PauseFest 2015

Recently these two videos appeared in my inbox and it reminded me of the experience. Back in February I was lucky enough to receive some free tickets to PauseFest. The event was an excellent melting pot of ideas from many different areas of life, looking at the ways innovation, technology, and business collide to create new forms of doing things.

The festival ran for the week from Monday the 9th until Sunday 15th of Feb, but I was only able to make the weekend. Although this still meant a very busy time looking at things like the effect of Australian copyright laws on innovation, a deconstruction of a 2D animation pipeline, how IoT (Internet of Things) is reshaping the world, why hackathons are good, and creating innovation cultures.

All of this is important because the core focus of as an educator is to bring a window of the world into the lives of those you educate. Each session highlighted the many directions that our world is rapidly changing and the unconventional paths that people follow to achieve their dreams.

Pause Fest is Australia’s premier digital event, aimed at supporting and showcasing the best in creative and tech from Australia and all over the world.

Each Pause festival tells a story through a unique theme. In 2015, the theme is Pure.

Seminar: Inclusion and education in Scandinavia

Run by The Victoria Institute at Victoria University on the 27th of November 2014, this seminar consisted of four talks by researchers from Denmark and Finland. The main focus was on inclusive practices within these education systems. I have reversed the order of the talks because it makes more sense to me to move from national to local.

The case of Denmark: Inclusive efforts at a crossroads – Susan Tetler

This talk gave an excellent overview of the reforms for the Danish education system. She showed the background of the shift in the numbers of students that have been moved from the regular school system in to the special schools from 2000 where it was 2% until 2012 where it had become 5.6%. These special schools received approximately 30% of all the schools funding in 2012. This reform appears to part of a larger movement to increase teacher’s contact hours and work load

The policy framework, now in it’s third year of implementation aim for 2015 is for only 4% of students been moved into special schools. Each municipality has been given autonomy to implement this in different ways, with a range from token effort to active teacher support.

How do teachers experience counselling as an inclusive tool – Charlotte Riis Jensen

This talk was more practice focuses for the teachers implementing Denmark’s Inclusive schools policy (See the talk by Susan Tetlet, below). The following cartoon was included in the talk and frames the starting point for some of the teachers, who at the start of the change were considering their profession. It also reminds me of an Albert Einstein quote, ‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’

 

To aid the reintegration of student back into the regular school system some of the teachers were provided with facilitation counsellors to assist teachers with this process. While many teachers expected a magic wand to solve their problems the discussion process provided other ways of perceiving the situation and they now have tools to deal with these situations. So teacher job satisfaction has improved.

Student engagement of 1230 Danish 7th grade students – Hilde Ulvseth

This talk looked that the link between the characteristics of engagement and the teacher-student relationship. Which seams obvious as a classroom teacher, however, it’s good to see some statistics on this. These was taken from the Student Engagement Instrument developed by James J. Appleton, Sandra L. Christenson, Dongjin Kim, Amy L. Reschly. Further reading;

Encounters over the counter – Sanna Aaltonen

Even though Finland achieved top results in the PISA tests for OECD countries there are still underlying problems for the socialist state. There is social anxiety over the high rates of young unemployment, school drop-outs and the social exclusion of young people. Finland has the Youth Guarantee, which is part of a larger EU program. Finland’s Youth Assistance rate (of all people on benefits) is around 22% in 2014 having increased from 20% in 2009.

From the data they identified three distinct groups of unemployed Troubled, Worker/Citizens in the making and Victims of the recession. The Troubled group has the characteristics of No Job, not engaged in education and ambivalent engagement with society. The second group, Worker/Citizens in the making, has no jobs, but were still engaged in education. And the final groups, Victims of the recession, had lost their job.

The program aims at re-engaging passive young people with the Finnish society through the use of Experience experts. Where young people with knowledge of the system support others in similar situations.

A number of common problems were brought up;

The deficiency model of an external society must fix the young person, which is unlike to go down well with a disengaged individual. the forcing of the identify of being a broken young person shapes how the individual sees themselves

Another graphic showed the scarcity of time to help young people (ie They need help now, but have to wait.), which lead to the idea of affordance (borrowed from environmental psychology, see The Theory of Affordances Gibson, 1977. or An Outline of a Theory of Affordances).

What do I walk away with?

It was interesting exploring the overlap between education (ie schools) and society from the young person’s point of view as they move into the wider world. There are some questions, puzzles, and a few answers I have….

Are there measurements for wellbeing? A lot of self-help books give definitions, and neuro-science has provided some answers, but short of scanner every child, how can you know? What should you be looking for? [More research required]

Homework (Assistance) Cafes! Looks like an after school program, and given the increase in contact hours for the students within Denmark education system this appears likely. Adding a few Chai-Lattes may make the kids not notice.

