Today I attended the launch of a network – #edgework: Educational Futures Network – from AUT, an initiative convened by Prof. Jane Gilbert and a team of educators keen to explore futures education and what it might look like in practice.
In an era of shiny tech, modern learning environments, BYOD and other seeming innovations, the day was all about digging deeper to explore the kinds of cognitive shifts that might be required to ensure such initiatives function in ways that support our learners today and beyond. It is clear that when we talk about the future of education there is still much to be articulated about why change is needed and what this means for teachers and school leaders.
What is school for?
This was the opening provocation from Jane Gilbert who went on to highlight a number of touchpoints. Is school a stage to prepare young people for the next stage of life? A place to exert socio-political influence? Learn skills? Manage custody? Expand the mind?
The drivers of the future of education dialogues point to the digital revolution, uncertainty that might lie ahead (think environmental and socio-political global issues, for example), and the failure of the rhetoric around equal opportunity being achieved in lieu of a perpetual jostling for positional advantage in society.
While there are “plenty of ideas” (such as BYOD etc), Gilbert asserted that these are not nearly enough if we are to prepare for an unknowable future when our thinking tools are from an outdated thought system.
What conceptual shifts are emerging from outside education?
- A shift from things to spaces between things – networks and connections are now foregrounded.
- Knowledge as energy in networks that can take ideas further and faster than individuals could – new knowledge is located in collaborative spaces
- The danger of tweetable, bitesize superficially understood ideas related to connection, third spaces, innovation
Gilbert remindeds us that the curriculum learning areas really do matter but for completely different reasons than in the past. Learning knowledge for th sake of it is not sufficient as an end in itself. She sees a shift to knowledge creating cultures and argues that we need people with:
- deep expertise in traditional disciplines
- people who have knowledge, can think in and use the tools of that discipline
- discipline expertise who can work with it in third spaces with others who have different expertise
- the ability to connect with other people with different knowledge, and articulate, seek, negotiate, and want to form thinking relationships with.
This may not be a way of working that comes naturally. We will need to scaffold students to do this – and some teachers will also not necessarily have the knowledge or disposition to work in this way either.
Stories of practice
We heard from a range of educators about how they are exploring some of these ideas in practice, such as:
- Claire Amos from Hobsonville Secondary talked about combining learning areas, looking for conceptual connections, reorganising timetable, student negotiated time, and impact projects.
- Diana-Grace Morris from Ridgeway Primary explored how to keep conversations uncertain and ways to inspire wondering especially in inquiry with new entrants.
- Sally Haughton, Principal at Wellington East Girls touched on the importance of having a diverse student population, of never imagining that the students are the same, and how, now feasting on years of conversation and data, the school is exploring the frameworks for learning. She described the construction of future-focused, community-defined education, arguing that secondary schools are organised for old style learning spaces and that it’s time to start shifting to sense-making between disciplines.
- Ngaire Harris, Principal at Hauraki Plains, shared the community-based project linked to primary industry learning in which they are exploring how knowledge building experiences can still be formally assessed. She suggested that it’s time to push beyond the walls, with and from our community to work in the third space; think globally, act locally.
- Megan Lourie, AUT, argued that we are preparing young people to be part of a well-educated, low wage work force, that we should beware of general ideas that technology is solution and invited us to ask: what if we separate the design of learning from accountability and politics? Can learning still be joyful and curious?
It was an inspiring, provocative and, at times, challenging day – and an exciting start to, I hope, more conversations on these views on education for the future.
Questions, takeaways and homework
At the end of the day, I still had some ponderings such as:
- Why is this need to change education an urgent problem now, at this time? What conversations are driving this now, seeing as futures education has been around for years?
- Where is the political framework for this thinking? Is this a middle class western political view we are exporing?
- How do you find the meaning and accessible ideas – and provide a pathway to these ideas for schools?
- If networked, third space approaches are so vital, can we scaffold people towards a connected disposition?
Readings to explore
- Labaree (2010) Someone Has to Fail: The Zero-Sum Game of Public Schooling
- Weinberger: Too big to know: Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room
- Bereiter: Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age
- Goleman and Senge: The Triple Focus: A new approach to education