There is no doubt that Anthony Salcito (Vice-President Microsoft Worldwide Education) can deliver an inspiring corporate keynote. In my opinion he is one of the best people occupying this space at the moment. He is able to get a near perfect blend of inspiring vision, corporate messages and product launch into a seamless and well-polished presentation. If this wasn’t enough he also showed me how to use the lift in the hotel which had been confusing me for several minutes before he came along (the floor buttons were on the outside!).
Anyway, Salcito did the opening keynote at the Partners in Learning Worldwide Forum in Washington and I want to pick up on some of the points that he mentioned and link them to the current UK / Scotland context.
Early in presentation Salcito show a couple of classic pictures of the ‘old’ classroom and the ‘new’ classroom. I’ve used similar illustrations in the past the and the point is that firstly, many classrooms and much classroom practice have not changed for over 100 years and secondly, that there is no point in flooding a classroom with technology if you are just going enslave the technology (and the children) to the same traditional methodologies.
I belive that technology has the potential to transform learning and teaching in the same way that it has already transformed how we work, play, socialise and shop - but we still have a long way to go.
A common question that I get at this stage is, ‘does it actually matter?’ if we don’t transform learning, teaching and schools. The simple response to this is that in the past, ‘no it didn’t matter’. The reason for this was regardless of who you were taught by, how we assessed you, what exam results you left school or college with - in the UK you could always pretty much be guaranteed getting a job.
This is why some countries have very traditional education systems, get very good results (because they assess children to their own standards) and have very high employment and GDP. They won’t change their education systems (yet) because from an economic point of view there is no real need to (from a boredom point of view there probably is!) - the problem is that these systems are often not sustainable.
Unfortunately in the UK I belive we have become quite entranced in traditional methodology and the prospects of getting a job for young people are increasingly difficult. Youth unemployment is currently as an all time high and although there are jobs globally I believe that we are currently not doing a very good job of preparing our young people to take the opportunities that exist.
Salcito picked up on this point in his keynote, where he touched on his six global education trends that he has noticed from his work with Governments and Ministrys.
The trends are:
- A general recognition that there needs to be more innovative practice in the classroom and that classrooms / learning spaces need to change.
- That one of the goals for education has to be relevant employability skills and workforce readiness.
- Doing more with less is a reality and this means doing things differently.
- There is a real urgency to drive change (probably linked to future economic reality).
- Curriculums must become more personalised.
- A realisation that we are currently in a digital content revolution.
The question of course is how is technology making a difference and I liked the slide that Salcito used to illustrate this. It shows quite nicely where we have come from in the UK and most importantly where we need to go. From the traditional, through the automated age to an age of transformation.
It is the access age that interests me. I believe that in UK we will move to ubiquitous 1:1 (one computer per child) learning environments within the next 5 - 10 years. Why? Well, regardless of whether I think it is a good idea or not (and I do BTW) pretty much every other country in the world is already considering this paradigm shift. Which means that politically the UK will probably be pressured into doing it. Some countries such as Portugal, Turkey and Venezuela are already amongst the first early adopters.
The prospect of 1:1 actually scares me a lot as I also think in the UK we have thousands of teachers who are not ready for this. I can back up this statement with my own work where I have seen schools that have been transformed with 1:1 and schools that have moved backwards are regressed because of the same initiatives. Good pedegogical practice and classroom action reaserch is the key here.
This is why Salcitos model of education change is so important. If we move to 1:1 environments there is a danger of slipping back to or never breaking away from the ‘Automation Age’ where we carry out traditional learning activities using digital technology (eBooks and poor use of Interactive Whiteboards are a good example of this).
I think what we actually need to do is ignore the ‘Access Age’ (it will happen by itself - with a little bit of prodding) and concentrate on the ‘Holistic Transformation’ Stage. This is the age of data driven personalisation, learning analytics, seamless collaboration, rich meta-tagged content, stage-not-age assessment and technology enhanced reflective practice. It is these components within the holistic transformation stage that will make 1:1 transformational within a learning context and make the ‘Access Age’ relevant rather than regressive.
The last part of Salcito's model is also interesting. But to sum it up for me the future is about true personalisation of learning and technology such as constant connectivity, natural language translation, changes in user interface will help us achieve this.
There are lots of things that schools / governments should consider when it comes to personalisation. These include:
Competency Based Schedule - this is stage-not-age. Something we are not very good at in the UK as we tend to get differentiation confused with personalisation. The key here is to allow children to develop socially with their peers but allow them to progress their academic and vocational interests with their equals (a school orchestra is a good example of where this already happens).
Dynamic Content Store - making sure that all learners have access to good learning materials. The challenge here with the explosion of digital content is to make sure that we give young people the skills to navigate, find and evaluate content that is suitable for them.
Flexible Subject Choice - young people should not be deprived of taking a structured learning course just because there is no teacher in the school to deliver the course material to the student. On-line learning can help us here - but structures on-line learning is actually very hard so we need to make sure that young people are equipped to learning on line as part of their broad general education.
Re-thinking traditional classrooms - different people learn different things in different ways. Learning space design needs to be flexible, agile and constantly surprising. It should include on-line as well as physical places. Learning should not (and never actually has been) confined to school buildings.
Playful Learning - learning should be fun and fun things can be hard as well. We have a lot to learn from the world of games and play to make learning more engaging, real and relevant.
Technology obviously plays a part in all of the above but we also can not forget that true personalisation of learning comes from a teacher knowing an individual child well. Even though I am convinced that the role of the teacher will continue to evolve over then next 20+ years as they become learning guides, critical learning friends and learning coaches. We must never forget that personal touch and bond that all the best teachers have between their students.
Thanks for making me think Anthony…
(You might also be interested in this Merlin John Interview with Anthony Salcito that was also captured at the World Forum)