Monday, March 19, 2018

NZ school qualifications - review

There has been discussion for several years in NZ, on how to reform the NZ school qualification structure. There is already a high level review of NZ education system, signaled by the new Ministery of Education, with movement in the vocational education sector as summarised in my last blog.

One avenue explored is from this report by the NZ Initiative, titled "Spoiled by Choice".  The NZ initiative is a non-partisan 'think-tank' which is on the 'right' of the political spectrum. It seeks to promote competitive, open and dynamic economies and a free fair and cohesive society through uncovering policies and ideas.The report, provides a good overview and history of the National Certificate in Education (NCEA), which was introduced between 2002 and 2004. Both my children just missed the changeover and finished their secondary school just before NCEA began, so I was spared the angst of having to understand the 'new' system. The report details the promises and how some of these became challenges. One aspect being the process of 'credit harvesting' and the shift of teachers and students to 'teaching / learning for the assessment'. The report also proposes that NCEA has not lessened the socio-economic divide and that a 'one size fits all' system has been difficult.

Stuart Middleton, who has been a supporter of NCEA provides a summary In particular, he has always advocated the 'flexibility' inherent within NCEA to meet the needs of student who are 'non-academic' and seek a different pathway through school towards work or tertiary study which is vocational.

The main recommendations in the NZ Initiative report are:
Raise English and te reo and maths requirements
Expect a broader core of subjects
Reduce number of standards
Make it harder to teach to the test
Reduce reliance on internal assessment
Use comparative judgment software 
Commission independent analysis.

Another report which is connected is one commissioned by the Children's Commission in NZ. This report - titled "Education matters to me: key insights" provides for the student voice. A summary is provided through Stuff. In the report, there is a call to listen to students and to be cognisant of their needs. In particular, their individuality, what they bring with them to school, an end to racism and to 'teach me the way i learn best'. 

As any change in the school system impacts on tertiary education, it is important to keep up with what is happening. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Vocational Education reform - New Zealand

The coming few years will be interesting times for NZ educators across all sectors from early childhood to tertiary. The new Labour government has launched discussions into an overhaul of the NZ education system. The Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, announced late last year, sweeping reforms of the sector, including review of National Certificates in Education and scraping National standards at primary school level.  There will also be a study into the funding model for the 16 NZ Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs).

The last major reform in NZ of education was 30 years ago when the then Labour government devolved centralised control of schools through the 'tomorrow's schools' changes. As with all reforms, there have been pluses and minuses and winners and losers. The National Centre for Educational Research NZCER has a series of reports on impacts through the years.

It is timely to look into how NZ's education system is coping with the advent of 'future of work' impacts and 'Industry 4.0'. As will all reforms, there will be compromises and people with strong opinions along the right / left continuum.

One of the initiatives into seeking opinion on how to go forward with vocational education in NZ, was a workshop convened in Manukau a couple of weeks ago - the Voices of Tertiary Education forum. The workshop gathered representatives from the teacher unions, students, and ITP leaders to produce some recommendations for the NZ VET sector. There was another workshop for the university sector as well.

The outcomes from the workshop include:

·        - Work with staff, students and sector leaders to develop a new funding model
·        - Ensure a new funding model guarantees the regional provision of tertiary education, so all people can access learning opportunities in their communities
·        - Take the immediate step in Budget 2018 of changing the Student Achievement Component funding under-delivery figure to a more reasonable level
·        - Host further forums dedicated to discussing the future of the vocational education and training sector
·     -    Build a system that recognises and provides for diverse learners – including, but not limited to, Māori, Pasifika, second chance learners, sole parents, mature students, students with disabilities, and LGBT

In general, responses from the sector have been positive, to need to re-vitalise and re-evaluate IPT funding systems. For example, Toi Ohomai CE was mostly optimistic. TEU also collected responses from Kirk HOpe who is CE of Business NZ - who called for better alignment between qualifications, educational outcomes and industry and Sandra Grey, National TEU president response of a call to action to make the NZ educational system better. Chris Whelan, Executive Director of Universities NZ, provides the university perspective.

