Property can sound like a dull topic, but New Zealand’s Fifth National Government (which has been in power with the support of coalition partners for nine years) has brought property to the fore. Around the country is growing evidence of its policy commitment to ensuring all New Zealand schools conform to a ‘modern learning environment’ standard by 2021. With an election looming on 23rd September, I am surprised that I have not heard any of the political parties mentioning rebuilds, retrofits or new builds, though yesterday, the Prime Minister announced a major investment for Whangarei Boys’ High School, while on the campaign trail.
An academic article I wrote to review the current government education property policy was recently published in the Waikato Journal of Education, and is free, open access. To get the flavour of that article, here is a brief critical summing-up.
State-of-the-art, modern school buildings are the outward embodiment of current state education policies that seek to develop digitally-connected lifelong learners for the 21st century global knowledge economy, while relentlessly focussing on raising student achievement. Flexible learning environments have become ideal vehicle to encourage the required changes to teaching and learning that will support these ends. The developing imaginary of the teacher of the 21st century, and the creation of flexible learning spaces designed to develop and enhance changes to teaching and learning is not up for debate and discussion, and 2021 is the target year for every state school in New Zealand to have modern learning environments. The Ministry of Education presents as unproblematic the nature of these facilities, and the practices envisaged within, while the single cell classroom is an object of scorn.
The Private Public Partnership concept, increasingly deployed by the government to fund the building of new schools, is contested. PPPs raise questions around whether turning a profit from education is appropriate, and whether the education profession has its professional autonomy undermined by limitations on design input or occupancy use.
The Christchurch earthquakes enabled the rapid acceleration of the government’s property strategy, but the negative response of some communities to the Shaping Education strategy has included resistance at having flexible spaces, and the underlying changes to teaching styles, foisted upon them.
The current government, and its state apparatus, the Ministry of Education, link flexible buildings, pedagogy and learning for the 21st century in a deterministic, linear fashion. Nevertheless, it is now wishful thinking on the part of any teacher, school leader or parent to imagine that they may somehow avoid having to experience a flexible learning space as long as they are in, or associated with, a New Zealand state school. The school building programme that reinforces this situation may be one of the enduring legacies of the Fifth National Government.
An Agile and Scalable Professional Development Strategy: The CMALT cMOOC Project 
Globally there is a shortage of higher education practitioners and researchers evidencing a critical engagement with the intersection between teaching, learning, and technology. We believe an open and agile approach to professional development (PD) will allow higher education practitioners and researchers to embrace the rapidly changing and complex environment of technology and affordances to explore their impact on teaching and learning. Educators need to critically theorise the intersection between learning theory, technology and frameworks leading to new pedagogical practices and understanding of technology enhanced learning. This is epitomised in the adoption of the scholarship of technology enhanced learning or SOTEL (Haynes, 2016), that brings Boyer’s (1990) concept of the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) into the twenty-first century.
Traditional PD strategies revolve around either the provision of a series of workshops or completion of a post-graduate qualification in learning and teaching. In contrast to these traditional PD approaches, we have leveraged a connectivist MOOC strategy to support a global network of PD Communities of practice (COP). In this session we will outline the model we have used to develop and implement a prototype PD cMOOC: http://mosomelt.wordpress.com/about/ (Cochrane and Narayan, 2016, Cochrane et al., 2015). Peer participation and sharing of praxis are triggered through the cMOOC that aims to scaffold participants to generate critical reflective practice evidence for CMALT portfolio accreditation, outlined at http://tinyurl.com/CMALTcMOOC. Interactive participant feedback techniques will include a Twitter back channel and an online participant survey. Participants will be invited to join us in the development of our first iteration of the CMALT cMOOC project.
Project Updates at:
Boyer, E. 1990. Scholarship reconsidered: priorities of the professoriate, Princeton, NJ, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Cochrane, T. & Narayan, V. 2016. Evaluating a Professional Development cMOOC: MOSOMELT. In: Barker, S., Dawson, S., Pardo, A. & Colvin, C. (eds.) Show Me The Learning. Proceedings ASCILITE 2016 Adelaide. University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia: Ascilite.
Cochrane, T., Narayan, V. & Burcio-Martin, V. 2015. Designing a cMOOC for Lecturer Professional Development in the 21st Century. In: Keengwe, J. & Onchwari, G. (eds.) Handbook of Research on Active Learning and the Flipped Classroom Model in the Digital Age. Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Global.
