Archive for the ‘Shifting schooling’ Category

Being played by the games that we play

August 31st, 2015

Over the last six weeks or so I’ve been playing a game called Clash of Clans. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, according to,

Clash of Clans is the hit army strategy game where you

  • Raise your own army of Barbarians, Archers, Hog Riders, Wizards, Dragons and other mighty fighters
  • Battle with players worldwide and take their Trophies
  • Join together with other players to form the ultimate Clan
  • Fight against rival Clans in epic Clan Wars
  • Play on iPad, iPhone and Android devices

The game is pretty much what it says on the can. You start with a little village, a handful of resources, and a few hints about how you can move on up in the cute little Clash of the Clans world. And moving on up is what it’s all about. You acquire resources by means fair or foul, add to your ravening hordes, and raise the height of your ramparts as you are tantalised by visions of your future terrible majesty at the next level up.

At the time that I signed up, it sounded like fun and it has turned out to be. It’s an immensely popular game that earns squillions of dollars for Supercell - the company that developed it. But I am not just interested in the fun and the popularity of Clash of Clans, I am interested in the learning that is associated with it. Of course, every game has learning associated with it – from Tiddlywinks to Blackjack – but how does that learning substantiate both within and without the game, and how is the world  changed by that learning?

As I was thinking about learning and Clash of Clans, I came across an interesting paper by Sybille Lammes that applies a post-colonial analysis to a number of games that share some similarities with Clash of Clans (she mentions Age Of Empires, Civilization and Rise of Nations). This kind of analysis is not something that I am familiar with, but I could immediately see its value. Broadly, it investigates (with a post-colonial analysis frame) how a player is positioned by a game and how that positioning impacts on how the player interprets and responds to the world around them.

Maybe that sounds a little academic. If it does, then have a look at this clip where Frank Lantz asks of the game Counterstrike, “How does a game like this interact with ideology?” Although it’s in a different context, he’s asking a similar question. And to me a least, his presentation is certainly interesting, but not at all academic. [And thanks to Rachel Bolstad for sharing that clip with me.] In fact, I think the issue of how we are positioned by the games we play is not just interesting, but important. And every game is different – the positioning associated with a game like Minecraft is quite different from the positioning associated with Clash of Clans.

For written texts, it’s completely normal for us to think about the purposes for which texts are written and how authors write texts in order to influence. In fact, we ask our students to think about these sorts of things too – from even the very early days of their school lives (try level Two of the New Zealand Curriculum). And in doing so, we empower them. So why not for games?

I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that it’s because it takes much less time for games like Clash of Clans to become normal in the lives of our children than it does for us to reflect this normality in our pedagogical practices and curriculum documents.

So how does all of this relate back to Clash of Clans specifically? It’s a popular game and as with all games, it can have a big impact on people’s lives. In particular, if we’re thinking about how we are positioned by the games we play and how this changes us, what’s interesting about Clash of Clans? Earlier, I wrote “The game is pretty much what it says on the can”, but I think that that “pretty much” was a bit of a lie. What follows are four of the things that aren’t “on the can”, but that are key to how players of Clash of the Clans are positioned:

Freemium – is Clash of Clans’ business model. In particular, players can purchase upgrades and in-game resources that they would otherwise have to earn through time consuming game-play. That is, players’ real-world money is an occulted resource in the game. Because Clash of Clans is competitive (albeit with low stakes), this clearly presents a model of a world that is far from egalitarian.

Territory – Isn’t a resource. No player ever occupies the territory previously occupied by another. To my mind, this feature marks out Clash of Clans as something a little different to the colonisation games analysed by Sybille Lammes. Interestingly, players who have just been raided by an enemy are given a default choice of revenge – again without the possibility of capturing territory.

