Good and Bad News for Teachers
By Ted Smillie on Sunday, April 29th, 2018
Features in QESP NewsletterVolume 30 , Issue 4 - ISSN 1325-2070
Our August 2015 article, New Ways of Teaching Lead to First Year Students Scientific Breakthrough, was optimistic about improvements in teaching processes, globally and in Australia. However, recent research on teachers and teaching brings a mixture of good and bad news from various sources, especially The Conversation.
The Bad News
In an April 30, 2018 article in The Conversation, Gonski review attacks Australian schooling quality and urges individualised teaching approach, Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra, analyses “the damning report.” Reasons given for the decline in Australian academic performance include “many Australian schools are cruising, not improving” and “inflexibility in curriculum delivery, reporting and assessment regimes, and tools focussed on periodic judgements of performance, rather than continuous diagnosis of a student’s learning needs and progress”.
Proposed solutions include “a new online and on demand student learning assessment tool” and
“that all students have a number (Unique Student Identifier) throughout their schooling to track their progress better; the Australian Curriculum be updated based on individual student growth rather than fixed-year levels; greater priority be given to literacy and numeracy in early schooling years; and principals have the autonomy to lead learning in their school communities.”
A recent US study also reports bad news. A 29 March 2018 ScienceDaily article, “Lesson learned? Massive study finds lectures still dominate STEM education” tells us that “ 55 percent of STEM classroom interactions consisted mostly of conventional lecturing — a style that prior research has identified as among the least effective at teaching and engaging students.” The article is from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, based on research involving a number of Universities. The authors note that “the study’s scale and interdisciplinary nature make it a “reliable snapshot” of how STEM gets taught to undergraduate students in North America.” They make a number of suggestions for promoting the move to more student-centered learning.
Yet more bad news comes in an April 16, 2018 article in The Conversation, Seven reasons people no longer want to be teachers. This article from Queensland Southern Cross University reports “alarming drops in first preference applications for this year’s teacher preparation courses”, noting that “Queensland has experienced an overall 26% drop. Most alarmingly, UQ reported a 44% plunge. QUT saw a 19% drop…. These figures reflect a national trend. ACU’s is down 20% for campuses in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. This follows disappointing interest in 2017. VTAC reported a 40% drop in 2017 compared to 2016.” The article goes on to list seven reasons people are not so keen on being teachers.
The Good News
On a brighter note, there is some evidence of “self help” by teachers. An April 12, 2018 article in The Conversation, Why teachers are turning to Twitter, reports “a growing trend of teachers using Twitter to connect to a global network of educators to share and solve a wide range of educational problems.” The article quotes a number of surveys, mainly US based, to make the case for a Twitter-based approach to teachers’ professional learning. Advantages include “Teachers are learning about the latest and best teaching practices, lesson plans, web resources, and innovative ideas for the classroom. Some even receive invitations to present at conferences or are given lucrative grants. Significant relationships have even been found between teachers’ professional use of Twitter and improved technology abilities.”
Further promising news comes in a 5 April 2018 ScienceDaily article Science course brings to life a new way of teaching which notes “Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration recently released new research on its flagship Smart Course, Habitable Worlds. The study found that its student-centered, exploration-focused design resulted in high course grades and demonstrable mastery of content.”
Since 2011, the Habitable Worlds (HabWorlds) Smart Course has been taken by more than 5,000 ASU students and adopted by instructors at nearly 40 other institutions globally. The researchers note “With HabWorlds, we wanted to bring to life a new way of teaching science. Our goal was to create an interactive, game-like science course that teaches science as it really is — a systematic process of exploring the unknown, not just memorization of known facts”
The article concludes “What’s fascinating about this research is it provides evidence that the students who received high grades are actually reasoning more effectively that those who didn’t, based on how they behaved in the gameful learning system…. This demonstrates the kinds of novel assessments that are made possible with technology that’s married with smart design.”