Closing the skills gap with collaborative learning
Why are employers reporting a skills gap between the abilities of the recently educated and the needs of their business? This shortfall undoubtedly has a negative effect on our progression toward a brighter future. Whilst the question cannot be answered in any simple way, it is essential that we go back to the beginning and pose an alternate question; what can we do to help close the skills gap?
Global progress, from innovation to humanitarian aid, is most often a result of worldwide collaboration. The ability to collaborate effectively does not necessarily come naturally; it needs to be developed throughout a person’s education. This can scale across all stages - from children in nursery simply working together to create, to Diploma students directing their own group discussions around topics of interest before putting pen to paper. So how exactly do we ensure that collaboration is not only commonplace in our classrooms, but is the instigator of other essential life skills?
When collaborative learning is encouraged, students work together to help one another gain a greater understanding of the topic at hand. Teachers act as facilitators rather than directional authoritarians, and as a result the classroom becomes learner-centric. The day-to-day benefits of such a method have been proven in schools that have adopted the style, and include better student engagement, less class disruption, and decreased classroom anxiety amongst students. Self-esteem has been seen to improve, which in turn allows students to fulfil their potential and thrive.
The real benefit of collaborative learning lies in the skills gained. Students reach out to others to test their theories and share knowledge, as well as think critically and constructively criticise ideas rather than people. Social and communication skills are built; compromise, understanding, being open-minded and even peace-keeping to a certain extent. Learners begin to acknowledge and accept the differences between individuals which subsequently leads to the promotion of diversity. Inevitably, students grow to learn much more than just the subject; they become pro-active individuals who ask questions and seek answers beyond the scope of any lesson given by a teacher.
Further to this, within the context of arts subjects in particular, collaborative learning aids student understanding of the effect of their classmates’ socio-economic backgrounds on the way they perceive. Whether it’s poetry, literature, or even history, learner-led discussions and collaboration incite awareness of cultural identities. This develops a kind of globally-minded view that takes young people well beyond being an asset to a workplace, but into the realm of being an asset to the planet.
So, what can we do to help close the skills gap? We can make collaborative learning the norm within our education systems and subsequently provide our students with the space and support to become globally-conscious, cooperative individuals who positively contribute to our international progress.
← Back to Blog
Individualised learning requires flexibility
Ensuring that all students fulfil their potential, acquire essential life skills, and achieve the best possible academic outcomes through an enriching educative journey requires a personalised learning experience. In order to achieve this, education needs to be agile; fast-changing and ever-responsive to a multitude of varying needs. These needs must arise directly from each individual student, not from a historical and generalised assumption. When requirements come directly from the students, they can come at any time, meaning that flexibility is essential to deliver individualised, needs-based responses.
For teachers to provide their students with the best quality of education, there has to be room for movement. Whether it’s improving a certain skill, achieving a particular grade, or learning to contribute and collaborate in class, ambitions will differ student to student, and how a teacher gets their class to hit their targets does not have to be (and should not have to be) set in stone. Rigid guidelines can actually hinder the learner’s progress, because if there is no flexibility then there is no space for improving or personalising teaching methods.
If teachers are provided with high quality course content and resources that are flexible and adaptable to their requirements, then by closely monitoring students’ progress they can alter the content to suit individual needs. Simply by having access to these ‘ready-made’ resources, a teacher’s workload of content creation and planning would be reduced, allowing more time to be spent doing what’s most important; educating!
Flexibility of course content and improved student progress monitoring would be aided by a ‘flipped’ classroom. With students absorbing topic-specific content outside of school hours, there would be more time in class to ensure complete understanding of the subject matter. Teachers could deliver a variety of different activities, catering to a multitude of learning needs in just one lesson, rather than spending precious class time on search engines or reading textbooks. This combination of adaptable, high quality course content and resources, alongside flexibility and the capacity to monitor student progress, would equip teachers with the ability to provide totally individualised learning experiences, for the benefit of the student.
Sound like something you want to introduce in your school? Contact us today!
← Back to Blog
Could AI replace teachers?
