Reflecting on Ed-Tech at the Digital Education Show Middle East

The Digital Education Show Middle East has been taking place at the Dubai International Exhibition and Convention Centre this week. At the heart of the numerous exhibitors marketing their products and services is a conference program that boasts speakers such as Sugata Mitra and Ron Packard. Dr. Sugata is a 2013 TED Prize hole_in_the_wallwinner and professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK) well known for his educational research on the “Hole in the Wall” experiment promoting the notion of self-instruction and peer-peer knowledge building. Ron Packard is the CEO and Founder of K12 Inc., one of the largest education companies in the world with $1 billion revenue, who also shared his thoughts on the significance of technology in education.

As the event progressed and various experts, educationalists, and ed-tech leaders spoke about the trends and needs of ed-tech, it became obvious that the field is evolving from a product-based focus to a personalized learning focus. This might seem obvious to many educators, but was a shift for many educational decision makers from the region who talked about the costly mistakes of attending to infrastructure and hardware rather than ensuring responsive educational tools and content that directly respond to the professional and pedagogical needs of teachers and students.

At our overcrowded round table this week, we talked through the different opportunities for ed-tech to support the personalization of instruction using technology. For practical reasons we focused on mobile learning and learning analytics as illustrated in the figure below.

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After insightful comments and questions from the classroom teachers, school leaders, developers, and government officials at the table, there were strong common messages that surfaced:

  1. The current integration of technology in the classroom lacks a holistic approach
  2. Teachers are struggling with the alignment of assessments given current instructional pathways facilitated by technology
  3. Teachers are struggling with balancing the personalization of instruction and learning with competing demands from stakeholders
  4. Software developers need to work more directly with educators to ensure their products are effective as measured by increased student engagement and learning
  5. The disparity between English and Arabic Ed-tech is widening because of the lack of high quality Arabic language ed-tech content for the teachers and students in the Middle East
  6. Parental engagement and support is critical to success because of the demands on the students to engage individually with the learning tools

 

0digitaleducationshowme2014webheader10002302In all of the discussions at the show, the idea of integrating technology into teaching and learning had less to do with the individual tools and more to do with the process of how the instruction would change to capitalize on those tools. It reflected the needs of students who are simply not excited about technology because it is not special to them because they are digital natives. As Sir Ken Robinson states:

I wasn’t very excited about electricity …. and our kids aren’t really that excited about a lot of the technology that excite adults, they simply take them for granted.

So as we move into this next generation of teaching and learning, with almost 70% of students in the region graduating feeling unprepared and over 60% of employers in the region telling us the students are not prepared for the workforce, how can we support the needs of the Middle East to ensure that Ed-tech supports today’s youth?iStock_000000239353Small_display

Improving Implementation of Common Core Standards and Assessment in MENA

Learning is the imperative to equip future generations to respond and to survive in a frenetically and unpredictably changing world.

Louise Stoll, Dean Fink and Lorna Earl

                         MENA CC                                                               

The MENA Common Core 2nd Annual Conference was held in Dubai on the 24th and 25th of October. A number of educational experts from the Middle East, North Africa and the US came together with the shared goal of improving the implementation of the Common Core Standards in American schools in the region. Over 25 interactive professional development workshops were delivered over the two days period to educators and educational leaders in the region who gave up fun in the sun weekends for this unique professional learning opportunity.

In addition to the formal learning in the workshop rooms, the networking between principals, teachers, educational consultants and publishers inspired hope of collaboration across roles with the shared intention of higher student engagement, learning and achievement. As one teacher stated at the end of the event:

I had a limited understanding of the Standards and their use…. As a teacher, I never questioned the curriculum I was given to teach in terms of the extent to which it met the Standards. Now, I have no doubt that teachers need to be familiar with the Standards of their grade level if not also those of the previous and future grades for the success of the students.

This recognition of the role of the Standards and how they fit into the responsibility matrix for teachers is critical to ensuring that educators are meeting the needs of their students in coordination with the demands of the Standards. It is through these kinds of professional learning opportunities that focus on teacher capacity and understanding without judgment – but rather in an effective and safe environment that we, as an educational community, promote better classroom practice.

The message at the MENA Common Core 2nd Annual Conference was loud and clear and resonated with the big ideas offered by McTighe and Wiggins on how to move from the Common Core Standards to Curriculum. Teachers throughout the weekend were coming to terms with the fact that Standards are not curriculum & that the Standards come to life through the assessments. This necessarily highlights the role teachers play to bring the Standards to life through their professional work that requires a high level of assessment literacy. It sets the stage for teachers to design consciously purposeful assessment alongside learning opportunities for their classes.assessment

This moves away from the practical and often observed model of teachers concentrating their attention on planning and delivering the curriculum content and then designing assessments later in the process when grades are demanded by their leadership for the grade book. The “afterthought” mentality towards assessment is being pushed into the past-tense with Standards that demand more assessment literacy from the front-line educators. The challenge of bringing assessment to the forefront of teaching and learning is daunting for many teachers who receive a limited amount of training in assessment. Perhaps that is why these kinds of events are so critical. But they are not sufficient.

Near the end of the conference, a teacher shared the following:

 I learned that when assessments are done with a purpose in mind this challenge is minimized and the students’ learning is enhanced. Looking back at the days I was teaching, it is difficult for me to imagine the amount of opportunities my students missed because of the purposeless assessments they had.