Death – Doesn’t exist. When an enemy has plundered a players’ territory and razed it to the ground, it simply regenerates along with all of that player’s resources (although the enemy is rewarded). So what, if anything, then represents ultimate loss in the game? I wonder if the answer is stasis – not acquiring resources, not attacking others, not levelling up. If so, then this places the player in a situation that rewards them for continual growth – a fairly clear real-world political and economic position.

Clans – Is a feature of Clash of Clans that lets players share military resources with a designated list of other players. Obviously players who are affiliated with more powerful clans are more successful. There are many features of this that I find fascinating, but for me the most fascinating is that many of the clans are based on real-world language spoken by the players, or their real-world ethnicities or nationalities. For example, there are clans whose names and whose member players’ names are written in Korean – presumably they all speak Korean. How do real-world issues – bound up as they are with death and territory – play out in a world where anyone who cares to be is effectively immortal and there is no such thing as occupation? Or are the game mechanics set up so that real-world issues are a barely detectable signal amidst the rest of the game’s noise. Supercell must be sitting on some very interesting data.

None of these points are intended to show that Clash of Clans is bad or good. I certainly enjoy it. If you want to while away some time pounding the snot out of the virtual agents of someone you don’t know, half a world away from you, then give Clash of Clans a go. But if you do give it a go, think about how you’re being positioned and how this might change your interactions with the world around you. And then write and tell me about it.

Games, Pop culture and education

#edchatnz blogging meme

September 1st, 2014

So far I’ve managed to avoid being nominated for the ice bucket challenge, but it’s a pleasure to have been tagged in an altogether different kind of meme, the edchatnz blogging meme. Before I wrote this, the researcher in me had to check just to see how far this meme has spread – type the phrase in Google and you’ll get a full three pages of relevant hits. I think that’s pretty impressive for one little conference and says a lot about how this gathering impacted on the people who attended. Thank you Paula Hogg (aka @diana_prince_ww) for tagging me.

If you get included in the blogging meme:copy/paste the questions and instructions into your own blog then fill out your own answers. Share on Twitter by tagging 5 friends and using #edchatnz. Make sure you send your answers back to whomever tagged you,too!

1. How did you attend the #edchatnz Conference? (Face 2 Face,followed online or didn’t)

Face to face.

2. How many others attended from your school or organisation?

None, but I travelled up with my game development sidekick Dan Milward from Gamefroot and we work in the same building, does that count?

3.How many #edchatnz challenges did you complete?

Augh, none. Somehow I missed registering this. I had no idea I had license to dance in my presentation, or get everyone else dancing. Next time… next time…

4. Who are 3 people that you connected with and what did you learn from them?

Dan and I had the pleasure of meeting @BronSt, @PeggySheehy and @knowclue in Wellington a few days before edchatnz, and then again at the conference. From them I learned you can come to NZ and pretty much nail it in a couple of weeks with a series of timely Twitter introductions… I also got to catchup with @belldogc who I met some years back through a research project. It was also pleasure to think about design stuff with @beechEdesignz. Woops, that’s 5 people.

5. What session are you gutted that you missed?

I suffer from FOMO so I have a policy against thinking about what I miss out on and instead focus on what I do get to experience.

6. Who is one person that you would like to have taken to #edchatnz and what key thing would they have learned? 

Gee guys. These questions are hard! Maybe Dave Thornycroft from Gamefroot, but who am I to presume what he might have learned? Everyone’s learning journey is their own, I think.

7. Is there a person you didn’t get to meet/chat with (F2F/online) that you wished you had? Why?

See Q5.

