Important vs Urgent Skills

Andrew_Douch_croppedAndrew Douch is an independent education technology expert with 22 years’ classroom experience. He has won numerous awards for his work with emerging technologies in education, including the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teacher of the Year. His mantra is ‘You don’t need to be very good with technology to do very good things with technology’.

This is the first generation of STEM teachers who must choose between teaching important skills and teaching urgent skills.  In previous generations, there was no difference. The important skills were the urgent skills. Now there is a fork in the road, which presents a threshold challenge to STEM teachers in 2017.

“Importance” is about how much something matters. “Urgency” is about how soon it matters. In previous generations, it was understood that the more knowledge students had when leaving school, the better their career prospects. The urgency of exam preparation incentivised students to learn the important skills that would later underpin their career success. But that is no longer true.

There is a growing, collective understanding among STEM teachers that the skills which prepared yesterday’s students to thrive in a knowledge economy are inadequate preparation for today’s students. As information continues to be commoditised and processes automated, retaining knowledge is less important than it once was. It is still helpful for a student to know the first 20 elements of the periodic table, but failing to know them is a much smaller handicap than it was 20 years ago. After all, you can ask Siri what the atomic mass of copper is, should you ever need that information.

I’m not saying (as some do) that knowledge has no value, nor that looking something up (no matter how efficiently) is as good as remembering it. If students are ignorant on a topic, they have no filter through which to sift new information. In a “post-truth” world, critical thinking is more valuable than ever and critical thinking is problematic for someone who lacks the context that knowledge affords. Nevertheless, YouTube is a pretty effective knowledge prosthesis.

Creativity, problem-solving, resourcefulness, computational thinking… these are skills that have always been valuable but are now at a premium! Teachers get this. Every time I mention it in a presentation I notice teachers nodding. But there seems to be a disconnect between that understanding and the way many teachers plan their classes. Many of us still spend a large portion of our class time teaching knowledge. Why? Because in November students will sit an exam to answer questions that in any other context would be googleable! If we have failed to prepare them for that we will have let them down. We’ll not have done any favours for our own reputation, either! Personally, I don’t think exams effectively measure student learning in any meaningful way in 2017. But as a science teacher I have no influence over the State’s assessment processes (“God grant me the serenity…”). For as long as exams are the gate through which students must enter to pursue a STEM career, we need to hold that gate open for them.

Therein lies the dilemma we face in 2017. Do we spend our valuable class time on the most important or the most urgent things? Do we equip our students with the skills that will matter to them most, or those that will matter to them first? Do we prepare them to thrive in the economy of the future, or to thrive in the exams of November?

I don’t think we can neglect either! But clearly there is insufficient time to do both.

Since we are unlikely to be given more time, we need to make more efficient use of the time we have.

A common criticism of the flipped classroom model is that it is still a fundamentally didactic, teacher-centred approach. I don’t disagree with that – although if done well, I do think that it is much more student-centred than it might seem. Nevertheless, it is not my aim in this article to discuss different approaches to the flipped classroom model, how to do it well, nor to explain how it can be student-focussed. The point I want to make in this article, rather, is that it is much more efficient than traditional approaches. By taking didactic learning out of the classroom, class time is reclaimed for more “important” learning tasks, those which prepare students for the economy of their future. At the same time, it allows students to cover the “urgent” content they need for exams much more efficiently. They can, for example, listen to a lesson at double speed, while multi-tasking it with washing the dishes (or some other mindless chore), thereby saving precious at-desk study hours for other tasks. It also makes that kind of learning demonstrably more effective.

In many ways, I think the term “flipped learning” does a disservice to the concept of flipped learning by implying that it is the wrong-way-round. On the contrary, I think it should be the new normal – at least until we do away with high-stakes standardised testing.

Nobody races down to the bank during lunchtime any more, to withdraw cash during bank hours. Instead, we enjoy lunch with our colleagues in the staffroom. Then we multi-task cash-withdrawal with our grocery shopping that evening when the bank is closed. We don’t call it “flipped banking” – but that is what we are doing! We are using technology to time-shift a necessary, “urgent” errand to make more efficient use of our time, while also reclaiming our lunch time to rest and cultivate rapport with colleagues – both of which, are important but not urgent.