As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to propel us into the long-imagined “future” of flying cars and virtual reality, its multi-industry uses become more apparent and even more ground-breaking. It can easily be reasoned that it won’t be long until AI is quite literally everywhere, including in our classrooms. On a recent trip to Japan, we met a rather friendly robot who got us thinking about the future of AI and its educational possibilities.
It takes only a little research to find that in some places AI is being used semi-regularly to advance learning. In the U.S, its usage is predicted to increase by almost 50% in the next four years* – but does that mean our teachers are going to be replaced by robots? Whilst the technology in robots is astounding, it’s hard to imagine them completely supplanting educators as classroom leaders. Could you imagine a ‘Shelbot’ schooling our children; some unique (and altogether strange) blend of human and machine?
There are certainly countless uses of AI in schools that can benefit pupils. By analysing historical data to understand student strengths and weaknesses across topics and activity types, learners can be grouped based on the task at hand to ensure the optimum outcome for all. Knowing student habits also allows AI to create effective schedules, reducing the time spent by staff on administrative duties. As well as this, language gaps can be bridged with translation services, promoting greater diversification within schools.
The advantages of utilising artificial intelligence become even more apparent when looking at teacher possibilities. Through discovering patterns of student issues, AI can inform a teacher of tension points that show a change in method is required. Further to this, it can be used to detect misunderstanding and alert teachers to students who need more help than others. This is essential to quality schooling – children have varying needs and these are often not addressed in ways that benefit each individual. Admin tasks like grading essays may also be undertaken, to free up vital teacher time.
However, it must be noted that none of these uses take on the task of actually educating. For this, emotion has as much of a part to play as process. It cannot be forgotten that as human beings our emotional needs are fundamental, and especially important during formative years. Could these be met by AI? To address the far-off (and justifiably feared) concept of learning led entirely by robots, the importance of human interaction for our mental health and happiness cannot be underestimated. Undoubtedly, learning is a social contract between student and teacher.
Artificial intelligence could therefore be utilised in the modern classroom for lower order activities such as grading, grouping, and scheduling so that teachers can spend more time actually teaching. What we know for certain is that the role of the teacher is more important than ever; technology won’t replace them, no matter what the advances in AI are, but teachers who don’t use technology will be replaced by those who do.
← Back to Blog
Are we doing enough to develop global citizens?
In a world confronted by multi-faceted and ever-changing problems, it is no longer enough to simply be a global citizen. Anyway, aren’t we all? As residents of this planet we are entitled to say we are, and yet the term is perceived as something to aspire to; a one-size-fits-all mould for idealism. Within the context of education, what we mean to say is that the next generation need to be internationally-minded, tolerant problem solvers, who are prepared to make valuable contributions to all societies. To face the inevitable challenges of the future with confidence they will need to be true global citizens.
Global citizenship is often cited as a selling point of new education initiatives; whether as a standalone course, an acquired skill or a by-product of method. Many schools teach young people to be culturally and contextually aware when confronted with globally relevant topics or challenges. But how is this done, and could it be done better? There are limitations to teaching ‘global citizenship’ to students whose peers all live in their neighbourhood, sharing similar values and upbringings. Although there are numerous schools with outstanding cultural diversity, there are just as many with little to none. Either way, more could be done to connect students across the planet to better their understanding of what it really means to be a global citizen.
Tech-enabled opportunities of the 21st century allow us to break down geographical barriers. We can utilise technology to link students, teachers and schools across the globe. By teaching and learning in schools with young people worldwide, different cultural perspectives are not ‘taught’ in the traditional sense but are experienced through peer collaboration. Imagine a classroom where young people from a multitude of countries and cultures work together to seek genuine solutions. Learning partnerships will be formed, bias may become apparent; collaboration, intimidation – all of the positive and negative behaviour that we find centred around real life global challenges. This is the classroom in which international-mindedness takes root.
More students need the opportunity to work alongside peers from completely different walks of life in order to become more understanding, and practice tolerance. The skills to be gained from such a classroom are not limited to the above; young people learn first-hand how to contribute and collaborate whilst learning, and subsequently understanding, the different ways in which an individual’s cultural identity affects their perception. The successes and shortcomings of the next generation are the responsibility of the education we provide today, and for truly global citizens, we need truly global schools.
