Tag Archive for change

Pathway-ED: Have we been here before?

Stuart Middleton
13 October 2011

One of my most favourite poems is The Four Quartets by T S Eliot and my most favourite lines in it include these from Little Gidding

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end it to make a beginning

The end is where we start from.

It is axiomatic in education that you can’t make changes unless you know what it is that you want, just where you want it to end. It puzzles me therefore that we simply continue to do what we have always done despite getting the same results. In other words, long past the point of knowing where we will end.

Perhaps the issue is that good ideas for change rely not just on the quality of the ideas but also on the setting into which they are placed. This produces a situation in which we do go around in circles and like a bus load of tourists being driven past yet another cathedral or another monument, we close our eyes and have a snooze.

Take the importance of language in education for instance.

It was in 1928 that George Sampson said in a dissenting opinion to a Royal Commission on Education in England that “every teacher is a teacher of English because every teacher is a teacher in English.” Forty years later, after yet another report from a Commission of Inquiry in England called A Language for Life (The Bullock Report), the idea resurfaced as “language across the curriculum.” The bus of sleeping tourists drove past yet another basilica.

Finally in the early part of this century a huge focus settled on literacy. The bus of tourists had woken up and realised the importance of language in education. All over the show literacy was being embedded, new kinds of literacy were invented, it is the fashion of the moment and so it should be.

But why did we miss earlier opportunities for action in this regard? Despite the ideas being of good quality the setting was wrong. The need for addressing language was not yet sufficiently obvious for us to agree that action was appropriate.

The same thing has happened with the notion of a more porous interface between secondary and tertiary education. At last New Zealand and to a lesser degree Australia is exploring initiatives that blur the distinction between secondary and tertiary education, a distinction that has become a clear barrier to many students who simply do make the crossing. It is now obvious that change is needed.

But that is not to say that the calls for change have not been ignored in the past. Back in 1986, a conference paper for the NZ Post Primary Teachers Association had in it a set of propositions  written by Phil Capper which argued that the hard edge between secondary and tertiary education was unnecessary. He further argued that secondary schools needed to be working alongside other education and training providers and drew attention to the fact that the traditional work of the secondary school was being challenged. Secondary schools, he concluded, needed to change or face the consequences.

Some seven years later in an official NZ Ministry of Education policy paper, Education for the 21st Century, a view of the future was put forward. In that future students would be able to undertake education and training in more than one setting at the same time and they would be able to combine regular school courses with tertiary courses and workplace training with local industries. This would require agreements between institutions. And just as tertiary institutions would be teaching students that convention said were secondary students, schools would be able to offer polytechnic courses.

Eighteen years later all of this is starting to be given expression. The pattern of circling past a good idea several times before it gets purchase is repeated.

The cynical would say that things have to reach something of a crisis point before people wake up and start looking for the good idea. A more charitable view would argue that there is some truth in the proposition that there is a right time for an idea when a complex combination of factors provide a setting which demands change.

It is as if it takes time for us to develop a clear view of that which we are looking at. T S Eliot was perhaps talking about this process when he concluded his lines about exploration with:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started from

And know the place for the first time

That last line is important. It is not that the issue is new, what is new is that we have become aware of it. It is only by frank and truthful assessment of what is happening that a setting becomes conducive to change.

Talk-ED: No excuse for delaying changes

Stuart Middleton
1 August 2011

It has been the mid-year, between semester break for education institutions – even EdTalkNZ had a wee rest!. But it is not that educators get a break really and the conference season has been in full swing.

I get a sense that a mood for change is developing.

New Zealand has moved ahead of other English speaking countries in putting together the pieces of the educational jigsaw that will allow for new approaches to be made in tackling the issues of disengagement and the development of more effective pathways between secondary school and further and higher education.

Those jigsaw pieces are the development of a policy setting that allows for flexibility, the existence of a legislative framework, the solution of cross-sector funding arrangements and the development of new and innovative programmes.

Two conferences held in the break have driven home the points that the educational environment in New Zealand needs to change and that there is no longer any excuse not to change.

New Zealand and Australia share a pretty grim set of statistics of failure, of disengagement, and of poor performance by priority learner groups (i.e. indigenous groups, migrant groups, students with special needs). It is clear that continued tinkering with the current education system cannot lead to the changes which improve results nor can it result in changes that are achieved quickly enough to beat the speed of the demographic changes.

The first conference brought together a wide group of educators involved in working across the interface of secondary and tertiary – secondary/tertiary programmes, trades academies, service academies and mentoring schemes. It was exciting to learn of changes happening in small ways, to hear of results being that thrilled and offered new hope for many students.

It was even more exciting to see the energy that was being brought to the challenges of providing new and multiple pathways that reach out to students and led them into higher level programmes and qualifications. It was the view of one international speaker that something very special was happening.

The conference was put together by the Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways at Manukau Institute of Technology, the site of New Zealand’s first Tertiary High School – a radical new programme that integrates the school qualifications (NCEA) with postsecondary career and technical qualifications. It has reported some encouraging results after its first year of operation especially in the performance of Maori and Pasifika students.

