Tag Archives: innovation

The Perils of Big Data: Don’t talk to the Profile

4 Dec

It is not an easy time for educationists. And an easy one for ideologues.

Ideologues have made their choices. They know what they stand for in education. Standardised classrooms. Common Core Curriculum, to use the name of the American version. Most countries have something similar. A taxonomy of learning styles – and lesson planning based on similar theories that evolved decades ago. Private schooling. Education as a (quasi) public good. Teacher training as academic instruction. The list goes on.

There have been traditional ways of doing things. And then, there have been grand experiments. Or what some people call experiments, others innovations. The sad truth that we have to acknowledge is that most of these have had little impact on improving learning outcomes.

As a teacher I would be very confused. Entertain your students, engage them with laughter. No, you are not a joker in front of the class, don’t demean yourself. OK then. Another one – Children learn more with peer learning methodologies, they learn more when they are doing things, they learn better with individual instruction. Children don’t need teachers, they need mentors. Teachers are just facilitators, they do not need to teach. Don’t teach, because no one can be taught, they can only be brought to learning and shown the path.

No wonder teachers have stopped teaching.

Thankfully, not all of them. We still have many wonderful teachers, inspiring school heads and balanced school boards. But many many more school teachers, heads and boards will just continue to do what was traditional. Not because they know it is the right thing to do, but because it is the only thing they know how to do. It has been done before, it must be right. We’ve survived so far, have we not?

For the non traditionalists, the news is not so good. After years, even decades of optimism about new ways of teaching, years of positive results that seemed to indicate that we are close to figuring out how to make sure that every child gets nurtured and reaches their potential – things have changed. Charter schools, experiments such as KIPP and Rocketship continue to have their ups and downs making them and private education an easy target. As a teacher, educator – I take no sides here. I stand, confused. Honestly confused. As does anyone else who dares to be honest.

Maybe it is as they said in KungFu Panda – there is no secret sauce.

Maybe it is as simple as this: Good teaching and learning depends on three things:

How much a Teacher cares
How much a Teacher knows
How many chances you get

There is no recipe, there are no fixed proportions. There is no fixed formula. Not for the whole of education anyway. One size does not fit all. Yet all solutions that seem to emerge these days are seeking scale and aiming for standardisation in the name of improving standards for all. Despite the fact that there is no evidence that such standardised education provides any improvement in learning outcomes. The quest for the secret sauce continues.

Evidence stands in favour of none: Neither the innovators, nor the standardisers. Not the private sector, nor the public sector. Each has had their failures, their moments of glory. Each has had impressive improvements that the others race to chase for a while. Often it works, even across countries and contexts. Often it does not, and we lay the blame on the ‘Lost in Translation’ effect. Am I oversimplifying this? Trust me, I am.  Even the ideologues would agree with me that we would love to see more proof, more evidence of what works in education.

There isn’t enough evidence, we complain. If only we knew more about what each student was doing, what clicked for them and where they zoned out. Maybe we should be watching them more. Let us monitor them using technology – keystroke analysis, pupil dilation, brain stimulation. Let us watch them in the thousands, millions across the world. Big data. And then try to reduce that to a simple formula. Then we will know, won’t we – that a child in the third grade who slows down after two hours is unlikely to make it to higher education. Right? Or similar results. Let us profile the children and then design for the profile. I am sure we will improve learning outcomes by teaching to the profile.

I am not a profile. I am sure none of you reading this are a profile either. Nor are our children. We are people. Creative, dynamic, unique and diverse. And we have had enough of adjusting to an education system – we now expect the education system to adjust to our aspirations. The goalpost has changed. No longer does the education-industrial complex work, nor are classes relevant any more. Classes serve one type of profiling, Edu-tech solutions serve another type of profiling. The hurdle ahead of us – as educators – is precisely this: How do we design for the person, not the profile?

I stand here, as one of the learners, and I repeat: Don’t talk to my profile. Talk to me.

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/dont-talk-to-the-profile/

Learning from One Another

16 Sep

“When children teach other, they learn better”. I remember hearing this from a teacher in a simple school in a small town. Then I heard the same last year from Vicky Colbert WISE Laureate – indeed this is what transformed education in Colombia via the Escola Neuva system. Through difficult terrain, poor communities, scarce resources – here was a power to be harnessed – the peer.

