Knowledge Network will be trading in Australia under the trademark KnowNet.
           
 
"The World in my Classroom" Conference
14 April 2000
John XXIII College
Perth, Australia
   
Jil Hrdliczka, Managing Director, Knowledge Network
Jil Hrdliczka is well-known for her vision in the field of learner-centered information technology skills development and related learning methodologies.
 
During this keynote address, Jil Hrdliczka will be sharing with us her experiences in a learning environment not dissimilar to our own, her vision and thoughts about the future of learning for the information / knowledge age.

 

 

 

 

 

Keynote address
 
Today we find ourselves in a global world. A world without borders. A world where technology changes at the speed of thought.

A world of instant gratification - where products can be bought and sold anywhere, anytime - where services can be hired anywhere, anytime - where skills can be bought and sold, anywhere, anytime. A world where information can be accessed anywhere, anytime. A world where brain power is bought and sold anywhere, anytime. And where dotcoms rise and fall - anywhere, anytime.

It is also a world in which the idea of "one-click buying" and the know-how to support it, carries a global patent.

It is a user-definable world. The knowledge age. The 21st century. It is not dawning - it has dawned.

The questions we ask ourselves are: Who will be the survivors of the knowledge age? And, who will survive in a future we cannot imagine?

It is our task as educators to prepare young people for this world, and a future where virtual offices are the order of the day. It is the most exciting time for us. Never before have we had the range of tools to use in the learning process - to make learning fun, interesting and relevant for our learners.

Our company opened its doors in 1994. Our mission at that time was to open. Open the minds of people. Their creativity. Their sense of self. And the door to computing in the knowledge age.

Now, six years later, we look back at what we have accomplished and ask ourselves if we have met our goals. Have we achieved what we set out to do? Working through that process we have actually made an interesting discovery.

In the learning process that we have established, we ourselves have become the learners. Our minds, our creativity have been opened. And the door to computing in the knowledge age has opened up for us.

Whilst providing information technology solutions to schools and corporations, we have developed a strong culture of learning together and working together to embrace the technology age. Together with the schools that we assist, we experience a dynamic learning curve.

A major part of our learning curve has highlighted two of the most misunderstood concepts. These are the exercises of integrating technology in the classroom, and equipping learners with the skills they need for life in the knowledge age. Many educators and educational institutions see the integration of technology as meaning simple computer literacy for learners. Some educators see it as allowing access to the internet for learners.

Some educators see it as taking the form of a resource centre that learners can use for projects. Still others see it as providing learners with a brief, which includes the use of technology - be it software, the Internet or Intranet.

These are perceived solutions. They neither lead nor guide learners in a process of learning. They are perceived solutions which educators and learners do not exploit to their full potential.

In South Africa, we have found 4 common denominators in the failure, or success, of the integration of technology in the classroom:

  • The first is the role of the educator and learner in the learning process. How much do they participate in the process?
  • The second is the skill level of both the educator and learner in the learning process,
  • The third is the understanding by both the educator and the learner, of the objectives of the process. In other words, both the educator and the learner need to know where they are going.
  • The fourth is a planned approach to integration of technology in the classroom.

The best approach to the integration of technology in the classroom is to make learner-centered learning happen. This creates an enriched learning experience for the learner. But the educator needs to fully understand what this really means.

The bottom line is that for any process to work, one needs to get the people there. Successful learners are not just successful because they understand the computer program they are learning about. They are successful through the relationships that they form during the learning process. A computer program does not motivate, inspire, focus or direct learners. The educator does.

If a relationship is in place that neither inspires nor focuses the learner, then very often the actual learning process itself will fail.

There is an interesting example of where a learning process failed initially, but subsequently succeeded following assessment. A school in Johannesburg, South Africa took the decision to incorporate technology in the lessons. Educators at the school were obliged to use technology themselves, and brief their learners on the projects they had to complete.

There was one episode when the educator gave the learners a project where they had to create a print advertisement using a word processing / DTP package. They had to create an impactful advert for a teenage clothing store. Sounds like fun, and simple enough. Yet on the day, the learners didn’t accomplish anything. The project failed. The learners produced nothing of value or appeal. There were no eye-catching headlines, no decent copy and no interesting use of colour.