Haynes, D. 2016. Introducing SOTEL. International Journal for the Scholarship of Technology Enhanced Learning, 1, 1-2.
The reporting on Seven Sharp on Monday 7th August of developments in New Zealand schools around so-called ‘Modern Learning Environments’ (MLE) sensationalised these changes. The item, intended to be positive and balanced, was in fact presented in the skewed terms of ‘backlash’ and ‘dislike’, and the actual learning environments referred to as ‘open-plan mega classrooms’. While the item carried comments from two principals and two parents, each representing opposite sides of the ‘debate’, the weight of ‘evidence’ clearly favoured the anti-camp. In particular, Dr Anne Malcolm, principal of Ponsonby Primary, made the surprisingly ill-informed claim that ‘there is no empirical research’. This requires the record to be set straight.
Is there really no research? Suggesting so makes it seem the Ministry of Education has embarked on a policy that has no rational basis in evidence (treating children as ‘guinea pigs’ it was suggested). Here I will provide a quick snapshot:
- 2004, the Ministry of Education commissioned a study by AC Nielsen to ascertain the views of a range of key stakeholders in regard to the role of school design in securing and improving learning outcomes.
- 2008, the Ministry of Education undertook a learning studio pilot project. Five schools were selected from around New Zealand where future-oriented building projects were built and trialed to point the way to appropriate design for 21st century school buildings.
- In 2005 in Australia, Kenn Fisher, Assoc Prof in Learning Environments at the University of Melbourne and consultant to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, was matching the learning activities and skills outlined in the curriculum of the state of Victoria to likely building solutions.
- In 2011, Prof. Jill Blackmore and colleagues produced a literature review on behalf of the state of Victoria. They surveyed extensive literature into the connection between the built environment and student outcomes.
- European research in this area has been ongoing for many years, including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), such as its 2013 research on innovative learning environments. American research by architects such as Lackney goes back to the 1990s.
- More recent empirical research is being undertaken at the University of Melbourne, under Assoc. Prof Wes Imms, and his LERN team.
- In New Zealand, those actively working on producing research results include Leon Benade, Chris Bradbeer, Jenny Charteris, Graham McPhail, Mark Osborne and Alastair Wells.
Anne Malcolm’s statement is intended to be authoritative and effectively shuts down any further debate. Furthermore, linking the idea of ‘no research’ to a parent claiming or suggesting that MLEs are some kind of mad-cap experiment that are doing damage to children, simply sends alarm signals to parents, and teachers not currently working in these kinds of spaces.
A couple of weeks ago Kate Kersey and I attended our first CAPHIA (Council of Academic Public Health Institutions Australia) Teaching & Learning Forum in Sydney, Australia: http://caphia.com.au/events/
This was an inspiring event. The presenters had engaging content but more than that, the forum effectively created a sense of community; an open and warm collegial spirit. The sessions were all held in the one room and so everyone had the opportunity to listen to all the scheduled speakers, unlike the bigger conferences where parallel sessions means you spend your time darting between session rooms, making difficult choices, or opting out and choosing the city sights instead. This forum was different.
One of the highlights (and there were many) was a lunchtime seminar from Associate Professor Joe Negin, Head of School, Associate Professor of International Public Health, School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.
Joel shared with us his top tips for early/mid career academics, woven through his story-telling of his circuitous path to academia.
This is my recollection of his top tips:
- Be present – turn up, attend meetings, be seen around the place.
- Be the person to make the first draft – although daunting offer to start the first draft. That way you’ll make your mark on the project/document etc
- Be opportunistic.
- Be bold.
- Be global.
- Suck up to people we admire, such as authors – read a great article? email the author. Tell them what you think. May lead to new and important connections.
- Gain methodological expertise – a transferable area of expertise
- Think multisectorally – life doesn’t exist in silos, get out there and mix/mingle across sectors/faculties
- Work with people you like rather than people with shared areas of interest or expertise – working with people you like means you’ll enjoy work more, plus will lead to more creativity and more cross-discipline research, greater likelihood for innovative collaborations.
- Be organised – just helps a lot!
For me the key tip was choosing to work with people I like – more fun, more productive, more interesting outcomes. I look forward to doing more of this!
What’s your favourite tip…or do you have others?