My verbal submission to the inquiry on 21st century learning

Wellington: Parlament / Parliament (Neuseeland/NZ)
Imaged used under creative commons Licence

This is a copy of my verbal submission that I made to the education and science select committee into digital learning. I was inspired to make a submission after attending the ignition unconference at Albany Senior High earlier this year.

Firstly I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak.

Today I would like to highlight five key points from my submission which I believe are important priorities to aid the evolution of 21st century learning.

They are:

  • Initial Teacher Education
  • Personal Learning Communities
  • Agile Learning Spaces
  • Assessment
  • Moving beyond cyber-safety

Although the graduating teachers standards mention that those entering the teaching profession should be proficient in the use ICT that is not the same as being a competent e-learning classroom practitioner.
I think there is some what of a dangerous assumption that because younger teachers as a group tend own gadgets and have social media accounts they automatically know how to implement e-learning into the classroom. This is not the case. So much of my e-learning practice has been developed through interacting and observing other teachers particularly through social media. However I don’t feel that this kind of learning is valued within a university context.

In my experience initial teacher education in New Zealand has not evolved with the times. Trainee teachers spend too much time filing paperwork in ring binders and if they are lucky they might get a lecture or two on e-learning before they graduate. Thus e-learning at this level is reliant on a student teacher being placed with an associate who understands how to use technology in the classroom.

Once teachers get out into the workforce, they need ongoing professional learning. 21st century learning calls for active participation yet how many educators are still consigned to sitting politely in rooms and conference theatres listening to experts, some of whom may not have been in the classroom for many years. Educators need time and space to develop personal learning communities that go beyond their staffroom to help bring new ideas into their classroom.

With the help of my iphone I can pinch an idea for lesson from a classroom blog in Australia, save a professional reading from a teacher in the UK and have conversation about teaching with someone in the United States during my 20 minute train ride to Tawa. We need to broaden our thinking about where and how learning can occur not only for students but the teachers tasked with educating them.

Most of our learning spaces were designed in an era with the dominant pedagogy was that students need to sit in one place, ideally in front of board soaking up knowledge, in order to learn. Learning has changed and so too should the design of our classrooms.

Rather than talk about flexible spaces I prefer the term agile. Agile means that the classroom can be constantly being configured and reconfigured to suit the needs of the students within it. Over the last set of holidays I quietly stashed half the classroom desks in various nooks and crannies around the school and replaced them with a couple of round tables, buckets for students to put their gear, some cushions and a couple of bean bags creating a huge amount of space.

If the students want to collaborate they can do so, if they want to curl up in the corner to read they can do that too. The creation of our modern learning spaces can be done with a modicum of cash, a bit of creative thinking and school leadership that supports innovation in all its weird and wonderful forms. Am I a supporter of team teaching? Absolutely teachers need to be learning from each other.

One of the elephants in the room is assessment. We cannot build and educational system for the 21st century while using 19th century tools to assess student learning.

In selecting their representatives to talk to you today my class didn’t tell their peers to sit an examination on the content of their video. Instead they asked their nominees to give a speech in front of the class and invited the principal along so they could assess nominees’ public speaking skills and how well they could handle pressure. In short my 11 and 12 year old students have already figured out a critical flaw in our education system: our tools for formal assessment frequently don’t test all the qualities we wish to develop in our learners.

As a final word I would not that there is still a lot of fear about e-learning both from educators and the wider community

Given the amount of bad news we hear about cyber-bullying and inappropriate use of technology, I can understand why it is so easy for those in education to put up walls and demand that devices stay in bags. However within this context the computer is just an overpriced pencil. It is the interaction between people whether they are sitting beside each other half a world a way which for me makes e-learning so amazing.

Just like in Maths and PE, students need their teachers to guide and model good behaviour. By taking a hands-off and punish approach we deny our learners the chance to develop as cyber citizens.

E-learning is not just about bringing the world into our classroom but bringing our classrooms into the world. The submission project that Room 15, my fabulous group of learners, created is an example of the power of what technology can do.

My students got a chance to create work for an authentic audience, they were able to connect with experts outside our school community through my learning network and share what they have been doing so that they can inspire others. 21st century takes students beyond the role of being passive consumers of knowledge and enables them to be confident creators as well.

We are ⅛ of the way through the 21st century, isn’t time 21st century learning became the norm not the exception?

8 thoughts on “My verbal submission to the inquiry on 21st century learning

Add yours

  1. I saw some of the children from your class on TV. What an amazing experience you have provided for them. I am so very impressed, and I wish we could shift a little further south so that I could somehow or other inveigle my Misses Eleven into your class.


  2. Good submission. And great job your students did on their own submission… I showed a class of senior students and they were very impressed at the courage and common sense displayed.


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