Tuesday, November 22, 2011

JISC Innovating e-Learning 2011 - David Puttnam's keynote

Some notes (made up from my tweets during the talk) from the opening keynote of JISC Innovating e-Learning 2011. Held online, the lack of conference freebies was made up for by sheer convenience and ability to participate!

So... the keynote. Delivered by Lord David Puttnam and entitled 'Towards a Digital Pedagogy'. It was a good talk although, as someone observed, he didn’t actually touch on much pedagogy throughout his presentation.  However... definitely worth listening to.

He opened with some extremely interesting contextual material - the notion that we have perceived creativity as a Western phenomenon, for example, means that we have taken our eye off the ball in terms of what’s going on in countries like China.  There has also been a distinct lack of political wisdom in the West and this is problematic when we start to look at education.  Not least because we are complacent in terms of what we can do compared to what others can do.  Again, the point goes back to our perception of China as a producer of cheap products, but the reality is that their impact on creativity (primarily discipline-based creativity and innovation as opposed to free-form originality) has been huge.  Puttnam said that ‘the idea that China will never be creative is our own personal fantasy... we have been looking West when we should have been looking East’.  In essence, as a country we have been complacent and our investment in the future of education - and the investment in ICT in education - has been falling in the EU, despite it representing a dividend.

He then went on to talk about the level of skills within education.  An interesting comparison he made was between medicine and education.  He said that if you took a surgeon from 1911 and dropped them in the 21st Century they would be able to do nothing as their skills would have become obviated by all the advances which have occurred in the past century.  If you took a teacher from 1911, with their ability to stand in front of a board and talk at pupil... and put them in the 21st Century, they’d just about survive.  What does this say about education?  What does it say about pedagogy?  Puttnam concluded that we haven’t moved on in terms of educational development, despite all of the developments in aligned fields such as psychology etc.  He went on to say that we’re losing the trust of learners because of this disconnect.  In order to win back their trust we need to engage far more with their world and also engage with it as they do.

The point is that ‘you will never successfully influence anyone if they don’t believe you to be authentic’ (Puttnam, 2011) and I think this doesn’t just relate to school-based education, or even student - tutor education - it also relates to our role as professional developers.  We are disconnected from the world in which our academic colleagues are working and our guidance is inauthentic and therefore dismissible.  

In terms of how the modern learning space should look, Puttnam suggested that students should become the moderators of their own learning, helping each other to learn.  Where this puts traditional forms of teaching such as the lecture or the ‘chalk and talk’ work which is so typically found in education, it wasn’t clear.  It appeared that an entirely fresh look at education was needed.  A useful analogy was that simply digitising existing teaching materials was like telling the man who used to walk in front of cars with a red flag, to jog.  He then asked what an entirely digital pedagogy could achieve?  An interesting question - and there isn’t an answer to this yet.

There were some interesting points made about the role or potential role for voice recognition in education.  The process of ordering your thoughts to make them coherent for a third party is about oracy and about organisation - key skills for the future.  Though the technology is in the early stages of mainstream use, with Google, Apple (Siri) and Amazon involved, change will inevitably quicken.  It may not be an educational issue now, but Puttnam suggests strongly that it’s an area to keep an eye on.

The last section of his presentation concerned skills development - of teachers - and of the socio-economic value of education.  No educational system, Puttnam said, was better than the quality of its teachers and it was essential to commit to teacher training and ongoing skills development (and allow this to be two-way).  Further, there needs to be global acceptance of the importance of educating women.  Plus, recognition of the impact quality education has on many other areas such as health - investment in education is a win-win situation.  

This could be the ‘Gettysburg Address’ moment for education (Cathy Davidson, 2011 - http://www.cathydavidson.com/2011/11/why-this-is-a-gettysburg-address-moment-for-higher-education/) and it’s worth a read as a provocative and thought-provoking piece of writing which looks at these debates.  The issues currently faced by students are those faced by society more widely, it’s just that they’re hitting students with particular force.  

The TES community - with approx 2 million (off the top of my head that was the figure quoted!) users was cited as being an exciting development.  Bringing together teachers who were discussing and developing themselves.  This feeds into the creativity in learning which he touched on earlier.  Another interesting suggestion he made was that the learning environment should become a ‘copyright-free zone’, where teachers could teach with whatever they laid their hands on.  There would and should be a responsibility for them to teach respect for copyright, but that within the classroom, there should be far greater freedom.  Issues surrounding copyright and fear of infringement are a real barrier to creativity and reuse - which is currently hampering the type of learning which students can experience.

Three themes were summarised as:
1. Use technology creatively as a means to an end not an end in itself (nothing new here and something I strongly support!)
2.  Voice recognition and the importance of oracy plus its value to learners.  It is a big issue... what role will it play?
3.  This is the ‘Gettysburg Address moment’ for Higher Education - what lessons might we also learn from the student protests of the 1960s?

Moving on to talk about employability, Puttnam said that it was a crime that any young person should be unemployable when they leave school - but asked how this could be meshed with parents so that they understood its importance.  He also said that change in education was difficult but used the example of the Open University to illustrate this.  It had been with great resistance by all of the cabinet that the OU had been started - and as Wilson’s ‘pet project’ it was allowed to go ahead.  When Heath came along, he wanted it closed down as he didn’t see the value - but Thatcher prevented that from happening.  The Open University smashed through as a vision. As educators, Puttnam said, we have to take the same risks and get past the obstructions presented to us - even by the leaders of the day.  You need guts to get things through (very very true!).  Technophobia has no place in education.

A final word about the Russell Group and the divisiveness currently going on in Higher Education.  Although it isn’t being explicitly said, Puttnam says that some universities will close as a result of the financial changes being imposed.  Students as customers also not that helpful - they have a different set of criteria to students.  Imagining that the Russell Group will be able to move the UK into the 21st Century was a mistake.  Puttnam cuttingly said that they were a ‘cartel moving fowards on its own terms’ and ‘a disaster’.  Educators needed to work together to deliver a compelling learning experience for every student.  If we slice away at the edges, as the Russell Group are doing, this makes us failures as educators.  A real challenge to those of us who work for Russell Group institutions!

Thought-provoking and challenging.  A good keynote and great start to JISC Innovating e-Learning 2011.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...