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Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools (draft submission)

22 October, 2017 - 09:05
This is my 3300 word draft for the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools. Any feedback/criticism is warmly welcomed. The final submission is due by the 2nd November. Summary What should educational success for Australian students and schools look like? One of the themes listed – defining and measuring success in education – is particularly pertinent when considered in relation to the terms of reference.  If the goal is to “improve student outcomes and Australia’s national performance, as measured by national and international assessments of student achievement” it will be very difficult to also “improve the preparedness of school leavers to succeed in employment, further training or higher education”.  This sums up the paradox, or bind, Australian parents, educators and more importantly students find themselves experiencing in the Australian education system. The limited and limiting nature of standardised testing and other narrow notions of success is a major issue in developing a contemporary education system that prepares students for their future. . There are significant barriers to implementing improvements when the rules and legislation that governs what schools can do is so restrictive, inimicable and antithetical to innovation and progress. For example, legislated, mandatory grading of students from A-E in NSW does not reflect research nor does the continuation of heritage systems, like pen and paper exams, which certainly no longer reflect what students need to improve their preparedness for the future. . What can we do to improve and how can we support ongoing improvement over time? In summary: 1. Focus on funding equitably in an effort to genuinely realise the goals of the Melbourne Declaration (2008) 2. Fund Public Education to make it attractive to all Australians and strengthen this fundamental organ of democratic, civil society 3. Abolish pen and paper exams instituting digital portfolios from K-12 to measure student competencies 4.  Cease competition between schools and the public reporting, via the MySchool website, of NAPLAN data which was never designed for this purpose 5. Decrease managerialism at all levels of education in Australia . “What did you have to sacrifice about my child’s education to raise those scores?”                                                                                                                                              Alfie Kohn . Students should have the knowledge, skills and opportunity to lead happy, healthy and productive lives as citizens in a sophisticated, technology-rich, globally-connected and democratic society. The measurement of this ‘educational success’ should not pervert the ideals of education so clearly enunciated in the Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008). Unfortunately, it is clear that current policies do not “provide all students with access to high-quality schooling that is free from discrimination based on gender, language, sexual orientation, pregnancy, culture, ethnicity, religion, health or disability, socioeconomic background or geographic location.” . Educational success cannot be measured in isolation from the civil society that our institutions serve. Since late last century, outcomes-based models of education instituted in Australia have not led to improved educational or societal outcomes for young people who increasingly are not able to access full-time jobs, home-ownership or the free education enjoyed by the current prime minister and state premiers. The funding policies that have been embedded since 1996 resulted in a shift from ‘public to private’ that has led to our diverse multicultural society being segregated along ethnic, religious and socio-economic lines. This has been well documented by Dr Christine Ho, Chris Bonnor, Trevor Cobbold and Dr Marion Maddox (see bibliography). There is much evidence that our focus has moved away from funding an egalitarian system, where educational opportunity is evenly distributed, to one where privilege is enshrined. . Research by the Lowy Institute has consistently revealed that younger Australians have lost faith in democracy.  Education has been commodified and this is a great danger to our democratic institutions. In the scramble to enshrine market-based reform, some of the most basic functions of schooling – to provide hope, equity and opportunity in a democratic state – are being neglected.  Citizens may be consumers but not all aspects of life should be left to the market. Education should not be a commodity in a properly functioning democratic state; it is a right. Younger Australians are just reflecting lived experience that Australian democracy is becoming less democratic as the influence of the market and those who control it becomes more omnipresent in the educational sphere too. There is no longer ‘a fair go’ for every kid, in every postcode. There never was but government policy is exacerbating the divide. . Australian students have not been well-served over the last two decades by the political, bureaucratic and administrative processes that have delivered funding arrangements and new syllabuses but little effective change nor equity and opportunity for our young people. André Spicer, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Cass Business School, City University London and Mats Alvesson, Professor of Business Administration at Lund University accurately describe the managerialism established for little educational improvement: . “Our thesis in this book is that many organisations are caught in the stupidity paradox: they employ smart people who end up doing stupid things. This can produce good results in the short term, but can pave the way to disaster in the longer term.” . “Less time and resources are allocated to teaching and learning than to image-polishing exercises as schools become machines for persuading others that children are getting a good education, rather than institutions for educating children. Instead of focusing on the actual work process, educators spend most of their time on ceremonial activities. They develop plans, set up meetings, write reports, develop policy statements, prepare presentations and all the other things a ‘proper’ school is supposed to do. The years roll by without any logical reconsideration of how all this actually helps educate children or improve the society it serves.” . “Those supposed to benefit from all this box-ticking often end up suffering, but this happens below the radar: superficial scrutiny focuses on structures, routines and procedures. Are they there? Are they followed? Yes, fine. Do they lead to something good or bad or nothing at all? Well, it is hard to say. So who cares?” . “There are many whose sole job it is to create plans, rules and procedures, and even more who spend their working life ensuring that these are followed. Other employees find that ever-larger chunks of their days are taken up with following rules and procedures.” . “Many bureaucracies are characterised by obsessive and often irrational rule-following. In these kinds of cultures, openness, freedom or creativity is viewed as a sign of disorder.” . Crass, authoritarian and market-based managerialism has taken root and the “McDonaldisation” of school is almost complete as this unhealthy paradigm results in conformist, non-creative thinking by politicians and bureaucrats who parrot the importance of data-driven decisions without actually making them. The whole concept of (inappropriate) measurement is deeply problematic in the educational institutions that serve civil society and the individual. Anyone interested in the future, or recent past, for Australian educational reform should be acquainted with Campbell’s Law: . “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”     Donald T. Campbell . The misuse of NAPLAN data and the establishment of league tables in newspapers as a result of the MySchool website further segregates Australians and encourages a misplaced competition. The international evidence collected via PISA has similar challenges as a reliable measure of anything. Even the most cursory acquaintance with the politics of Australian education reveals crass, simplistic pronouncements by politicians and then the whole cycle starts again: . “The 2016 results show reading scores have increased by 0.4 per cent since 2013, writing scores have declined by 0.2 per cent and numeracy scores have risen by 1.26 per cent. Over the same time period, federal school funding has increased by 23.7 per cent.”   