← Back to Blog
Forget what you’ve heard – larger class sizes increase opportunities
It has long been argued that reducing the student-teacher ratio will improve students’ learning and subsequent levels of attainment. The basis of this perspective is that teachers are able to spend more time with each student, getting to really know their strengths and weaknesses, learning styles and catering for individual needs. This theory suggests that smaller classes allow for immediate feedback, on a one-to-one basis, enabling explanations of difficult concepts to be personalised to suit each child’s learning style.
That all said, it is worth highlighting that although teachers feel more able to do their jobs satisfactorily in smaller groups, we must consider the learners point of view; after all the learner should be at the heart of any education process, starting with the broader impact of learning in a class consisting of fewer than 10 learners. Students will miss out on clear social and collaborative benefits that arise from learning in an environment which offers access to tens, if not hundreds, of their peers, and not just within the confines of the school, but the global opportunities too.
“How can we expect our staff to support students if class sizes grow?” I hear you ask. Well, one solution is to support the teachers on the ground with experts in the cloud. Here we are essentially talking about co-teaching. Co-teaching is already happening in countries such as Denmark and Finland with much success; if the expression ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ comes into mind, perhaps we should be thinking ‘two heads are better than one’, instead. And let’s face it, staff promotions, maternity leave and retirements mean you could lose up to 40% of your teachers every academic year, but there are solutions out there to ensure that you’re fully staffed and it doesn’t necessarily involve new hires. What if schools allowed their existing teachers to deliver pre-structured, high quality content to more students, with support from experts – whether they be based in the same country or not – to effectively educate learners and monitor progress in more depth than ever before? Co-teaching with cloud-based, experienced teachers could not only be the answer to having over-worked staff on the ground, but it also means that schools can increase their student-teacher ratio without having to employ more staff…with benefits to all parties.
Peer learning partnerships are a fundamental part of education, providing students with the opportunity to learn from each other. Larger classes offer students a much less isolated learning experience; with a larger pool of peers to collaborate with, students can enrich their critical thinking skills, and develop their awareness, knowledge acquisition, and learning way beyond what is ‘the norm’ found within the walls of the classroom. For students to succeed in our increasingly interconnected global society it is important they have opportunities to learn from teachers and students from a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds; smaller classes are severely restricted in this way, when compared to the opportunities created by much larger class groups.
This collaborative method of learning enables teachers to delegate some of their responsibilities to the expert in the cloud so that they are freer to invest their time on students that need additional support, for example, and whilst it can be difficult for a teacher to find a style of learning that suits everyone, a co-teaching environment can provide students with opportunities to collaborate with more peers, subject matter experts and other teachers, and at the same time encouraging them to take responsibility for their own learning and acquisition of knowledge means each and every student will become self-directed.
Larger class sizes are beneficial to schools and teachers too, not only students. Self-directed students are able to consume learning that’s no longer just confined to the school timetable, ultimately empowering them to own their future and be ready for university, the work place and society. This enables teachers to delegate some of their responsibility to the students themselves acting more as facilitators, so that they are freer to invest their time on working with students on the higher order activities, where it is most needed and will make the biggest impact.
The focus of class sizes should be centred on the opportunities that are created for students to develop their skills through learning that will empower them to stand out, own their future, contribute and succeed in the world beyond school, because there is so much more to be gained from education than the arbitrary outcome of examination results.
← Back to Blog
The leaning tower of Pisa
Professor Zhao, a top US-based academic, has stated that countries should ignore the international Pisa league tables – which provide a comparison of how well 15-year-olds in different countries perform in reading, maths and science – because they fail to measure what really matters.
Pisa league tables have been the globally accepted comparison tool for measuring the education ‘success’ of different countries for almost two decades.
Recently league tables have come under fire for favouring countries that successfully instil rote learning techniques into their students but don’t accurately measure either academic success or the very important life skills. Although Pisa, when established, significantly raised the bar for education comparator analysis across the globe, and the outcome remains a useful measure of relative performance, it is still just a statistic, or a ranking device. Who actually benefits from reading these reports: the learner, the teacher, the parents, or the policy maker?
