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Tag: technology

The classrooms are alive with the sound of music!


I forget who said in a rather cautionary tone “When you consider the power of TV to educate aren’t you pleased that it doesn’t!”

I thought about that the other day when into my possession came a Schools Music Bulletin from the 1960s and I got quite nostalgic. I recall, all those years ago, when I was in the primers and the standards looking forward to those programmes. They were broadcast to us from that speaker up on the wall above the teacher’s blackboard, the same one that would bring messages from the Headmaster, an event once described by a friend as “old men doing their knitting over the air!”

The Schools Music Programme would seem pretty dull now but I was reminded that we tackled quite a range of songs which were, of course, sung clearly and beautifully by the unseen choir and rather less accurately by us. But it was fun and it gave us exposure to music regardless of the extent to which our teacher was tone-deaf.

And the pupils in Gore got the same programme that we got – it was in a sense using technology to bring quality experiences into each classroom.

There were other uses of radio too and I recall the weekly “Assembly” of the correspondence school, National Radio on a Friday around the middle of the day.  Ormond Tate delivered particularly sound homilies but he had an advantage over other principals who knew how many they were speaking to but never how many were hearing them who knew neither.

Then let’s not forget the National Film Library, that rich treasure house of fun, information, and enlightenment through the magic of 16mm film. I wonder if television has ever achieved the impact of that service – leather pizza boxes strapped securely arriving weekly and replenishing young peoples’ appetite to learn.

And yes, teacher skill was certainly required. When I trained to be a teacher I dutifully undertook instruction in how to operate a film projector and having passed the course and been duly certified, marched forth to show films to students.

I was a little surprised to hear the CE of Xero, that high flying tech company, recently say that getting skilled people in New Zealand was difficult. He questioned the schooling students were getting – “Don’t give them iPads, teach them to think and solve problems” he said or something along those lines.

The beauty of radio has always been that it requires effort from the listener. What comes out of the radio is half the story, the understanding and embellishment of the pictures, the sounds and the words is in the hands of the listeners. I grew up listening to the Goon Show – mad disjointed crazy stuff that was gifted to a listener to make of it whatever they might.

On the other hand, radio now is full of either celebrity chitchat or hosts inanely laughing at their own jokes seemingly unaware of how unfunny they are. You couldn’t play that sort of material to young people.

So do National Radio and the Concert Programme fit the bill for exciting young people? The best of it might but it falls away too quickly. I personally have long felt that the best of national radio is to be found in the rural broadcasting programmes – middle of the day to catch the farmers when they are inside having lunch. You get a flavor of real people doing important work through those broadcasts.

But the concert programme is as much articulate chatter as it is concert these days. Don’t you just love those stations committed to classical music that you can now access over the internet? Now that’s a funny thing, using the internet to get something we used to get from old radios with glowing valves!

And all that from an old journal for the Music to Schools Programme. I must get back to chortling my way through The Ash Grove.



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Talk-ED: And we thought we were doing well!


I have recently had drawn to my attention a publication from the OECD which challenges seriously some of the thinking that has been bandied around in discussions of the “information age”, “digital natives” and technology in general. The report, Connected Minds: Technology and today’s Learners (OECD, 2012) calls into question many of the assumptions and statements that underpin a lot of what is said and done. Here are some samples:

“To begin with, although an increasing percentage of young people can be said to be adept in technology, it is misleading to assume that all of them fit equally into the image of New Millennium Learners.”

“Secondly, there is not enough empirical evidence yet to support the idea that student’s use of technology and digital media is transforming the way in which they learn, their social values and lifestyles and, finally, their expectations about teaching and learning.”

The report clearly demonstrates that, as of today, there is not enough research evidence to demonstrate that technology attachment or connectedness has critical effects on cognitive skills development……. Yet claims about changes in the brain caused by attachment to technology or connectedness are simply not backed by evidence.”

The OECD is known for its careful and challenging research reports and this one seems to knock to pieces the assumptions that we so often hear about in educational discussions.