What was the problem? Why did a task that could have been fun and stimulating fail so dismally?

On evaluation it was seen that firstly, the educator herself did not understand the technology that she was to use or teach. Secondly, the learners did not have the skills to complete the task at hand.

The solution to the problem was, firstly for the educator to become aware of the skill level of the learners, and secondly, to raise their skill level. The learners needed to be shown that they were using the word processing software as a tool in order to create their ads. They had to understand logically and practically what it was they could accomplish with the tools they had. Using the software as a tool, they needed to know what they needed in order to create what they wanted.

The project was revisited by the educator and the learners, and this time around it was successful. The educator explained what it was she wanted – a fun print ad for a clothes shop. The educator did not confuse them with a list of things that they needed to understand about word processing.

The learners were now able to put their efforts into what they wanted to create. They no longer frantically tried to understand the technology just for the sake of technology. The outcome was - sharp witty headlines, clever copy, eye-catching layout, and creative, sometimes even daring, use of colour. The learners reported that they gained skills in writing and designing really "cool" ads.

We know that they gained skills in spelling, language, and desktop publishing - but that's incidental.

Technology can change and enhance lives, but only if it is used as an effective tool. In the classroom it was found that the process of creating the ad became important, and not just the outcome of the project. Once the learners were not restrained by a number of dry tasks that they needed to have gained by the end of the lesson, they felt free to use their creativity. Once their creativity was freed up, they began to experiment. They began to think laterally, and valuable incidental learning was gained within the process.

The point of a learner-centered environment is to equip the learner with the skills they need now and the skills they will need in the world of business in the knowledge age. They need to learn how to effectively use the knowledge that they gain. And they must be able to extend that knowledge by bringing it to each new project or problem with which they are faced.

In South Africa, the IT environment in schools consists of a continuum of environments. At the bottom end of the scale we find schools that have no computer facilities whatsoever. Some schools own a few computers to which learners and educators are exposed. At the top end of the scale we see independent schools where there is an abundance of technology available.

Learners use digital cameras, experience IT in sophisticated IT classrooms and use internet facilities at their leisure in specialised IT labs or resource centres.

Even though there is this discrepancy between IT environments in schools, we are still faced with the same concerns as elsewhere in the world. We need to integrate information technology in the classroom, and we need to equip learners for life outside of school.

Gauteng, Johannesburg is the home of many independent schools serving both advantaged and disadvantaged communities. One such advantaged private school has established a sophisticated hi-tech information technology solution for their learners. They also run an Outreach programme for learners from disadvantaged areas. Many learners from Soweto and Alexandra, black townships, whose schools have very little if any computer facilities, attend the Outreach programme.

One of the exercises held in both the advantaged IT classes and the Outreach programme, involved the use of Excel.

All the learners were given a task of creating an e-commerce product – the learners had to create a cyberspace company, which would sell its products via the internet.

The private school learners related well to the concept and came up with original ideas. They soon began to understand Excel and successfully integrated the program into their projects. They were quite used to using hi-tech equipment, and easily grasped the idea of a cyberspace shop.

But the learners on the Outreach programme could neither do the project nor understand Excel. On assessment, the solution was to change the Outreach programme brief. Instead of launching a company in cyberspace, the learners were told that they should start up their own mobile food selling unit. In South Africa, hotdog mobile foodstalls are very popular.

The learners were able to grasp this idea with ease, and upon doing the project were highly successful. Their understanding of Excel matched that of the private school learners and it was seen that, at the end of the day, all the learners achieved excellent results.

All learners emerged from the lesson with the same skills. Both groups understood Excel in the same way, both were able to complete involved Excel formulas, and both achieved the goal of the making of money from their products.

Why did the Outreach programme initially fail? Because the learners were not understood. No relationship was formed for the learner during the learning process. Remember that for any process to work, one needs to get the people there. As soon as the project was changed to relate directly to their needs and their life worlds, their understanding and enthusiasm for the task at hand, increased by 100%.

