Scripting Bold Questions about the Future

Zhi Su @zzsu is guest blogger today at Learning the Now.  He has been at John Oliver for the past six years and is presently a media arts teacher and the school’s Technology Director.  He recently completed his Master’s of Educational Technology Degree at UBC, with a focus and interest in 1 to 1 learning and technology enhanced learning environments.

Zhi was instrumental in creating the school’s new Digital Immersion Program which is a 1 to 1 laptop program that aims to leverage technology and media arts as a tool for learning and to prepare students to be life-long learners while thriving in the digital age.

At present, Zhi is moving us forward as a school with his input in creating a digital media hub to help both staff and students move beyond consumption of information to the creation of information (i.e re-mixes and mashups). He is firm in his belief that all students should be empowered to present their learning through different mediums: mediums that speak to them and their generation.

Future directions include initiating discussion around the creation of a John Oliver Digital Media Program to further engage all learners wanting to pursue careers in graphics, animation, screen writing and film.

Zhi puts forward many interesting questions in this post and it has been an honour and a privilege for me to have spent the last 2 ½ years learning with him here at John Oliver.

This is Zhi Su’s blog:

On Monday, November 29th, I attended a PDK dinner meeting with eight other John Oliver Staff.  The topic: “Internet Connectivity, Personalization, and Engagement in Learning.”  I was intrigued from the outset because even though I am an edtech geek, I believe that technology is not the driver, but with effective use – it definitely becomes the enabler: the enabler and an essential building block that allows us to move beyond the physical walls of school and the 8:00-3:00 o’clock paradigm mentioned by Gino Bondi in his most recent post. I also believe that our educational processes and products need to be re-examined to reflect the exponential growth in technology and the speed with which information is now accessed and synthesized.

So, as I entered the Arbutus Club on that cold, damp Monday evening, I asked myself, who doesn’t want personalization for their child? Who wouldn’t want a system that would help their child maximize their potential and realize their hopes and aspirations?

Chris Kennedy spoke of the power of technology (the need to educate and model the use of technology for students) and the power that comes in sharing ideas through effective writing.  In tying the issue of writing with the fact that “video is a game changer,” Chris’ view was consistent with Jason Ohler’s perspective on digital storytelling: good screen writing or scripting is an essential part of video and further reinforces the need for learners to be good communicators in any medium. The question though is this: how do we ask educators who are neither tech savvy nor technology integrators to accept a different representation/demonstration of learning and acquired mastery? Who is going to teach digital citizenship and participation aligned with technological skills and affordance? Where does it fit in to the curriculum, and when does it need to be taught?

Janice Unwin talked about creating meaningful relationships and enabling learners, teachers and students to use ‘what is available’ to support learning. What struck a chord with me was her attitude: although she readily admitted that technology was not her forte, she stressed the importance of giving technology ‘a try’ and measuring the affordance in terms of its worth and benefits to teaching and learning.

Steve Cardwell spoke about many topics that were consistent with the current literature on personalization and 21st Century Learning. What stuck for me was his concept of student engagement and allowing all to learn through social media because this is the medium of choice for our current learners. It is useless to fight it and in the end it is about learning and engagement and not the technology. Teach to where students are at and help them move beyond superficial learning and immediate gratification to deeper learning and deeper experiences through a sustained, supported and rigorous educational plan.

Now, what if we redefined how we delivered this “educational plan?” What if we put that teacher and his/her lesson on video and asked students to watch it for homework? Students would now come to the lesson with the background knowledge and requisite questions, so that class time would be about real ‘hands on’ learning and analysis. Take it one step further: video record the hands-on work, review it, reflect upon it and blog it for discussion – deep learning and deep experiences that extends beyond the classroom.

In videoing and posting his lessons, this is what our Science Department Head, Lester Leung, does in his Chemistry classes. To me, this is teaching and learning in the 21st century context. Lester is not teaching technology, but rather leveraging technology to support and enhance the curriculum while engaging students with their medium of choice. Does it have to be personalized? I don’t know, but what if you took it even further and found a professional to help mentor students who are interested in pursuing a career in a specific field or perhaps identify experts to follow through social media like Twitter to keep students abreast of current developments and research (partnerships with post-secondary institutions and corporations are more important now than ever)?