8. What is the next book you are going to read and why? 

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, because I use science fiction as a way to interrogate various ideas about learning, knowledge, schooling, and the future, and I wrote about Stephenson’s The Diamond Age in our recent book Key Competencies for the Future. I’m also re-reading our own book in preparation for the book group coming up in October, to remind myself what exactly we said in there…

9. What is one thing you plan to do to continue the Education Revolution you learned about at #edchatnz?

I plan to keep doing what I already do, but I’ve now got some new networks and connections with even more NZ teachers who are brave, excited, innovative, reflective, want to make a difference, like to be connected with each other, and who I can learn from, alongside the many other amazing NZ educators I’ve had the pleasure of meeting through 12 years of educational research. I’ve also put Curriculum For The Future  out into the world with a very open invitation for people to help us keep developing this little game both as a group activity and hopefully, soon, as a digital game. Watch this space…

10. Will you take a risk and hand your students a blank canvas?

 I’m a full-time professional researcher so I don’t have students, but I’ve dabbled with handing adults a blank canvas from time to time with an invitation to use it for some unexpected creative thinking about education and the future. I have learned that it is uncomfortable sometimes for we, as adults, to look at a blank page and see it as an opportunity project our own thinking and imaginings so we can examine what lies underneath our day to day practices and behaviours. It is as hard for us as it can be for some students to not get hung up on whether we’re getting it “right”. But it’s really worth it.

Oh –  I get to tag this meme on, so how about two other not-currently-school-teachers: 




Curriculum For The Future: The Game, Shifting schooling ,

The making of Curriculum For The Future: The Game

August 15th, 2014

We recently created a game called Curriculum For The Future, and have been playing it with people and gathering their feedback over the last couple of months. This post explains why we created it, what we hoped it might achieve, what we’ve learned along the way, and what might happen next.

What is Curriculum For The Future: The Game?

The game was initially inspired by tabletop role-play games (RPG), where “players act out their role by deciding and describing what actions their characters will take within the rules of the game”. In this case, the game in its current version isn’t too extreme in terms of the roles it asks players to take on. There are no wizard, trolls, dungeons nor dragons. It’s built around a scenario set in the future in which teams of players must argue for different propositions about what the curriculum for young New Zealanders should look like. They present their ideas to a panel of judges (a group of players elected as a “Curriculum Committee”), who must consider the strengths and weaknesses of different points of view and make choices about which position(s) made the most compelling case.

The gameplay itself is relatively straightforward. Our goal was to give just enough framing and structure that players can find ways to be playful and thoughtful with the ideas that are presented in the game. We didn’t want the game mechanics to overly dominate or divert the focus away from those ideas, but we also didn’t want the game to feel too didactic or boring. We think we did OK for first-time game creators.  The feedback, while largely positive (see below), has included a few sharp yet constructive comments which have helped us think more deeply about what the game does, and what it possibly could do, with some further modifications and adaptations.

Why did we create it?

Year 10 students play Curriculum For The Future

We wanted to experiment with creating a process-based resource that could create space and opportunity for ideas about “curriculum”, in its broadest sense, to be generated and shared in a way that is different to the usual ways people might interact with curriculum theory and practice. Depending on who players are, “curriculum” may be something they rarely think or talk about explicitly in their day-to-day life.

One group of people who often have very little opportunity to directly talk about or unpack ideas about “curriculum” are school learners themselves – even though curriculum is implicit in every way to what they experience as school. We think that the question of what students should learn, and why, is one that pretty much everyone is capable of offering a perspective on, whether they are teachers, learners, parents, or anyone else. How deep or well-informed those perspectives are is a relevant question, but so too is the question of whether a game could enable perspectives to deepen or become more well-informed through gameplay. We therefore wanted to create a resource that might open up opportunities for curriculum conversations that mightn’t otherwise happen, amongst people who mightn’t otherwise think or talk about curriculum in these ways. However, the dynamics of bringing together diverse perspectives, and being aware of the different knowledge, power, and prior experiences that people might bring to bear given the opportunity, is easier said than done, as we’ve learned.

But why a game?

Players at the EdchatNZ conference

Curriculum For The Future: The Game aims to give players permission to suspend some of their existing ideas and assumptions about curriculum (and learning, teaching, and school) in order to playfully explore the question “what could the curriculum be?”. Players can try out ideas that might seem outlandish or unworkable in current real life. They can argue for positions that they may or may not really agree with, or even fully understand, or they can take a position they do agree with and test it against challenging questions.