I have long felt that the supposed advantage that young people had over we elderly was simply that – a supposition that this should be so. When time spent is taken into consideration, being technically adept is not related to age any more than the older age groups know how to manage a vegetable garden better than the young generation.

Malcolm Gladwell has asserted that it takes 10,000 hours to develop high level competence in a skill area. Students spend a little less than 8,000 hours in school (up to Year 10) so school alone is not going to get them there. Perhaps they spend huge amounts of time out of school connected through technology but some of that raises issues that are challenging to educators rather than helpful. The influence of video games might not be totally wholesome (although they have been found to have developed further some skill areas), cyber-bullying and distorted relationships can result, students can develop a loose attitude to what we could call plagiarism, and so on.

But a key issue is the importance attributed to “digital literacy”. The OECD material is right in asserting that digital literacy is not meant to replace conventional literacy. But the relationship between the two skill sets is, the report suggests, a little confused. This is because, and here New Zealand might be able to claim immunity from the allegations, as the report notes, “digital literacy tends to be marginalised from schools.”

Digital literacy requires the teaching of digital literacy just as literacy requires a conscious effort from both teacher and learner. It cannot simply be a side dish to the more traditional fare of education programmes. Now there could be a good case to be made here that New Zealand schools do give digital literacy the emphasis and place that it deserves.

The OECD perhaps weakens its case in this regard when it uses as evidence this lack of a central place for digital literacy the fact that statements about digital literacy are not taken “into account seriously, that is, translating statements into requirements for national student assessments.

The report further concludes by noting some of the challenges: integrating digital media and social practices into the daily school life, dealing with the issue of 21st Century Skills, helping young people learn the digital and information skills that are simply assumed to have been picked up and helping young people become connected so as to enhance the learning experience.


Today is the first of October,. Who remembers the 1 October Gazette which unleashed an avalanche of teaching position applications from those aspiring to teach the following year. All that has changed as the dynamics of supply / demand have altered. Another little exciting ritual consigned to the scrap heap!


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Talk-ED: O what a glorious thought, Warm-reekin', rich!

Stuart Middleton
2 April 2012

I travelled south to Dunedin for a family wedding, it was crisply warm, the weather that is, and the whole event was greatly enjoyable. But another thing I look forward to each time I head south is the Otago Daily Times, a newspaper that still keeps its regional flavour and at times can even be inclined to be the parish pump.

But tucked away in Saturday’s edition was an interesting piece[1] commenting on a discussion at a meeting of the Otago Polytechnic Council. Under a heading of ‘Exciting’ times for polytechs, Chief Executive Phil Ker was reported as leading an exciting brainstorming session clearly stimulated by “lively remarks” he had made.

In a scenario for 2021 the vision was for a large 50% reduction in the number of polytechnics in New Zealand. Ker suggested that there would be perhaps only eight polytechnics in New Zealand which seems to return to the TEAC suggestions of the hub and spoke model proposed back then. (Do we hold our breaths and wait for the creation of one national university?)

We probably should be giving very serious thought to this idea. Distances in New Zealand are not great and with the growth and development of internet technologies (see below), access takes on a different scale and perspective. The reduction in the number of polytechnics would perhaps even lead to the phrase “distinctive contributions” being thought about in a new way within a “network of provision” that was national. This was the direction started back in the TEAC but as always the recommendations got socialised into the existing framework and the sector by and large carried on.

The ODT also reports on the prediction that the sector would become fiercely competitive with the new competition from Asia adding to the presence of what the report calls “a national polytechnic” operating in Dunedin. There are two thrusts here – a national polytechnic and the competition from Asia.

We already have examples of quasi-national institutions; Te Wananga o Aotearoa, The Open Polytechnic, Massey University (to a degree so to speak), and at the school level, Te Kura – The Correspondence School. Each reflects a different model and it is hard to be certain just how a national polytechnic might work. It could of course simply be the connection through a new brand of a set of existing polytechnics or it might go the whole hog and be genuinely one institution with one governance body, a single administrative structure and a nationally integrated portfolio of programmes. I know of no such development but deem to see it as a possibility.

