It’s nearly two years since Shelly Blake-Plock wrote “21 things that will become obsolete in education by 2020” on his TeachPaperless blog. I’d highly recommend it for a mid-week read - and perhaps use it to stimulate some thinking on where you can help your own organisation as you move into the future - whether you work in an education institution, or you’re a Microsoft partner working with education customers.
Having moved from the UK to Australia at the beginning of this year, I’ve found that there are lots of differences between the two education systems, and the way that they are moving forwards organisationally. Re-reading Shelly’s ‘21 Things’ list has prompted me to think & write about a few of those - hopefully in a way that’s useful to supplement Shelly’s list. So here’s my take on the 21 list, and some comparisons between the UK and Australian schools in their progress on Shelly’s journey:
1. Desks In both the UK and Australia, there are plenty of experimental learning spaces being built. I don’t feel we’re there yet in terms of finding a best practice model for learning spaces, but the journey’s definitely happening. Will it get rid of desks? Perhaps, or perhaps we’ll actually see the end of regimented learning spaces and fixed desks. (The first thing both of my children asked for when we arrived in Australia was to have a desk in their own bedrooms - to give them a space to spread their learning out in front of them)
2. Language Labs In two years we’ve made a huge leap, and now it’s any place/any device that can become a language learning tool. My 'deeply-unimpressed-by-anything-her-Dad-says' 16-year old was actually impressed when she saw the translation capabilities built into the latest Windows phones, when we took a photo of her French textbook, turned it into text, and then translated it into English without needing any other software/web tricks.
3. Computers We’re not going to see ‘computers’ replaced by phones in everybody’s pocket. In fact, the trend I see with new devices is that we’re adding more devices in the classroom and in learner’s hands, and they all complement each other. Some are great for consumption, but less than ideal for creating information. That may change sometime, but at the moment we’re still heading towards ‘more’ rather than less devices in learners’ and teachers’ hands.
4. Homework There’s certainly plenty of enthusiasm for ideas like the flipped classroom, but there’s also a very traditional belief that students need to be given homework - and that’s as strong, or even stronger, here in Australia as in England, so this is probably one of the last things that’s going to change, because we’re going to need changes to some deeply embedded behaviours and beliefs to see this come about (and the research-driven jury appears to still be out on this).
5. The Role of Standardised Tests in College Admissions In Australia, as in other countries, there’s a continuing focus, and debate, on standardised testing - and the use of the data that it produces. I’m not qualified to really dive down into this debate, but the comment I’d add here is that I think the move to online assessment will help us with the purpose of testing - understanding what a student has learnt, where they need more support, how to help them on their next journey step. This is because we can improve the speed of feedback and make it more usable for current and future learning. It removes the long gap between the test and the feedback (and it adds massively to the ability for a teacher to analyse and act upon results)
6. Differentiated Instruction as the Sign of a Distinguished Teacher One of those things that I don’t know enough about to comment!
7. Fear of Wikipedia One in six Australian schools still block Wikipedia. ‘Nuff said.
8. Paperbacks Shelly said “Books were nice. In ten years' time, all reading will be via digital means”. I actually think that what we’re going to see is the appropriate content published in the appropriate way. When my children are doing their homework I see them having multiple books open, jumping between them and comparing information in them to digital information. That’s why they need a desk! (And see ‘lockers’ below). So we’re going to see a change in the mix of digital and paper media, not the end of one caused by another.
9. Attendance Offices This is an area where we may go further by 2020 - we may see a complete redefinition of ‘attendance’, based on when and where you’re learning, rather than assuming that being in a physical place for prescribed hours means you’re learning.
10. Lockers On current experience, we’re going to need bigger lockers! One of the huge changes that I’ve noticed between England and Australia is that kids here go to school with massive backpacks - my daughters sometime leave home with 8 kilo backpacks. This is because they are expected to carry around a big pile of text books, plus folders plus their laptop. And then they get their homework assignments printed on paper. So what’s happened is that technology has been added on top, and there hasn’t been a systematic approach to change existing practice. The result - heavier backpacks, not lighter ones.