This blog has been re-published with the permission of Andrew Douch.

Why students still need knowledge when anything can be Googled

Andrew_Douch_croppedAndrew Douch is an independent education technology expert with 22 years’ classroom experience. He has won numerous awards for his work with emerging technologies in education, including the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teacher of the Year. His mantra is ‘You don’t need to be very good with technology to do very good things with technology’.

In my enthusiasm to explain why teachers should be spending more time with their students working at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy, I have often pointed out the fact that knowledge has falling value. I stand by that statement. Google is a pretty good knowledge prosthesis. A head full of knowledge is unlikely to get you a job any more. The skills that make a person valuable now are the so called “soft skills” – problem-solving skills, entrepreneurship, computational thinking skills, presentation skills, communication skills, an eye for design and leadership skills. Those skills are hard to automate and you can’t easily google them. In 2017 a head full of facts is only valuable at trivia nights. Oh! – and in exams.

But in my effort to point out that the value of knowledge is falling, I have sometimes been misunderstood to be saying that the importance of knowledge is falling. On the contrary. In many ways the importance of knowledge is rising!

Every year the Oxford Dictionary announces their word of the year; a word that has entered the public vocabulary in a profound way. In 2013, for example, the word of the year was “Selfie”. Can you guess what the word of the year was in 2016?

“Post-truth”.

“You can’t believe everything you read in the papers” is a saying that long predates the internet. But the saying is doubly true now. You definitely can’t believe everything you read on the internet. As the value of knowledge has fallen over the past two decades, it has taken trustworthiness down with it. That’s the downside of the internet giving everyone a voice. There are now lots of unedited voices being exercised.

A student without knowledge in a subject, has no filter through which to sift new information. In a post-truth world, knowledge is more important than ever – it’s just not what employers will be basing their hiring decisions on.

This blog has been re-published with the permission of Andrew Douch.

What is a ‘best fit’ working environment?

This blog has been re-published with the permission of Trina Hoefling and The Smart Workplace.

Trina Hoefling is a longstanding organisation and team development expert and master teacher at the University of Denver graduate school. For over 30 years Trina has been helping organisations and people establish virtual presence, bridge virtual distance and build strong relationships that span time and space. A keynote speaker at the inaugural EdVET 2017 in Melbourne in April, her Trina discusses how to become a SMART workplace.

“Best Fit” workplaces consider virtual and co-located work environments as viable places to get the job done. “Best Fit” workplaces find and build talented teams that align with the organization’s desired culture and goals. They’re SMART about how they design the organizational structure so that it “fits” the way work gets done and the way knowledge is stored.

SMART workplaces start by asking how ‘Best Fit’ their organisation is in 3 ways:

“Best Fit” Work Environment

Offices and team spaces should be resources, not status symbols or uninspiring mazes. Design business operations and workspaces to match what people need. Today’s workspace may call for more teaming spaces and drop-in work stations with fewer offices. This work environment needs to support teams being able to easily manage multiple relationships – customers, teammates, project groups, managers, task forces, and so on. Showing up for multiple team meetings by web conference is a significant “best fit” time-saver for busy contributors.

“Best Fit” Organizations

“Best fit” organizations may be wholly co-located, blend office workers with mobile workers, or be completely virtual. It depends on the purpose, business goals, stage of growth and focus. All these factors contribute to what organization design and structure is the “Best Fit”. The key to success is understanding that there is no one right way because “Best Fit” is different for every organization. When organizations assess how integrated operations need to be for people to easily contribute their best, they can adapt or redesign business practices for “Best Fit”.

“Best Fit” Teams

Team leaders want to hire team members who are a “Best Fit” for their group. When considering hiring new team member, consider these multiple factors:

  • Competence and expertise – This includes the obvious professional skills, but also includes less obvious virtual collaboration competence. (See TSW blog post The Power of True Collaboration.)
  • Functional representation
  • Cultural fit, and
  • Simple availability.

Cross-organizational teams require additional “fitting.” They need to share knowledge and “think” together across organizational boundaries. They need to develop communication that “fits” all the people represented. Develop communication agreements that enable appropriate information sharing and protect organizational boundaries, such as intellectual property and proprietary processes.