All in, there is a need to keep up with what is happening as the sector submits proposals and various committees are convened to discuss and feedback on recommendations. Exciting times ahead :)

Monday, March 05, 2018

Industry 4.0 - challenges and implications to education - NZ context

The term Industry 4.0 was coined in Germany around 2011. It has roots in the manufacturing industry and the term is based on societies move into the 4th industrial revolution. First one being the use of water power and steam to drive machines, second the shift into mass production and the use of electricity, and the third being the info. tech. computer and automation revolution. The fourth industrial revolution is premised on 'smart technology' with the leveraging of AI and robotics, the internet of things (IoT) and integration across machines and devices.

The principles driving Industry 4.0 are interoperability, information transparency, support of human work by cybernectic / cyberphysical systems, and decentralized decision making (i.e. AI).

In NZ, Callaghan Innovation convened a meeting of industry leader to discuss the impact of Industry 4.0 on NZ manufacturing and wider industries. Industry 4.0 is envisaged eventually to encompass all aspects of manufacturing across the supply chain. For example, NZ primary industries have been working for many years on a 'farm to fork' system to better meet customer needs but also to maintain sustainable practices. Industry leaders across NZ have had many occasions to catch up the implications to their businesses - including this article (2015) and this conference on the internet of things. (2017).

The impacts on education are many. Firstly, there is the push towards STEM as Industry 4.0 hinges on the interface and interconnections between machines, materials and digital technologies. However, understanding the implication to humans, the society at large and being able to see the big picture, requires a high degree of critical thinking. The humanities need to be proactive in representing the 'human' in how industry 4.0 evolves. Secondly, there is the need for all to understand the promises and possible threats of IoT, in particular, the pervasive effects across future lives. Education needs to prepare people for collaboration not only with others but to include 'non-human' entities. Included is the need to be able to work across a networked world, whereby cultural competency includes others who view the world with different perspectives. Thirdly, there is a need to help all individuals become savvy about how to proceed in a world which changes rapidly and where 'careers' across a lifetime, shift constantly. This NZ Herald 2016 article calls for the need to prepare 'kids' for the robot revolution and recommends an optimistic approach to meeting the surge of change. As the new Minister of Education announces reforms in the NZ education system, it will be important to contribute to the discussion as this is a crucial time for how countries shift their education systems to cope with the challenges of Industry 4.0.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Microcredentialling - overview

Microcredentialling is one of the ‘buzz’ items now rapidly becoming a ‘must have’ within formal institutions’ portfolio. In NZ, there have been growing interest in, see this and this, and the NZ qualifications Authority (NZQA) is undertaking a series of pilots – edubits – to work out how micro-credentials could be implemented.

However, there are many interpretations of what actually are micro-credentials, see here for one.

In general, microcredentials belong within established suites of qualification options. They may be useful in the following segments of learner journeys:

As a precursor to entry into a programme, or shift to slightly re-configured job etc.

Within a formalised programme of learning to enable greater flexibility – i.e. through ‘stacking’, RPL or recognition of ‘soft skills’ etc.

For continual professional development – e.g. programmers up-skilling to new programming language.

An established case study distilled some principles for development and implementation of micro-credentials within a teacher professional development programme.

Within the NZ context, Mischewski from E2E completed a report for the Tertiary Education Commision to find out how micro-credentials can be used to improve engineering as an educational option, in particular at diploma level. Figure 5 – page 23 provides an example in engineering – for how microcredentailling may be useful for beginning, developing, upskilling and expert engineers and the types of learning including micro, work-based and formal that can be credentialed. The report also summarises pros and cons within the NZ engineering industry and education contexts.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Future skills for work - NZ context

The NZ Heraldreported last week, that NZ education came up tops with regard to preparing people for the world of future skills. These skills include:

  • interdisciplinary skills
  • creative and analytical skills
  • entrepreneurial skills
  •  leadership skills
  • digital and technical skills and
  • global awareness and civic education.

We need to move from thinking about employability skills etc. to focus more on preparing people for being able to understand, navigate and survive the coming challenges wrought by AI and robotics on work – see one example Frey et al.

Many exponents of solutions promote the adoption of Universal Basic Income (UBI), including the current NZ government on 'the future of work' summarised in a previous blog. However, the UBI only goes part way. Individuals still need to be proactive and have the wherewithal to work out for themselves, their aspirations and carve a career 'pathway or trajectory' for themselves. The provision of UBI may be seen as a soft landing cushion for individuals seeking to or are forced to re-evaluate their work options

See two previous book reviews summarising the need for individuals to be assisted - Book by Gratton on the shift to the future of work and Thompson on 'smarter than you think'. Both, along with this paper by Dr. Gog Soon Joo, advocate for a shift in thinking from the current model of education to skills to employment to one which is centred more around the individual being prepared to take ownerships of their trajectory – the entrepreneur to professional to leader career.

