I want to reiterate the most pressing question for me, personally: “Why do we need HSE 21 at all?” In Part 1 of this post, I looked at what drivers there are for a massive infusion of technology into HSE Schools. The data is not compelling. Moving forward, I’ll continue with the HSE 21 program Mission Statement on the “About” page at the HSE 21 site (link):
“The mission of HSE21 is to equip students with the content knowledge, unique skills, and new literacies they will need to contribute positively in their communities and succeed in the 21st-century global economy.”
The Roll Out Plan FAQ (link) lists the expected educational benefits of the program as:
“…increased achievement, organization, resources, accessibility, […] engagement, and […] learning opportunities.”
It then refers readers to the Resources page of the site (link). The Resources page lists links to best practices, but these generally have nothing to do with technology as I will summarize below. There is not the slightest shred of data to prove or even suggest that anything in these statements are true. The above statements imply by association that a 1:1 iPad initiative somehow improves the corporation’s ability to deliver these promises, but the evidence is nonexistent.
For this post, I will concentrate on several items that the HSE 21 team has posted on their Resources page. On that page, the header “Research-Based Best Practices” really grabbed my attention. As a business professional, this is where I get excited. Real “best practices” allow you to leverage the successes of others and avoid their mistakes. And as a parent, I of course want the best education for my children. So show me why something is important, and I’ll support it.
However, this is HSE 21’s biggest and most fundamental failing. None of these “resources” support the program, nor do any other documents I’ve found on the site. Here are the five items listed under “Research-Based Best Practices” as of this posting:
- Project-based Learning (Introductory Video from Edutopia)
- Project-based Learning (Introductory Article – Buck Institute for Education)
- Learning in and for the 21st Century (Symposium Report – Speaker: John Seely Brown)
- Education for Life and Work (National Academies Press Research Report)
- TED Talks Education (PBS Special – Aired May 2013)
Parent meetings, program communications, and the HSE 21 site all refer to “21st century skills”. What is a 21st century skill, and how do we teach it? I want to focus on the National Academies Press publication (the most comprehensive resource) and the NIE symposium report (the most daunting resource, and I don’t use that word lightly). I encourage you to review all of these yourself. But you will see as I have, “21st century skills” may be an important-sounding buzzword, and may be and important idea in reality, but it has nothing to do with HSE 21.
Here is the synopsis for Education for Life and Work, a 250+ page report that you can download as a PDF (free site login required):
“Business and political leaders are increasingly asking schools to develop skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and self-management – often referred to as ’21st century skills.’ […] In this report, features related to learning these skills are identified, which include teacher professional development, curriculum, assessment, after-school and out-of-school programs, and informal learning centers such as exhibits and museums.”
So this report explicitly states that there is a skills gap, and goes about explaining how to close that gap. Appendix B lists various 21st century skills, as distilled from seven research papers. But out of hundreds of pages in the report as a whole, there is only one fleeting reference to “Technology and Communications Literacy”. That’s pretty thin ice over which to carry these iPads for HSE 21. The consensus among these papers actually describes 21st century skills as including the following:
- Active listening
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving
All of these are soft skills; meta-skills learned while achieving and learning other things. The many dozen conclusions and recommendations of this report support my statement. Frankly, I suspect either a) nobody involved in HSE21 actually read this report, or b) whoever skimmed this long, dense report expected that nobody else would read it, let alone question it. In short, it has nothing to do with technology at all. How does technology support development of critical thinking or ethics? I still cannot figure out where the idea of “technology literacy” as a 21st century skill comes from, but basic content literacy would seem more important in a country where a quarter of the adult population thinks the sun revolves around the earth. But if it is reform you must have, the substantial research on the topic listed on the HSE 21 site recommends very different priorities.
The other significant resource was the NIE Singapore symposium report, Learning in and for the 21st Century. This paper purports a fundamental shift in how society as a whole, and education in particular, needs to view the world. Latching on to the idea of a technological singularity, made popular by Ray Kurzweil and other futurists, this article proposes that a whole new philosophy of teaching is required in the coming years to accommodate exponential rates of change in society. It’s difficult to summarize this article, but applying a new tool to the old paradigm – however technologically “current” that tool may be – runs counter to the premise of this article and its conclusions.
The remaining seven videos are quite consistent with these two research reports. Across hours of video, the focus is entirely on the student skills listed above. Elements for teacher improvement are things like “student engagement”, and the general recommendation is a “back to basics” approach based on communication, inspiration, and mutual understanding. The example project-based learning activities deal with a return to hands-on activities rather than the increasing virtualization we’ve seen in recent years and come to expect with HSE 21. There is nothing to recommend a radical technology implementation; the evidence supports quite the opposite action.
The video from Edutopia has a couple of quotes from distinguished educators. I’ll quote them here, but I recommend watching the video if you can.
“The first thing you need to do is give up the idea of curriculum, curriculum meaning ‘you have to learn this on a given day’. Replace it by a system where you learn this when you need it.” -Professor Emeritus Seymour Papert, MIT (emphasis in the original)
“When you think about project-based learning…real tasks that have brought challenges for students to solve… You can see that it’s in context with the ways that kids need to be … functioning adults.” -Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University
Finally, if you have time to watch only one video on this site, click through to the TED Talks Education special, and watch the video with Sir Ken Robinson. He is among the most popular speakers in all of TED, and for good reason. He is funny, engaging, sharp, logical, and inspiring. After watching that video, I was simply horrified that it was associated with HSE 21. It’s message cuts across the grain of how HSE Schools are managed as a whole, and is wholly incompatible with everything I’ve heard and read about HSE 21 to date.
There are hundreds of research universities and thousands of education professors in the US. Why don’t we see research reports about controlled studies between students with/without various technologies, on the same scale as the HSE implementation. Where is the proof or even just suggestive data, that “giving a kid a tablet increases standardized test scores by an average of 15% after three years” or something like that? Simply put, no such research yet exists. All of the recommendations go in another direction altogether, and in that direction is the 21st century.
So I will ask again, and not for the last time, “Why are we doing this?” In Part 2 (link), I look at the direct costs to parents. They’re clearly higher, but administration keeps saying this will save money. I don’t think “saving” means what they think it means.