How has the Coronavirus accelerated the shift into new models of learning: Interview with Philip Muscott HOS
CIA FIRST sat down with Head of Curriculum Philip Muscott to discuss the effects of CoronaVirus on learning models and how the pandemic accelerates the shift into new models of learning around the globe.
Philip Muscott: Traditionally the teacher has been the fount of knowledge in a particular subject or subjects. In addition to that you have books in a school library and that is it!
The role of the teacher was, in some way, to deliver that information into the minds of the learner who would then be able to recall it and then, in the best case scenario, apply it.
However, we are living in the information age so when you’ve got, essentially, all of the world’s knowledge from the beginning of history, at your fingertips, the teachers role changes dramatically.
What I think is that the pandemic situation has really brought that to the fore because more than ever it is clear that the acquisition of knowledge can be done in a self directed way by the learner and the teacher’s role becomes, much more, to give them feedback on their work and guidance on next steps.
I suppose the only [concern] there is that when, for example, you Google something and having everything [at your fingertips] is actually a huge problem because there is so much information. So is the role of the teacher not to also direct students to where they can find information or not to decide on a subject of a particular issue?
It’s a great question and this is where I think there are some misconceptions as to what self directed learning looks like. It’s not, in my view, just a case of ‘there’s the internet, you’re on your own, learn what you like’ for the exact reason you just alluded to.
So that’s where the curriculum framework becomes so important. In our case, as an ACS WASC accredited school, we’ve got our school wide learning outcomes. And of course one of those is about students being able to independently, critically analyse information for validity and reliability. So it’s those skills and understandings and transfers that’s really important there, but of course that takes time.
What we are doing is trying to get students to develop those skills and ultimately transfer them independently, but of course, that has to be scaffolded through the curriculum.
And then you have those sessions with the teacher to say well, ‘you’ve chosen this source' but perhaps that may not be the best source because of lack of evidence or a questionable bias or whatever that may be. So I’m not disputing the fact that sometimes, when it’s very necessary and [teachers] need to get essential knowledge across to students, the teacher can, of course, then give a selection of reliable, credible and valid resources for students to acquire that information.
And how could this style of learning be assessed? Would the students select their own assessments or how would that work?
What we are looking at now, is called the 7 elements of personalised learning. So, if you can picture that as a sort of sound board, with 7 sliders. So they can slide from ‘teacher created’ to ‘co-created’ to ‘student generated’. Then incrementally throughout the curriculum, by the end of High School, you want all of those sliders to be completely student generated because then they are adults and they are ready for university and beyond.
And how are the assessments assessed? Would you use a points system or letter grades or how would that be decided?
It’s actually the competencies that we want to assess and to what extent the students are demonstrating those competencies. You can do all of this through, what we call, analytic rubrics. For example, let’s take Science and you want them to demonstrate desired outcomes. One of them could be their ability to plan and conduct an investigation. You would have that as one criteria of your rubric. Another one might be their use of technology to create a model.
If you can use a rubric going from Not Yet that exceeds the expected competency, then you do have a measure of success and they will be able to see to what extent they have met or even exceeded the desired outcomes.
How much does the move into this model depend on external factors though? Would you not need the recognition of this model outside of the institution?
We are working with an organisation called ‘The Mastery Transcript Consortium’ and the good news is that there are now thousands of institutions around the world that are working together on this and do recognise this. Many Universities are also accepting this more and more.
Having said that, what we at CIA FIRST are doing, in this transition period, we are already using the analytic rubrics, really for the students, to let them know what they have done very well and what their areas for growth are but then in a very traditional way, we then convert that into a number and letter as well, to give to Universities.
If we want to get back to the situation with the pandemic and how this is going to accelerate things, what we are finding is that, during the online learning period, by far the least important part of this, is that synchronous Zoom or Google Meets session. We definitely put that in there at the start, for a couple of reasons. First, to get everybody in a proper routine. Right? You don’t want to change things up too much, at the beginning. The timetable still exists, there’s the comfort of seeing their teachers, seeing their classmates. That’s all good stuff but what we actually find is, and this is the feedback we’re getting from students: there’s too much of that now!
They don’t always need that. They know what their performance task is, they know the learning activities they gotta go through, they know the resources that they’ve actually got to access.
What they really need is personalised feedback.
So, that, of course [can happen] through collaborative tools, on your Google docs, Google sheets, that’s great. There are different tools for the job, so if it gets into that time when there’s too much typing, the teacher can go ‘Hold on, student A, let’s just book a 10 minutes Meets and we can get into detail about this discussion’
Right, so if we can take that lesson learned, look at what High School should look like. Instead of having these rigid timetables, with 90 minutes of this and 90 minutes of that, you look at the teacher as a resource that that student can tap into. So instead of having a teacher’s classroom, you have a teachers office. And you’ll have a student that wants to book in with Teacher Tom and they can go there and talk about their social studies project and get feedback on work done so far, and get pointers for improvement and all of that. The teacher’s day will be taken up much more by these individual and maybe small group feedback sessions.
Which is not to say that the more traditional 24 students in a room can’t happen, but that will be at intermittent times during the course of the unit. So, no doubt that sometimes an experiential activity is beneficial for learning, no doubt sometimes a discussion using socratic seminar; the teacher will still hold that, in a room that is conducive to that kind of learning. That will be posted, advertised for the students to sign up to, should they wish to go.
Thank you very much Phil, it’s been a very informational and eye opening conversation.