This was of particular interest to the second conference that brought together a wide range of educators engaged in different endeavours in the field of Maori education. Again the focus was on pathways and pipelines and the need to promote pro-active interventions in both if we are to lift the performance of Maori and Pasifika students – something we simply cannot afford not to do.

A project reported to the conference has seen the development of a web-based tool for Maori students to design and to identify pathways into programmers that already exist. We know that the provision of accurate and detailed information is central to intelligent career advice and guidance and this is a great start.

What has been exciting is that both conferences were evidence of action that encourages us to believe that there is a hope developing that by working differently we really can get different results. As the title of a major report released by the NZ Institute in the past fortnight said – we need “more ladders” and “fewer snakes”.

What educators are realising is that action is possible and no longer, well at least in New Zealand, is there any excuse for inaction. It is no longer a case of “us” and “them”. You know the scenario – “We want to change but they won’t let us!”  “The regulations are so restrictive!” “It’s the curriculum that isn’t appropriate!” “Secondary should be …..!” “Tertiary should be …..” “If only others would do this, that and the other thing!” Same old, same old, boring , boring!

I pointed out to the conferences that while the education pipeline may be badly leaking, quite a number of students are getting through it with great success. Long may that continue. But now is the time for us to once and for all fix those leaks.

Bill Gates summed it up: “We used to say that we needed to do something about all those young people who were failing because it is hurting them. Now we say we need to do something about all those young people who are failing because it is hurting us!”


For those interested the material presented at the two conferences mentioned above is available at www.manukau.ac.nz/multiple.pathways and at http://mite.tasmanit.com/

Pathway-Ed: There's nothing as good as a good blend!

Stuart Middleton
24 February 2011

Tea, coffee and whisky all put great store by the quality of the blend. Now it is educations turn to consider its blend.

Being a sort of technophile in my own quiet sort of way, I get a number of daily feeds from education organisations and commentators. One came the other day which got my attention with a heading “What future is there for blended learning?”

The paragraph read:

Blended learning, in which students are taught partially online and partially in a brick-and-mortar setting could serve to transform education but may face some potential pitfalls, a new report shows. The Innosight Institute report found that blended learning – that has increased potentially in recent years has the potential to meet individual student needs, provided the policymakers and administrators are open to innovative models. The report also calls for better content and more integrated systems to provide the online learning portion.

I have wondered for a while whether blended delivery / blended learning could be a useful new pathway for students at all levels and especially in the secondary / tertiary interface. So I was interested to follow up the article in eSchool News warning that the benefits of blended learning might in fact be defeated by the intractability of the education institution with which it seeks to blended.

It was based on a report written by Michael B Horn and Heather Staker for the Innosight Institute[1]. Michael Horn is one of the authors of another interesting book[2] which introduces us to the notion of the “disruptive innovation”. This theory invites us to accept that what is sometimes seen as a breakthrough improvement is in fact simply an innovation that disrupts the traditional pattern of prevailing practice by introducing a new practice. The net result of the ostensible change is in fact no change.

This theory is interesting and rings bells for those frustrated by the lack or responsiveness of education institutions to the changing demands being made on them. It returns in many different ways to the basic theme that standardised approaches cannot hope to cater for the learning needs of a diverse student body.

The report warns that blended learning might just be one of those changes that has the look of a significant change which masks the reality that the teaching remains the same (albeit through new and perhaps more exciting conduits) with result that are the same.

I remember that back in the 1980’s computer technology was making in-roads into education. It was thought especially that it would enable education institutions to reach distant and remote learners and remove the tyranny of distance, especially in Australia. What in fact happened was that it was soon seen to be a useful addition to the array of techniques and aids for enhancing face-to-face teaching.

Instead of the trek to the library to get into the queue for resources, many of the same resources that once were supplied on paper were now available through the courseware developed to support not new ways of teaching and learning but the conventional approaches.

Blended learning, if we accept the Horn and Staker definition, is “…any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace.”

So teaching becomes a genuine partnership between the teacher and the learner and a bringing together of the face-to-face situation in which knowledge is both sought and given and the self-directed activity of the learner in which knowledge is to both sought and created, later to be tested against the work of others and the demands of a programme.

And there is no one way of approaching this dynamic. Technology can be blended in a programme and never leave the classroom, it can be rotated as a method but will always be characterised by flexibility. Perhaps online laboratories or supplemental instruction is made available where the learner mixes the blend that suits them or it could be that teachers are only loosely involved in a programme conducted essentially by the students themselves but monitored closely.

Blended learning seems to itself be a very flexible notion. Blend however is not the same as bland.

But the key challenge facing blended learning is whether it will make a difference to the outcomes of education. Will there be increased success for learners who previously might not have succeeded or will it simply provide an additional option for those who are doing well already and in fact might do well in education systems regardless of the approaches taken by those who teach them. They are pedagogy-proof learners.