11. IT Departments I agree with Shelly that this is really about the change in the role of IT Departments, not their disappearance. They are going to undergo a series of changes that will drag the most recalcitrant ones kicking and screaming into providing a user service, rather than looking for reasons not to do things. Ultimately this will hugely empower IT departments, and hopefully the same thing will happen in education as is happening in business - they are being seen as the powerhouse of transformation, because of what they can enable. (And in the corporate world, there are increasing examples of large organisations where it’s the CIO that’s being promoted to CEO. Wonder if we’ll see that soon in an education institution?)
12. Centralised Institutions Australia is in a different place politically to the UK in the journey of de-centralising education - which is one of the key factors which enables the creation of less-centralised learning institutions. There are political, financial and organisational barriers to overcome before this change can happen systemically in education in Australia.
13. Organisation of Educational Services by Grade Probably linked to (12), this is also going to take longer to happen than Shelly predicted.
14. Education School Classes that Fail to Integrate Social Technology Yep, this is already happening, and there’s less fuss about it in Australia than in the UK. There are less scary newspaper headlines for Australian teachers, and more comfort in terms of organisational support and guidance. For example, teachers have an official NSW education Social Media Policy that supports their use of social media in learning.
15. Paid/Outsourced Professional Development In technology terms, I personally believe that in both Australia and the UK, there isn’t enough focus on Professional Development in IT projects. All too often over the last decade, education IT projects have focused on the ‘what’ - the hardware, software, services - at the expense of the ‘how’ - pedagogy, change management and professional support for teachers/users. It’s no different between the two countries, but wouldn’t it be great if we changed the way that technology is bought, and focused on the outcomes, and less on the widgets & gadgets?
16. Current Curricular Norms I agree with Shelly’s original thought, which is firmly established here in Australia: “There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialised learning.”
17. Parent-Teacher Conference Night Some schools do an excellent job of keeping in touch with their parents, and providing a ongoing narrative of their children’s learning progress. But the majority lag behind - there’s no shortage of general parental communication (paper newsletters, email udpates, special announcements) but little that is specific to their child. This is an area where Australia is definitely trailing the UK, and where the UK government policy directive of schools providing online parental gateways and regular online reports has forced a rethink for many schools - and improved the regular insight that parents have into their children’s progress.
18. Typical Cafeteria Food There’s nothing I can add to this, as I've not yet been hosted to enough school lunches in Australia to compare to years of school lunches in the UK!
19. Outsourced Graphic Design and Webmastering Shelly says ‘Let the kids do it’, and he’s spot on. Give them real-life projects. Your students are writing mobile phone apps for learning, designing websites, helping their parents create business presentations in PowerPoint and re-imagining the world with technology. Why shouldn’t they apply those skills to help you with your social media strategy for student engagement, website design or even curriculum material design?
20. High School Algebra There’s nothing I can add to this thought either (mainly because my struggle to understand the subject was demonstrated when helping my 16-yo with her homework!)
21. Paper Shelly said “In ten years' time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%”. Sadly, I think we’re going the wrong way on the trend line in Australia - increasing the amount of paper usage. Despite the massive investment in technology that should reduce paper use - laptop 1:1 schemes, interactive whiteboard projects etc - Australian schools are even bigger users of paper than UK schools. The average UK high school uses around 1-2 million sheets of copier/printer paper a year. In Australia, I’ve come across schools that are using four times as much - 6+ million sheets a year. That’s a pile of paper that’s over 8x the height of the Sydney Opera House. This is one area that is definitely not going to happen on it’s own. In the UK, the public sector budget cuts, and the downward pressure on school budgets has led to projects like Alan Richards’ Paperless School.
With pressure on education budgets in Australia, perhaps we’ll see similar projects here too? (Or are there some already?)
There are lots of areas where Shelly’s predictions are happening, and two years on, the list looks like a good list to refer to and benchmark against. The question for me now is whether some of these things are happening fast enough? For example, could more effort be invested in reducing paper usage, to free up funding and resources for other teaching and learning needs? If there’s a new model of learning coming, then we’re going to need to find ways to fund the shift from today’s model - now matter how gradual the shift is. That’s where Shelly’s list might help aid the discussion.
Read the original “21 things that will become obsolete in education by 2020” on the TeachPaperless blog.