In previous blogs I’ve spoken about the need to develop creativity in students. In many schools the current system doesn’t provide the space and opportunities that learners need if they are to be able to develop these necessary skills for life after the school gates. As long as teaching, and not the learning experience, remains the focus, the model is inapt.
Unfortunately, creativity is often seen as something maverick and to be feared, instead of being the spark for developing students’ evaluation and critical thinking skills. Creativity equally doesn’t fit within the current system of standardised testing and league tables, where schools become admissions centres focussed on improving their current league position. This exam culture needs a complete overhaul, moving the focus from reciting answers, to asking questions.
Policy makers are so consumed by outcome – comparison, success, and failure – and the results of league tables and comparisons such as Pisa, that they are almost missing the point of education entirely. If we shift to focus on the process of learning, with creative and critical thinking skills developed through self-directed study, we stand a greater chance of preparing the next generation for the globalised society they are part of – rather than equipping them with an impressive set of exams results, a moment in time, with little or no understanding of how to apply their knowledge. Such is the focus that less academic students seem to get dropped or disappear altogether from reporting and comparative data.
Do these league tables actually take into account the diversity of cultures around the world? A question that is easily understood by children brought up in one culture may not be so easily answered by those brought up in another, so we can’t assume the difficulty of tasks is the same for all students globally.
Another point to consider is that schools, and countries, that perform best in the international educational rankings can equally sit at the bottom of rankings pertaining to the happiness of a school’s pupils.
Much like other league tables or tools for comparison, a process that focusses on standardised testing can create a culture that is obsessed with short term fixes that are intended to engineer a rise up the league table, which is at odds with what is actually needed – long lasting and well-thought out changes in education practice to prepare learners to learn, work and live.
It’s time we considered a move away from one test or measure, to a broader set of measures, than a simple set of numbers, assessing the extent to which young people in different education systems are innovative, creative and entrepreneurial, rather than assessing how proficient they are at passing tests.
← Back to Blog
Grammar schools: the wrong debate
The debate over whether we should or should not open more grammar schools has been featured in almost every national newspaper over the last few weeks. Theresa May and her education secretary, Justine Greening, are considering opening more grammar schools and restoring selective learning, arguing that this would increase the availability of a quality education for all those who are bright and work hard, irrespective of financial standing.
The opposing argument, however, is that grammar schools favour those who can afford to move into the necessary catchment areas and have their children privately tutored to pass the 11-plus, therefore ‘buying’ a place in the school of their choice.
Opening up more grammar schools would further extend an education system that is already geared towards those who are taught to memorise answers and are under heavy pressure to pass exams. Why not invest more in skills-based and creative education, moving from teacher focus to learner focus, not just for those ‘non-academic’ children but in a way that caters for all abilities.
Far too often, academic achievement is seen as the only route to securing a good job, but the reality is there are now a wide variety of successful routes. Especially if we consider the university students who stand the best chance of entering their chosen profession; they frequently are those who have developed skills and gained work placement experience outside of the exam hall.
In a recent article in support of grammar schools, the author compared the selection process of top athletes to the selection process of ‘bright students’ through the grammar school entrance assessment; Sports Psychology concepts and principals are well recognised in providing advantages among physically equal competitors, but there is a clear tension of opposites between this and the concepts and principals of a selective grammar school.
While we have watched, and cheered on, our amazing Team GB Olympians over the past couple of weeks, it is important to recognise that their success has come because they are pursuing something that inspires them, and that they enjoy. Can the same be said of an education system that is built on a culture of standardised testing, passing examinations, where the learner is passive in the process?
The mental skills training that takes place within sports psychology can draw parallels to a curriculum that would develop skills such as creativity, analysis and collaboration, rather than ‘compete’ for a grade at the end of the process.
It’s not really a surprise that athletic success is not matched by academic success – and even more so work place success – because we still deal with a conservative constancy in schools who still only give students space when they believe the risks are lower, such as in sport, music and art. As a parent there comes a time when we have to let go and give the child the power to lead themselves. It’s time for a new learning model that creates space for the learner to become active in the process, allowing for achievement, under conditions that mitigate the risks of letting go and cultivate responsible use of that power. Drawing parallels again with the science in creating great athletes, you need to let go whilst at the same time train the individual to understand the space, think about the process and enjoy what they are doing. Perhaps just like in sport we need an education system that provides advantages amongst equal entrants, because who knows what talent is being missed if we don’t.