We believe it’s relatively safe to do this kind of exploration in a game because there are no real or serious consequences – there are no ways to “get it wrong” necessarily. The ideas that the group of players collectively generates or imagines during the game do not necessarily have to be acted on. Some have suggested this is a weakness, though I don’t agree. In my view, that’s not the game’s primary purpose, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility for that to happen later, or with some variations of the game in some contexts where that is a key goal. The worst case scenario is that the game is perceived as boring or pointless – but much of the game’s success depends on what players bring to the game, how they choose to play, and what meaning they choose to make of the experience. The ultimate value of the game may also have a lot to do with the context of use, and what could happen before and after the actual gameplay experience. This is something we’ve been talking about with some of our test players, and there have been some interesting suggestions about ways to provide more wrap-around to take the ideas from the game deeper and further.

A work in progress

A diverse team including students, researchers, teachers, and education public servants

We’ve been talking about these as our “beta” versions as we are currently trialling them with different groups, gathering feedback, and continuing to modify and adapt as we go. Curriculum For The Future is a research-inspired resource. In the game notes and workshop notes we discuss some of the research and thinking they drew on. They were initially written with teachers in mind but as they grew we expanded our vision to hope that they would also be useful and usable by parents, students, and other people outside education.

This is where our testing with different players comes in. We’ve played the game with our colleagues at NZCER, with students and teachers at Onslow College, Wellington East Girls College, and Hobsonville Point Secondary School, with a group of mostly teacher participants at the EdChatNZ conference, and with a mixed group of 45 players that included secondary students, teachers, NZCER staff, Ministry of Education staff, and a collection of other people from education-related and non-education organisations in Wellington. We’ve played with student-only groups, and groups which mix together students, teachers, and other adults. We have tried various modifications each time based on the feedback we get from previous players. We’ve played with very small groups (pairs), and very large groups. Every time the dynamics of the game play out differently, and the feedback raises fascinating insights into game players’ experiences of the game. In a few instances, players have seized control of some aspect of the game, which is always exciting to watch.

A diverse team plays with the idea of curriculum being "co-developed with learners"

What have we learned?

Most players say that it is fun and challenging
Only a few players have given explicit feedback that they didn’t like the game, most often because they felt they couldn’t connect with the content of the game, or couldn’t see it’s purpose. So far, these players have been the minority (although there may be others who privately disliked it but didn’t want to tell us). I’ve paid close attention to what these players have said, kept records of their feedback, and thought about what could be tweaked or changed to make it more enjoyable or interesting for them. I’ve also accepted that it won’t necessarily work for everyone, no matter how carefully we try to design it.

It gets people thinking, and opens an opportunity to hear other people’s thoughts, values, and ideas.
Many players have said this, particularly students. If the game succeeds in opening up a space for thinking and talking about curriculum and learning – even if that’s all it does – then I consider that to be a meaningful result. What happens next with that thinking is an open question and a “next challenge”. I invite everyone who’s interested to contribute their thoughts and efforts towards that next challenge.

It is perceived to suit certain personality styles or dispositions
Some players have pointed out that the game might favour people who are confident in their ability to speak in front of a group and/or who feel confident that they are knowledgeable enough to say what they think. This is almost certainly true, though there may be ways to tweak the gameplay to change habitual group dynamics that tend to favour the dominant voices. It’s also still quite a language-based game, and we already know that some of the concepts and vocabulary are hard for some players (students, or people not involved with education) to interpret, and the literacy demands of the game in its current form could be a barrier for some players. Perhaps we could try to take the game in a more visual or kinaesthetic direction. Perhaps we could remake the game based in a completely different cultural mode, style, and way of engaging with people. These are all interesting possibilities to consider.