This kind of reflection needs to be appreciated and invited by educational leaders. A critical way to respect this professional growth is to make sure leaders leave with action-based questions at the forefront of their minds. Questions like:

  1. How can I support the follow up workplace learning necessary to ensure this professional learning translates to classroom practice?
  2. How can I make sure teachers at this school find the resources and networks to continue to discuss and learn about assessment and Standards?
  3. How can I promote assessment literacy tied to the Standards in my school?

Sharing Practices across Dubai Schools: The Launch of What Works 2014

Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority launched its third series of What Works last week at the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Medical Academy. The buzz from school leaders, teachers, students, government officials, and various other interested parties was now familiar. There is a core group of education professionals who know that this event is a knowledge exchange hub where student engagement and learning is at the heart of all discussions. So it was nice to see that it is now a tradition to have students helping educators find their way, managing breakout sessions, keeping everyone on time, and of course, showcasing their work to encourage others to promote student-centric learning opportunities in their schools.ww capture

The critical importance of this kind of launch is that it does set an expectation that helps school leaders extend their professional attention beyond the walls of their own individual school. This kind of knowledge sharing practice has been shown to be essential for successful 21st century school leadership:

“Sharing stories and examples can go beyond the boundaries of one school or system.”
– Michael Fullan & Maria Langworthy, 2001

In particular, the kind of knowledge sharing encouraged at the event reflects school effectiveness research findings that promoting the knowledge, skills & professional community of educators in schools enhances greater instructional quality and student achievement (Newmann, King, and Youngs, 2000).

There was an assortment of knowledge sharing sessions such as the workshop-style practical session on how to start a school self-evaluation. In this session, the senior school leadership from GEMS Modern Academy shared their approach on school self-evaluation with their colleagues from other schools who want to improve their own school practice. The session walked the participants through the same step by step approach that GEMS Modern Academy uses that helped them improve their school rating from a “Good” to an “Outstanding” rating in 2011.

When schools opt to make their own practices explicit for others, they gain a greater appreciation of the value of their own work and ensure that the tacit knowledge of individuals is transferred to an explicit usable form for others in their own organization. As they share with colleagues outside their organization, the benefit extends beyond their own walls and circumvents insularity of ideas and practices. Their learning is a byproduct of working on knowledge sharing endevours for others. In the case of Dubai What Works, the contribution is intended for the joint development of Dubai’s education sector.

The 2014 launch event introduced the promise of deeper sharing practices across schools in Dubai. The remaining events in the series that will focus on Mathematics, Literacy, Science and Arabic will further support this level of knowledge sharing.

But only time and the collaborative efforts from Dubai educators will help us understand the extent to which these efforts translate into school improvement – and subsequently, student success.

Evaluator Networks on the Rise in MENA

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The EvaMENA final forum marks the close of the first chapter on a great story that still has a long way to go. Three years ago, the International Development and Research Center (IDRC) funded a project to promote evaluation capacity in the MENA region. The project is housed at the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit at the American University of Beirut. Three years ago, the only region with less than a handful of professional networks for evaluators was MENA. A small group of volunteers with big aspirations for the region wanted to ensure that MENA did not fall behind and started to cultivate an environment where knowledge sharing and creation in Arabic, English and French would promote the growth and development of a locally based evaluation culture.

Evaluators from Western, African & Asian countries will be accustomed to the benefits of organizations like AEA, EES, SLEvA & AfrEA where debates, tools, workshops, resources and job posts are shared with professional interest. For MENA-based evaluators, the EvalMENA network is a breath of fresh professional air.

There were a few driving forces behind the creation of EvalMENA. For starters, it was lonely to be an evaluator in MENA. You needed to wait a few time zones and ensure that you have fluency in a foreign language to access the documents, resources, and support that so many evaluators globally take for granted. In addition, once you had gained additional skills and were excited to take it back to your local community of inspiring evaluators, there is a language barrier! After all, most Arabs speak, read, write and work in Arabic when in an Arab country. Finally – as a global MENA evaluator, you also needed to be familiar with the prominent evaluation discourse to export local value to the larger international community of evaluators.

But this frustration is slowly dissipating as EvalMENA has managed to grow a MENA-wide network of strong evaluators who are multi-lingual and have been working in the field for many years. In addition to offering several workshops and cultivating a shared vision across several countries and contexts, the group has harnessed the energies and capacities of the MENA evaluators to create an online free course in Arabic for evaluators.

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It took an impressive amount of work, coordination and dedication for دورةتعليميةباللغةالعربيةحولتقييمالتنمية to become a part of the introductory e-Learning programme on Development Evaluation offered by UNICEF and IOCE, under the EvalPartners. The program opens the door to ensuring capacity building for development evaluation is accessible to evaluators in the Arab world who are arabophone – opening the door to more opportunities for local evaluators as the demands and recognition for evaluation is growing in the region.

This collective of professionals has demonstrated the power of knowledge sharing and creation in real-time across barriers of language, time, ICT platforms, and cultures. The group also boasts the emergence of country-based evaluation groups (e.g., Jordan and Tunisia) that are being encouraged by the values and work of EvalMENA & friends.

ImageGiven that 2015 has been declared as the International Year of Evaluation and it is the year where the MDGs are moving tImageo SDGs , the EvalMENA group work seems like it was just in time! But this is only a start in advocating for evidence-based policy making in the MENA region where challenges of low projected economic growth is clashing with a growing unemployment rate (16.8M by 2015!). In a region where concerning illiteracy rates are predicted to rise with millions of displaced people because of political and environmental crises. The list of challenges is growing and the solutions need to be viable and scalable. Local evaluators will be critical to helping key decision makers find the best approaches to promote local development.