Take this issue of personalization and attach it to our own professional development.  What if we all collaborated, used our collective expertise and created content around our passions?  What if we housed that content on a LMS and stored it on servers in the cloud where students could access and interact with digital learning objects on demand? Subsequently, what if we asked students to create digital artifacts to represent their learning in a variety of mediums? What if we took those artifacts and shared them with the public through an ePortfolio to be assessed and evaluated by a larger audience?

It seems radical, but is it really? Look at YouTube and marvel at the level of creativity and effort put into some of the works. What is their motivation? How do we harness that energy, enthusiasm and engagement?

What if teachers maintained connections and relationships through the use of ICT and leveraged technology to create time for F2F interaction for the four deeps mentioned by Steve Cardwell?

What if, what if, what if.

I have three children of my own and when I envisioned the John Oliver Digital Immersion Program, I asked myself what model would I want for my own children and that is what I set out to create.  Should we be teaching irrelevant curriculum or teaching in the context of the world we live in? The urgency for change is real and my motivation rests in my belief that my children are entering an educational system that it is not as great as it should or could be. I believe that true personalization is at its best when the learners have a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy in addition to being self-directed and self-motivated (in reference to Alan November). Give students the confidence and skills required to become life-long learners and help them become independent thinkers by showing and modeling for them how to access credible information, critically reflect upon it and create something personal, meaningful, and worthwhile. So, yes to more personalization; yes to project-based, problem-based, inquiry-based, and student-centered learning; yes to ensuring that a personalization framework ensures equity, equality and personal growth for all.

  1. The way you explain these issues is excellent. It is strange to me that we have to do so much to explain our point of view and justify the changes we’d like to see.

    “Who doesn’t want personalization for their child? Who wouldn’t want a system that would help their child maximize their potential and realize their hopes and aspirations?”

    I think parents would want this kind of system, but don’t even realize they can ask for it. They are stuck with their memories of school when they were kids, and have difficulty seeing other possibilities.

    Politicians are stuck in a regime where they generally can’t propose anything too radical because large changes are always mistrusted. Look at the difficulty Obama has had in reforming Medicare and all of the other changes he’s tried to implement. He has his country up in arms, and it’s because he’s proposed a bunch of unreasonable changes, it’s that the changes are too different from what exists.

    Educators who are resistant to these changes are stuck in their current mode because of the “my job” problem. They see changes as adding to their workload and not as beneficial to what they do. They’ve been disenfranchised for so long, they wouldn’t know what to do with real autonomy. They see what they do as “my job” rather than “my lifestyle”.

    If we can find a way to make these sound appealing to each of these three groups, we’ll go a long way toward improving education.

  2. Zhi: You’re speaking my language:) Thank you for articulating your thinking so clearly and sharing a vision of what teaching & learning could (does) look like. Definitely need the support of admin and colleagues to collaborate with to make this reality — it’s hard to do in isolation. Great post:)

  3. Well said Zhi. I think the next step now that we have the 21st century learning conversation up in full swing is the idea of time and place. If we truly believe that learning should be lifelong, then the physical and metaphorical walls of the system need to be broken down. Dan Pontefract’s TEDxUBC talk talked about the metaphorical walls that need to broken down but this was with regards to the system. If we wish to value learning that goes beyond the walls of the school, the facility that is our school must change. Flexible classrooms that encourage collaboration not only of students but of teacher. Nair-Fielding designs that we have seen encourage this. The temporal institution of the timetable must also work towards the benefit of the student. Are students ready to learn at 8:30 in the morning or are their brains ready for other activities? That’s the idea of the podcast: content on your time when you are ready, content in your location when you are ready. We still need a facility that is school, as we have learned that many students are unable to handle the responsibility of online learning. Students still need that face to face time and that feedback that can only come when in direct interaction with the teacher, but when and where the learning takes place? If the student is in control of this, that’s another step towards personalized learning. I feel that the school should become a place to meet and gauge where the student is at in their learning, but the learning should happen anywhere.

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