For every suggestion or criticism of the game, someone else has said the opposite
Some people think they game should be more extreme, more outlandish, and that it should play up the “future” dimension in more provocative ways. Other think that it’s “ridiculous” to include more extreme ideas because it’s “obvious” that the less extreme ideas are going to “win” the game. Some people think we need to make it more fun, while other think we need to make sure people take it more seriously. Some people think it’s an interesting and fresh way to think about complex ideas in ways that open up for spontaneous and creative thinking, while others think the game needs to provide more explicit links to research and theory to help players take their thinking deeper.

What happens in the private space in players’ minds is as interesting as what is played out publicly in the game.
The written and verbal feedback we’ve been gathering shows that what happens publicly in the game is only the surface layer. Whether players leap into the game with gusto, or whether they sit quietly as observers, almost everyone who’s given feedback has indicated the many additional layers of experiences that you can’t necessarily see just by observing the game. Some people have talked afterwards about how the group dynamics in their table played out and how that could be different if the rules were different, or if the players were different, or if the context were different. Some talk about how they felt during the game, whether it was amusement, excitement, frustration, surprise, irritation, terror, or any other response. Are these the kinds of thoughts and feelings that are usually involved in conversations about curriculum? Perhaps not – and we think that’s interesting in itself.

“Everyone’s got an opinion on the colour of the bikeshed”
As we developed the game we had a lot of ideas about variations we’d like to have included. Some of these we tried and discarded, some of these we didn’t try, and some we’d still love to try if we have an opportunity. Our players have offered a lot of ideas too – some along the lines of our original ideas, and some which offered a different twist that we hadn’t thought of. I love the fact that other people can have these sorts of ideas from playing the game, and if I had unlimited time and resources I would love to keep experimenting and trying them out to see what happens. But my wise collaborator, game developer Dan Milward also wryly noted that “everyone’s got an opinion on the colour of the bikeshed”, and the original version of the game can’t be all things to all people… BUT…

It’s licensed under creative commons as attribution, share alike, non-commercial so that other people can take and remake the game in the ways they’d like to play it, or for the people they’d be interested to play it with. We want people to use it, adapt it, modify it. Our only request is that they share back with the rest of us what they’ve done and what happened.

What’s next?

In terms of the original version of the game, for now we’re pausing to think and reflect on all the feedback and think about what might come next. We’re also waiting to see whether anyone who’s experienced the game so far comes back to us with an idea, opportunity, or proposition for a “next step”.

Also, right from the beginning we’ve been thinking about whether and how we could remake Curriculum For The Future as a digital game. There are oh-so-many-reasons why we think this is an idea worth exploring. We’ve also discussed this possibility with everyone who’s played the game as well as a range of other people interested game development and games in education. But that’s a whole other story for the next post…

Curriculum For The Future: The Game , , , , , ,

“Design thinking” for educators – an inspiring resource!

April 22nd, 2013

I’ve recently been talking a lot about futures-thinking in education, and if there is one “take home message” that I’d like to underscore it’s this:  We all need to start thinking of ourselves as futures-thinkers and future-builders. If you haven’t seen it already I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch this Keri Facer video.

So…What does it mean to be a future-builder?  “Building” usually requires starting with a bit of a plan, right?  The question is, who designs the plans? I think we all need to have a hand in shaping the future, and that means we all need to think about ourselves as designers as well as doers.

I’ve long been interested in “design thinking” and last week I stumbled upon a rather inspiring set of videos and resources on Design Thinking for Educators, developed in the USA by a Riverdale+IDEO. The Design Thinking toolkit is available for download for free and is well worth a look. For a little introduction to design thinking, check out the video below. I think this could be a fantastic and inspiring resource not only for teachers and school leaders, but anyone wanting to take on the challenge of designing solutions to fit their own community’s needs and make a difference.