The wonderful thing about technology is that it is constantly developing and evolving. Should we look at the scenario at the Outreach programme a year from now, we would see that it would be quite different. Learners, like the technology they’re using, grow and change. They develop on their own, in their own processes. The children on the Outreach programme will probably begin to explore the Internet soon. They may even obtain home computers. Soon they will be able to start their own cyberspace store using the skills they gained during the mobile foodstall project.

Another situation in South Africa, which is perhaps not as unique as we first thought, is that our environment doesn’t only consist of the private school with an Outreach programme. We have learners in the same class who are from both privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds - a truly multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-social learning environment.

So what do we do now?

To keep the environment learner-centered we need to have a learning methodology in place. A methodology that will specifically allow the learner to contribute and gain from the tasks, no matter what his or her current skill level may be.

How do we do this?

Well, to use the idea of the Excel project again – let the learners decide what kind of shop it is to be. But then you need to set boundaries: parameters in which all learners can work. For example, if it’s a shop, does it have walk-by clientele, how many days a week does it operate, and so on. All learners will achieve the same results.

The learning methodology will also cater for each learners' way of learning; some through scientific fact, some through conceptual understanding - leading all learners to their own intelligent conclusions.

This is how, in South Africa, we can take a learner out of the Outreach programme, put her into the "normal" classroom, and watch her succeed with confidence.

With this methodology in the classroom the educator becomes the leader and guide, and not simply the classroom encyclopaedia.

Clear objectives have been described by the educator, and met by the learner. In 1995 a 13 year old learner said the methodology looked at your way of learning. That's what helped her to learn.

A question educators may ask is: By setting boundaries, is creativity not stifled?

Anyone can create an advert. But not everyone can create, for example, a low budget, direct response, print media advert, that works. In other words, an ad that has boundaries. Some of the most successful companies in the world today are successful because boundaries forced them to come up with the most creative solution in the most constrained space. Their very success was due to boundaries.

The question we asked ourselves earlier was, as a company, have we achieved what we set out to do? Are we successful? Well, that depends on how success is measured. We measure our success on the achievements/success of those we serve. Corporations, Schools, Educators and Learners. On evaluation, a description of our job is quite simple.

Our job is to: develop products and the support infrastructure to "get the people there". It's been said that strategy is 10% inspiration and 90% implementation and change through people. Integration of technology in the classroom, we have learned, is not about technology. It is about people.

In South Africa, the average age of educators is 45 years. As a nation, we can count ourselves very lucky, because we have teachers who have years of experience, teaching and working with learners from all walks of life. The introduction of OBE (outcomes based education), integration of technology in the learning areas and the level of computer skill of the learners has placed additional pressures on our educators.

Many learners are completing projects using computers and educators are reporting that they are out of their depth when they are required to assess the work. There is also a pressure for them to use technology themselves, as a personal productivity tool within the school environment. And to develop projects which involve the use of technology.

Educators who were not into technology before, realise that now is the time to get involved. Their question is How? And how long? How long does it take to "get them there"?

The how? And the how long is answered by the school and by their vision. In South Africa, this has been addressed in various ways, some solutions more workable than others.

A principal at a South African School decided on a progressive, what many would see as radical, approach to the development of educators in the use of information technology.

He announced at a staff meeting one day: "Today, we are starting our journey to become educators of the 21st century." The first step, Phase 1, is to learn how to effectively use technology ourselves. Phase 2 involves the introduction of computer skills classes for all learners, to develop IT and life skills. Phase 3 involves the integration of technology across the curriculum. Welcome to the world.

Was it successful? The initial reaction of the educators was quite diverse. Some embraced the idea. Others responded negatively. Through fear of the unknown, and the fear of change. Both very real human qualities.

But what about the process of soliciting buy-in from these teachers? The buy-in for them was the realisation that in the 21st century, a computer is a tool for learning. Learning how to use new tools for learning is part of what an educator does. It's part of the job.

A year down the line - educators are "in tune" with their learners, learners are gaining the skills they need to complete project work, learners are gaining valuable life skills - and educators are growing with them. Our role was to provide the products, support and services to "get them there", their way.