Disengaged virtual workers aren’t a ‘good fit’.  And it’s not their fault.

“Best Fit” organizations need team leaders who are strong in co-located and virtual work environments. I’ve facilitated heart-sinking conversations when the team member and manager realize that the feverish work completed was in the wrong direction. Communication had broken down across the miles. Individually and collectively, virtual teams produce results when they coordinate work, negotiate competing priorities, and check in with each other regularly

If virtual team members do not have a clear sense of how their work “best fits” the team’s purpose, three unfortunate outcomes usually result:

  • They disengage
  • They waste effort on work misaligned with the team’s needs
  • They miss performance goals or quality standards.

Strong team leaders work with their teams to develop communication habits and team agreements that “best fit” the needs of the work while easily bridging virtual distance.

Get rid of virtual distance among organizations, teams and employees. Facilitate connections among the network of teams and across geography and culture. Look for operational efficiency and continuous improvements while flexibly serving the customers. In other words, learn to be SMART about the way that you work.

EdVET 2017

At EdVET 2017 in April, Trina Hoefling will join a team of bright minds in online and technology-enhanced education including Andrew Douch, respected educational technology specialist and presenter on 21st Century learning. Presentations will include:

  • Teaching tomorrow’s workforce today
  • The many faces of social media: Attracting, supporting and retaining learners
  • Using tech to meet rapidly changing ESOL student expectations
  • Towards a Moodle quality assurance framework.

For more information and to register for this inspiring event please visit the EdVET 2017 website.

Teaching is my lifelong passion

This blog has been re-published with the permission of Trina Hoefling and The Smart Workplace.

Trina Hoefling is a longstanding organisation and team development expert and master teacher at the University of Denver graduate school. For over 30 years Trina has been helping organizations and people establish virtual presence, bridge virtual distance and build strong relationships that span time and space. Scheduled to visit Melbourne in April 2017, today Trina shares her journey into teaching.

In 4th grade I was partnered with Steve to be his coach. He was a cool kid getting poor grades. I was a quiet girl who got A’s. I can’t remember if his grades got better, but I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up – a teacher. I remember lining up my stuffed animals in rows on my bed, teaching what I studied in school.

I’m often teaching, whether I travel to the student, from a virtual classroom, or in a coaching conversation. Recently a grade school classmate asked me why I loved teaching and training so much. Another classmate answered for me so simply –

“Trina is driven to help people get to their goals. Teaching is the main way she does that.”

She was right; teaching people what they need to meet their goals IS what I do.

trina_photoI was a high school teacher in the early 80’s before computers and copy machines. My first teaching clothes were polyester double knit, that enduring fabric that absorbs chalk, mimeograph ink, and never ever wrinkled. I was a fashion icon with a mullet…

I’ve been a corporate trainer and coach for over three decades. My clothing choices improved and I was an early adopter of laptops. I’ve logged many frequent flyer miles getting to where my learners were. I started to burn out in the mid-90’s though I still loved my work. The travel was extreme. It wasn’t great for the clients either.

Learner follow-up was limited to one-off courses and little follow-up. Something had to change, so I became an advocate and early adopter of online learning. All of us then were learning as we went.
Soon I was training trainers at international online learning conferences, still logging frequent flyer miles but less often.

Today I’m an online educator, never far from my MacPro. I teach professionals already established who are improving themselves and their careers. I also teach one-on-one through mentoring and coaching – mostly by telephone. I am a Master Teacher in two graduate programs for the University of Denver, and co-founding faculty at Virtual Workplace University, an online learning destination for today’s professional.

I’m a learner, too. I seek out ways to engage with my peers, tapping wisdom and offering some. I live with a learning mindset. My profession helps me be passionate all the time, without effort and usually without fail.

I’m no longer burned out. When I log frequent flyer miles now, it’s a treat to physically be with fellow learners.

I lucked into a career in 4th grade, thanks to Steve, my first teaching assignment. How I teach and learn has changed, but my passion as a teacher hasn’t.

What we do matters.

Join Trina as she presents at EdVET 2017 on April 28th. Click here for more information.