Saturday, January 20, 2007

21st Century School

Greg Whitby, executive director of Catholic Education in the Parramatta diocese (Sydney, NSW, Australia) outlines the philosophy and some of the detail of a new innovative school. Link to mp3 of his address.

Cost: $40 million; Size: 1800 students

School ought to be relevant and meaningful. A radical change of both the physical built environment and the virtual environment is required. Tinkering around the edges of reform won't work. Serious reframing is required.

Best practice is a limiting concept. If we are good then we ought to aspire to be great.

Greg asks his audience to put their hands up if they know about "web2.0" world. Gen Y has moved on but the adults have gone missing in web2.0 space. He's being confronting. You are not with it if you don't understand web2.0 relational, personalised spaces like EBay, MySpace and Amazon. He explains what a mashup is, providing examples, eg. web applications combines Google Earth with selling real estate. Once you seen this technology then a "normal" classroom seems very dull.

Professor Stephen Hepell railway / school comparison: The railway system of 50 years ago might have anticipated every journey and thought they had the perfect system. But then cars came along, were new and more exciting. Schools might end up are like railways.

Parents have a strong sense of foreboding about children being exposed to more danger through the internet. We need to have a strong educational program for parents as well as students.

The current reality of schools is that significant numbers of students are not improving or going backwards. This is "intolerable". We need to "add value" to each and every student.

It's not good enough to say "we're here to let them sniff the flowers". He ridicules that statement from someone who has commented to him at some other time. The attendance rate for post compulsory students is 60%

[As an aside he mentions that LMS (learning management systems) and VLE (virtual learning environments) are dead already, like a CD is already dead. They are bridging technology, on the way to something better]

We need to treat teachers like adult professionals, rather than people who jump when a bell rings. Teachers are downtrodden and enslaved. The old industrial model of education is no longer appropriate. He sounds very sincere and believable about this in response to criticism of 24/7, 365 being abused and creating extra work load for teachers.

Teacher professional development is central to this initiative working. There will be a significant challenge of "keeping track" of student learning when students have more freedom

This school implements a redesign of space and time.

There will be new flexible patterns of work, not by bells, 24/7, 365. The built environment will is being redesigned so that learning is not classroom bound in the sense of a bricks and mortar classroom. This includes the use of meshed wireless network (v cool). There will be extensive use of read/write web apps, aka "web2.0". Some nice details of how the built environment will be micromanaged were included, eg. 10 metre pavers, measurement built into the environment.

Cross curricular learning teams will be setup, not discipline based learning.

The school curriculum will still tied into the NSW BOS (Board of Studies) curriculum, even though it was said that the "curriculum is dead and a google search reveals more than a curriculum does"

Free software is not a feature of this school. A platform agnostic approach will be taken.


On the one hand teachers and students will have an incredibly enhanced ability to explore learning and topics that they are interested in through modifications to the way space and time are organised in the use of technology and the built environment

On the other hand its still all going to be tied to the NSW BOS curriculum. School curriculum is a controversial beast at the moment, there are curriculum changes / wars happening all over australia Check out the PLATO (People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes) site in WA. The argument is along the lines of preserving the importance of traditional content (eg. maths content) versus a transformation to "learning how to learn" process skills. From both of Greg's talks I get the feeling that curriculum reform - and getting that to work in a more or less traditional curriculum framework - hasn't been addressed as deeply as the other aspects of the project (space, time, built environment, "web2.0"). You can't change everything else and keep an old curriculum. I guess it will be up to the teachers to figure that one out. I get the feeling that admin (Greg) will be supportive
"School is like being invited to the worlds greatest banquet and then being fed the menu"
That quote (Murray Gell Mann) encapsulates the issue I want to raise


Michael said...

I didn't think he was ridiculing the "students are here to smell the flowers"... but saying, yes that's true, but also... etc.

Nice summary... helpful for me to read after listening to the talk just a few days ago :)

Bill Kerr said...

hi michael,

you are technically correct about my ridiculing statement - i felt his comments about the flowers had a sting in the tail and was left with that impression - perhaps I was bringing my own values to bear here