In terms of technology, where are the learners? What can they do? They have the IT skills to complete the international MOUS examinations (Microsoft Office User Specialist exams) - they can complete and present, with confidence, full multimedia projects and use electronic research tools. They can plan and design spreadsheets using Excel, and are well on their way to developing web sites. So too, are the educators - well on their way to developing courseware for web sites.

How do the educators at this school measure their success? By those they serve, their ability to successfully work through the curriculum and develop the learners in keeping with the ethos and vision of the school.

A learner evaluation system, in the form of a detailed questionnaire for learners, was implemented. Learners were given the opportunity to comment on their learning experience, on what they were learning and how it was being delivered to them. They also evaluated their own performance during the projects.

How did the educators feel? Initially? Hostile. Hostile towards the idea of being evaluated by their own pupils. However, the educators quickly discovered that it was the learning experience that was being evaluated, and the exercise played an important role in the development of a relationship between educator and learner.

What emerged from the analysis - was a number of valuable findings in terms of the learning process itself, as well as some unexpected incidental aspects.

As a result the entire process became more streamlined, ultimately aiding both educator and learner.

On evaluation, the implementation of the learning programme created a strong learning culture in the school, for both learners and educators. Educators, inspired by their own learning and achievements, inspired the learners to achieve results in the learning process.

The success at this school was achieved through people. Their ability to cope with change, and the feeling of the educators that "we are in this together and we are in it for the long haul". The educators in this school have become the driving force behind the use of computers in learning, in administration, as an effective communication and business tool. There is nothing more powerful than educators with a shared vision, in the same school.

There is also enormous pressure on state schools in South Africa to operate as businesses rather than state institutions dependent on government funding. These educators are leading the school - their knowledge is helping to reduce the overall costs of running the school.

Where is South Africa in terms of integration of technology in the classroom, developing educators, and equipping learners with the life and IT skills they need for life in the knowledge age?

In some top South African schools, effective integration of technology in the classroom and across the learning areas is being implemented. But not necessarily by all educators in the school. Programmes such as MS Office, FrontPage, various graphics tools such as Corel, Adobe Photoshop are being used in the development of IT and life skills. Educators are being developed in OBE (outcomes based education) and in information technologies.

Learners appear to be at the same level as those in other countries. There are learners who are developing commercial web sites, writing software in Visual Basic and C++, earning money by freelancing in the area of desktop publishing, preparing presentations for companies and starting their own companies. Just like everywhere else in the world - there are teenage millionaires.

Our challenge is to provide a form of mass education to give all learners the same chance in life and to develop educators in the area of information technology - quickly - so too, just like everywhere else in the world.

In South Africa the development of life skills, and preparing learners for life in the knowledge age has become a key concern in education. This is also true for the rest of Africa. For young people in South Africa to survive in life, they will have to be self-employable, generating their own income and becoming less reliant on government financial support systems.

Young people will not leave school, like they did in the past, and find jobs as trainees in the corporate world. For in South Africa, just like everywhere else in the world, the needs of corporations have changed and so too has the workplace. Companies no longer have the budget to provide people with the skills training they need to do their jobs.

Companies in South Africa are currently looking at every possible way to reduce the headcount and increase shareholder profits.

We also find ourselves competing on the international market. Today we are in a global world. This means that if our young people want to survive, they will have to become workers in a knowledge age.

People who are in demand. For their brain power - their creative thinking ability and their ability to make technology work for them.

People who will either become the human capital of their own companies, or the intellectual capital of nationals and multinationals.

There is much talk today about knowledge, knowledge management, the knowledge industry and knowledge workers. Computerised workplaces are developing a workforce whose main skill is one of thinking. Creative thinking people, together with thinking educators, thinking executives and thinking leaders will form the knowledge workers of our nation. Before long, our entire workforce will need to be composed of knowledge workers if we want to be a proud and successful nation with a strong economy and a future in the global marketplace.

The concept of knowledge workers is not new. After all, the need for better and faster services, together with our own inventions, has lead us to the world of the dotcoms, where ideas are more valuable than gold, where people are employed for their creative thinking ability rather than for their MBA's.

The patent for the idea of "one-click buying" was registered to amazon.com in 1999. In 1995, believe it or not - a patent was registered for the method of exercising a cat using light to stimulate it.