Federal Minister for Education, 2016 “…the Premier’s Priority is to increase the proportion of NSW students in the top two NAPLAN bands for reading and numeracy by 8% by 2019.”    Bump It Up Strategy – Fact Sheet    . This obsession with measurement not so subtly reinforces some questionable, deep metaphors about the nature of  knowledge, teaching, and learning. Essentially this kind of measurement reinforces the belief that knowledge is some kind of “stuff” that exists independently of the human mind and like all physical “stuff” it has mass which can be measured, broken down and reassembled and moved from place to place. This then makes teaching a delivery system for transferring this “stuff” from one source (a teacher) to another source (an empty space called a learner’s mind). Learning thus becomes the acquisition of this “stuff”. . The measurement systems teachers are increasingly coerced to follow are underpinned by dubious research and a range of ethical issues. Since the original publication of John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning, there have been questions about the statistical methodology underpinning his research and representation of ‘what works best for learning’. By 2014, the year Professor Hattie became the Chair of AITSL, it was clear, even to tertiary statistics students, that serious mathematical errors had been made. There continues to be a steady flow of journal articles contesting Hattie’s ideas. By 2017, concerns about flawed use of statistics and how the politics of education works in Australia sees many practitioners not really needing to read a journal article to know all about “the cult of Hattie” in our schools. . Hattie continues to rank the “195 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement” without acknowledging the concerns raised by statisticians. Reading the latest paper which derides the methodology makes one ask the question, what has become of critical thinking in Australian education circles? As Pierre-Jérôme Bergeron points out: . “Unfortunately, in reading Visible Learning and subsequent work by Hattie and his team, anybody who is knowledgeable in statistical analysis is quickly disillusioned. Why? Because data cannot be collected in any which way nor analysed or interpreted in any which way either. Yet, this summarises the New Zealander’s actual methodology. To believe Hattie is to have a blind spot in one’s critical thinking when assessing scientific rigour. To promote his work is to unfortunately fall into the promotion of pseudoscience. Finally, to persist in defending Hattie after becoming aware of the serious critique of his methodology constitutes wilful blindness.” . This is particularly disturbing when flawed statistical analysis is resulting in advice that there’s little or no impact with reducing class-sizes or democratic pedagogies such as: • giving students control over their learning • problem-based learning • inquiry-based teaching . Context is everything. That includes the context, throughly discussed by Dr Scott Eacott, that has led to Australian schools looking for scientific, evidence-based solutions to the apparent educational challenges highlight by PISA and NAPLAN. Dylan Wiliam, since at least 2009, has questioned the use of meta-analysis in education. It seems pretty obvious that Hattie’s number-crunching has appealed to politicians and administrators looking to solve what often feels like a manufactured series of education crises. It is worthing quoting the conclusions from a 2009 paper (by Snook, Clark, O’Neill and Openshaw): (i) Despite his own frequent warnings, politicians may use his work to justify policies which he does not endorse and his research does not sanction; (ii) Teachers and teacher educators might try to use the findings in a simplistic way and not, as Hattie wants, as a source for “hypotheses for intelligent problem solving”; (iii) The quantitative research on ‘school effects’ might be presented in isolation from their historical, cultural and social contexts, and their interaction with home and community backgrounds; and (iv) In concentrating on measureable school effects there may be insufficient discussion about the aims of education and the purposes of schooling without which the studies have little point. . The reality is that all this research analyses what we have had in the past which is not necessarily what we need in the future. . The decades of designing managerial documents / syllabuses is not resulting in genuine reform or improved educational outcomes for students and is certainly not what we need in the future. The factory system, where students are “batch-processed by age”, needs to change. Students need genuinely personalised learning and far more opportunity to choose their own learning paths. This faux reform over the last two decades is revealed to be ‘wearing no clothes’ when we look at the continued importance of the Higher School Certificate examinations in NSW ‘celebrating’ there fiftieth anniversary as I type. . One of the major barriers to creating a world class, innovative education system for 5-18-year-olds is the persistence of heritage systems, like pen and paper exams, that effectively prevent genuine educational reform/progress. It is evidence of limited policy-making nous that the state is compelling students to “regurgitate on paper fast” – as one student expressed it – in order for them to complete their schooling and have a single-number ATAR decide their tertiary fate (which deregulation of the university system has corrupted anyway). Our society does not need citizens who can memorise and write fast but this is where they end-up, in the same summer halls that some of their great-grandparents sat completing the HSC all those years ago. . As part of the Education for a Changing World Project, the NSW Department of Education commissioned essays from distinguished Australian and international authors to stimulate debate and discussion about Artificial Intelligence (AI), education and 21st century skill needs. The common threads gleaned from these “occasional papers” suggest: 1. Traditional skills (updated for contemporary times) are essential for maintaining civil society. Citizens must be critically multi-literate with a strong sense of context and history. Enlightenment values are essential. 