Reflections on 2014

As the New Year approaches I feel it is a good time to reflect on 2014 and all that I have done during the year. It is also time to start planning and to make my resolutions for 2015 and the year ahead.

 

So first of all the new year ends my sixth year in the middle east. This year I have attended 3 conferences in the GESS/GEF, Digital Education and Education Investment MENA conferences, presenting at 2 of them. My biggest reflection on these conferences is the lack of change in what is being presented, in what is being sold and on the reality on the ground. The conferences this year have felt very similar to previous conferences I have attended here in the Middle East in the five years previous. The messages presented in the key note speeches call for change including a need for personalisation of learning and for greater efforts to value creativity and to encourage student voice and leadership however this call is but an echo of the same call made in 2013, 2012, etc. The reality on the ground, in my opinion, is that little has changed. This being said I read similar calls for similar change on twitter from other parts of the world which suggests this is not an issue localised to the middle east. I believe this is an example of the fact that education is slow to change possibly as, as some people might say in defending traditional approaches, “we have done it this way for years”. My hope is that the calls for change must continue to be made and that they need to be echoed in greater numbers as each year passes but more than this we need ever increasing numbers of schools, school leaders, teachers and support staff to respond to the call for change and to do something about it, providing other schools a model to aspire to, or to inspire others towards action.

 

2014 saw me getting increasingly involved in using twitter, blogging, etc as I set out to build a bigger PLN and to share my ideas and thoughts but possibly more importantly on a personal note, for me to get ideas and views from others to help build and refine my understanding. Thinking back I think my plans for 2014 were grander with regards my PLN than that which I have achieved however this has very much been to do with studying for a Masters, ever demanding work issues and some personal trials and tribulations. I hope in 2015 to build on what I have done in 2014, including regular twitter use and involvement in various chats, regular blogging and possibly some videoblogs, however I do not necessarily expect to do more than this year, just to keep it regular and that brings me to my next point.

 

Work life balance! I have felt depressed over the last few days, as I have had some spare time on my hands. Having given some thought as to why this is the case, the conclusion I came to is that I am addicted to the fast paced work I do in providing consultancy services to schools and to my PLN, to twitter and my blogs and websites. All of this leaves little time for relaxing and for family. I have became that used to this pressure on my available time that when I have time I don’t know what to do with it and feel depressed as a result. My challenge for 2015 is to achieve a better balance, both for myself, for my family but also for my work as surely a more balanced and happy me will produce better outcomes.

 

2014 saw me develop a new data website for a project I work on requiring me to build on my understanding and skills with PHP, HTML, CSS and SQL.   I very much enjoyed doing this so my hope in 2015 is to identify a programming project I can get my teeth into although in relation to the work life balance issue above, this is low priority and therefore is likely the first thing I will put on hold.

 

I think this year I also realized that I possibly haven’t reflected much on the fact that I have now been working in education within the Middle East for six years. During that time I have seen large scale changes introduced with some meeting with success where others met with lesser success. As such I plan to do some reflection over the coming year over what it means to be an expat educator and also to share some of my many experiences, some good and some not so good.

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Sitting by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai writing this I realise that the above may focus on what I haven’t done in 2014 and what I will do in 2015 but I need to also recognize what I have done and have achieved in 2014. In 2014 I have supported 2 new schools in creating their IT strategies, infrastructure, hardware, software and services from pre-construction forward. One of these two schools has been built and now opened with equipment as specified while the other is due to be complete early in 2015 for opening in Feb/Mar. I have also developed a number of bespoke database systems under very short timeframes with constantly changing system requirements.    I have supported a number of school leaders across a number of schools in leading school improvement including but not limited to technology projects. I have completed my masters programime while juggling many other tasks and requirements, both work and personally related. I have served as a conflict resolution specialist on two or three occasion where I have been required to act as an intermediary between schools and other professionals engaged in disagreement. I have delivered repeated very successful ICT Champions programmes to teachers from schools all over the UAE trying to encourage more uae teachers to engage in developing professional learning networks plus to question what they believe to be fact and/or the way things should be done.    The ICT Champions programme within the UAE is definitely something I hope to build on during 2015.

