Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Overcoming The Barriers To Creativity And Innovation

It's been a few weeks since I returned from Doha, Qatar and the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). If you aren't familiar, this conference centers around scalable, actionable ideas for the future of education worldwide.

It is, by far, my favorite conference I get to attend each year because of the level of conversations that are had there. With some conferences the focus is on hot topics or what will bring in the biggest crowds. At WISE the conversations are on the topics that might be controversial or need to be addressed for education to move forward.

But there is always a focus on actions. 

The theme this year was on creativity and innovation and they were in full effect. In addition to some great keynote addresses on why creativity and innovation need to be cornerstones of education moving forward, there were thought provoking conversations around the future of universities and the value of college degrees, how important play really is to learning and more. There were makerspaces for attendees to build computers and work with Legos and opportunities for more unconference events to allow anyone to share ideas or resources. 

In all the conversations and sessions there were a few barriers to creativity and innovation in learning that kept being repeated over and over that we must overcome on a global scale. 

Emphasis on Standardized Assessments-As to be expected, many conversations centered around our global fascination with data and comparison of students. PISA, rankings, etc, where all cited as examples of our focus being on the wrong thing. One area I believe we all can agree upon is data is important. We need to know what our students are learning, when they learn it and how they know they know what they've learned. I also believe we can all agree that many of the data points used in education worldwide don't hold much meaning, other than to say one countries education system may or may not be better than another. 

To overcome we have to move this reliance on the wrong kind of data to the kind that truly matters. We must focus our efforts on the data that matters. What does that look like in your classroom? Formative assessments must be the norm. Relying on formative assessments to tell you what students know and don't, provide for an environment where kids can be creative and innovative. Sure, you might still have the typical standardized test at the end of the year, but students will be better prepared because your focus was on their learning, to ensure they are where they needed to be. And you will have provided an environment where kids can explore, reflect, grow and follow their passions through learning.

Lack of Fundamental Changes To Teacher Education Programs-Another, perhaps surprising area that was mentioned as a barrier, was the inflexibility of change in teacher education programs. Remember, this isn't just a U.S. problem, this is a global problem. Many of the programs worldwide still teach future teachers using outdated methodologies for a variety of reasons. In the U.S. there are many reasons but it is the lack of pushback from districts saying they need a different kind of teacher that is the main driver (or lack there of). If that is the case, why would programs need to change? This lack of change is turning out teachers in many locations that aren't prepared to use technology, amplify student voice or use the right kinds of data. 

This lack of change in teacher education programs is something that will take more than blog posts and conversations. It's going to take districts, Superintendents and others to better articulate the need for teachers to be prepared to be facilitators of learning rather than lecturers in the front of the room. Students need (and deserve) teachers who can, again, create those environments where they can explore, reflect, grow and find their passions through learning.

Leadership Crisis-As my friend Thomas Murray often says, what we have in education is a crisis in leadership, and I tend to agree. Despite many challenges and barriers, there are some teachers who exemplify what it means to promote creativity and innovation in learning. And an often cited reason for their success is a leadership who "get's it." A leadership who either gets out of the way and lets the teachers do what is best, or is hands on and pushes teachers to be better for their students. 

So if we have a leadership crisis, that begs the question, what do we do? As a classroom teacher it may be difficult to change the minds of leaders who might not understand why creativity should be more important than summative assessments. However, as I tell all who ask me, keep doing what is best for your students. The crisis in leadership can begin to be solved by schools and districts spending more time on the right kind of professional development for leaders. The kind that focuses in on those areas they need most like technology integration, understanding innovation can be part of learning and how to be a coach and instructional leader rather than a manager.

As you can see these are complex problems with no easy answers. One thing is for sure. Creativity and innovation should part of the learning process. And while there are no quick fixes, we all need to ensure kids have those opportunities to learn, reflect, grow and follow their passions, through learning. 

What do you think? What are the barriers to creativity and innovation in your classroom? How are you overcoming them? Leave a comment below. 

Photo Credit: Bernat... via Photopin cc

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Encouraging Authenticity In Learning

In the last several years, a major shift in instruction began to happen. Instead of students having access to handheld technology (tablet, laptop, etc) only part of the school day, more and more students began to have access when they need it. Either 1:1 or BYOD or some combination of both is giving students the opportunity to discover learning or create new information in a variety of ways.