2. Creativity, imagination, emotional intelligence, collaboration and communication skills will assume an importance not traditionally emphasised in edu-systems for three reasons: 1) to maintain employability; 2) to provide a citizenry with skills to shape the future; 3) to help with increased leisure-time (the ‘fruits of civilisation’?). 3. The cognitive power needed for an individual to fully participate in society will require a quality education previously reserved for a small elite. Technological knowledge is essential but must be complemented by strong ethical decision-making abilities in a time of rapid social change and civic need. 4. The purpose of education should be focused on creating a fair and just society. . After reading these sensible, intelligent and perceptive papers one cannot escape the thought that most of the changes mooted have been essential for some time now and are not really made any more urgent by the coming (already here) AI or digital revolutions. They have been urgent for at least two decades and generally similar papers could have been written about the time we were connected to the World Wide Web in schools. It should be noted that at this time we commenced implementing standardised testing and wrote managerial, outcomes-based syllabi rather than focusing on the genuine re-structuring of our schools where children, as Sir Ken Robinson says, are batch-processed by age. . We have been shuffling digital paper, sorting out the lettering on the electronic filing cabinets and spending an inordinate amount of money getting ready for 1990 for some time now. As Yuval Noah Harari eloquently puts it, “the governmental tortoise cannot keep up with the technological hare”. It is also worth quoting Harari on school systems: “After both factories and government ministries became accustomed to thinking in the language of numbers, schools followed suit. They started to gauge the worth of each student according to his or her average mark, whereas the worth of each teacher and principal was judged according to the school’s overall average. Once bureaucrats adopted this yardstick, reality was transformed. Originally, schools were supposed to focus on enlightening and educating students, and marks were merely a means of measuring success. But naturally enough schools soon began focusing on achieving high marks. As every child, teacher and inspector knows, the skills required to get high marks in an exam are not the same as a true understanding of literature, biology or mathematics. Every child, teacher and inspector also knows that when forced to choose between the two, most schools will go for the marks.” . There needs to be a sea-change in the way schools are funded based on need and the principles espoused in both the Melbourne Declaration and the original Gonski reports. Crass measurement, in and of schools, needs to end. Students must have an opportunity to personalise their learning, with the assistance of teachers and technology. They need to learn about our media-saturated world and be critically literate enough to understand and navigate it successfully. Students would have opportunities to learn about and analyse their own personal data and to have a say in how a democratic state uses that data. The wellbeing of each student and the community they live must take precedence over huge expenditure on managerial systems that do not result in anything other than a digital paper chase that keeps everyone busy. The time has come to focus on learning, not obsessively funding measuring that learning and testing kids for dubious purposes. . Bibliography Alvesson, Mats and Spicer, André, The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work, Profile Books, 2016 . Bonnor, Chris and Caro, Jane, Stupid Country: How Australia is Dismantling Public Education, University of New South Wales Press, 2007 . Cobbold, T. (2017). Social Segregation in Australian Schools is Amongst the Highest in the World. [Blog] Save Our Schools. Available at: http://www.saveourschools.com.au/ [Accessed 30 Sep. 2017]. . Eacott, Scott, School leadership and the cult of the guru: the neoTaylorism of Hattie, School Leadership & Management, DOI: 10.1080/13632434.2017.1327428, 2017 . Harari, Yuval Noah, Homo Deus, Vintage, 2016 . Hattie, J., Visible learning for teachers: maximizing impact on learning, London: Routledge, 2012 . Ho, C. (2011). ARPA: ‘My School’ and others: Segregation and white flight. [online] Australianreview.net. Available at: http://www.australianreview.net/digest/2011/05/ho.html [Accessed 30 Sep. 2017]. . Ho, C. (2015). ARPA: ‘People like us’: School choice, multiculturalism and segregation in Sydney. [online] Australianreview.net. Available at: http://www.australianreview.net/digest/2015/08/ho.html [Accessed 30 Sep. 2017]. . Ho, C. (2016). Hothoused and hyper-racialised: the ethnic imbalance in our selective schools. The Guardian. [online] Available at: [https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/27/hothoused-and-hyper-racialised-the-ethnic-imbalance-in-our-selective-schools] [Accessed 30 Sep. 2017]. . Maddox, Marion, Taking God to School: The end of Australia’s egalitarian education?, Allen & Unwin, 2014 . Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (Australia).  (2008).  Melbourne declaration on educational goals for young Australians.  Melbourne :  Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs,  http://nla.gov.au/nla.arc-93985 . Occasional papers – NSW Department of Education. [online] Available at: http://www.dec.nsw.gov.au/about-us/plans-reports-and-statistics/education-for-a-changing-world/occasional-papers [Accessed 21 Oct. 2017]. . OECD (2017), PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students’ Well-Being, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264273856-en Bergeron, Pierre-Jérôme; Rivard, Lysanne,  How to Engage in Pseudoscience With Real Data: A Criticism of John Hattie’s Arguments in Visible Learning From the Perspective of a Statistician, McGill Journal of Education / Revue des sciences de l’éducation de McGill, [S.l.], v. 52, n. 1, July 2017. ISSN 1916-0666. Available at: <http://mje.mcgill.ca/article/view/9475/7229>, Date accessed: 22 Aug. 2017. . Roggeveen, S. (2017). Lowy poll: Are we losing faith in democracy?. [online] Lowyinstitute.org. Available at: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/are-we-losing-faith-democracy [Accessed 21 Oct. 2017]. . Siebert J. Myburgh, Critique of Peer-reviewed Articles on John Hattie’s Use of Meta-Analysis in Education, Working Papers Series International and Global Issues for Research, No. 2016/3 December 2016. Availability:<http://www.bath.ac.uk/education/documents/working-papers/critique-of-peer-reviewed-articles.pdf> Date accessed: 26 Aug. 2017 . Snook, Ivan; O’Neill, John; Clark, John; O’Neill, Anne-Maree and Openshaw, Roger. Invisible Learnings?: A Commentary on John Hattie’s Book – ‘Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-analyses Relating to Achievement’ [online]. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 44, No. 1, 2009: 93-106. Availability:<http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=467818990993648;res=IELNZC> ISSN: 0028-8276, Date accessed: 26 Aug. 2017 . The Conversation. (2017). PISA global education rankings are the road to ruin – here’s why. [online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/pisa-global-education-rankings-are-the-road-to-ruin-heres-why-70291 [Accessed 21 Oct. 2017]. . The Guardian. (2017). OECD and Pisa tests are damaging education worldwide – academics. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/may/06/oecd-pisa-tests-damaging-education-academics [Accessed 21 Oct. 2017].