 

In 2014 I feel I have achieved a lot however not as much as I would have liked, but then again I have, and will continue to have, high expectations. Although I have high expectations I need to temper this will a realistic viewpoint as to what is achievable given other constraints, as it is important to achieve balance in what has been done versus what I wanted to achieve but was unable to. As to 2015, I hope to build on this year, to do more of what matters, less of what doesn’t, to share and collaborate with others and above all to be true to myself in all I do.

 

Happy new year, all the best and may you meet with health and every happiness during 2015.

happy_new_year-hadkhanong
Image courtesy of hadkhanong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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Learning like its Christmas.

My son is getting ever more excited by the day as we get closer and closer to Christmas Day and the promise of opening the currently unopened presents to find out what is inside.   His excitement is built up of the expectation of receiving plentiful (and often expensive) gifts but also of finding out that which is currently unknown; what is inside the currently wrapped boxes?

What if learning could be about finding out the unknown, about a learning journey as opposed to a fixed set of outcomes determined by a curriculum document.

Now previously I believed in the need for three things within learning:

1)      That students know where they have been in their learning journey.   What have they learned so far and how does it relate to what they are learning now?

2)      That students know where they are in that journey.  What are they learning now and why?

3)      The students know where they going in the journey.    What will they be learning next and how does it relate to current and previous learning?

I believed that the above provided students with an appreciation of the big picture and that this was important to successful learning.

Considering my sons enthusiasm for Christmas, I wonder whether the application of the above rules may actually be limiting and may result in potential learning opportunities being missed.    My son is excited because of what might be in those presents, and because of the upcoming act of opening the presents and finding out what is inside.

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If we created learning opportunities built around investigation and experimentation where students work with teachers to find out new things; is this likely to be more engaging and result in better learning?

I think my key thinking is that there isn’t a single magic recipe for learning and that different approaches work at different time and with different students.    Unlike Christmas, learning does not benefit from an adherence to tradition and tried and tested methods but instead benefits from dynamic teaching and learning constantly changing to meet the needs of the learners, available resources and the content being taught.    Now I am referring to those “but that’s the way we have always done things around here” methods as opposed to up to date research based methodologies however I also accept that today’s current research may be tomorrows debunked research and as such the comments may stand for both.   Effective student learning benefits from teachers who are reflective of their own practice and who are constantly engaged in seeking out new and alternative approaches to try in their own classrooms.   Like Christmas, learning does benefit from true engagement of students where they are excited and involved, and where there is passion focussed on new learning and discovery.   I think everyone will agree that learning is more effective where students are enjoying and excited about what they are doing.

Considering again the theme of Christmas, what better gift can we provide students than the gift of new learning.     I think the key thing is that there isn’t a standard approach or strategy that will result in this gift, we as teachers need to breath a little bit of teacher magic into things, whether its Christmas or not.

Another EdTech Conference…..

Just a quick post today as I attended the Digital Education show in Dubai at which there were some excellent guest speakers however they are not the focus of this particular blog entry.    The focus of this blog entry was the educational technology visible on the show floor where various IT vendors hoped to sell schools learning management systems, datashows, interactive whiteboards, student voting systems, learning content and all manner of other tech.   IT vendors must hope that schools are in search of something that will impact on their school, and that they will wander around the stands of edtech in search of that something.    I saw demonstration after demonstration of flashy functionality or capability, of various hardware and/or software solutions

The issue is that the purchasing of edtech will not bring about improvements as tech is nothing more than a tool.   It relies on the person wielding the tool and it relies on the purpose to which the tool is being applied.    So if the purchasing of tech is on the basis of the tech and what it can do as according to the expert demonstrator, without consideration for who the users are and the purpose for which they are using the tech, then it is doomed to have only limited success at best.

Schools need to look towards the purpose of tech use.   What do they hope to achieve with tech?   What will tech use look like in their specific classrooms with their specific students?    How will tech impact on students and learning?    What constraints on tech use exist in their school?   How will the adoption of tech by staff be encouraged and supported?    How will tech use be supported and maintained over time?

In addition to schools rethinking their approach to tech maybe vendors need to relook at their approach as well and instead of showing what their tech can do, focus on showing off the purpose of their tech and the impact it can have on schools.