Future focussed issues, Shifting schooling, Teachers' work

Musing on motivation and NCEA

September 11th, 2012

Just recently I’ve been thinking about what motivates secondary students to want to learn, and specifically the complex but important relationship between motivation/engagement and NCEA. So often we hear that kids won’t learn anything (in their senior secondary years) unless there will be a reward of credits for the effort they make. Pretty much every secondary teacher would recognise the truth in that and it’s so easy to stop there. End of story! There’s no point in saying it shouldn’t happen because it obviously does. But what should we do about it?

This came up as an issue when we recently looked back across the years of our NCEA research with six future-focused themes as an analytical frame (these themes are in Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching). The results of the analysis are outlined in a new report called NCEA and Curriculum Innovation.

One of the messages that came out of the analysis was how important it is that students are active partners in their learning, and want to keep learning of their own volition. When you say this though, it’s easy to read it as the opposite of motivation via credits (i.e. a simple binary between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation). But as we found when we applied the results of our analysis to three case studies of NCEA-related innovations, it’s not that simple.

For some students early success from worthwhile learning – i.e. the students know that what they are doing is of value to them and others – can be a “circuit-breaker” if their past learning history leads them to expect to fail yet again. Here a boost of extrinsic motivation precedes but can lead to more intrinsically motivated learning efforts. But how do we get that crossover more often? I’ve described how it happened in one specific set of circumstances (in the first of the case studies) but there must be other ways and I’d love to hear about them.

One thing I do know is we shouldn’t wait until the NCEA years to try and boost intrinsic motivation. In the longitudinal Competent Learners study, there was one smallish group of students who were in the lowest cognitive and/or attitudinal groups in the early primary years who went on the get Level 3 NCEA. The difference for them, compared to other kids who stayed on a less successful learning pathway, was that they had learned to persevere while still in primary school and by age 14 were in the top quartile for a number of markers of intrinsic motivation. The short report that describes this analysis is here.

In the recent Curriculum Innovation case studies, we also found an interesting but complex pattern of motivation for a group of more academic students. Yes they wanted to get merit or excellence for their research efforts (the extrinsic reward) but for them a lot of the appeal of the learning related to the engaging nature of the task itself and the “something more” that was demanded of them by the merit and excellence criteria in the subject’s newly aligned achievement standards. Again my wondering is this: in how many subjects/standards is this crossover from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation actually happening? And how do you leverage the potential for crossover so that many more students come to care more about the learning than the credits? Maybe a different sort of “circuit breaker” is needed here?

Shifting schooling, Uncategorized

Researching the future of education and community engagement: “hard fun”?

August 31st, 2012

For many years some of us at NZCER have been chipping away at  the gnarly question of what it might take to achieve deep levels of community and public engagement with education – not just for the purposes of  engaging the community in debates around the perceived educational issues of today, but to start to collectively reimagine public education to ensure that it is relevant for the future. We call this “future-oriented community engagement with education”.

I’m very aware of the ease with which a term like “future-oriented” can be used to mean everything and nothing. For example, I’m fairly certain that almost everyone involved with education (including teachers, students, families, and communities) believes that what they are doing now is preparing learners “for the future”; this idea is so ingrained that it’s almost tautological.

But as I have discussed in a previous blogposting and in a lot of my writing, in my opinion most of us actually have a very poor set of  ”futures thinking” skills and tools. This isn’t necessarily a failing of our intellects, but rather of our own educational experiences and the fact that the human environment has changed (and continues to change) so rapidly that our basic default settings for thinking about and planning for the future simply can’t cut it anymore. To my mind we may as well just come  to terms with this, and with due humility,  just start getting  on with the work of assisting ourselves and each other to become better futures thinkers and futures-builders.  This is good work and important work, and really, really challenging work.  However, as an educational researcher I have seen how the inherent rewards of this kind of work are energy-building, “buzzy”, and above all, deeply meaningful for the people who are engaged with it. (Years ago at NZCER we  adopted the phrase “hard fun” to describe this kind of work, and it still crops up in our conversations from time to time).