Michael B Horn and his associates do not wish to see change that replicates current performance. Their notion of a “disruptive innovation” is where something is brought into an activity (in this case education) which runs the risk of being not as good as that which it replaces. Certainly I remember back in the 1980s how the early attempts to teach English with the help of computers mostly re-introduced the emphases and methods of the 1940s. Later in the 1990s distance / remote education through technology quickly became traditional instruction by screen.

Blended delivery has great potential. The key measure of its success will never be measured by the technology itself but only by the extent to which it transforms programmes so as to better contribute to success – for the under-represented, the disadvantaged, those with diverse learning styles and those who cannot from the factory in which they work to the factory we call an education institute.

That is probably why Christensen, Horn and Co called their book with delightful ambiguity, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation will change the way the world learns. Is blended delivery a new pathway to better educational outcomes in a diverse community?

[1] Horn, Michael B and Staker, Heather et.al.(2011) The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning Innosight Institute
[2]Clayton M Christensen, Michael B Horn and Curtis W Johnson, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation will change the way the world learns New York, McGraw-Hill 2008

Little boxes

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.25, 3 July 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

Containers have a fascination for us from a very young age. There is no need for Fisher Price toys when you have the pot cupboard handy. Put a little one in a sand pit with a few containers and they will immediately fill them.

It seems to meet some urge in us to be tidy.

I have sometimes in an idle moment wondered if there were not some parallels between the way we organise education and the way we run a container port.

If you think of the age cohort basis on which we assign students to classes and then the inexorable application of age-based promotion there are some similarities. Ah, here is a container full of Year X children delivered on schedule at the port and the straddle carrier will be back to shift them around the port at the end of the year. There is little qualitative assessment made of what is in the container at the end of that year when, sure enough, the straddle carrier arrives to whisk them all off to another part of the complex.

After a few shifts around the place the container is shipped off to another port somewhere else. I wonder if when the students who leave to go to secondary school they are primary exports? Of course the containers are sorted with increasing frequency as the years roll by.

It might be a tidy way of running education systems, but in terms of individual students there is an element of hit and miss about it.

If a student has not achieved at one level, to ship them off to another level is simply an arbitrary decision. They take with them gaps in knowledge and skills which start to place extraordinary pressure on teachers as those gaps accumulate into significant unpreparedness for learning at that next level.

As pathways have got narrower and fewer for young people, it is not surprising that, like the Telecom woman, they are perched on the outside of the container rather than inside where all the action is. And as the seas of economic pressures, of employment, of further education and training get choppier the risk of falling off completely becomes very real.

Change requires us to be less tidy, to be less concerned about the containers of our thinking to this point and to learn to live with some spills for a time. The whole notion of paradigm shifts advanced by Thomas Kuhn requires us to periodically live with untidiness as one container of our world view is replaced by another. However it is not a tidy process. We have to move away from one container with which we have developed some comfort before the new container starts to take shape. So periods of great uncertainty are critical to any significant change.

And where have this occurred in education? Well perhaps not very often. The shift from norm-referenced assessment to one more aligned to achievement / performance based assessment might be a key one and we are having great difficulty in coping with the uncertainty of that change.

I personally think that somewhere up ahead lies another significant paradigm shift in education as the model of education sectors adapts to new and different demands.

It could be that as we moved away from a heavy emphasis on workplace learning up until the 1980’s to see it replaced by institution-based learning across both the conventional academic and the conventional non-academic areas of learning we were in fact taking part in a paradigm shift of some significance. But we are certainly now struggling to fit what is happening into the containers of the education system’s containers. You see, if the greatest part of learning is now to take place in institutions, then perhaps such a shift requires us to consider the nature of those institutions. And certainly the nature of the relationship between industry, business and the wider world of work and educational settings is challenged.

We glibly use phrases like “think outside the square” to capture the process of questioning the containers. But it could be that the notion that there is a square to think outside of is in itself a false assumption.

But events of this week have entirely ripped the notion of containers away from my grasp as they are now to be firmly embedded in the thinking of the Department of Corrections. And why didn’t I see it coming? The issue is not that the image of schools I started out with was based on containers but that they were shipping containers.

The use of containers as cells for convicts returns incarceration back to its roots as the Australian relationship with the shipping of convicts receives its modern expression through this innovation. It is one small step, having decided to containerise prisoners to then actually load them onto ships.

Could not these containerised prisons be loaded on to super-large megastructure ships that could cruise around New Zealand giving all communities a chance to take their share of the burden of caring for those who transgress?

Actually once the ships are at sea it could be that Australia beckons?

You can just imagine the folk songs!

Farewell to New Zealand forever
Farewell to my old pals as well
Farewell to the well known High Court
Where I once used to be such a swell
Where I once used to be such a swell

Singing too-rall, li-oo-rall, li-ad-di-ty,
Singing too-rall, li-oo-rall, li-ay,
Singing too-rall, li-oo-rall, li-ad-di-ty
Oh we are bound for Botany Bay
Oh we are bound for Botany Bay.

Do we see a connection between the containerisation of young learners and the containerisation of criminals much later on? If we could get those young learners out of the container and onto a route that reflects their personal and individual needs then perhaps we could empty the prisons.