Examining the link between student-teacher relationships and the student’s engagement with school. I found there is not enough detail from the attitudes to school survey used in Victoria. I would like to know how individual student-teacher relationships effect that student’s engagement for the teacher’s subject, how do other factors like gender and background effect the results. I found there was not enough detail to provide useful answers. [Again more research required]

The talk of helping young people is great, especially the idea of youth experience experts, but it would have to be handled with care to avoid a rebellious backlash.

And finally I was reminded of a quote by Voltaire, “Work banishes those three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty.”

Book: Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons

This book provides an excellent background on the reforms that have brought Finland from the middle ranks to near the top of the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) ranks (See the Wikipedia Page for PISA). At the time of writing Finland was at or near the top of the charts, but now appears to have slipped back a few places with the top spots being held by Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau, & Japan.

You can check out the book notes by Jane Sigford which give a good outline of the book, or this look at Foreword & Chapter 1. For me, the interesting points made by Finnish Lessons concern things like the low anxiety rates among students and teachers, high levels of respect for teachers and other educational professionals and the focus on literacy early on in the educational adventure of students.

Many of Finland’s policies work in conjunction to create a teaching profession and an educational system that is used as a way of reinforcing the Finnish culture and maintaining their identity.

The book outlines three paradoxes.  On the surface the first paradox – Teach Less, Learn More – does not make sense.  However, because of the high level of competition to enter teaching and the fact it is a respected profession, the question should be how would a dedicated educational professional spend their time? I see it thus, enhancing their skills to create the most up to date curriculum possible, creating stronger links with and between communities, and helping those students who need the extra support.

There is also a side-effect of this: a lower level of anxiety and stress among teachers which should lead to higher staff retention rates. It is worth noting that in business terms the cost of high employee turnover can be up to 2 years worth of salary. (See Employee Retention – The Real Cost of Losing an Employee and Cost of Employee turnover). This would likely translate as a lower quality of educational outcomes as the new teachers develop the skills. If this is systemic across the entire educational system, then the overall outcomes would suffer.

With the second paradox –Test Less, Learn More – I remember a quote from somewhere “you don’t fatten pigs by weighing them”. In this context, I’m talking about standardised tests used to benchmark students and schools against one another, and not assessment of student understanding. The former tends to be low level (See Blooms), while the latter can be high level. As an activity testing will draw the students attention away from enjoyable things like learning to sitting in a room recalling facts. This is likely to cause levels of anxiety and stress for students, which will lead to lower results. In Neuro-biological terms, stress stimulates cortisol production, and long term, an overload of cortisol can have many negative health effects (you can look at these two unverified sources. Stress Effects from the American Institute of Stress or Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes from help guide. Or you can look that up yourself)

The third paradox – More equity through growing diversity – points more towards the policies used to maintain the equity across the system as the country’s population becomes more culturally diverse.

Finnish teachers require a research-based masters degree, which means that they are highly trained in educational theory, pedagogical content,and subject specifics. Once in a school they are given a teaching load to allow more time for professional development, community engagement, and pedagogical reflection. Schools are  given autonomy to implement educational objectives as they see fit. The school hierarchy is governed by those with an education degree to ensure that the focus remains on providing the best outcomes for the students.

Teachers at all levels of schooling expect that they are given the full range of professional autonomy to practice what they have been educated to do: to plan, teach, diagnose, execute, and evaluate. [Pg 76]

Contrast this with the educational reform movements of the world where the teaching & l;earning are becoming standardized, the curriculum is more prescriptive with a heavy focus on literacy and numeracy, which is enforced with test-based accountability. All of which scream that there is only one way of thinking and achieving, which is the death-knell of creativity and innovation for teachers, students and the education system.

Schools are being more scrutinised with organisational and motivational ideas borrowed from business practises (see RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, and the corresponding TED talk – Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation for why this is wrong.)

Looking beyond the book

Since Pasi keep looking at the PISA data, I thought it was worth including the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) comments for 2012 (taken from http://gpseducation.oecd.org/), for a complete overview see the report [pdf].

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) focuses on young people’s ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. This orientation reflects a change in the goals and objectives of curricula themselves, which are increasingly concerned with what students can do with what they learn at school and not merely with whether they have mastered specific curricular content. Since the year 2000, every three years, fifteen-year-old students from randomly selected schools worldwide take tests in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science, with a focus on one subject in each year of assessment.
The latest set of results from the 2012 data collection (PISA 2012) focuses on mathematics and compares the competencies of students in 65 countries and economies.
Around 510 000 students between the ages of 15 years 3 months and 16 years 2 months participated in PISA 2012 representing about 28 million 15-year-olds globally.