The post Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools (draft submission) appeared first on Darcy Moore's Blog.

Categories: Planet

MyData: Personalising the Curriculum

15 October, 2017 - 09:57

Recently I presented DNA: Personalising the Curriculum at the WHAT IFEmbracing complexity through curriculum conference which has reinvigorated my belief that we need to make some profoundly important changes to our approach to educating young people about their “personal data”. I asked the question: what if school empowered students to understand & use personal data?

Students should be well-educated about personal data. What it is, how it can be used and abused, where they can find it and how to protect it. Weighty concepts such as ethics, citizenship, civil society, freedom, commerce, regulation, privacy, paradox and the rights as well as responsibilities of living in a democracy should be introduced contextually along the way. These concepts are considerably more important than the essential technical skills and knowledge needed by the students to manage their personal data. A sophisticated, well-researched K-12 framework is urgently needed.

What is ‘personal data’?

Defining what is personal data, or personal information, is not clearcut but educationally, discussion about such problematic knowledge is essential for developing higher order thinking skills. It is useful to read what The Australian Information Commissioner says on the issue with this definition of ‘personal information’. Here is my incomplete list of what may possibly included (please add to what else should be considered in comments below):
– digital data created by the individual online
– digital data created and collected by others online
– medical/health data
– genomic data
– educational data
– employment information data
– financial data
– what is considered personal information by the individual and what the state has legislated

Technology enables insight into the previously unknowable for both the individual and others. These others include: governments, corporations, individual citizens, private and public groups. Individuals have an extraordinary quantity of data collected about them by the state and business which allows insight into the ways they live their lives. Students need to understand this and be educated to participate, as citizens in a democracy, in deciding what is ethical, legal and fair.

This education should commence from the earliest possible age. Educational documents exist that direct teachers to explore aspects of what would be considered personal data, in a range of subjects, but there is no clear overview that genuinely focuses on the actual personal data for an individual student to make the experience a holistic and authentic one. This should not be done piecemeal and it is important philosophically that students should be in charge of this learning, about themselves, as much as possible.

