What follows is the speech I gave at the recent Australian College of Educators (ACE) national media awards. For the awards I was invited to present anessay that I recently submitted for ACE’s ‘Writing the Future’ competition, and for which I was awarded runner up. A big thanks to Seb Henry-Jones who provided the impetus for this essay format through introducing me to ‘Art Project 2023’, Thomas Firth for his incredibly helpful feedback on my first draft of the essay, and Bianca Li-Rosi for her final edits prior to this blog post. I hope you enjoy it : )
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land on which we stand, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. I’d like to pay my respects to elders past and present as well as any First Nations’ peoples here today. More personally, I acknowledge that I have been, and continue to be, the beneficiary of various privileges in my life. These privileges have enabled me to gain a high quality education, and learn to read, write and communicate with sufficient proficiency to enter such competitions as the ACE Writing the Future Award. These privileges are built, in no small part, upon the land dispossession of the Australian Aboriginals. Land that was later farmed by my British ancestors, and mined for Tin by the Chinese side of my family. I think it is important to recognise this as the context in which I am, today, able to share with you the following essay.
The brief for this essay was very… brief. Australian Pre-service teachers were invited to submit a paper under 1000 words, including references, that engaged with this year’s ACE National Conference theme: “Educators on the edge: Big ideas for change and innovation”. After much umming, arring, and mulling ideas about, I sat down on the Sydney to Canberra train in early July and managed to distill the ideas that came to be the following essay. I’ll now read the essay in its original form and follow it with a few brief comments on how my thinking has evolved since that train ride five or so months ago.
Footballers doing Ballet?: The Search for Sources of Innovation in Education
Where do ideas come from? In his 2003 book, James Young wrote: ‘an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements’ (Young, 2003, pg. 15). As we look to the future of education asking questions like such as ‘What could schools look like in the future?’ and ‘How could what it means to be a ‘student’ change throughout the 21st Century?’, it is my belief that the greatest sources of big ideas for change and innovation will come from honouring these words of James Young and looking outside what we have traditionally thought of as the discipline of education. It is by recognising the parallels that exist between educational contexts and other areas of endeavour that we can creatively combine ideas and solutions from further afield to help advance teaching and learning. This essay explores this assertion by considering two fields outside the traditional educational paradigm, public art and healthcare, to investigate how the roles and responsibilities of educational institutions and participants could change this century.
What could schools look like in the future, and what do museums have to do with it?
The internet-smartphone dyad has made the world’s masterpieces omnipresent to such an extent that museums are being forced to re-consider their historical monopoly on meaning-making in the public arena of art. If the public can see it on a screen in the comfort of their own home, is there even a need for museums anymore?
Does this query sound familiar to educators? In the same way that art is now accessible worldwide, so is the information necessary for individuals to learn the content taught in all schools.
A recent piece entitled ‘Art Project 2023’ goes some way to addressing this question for museums. It depicts a hypothetical future in which a Museum is transmogrified from a physical to a digital repository of art, facilitating a revolution in the museumgoers’ experience. Attendees move from being art spectators, to art users, and are enabled to browse collections from around the world and curate their own exhibitions in a supportive and interactive environment.
In Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills, authors Patrick Griffin, Esther Care and Barry McGaw (2012) write of how, as we move from deficit to developmental approaches to teaching, ‘the teacher has to reorganise the classroom and manipulate the learning environment to meet the needs of individual students’ (Griffin et al. 2012, p.9). Parallels in challenges breed parallels in solutions. Art Project 2023’s imaginings could inspire future classrooms where students curate their own curriculum in flexible learning environments, more adaptable to teacher and learners’ changing needs. Just as museumgoers change from art spectators to users, so could the tools and techniques of museums map to teaching to help students take charge of learning.
How could what it means to be a ‘student’ change throughout the 21st Century? Let’s look at healthcare
Fitbits, Misfits and Jawbones. The emerging jargon of a new and flourishing sector of the healthcare industry: fitness tracking. But why is this industry rising so quickly? Because fitness trackers are helping to address the oft lacking prerequisite to exercise, motivation. By supporting individuals to set goals, and providing instant feedback and actionable metrics, these devices are gamifying fitness to the point that TV sofas worldwide are now experiencing welcome respite from seemingly perpetual occupation.