Dr. Gog's context is Singapore, which is mentioned in two recent reports prepared by the World Economic Council on the future of work. The first report - future of work - accelerating workforce reskilling fro the fourth industrial revolution - features the Institute of Adult Learning (IAL) and the second report - a white paper on reskilling - uses the Skills Future as one of the case studies of a whole government initiative to provide citizens with information, incentives and advise on continual professional development.

With the Labour party forming the current government in NZ, some of the recommendations proposed from their future of work project, will no doubt inform some of the ways forward. Over the last five years, career pathways (see vocational pathways) and careers information through careers NZ (which was recently res-structured) have improved markedly. However, there is still a focus on the 'education to skills to employment' approach with some modicum of preparing the individual with skills to move their own career on - the role and agency of the individual, still needs to be made more overt though. See this 2011 paper by Vaughan on shifting the NZ system to enable individuals instead of concentrating on skills development. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

SEED (Sharing Educational Experience and Development) - Ara Institute of Canterbury

Here are notes taken at the first Ara’s annual SEED (Sharing Educational Experience and Development) for 2018.

The theme for this session was technology in the classroom.

First up is Melissa Barber, programme leader for LevelCertificate in Study and Career Preparation for pre-health and medical imaging pathways. She presents on ‘the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning in the pre-health programme’. Began with background on the programme and focus of the presentation – to improve students' on-going engagement and revision as the programme progressed. Implemented a series of summative on-line quizzes on 2 courses, to increase engagement. Six quizzes in total, usually held every 2 weeks and with each having 15 items. Time limit for students to complete the quizzes and best score of 5 out of the 6 used to calculate final mark. Replaces a high stakes 90% exam. Still an exam but lower weighting (40%) and the progressive quizzes provide feedback on progress so students are able to access support with weak areas.  Second iteration being run this semester and will be evaluated to obtain feedback on efficacy of this approach. Included will be monitoring beyond this programme of students as they move across to degree programmes. To ensure there is authenticity of student undertaking the quiz, the time frame is over weekends and questions and multiple choice options are randomised. Each student then goes through a different version. The quiz is open book but students only have 30 minutes to complete. Questions ensued on robustness of our LMS and challenges of running summative assessments on it. Keeping to short quizzes and time delimitation helps. Need to ensure students are provided with proviso that they may have to resit if LMS fails.

Nathan Walsh provided a quick overview of OneNote Classnotebook and how it can be used to support learning.

Secondly, Dr. Isis Carter from Applied Sciences on ‘the use of Moodle forums for engagement and formative assessment in applied science’. Used forums for level 5 course on Industrial biomolecules. Was keen to improve students' ability to communicate and collaborate to prepare them for work in science – which is premised on high levels of collaborative work. Important to also provide formative feedback to students. Used forums (weighted at 10%) as the tool to encourage students to communicate clearly in writing on complex content. Students commented (at least to two peers) on each other’s postings to help each other refine their ‘final’ submission. Has run for two years (but with small number of students) and adjusted assignment to match learning outcome. The forum provided a means for the tutor to model good writing practice and scaffold students to the level of writing expected. These then useful for completing written report as students could use initial work from the forum and also from other students (but credited). Students needed confidence to undertake feedback, they had to learn the language of science and for feedback. Student feedback indicates need to build student confidence and student engagement increased when grade added for timely responses.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Smarter than you think – book overview

Here is an overview of the book - Smarter than you think; How technology is changing our minds for the better - by Clive Thompson. Published 2013 by Penguin Press.

Positive review from nytimes.

The book proposes humans are innately wired up to learn. AI/ robots / AI agents etc. are only as good as their programmes. When both machines and humans work together, they are better than all human or all AI efforts. Therefore, it is important to leverage off the potentialities of AI etc. rather than fearing the coming onslaught.

Additionally, the way we perceive the world and ‘knowledge’ has changed with the widespread availability of information and the ubiquity of ‘smart devices’. Instead of being passive consumers, large numbers now create and share their efforts. People who would not have written / shared experiences beyond their friends and families 30 years ago, now upload opinion pieces, instructions, reflections etc.

