For … With

Last week I went to the Wellington EdTech MeetUp where, among other speakers as well, I listened to a man named Rahman Satti. He spoke about his experience working with refugees and new migrants in Germany in 2015. And of course, we’re not talking about a small group of 15 in a community, but a whole country working with an influx of one million displaced people.

One of the ideas a group had was to create and build an app for refugees and migrants. It would be multi-lingual with the aim of being a kind of ‘one stop shop’ for all kinds of things new people to Germany might need. It was well-intentioned and thoughtful. But it didn’t fly with the people it was supposed to help. There were numerous reasons for this, as there always are, but the point Satti was making was that the app with designed for refugees and new migrants rather than designed with.

Instead, Satti and his group approached the refugees and new migrants as co-designers, as crucial, as agentic, and as fundamental to the design process as they were. One of the first learnings Satti and group gained was that the refugees and migrants didn’t like these labels. They wanted to be known as new-comers.

This idea of co-design, of designing with rather than for, really got me thinking. When we design for, we run the risk of re-creating existing power imbalances despite our very best intentions. Whereas, when we design with, this is empowering for all involved. I think this holds great potential within a school (or a Community of Learning) for open, flexible, genuine learning for all involved – no matter their shoe size (as Keryn Davis might say.)

Co-design calls on us to hold our ideas lightly and to be ready to challenge and confront own assumptions. To put aside what we think “should” be.


I wonder if we might have a tendency as adults who work with younger learners to want to “just” help and that this might mean that although we intend on designing with – this could come with an unintended superiority or paternalism/maternalism, to want to do ‘for’. Perhaps as adults we might need to do some ‘unlearning’ first and to remember the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, where children have the right to be heard, the right to be taken seriously, and the right to be treated with respect. (There are also some cool NZ resources on working with children from the NZ Children’s Commissioner: an explanation of the children’s rights, and some ways to engage with children.)

Which leads me to wonder:

  • How might we approach learners as co-designers?
  • How might we create a safe space for co-design? (The principles of Universal Design for Learning could be awesome here.)

And then further, given my current interest in school libraries: What might a co-designed school library be like?

  • What do learners value in their school library?
  • What innovative ways could they see the library space being used?
  • By whom?
  • At what times?

What rich learning is possible if we design with rather than for.

20th vs. 21st Century Teaching

Content may no longer be king – and teachers may need to learn to put their ego aside in order for this kind of powerful, student-centred learning to take centre stage.

My Island View

This week’s #Edchat was about teacher-centric learning vs. student-centric learning. It is a topic that often gets teachers actively involved in discussion. The reason why so many teachers are so passionate about this subject is unclear, but if Twitter chats and tweets are any indication, it is obvious that many of our connected educators strongly favor student–centric learning. Many view it as 20th century education vs. 21st century. In fact we have been having the “sage on the stage” vs. “ guide on the side” argument for quite a few decades.

Direct Instruction and Lecture are methods of education that have dominated our lessons in education for centuries. They are probably the lessons that most Americans imagine when they are asked to think of what a typical lesson in school should look like. It is the way that most content experts often deliver content to their students. Lecturing is…

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Students as Learners

Maybe this is me, the traditionalist teacher, kicking back against all the wonderful reading, researching and thinking I’ve been doing about future learning and e-learning that re-inspires my passion for teaching, but something that’s playing on my mind is all the emphasis on the need for teachers to shift.

There is a recurring theme which gets phrased in a multitude of ways about teachers having to shift to being ‘facilitators’, or ‘designers’ or  ‘learning coaches’ … the need to move from being the ‘sage on the stage to the guide on the side’.  Now, I’m seriously not disagreeing with this.  One of e-learning’s greatest potentials, I believe, is the self-directed and personalised learning that can be unlocked.  And this does require a fundamental change in teachers’ pedagogy and practice.  However, it strikes me that just as teachers need a mind shift, so do students.

This little nugget of an idea, which refuses to leave me, was sparked by a comment by Terry Heick: “Students hopefully learn, but the word ‘student’ connotes compliance …. As a teacher I wanted a class full of learners, but the grading process was giving me a lot of students who were learning to play the game.”

In other words, not just teachers need to move and adjust, but students need to move and adjust to become learners.

There is an automatic tension here, particularly for secondary school students who are trained by assessment practices to credit-count and prioritise activities that ‘count’, rather than value learning as its own, never-ending goal.

Similarly, this blog post from Katrina Schwartz seems to me to really honour the skills that successful teachers have, regardless of their embracing of technology or not: “No matter what kind of technology is being used, classrooms are full of rambunctious kids who need a teacher with strong classroom management skills and the ability to set a positive classroom culture.”

Perhaps a useful concept which might serve the purpose of embracing these two shifts, and one that is pertinent to a New Zealand context is ako: which can mean both to teach and to learn, and thus can equally encompass the teacher and the student simultaneously.  We need to foster mutual, reciprocal relationships whereby ‘teachers’ and ‘students’ can learn with and from one another.

Beyond teacher egocentrism: design thinking

Now that I’m feeling more confident with the ‘big picture’ of future or 21st Century learning themes, I’m aware of the need to move to considering programme-unit-lesson design. Posing challenges or ‘ungoogleable’ questions appeals to me, and this reading might help me with my exploration. Steve Mouldey’s application of this reading also has considerable food for thought: Designing and Causing Learning

Granted, and...

As teachers we understandably believe that it is the ‘teaching’ that causes learning. But this is too egocentric a formulation. As I said in my previous post, the learner’s attempts to learn causes all learning. The teaching is a stimulus; the attempted learning (or lack of it) is the response. No matter what the teacher says or does, the learner has to engage with and process the ‘teaching’ if learning is to happen.

From this viewpoint, the teacher is merely one resource for learning, no different from a book, a peer, an experience, or an experimental result. It is the learner who decides to try to learn (or not) from what happens. And the learner will only wish to learn and be able to learn if the conditions of learning have been optimized to make sustained engagement and understanding possible.

Put in terms of a phrase that many now…

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