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 (Part 2): The Simple Revolution

Allowing students to achieve identified learning outcomes in a manner most suitable to them, while providing them with the opportunities to determine when, how and with what they choose to learn, are probably the most fundamental issues in establishing a meaningful and authentic learning experience.  It should come as no surprise that these concepts flow quite naturally from the three components of an authentic learning experience (quoted from the previous post):

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

This understanding is not new; in fact, most adults will acknowledge that these three components are timeless (as Chickering and Gamson have pointed out, and as will be discussed in a future posting).  Yet, after decades of boring and uninspiring education, there is little evidence that we are actually implementing any of the three components of authentic learning in our classrooms.  Technologically, platform-independent  schools1. are few and far between, and students are still required to use whatever technology the school chooses to permit/favour at any given time.  This is not natural; it is not organic.  It is artificial beyond belief.

A great way to start changing the learning environment in a meaningful way is as simple as welcoming the technology that students wish to bring to their learning.  This will initiate a subtle learning revolution that will be evolutionary in its effect.   Not only will this foster engagement, independence and personalisation; it will certainly go a long way to make learning much more relevant and compelling.  As Sir Ken Robinson so convincingly says: “Bring on the revolution!”

Eddie de Beer


1. For the purpose of this post, “platform independence” refers to the use of multiple, portable technology devices in schools: PC (laptop and tablet computers), Apple (iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac computers), Android and Blackberry (tablets, cell and smart phones) devices; as well as software/web-based technologies that can run on these multiple hardware platforms.