  • In 2012, Asian countries as Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei, Japan and Korea have the highest scores in mathematics, reading and science. The only exception is Finland, which also is among the top five performers in science.
  • Some countries, such as Mexico, Turkey and Germany, improved both their mathematics performance and their levels of equity in education between PISA 2003 and PISA 2012.
  • PISA reveals that in most countries and economies, far too many students do not make the most of the learning opportunities available to them because they are not engaged with school and learning.
  • Stratification in school systems, which is the result of policies like grade repetition and selecting students at a young age for different “tracks” or types of schools, is negatively related to equity; and students in highly stratified systems tend to be less motivated than those in less-stratified systems.
  • PISA also shows that the impact of socio-economic status on problem-solving performance is weaker than it is on performance in mathematics, reading or science.

This latest set of PISA testing shows that various Asian countries have taken the lead in their responses to the tests. However, Asian is looking at western countries to see how we foster creativity and we are looking back to see how they foster dedication.

Where to get it

Fishpond => Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

NICTA’s Industry-research collaborations

NICTA’s Perfect Match event spotlighted Research Excellence in ICT, and the research sector-Industry partnerships that have formed. The four industry-research collaborations highlighted current research in the use of big data, the importance of good communication skills in collaborating, and the board interesting and unique solutions that can come from these partnerships.

Talk #1

Ben Spincer (Director of Technology Strategy and Innovation, Telstra) and Professor Chris Leckie (Deputy Lab Director, NICTA Victoria and Professor, Department of Computing & Information Systems, The University of Melbourne). Talked generally about their partnership and the important elements they discovered in the process.

The different in time-frames for reporting where a business will need regular timely reports each week to know the current state of the business. Research needs a longer time frame, so that the time can be spend on the exploration of problem, the design of possible solutions, the development of prototypes (either software or hardware), and the evaluation of the solutions. All of which is the Problem Solving Methodology applied to the real world.

To build a good working relationship both organisations need Open Communications, Similar Interests and objectives. Even from a common ground the message is not always communicated clearly. So a process to back & forth emerges where each side articulates what the project is about. However, people can’t always describe what they want, but can describe what they don’t., until after a number of cycles they agree on the true objective (ie what they really want)

With Big Data there is the challenge of privacy vs the possibility of what you can do with it. The randomisation of personal data

Product Development from an IT failures perspective

Product Development from an IT failures perspective

Talk #2

Ruby O’Rourke (CEO, HubCare) and Colin Griffith (Strategic Adviser, Broadband and the Digital Economy, NICTA) Are developing a game changer, in terms of integrating multiple government services (Health, Welfare, Community support, Social Services) to allow the connecting of government with it’s citizens and vice-versa.

They did raise some point that I’ve mentioned above, and here are some of the other points;

  • The maintaining of privacy for all citizens while continuing to provide needed services.
  • The use of specialist teams across multiple locations.
  • Applying research opportunities to the front line of society.

Talk #3

Brian Sloan (ANZLIC Secretariat, Spatial Policy Brand, Department of Communications) and Peter Leihn (Director, Security and Environment, NICTA). They outlined an open source software project that collects the Victorian government open data and displays it on a ‘spinning globe’. From the stand point of there is an economic benefit from open data, but they needed to build a vision of it. Similar projects have been build in collaboration with Google for three other states (QLD, WA, & NSW), but the open source solution was cheaper and free from potential problems with Google.

Government wanted a 12 month feasibility study for of giving the go ahead, but they avoided that by working with NICTA and completed a working prototype for proof of concept with 3 months. The next objective is to incorporate the other states and all three tiers of government, then to move onto data analytics.

Check out National Map Project, which takes data from data.vic.gov.au

Tallk #4

Larissa Andriske (Occupational Therapist, Barwon Health) and Associate Professor Pubudu Pathirana (Deakin University) the final talk was about 5 projects design to assist rerehabilitation and self management with technology. these included virtual, remote physiotherapy and a project that concentrates on motion system analysis that analyses gait (walking).

Here the challenge was to make the designers and developers of the technology understand the needs of the therapists and the patents. So the therapies became a technical problems for the researchers.

Questions & Answers

Concerning Time-frames on projects. Agile Software Development is being applied to research to make it more responsive. Universities tend to have long lead times for their projects.

About Geospacial Data in time. There is or will be a slider for historical datasets as part of the process to enable predictive analytics (ie future projections). They used a super computer that processed data on tapes that would normal take 8 years in 2 – 3 days. (wow!)

