lessons and an emphasis on routines; the school is often the most stable aspect of these students' lives. The schools have strong, efficient management structures, with simple lines of accountability and minimal duplication. The chain draws on economies of scale unavailable at the individual school level. The chains vigorously promote a 'can do' culture, reinforced by frequent use of symbols such as graduation photos. Any sign of deviation from this culture is 'swiftly and robustly challenged'. The schools focus heavily on literacy and numeracy, sometimes narrowing the curriculum to do so. The schools are 'awash with data', used for decision-making at school, subject and individual student levels. The chain 'brand' is heavily promoted and there is a strong sense of rivalry between chains. Decision-making, succession planning, staff movements and professional-development work tend to be centralised at chains' federal headquarters. However, this centralisation sometimes generates tensions between the chain management and the individual school, where staff wish to make decisions based on local contexts. Another key problem raised by ISFS chains is the limited potential for collaboration with non-chain schools in a geographic area, which in turn limits the ability of this model of schooling to support systemic improvement. To date there is limited empirical evidence to support the academic benefits of ISFSs.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Exploring curation as a core competency in digital and media-literacy education
Increasingly, services on the internet allow users to access news, entertainment and personal communications in the same 'aggregated spaces', which draw material from various media such as television, radio and text sources. Users can pick material selectively from this overabundance, through curation services. Traditionally 'to curate' meant to select, draw together, preserve and comment on physical materials in library or museum settings. Today, users are empowered to undertake these roles themselves, with regard to online content. Curation services include social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as services such as Prezi, Pinterest, Storyful, Amplify and Scoop.it. The authors focus on one curation service, Storify, and suggest six ways, or 'teaching points' in which teachers might use it to develop students' digital and media literacy. In each case the students curate their own version of a current news story, using only some elements of the material at a time, to expose them to its pros and cons, before comparing it to other elements and then integrating them into one presentation. For the first teaching point the students curate a news story using only official journalistic sources, then only peer-to-peer sources, then reflect on the merits of each type of source, and on the nature of authoritativeness and of completeness in a story. In the second teaching point, using the same procedure, students consider the relative affordances of text, still images and video, and consider how each form can add depth, accuracy and balance. For the third exercise, students separately use professional, public and personal sources, and provide rationales for the use of each one. Fourthly, students consider 'framing-bias, agency and perspective', successively selecting particular political interpretations of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The fifth exercise considers the issue of diversity. In the sixth, students reflect on their own agency as curators and the empowerment and responsibility it brings. While critique alone may generate cynicism, the emphasis on agency links to issues of civic responsibility.
Subject HeadingsElectronic publishing
Mass media study and teaching
Critical civics and citizenship education: what kind of 'active citizen'?
Volume 33 Number 1, April 2013; Pages 83–86
Civics and citizenship education (CCE) has emerged, in large part, from concerns about youth apathy: it has been felt that youth don't understand political processes well enough, have little wish to participate in them, and don't sufficiently embrace the core social values that cohere society. These concerns were raised, for example, in the 2008 Melbourne Declaration. CCE is also seen as one means to prepare youth for the disruptions and challenges of the global economy. Intertwined with these concerns, CCE raises the issue of how school-aged youth relate to social and political problems such as racial discrimination. The way that CCE addresses all these issues will depend on the belief systems that inform it. In countries such as Australia CCE is underpinned by the liberal values of 'equality, justice and participation in the nation-state', although currently these goals are given a neoliberal interpretation: the concepts of equality and justice 'are reframed as equal participation in the market economy', while the challenges raised by the global economy are seen to be resolvable by individual enterprise. Critical citizenship education offers an alternative approach. It deals forthrightly with the 'civic realities of exclusion and discrimination' and raises the possibility of collective, as well as individual, action to solve social problems. A critical approach to CCE empowers students, equips them to develop collective responses to pressing social issues, and allows them to understand how CCE itself is shaped by political, social and economic forces. The author considers how these issues are addressed in the Civics and Citizenship Draft Shape Paper for the Australian Curriculum. The Paper frames activism in individualistic terms. On the issue of youth apathy, the Paper calls for school students to be given opportunities to build their understanding and experience in order to become active, adult citizens. However, it downplays the extent to which students already have experiences and concerns regarding social, political and economic issues. If students do not feel empowered to deal with their current concerns, their desire to become 'active citizens' in the future is likely to be diminished. The article also briefly refers to state and territory CCE curricula, which have varied in their treatment of active citizenship. The Victorian Studies of Society and the Environment (SOSE) 2000 statement referred frequently to the enterprise skills needed for the global economy, but gave no explicit attention as to how this economy may impact negatively on communities, or on how active citizens may bring about social change. The Queensland curriculum aimed to encourage active participation by students around human-rights issues. The ACT curriculum included material on racism and discrimination that 'challenge students to make creative responses both as individuals and with others'. (See also current timeline of developments in civics and citizenship education in Australia – C&LJ.)
