From the Editor

| August 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

Cathy N. Davidson, a distinguished American scholar of the history of technology and recently appointed to the American National Humanities Council by President Barack Obama, delivers a popular massive open online course (MOOC) for the online education group Coursera. Her subject is ‘The Future and History of Mostly Higher Education’, and she includes the following tale:
In the 1830s, a mathematician at Yale University decided he needed to write on a blackboard. The elite method of learning at Yale, up until that point, was called the recitation, where the professor and the student constantly recited and memorised work back and forth to each other. The idea that a professor would use a blackboard was considered demeaning to the great recitators of Yale, and the students actually rioted when the professor introduced this radical new technology into his Yale classrooms. The students were expelled, and after a while, the trustees decided to reinstate the students, but only under the condition that they accept the blackboard. And, pretty soon, the blackboard [an expanded version of the handheld slates upon which children used to write] spread like wildfire.

Shock! Horror! A suspicious new black magic conjured to disrupt the previously calm classroom and ordered classroom!

Yet, says educational researcher Brad Ermeling on page 30 of this edition of Independent Education, in Japan – the country of origin of many a futuristic-seeming invention – the chalkboard is a venerated and dominant technology in the classroom. Effective blackboard use is a highly technical skill known as bansho.

In his fascinating account, Ermeling observes that oftentimes in the US (and in many other countries, including our own), “digital devices function as little more than expensive and colourful accessories with minimal influence on existing instructional methods.”

By contrast, in Japan, teachers in teams engage in lesson study cycles based on bansho. “[They] conduct research, analyse curricula and design a detailed ‘research lesson’ to address a jointly selected investigative theme. One team member teaches the research lesson while colleagues observe and collect data on student learning.”

This story should bring new hope to those South African educators in rural areas without access to the digital devices we are told are the pathways to academic success and the only way to prepare students for the future. The key in any school, whatever its resource base, says Ermeling, is to “engage in extended discussion of results and potential revisions”.

In France, too, there’s exciting fresh evidence of a turn towards a realisation that student success has a lot to do with focused teacher teamwork. On page 29, you can read how the new French education minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, is crafting fresh legislation to encourage French school teachers to “foster more collaborative and modular approaches to learning”.

There’s not nearly enough such collaboration happening in southern African schools, says Tim Middleton on page 26. Instead, too often, there’s a “focus on success instead of significance and on ability, not effort”. Canadian educator and blogger, Dean Shareski, agrees, saying that if teachers ‘talk the talk’, so must they ‘walk the walk’. “Sharing and meta-cognition should be inseparable,” opines Shareski. “Deep reflectors of their practice are constantly modifying instruction to make learning more effective. This is not about them using technology, it’s about sharing. I’m not saying you have to share to be a great teacher, I’m saying if you do, you are. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.”

I’m with Shareski, and so is Philippa Fabbri, director of academic support at Elsen Academy in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. Her tips (page 50) on how to reach every single child in your classroom include: “Teachers, you must love what you do… you must love yourself enough to reassess your position every now and again.”

We’re proud that every single contributor to our magazine writes from a position of both ‘sharing and caring’, not because they want an extended prospectus on our pages. Suleman Khan, principal of new ISASA member Al Ghazali College in Pretoria (page 14), readily admits that “[t]o remain relevant, we cannot teach our children the way we were taught”, and explains how his school is making changes. Rural schools Kobe Ramokgadi Advanced Learning Academy in Swaziland (page 16), Harriston School in the eastern Free State (page 17) and the Whole Life Education Centre (McGregor Waldorf Primary School and McGregor High School) (page 54) in the Western Cape, rely on teachers whose shared ideas result in resilience: their flexibility enables innovation and sustainability at their schools.

You don’t have to be a smartphone superhero to have ideas worth sharing. If you’re testing the technological waters for the first time, try the experiment described on page 67, or find out what it could mean for you if you ‘drank from the MIT fire hose’ (page 70).

The value of sharing, and the pros and cons of digital technology, are made clear in Angus Paterson’s account of the St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls, Pretoria visit to Nepal during the recent devastating earthquakes. Paterson shares invaluable advice for schools caught up in disaster management. He also says: “[The students] now know that with privilege comes responsibility. They have seen majestic places and had new experiences. They have been touched by the plight of suffering and experienced the love of family. They have felt the touch of God.”

Category: Regular Columns, Spring 2015

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