Learning from each other is a natural way of picking up knowledge and skills. As children and as adults we learn by watching each other, even more so by copying each other’s actions. The next stage is trying it out – learning by doing. There is an old saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” But there is one more step. A recent study of retention in learning marked out a pyramid where ‘learning by teaching’ showed a retention rate of 90%, compared to a 5% retention rate for a lecture or a 30% retention rate for a demonstration.

What does that look like in a classroom? A class full of teachers will be chaotic surely? If all the students are teaching each other, then what is the role of the teacher? The role of the teacher evolves to being so much more than a passive fount of knowledge. A peer learning class needs to be arranged differently. They are given challenges, tasks and resources. They share their learning journey, nudged and directed by the teacher till all the students have reached basic competence in that learning module. This means that the style of teaching must be very different. Not only is it more participative but also engages the teacher in different ways. The learning resources became important but what is most important is the question asked by the teacher that sets the children off on the adventure. Too wide, and there is chaos. Too narrow and they are merely parroting lines to each other, even copying from each other mindlessly. This is a trap the teacher must avoid – the point of peer learning in classrooms is to encourage students to think and engage with the learning. Not just copy from each other or the board.  Designing the question, organising the class, managing the range, channelling energy constructively – the teacher’s focus moves to these in peer learning classes. And learning levels go up more – not only has each child been engaged, each child has received personal attention from the teacher and has been taught using a pedagogy that improves retention levels.

Changing pedagogies midstream is always a bit daunting for most teachers. Only few would have been trained in peer learning, others will have to figure it out on their own. Unless, they have a peer learning group. What is applied to the classroom can, and does work for teachers too. Teaching and learning is enhanced with peers (or why would schools exist!) and the best teachers keep learning new techniques and sharing them with their peers. Not just colleagues.

There was a time when peer learning was restricted to one’s circle of colleagues and the only peer learning network that was active was in the staffroom. Occasional training sessions extended it for a while to peers across other schools or in the same district. Technology has now removed these barriers. Peer learning groups are being supported by tech companies such as google, by newspaper groups such as the Times (UK based, working in India) and others. Facebook groups are a great way of creating peer learning networks across the country and even the globe. Look up a group to join, or even create one of your own. It doesn’t have to be all serious and theoretical for learning to happen. For example, we used to share little stories of what happened in class with the Facebook group. Sometimes we would share laughter and often it would get responses that were very supportive and helpful. Teaching tips can be shared. Another great tool to create a peer learning network is twitter. Teachers and educators come together and discuss ways to improve their teaching practice or other issues in education. The Indian education chat is called #EduIn where one can meet a community of educators. Others are more global and include groups for new teachers, teachers learning to incorporate technology in their classes, mathematics teachers etc. Shared blogs with multiple contributors work as peer learning for both teachers and students, as do whatsapp groups. Both the flipped classroom model as well as peer learning pedagogies can use these tools extensively.

Whether peer learning is technology driven or not, there is a great deal of value in peer learning groups. In Punjab, STIR and NISA are working in the Rajpura district of Punjab to bring teachers together regularly to speak about in class innovations, teaching practices, solutions and experiences. The teaching community meet at one of the schools in the district on a regular basis and worked together to share and learn. They were able to improve many outcomes in the school district in a short while, but of course there is a lot more to be done. Similar efforts have been in place for decades in Rajasthan and other places.

Peer Learning Networks do not have to be an overly formal construct – each of us can create a PLN where we identify and nurture our sources of learning. While many of us do so naturally it is more of a conscious effort for others. A PLN gives better results if there is a semi-formal structure around it not the least because it ensures that we put in the time and resources required to make it work. A semi-formal or formal PLN will also set its goals, monitor progress and have a community of care that helps it course correct as required. For example, subject based peer learning networks of teachers could be very useful where they share teaching tools, resolve classroom hurdles, share worksheets and quizzes and even create intra-school events. Sometimes only a peer learning network can help – or even understand what the problem is and how to find your way through the maze.

Peer Learning is not a magic wand that resolves all problems but it does form the basis of sustainable solutions. This is where we tap into all parts of learning – previous knowledge, relevant experience and the adventure of sharing to grow our skills together. The PLN grows together as it encourages and supports the whole group to improve themselves.

Meeta Sengupta is a writer and advisor on education. She designs institutional interventions to improve learning outcomes and bring a sense of fun and movement in classrooms. She can be contacted at meetasengupta@gmail.com or on twitter at the handle @meetasengupta

http://www.teacherplus.org/cover-story/learning-from-one-another

Disruption is essential to Innovation in Education

17 Oct

Reinventing Innovation

10/09/2013

student

 Image: Shutterstock

“Yes, he has got the right answer but the method is all wrong. Where is the method?! It was given in the class so many times, but he does not do it! ”

I stared at the teacher dumbfounded.

