Last week a local principal gave me a copy of Jane Gilbert’s “Progress” in 21st century education? – a New Zealand Council for Educational Research conference paper. In it Gilbert claims that we need to rethink “progress” and think differently about what it is to learn. Apparently schools need to change to better meet the needs of 21st Century Learners and Gilbert postulates this might happen if we;
- build learning capacity,
- develop deeper and richer networks and links for core competencies,
- think together and develop collaborative teams of learners, and
- find ways to ensure that everyone achieves.
It feels kind of strange to be learning about the need to change the way we learn in the 21st Century in a 21st Century conference paper that is accessible only to those prepared to attend the conference or to pay for the print copy of the conference proceedings.
The experience of reading the conference proceedings was in truth a retreat to a past way of learning. The freedom that comes from living outside of the institution in the day job is balanced by relying heavily on accessing my professional learning online rather than from print sources or from officially sanctioned professional reading circles. My ability to interact with content and ideas in Gilbert's paper seemed limited in some way ... In reading the NZCER conference paper I felt like I was practising pedagogical austerity.
So it was ironical to read future focused calls for schools to change “the way they do learning” when the researcher and research organisation calling for change is operating in an environment where;
- content is still centralised,
- communication remains in the form of a monologue with no opportunity provided for online collaborative comment, trackback or conversation,
- learning is all about push over pull, and
- where unlike a wiki document, the learning manuscript is presented in its final form, ensuring that the learning process and editing involved in creating this thinking is not available for scrutiny.
It is a little like the teacher who claims to value discussion and student questioning for learning when talking to other educators but whose educative classroom practice reveals that for their students “learning is listening”.
Our limited access to Jane Gilbert’s paper, “Progress” in 21st Century Education? is worth thinking about.
It is worth challenging why we are so ready to accept espoused values of educational researchers in New Zealand when the integrated or lived values of their institutions are so different. If only Jane Gilbert had a blog.... and NZCER had a wiki.... how different would our learning opportunities be?
My experience working with and in schools in the day job suggests that the ideas in “Progress” in 21st century education?” are dated. Especially the ideas around how to measure the complexity of what a person is able to do in real- world situations. After all Eisner was talking about curriculum connoisseurship over 20 years ago. But I have no easy way of testing these ideas in the context of the paper, and I guess there is often a dislocation between what educational researchers claim is happening in schools and what schools are actually doing...
Many of the educators we work with in the day job would claim that Gilbert’s building learning capacity, developing deeper and richer networks and links for core competencies, thinking together and developing collaborative teams of learners, and finding ways to ensure that everyone achieves, are already with us. And unlike the NZCER conference paper, New Zealand schools are no longer broadcasting their learning outcomes solely through print copies of the school newsletter or at meet the teacher evenings where the teacher shares a paper sample of a student learning outcome with the parent.
A virtual (or face to face) tour of students’, teachers’ and principals’ practice would reveal that primary, intermediate and secondary schools across New Zealand are already building learning capacity, rich networks, collaborative teams, learning through participation and collaboration. And they are using social media with their students, their teachers and their communities to help them do this - including using wikis, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, social bookmarking, tagging, online photo libraries, Diigo, Google docs, Open notebook, shared online calendars, aggregators, RSS feeds etc.
In fact there are so many of these 21st Century appropriate learning conversations going on that I sometimes worry about the adverse influence of social media on the relevance of the local.
I increasingly want to explore Mejias’ question
Does social media contribute to the irrelevancy of the local?
I want to ask
Does social media create learning networks that discriminate against the student's immediate surroundings?
Or in the context of the Auckland ICTPD Cluster Home Group Meetings
Does social media create learning networks that discriminate against an Auckland ICTPD facilitator’s immediate surroundings?
It doesn’t seem unreasonable to claim that in embracing social media ... in creating our own personal learning networks (all that Twitter, Skyping, blog reading and commenting, wikis, YouTube and TED talks and or podcasts vodcasts etc) we have increased the irrelevancy of the opportunity to meet f2f to learn with/ from our immediate companions in our local surroundings in a Home Group Meeting.
After all if you consider that the learning networks available to those attending the Auckland Home Group Meeting ... they rely largely upon happenstance ... who decides to turn up, for how long on the day .... It seems we cannot even count upon the National team members attending given that “This is not a day where the national team deliver content - this is a day for you all to participate and contribute.”
There is an interesting tension here.... in advocating for the increased use of social media for building learning networks by educators we undermine the relevance of the local ... the opportunity to attend the Auckalnd Home Group Meeting for building learning networks.
This argument holds even when looking at the “loss leader” ... the “outside expertise” attendance enticer.... it seems plausible that the opportunity to learn from/network with the “outside expertise involved in the session” would lose some of its relevance if this same presentation and shared expertise were available online through social media .
All this thinking makes me wonder
How should we re-approach nearness at the Auckland Home Group Meetings?
And this in turn makes me suspect that “Progress” in 21st Century education? will end up being an exploration of:
How should we re-approach nearness in our schools?
“Progress” in 21st Century education? By Jane Gilbert Paper presented at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) Conference: Making progress - measuring progress, Wellington, 13 March 2008. p.63-73
Re–approaching nearness: Online communication and its place in praxis by Ulises A. Mejías
First Monday, volume 10, number 3 (March 2005),