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Getting instructions in cyberspace.

By now, we are building considerable awareness of the difference between face-to-face learning and what happens when we go ‘remote’. What challenges me still is thinking about what is happening to the efficiencies and effectiveness of ‘body language’, upon which human relationships are created and maintain. For instance, the direction of the eyes, the modulation of the voice, the spontaneity of a human reaction, the detection of a mood and so much more.

There’s so much that’s subtly changing when we move onto online platforms from the perception of the size of bodies, the frame in which they are seen to the quality of the sound and image piped down the optic fibre. Paradoxically, technology simultaneously hides and shows us so much about ourselves as teachers and learners.

A place to start monitoring and evaluating remote learning

It’s only logical to assume that the advice outlined on State and National education department websites are places to start when monitoring and evaluating what we’re doing professionally. For instance, here are the ten points about learning from home posted by the Victorian education department which they advise schools at this time. I’ve taken the ten dot points and turned them into posters for the purpose of examining them in this blog.

The first observation I make of them is how ‘disconnected’ they seem strategically from the tonnes of information elsewhere on the website. As a result, they hang on the page as a mere list, not a hypertext or reference to connect the valuable points they make to building a holistic sense of what’s happening. Yet, anyone working in the current crisis I’m sure will confirm for you how each point speaks volumes to vital qualities of teaching and learning experiences.

In short, while we’re used to such education department texts being anonymous, the list sadly undersells the clarity of the thinking of the curriculum expertise displayed in it. As a curriculum writer who ‘cut her teeth’ on writing such texts for demanding curriculum managers, I read how in just ten points the writer gives us good advice on

  • organising our teaching time (points 1 & 3)
  • naming essential content (points 6 &7)
  • identifying important learning principles (points 8-10)
  • staying focused on assessment (points 4 & 7)
  • performing our duty of care (points 2, 4, 5 & 8)

The amount of online content often seems tsunami-like

There’s opportunity all around us to do good work at this point in time, as well as technological tools like we never imagined even a few years ago. Yet, in stark contradiction, technology, that was meant to liberate us, has made life more hectic and challenging. For example, Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why we expect more of technology and less of each other (2013) concludes,

Now we know that once computers connected us to each other, once we became tethered to the network, we really didn’t need to keep computers busy. They keep us busy. It is as though we have become their killer app… Niels Bohr suggests that the opposite of a “deep truth” is a truth no less profound. As we contemplate online life, it helps to keep this in mind.

Even more direct than Turkle’s claims, John Hattie’s and Gregory Yates’ Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn clear warnings about multitasking reveals “how people remain unaware their performances are deteriorating under multiple demands” (2014, 188). We might keep that in mind when we reflect on human cognition, neuroscientific research, the cognitive load and a number of emerging educational issues for which we have barely begun to have an adequate response.

First, we write the book

Therefore, when Certified Practising Accountants say we have a problem with multitasking in the workforce, it might be wise to listen and become active solvers for how we are going to create ‘a culture of deep focus’.

I was viscerally reminded of the challenge as I launched a philosophy for children (P4C) program last Monday (10/2) based on a series of novel philosophical texts by author Clare-Rose Trevelyan and illustrator Yongho Moon. The first of the three texts, The Book With No Story, is designed to get children exploring the nature of our first encounters of other people.  In the second book, The Fake Dictionary, the exploration turns towards the way words shape thought and visa versa. The book is in the form of an A-Z children’s book but it intentionally disrupts the easy coupling of ‘a is apple’ approach to the lexicon’s formation. In the third book, The One Thing and Anothers, Clare and Yong play with a short story about two aliens who visit our planet and bring with them consequences of epic proportions.

Show empathy – we’re all struggling

Collectively, the author hopes her small books stimulate many philosophical discussions between adults and children. In practice, they should get children, their parents and teachers reflecting and, possibly, acting on ideas and points of view. As the curriculum developer for the project, I envision what it means to develop Year 5/6 students as ‘philosopher citizens’.

How do we engage children to begin to participate in an Australian democracy as both ‘thinkers’ and ‘activists’? Following the advice of the Foundation for Young Australian, how should upper primary students also begin to imagine ‘the future of work’ in any other way than through the ‘new basics‘ which heavily depends on teachers grappling with cognitive and technological advancement working together?

We are future making for every child so that they are learning to learn, learning to thrive and learning to contribute. Our students will possess the skills, knowledge and ways of thinking that enable them to embrace learning, respond to challenges and thrive as active members of the community.

On the cover of “Support Resources for Parents” at my granddaughter’s school, Footscray City Primary School

And so, I am lucky to be running the first ‘Young Philosophers Project’, out of the Da Vinci Centre at Wooranna Park Primary School, a school which has devoted the last twenty-three years to addressing how its children will meet the future with optimism. By the same token, Wooranna Park, like all schools is not absolved from the challenge of making education meaningful for every student, a fact I quickly woke up to during my first workshop as I foolishly allowed students to sit at seats in a computer lab.

It was amazing to watch the 10 and 11-year-olds use the computer screens to hide behind and the keyboards to play with as I heroically attempted to discuss with them ‘the search for truth’. Don’t think for a moment that the irony was lost on me. I can also hear the experienced teachers ‘tut-tutting’ and shaking their heads at my logistic mistake of placing children in a situation which no human could resist.

Such learning brings me to Amanda Woodard’s final point in CPA Australia’s article on how we cannot take for granted that the spaces in which we work will induce what Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’. We have to create such places if we are to achieve deep learning. Similarly, we have to practice the discomfort and slowness of concentrated thinking. The implications for me as a curriculum developer are palpable as I will see only too clearly when I try to engage 56 upper primary students in viewing themselves as young philosophers.