The book has 10 chapters and is written in an accessible prose. Notes (30+pages) and index round off the book.

By way of introduction, chapter 1 ‘the rise of the centaur’ sets the scene. The chapter uses the well-known late 90’s batter between chess master Gary Kasporov and the IBM Deep Blue to introduce the concept that both humans and computers have their own strengths and weaknesses. In 2005, ‘free-style’ chess tournaments saw two relatively lower ranked chess players, who were able to ‘collaborate’ with a chess computer, win the tournament against teams made up of grandmaster chess players or chess computers only. The ability to integrate machine assistance into the decision making process of chess, is argued to be the defining factor. This chapter also presents how the author has shifted positions, from being pessimistic about the future digital future, to being optimistic about how humankind has been able to leverage off the many opportunities afforded.

The second chapter, ‘we the memorious’ overviews the ways people remember and discusses the pros and cons of recording ‘life blogs’ or ‘video blogs’ of daily happenings. Technology allows us to have ‘infinite memory’ but too much is perhaps not always good.

Chapter 3 is on the theme ‘public thinking’ summarises the rise of ‘citizenship journalism’. How some ‘accidental bloggers’ became conduits for information when dictatorial regimes imposed news blackouts and the ways this form of communication has changed our lives forever. For large segments of society who never really did much reading or writing, the advent of blogging has shifted many into becoming much more literate to cope with a mostly text based internet. There is evidence first year students write longer pieces and more complex pieces when compared to two decades ago.

Of interest to educators, the chapter on ‘new literacies’ overviews the shift from the focus of literacy on reading and writing to encompassing multiliteracies. These include all the usual needs to become digitally fluent but also the visual literacies and ‘3D literacies’ which new tools and platforms bring.
Next chapter extends to the previous with discussion around ‘the art of finding’. Opens with a discussion on how being able to google, helps us surmount the ‘tip of the tongue’ syndrome but also may cause some to lose confidence when the internet goes down or their smart phone is unable to connect with the internet. Discusses how access to anytime/ anywhere information changes the way we prioritise what we learn and how dependence may affect our creativity. Too much information is a distraction but selected digital memories can amplify our access to brain functions.

Following is a chapter on ‘the puzzle hungry world’ which tracks the rise of digital games and the shift in how games are used by people. In particular, how games which require collaboration and harness collective thinking changes the way people play, work and learn.

The next chapter is also useful for educators as it discusses the potentialities digital technologies bring to the ‘Digital school’. Khan academy is used as an example of how primary school children learn advanced mathematics when they are allowed to become self-directed and learn for their own fulfilment. Uses example from NZ school on how blogging improved reading and writing for students as their work was being read by others beyond their own community. Also discusses the pro and cons of teaching children to code.

The chapter on ‘Ambient awareness’ adds another technology assisted capability / potentiality. The digital trail collected across our lives lead to data patterns, allowing analysis to reveal our routine life flow. Included are the networks we are part off and our perspectives on life. Collection of ‘self-talk’ and broadcasting these, help understand the perspectives across a team. The pros and cons of ambient awareness are discussed.

‘The connected society’ is the penultimate chapter and brings together the ideas from the previous chapters. Uses citizen instigated protests against the state in China / Egypt / Azerbaijian as examples of how technology, tapped through the expertise of a few becoming mainstream practice, is able to create social / political change.

The epilogue returns the discussion to AI with Watson, an IBM programme able to play Jeopardy - requiring AI to take intuitive leaps based on experienced living. At the moment, Watson runs on a supercomputer but predictions are for supercomputer processing speeds will be available within a decade on a laptop. If Watson is a precursor, that some of the quirks and idiosyncrasies humans are capable of, may no longer the sole domain of humans. 

Overall, the book can be seen to be counter to other books on a similar vein. For example - The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. My thoughts are than humans have survived due to their adaptability. Adaptations can go either way and most people will experience, learn and adjust. Not to the polar opposites of technology will make us all become subservient or we become part cyborg, but a sort of middle ground whereby some will have to work through 'addiction' to the less advantageous aspects of technology and other will overly embrace the perceived advantage. Education has to play a role in assisting people to understand the pros and cons, attain the literacies to make use of the aspects of technology which will enhance their lives, and continue to be vigilant as to how AI develops (i.e. the ethics of AI).