That brings me to another question I’ve been worrying away at for the last few years: What is – or should be – the role of research in informing, supporting, critiquing, or evaluating the kind of future-oriented work that we are arguing needs to happen?  If education needs to change, what about educational research? Where are we positioned in all of this? Should we be trailing behind the changes  to document and make sense of them?  Should we be informing and directing the changes, or leaving it to others to pick up our work so that their work is “research-informed” and “evidence-based”? Is it our role to sit on the sidelines or to get in amongst it?

I think many people assume that research is about finding answers, but in my experience it’s  all about reaching the meaningful questions. If my theme question for 2010-2011 was, “what does it mean to take a future focus in education” then my theme question for 2011-2012 has been “what does it mean to take a future-focussed approach to research?”. This question has filtered through several of my recent projects; you’ll see it addressed it in section 1 of the Future-oriented learning and teaching report NZCER recently prepared for the Ministry of Education, and it’s picked it up and addressed it again in a new working paper called: What role might research play in supporting future-oriented community engagement with education?

The working paper builds on several pieces of our previous work, and in particular this piece by Ally Bull.

As you can see, my own thinking on these matters is still forming and changing and growing, and I’d be interested to hear any thoughts from educators, researchers, or anyone else who is interested in discussing this!


Community engagement, Future focussed issues, Shifting schooling , , ,

Supporting future-oriented learning: A new report

June 12th, 2012

The Ministry of Education has just released a report we prepared for them entitled Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective.

It’s great to have this work out in the public sphere, and given its focus I think it may be of particular interest to you in our Shifting Thinking community.

The report draws together findings from new data and more than 10 years of research on current practice and futures-thinking in education. It discusses some emerging principles for future learning, how these are currently expressed in New Zealand educational thinking and practice,  and what they could look like in future practice.

We hope that this piece of work can be a platform for continued thinking about the future of learning and teaching in New Zealand and I would be interested to hear from any of you who have a chance to engage with the report (or those of you who might have contributed to the research!)

Future focussed issues, Shifting schooling , ,

Contribute to research on “21st century teaching and learning for New Zealand students”

September 15th, 2011

It’s been a while since my last shifting thinking posting, but rest assured I have been quite busy. You may be pleased to hear that planning is underway for the 2012 Shifting Thinking workshop, and we hope to confirm dates within the next month or two  - stay tuned.

In other news, I am leading a new project called Supporting 21st century teaching and learning for New Zealand students. The project aims to develop a vision for what future learning might look like for New Zealand students and to contribute to educational futures thinking and policy development. Further details about the project can be found on NZCER’s website.

If you are involved in education in New Zealand you may be able to contribute to this research.
We would like to hear from New Zealand principals, teachers, and others who work with school-aged learners (approx 5-18 years old) about their innovative educational practices and ideas for teaching and learning for the 21st century.

From mid-September 2011 we are inviting New Zealand schools that teach in English-medium, and others who support these young people’s learning, to contribute their stories of innovative practices and future-focussed thinking  through an online submission form , where you can also read more about the kinds of practices we are most interested in hearing about.

I also hope to contribute further blogpostings about the research as it evolves!

Shifting schooling , ,

What does “student voice” mean to you?

April 28th, 2011

“Student voice” is talked about a lot in education, but what does it actually mean? Does it mean listening to students’ opinions? Does it mean involving students in decisions about their learning? Does it mean students should have an equal say in decisions made about their entire educational experience, including decisions made at the level of school management and governance? Does it mean ALL of these things?

Recently my colleague Rose Hipkins and I have been unpacking some of the different ideas that tend to get lumped together under the rubric of “student voice”.  We were both very interested in this finding from NZCER’s last National Survey of secondary teachers:  When presented with the statement “there is too much emphasis on ‘student voice’ and similar ideas nowadays”, teachers were almost divided in thirds: 26 percent agreed or strongly agreed, 34 percent were unsure, and 39 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed (See p. 89 of this report).

