Author Archives: Niall McNulty

Are South African schools ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution?

As a developing country still dependant on labour-intensive industries such as mining and agriculture, South Africa is at a risk of not optimally taking advantage of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the rapid advancement of new technologies that is building on the developments of the third industrial revolution (the advent of electronics and automated production). According to Klaus Schwab, the Founder and executive chairman of the WEF, the fourth industrial revolution ‘is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres’.

The increasing intersection between physical and digital technologies is changing the world of work in several key ways. As Schwab says, ‘physical products and services … can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value’. Today’s worker needs to understand how digital and physical components can combine to create faster, more efficient and effective products and hybrid solutions.

In education, the challenge is to equip learners in South Africa to function effectively in the 21st Century, and use technology to innovate, collaborate and create.

Skills for the 21st Century

The digital revolution has changed the way we live, work and interact with one another. The skills that are considered most necessary for the 21st Century focus on how best to navigate this digital environment. These skills are divided into learning and innovation skills information, media and technology skills, and life and career skills. These skills can broadly be categorised into cognitive skills and practical skills.

21st Century skills: the three Ls

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning divides 21st Century skills into three categories: life, learning and literacy skills.

Learning skills such as critical and creative thinking as well as the arts of collaboration and communication are more important than ever. Global trade and industry and the global dissemination of information means that learners are emerging into multilingual and multidisciplinary work environments. As Thoughtful Learning says:

‘To hold information-age jobs … students also need to think deeply about issues, solve problems creatively, work in teams, communicate clearly in many media, learn ever-changing technologies, and deal with a flood of information.’

The growth of digital technologies and the extent to which we rely on them in the workplace means that learners need to acquire not only information and media literacy but technology literacy too.

Crucial 21st Century life skills include flexibility and social awareness as well as leadership skills and the ability to be productive and proactive.

Education experts in several countries are finding that there is a mismatch between the skills learners acquire in the course of ordinary school learning and the kinds of versatility and varied literacies employers require.

The importance of 21st Century skills

In today’s job market, an understanding of how to use digital tools effectively, while working collaboratively and across multiple disciplines is vital. In order to teach these skills at school, a new learning framework is required that embeds these 21st Century Skills in the curriculum, imparting subject knowledge while developing the required practical and cognitive skills.

fro

From the Partnership for Learning

So how can South Africa prepare its’s learners for this new world of work?

Cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity are currently covered by the South African curriculum. However, digital tools can enhance and extend this while at the same time providing learners with exposure to digital technology. Key amongst these are, as listed in the Integrating ICT in Education book:

  • Personalised learning – Learners progress at an individual pace. The challenge of offline/non-digitised learning is that learners are expected to keep up with (or slow down to) the majority of the class. Digital education enables teachers to pace learning according to individual needs. In this way, it facilitates the acquisition of cognitive skills at the level of each learner’s ability, allowing some learners opportunities to practise more and others to go ahead when they are ready to do so.
  • Expanded learning – Expanded learning refers to additional learning opportunities outside of the usual classroom teaching and learning scenario. Digital education is able to offer learners across the ability spectrum additional opportunities to either extend their knowledge and skills by having access to extension materials or to consolidate and/or improve their knowledge and skills through doing support activities and by practising similar tasks.
  • Increased engagement – Learner motivation is key to engagement and hence learning. Digital education methodologies such as game-based learning offer opportunities for teachers to increase learner engagement with the subject matter and thereby improve learners’ performance. In addition, access to varied and current content online allows learners to not only enhance their knowledge but also to develop their ability to engage critically with information.
  • Collaborative learning – Digital education makes collaborative learning easy to implement. Digital platforms allow for three key things: teachers can set group tasks; learners can collaborate with one another to complete tasks; teachers can monitor learners’ individual contributions and progress towards completion. In addition, collaborative learning scenarios give learners invaluable opportunities to critically evaluate one another’s inputs and to communicate with one another in order to solve problems through teamwork.
  • Assessment for learning – Digital education enhances the teacher’s capacity to assess learners both diagnostically and formatively in order to accurately identify the cognitive skills that are lacking. In so doing, digital assessment programs enable teachers to offer personalised learning opportunities that are appropriate and effective. Further, game-based learning programs assess learners in a way that makes the assessment process invisible to learners who experience each task as yet another challenge in a competitive environment.