The idea of "one-click buying" has placed amazon where it is today. I'm not sure where the light and cat are in the dotcom world.

Does it surprise us that patent factories for the patenting of ideas are opening at an alarming rate. Does it surprise us that the April issue of "The Economist" reports that Internet entrepreneurs have realised that one of the few things to stand between them, and death by copying, is a patent. For it is known that people are good at lifting - lifting information off the Internet and using it as if it were their own.

Does it surprise us that IBM is now getting ten new patents every working day. Patenting every idea is what companies are talking about, in the boardroom, and on the golf course.

Now we can understand why there is so much talk about the need for knowledge workers - creative-thinking people who know how to make technology work for them. Now we can understand why schools around the world are being told that they are not producing thinkers. We do not agree with that - but we do understand that the world has changed. And that a new breed of thinkers is needed.

The key in the development of learners and educators for life in the dotcom world, the knowledge age, if you like, is, of course, a sound education and the effective use of technology, in learning, in doing, and in managing knowledge for retrieval - anywhere, anytime.

But education today is too often valued for what it can give to learners rather than for what it can make out of learners.

Access to email, Internet, Intranets, sophisticated software, every possible hardware device, a qualification and the status that goes with it, will not turn the learners in our schools into the knowledge workers we need them to be.

For what good is an email connection if you can’t make it work for you, and if you don’t understand the complexities of electronic communication. And for what good is knowledge of FrontPage, if you can’t use it to develop a web site or web page that works.

One of the most exciting projects we have worked on is a knowledge exchange programme between learners and educators. Through the project, learners and educators learn how to communicate and negotiate via email and how to work in teams without ever meeting face-to-face. These are valuable skills and will serve learners and educators well in the years to come.

An exercise completed by learners on Monday in South Africa involved Excel and a T-shirt shop for the sale of T-shirts to locals and tourists at one of the Olympic venues in Sydney. Learners established that 35 Australian dollars was a reasonable price for a T-shirt. They also learned that Goods and Services Tax would raise the selling price by 10% at the time of the Olympic games. They learned how to use the Internet to look up daily exchange rates and convert money to different currencies Pounds, Dollars, AUS Dollars, Yen or whichever currency they selected for their spreadsheet.

They also learned that their own currency, the South African Rand would not buy too many T-shirts featuring the Olympic games.

David Janks a 12-year old learner reported that "I learned how to exchange dollars to rands and it was quite cool because I could use this when my dad asks what the exchange rate is. I also learned about the difference between currency and accounting and why we use accounting formats. I also learned that the South African exchange rate is really bad so when I go overseas I will know how to see how much things will cost before I go."

This afternoon, at the World in My Classroom LIVE demonstration, Year 6 learners of John XXIII College will be completing the same project with Chris Marley and Knowledge Network. David Janks is really keen to know what the Australian learners think - about the South African Rand, about GST - how it will change the pricing structures - and what the learners think about the strength of their own currency - the Australian dollar. David Janks is 12 years old.

It is clear that a different type of learning is required now. Learning that serves three purposes:

  • provides the learners with a fun, exciting and accelerated learning environment while developing creativity and lateral thinking,
  • meets the needs of the school in terms of learning areas and academic results, as well as vision,
  • and provides the learners with the skills they need for life in the real world in our knowledge age

And for this we need technology, and, educators and learners who know how to use it.

The survivors of the knowledge age will be those who:

  • are able to change, to adapt to whichever environment they find themselves
  • those who can gain skills on demand, and are able to cope with the speed and pressure of a global world
  • those who use knowledge to gain a competitive advantage in everything they do
  • those who can use technology as an extension of themselves, anywhere, anytime
  • those who can communicate and negotiate with anyone, anywhere, anytime
  • those who have the right knowledge, at the right time, and who can use it right - anywhere, anytime

Who will be the survivors of the knowledge age?

We will. (You, and I)

And so will our children.

For it is us who will have changed. We will have changed into the life-long learners of the knowledge age, and in so doing, we will have acquired the knowledge we need to make the knowledge age, work for us.

 

 

 

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Date of update: 18 February 2009