← Back to Blog
The new school is an evolution not revolution
I read an article recently that suggested we need to revolutionise the education system through the creation of subject centres and hub schools, with children attending a range of different centres according to subject choices. The author argues that instead of having one school that delivers all subjects, each district could have one hub school for registration and pastoral care, and then a range of specialist centres that would each teach a different subject.
Whilst the call to Justine Greening, the education secretary, to discard the traditional school model is a good principle, from where I am sitting, the suggested ‘revolution’ does not address the issues that the current education system faces, such as teacher recruitment; it simply moves the problem from one physical location to another.
The resource shortage of teachers globally isn’t that simple and certainly isn’t linear in that in any one region or district we may either be able to find a wealth of great teachers across all subjects, or adversely, see a distinct lack of specialism in a particular area. In reality, the availability of teaching resources is linked to local conditions such as pay or a desire to physically re-locate. The suggestion to send children to dedicated subject centres would require each of those centres to be staffed by suitably specialist teachers or subject matter experts – but if these individuals are locally in short supply, this ‘revolutionary’ idea won’t work out and we will need to think more globally.
It is also unnecessary to move students from location to location, taking up valuable time and resources that are already sparse. Instead of moving students to the subject specialist in a new location, we should be providing students with access to the specialist at their current school, learning centre or home, and on a timetable that suits the learner, meeting the learner where they are.
The idea of treating a school as a learning hub where learners can access all of the teaching resources and interact with subject matter experts for each of the subjects that inspires them is a good principle.
An alternative and more practical answer to the question posed is to consider the blended learning model, where a mix of school based teachers, and cloud based subject matter experts, work to teach both knowledge and skills, and can provide adaptable learning pathways that empower students, regardless of their circumstances, to fulfil their potential and own their futures. If we look at recent technology led disruptions, such as Uber, Netflix and Skype, the users of all of these services have been empowered by disruption – and those providing the services are the largest in their field, yet technology has allowed them to achieve this without physically owning anything!
Just like in other markets where disruption has taken place, we would find empowerment and self-selection occurring in the education sector too. The blended learning model addresses both the availability and location of the teacher by making space for the learner to be more asynchronous in their learning, and using technology to bring the teacher into the model without physically moving anyone. As with these other examples of disruption, the focus switches to providing access – away from ownership. So we can now imagine an education system where all learners are able to access the subjects that inspire them, which, in turn, inherently leads to higher levels of motivation.
Schools are subject to influence from a conservative constituency – parents – and therefore tend to argue that implementing such a model would require a huge amount of reorganisation, and a painful rethink, of educational philosophy, which would be expensive and disruptive to implement. But, when you consider the advantages offered through the blended model, isn’t it worth considering? This type of disruption isn’t negative, it’s instead an educational and pedagogical priority; just think of the disruption that will be caused by waiting too long. If the school’s position is that the risk to their students is too high without proper research and analysis being undertaken, I would suggest that there is in fact a higher risk associated with waiting for the research to be published.
← Back to Blog
Creativity is a weapon
Creative skills are just as important as technical ones, but there seems to be more effort being made by governments to encourage young people to take up technical routes, especially in STEM subjects. In fact, in the UK, over 100,000 people signed a petition against the government’s decision to leave expressive and creative arts out of the English Baccalaureate, and MPs have been debating the issue this week. Globally, a number of other curricula have come under criticism; India’s recent National Education Policy 2016 report showed that the existing curriculum ‘does not foster creativity and innovation nor does it enable critical thinking or independent problem solving’.
Creativity is much maligned, miss-understood and mistreated. Alongside critical thinking, creativity is often identified as the essential skill needed in the 21st century. Creativity isn’t about being carefree and unstructured, you can be creative in maths and engineering just as much as in music and dance. Creativity isn’t just about coming up with new ideas or ways to do things, evaluation is as much a part of the process, and therefore creativity and critical thinking are aligned not opposed to each other.