The level of sophistication possible with new and emerging technologies makes the kinds of learning found in traditional schooling look pedestrian even though the syllabus intent is good. Here is an example from PDHPE: a student “evaluates actions that enhance well-being and evaluates plans that promote their capacity to respond positively to challenges”. There are many ways a student could demonstrate their ability to evaluate but what data will they currently collect? Students are able to collect basic health data at school but what else is now available? The “what if” question is particularly interesting when we think about wellbeing and new technologies and research.

What is possible?

Doctors no longer just analyse blood and urine or measure blood pressure by taking a pulse to diagnose illness and disease. Sophisticated analysis of genomic data makes it possible that health outcomes can be improved with this new personal information. DNA analysis has become affordable as interest in population genetics and genealogy burgeons. Moore’s law suggests the affordability will increase rapidly. It makes sense that students are educated to understand the implications of this data. As citizens, they will also need to ensure that not just medical but also ethical treatment is provided for those whose genetic predisposition towards disease does not result in inequitable treatment, for example, by insurance companies.

Schools are regularly involved in vaccinations and other state health programs. In the future, it may be desirable for students to have opportunities for their own genomic data to be collected and analysed. Many parents and educators will baulk at this suggestion but it would save lives. What could be more important than students being educated to understand and enhance their own wellbeing? Personalising learning takes on a whole new meaning when students, at the appropriate age after following a sequential program of learning, are able to engage with this kind of information.

Last year, while meeting with Professor Eric D Green, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute in Washington, I asked him about the potential and importance of students learning about the health implications an analysis of their genome. Professor Green was in favour of students learning about this by using personal and family data. He would have not had the same position when commencing his current job a decade ago but advances in the field have been so swift and wide-reaching that our education systems must adapt.

“Darcy, you are skating to where the puck is going to be…”    Professor Eric D Green

The issue becomes how do we do this ethically, responsibly and at scale? It makes sense to include education about this kind of knowledge as a component of any K-12 framework scaffolding student learning about personal data. The decision whether authentic, personal data is collected and employed or if it is theoretical learning can be made at a later date as technological potential and ethical implications are debated.

What is happening in other countries?

In Finland, a government white paper exploring a “Nordic model for human-centred personal data management and processing” is an example of absolutely inspirational political and practical leadership. The ethical and technical framework being developed will make it possible for educators to develop programs supporting citizens to understand the law of the land and participate as informed, empowered citizens.


In the USA, a number of interesting academic papers, programs and educational innovations can be explored. For example, participatory genomic testing at a tertiary level, for those completing formal qualifications for careers in the health and wellbeing industries, is well underway. These students participate by having the experience some of their patients will have of receiving personal genomic data rather than their knowledge coming from just theoretical lessons. Potentially, some students have the need and opportunity to undergo counselling. 

Garber, Kathryn B., Katherine M. Hyland, and Shoumita Dasgupta. Participatory Genomic Testing as an Educational Experience. Trends in Genetics 32.6 (2016): 317-320.

What is currently possible?

My own classes participated in non-medical DNA analysis, as part of a citizen science population genetics project for last three years. I cannot say I was inspired by the work of Professor Mike Hickerson, who conducted such a study involving his students in New York, as I did not know about it until after my classes had done something similar but can say, when I visited him to discuss the project, he really stimulated my thinking about where we are headed as a society. We all know that knowledge is growing exponentially but very few people have a good understanding of how quickly the fruits of these advances can be used to improve educational standards, life and wellbeing for large numbers of people.


If there is an antidote to racism it is knowledge. These two videos are really worth viewing. Each time I have shown them to students, teachers and parents there is a powerful response. If there is an antidote to the feelings of not belonging many of our students experience it will not just be about having knowledge, it will be about having deeper levels of understanding of who we are and how we are all connected as the mists of our human origins clear. At some stage I will post my own story about what government, DNA and discovering withheld data has revealed in my life and the positive impact on wellbeing of having knowledge about personal information (and will link here).


The way forward?

What if school empowered students to understand & use personal data? 

It would be possible for a parent or educator to read this post and grow concerned what is being advocated is “Orwellian“. Students providing DNA data or even exploring ‘personal information’ at school in the way suggested may seem invasive. Much of what this framework would cover is not controversial at all but a sequential approach to giving pertinence to civics and citizenship and health studies with a strong focus on a more sophisticated approach to digital citizenship. We have only just started to understand how technology is changing many aspects of the personal and the public. MyData, as an educational framework, is intended as education empowering students to understand what data is available. They will need to decide, at the appropriate age and in consultation with parents, about how they decide to go about this learning. One can imagine a MOOC with options for students to explore as opposed to some kind of mandated insistence on any particular avenue. Theory can be complemented by practical opportunity. For example, not all of my students participated in the population genetics study but all benefitted from seeing how it worked. 

