February 16, 2007

CESI: Why people (not you) dread Change, Innovation and Creativity

Slide001_1 People seem happy with this morning's keynote although, as usual, I'm left with the bitter taste of never ever being able to meet the expectations of Government officials, curriculum managers, ICT researchers, independent bodies, teachers and Conor's eleven year-old son. At least with a blog post I can try to cover some of the things I didn't have time to say or which, in the excitement, I forgot. This is just the first part. I'll try to chunk posts and link back and forth.

The main message (for those who can't be bothered reading to the bottom)? Teachers are the decision-makers in education and only they can advise on what is required in their schools. Others will have valuable input from the community, from expert research and technical groups or from Government offices, but, in the end, the teacher is more powerful than he or she probably believes.

The Computer Education Society of Ireland seems to have three main challenges which it can overcome with relative ease, if the will is there, if I have indeed identified real challenges which actually exist and if my proposed solutions fit the cultural contexts. I can but try:

  • Lack of infrastructure: from the pre-keynote talks Jerome Morrisey, Director of the NCTE, pointed out that connectivity is not what it could be. Scotland spent centrally about 60m euros on infrastructure plus probably the same locally. With 200m euros budget to be spent in the next five years, Ireland's got an amazing opportunity to get on some of the fastest web in the world.
  • Lack of hardware: There appears to be a lack of regular, planned spend on devices which can connect to the internet. Once you've got the web, though, you can start to look more laterally for solutions which lie under your nose: buy more computers for schools, use kids' Nintendo DS and PS2s (they have wifi)
  • Frustration: I felt it, some admitted to it. Frustration is normally borne of feeling out of control in a particular situation. Is there something simple CESI could do to amplify its members' voices? Is there something the members can do to amplify the voices of their peers? Is there a way to get to the people who need to listen? The answer is 'yes', and I hope to look into that later.

What do people make of innovation or change?
The fact that people are often resistant to change is easy to say, difficult to know why.

Slide004_1 1. Thin-slicing:
In the Pepsi challenge people were given a sip of Pepsi and another cola. They always preferred Pepsi - it was sweet, it was more-ish, people like sweet things. But when faced with a can of Pepsi or a can of CocaCola hard sales show that most people prefer CocaCola. It is less sweet so, surely, fewer people would like it. However, too much sweetness made people feel icky, they don't want to drink any more.

The same principle of thin-slicing can be used in education to describe two things. The first is how people use technology. One of the reasons Interactive Whiteboards are not really delivering significant educational returns is because people don't see how to exploit them in the long-term for what they're good at: collaborative, student-led activity. After the initial sugar buzz (a sip of Pepsi) they are left feeling icky, not wanting any more. What we end up with is teacher-centred uncollaborative work. Had they taken the less attractive, slightly bitter taste of changing the way they had taught all along (teacher-centred, from the front, look at my PowerPoint) to something more collaborative (the kids, not them, touch the board each lesson) then the rest of the drink would be more palatable in the longer term (CocaCola).

2. Fear = loathing?
Teachers do fear new technology - the 15 year-old bass player says so:

Slide005 He then asked me, "What's a Blog??"... My only thought after that was if only he knew. If only he had discovered. Not just what a Blog is, but what a Wiki is, what an RSS or and Atom feed is. How it could benefit him. If only he had been taught... There are those people who don't know about Web 2.0, what it is or what it could do for them, but there are also so many people out there that fear the whole Web 2.0 or school 2.0 idea, there are even those who still fear the whole concept of the internet. But why? Well, like I said in my last post, people fear it because they don't know the facts, the benefits or the potential. This is human nature, people fear the unfamiliar. So why aren't people made aware?

Exactly.

3. We assume all sorts of things:
What can be changed? What can I change? What can we do with those teenagers ("If I let them use their mobile phone to video their science experiment then they'll start happy-slapping each other. Yes, dear colleague, it really is the phone's fault..."). The problem with assumptions is that they are nearly always wrong, an arrogant solution to an often non-existent problem. In the mobile phone example, we teach students what is not allowed and what is allowed. If they break the rules we deal with them. Truancy. Bad. Not doing homework. Bad. Chewing gum under desk. Bad. Hitting others. Bad. Filming it. Bad. Filming science experiment. Excellent. It's not that hard, is it?

Slide006 4. We plan too much in advance:
Prince II is a management structure that must be useful to someone, somewhere. To someone working with 180 different faces a week, using technology that sometimes works, sometimes does not, and trying to innovate, it is really pointless to write, and stick to, an annual development plan. I work in three month maximums. If I were to do a PhD on blogging would it be of use by the time it was finished? Probably not. Liberate yourself by letting the students take the lead. Get a toolbox of skills and, more importantly, ideas, that allow you to respond quickly and guide your learners towards something worthwhile. It might not be the same worthwhile something you had planned six months previously, but it's probably better.

Comments

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Where is the balance between "letting students take the lead" and being percieved as not doing your job? How often do we let departmental guidelines constrain our daily existence?

It depends on what you define as being your daily job. Letting students take the lead does not mean that you give them no structure or constraints within to work. It means that instead of spoon-feeding, for example, we let them make their own mistakes as they (really) test stuff out to see if it works instead of giving them something they know will be correct. It's teaching real life skills instead of providing them with the false idea that all knowledge will be transmitted to them as they sit back and copy, do another exercise or thrash through a textbook.

Transferring the load to the kids means that their job in learning is more complex than before and the teacher's more flexible.

An example: if you tell the class that we're going to be learning about Vikings and ask them what they think would be interesting to examine there they might say 'boats'. For you, this is not what was in mind but you run with it anyway, creating a curriculum as you go which covers, as if by magic, the same areas that in the course of that year or two years of study you have to cover for the Department (physics, maths, citizenship, language, cultures, history, art...)

At the end of the day the kids are more tuned in to learning because the subject matter is one they chose and everything is tied in to a project, a production at the end of the two/three/five/six weeks of study. Meanwhile they excel in what the department sets out for the year of study.

The example above is a real one from a Primary school and I used it in French language in the secondary to get some of the best results in the school.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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