(No, I was not about to comment on the language or tone used, though that was pretty objectionable too.)

This was against all the principles of good education that had been shared at every conference, teacher training programme and seminar I had ever attended or led. Learning was supposed to be a journey of discovery. This was standardisation to the level of micro management, approximates to learning by rote, and leaves no room for individual growth, let alone individual pace within the system. It is a system designed for efficiency, geared to a specific goal. Change the goalposts, and the system flounders. The goalposts, of course, do not stay the same ever, and this system is clearly not future proof.

The quest is always for higher standards in a system, not mass standardisation at the last mile. If every notebook in the nation is expected to look exactly like every other, then all we are doing is raising a nation of replicators. They are trained to repeat what has been done before, not to create and bring rigour to their inventions or innovations.

Innovation often starts in the classroom where any exploration or creative journey into the subject is clearly inefficient use of class time. The rote learning method with micro standardisation is the most efficient way to demonstrate results, with the consequence of leaving little room to develop the higher faculties of the student. If a child cannot ask disruptive questions, then their learning has been stunted. If they are not appreciated for breaking the mould and creating new solutions, then they are merely being trained to be followers–and that is not where the premiums head.

Innovation needs to extend beyond classroom content and classroom processes to school systems. Local administrators and policy makers play a key role here–those that are supportive have found massive improvements in school achievements in their areas. Others, we hear, are keen to maintain the status quo and do no more. These areas tend to stagnate.

This carries through beyond schools, into higher education and research laboratories too, where hierarchies determine the degrees of freedom (and credit) received.

Creativity is a habit as much as it is a discipline. The process of creativity needs to be fostered if innovations are to be scored and used. Strong hierarchies, where research agenda are set by those of a previous generation, may not always be the best way to plan future knowledge building. Fresh entrants are often bubbling with new ideas, many scholars admit their best work was done in their twenties and thirties. The brain, we know, tends to atrophy with age. An innovation culture must do its best to capture the ideas of the young and foster them to create value.

Innovation, by definition is a disruptive process, it needs disruptive attitudes to foster innovation cultures. An excess of respect, lack of humour and continual deferring to those who came before are not always ideal. While I see many go tut-tut and say the young are disrespectful, an excess of ‘respect’ is stultifying. Let me say it straight out–many Indians are over sensitive about hierarchy and respect. And the continual deference to the guru- figure stems the exchange of ideas and the discovery of new pathways. Sometimes (and it is reported in less than hushed whispers), the incentive to innovate is lost when credit is taken by the ‘seniors’.

The process of innovation starts with the meeting of ideas and process. This is where strong structures of mentorship, not just hierarchies of process, are useful. The role of the teacher, research guide and even workplace senior is critical to innovation. Their experience and networks can foster the idea and bring it to fruition in ways the young ideator may not even be aware of, and thus incapable of implementing.

What does this mean for the learning leader? It means they need to change the way they do things. It means they need to include a wider range of opinions and options in what they discuss. It means, they should let students have some fun while they are learning–to take a little side path once in a while, a little self exploration before coming back to what they ought to know anyway.

Things are changing slowly but surely globally and in India. Singapore, as they often are, have realised that creativity that leads to innovation will be the growth engine of the future and have now changed their curriculum and assessments to grow such creativity. Many other countries are investing in fostering a research and innovation culture. India does not speak of creativity and innovation directly in its education policy but the introduction of continuous assessments in class give teachers enough room to foster it, if they choose to–and are able to handle the workload. Unfortunately, this is not enough.

Innovations in the classroom do exist, but many of them remain underexposed, and so under-utilised. Micro-innovations need to be fostered and shared. STiR (disclaimer, I am on their advisory board) does stellar work in gathering, sifting and fostering such classroom innovations and seeding an innovation culture in schools. Little things make a difference–celebrating teachers who find new ways to help students learn, listening and nurturing smarter ways of working, sharing content or a process that increases student achievements. The need is equally great in higher education where innovations are required to jumpstart the process of quality enhancements without which India has no claim to a place at the global table.

It is time to accept dissent as part of the discussion, to be secure enough to deal with change and to be smart enough to create new ways of working.