Dialogue: Challenges and Change in Education

I have the great privilege to work with a forward-thinking organization, Action Canada.  A leadership program for young Canadians, Action Canada explores topics of national interest and investigates ways to make improvements for Canada’s future.  This year, their theme is:  Does Canada have the education systems it needs to meet the economic and societal challenges of the future?

Today, at the Wosk Centre, Action Canada presented a Public Dialogue on Challenges and Change in Canada’s Education Systems.  The task forces brought together panels of experts to spark conversation on three topics:

  • Standardized Testing in Canada
  • Teaching Questions Not Answers
  • Who Cares About Young Caregivers?

Fortunately, I was able to take part in the second session:  Teaching Questions Not Answers.

This particular task force explored the subject of adapting Canada’s education system for the 21st century.  At the end of September, the Fellows had come to St Alcuin College, a liberal arts K-12 school offering a 21st century skills-based program.  They were especially interested to experience firsthand our unique learning environment, and how that was different from mainstream education.  After speaking to the faculty and students about what it meant to be living the learning revolution, one Fellow observed that at St Alcuin, changing education was a movement.  We can attest that education reform is a movement that requires intense energy, as stated today by Mr Rod Allen, Superintendent of the Ministry of Education’s Learning Division.

It was not a surprise to hear that the panellists were espousing the principles upon which we are founded at St Alcuin:  highly personalized education, community partnerships and an emergent curriculum.  One question posed to the panel was why it was not easy to implement this educational reform in schools across Canada.  One of the panellists, Dr. Roland Case, executive director and co-founder of The Critical Thinking Consortium, identified five “winning conditions” for educational reform.  As I understood them, they are:

  1. Students are engaged in their learning.  Instruction is not transmission from the teacher.
  2. There is sustained inquiry for learning.  This is a regular practice.
  3. Students have self-regulated control of tools.  They don’t just produce the action when required by a teacher, but know how and when to use the skill.
  4. Assessment is timely and supportive.
  5. Learning is digitally enhanced.

At St Alcuin College, in keeping with our studies in Big History, we recognize that these are the five ‘Goldilocks conditions’ to educational change.  These are our guiding principles in our daily teaching.

Thank you to Action Canada and the Fellows for bringing us together to discuss Canada’s education systems and the challenges to change.  It is a subject that so many are passionate about, and it is this passion that continually drives us to create these ‘Goldilocks conditions’ at St Alcuin College.

Welcome to the iGeneration: Make Learning Real

The current generation of learners is often classified as the “Millennial Generation”, or the “Net Generation” on account of their co-existence with the web and their indispensable online presence. As the current demographic group encompasses so much more than mere www-residency, I prefer the descriptor “iGeneration1..  Apart from describing these compeers’ need for personalisation (which includes their use of individualised technology), this moniker allows us to broaden our actual understanding of what ‘learning through technology’ could mean for our students. Hopefully, such understanding will also allay our (i.e. non-iGenerationists’) fears regarding technology.

So, how does education relate to the iGeneration? While simple presumptions and assumptions are rarely a good thing, there is a strong case for using them to demystify 21st-century learning. To that end, I suggest that an authentic learning experience has the following three identifiable components2.:

a) engagement (meaningful brain activity, not to be confused with ‘entertainment’);
b) relevant and compelling assignments (requiring calculation, manipulation and
synthesis; not merely searching and finding basic information) and;
c) a high level of personalisation (allowing for immediate individualised feedback,
choice of technology/software and ensuring that learning is at an appropriate level).

I would venture another simple suggestion, namely that we move beyond the “what” and “how” of technology; let’s stop focusing on questions such as “What technology do we use?”, “How best do we integrate technology?”, and “What do teachers/students need to know in order to use technology effectively?” We need to make fundamental educational decisions by looking, in basic terms, at the “why”: “Why do we use technology in the first place; personally, economically and socially?” Simpler put: “Which technology do I prefer to use, and why?” I believe that in such openness and willingness to personalise we will find the important ingredients to providing the meaningful education so desperately sought by the iGeneration. In my opinion, personalised technologies, creative application and individualised feedback are the fundamental principles that should characterise 21st-century learning.

The next post on inSync21.com will explore the issues of personalisation and individualisation a little further; so please feel free to let us know your thoughts on these topics for inclusion in that discussion. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Eddie de Beer

1. Larry D. Rosen: Teaching the iGeneration, Educational Leadership, February 2011
2. (Marge Scherer: Transforming Education with Technology.– A conversation with Karen
Cator, Educational Leadership, February 2011