Before I left my position as a Director of Instructional Technology, our district was undergoing this shift (albeit a bit late, but we were headed in the right direction). We were going to allow students to bring their own device to the classroom to use in the course of their learning. But through a pilot program we discovered that the focus of our professional development around BYOD needed to not be on technology. Rather, we needed to focus our efforts on pedagogy and the change in instruction needed when students have access to pretty much all known knowledge at their fingertips.

Now, there are so many ways educators are making the shift, improving their pedagogy and providing innovative ways for students to engage in learning. However, we saw there was one approach that could have a much greater effect on learning.

Problem or Project-Based Learning has been around much longer than any device or technology. The definition for these differs everywhere you go but in essence students are given a problem and options for presenting their solution and understanding of the content that makes up that solution. This was the method we used in our district, as many of the teachers were formally trained in PBL; however, we put our efforts into creating authentic-based learning.

For us, authentic-based learning meant that students were given problems that relate to their life. They were problems their schools or communities were facing, so the solutions they created were practical and meaningful. Many times traditional PBL has students take on a role they can’t relate to. What we found was that when students are working on a problem that directly affects them or their community they become highly engaged in the learning process.

So where you can start?

Buck Institute for Education-The Buck Institute is regarded as the leading source for anything and everything Problem-Based Learning. What I really like about the resources here is that they are easy to access and highly authentic. Not only do they have a huge archive of curriculum resources, they also have videos, webinars and more. This is a site you will spend a lot of time with whether you are new to PBL or experienced with it.

Authentic Based Learning For Students-Kathy Schrock has curated a large collection of resources on everything authentic based learning. From frameworks to assessments and more, you will find a lot of great content here.

As you can probably guess, this method of learning isn’t dependent on technology. Many of our teachers were trained knowing they would gradually ease into BYOD. However, technology does enhance this type of learning. It provides students with more access to real-time information, as well as the ability to connect to more resources and create the information needed to make an argument. There’s a deeper level of engagement you can’t get offline.

If you are in a classroom or school that is moving more toward mobile devices for learning it’s important to know that your pedagogy has to change. Simply using devices to look up answers or take assessments isn’t anything that could be done without them. Look for ways to use the devices for learning that wouldn’t be possible without them.

Authentic-based learning is just one way. What are some of the ways you are using devices to take learning to another level?

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Learning Beyond The Classroom Walls

When I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology, I started out like many students do. I sat down at my laptop, went to Google and started searching. Eventually I landed on a program at an in-state university that was one of the first of its kind. Everything was virtual. Not once in the 18 months I was in the program would I set foot on campus. I completed everything from the comfort of my home or the road.

Just a few years ago, programs like the one I completed were very few and far between. There have been correspondence courses for a number of years but these normally led to certificates and rarely led to actual degrees. Today, students of all ages have virtually an unlimited number of options to not only obtain degrees in any number of subjects, but to learn from some of the leading thinkers and doers around.

Take online degrees like the one I got. More and more traditional colleges and universities are providing these as an option for both traditional and nontraditional, working students. Many students can now obtain full degrees, from bachelor’s to PhD, all from a laptop in their living room, rather than a stuffy classroom in a building named for someone few remember. This idea of anytime learning extends far beyond K-12 and has far-reaching effects in higher education as well.

Traditional colleges and universities are also facing a new generation of learning options through MOOCs. Massively Open Online Courses are just that - virtual classes on many topics where you might be in a class with your neighbor or someone from Sub-Saharan Africa. These courses touch all continents, and in many cases are taught by the same professors and educators who are teaching them in prestigious colleges and universities around the world. And, in the case of courses offered by colleges and universities, they are free to take. Who wouldn’t want to learn about Economics or Physics from leaders in the field, for free?

Where can you discover some of these innovative courses?

Lifehacker U-This is the first site I visit when I want to see what’s new in the world of virtual learning. The folks over at Lifehacker put together some pretty comprehensive lists of free courses on a wide variety of topics, including Computer Science, Astrophysics, Dinosaur Paleobiology or The Importance of Play In Everyday Life. There’s course for almost anyone!

Keep in mind there are a few things to consider before enrolling in online courses, so do your homework. You might want to consider what the course outcome will be, if the courses lead to degree or certification, or if there is additional course work you’ll need that isn’t offered online.

It’s not easy to convert a face-to-face course into a virtual experience. So make sure you also research whether the professors and educators leading the course are certified to teach online. It doesn't hurt to ask if you can sample the course to ensure it will meet your needs, too.

Online and virtual courses are certainly a convenient way to engage in learning, whether it’s to further your education or just to learn something new. Just be sure to find the one that’s right for your needs.

Happy learning!

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.