It will be very easy for politicians, bureaucrats and educational leaders to ignore or even ridicule the basic idea that students should be able to access authentic data listed in this post as part of their learning. I fear it will be very easy to put all this “in the too hard basket” but after attending the Brain Science Roundtable at the office of The Advocate for Children and Young People it is abundantly clear that our policy decisions in NSW are not matching what science makes possible (and in fact essential) for young people (as well as systems and citizens) to manage their health and wellbeing.

In short, our education system could be genuinely instrumental in all of us taking a more sophisticated approach to transforming lives based on data. Personal data.

What would an action plan look like for this to happen and be bedded down in the education system? Do the health, education, family and community services, innovation and better regulation ministries need to collaborate with the Attorney General and produce a white paper exploring what is desirable? Or, as ever, good policy follows good practice, and educators start/continue making this work, following existing guidelines, to innovate and provide opportunities for our students?

Please read this for more background and recommendations.

What do you think? Even better, what are you doing to empower students to understand & use personal data? What could it look like at school?

Feature image: courtesy of C_osset

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Categories: Planet

Personalising Learning in the Age of Knowledge

14 October, 2017 - 07:00

“The greatest history book ever written is the one hidden in our DNA.”  

                                                                                                  Dr Spencer Wells

Recently I presented DNA: Personalising the Curriculum at the WHAT IFEmbracing complexity through curriculum conference which has reinvigorated my belief that we need to make some profoundly important changes to our approach to educating young people about their “personal data”. What follows is an abbreviated version of the report and recommendations published last year on completion of my Premier’s Adobe Information and Communication Technologies ScholarshipI am publishing it here at my blog in an effort to further generate discussion generate forward momentum in regards to some of the recommendations. 

What do you think about the recommendations?

My study tour focused on the potential of new and emerging technologies – such as non-medical DNA analysis – to be employed ethically in an effort to genuinely personalise learning for students. Increasingly, it is desirable to have an interdisciplinary approach to quality teaching and learning across the curriculum – already encouraged by the cross-curriculum priorities and general capabilities in the Year 7-10 syllabuses – that can be shared by teachers across the curriculum and state.

Educational institutions visited included:

City College of New York

American Museum of Natural History

Spitzer Hall of Human Origins

Columbia University

New York Genome Centre

Poughkeepsie Day School

Oceanside High School

DNA Learning Centre, Cold Spring Harbor

New York Botanical Gardens

National Geographic HQ

Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

American History Museum


USA Holocaust Memorial Museum

National Human Genome Research Institute

Adobe – San Francisco

Adobe – Sydney

Macquarie University

The Big History Institute

University of Wollongong

SERAP, Department of Education

Key contacts/experts consulted included:

 Prof. Mike Hickerson

Tyler Joseph

Mitch Bickman

Todd Nusson

Jason Manning

Josie Holford

Brent Boscarino

Jonathan Heiles

Mary Ellen Kenny

Laura Graceffa

Victoria Mayes

Shirley Rinaldi

Amanda McBrien

Dr Sophie Zaaijer on behalf of

Dr Yaniv Erlich

Katie Barry

Prof. Alan Finkel*

Prof. Allan Cooper*

Dr James Boye Dr Briana Pobiner

Dr Brian Schilder

Dr Bennet Greenspan*

Dr Miguel Vilar

Prof. Eric D Green

Dr Carla Easter

Tacy Trowbridge

Johnson Fung

Terry Fortescue

Andrew McKenna

Tracy Sullivan

Prof. Peter Hiscock*

Prof. Bert Roberts

Thomas Sutikna

Prof. Bernard A Wood

Allan Booth

Dr Robert Stevens

Kim McKay*

Prof. Graham Durant*

* Skype, phone and/or email

More detail than what this report contains can be found at the scholarship related posts.

Significant learning

My original conception of citizen science in high schools has developed and expanded through dialogue, observation and reading on this study tour and beliefs about the central importance of ICT, interdisciplinary learning and collaboration have been further strengthened and confirmed.

It is clear that the Department of Education (DoE) can further foster innovative learning opportunities with the support of strategic, long-term partnerships with institutions and a variety of other organisations in both Australia and the United States of America. Visits to National Geographic Headquarters and the National Human Genome Research Institute in Washington were particularly fruitful.

The Genographic Project has been a successful citizen science project sponsored by National Geographic for more than a decade. Focused on population genetics the project maps the ancient migratory patterns of our earliest ancestors by collecting DNA via cheeks swabs contributed by volunteers who pay for the Geno 2.0 kit. There is an education/student discount but the kit is still too expensive for wider use by schools. *

The following ideas have been discussed with Miguel Vilar (The Genographic Project) and Kim McKay (Director of the Australian Museum and collaborator on the early Genographic Project) and ideally could be supported more formally by DoE. In short:

  • Geno 2.0 kit prices for students/schools could be significantly reduced by minimising packaging and offering bulk discounts to large education systems such as the NSW Department of Education
  • educators should be able to log into a portal at the Genographic site allowing student names (as appropriate) and email addresses to be uploaded as well as confirming parental agreement which would be much better than the current emailing system for schools to access the project
  • an improved online payment system for educators/students with international currencies in mind needs to be developed
  • more interactivity generally at the site is needed including activities for students. For example, with some minor tweaking at the backend of the site class groups could see their ancestral route(s) out of Africa by haplogroup. This should allow them to see each individual’s ancestral route visually in the context of their class group.