References
Integrating ICT in Education. 2017. Cambridge University Press

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (2008) was developed by Andrew Churches as an extension of the original Bloom’s Taxonomy and creates a hierarchy of learning activities in a digital environment. In this post I will provide a background to Bloom’s Taxonomy and its subsequent revisions, list each of the categories in the hierarchy and suggest a technology that can be used at each level to support learning.

Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom developed a taxonomy of learning objectives in 1956, as a structure to understand the learning process. Divided into three psychological domains – cognitive (processing information), affective (attitudes and feelings) and psychomotor (physical skills) – his taxonomy progressed from Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) to Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS). The levels he identified were: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Bloom’s Taxonomy followed the thinking process with the logic that you “can not understand a concept if you do not first remember it, similarly you can not apply knowledge and concepts if you do not understand them” (Churches, 2008). Forty years later Lorin Anderson and David Karathwohl, former students of Bloom’s, revisited Bloom’s Taxonomy, publishing a revised version in 2001 which reordered the sequence of categories and used verbs rather than nouns to describe each category. It is this revised version that Andrew Churches used to develop his digital taxonomy, keeping Anderson and Karathwohl’s categories of remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating and creating, but extending them into the digital environment. Continue reading

A Literary Guide to KwaZulu-Natal

For several years I was involved in a research project at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, researching authors, their books and places connected to them. We produced a number of author profiles and literary trails over the years (in collaboration with a number of co-researchers), which we published online. Working with UKZN Press, we have taken that research and compiled a literary guide, which was recently published.

Book details
KwaZulu-Natal is culturally rich, offering a wide range of writers – writing mainly in English and Zulu – who are linked through their lives and their writing to this province of South Africa. The writers include, to name just a few, Alan Paton, Roy Campbell, Lewis Nkosi, Ronnie Govender, Wilbur Smith, Daphne Rooke, Credo Mutwa and Gcina Mhlophe. And how better to understand a writer than to know about the places they are linked to? For example, who, after reading the lyrical opening sentences of Paton’s famous book Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) has not wanted to see this scene in reality?

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.

A Literary Guide to KwaZulu-Natal introduces you to the regions and writers through word and image, leading you imaginatively through this beautiful province.

This could include following the route a fictional character charts in a novel, visiting particular settings from a story or tracking down the places linked to a writer, whether a birthplace, home, burial site or significant setting. Literary tourists are interested in how places have influenced writing and at the same time how writing has created place.

  • A Literary Guide to KwaZulu-Natal by Niall McNulty, Lindy Stiebel
    ISBN: 978 1 86914 357 2
  • Read a few pages here …

 

Innovation Africa 2017

I recently attended the Innovation Africa event in Maputo, Mozambique with colleagues from Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education, Cambridge Assessment, Cambridge University Press‘s Education Reform and Cambridge University Press’s global digital team.

The Cambridge team in front of their stand

Innovation Africa is an annual ministerial conference bringing together African countries’ education ministries, tech companies (hardware/software) and education-support businesses.The event is held across three days; Day one is the ‘Africa Leaders Day’ and is open to government officials and select private organisations only. Day two and three are the main conference days which take the format of panel discussions in the mornings with short one-on-one meetings scheduled in the afternoon, where service providers can meet directly with education officials to discuss projects.

It appears that most African countries represented have nascent digital plans, with a focus on embedding 21st Century Skills in the curriculum and creating a ‘knowledge economy’-ready workforce. For example, Zambia has a project called Smart Zambia whereby they are creating digital resources to support teaching as well as distributing 75,000 tablets to learners.  Kenya has set up an e-learning cloud with freely available digital resources for teachers and learners. They have distributed over a million devices to learners, assembled in Kenya via a public-private partnership with Brazilian Positive BGH.

At the conference, IBM launched their Digital Nation Africa project, an online digital literacy course curating open education resources into three training streams, the Digital Explorer, the Digital Innovator and New Collar Jobs. This innovative platform is freely available for residents throughout Africa, with the hope that education ministries adopt it as a means to distribute relevant local content in their countries.

UNESCO also used this opportunity to launch their report on accountability in education, providing feedback on the monitoring process they conducted over the past year with a focus on governments, schools, teachers and parents.

TPACK model

For all teachers struggling to integrate ICT in education in South Africa, the TPACK model is a useful tool, providing a way to integrate pedagogy, content and technology in the ordinary course of teaching in the classroom. This model informs how pedagogy is impacted by the use of digital technology and while deceptively simple it is a powerful teaching approach.

See the diagram below for a visual representation of the model and then watch the excellent three-minute explainer video by Royce Kimmons.