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Australia's new Civics and Citizenship Draft Shape Paper: a signiﬁcant step backward
Volume 33 Number 1, April 2013; Pages 87–89
In recent years Australia has been a leader in curricular initiatives around civics and citizenship education. However, the current Civics and Citizenship Draft Shape Paper is 'bland, ahistorical and insular'. It is bland in the sense that it deals only generally and superficially with issues such as religious tolerance, social justice, inclusivity, equality and sustainability: it does not acknowledge the fluid and contested nature of these ideas and the way they have been challenged in a number of specific contexts. As a result the concepts it advances appear more as slogans than effective guides to practice. The Paper is ahistorical in two ways. Firstly, it does not refer to the rich history of civics and citizenship education in Australia. Secondly, as the author has discussed in more depth elsewhere, the Paper does not draw adequately on history as a curricular vehicle for citizenship education. The Paper is insular in its lack of attention to significant international work in civics and citizenship education over the last few decades. For example, it largely ignores the growing importance of service learning as a device for citizenship education. (See also current timeline of developments in civics and citizenship education in Australia – CL.)
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Empowering adolescents for activist literacies
Volume 9 Number 1, Spring 2013; Pages 114–135
A group of English teachers and their three Grade 8 classes have explored the use of 'activist literacies' to empower the students to take civic action around social issues, while simultaneously developing their knowledge of rhetoric, grammar and social semiotics. The participants were all based at an Australian metropolitan secondary school serving a low-SES, diverse community. Most of the school's students are Muslims. The context of the project was 'a social and political climate of fear and hostility following the events of September 11, 2001', and negative media portrayals of undocumented asylum seekers from Afghanistan and elsewhere. The English teachers noted that when their students discussed these issues, they drew only on their everyday knowledge and expressed themselves in 'conversational language that is not valued in the academic domain'. The students' limited repertoire of ways to express their concerns and debate issues was evident in 2012, when some of them took part in riots against the making of an 'anti-Islam film'. In response, the teachers set up the Embedded Literacies in Key Learning Areas (ELK) project. The teachers introduced their students to classical rhetoric of ancient Greece, after which students discussed varied ways in which to persuade people to do particular things or change their opinions in familiar everyday situations. The students then considered how persuasive devices change according to audience and purpose. Initially the students were asked to deliver a persuasive speech to classmates on an issue of concern to them. The teachers invited students to draw on speeches, essays and blogs developed by a group of young Muslim refugee activists which had been effective in influencing public opinion. The article includes several exemplar texts and describes how their classes analysed them as persuasive resources. Analysis of students' contributions provides evidence that they developed a range of powerful semiotic resources, 'effective in aligning their particular audiences into communities of sympathy to achieve their social goals'. The teachers' work was informed by the theory of systemic functional linguistics. The project was part of a wider project to embed literacies within different middle years' subject areas.
Curriculum literacies and the school garden
Volume 21 Number 1, February 2013; Pages 34–47
The article considers the use of gardens at two public primary schools in Brisbane, and how they helped develop students' curriculum literacies in a range of subject areas. One, at 'Cobdale' State School, was a food garden, based on permaculture design, with a focus on sustainability. It involved children at all grade levels. The other, at 'Barindon' State School, was a kitchen garden, used as part of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program, involving grades 5 to 7. At both schools, groundkeepers and kitchen staff helped with the garden, while parents also assisted with fundraising, garden activities and lessons. Interviews took place with Kitchen Garden Coordinators at both schools, and at Cobdale, with the principal, two year 5 teachers, and the Art, Kitchen Garden and Behaviour Teacher. The evidence was compared to previous accounts of curriculum literacy learning in other school gardens. Several conclusions are presented. Students' mathematical learning can be developed as they measure volume to order the right amount of soil, map the garden and allocate the correct number of seeds for a given area. Students' English learning can be developed as they write reports on the garden, read and write recipes, design a recipe booklet, give presentations about the garden, or read stories about other gardens. Science learning can occur as students study the processes of pollination and germination, crop rotation, the composting process and the role of worms, the role of chickens, biological processes with soil; study the nature of 'good' soil, analyse nutrients, observe and document life cycles of plants; and observe plants' differential exposure to sunlight and its impact on their growth. In relation to art, students are called on to draw plants and may gain creative inspiration from the garden setting. The article discusses the programs' potential impact on students' academic outcomes and includes a chart of both schools' NAPLAN results in 2008 and 2010. To be successful, school gardens require money for ongoing maintenance, documented links to the curriculum, a supportive school leadership and suitable professional development.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsSchool gardens
Arts in education
English language teaching
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