* Students at Dapto High participated in the project via funding from Professor Bert Roberts and The Centre for Archaeological Science at the University of Wollongong and a second trial at a significantly reduced price has been completed.

This study tour has extended my understanding of the potential of citizen science and DNA analysis. It was amazing to discover that DNA sequencing is increasingly mobile with tools like the MinION mobile DNA sequencer that is being trialed in a high school in New York City by Dr Sophie Zaaijer (New York Genome Centre): https://nanoporetech.com/products-services/minion-mki. Dr Zaaijer has agreed to share her findings and is happy to assist in any ways she can that will benefit Australian students and teachers.

Into the future students and teachers could be using mobile DNA sequencers in the classroom to analyse data. Students increasingly are able to do increasingly sophisticated analysis as technology reduces in price (Moore’s Law). DoE needs to prepare now to ensure students and teachers can genuinely participate in STEM and avoid faux programs that lack authenticity. This is an area for urgent further investigation.

When discussing the potential of this mobile DNA sequencer Professor Eric Green, (Director, National Human Genome Research Institute) showed me his MinION and how small this device is; we discussed the potential for classrooms. This discussion ranged over many topics including the importance of students learning about the health implications of what analysis of their genome revealed. Professor Green was in favour of students learning about this by using personal and family data. He would have not had the same position when commencing his current job but advances in the field have been so swift and wide-reaching that our education systems must adapt.

“Darcy, you are skating to where the puck is going to be…”    Professor Eric D Green

Dr. Eric D. Green, Director of NHGRI.

Recent journal articles considering the ethics of having students participate in analyzing health data at American Ivy League universities are worth considering (see Participatory Genomic Testing as an Educational Experience in bibliography).

The National Human Genome Research Institute funds and operates some impressive educational websites. Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code: https://unlockinglifescode.org/ and the National DNA Day (25th April) website are particularly impressive with quality teaching and learning materials: https://www.genome.gov/10506367/national-dna-day/. Dr Carla Easter, the Chief of the Education and Community Involvement Branch, is enthusiastic about supporting Australian schools. For example, making DNA Day an international event is currently being considered.

Observing and teaching Big History classes at Oceanside High School emphasised how fundamental Bring Your Device (BYOD) is for contemporary education. Students all accessed the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and used Twitter and Youtube in class. The metalanguage of learning, cooperation and connectivity is always fundamentally important in classrooms. You will notice in the photo below that the #hashtag for the class and course is on the board along with the key ‘claim testers’ (intuition, logic, evidence and authority) that assist students with learning to be conscious of epistemology. 

One example of the challenges for an interdisciplinary course like Big History is that teachers are required to teach a subject syllabus which is limited in scope. This school taught Big History as part of the World History subject which is externally examined thus limiting what was possible in class.

“From its inception, a PDS education was founded on relationships and learning by doing; it valued play as creative cognitive growth and working together as a means of effective progress and the promotion of democratic values. It was about openness to opportunity and growth rather than right answers and closed minds…”

Poughkeepsie Day School (PDS) has an enviable educational ethos and citizen science was on display during my visit. In fact, it was almost incidental to discover a teacher heading out of the school with students to continue a very authentic and long-running project on aquatic ecology. This same teacher had been involved with very practical lessons all day, including dissections and outdoor lab work. The teacher was accomplished in the field of citizen science and the level of motivation his very practical, real lessons encouraged was writ large and very observable. (see bibliography).

It is clear citizen science has the potential to engage but the teacher emphasised it cannot be “just another lesson keeping students busy; there must be an authentic purpose”. Discussions with those lucky enough to learn at PDS revealed the very high level of engagement, collaboration and sense of purpose the school was able to instill in staff and students. Values clearly informed practice.


