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October 31, 2017

Navigating New Skies: The Next Trends in Education Technology

One of the most difficult challenges for an educational leader is to filter, shield and straight out destroy some of the internal and external noise that exists. Most of this noise is well-intentioned, however the sheer volume of it in education alone can make for little silence for teachers and
communities alike.

So, in this article, I thought I would try and help with some of the noise that is out there at the moment.

Digital Assessment

Currently, trials and pilots are underway in a variety of subjects for NZQA assessments, the goal being to use digital assessment as an efficient and authentic method for Achievement Standards.

I have no doubt that assessment in the future will go online/digital as we move forward, but I will certainly be watching the extended trials/pilots with interest. A few things to think about:

Equity vs. Equality

This very notion explores the difference between everyone having the same thing and some people requiring more support in certain circumstances – not only at the summative stage but during the formative teaching process. Access to authentic assessment conditions and tools is relatively easy when you are using pen and paper and sitting down at a desk. How will your school navigate this in light of digital assessment? Access during the teaching process needs to reflect the assessment conditions.

Digital Natives and Writing vs. Typing

There are a lot of assumptions made about students who are “savvy” in the digital space. This form of assessment assumes everything from their ability to type effectively, to their ability to effectively navigate a digital environment. I do not doubt that students (and teachers for that matter) have the capacity to deal with these environments and learn the tools. However, this has major implications on PLD requirements and basic skill levels of both teachers and students – we do not make assumptions that our new entrants know how to write, let alone orientate an early reader. Why then are we making these assumptions here? This also does not take into account the debate of which is more effective typing or writing – research exists that points to both winning this battle and there is no definitive answer either way.

Higher Functioning Assessment

In Australia, digital assessment of the NAPLAN test is widespread. There are some clear advantages to this type of assessment. It provides a snapshot in time of data pertaining to basic skills, that then allows decision makers to focus resource where required. The reason I cite this is that although there are significant examples of digital assessment available around the world, it is important to place them in context and relevance to New Zealand and NCEA. Just because one form of assessment works for our neighbours across the ditch, doesn’t automatically make it the right fit here at home.  NCEA is a high-stakes assessment and is the summative action of a formative process. Additionally, it focuses on higher level cognitive functions rather than other forms of digital assessment, that assess basic skills and have a single answer focus. I believe one of the strengths of the New Zealand curriculum (and parts of the NCEA system) is its ability to staircase the level of responses, invoking process driven thought that allows the students to demonstrate not only what they got to, but how they got there. I’m not saying this is necessarily what will happen, but I would hate to see the form and means of assessment drive what and how we teach.

“Access to authentic assessment conditions and tools is relatively easy when you are using pen and paper and sitting down at a desk. How will your school navigate this in light of digital assessment?”

The Digital Curriculum

It is exciting to see that the digital curriculum is close to being embedded in New Zealand schools, and the way that we teach. There are many people like me that are inspired by this initiative, but also many people who are understandably terrified. Over the past year or so, I have had the opportunity to speak with many of the latter group, and reassure them that this is a great opportunity to focus and evaluate what they will inevitably have been already doing.

STEM, STEAM, and BYOD

Most of you will be used to BYOD and may have seen or been all sorted with STE(A)M. (If you are not sure, STEAM refers to a learning approach focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics). Basically, it leverages off these areas to direct students towards inquiry, investigation and the associated conversations that inform their learning. But what does this mean for you? From a pedagogical and practice perspective, it can mean as much or as little as you want it too. You can choose to adopt this approach or you may evaluate that you are doing this as part of your inquiry-learning units already. From a technological perspective, it will be important to decide upon the kind of devices your students have access to or the kinds of devices that are recommended for a BYOD programme. Some of the elements of STEAM programmes integrate the use of specific technologies (e.g. Robots and Drones) that rely upon computing “power” or peripherals that “plug into” devices, and some of these need to run specific software locally on that machine. It is worth considering these factors in regard to not only BYOD, but also when purchasing school-based devices. Again, this circles back to equity and equality in the delivery of curriculum.

Coding

There is a lot of noise about coding in schools at the moment, and there are some kids and teachers doing some great things. The fundamental drive around coding is usually linked to the style of thinking that it promotes – computational. Coding is a natural expression of this, and there are some great programmes and tools that can help students and teachers get underway. Remember though, to always bear the following in mind:

  • Coding is not the only way to teach computational thinking
  • The language of coding is a bit different to the concept of computational thinking – computing languages change and will continue to change. As an example, StackOverflow has seen a drop in the use SQL of almost 12% from 2013-2015 and AngularJS has jumped from “No Data” to 13.3% in 2015.
  • It can be a bit terrifying for teachers. New Era has a primary school-tailored product DB Primary that includes awesome resources to look at and teach coding. Have a chat if you want to know more.

The 2017 Horizon Report indicates that Coding is becoming widespread across developed countries, and resultantly the resources available will only grow. However, this same report indicates a future trend leaning towards subject integration and reflective practice – in which I believe New Zealand educators are well ahead of the game. This bodes well for New Zealand schools and educators, as they may be able to use these developing resources in mature teaching practices.

The Schools Cloud Transformation Project

As our CEO, Greg Strachan mentioned has mentioned, New Era IT is conducting a number of talks with the Ministry of Education around the Schools Cloud Transformation Project (SCTP). Apart from continuing to evolve the solutions that we offer, it has been a real cause for pause and reflection.

As most of you will know, the SCTP is focused on utilising the best of the cloud-based tools, whilst at the same time saving schools on the cost of replacing expensive servers. As part of my presentation with the MoE, I will look at the New Era journey with the cloud.

It begins a long time ago (in technology time)…

Eight years ago, New Era invested in a secure public cloud for small schools so that they didn’t need to replace their servers every three or four years. At the time, the Google, Microsoft and other cloud services that were available were not developed for schools to be able to effectively “reside” in them 100% – so New Era found a solution.

Cut to 2017 and we have now done this successfully with a number of large high schools, and have every single one of our other schools utilising the public cloud, but perhaps more importantly, all of our schools are mapped on the journey of cloud transformation congruent with the MoE’s plan. Some will want to take this up rapidly, and others will want to take their time. We have seen a variety of rationales for this ranging from servers still being under warranty to the acknowledgment of a high level of “change management” required with staff.

The most exciting bit about the SCTP from my perspective is the Research and Development work that we are doing. The ability to integrate information from cloud sources and SMS allows for live data and tracking to not only inform good decision-making, but it also allows schools to identify at-risk students and provide support to them as early as possible.

Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the learner amongst the technology, but be reassured, at New Era, we give ourselves a good hard punch in the arm regularly to keep our heads out of the cloud (if you’ll excuse the pun).

As always if you want to talk some more, or bounce some thoughts around – that would be great. All the best for the rest of the term, and a safe break for you and your whanau when you get one.

Nga mihi mahana

Tony

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