Predicting the future

Recently I have cause to review the schools 5 year plan for IT with a view to updating it however in doing so I have come to question the process.

Part of the reason for questioning the process lies with my recent reading of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and also The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb which I am currently reading.    In both books the author examines our ability to predict the future, with both authors arriving at the same conclusion, being that human beings track record in relation to future predictions is generally poor.    Both authors cite a variety of projects, where predictions in relation to costs and timescale in particular are required.   In each of the examples the project either ends up taking significantly longer or costing significantly more than anticipated.

Thinking about my own context, I oversaw an IT overhaul in a school back in 2007.   This was very much focused around updating the existing server and client PC infrastructure and developing a long term, 5 year plan for maintaining and renewing the equipment.   Had I been able to predict the iPad and its potential applications in education, which was only 3 years away and therefore well within the scope of my 5 year plan, my plan and also some of my actions may have been significantly different.

Given the above I have taken a different approach to my new 5 year plan.   I now accept that the further away from today, the more variable and unpredictable the future is.    Reflecting, this should not have been a surprise as unpredictability is compounded, like financial interest over time.   If you look at your mortgage bill and the total repayment amount you can see how a few percentile points compounded over a period of time can result in a significant increase on the original figure.   So a small percentage of unpredictability played out across a number of years would result in a significant level of unpredictability.

My new 5 year plan has a lot of detail in terms of what is planned for the coming 12 months.    Planning for the 2nd 12 months contains less items as this period is more difficult to predict, with planning for the 3rd year and beyond being progressively less detailed in line with the increasing level of unpredictability.

Now my thinking thus far has been focused on longer term planning in the magnitude of around 5 years with quite clear implications for periods extending beyond 5 years however is a similar issue applicable to short periods?    Can we accurately predict things within a single academic year?  If the answer to this is no then what implications might this have for planning within schools?    I also wonder about lesson planning however that may be for another posting.

How often do you engage in long term planning and in doing so have you considered quite how unpredictable the world is?

 

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Variability

dice

I just finished watching the season finale of Teen Wolf (and yes I know that possibly isn’t something I should be admitting) which has been a bit of a chaotic season.   In all honesty I am not quite sure that I fully understand all that has happened during this season however I have sat and watched it.   It kept me glued because of its unpredictability.

When looking at teaching and learning we emphasize the features which a so called “good” lesson should contain.   It should be appropriately differentiated, it should develop 21st century skills, it should foster individual and collaborative learning, it should encourage resilience and develop character, it should include a global dimension, etc.

As we attempt to do these things this might encourage a formulaic approach.   Working in some schools in the middle east I noticed a tendency for differentiation to have become almost synonymous with differentiated worksheets in some schools.    In an attempt to meet the requirements a single approach had been identified, in this case a worksheet with easy and then extended questions.

It is possible that as we endeavor to improve through identifying the things which should be in lessons we remove some of the variability in lessons.

Thinking of my own school experiences I remember a number of unique events for those teachers who I consider to have been my best teachers.   These events are remembered largely due to their uniqueness.   I remember the English teacher who removed all the tables from the class and had us sitting in a circle, something that was very uncommon at the time.    I remember the health and safety session in DT involving a rubber glove filled with tomato sauce and a bandsaw.

If we remove the variability will lessons be so engaging?   In seeking to ensure all lessons contain the elements which we deem to be important will we end up delivering lessons which are largely the same and therefore not as engaging?  Will the quest for systemic improvement lead to formulaic learning experiences which are un-engaging and the norm?

Ultimately if lessons are equated to a roll of a dice, we want to prevent students receiving a low score from their roll; a poor learning experience.    Given this we want to try to ensure that each roll results in a higher score, better learning experience, however will rolling loaded dice ultimately result in negative results despite higher scores?

 

Inconsistency in the quality of teaching

I have came across the above statement or similar statements across schools both here and in the middle east.   At first reading I would suggest that everyone, myself included, will take this to be a negative comment.   On reflection I am not so sure it necessarily is negative or in fact that it tells us anything.

Consider the “average” school and lets consider that the measure of quality of teaching is student outcomes.    Now I know this is a very limited model however it will hopefully serve its purpose in terms of proving a point which could equally be proven by using a different measure for the quality of teaching.

Within this “average” school there will be some above average teachers where outcomes come out as very positive.   There will also be those that come out as below average.    Would this be considered as consistent as clearly having different qualities of teaching would suggest inconsistency?

Lets assume what is meant be inconsistency is an inconsistency when compared with the national profile for the quality of teaching within any given school.    In this case our average school now becomes consistent in terms of quality of teaching.    Consistency is therefore referring to the distribution of individuals within the school with regards the quality of teaching, and how this compares to other schools.

Modifying the scenario a little lets say that some of the so called “weaker” teachers performance only gets worse while the stronger teachers only get better.    Our average still remains the same however is the school any more or less consistent given the wider variance between teachers and given the difference between this profile and the profile of the “average” school?

If some of the teachers formerly within the “average” band improve this would shift the average and change the distribution.   Is this inconsistency and if so could it not be viewed as a positive inconsistency?

Now I was considering using some further examples however have decided not to.  Instead I will point out my belief in the fact that teaching is a social activity involving a class full of students and a teacher all interacting.   Given it is a social activity involving 30 or more human beings and therefore influenced and affected by a multitude of different dynamic variables, consistency is highly unlikely.    Teaching is very much like chaos theory in that it is highly sensitive to its conditions, which are frequently changing.    As such how could any school be expected to demonstrate consistency?   Like chaos theory, we can only possibly perceive a pattern by looking at the much wider picture, as under close inspection we see nothing except the variability and the differences.    How might an inspection team or an internal mock-sted see this big picture?   I doubt they would do so how can a judgment indicating an inconsistency be arrived at?

And maybe something different, unique or not fitting in with the usual run of play may be a positive thing.   So maybe consistency isn’t all it’s meant to be!

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