Asia as a polytechnic competitor is interesting. It seems to me that polytechnic sectors don’t travel too well beyond the level of single programmes. The training approach, the qualification structures, the professional regulatory systems and the differences in labour market needs all conspire to make it difficult to translate technical and applied education from one setting to another. But it is an interesting warning and one made perhaps more credible by the growth of internet technology and its role in tertiary education.

There have been predictions about all this for a long time but the indicators do seem to suggest that the momentum in the engagement with on-line learning has started to gather speed. Rate of on-line learning at the tertiary level in the USA is ten times that of the general tertiary growth rate and while the general rate shows flatness (2%), the on-line rate continues to grow (10%).

More importantly, it seems to be the trend that says that the on-line / face-to-face issue is not a choice between the two. In the USA, one third of higher education students take an on-line course. And satisfaction rates between the traditional face-to-face and on-line are about the same (see It is reaching the point where institutions that do not pay serious attention to offering on-line learning opportunities even if only to their existing students, will be somewhat left behind .

And this is where a national institution, such as that mentioned in the Otago story, could have both a role and an advantage. Ironically, distance becomes an irrelevance in technology-based education.

Och aye, there’s some interesting discussions being held in the south about education with more than a mickle and perhaps even a muckle of good sense.


Talk-ED: The helping professions

Stuart Middleton
31 September 2011

I called into a health conference to make a contribution and once I was struck by the extent to which the two areas – health and education – were similar in all but two respects.

They are both similarly based on a fundamental value of service to people, we both do what we do because someone else has a need and when that need is met we leave the world a better place, well at least for them.

Both our groups work in teams, each health or education professional is necessary to the process but never in themselves sufficient. Managing this relationship between the members of the team and recognising the value of what each contributes to the team’s mission and to its outputs is the mark of a professional. But the success of our contribution also requires us to act with high levels of autonomy.

Health and education call for practitioners who are committed to reflective practice. Being able to reflect on what is happening or has happened and to adjust practice to take account of that reflection requires high level understanding of a number of things – the needs of others, the appropriate range of interventions to take, the signs of progress (or lack of progress perhaps), the willingness to consider the contribution made to the work of the team, an awareness of the strengths and limitations of oneself and so on.

A further clear similarity is the institutional nature of the place in which the arts of healing and teaching are practiced – hierarchical, predominantly public service in origins, current focus on managerialism, and so on. Being big ticket budget items for any government, they are also very political.

Finally there is the impact of the success of what is done – both affect lives. In health unsuccessful interventions could result in death or prolonged suffering. Issues in education, while not life threatening in the dramatic sense, are at least critical to the quality of life, the capacity to earn and the ability to provide for others. Both are central to happiness and peace in our lives.

But there are two critical differences – response to research and the uptake of technology.

Medicine is essentially highly responsive to research and indeed is research driven. New techniques of treatment, new drugs and their use and new regimes for recovery come directly from research to shape new practices among health professionals. Those working at the patient or community front are well-informed by research and are diligent about their continuing professional development.

On the other hand, education is sluggish in its response to research. The vast industry of educational research has always found it hard to make connection with and to inform classroom teaching – we continue practices long past the point when we know that they are not working, that there are better ways of working.

I speculate that the big difference has two explanations.

The first might be that health researchers work more closely with those who practice whereas in education the gap between research and practice seems never to close.

The second might be more critical. The health sector is largely self-monitoring. It disciplines its members who transgress, it admits into membership those who meet criteria of both qualifications and competence and they lead the public discussion. The government health agencies don’t control the participants but are left to manage the delivery vehicles – hospitals, Pharmac and so on. By comparison education, the school sector especially, is centrally controlled and managed with less devolution to the professionals in the schools than might be suggested by the model of governance that we use. Tertiary institutions are closer to the health model.

A self-monitoring and self-managing sector is much more likely to also accept the additional responses of continued development professionally.

