NZCER research – 21st century teaching and learning

Recently, Rachel Bolstad called for online submissions in response to a research project, outlined as follows:

“This research project for the Ministry of Education aims to develop a vision for what future learning might look like for New Zealand students and to contribute to educational futures thinking and policy development.  The work will be guided by three high level research questions:

  1. What could 21st century teaching and learning look like, what ideas and principles underpin it, and what makes it different from other teaching and learning practices?
  2. What are the conditions that enable 21st century learning? What are the issues and challenges?
  3. How might [transformational] 21st century learning approaches to teaching and learning be promoted, enabled and sustained?

The results of this project will initially be used to inform the work of leaders and managers within the Ministry of Education, and may help to shape materials for the education sector at a later stage. The research focus is on English-medium schooling.”

You can refer to the NZCER website to read more.

I completed the survey, and was then invited to participate in a teleconference with a small group of teachers, the intention of which was to pull together some of the emerging themes from the online survey and to deepen the discussion. The conversation was facilitated by Rachel Bolstad, with contributions from Ally Bull, both researchers with NZCER.

The conversation was indeed wide-ranging, and common interests and concerns emerged. It was interesting that the participants didn’t immediately discuss what 21st century teaching and learning was – perhaps we had made the assumption that we all agreed on that. It later emerged that there was a need to develop shared understanding about what knowledge is in a 21st century world, and how that differs from prior understandings. From that we can then begin to examine the implications for teaching practice and student learning. We also discussed the range of terms used to describe information literacy, critical literacy, multiple literacies, transliteracy as an example of terminology widely used, and commonly assumed to be generally understood.

Discussion about the implicit nature of these concepts within the key competencies showed that there was a belief that teachers would take the implicit and make it explicit in the teaching and learning process. My response to that was that the evidence shows that not to be the case. ‘Everyman’ assumes too much, I’m afraid. Far too many assumptions are made about the explicit teaching of concepts such as information literacy. Lecturers at teacher training colleges assume, by the nature of their course content, that their students come with a clear understanding of information literacy – it does not appear in their curriculum as a key concept. Teachers in most schools assume that someone else has embedded the skills in their students. Thus, the assumptions continue, there is no shared understanding or definition of the problem, nor any structured approach to finding some common approaches and/or coherence across the curriculum and across schools.

The discussion also considered the need for wider collaborations – my contribution was, of course, that there is benefit to be found in including library and information specialists in these collaborations. The difficulties inherent in the collaborative process were discussed, and barriers such as constraints of time, NCEA assessment, and scheduling were briefly explored. The consensus seemed to be that school management teams needed to explore these issues and work to remove  barriers to 21st century teaching and learning.

Bringing teaching staff on board with technologies was identified as a tool for 21st teaching and learning, but there was agreement that there are still far too few teachers engaging with these technologies in the educational setting. The need for well-developed, consistently delivered professional development was highlighted, and there was general concern that the roll-out of UltraFastBroadband has not been supported or underpinned by the necessary professional development. Again, assumptions have perhaps been made that ‘Everyman’ knows how to leverage the UFB connection for improved student achievement, but that is clearly not the case.

It has been an interesting project to engage with and I will follow the research with interest. I would love to hear your thoughts on the ways that we can move these discussions forward. What do you think knowledge is in a 21st century world? What is different about teaching and learning in that world, and what are the changes you are beginning to see? What will best practice look like in a school library that supports 21st century teaching and learning? Big questions, and I look forward to your responses.

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