Creativity is at odds with our culture of standardised testing, the exams culture today still focuses heavily on sitting in rows and recalling answers rather than asking questions. This impersonal process alienates students from their own talents, everyone remembers how they came alive with certain teachers when they were able to learn about topics or subjects that inspired us. The focus of curriculum and teaching on outcome rather than the process through which self directed learners with creative and critical thinking skills are developed, is monotonous, whereas human culture is diverse and rich, and we perform better when we are interacting with things that excite and inspire us.
Changing the learners’ position from passive to active through the use of technology in the blended model empowers students to have greater autonomy, enabling creativity and critical thinking to flourish. Equally those who may not have been confident in expressing themselves in traditional settings may find themselves now more able to contribute through the new collaborative opportunities created through the model.
Students are often made to feel that failure in school is deemed unacceptable; however, without failure, and without taking on a ‘growth mind-set’ many of the innovations and developments we have seen globally would not have been possible. Creativity isn’t just about new ideas, some ideas may be either impractical or just crazy; it’s a process, not a single event, so an essential part is evaluation, and even learning from mistakes.
Whilst we need to encourage students to harness their creativity, this isn’t just about the individual. Whether in education, work, or social life, most creative processes benefit hugely from collaboration. Collaboration is the heartbeat of the blended learning model, as the teacher partially withdraws from the space, the void has to be filled and this happens through self-directed learners with greater autonomy, digitally-native learners who are already used to being curators and collaborators.
The space that the self-directed learner fills, is the same one they face at University, in work and throughout life. The use of technology in a blended model is a pedagogical priority first and business opportunity second, and by creating space where students are empowered to learn – becoming consciously unconscious in their learning, rather than simply taught – will give them the skills to not just achieve an outcome, but own their future.
← Back to Blog
How can we teach students not to be digitally illiterate?
The majority of students in school today are born digital or, to use an overused term, “digital natives”, who have been born into a new culture – they study, work, write, and interact with each other in different ways to those of us who went to school a decade or more ago. They read blogs rather than newspapers and meet their friends online; they have grown up digitally literate.
So what does it really mean to be digitally literate? Digital literacy does not simply equate to knowing how to use a hashtag or using the latest chat acronym, but also requires knowledge, skill and, most importantly, how to use it in the most effective way possible.
Technology disruption leads to empowerment and self-selection, which builds access to adaptable learning pathways that empower students, regardless of circumstances, to fulfil their potential, preparing them for life beyond the classroom.
Schools and teachers need to critically embrace a progressive educational theory that’s about learning, adopting and adapting technological practices that meet learners where they are – by placing them at the centre of the process, and developing their capacity as independent, creative, critical and collaborative learners.
To effectively teach digital literacy, teachers need to be trained in how to interact positively with digital media so that they aren’t daunted by the experience, empowering them to facilitate learning that uses the technology to foster student-directed inquiry, focussing their instruction on prioritising higher order skills and learning, and providing support and timely intervention when required. In addition to teachers demonstrating to students how they can network, communicate, and learn within digital platforms, they also need to help students acquire confidence and skills so that they can engage with multiple perspectives, and apply analytical and critical thinking to situations, collaboration and knowledge acquisition.
Students can use technology to speed up processes, and importantly, they can create their own specific learning moments and education pathway thanks to the flexibility in accessing content, in time and location, that technology provides. This allows teachers to take on more of a facilitator role and enables students to develop their own learning around a subject.
As teachers take on this role of facilitator, it is vital that they are mindful of the need to impart critical thinking skills to their students. Students that gain hands-on experience of locating, interpreting, evaluating, and creating digital information have a very different experience to students who simply use the Internet to locate information and conclude the search at the first result served up by the search engine. By creating space and opportunities for students to think through the information and resources they have found, and by broadening the topic to more than one source of information, students are then able to learn how to evaluate what is good and what is poor with regard to digital content, and so they are less likely to take the first bit of information they find online at face value. In so many ways, the risk isn’t about teaching students how to be digitally literate, if we wait or get this wrong, the risk is teaching them to become passive consumers who are digitally illiterate.