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Keir Whipp's blogs

  • There is a digital divide in the New Zealand education system and it's a 'wicked problem' with no clear solution (Bolstad et al., 2012).   And much of it comes down to money.  A danger of schools having to rely on philanthropists or private partnerships (Ministry of Education, 2014) to help pay the costs of a digital curriculum is that there are no measures to ensure resources are distributed equitably.  Why should the resources go to the school with the better contacts, or with the enthused pedagogue who knows what to ask for and who to ask for it?  It seems an anomaly in the system that some schools have access to private funds, community money, or expert staff whereas other schools do not.  A student no matter where they are from deserves the same opportunities as any other, no matter the circumstances.  Perhaps there needs to be a nation-wide strategy to make sure private and public funds are distributed equitably.

    Regardless of money, however, there are ways a school can cater for the digital generation.  For a school with a small budget, resourcing an e-learning programme will prove challenging but it shouldn’t obviate a BYOD policy or prevent teachers from sharing online classroom resources with their students.  Not if a school begins with what they've got, and in most high schools, most students have at least the basics:  a digital device that can access Web 2.0.  Like motor cars, digital devices are everywhere, and they mostly do what we want them to do.  Most cars get us from A to Z; it’s just how we get there and the comfort of the ride that varies.  Some cars look better, have better functionality and may impress the ones we want to impress a little more, but essentially they’re the same.

    The ubiquity of devices, however, is missing the point somewhat.  We need to delve deeper.  To exacerbate the problem, there is another kind of divide in our schools.  There is a chasm in education between digital teachers and non-digital teachers (and the non-digi teachers vastly outnumber the digi).  In Understanding the Digital Generation (2010) Ian Jukes, Ted McCain and Lee Crockett describe the digital generation (people born mid-90s onwards) as having a totally different upbringing to any generation preceding them, to the extent that the change is so vast like never experienced before.  When we were young, our teachers had quite similar upbringings to ourselves – bar a world war and a cultural shift from Cliff Richard to the Sex Pistols there was very little difference – but our students today have an upbringing vastly alien to our own.  And therein lies the rub.  This digital generation will become exponentially more alien as each new cohort enrols.

    So, although we may become frustrated at young people for not valuing the things we valued when we were kids – such as playing outside, chatting face to face, eating a shared meal with family, or reading a book for pleasure – we have to develop a greater understanding of what young people do value in a world that, perhaps ironically from a non-digital teacher's point of view, we created.

    Is understanding and empathy, then, more important than money and devices in our journey to foster 21st century learners?  It is a 'wicked problem' but perhaps we need to re-discover what the world is like from a kid’s perspective and learn to empathise with them.  Let’s start with what we've got by making a conscious effort to understand the digital student's world: to develop a greater empathy for the things they value and to see the world from their position.  It has never been so vital that we try to understand the lives of our students because never before have they been so dissimilar to our own.

    Bolstad, R., Gilbert, J., McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching — a New Zealand perspective. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

    Jukes, I., McCain, T., & Crockett, L. (2010). Understanding the Digital Generation: Teaching and Learning in the New Digital Landscape. Kelowna, Canada: 21st Century Fluency Project [co-published with Corwin].

    Ministry of Education. (2014). Future-focused learning in connected communities.  Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.  Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.minedu.govt.nz/theMinistry/EducationInitiatives/UFBInSchools/FutureFocusedLearning.aspx.

  • There are two facets of education that are not being developed far enough, and there is a strong argument that we have a moral imperative to address these issues (Christensen, Horn, & Johnson, 2008Fullan, 2013New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2011).  The first is meta-cognition and learning how to learn (Fullan, 2013); and the second is personalised learning, allowing students to learn in their preferred style, context and location (Christensen et al., 2008).  Both facets are fraught with challenges.  Empowering students in metacognition is complex and requires specialised tools and time.  Personalised learning requires an investment in resources and even more time.  However, these challenges can be overcome with the use of digital technologies.  The students of today are not the students of yesterday, and they will not be the students of tomorrow.  Education is by definition constantly changing to meet the needs and expectations influenced by societal change: change in knowledge, economy, values, pedagogy, and technology.  Schools have changed steadily over time in relation to the first four aspects listed above; in fact schools are very adept at change and have done so more successfully than most other organisations, it could be argued (Christensen et al., 2008).  However, pedagogy has not changed at the same rate as changes in technology, nor has it kept up with a generation of students who, as a result of technology, are vastly different to any other generation.  Technology has raced ahead of pedagogy and change knowledge that it can now be reconciled and used as a tool to help students to become meta-cognitive and learn how to learn (Fullan, 2013).

    Schools will adapt to meet the needs of a changing economy, but will schools adapt to meet the needs of a changing student body?  The term ‘digital natives’ is synonymous with ‘generation Z’ or ‘post-millennials’ and Eric Sheninger in his book, Digital Leadership explains “learners today are “wired” differently as a result of the experiential learning that is taking place outside of school” (2014 p. 15).  Schools are populated by digital learners receiving instruction from traditional teachers.  InUnderstanding the Digital Generation Jukes, McCain and Crockett illustrate differences between digital generation learners and non-digital teachers.  From a vast array of research they summarise that digital learners, for instance, prefer to learn “just in time”, but non-digital teachers prefer to teach “just in case” (2010 p. 35).  They summarise a list of differences that illustrate a chasm in education between learners and their learning.  Despite citing experiences of a non-digital world as the reason for a teacher’s preferred way to teach, the structure of the organisations in which teachers predominantly work will more than likely block a teacher from teaching any other way.

    Take, for example, a digital learner’s preference for “instant gratification with immediate and deferred rewards” whereas the preference of many educators is “for delayed gratification and delayed rewards” or for “learning that is relevant, active, instantly useful and fun” compared with “teaching memorisation in preparation for standardised tests” (p. 35).  In each case, the educator’s preference is influenced by the structures and processes of internal (organisational level) and external (governance and government level) systems.  This does not mean, however, that teachers cannot modify and redefine pedagogy to cater for digital learners.  Despite organisational structures, digital learning can occur.  This is one of the advantages of open source, online, digital technologies.  The argument being developed in this paper is not that traditional organisational structures are blocking progress toward a digital curriculum, but rather it argues why traditional practices should persist to dominate in a world where a better way is available to educators, a way that is strongly exemplified in research and government documentation.

    The strongest argument I can muster for e-learning is its ability to develop metacognitive students learning in a personalised fashion anything, anytime, anyway, anyhow, anywhere.  This can make the world flat (Friedman, 2005) for all students anywhere on the globe.  Students can learn in a context and style that is relevant to them.  Emancipation!


    Christensen, C., Horn, M. B., & Johnson, C. W. (2008). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. NY: McGraw-Hill.

    Friedman, T. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the 21st century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Fullan, M. (2013). Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge. Toronto, Canada: Pearson.

    Jukes, I., McCain, T., & Crockett, L. (2010). Understanding the Digital Generation: Teaching and Learning in the New Digital Landscape. Kelowna, Canada: 21st Century Fluency Project [co-published with Corwin].

    New Zealand Ministry of Education. (2011). OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes: Country Background Report for New Zealand.www.oecd.org/dataoecd/6/16/47797042.pdf

    Scheninger, E. (2014). Digital Leadership:  Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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