 Findings and further recommendations: 

  1. Citizen science is an opportunity that needs to be supported by many players including government, educational authorities, institutions, NGOs and business to help teachers provide authentic, cutting-edge opportunities for their students. It would be wise for DoE ensure a very senior officer is given authority to work on partnerships and ensures dissemination of the ever-growing opportunities that exist for teachers to provide students with avenues to participate in citizen science.
  2. Opportunities exist to partner with National Geographic to provide inexpensive non-medical DNA analysis into classrooms via citizen science projects like The Genographic Project.
  3. Students and teachers mostly have smartphones every day at school and most can provide a tablet or laptop if permitted. These are essential tools for accessing experts, citizen science apps and to document/share learning. BYOD is fundamental to contemporary schooling and needs to be practically supported. Social media is essential for connecting with experts and sharing. It is recommended that the current blocking/filtering of Twitter and Youtube prevents easy access to MOOCs and experts is reviewed and ceased as a matter of urgency.
  4. Emerging technologies like mobile DNA sequencing – if supported – provide exciting opportunities for students and teachers in classroom settings as “Moore’s Law” takes effect. A trial of MinIon Mobile DNA Sequencers to support citizen science is recommended.
  5. Tools and technologies come and go but Adobe Spark mobile apps are likely to engage students in telling their citizen science stories and sharing them effectively. They can now login into these free apps using their NSW school email accounts, Facebook, Google or their Adobe account. This should be widely advertised and supported.
  6. The National Human Genome Research Institute supports National DNA Day (25th April) with educational resources and publicity. The DoE should consider the support that has been offered from this institute to promote the day in Australia.
  7. The focus on non-medical DNA analysis in education should be broadened to considering aspects of what medical analysis can offer. This is a vexed issue but healthcare in the 21st century will increasingly use complex data – our own and our family’s – to assist with the best outcomes for wellbeing. There is a golden opportunity to engage students with understanding this data. DoE should ‘skate to where the puck is going to be’ by further investigating that practical and ethical issues of using medical DNA analysis in schooling.

This study tour has been an invaluable professional experience as I crave intellectual stimulation and new experiences that can be shared with colleagues, parents and students. Some of the people I met were very generous with their time and expertise and in some cases have become friends who will visit me in Australia as we share great enthusiasm for similar areas of research and learning.


Adobe.  Adobe spark – communicate with impact. Retrieved July 9, 2016, from https://spark.adobe.com/

Arney, Kat. Herding Hemingway’s Cats. Bloomsbury Sigma. 2016

Christian, David, Cynthia Stokes Brown, and Craig Benjamin. Big History – Between Nothing and Everything. McGraw Hill Education. 2013

Darcy Moore’s Blog. NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarship Study Tour: New York #1. 2016. Retrieved July 09, 2016, from http://www.darcymoore.net/

Darcy Moore’s Blog. NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarship Study Tour: New York #2. 2016. Retrieved July 09, 2016, from http://www.darcymoore.net/

Darcy Moore’s Blog. NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarship Study Tour: Washington #3. 2016. Retrieved July 09, 2016, from http://www.darcymoore.net/

Darcy Moore’s Blog. NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarship Study Tour: San Francisco #4. 2016. Retrieved July 09, 2016, from http://www.darcymoore.net/

Garber, Kathryn B., Katherine M. Hyland, and Shoumita Dasgupta. Participatory Genomic Testing as an Educational Experience. Trends in Genetics 32.6 (2016): 317-320.

Micklos, David A, Greg A Freyer, and David A Crotty. DNA Science. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2003.

Micklos, David A, Uwe Hilgert, and Bruce Nash. Genome Science. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2013.

Moore, Darcy. Building Australia Through Citizen Science. Australian Council for Educational Leaders e-Teaching. November 2015 (40): Retrieved12 July 2016, from https://www.acel.org.au/acel/ACEL_docs/Publications/e-Teaching%202015/e-Teaching%202015%20(40).pdf 

MinION Mk 1B. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from https://nanoporetech.com/products-services/minion-mki  

Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Gene – An Intimate History. The Bodley Head Ltd, 2016.

National Human Genome Research Institute. National DNA Day. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from https://www.genome.gov/10506367/national-dna-day/

National Human Genome Research Institute. Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code. Retrieved July 09, 2016, from https://unlockinglifescode.org/

Nelson, Alondra. The Social Life of DNA. Beacon Press, 2016.

Poughkeepsie Day School. About PDS. Retrieved July 09, 2016, from http://poughkeepsieday.org/about-pds/

Poughkeepsie Day School. Brent Boscarino aquatic ecology research with students – PDS high school. 2015. Web. 11 July 2016, from https://sites.google.com/a/poughkeepsieday.org/pds-high-school/faculty–noteworthy-news/brent-boscarino-aquatic-ecology-research-with-students

Smithsonian Institution. National Museum of Natural History NMNH. Retrieved July 9, 2016, from http://naturalhistory.si.edu/  

The Big History Project: 13.8 Billion Years of History. Retrieved July 09, 2016, from https://school.bighistoryproject.com/

The Genographic Project by National Geographic – Human Migration, Population Genetics. Retrieved July 09, 2016, from https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/

Wells, Spencer. Deep Ancestry. National Geographic, 2006.

Wells, Spencer. The Journey of Man. Princeton University Press, 2002.  

Zaaijer, Sophie. Cutting edge: Using mobile sequencers in an academic classroom. eLife 2016; 5:e14258. Retrieved July 12, 2016 

What do you think about the recommendations?

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