And lastly, there is the matter of the uptake of technology. Both at the conference I attended and whenever I visit someone in hospital I am amazed at the uptake of technology and the specialist and advanced applications of it to the practice of administering and delivering health interventions. Hospitals are changed places in appearances, applications of technology and subsequently practice.

By contrast, schools are very much slower to change and new technologies find a place largely to replicate and reflect old pedagogies. Compare, for instance the way in which technologies allow for asynchronous teaching delivered flexibly over distance with the requirement that the greater part of instruction in schools and institutions takes place with designated groups who must assemble in a particular room at a certain time who must progress through a programme in a lockstep manner! This might be a result of having to work with groups.

I enjoyed my day amongst the neonatal nurses at their conference – we don’t spend enough time with other professions.

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Pathway-Ed: Making things and going places

Stuart Middleton
20 January 2011

There is a lot of talk these days about technology and its impact on our lives, the role that it plays in an information economy and, of course, the compelling reasons for its central place in a school and post-school programme. There is also a growing concern that VET is not occupying the central role that it should have in post-secondary education.

Amid the mad rush to get more and more students into degree programmes while ignoring the importance of middle level sub-degree qualifications, we might do well to stand back a little and wonder what is happening and whether it really is in our best interests.

It is not that long ago, twenty years and a little less, when secondary school industrial arts programmes introduced students to the basic skills of using tools, of understanding materials and of making things. I recall being Principal and one of the many highlights of the year was the display of work undertaken by the students in those programmes. We would be absolutely stunned by the quality of that work, produced by 15 and 16 year olds in the workshops of the school under the guidance of the “technical teachers”.

Furniture would have top quality marquetry work, elegant turned features and be quite outstandingly designed. I am not talking about the wobbly coffee table that I once made. This was furniture that reproduced the kind of stuff you can see on The Antiques Roadshow. In the metal area this quality school student work was paralleled by intricate machines and devices. These students were proud and excited by their achievements. Some of them, but certainly not all of them, perhaps found comparable achievement in other areas not yet forthcoming and certainly a few of them were gaining high level results while working in the new language environment of their new country. It was exciting; it was what I thought schools were invented to do. And it led to employment and apprenticeships and trade qualifications.

But that all changed and a focus on “Technology” in part led to an emasculation of the secondary schools in terms of its capability to do this kind of work. A new subject squeezed the old out of the way.
But have we caused permanent damage to the capability of schools in the name of a passing fad? One commentator, writing of Project Technology, a subject introduced into British schools, related a little story he had heard from the teacher in change of a project on which three schools had collaborated.

“The aim of the project was to build a boat that would clear weeds from a nearby stretch of canal. The public school had organised the project, the grammar school had made the cutting gear that was mounted on the boat, and the secondary modern school had built the boat. ‘How did it work out?’ we asked. ”The boat sank,’ he replied, ‘just like “Project Technology”.’

Meanwhile our countries are developing a shortage of just the sort of people that once made the furniture and the models at school – those who populate the middle ranks of engineering, construction, design, and all those technological occupations that require middle level know-how rather than only degree level know-why, that require middle level qualifications rather than degree level qualifications, that require the practical and the skilled ready to work and get the results.

Many of the processes that result in the mismatch between what educational institutions produce and what the community and the economy needs, result from curriculum processes and the relative lack of attention we pay to the downstream effects of them. What is taught in those institutions actually defines the usefulness of them and the role the institutions will play in the community.

So we really need to have a clear view of what kinds of educated people and workers we need and then see that curriculum at all levels will result in those desired proportions of skills and knowledge and aspirations and dispositions. Once we have decided what those curriculum spaces should look like, we need to change them only when the reasons for change are compelling and not in response to a passing fashion such as might have happened in the case of industrial arts.

That doughty old English warrior, Harold Rosen, knew this when long ago and speaking then of English as a curriculum study he warned that we “….. must not behave as though the contested space [in the curriculum] was solely a matter of persuasion, the sheer force of better ideas….. Spaces do not simply exist in the system, they have to be won, defended and extended.” In short, we need to defend the things that are important.

In the area of trades training and preparation for them in schools, this is something that we have not done.

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