Why did these teachers have such divergent opinions?

More importantly, how exactly did each teacher interpret the term “student voice”?

What did they imagine “too much emphasis” on student voice might comprise?

For me,  answers to these questions would be a lot more illuminating than the raw statistical responses to the original question.  Rose has described it student voice as “a catch-all phrase that appears to be underpinned by at least five different types of pedagogical application, each of them linked to a different body of theory…”. If that’s the case, no wonder there was such a range of opinion!

You can read her full analysis and commentary about this data in Chapter 10 of  this report (see pp. 85-94). Her key message is that teachers (and the rest of us) probably need to think a lot more about the different sets of ideas that are contained within different interpretations of “student voice”.

I think she’s right, and I also wonder if we need to find a better way to think and talk about how to involve and collaborate with young people in education. For me, the most problematic issue is that some interpretations of  “student voice” don’t actively acknowledge or address underlying power differences between young people and adults—particularly in schools, where adult and youth roles are already tightly framed and the power differentials between adults and young people are deeply embedded.

Lately I’ve become interested in the term “youth–adult partnerships” as an alternative to “student voice”.  Youth – adult partnerships are described by authors such as Mitra (2009) “as relationships in which both youth and adults have the potential to contribute to decision-making processes, to learn from one another, and to promote change (Jones & Perkins, 2004, cited in Mitra, 2009). The idea of youth–adult partnership has a more overtly transformative intention than some interpretations of student voice. What I like about this concept is that it requires us to reconsider the roles and responsibilities of both young people and adults when thinking about how to engage young peoples’ perspectives – including how to address the existing power differentials between the partners.

You can read more in a working paper I have posted on the NZCER website.

I am interested in how a shift away from the discourse of “student voice” in favour of the discourse of “youth-adult partnership” might help all of us with an interested in education to have richer and more provocative discussions about young peoples’ rights, responsibilities, and roles in co-constructing their educational experiences. I am sure that there are already good examples of youth-adult partnerships occurring in some schools (for example, restorative justice approaches).  What conditions might allow youth–adult partnership ways of thinking to play out further in schools? What can these partnerships might look like, (including for students at different year levels?). I’m interested to know what other people think about “student voice”, and whether (and how) we might need to shift our thinking about this concept if we are to really change the way we think about teaching and learning in the 21st century.


Bolstad, R. (2011). From ‘student voice’ to ‘youth – adult partnerships’: Lessons from working with young people as partners for educational change. Working paper from the Families and Communities Engagement in Education (FACE) project. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Hipkins, R. (2010). Reshaping the secondary school curriculum: Building the plane while flying it? Findings from NZCER National Survey of Secondary Schools 2009. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Mitra, D. (2009). Collaborating with students: Building youth–adult partnerships in schools. American Journal of Education, 115 (3), 407–436.




Shifting schooling , , , , ,

Students “mapping out their own futures”

November 10th, 2010

I’ve neglected to check my pigeonhole at work for a while, and hence I almost missed seeing this  Education Gazette article about learning pathways at Hauraki Plains College.

This is a pretty exciting article for me, partly because the the school’s approach was “significantly influenced” by a book Jane Gilbert and I wrote, Disciplining and drafting, or 21st century learning?

The article describes how the school has taken some of the ideas we talked about in the book (and talk about often on Shifting Thinking), combined with their own analysis of their students’ needs, and re-created the way they think about timetabling, coursework, pathways, and student support. This quote illustrates the school’s vision for its students.

As students understand their strengths and abilities they are supported in shaping a purposeful direction through their learning which fits with their aspirations for a life beyond the school gates. They see their time at school as relevant to their future and they can plan for it.

How, precisely, do they do it? Read the whole article here.

Shifting schooling , , , , , ,