What these fitness-tracking devices are essentially doing is ‘making fitness visible’. They are helping exercisers to plan, monitor, and adjust their own fitness trajectories in a way that empowers them to take charge and stay motivated. The link to making learning visible is clear. As educators it should be our goal to make teaching and learning visible to our students ‘such that they learn to become their own teachers, which is the core attribute of lifelong learning or self-regulation, and of the love of learning’ (Hattie, 2012, loc 168).
What if we could take the motivational benefits of fitness trackers and apply them to learning? Rather than a Fitbit, what would a ‘Learnbit’ or a ‘Knowledgebit’ look like? Helping students to become evaluators of their own learning is obviously an area where educators are already focussing energy, but what could be gained by taking a more detailed look at the way the fitness-based metrics are made actionable to users? How are reminders sent? How are accomplished goals celebrated and rewarded? How are communities of exercisers (or learners) scaffolded to support each other to maintain motivation and focus? Drawing from this emerging healthcare sector could facilitate more creative ways of encouraging students to become their own teachers.
The goal of this piece is not to explicate how education should turn to museums or the commercial health industry for advice, but rather to provide examples of how casting our eyes further afield can clear the way for more and bolder ideas for innovation in education.
The questions we ask are the frames into which our answers fall (Seelig, 2013), and perhaps asking questions like ‘how do our best teachers teach?’ or ‘how do our highest achieving students learn?’ leaves latent innovation potential untapped.
If macho footballers are willing to do ballet in the search for greater footwork, balance, and agility (Cooke, 2008), what fields are we as teachers and educators willing to explore in the quest for innovation as we teach into the 21st century?
As I mentioned in my preamble I wrote this essay about five months ago and, as one would hope, I have read and encountered some ideas since then that I thought worth sharing as a follow up to the essay.
I felt quite validated recently when, during his Dean’s lecture, Anthony Bryk talked about asking the question ‘what might we learn from how others have improved?’ and more specifically said, ‘What can we learn from healthcare?’. But what most sparked my interest was Steve Dinham’s closing comment about the importance being judicious about which innovations, from which sectors, we choose to bring into the realm of education. He mentioned in passing his paper entitled “The Worst of Both Worlds: How the US and UK are Influencing Education in Australia” (Dinham, 2015). I was interested to read in Steve’s paper about how, to his mind, various so called ‘innovations’ in the commercial sector, such as vertical integration, deregulation, and reforms related to autonomy are having, in many cases, negative effects when applied to schools and the education sector more generally.
This is obviously an area where there is much debate and it’s an area that I look forward to continuing to explore more in the future. But I think that Norman McCulla really hit the nail on the head with respect to this, when he wrote, ‘schools and school systems are not businesses but delicate social ecosystems’ (McCulla, 2014).
As I said in my essay, ‘Parallels in challenges breed parallels in solutions’. As we do look to other fields for sources of innovation and inspiration, we musn’t lose sight of the context in which we as educators operate, and how serving our students and generating value from them, does and does not differ from the ways in which the commercial sector seeks to satisfy its customers and shareholders.
Thank you for the opportunity to share this with you today. It’s a real honour to be able to speak at an event held by the Australian College of Educators and I hope to have more opportunities to learn from this great organization and its members in future.
Cooke, M. (2008). American footballers do ballet!. [online] bbc.co.uk. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2008/07/17/greenwich_americanfootball_feature.shtml [Accessed 7 Jul. 2015].
Dinham, S. (2015). The Worst of Both Worlds: How the US and UK are Influencing Education in Australia , 23(49), 1–20.
Enxuto, J. & Love, E. (2014), Art Project 2023, [online] Available at: https://vimeo.com/83976926 (Accessed 1 Jul. 2015]
Griffin, P. E., McGaw, B., & Care, E. (2012). Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills. [electronic resource]. Dordrecht ; New York : Springer, c2012.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.au
McCulla, N. (2014). The Activist Teacher. Professional Educator, 13(3), 4–6.
Seelig, T. (2013). How Reframing A Problem Unlocks Innovation. [online] Available at: http://www.fastcodesign.com/1672354/how-reframing-a-problem-unlocks-innovation [Accessed 1 Jul. 2015].
Young, J. (2003). A technique for producing ideas (p. 15). New York: McGraw-Hill