NICTA have note been involved in any partnerships with the Manufacturing sector, but they did mention META, the Manufacturing Excellence Taskforce of Australia.

Concerning Start-ups and new companies. how do they connect with researchers. NICTA has done a little thinking in this direction, and they have few rules to allow adaptability. There is also the state startup scheme, however, a search of Business Victoria and Grants Victoria provided no extra information. Although Grant Finder (Business.gov.au), AustralianGovernmentGrants.org, and this article from 2012, 10 top government grants for start-ups may provide some useful information or promising leads.

Overall

What is true for business is also true for student collaborations. So for ICT education it means that;

  • Collaboration is built on effective communication skills. The client’s true desires or objective are not always present in the design brief or case study. This helps in building a clear vision
  • Both sides of the partnership need to be aware of the needs and requirements of the other. For example reporting time frames.
  • Unexpected result can emerge from partnerships. So it’s not worth starting to a predefined plan in hand.
  • The applications of Big Data are wide and varied, but concerns such as privacy must be addressed.
  • These examples provide insight into business collabroation and can be used for student case studies

Mindfulness in Education, a talk by Nimrod Sheinman

Nimrod Sheinman, BSc, ND has being working on a Mindfulness in Education program in Tel-Avi, Israel for the last 15 years. His program is aimed helping students meet themselves to discover their own internal emotional state, and then from that awareness to learn how to develop self-control. This was achieved through an integrated (or holistic) medicine approach by combining yoga-based movements with breathing & relaxation techniques.

The goals was to enhance self awareness, improve self-efficacy, resilience, sense of coherence, prevent risky behaviours, develop social-emotional skills, support mind-body health and improve learning. Which is to say that they were aiming to reduce attention & concentration deficits, difficult emotions & behaviour issues, risky behaviours, eating problems, etc.

Additionally the program draw on the research of others (see Looking Further, below) to create a positive school environment where the child could develop resilience and well-being. Interestingly the themes of child development (ie the urge for Experience, Mastery, Wellness, Social Interaction, and the inner world of Imagination) can be linked to a RSAnimate talk About what really motivates us (ie Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose).

To achieve this they drew on external experts to help deliver the weekly program within schools for an entire year. As part of the evaluation process the researchers asked the students various questions including;

  • What is this class about?
  • What experiences did you have?
  • What did you understand?
  • What did you gain?
  • How was it helpful or useful?

Across primary school, where the majority of this program is run, students were becoming more aware of themselves, and their responses to the questions demonstrate a meeting of the program’s goals. Beyond this the school showed marked improvements in English & Science, and in children’s behaviour.

Personally I found strong links between this and Daniel Goleman’s work on Emotional Intelligence. This program provides a practical example of enabling students to achieve emotional self awareness, self regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills (See Daniel Goleman’s five components of emotional intelligence, or by the books). All of these attributes will assist in improving individual students emotional outcomes, which should improve the quality of social interactions between students, and finally it should improve the entire school environment.

This style of program, that combines movement with breathing techniques to promote relaxation could work with Tai Chi, QigongPilates, and possible the Alexander Technique. The final choice would be on the skill of the practitioner or teacher and the culturial school environment.

All around the World

This is not just local to Israel, but can be seen across the globe as more western countries.

Looking further

A copy of PowerPoint from Nimrod Sheinman talk at the University of Leeds’ Conference 2014 (all conference papers), International Conference: Mindfulness, Education and Transformation – 2014, talk [pdf], and related videos on mindfulness.

Possible points for additional background exploration;

Start your (Game) Engines

I attended the DLTV conference which had too much funky stuff. AIE‘s session about the Unreal game engine and how it could be used in ICT teaching, was excellent giving me a good background and some cool ideas to try out.
Knowing little or nothing about all these different game engines, I thought it was worth some background research. Ralph Barbagallo’s Blog has a good overview of the various game engines, with some insightful comments. Digital Tutors provides a similar overview and Arges Systems gives an in depth comparison. For a fuller discussion I reads through some of the Unity Forums.
Edit: Unreal is now free for student!

Overall

  • Unity3D is more expensive with per seat / per platform licencing, but provides a greater library of assets to quickly add make games. It does have a free version with a 30 day trail of the Pro.
  • Unreal 4 is very cheap, $19/mo with no lock-in. The engine has been modified to enable easier scripting and C++ programming for the coders. Its asset library is relevantly new. This gets better for Academic Use, because the license covers all the institution’s computers.
  • Crytek is cheaper again, $9.95/mo, and has high quality graphics, but the engine appears to be difficult to work with.