By Atul Gawande
In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.
But technology and incentive programs are not enough. “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,” wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.
Really interesting article with implications for teaching. Makes sense, and resonates with much of what we witness, that most people won’t change their practice unless there is something in it for them. I guess that is why we have seen a marketed change in how many teachers are using technology in their own learning but not in their classrooms. And how as my friend Tony has said before, we some teachers being more interested in looking like and promoting themselves as exceptional teachers rather than trying to identify what really makes a difference for their students.
by Dean Ashenden
GRATTAN’s concern is to see whether schools do or could compete in ways that push up educational performance. “Evidence-based” as always, it takes a close look at what actually happens in a broadly representative group of schools, those of Southeast Queensland, home to around three million people. Grattan’s detailed examination of what actually does and doesn’t go on in these schools reveals that between 40 and 60 per cent of them don’t and can’t compete on “results,” and the rest do so only at the almost irrelevant margins. It’s not that the schools lack the “autonomy” to compete. Contrary to popular and official assumption, Grattan finds that Australian schools enjoy a higher degree of autonomy than just about any in the OECD. What crimps the market as an instrument of “performance” is distance, transfer costs, school capacity limits, and relatively modest differences in schools’ educational performance. In the upshot, parents rarely take their sons and daughters from one school to another in pursuit of better results, and schools rarely lose or gain them. “Good schools don’t grow,” Grattan finds, “and bad ones don’t shrink.”
It is clear that schools perform better because of their cohort. “Good schools” attract “good students” which leads to “good results” the teaching and school program matters little. Also, lets not forget that individual scores are adjusted based on their cohort, further entrenching the divide between “good schools” and the others. In fact, I’d suggest that these schools are less likely to have innovative programs because there is absolutely no reason to. They’re seen as being a good school based on a few percentage points in final year exams and therefore never need to question if they are adequately preparing their students for their adult lives. Depressing really!
by Don Aitkin
Research is not the reason for the university; teaching students and the dissemination of knowledge are its core functions. Researchers can work anywhere, in private companies, in research laboratories, in hospitals, in the military, and even in universities.
It may seem almost traitorous of me to say so, given that my academic life was based on research in various ways, but if the university world is to become a happier and more fulfilling place, then there must be a reappraisal of the role that research now plays in it, and a recognition that it is the education of students that is the real responsibility of the university.
Until then, the malaise will continue.
Interesting take on universities, and might explain the appeal of MOOCs, further deprioritising teaching.