AARE conference

AARE 2022: That’s a wrap for a spectacular conference

It goes without saying that it’s been a difficult few years for in-person conferences. I’m sure many of us had high hopes for AARE 2022 and it certainly delivered spectacularly! From the excellent opening session on Monday morning, through all the presentations I was lucky enough to catch, to the opportunities to connect with colleagues old and new, I couldn’t fault anything (ok maybe too much cake at morning tea but a small price to pay for a lovely few days). As an early career researcher it was encouraging to see many just-graduated PhDs present their research, to audiences containing not only their supervisors, but also the many others who attended their presentations. The sense of community was certainly apparent.

It is challenging for ECRs to step into the realm of national research conferences. It takes a while to figure out whether you’re conferencing in the right way or not. AARE 2022 was the first in-person conference I’ve attended, having completed my entire PhD during COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions. I’d heard about the generative nature of these events but I had to experience it first-hand to see how productive they can be. Everyone I met and talked with over the few days – no matter their role, position or length of time in the industry – was welcoming, encouraging and interested in the future of education research in Australia. If AARE 2022 is anything to go by, the future of our field is looking very strong.

My personal highlights included:

  • The welcome to country by Uncle Mickey: Thank you. We were so welcomed to Kaurna country and the theme of knowledge sharing permeated the days of the conference.
  • Professor Allyson Holbrook’s outgoing presidential address which prompted me to reflect on the uniqueness of a PhD undertaken in the field of education. We are rare indeed. Supporting the progress and career development of our current PhD students, and attracting more people with educational qualifications to pursue research will be an ongoing – but necessary – challenge.
  • The City West Campus of UniSA was a really spectacular location: I didn’t get lost even once! The weather was perfect and the outdoor spaces allowed many serendipitous meetings not possible in online conference format. Huge congratulations and thanks should go to all those who helped organise such an excellent event. 

Finally, the many individual talks interposed by themed symposiums are always the ultimate highlight of an in-person conference. In the following section I’ve drawn together some threads emerging from several different presentations that I observed during the 2022 AARE conference.

The missing link: Considering the agency of parents in the Australian educational landscape

I think it was Emma Rowe who had a beautiful metaphor about pulling the threads of seemingly different phenomena and watching how they unravelled (Day 2, Politics and Policy in Education symposium). In a similar vein I’d like to pull out some threads from multiple presentations in disparate streams and try to capture something missing. 

First the presentations: In the Day 3 Sociology of Education stream, Jung-sook Lee and Meghan Stacey from UNSW spoke about their work looking at perceptions of fairness in relation to educational inequities. The researchers presented a fictional scenario to a sample of almost 2000 Australian adults in which ‘students from high-income and low-income families have achievement gaps due to different quality of education provided to them’ (from the abstract). The scenario identified a situation where better-quality teachers for children from high-income families led to better educational outcomes for these children.

Interestingly people with children either currently in school or soon to attend school were less likely to perceive this scenario as unfair.

Prompted by the concluding questions proposed by the authors, audience discussion turned to the issue of why people – and parents in particular – might hold this oddly contradictory opinion. We pride ourselves in Australia (apparently) on being proudly egalitarian. The Gonski reviews (both the first and the second) were largely positively received in the Australian community. Yes! Of course children should have equitable access to educational resources. #IgiveaGonski. 

So why might the idea of educational equity not apply when considering the educational experiences of our own children? Why would it be ok, in the perceptions of the survey respondents, that some children get a better deal because their families have the capacity to pay for it?

The second presentation in the Schools and Education Systems stream (also Day 3) was that by Melissa Tham, Shuyan Huo and Andrew Wade from Victoria University. The study used data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Youth (LSAY) and demonstrated that attendance at academically selective schools has apparently no long-term benefits for students attending these schools. The authors looked at a range of outcomes including university participation and completion, whether participants were employed, and life satisfaction at age 19 and again at age 25. None of these differed for students who had attended selective schools versus those who had not. 

The discussion again turned to the question of why parents are invested in sending their kids to academically selective schools if there’s no observable long-term benefit of doing so. [Of course, academically selective schools always top the rankings for the ATAR each year, but this is likely because the kids in these schools are already high-achievers, not because the selective schooling system adds value to their educational experience]. Indeed, there may be considerable medium-term disadvantages for some students in contexts where kids are grouped together in hothouses of ultra-competitiveness. 

A third paper that I wasn’t able to attend on Day 4 in the Social Justice stream touched again on the question of whether a private school education adds any value to educational outcomes (broadly defined). The authors Beatriz Gallo Cordoba, Venesser Fernandes, Simone McDonald and Maria Gindidis, looked at the way differences in Year 9 NAPLAN numeracy scores between public and private schools were related to funding inequities between these contexts, rather than school quality differences. While the abstract argued that ‘the increasing number of parents sending their children to private schools has been a growing trend causing controversy’, I am inclined to think that if equity is not the foremost consideration for parents in their school decision-making, then it’s not a controversy for them. Like all of us, parents want the best for children. It just so happens that they may make different decisions when it’s their own children (real and concrete as they are), rather than other people’s children (in the abstract).

Anecdotally, people are aware that there’s no academic benefit to these kinds of schools – neither the academically selective type nor the financially selective type. Earlier this year in The Conversation we summarized research showing no advantages to sending children to private schools when NAPLAN results are considered as an ‘outcome’. Apart from being roundly criticized once or twice for the apparently obvious findings, the thousands of comments we received on social media channels and on the website largely indicated that parents weren’t thinking of academics when they paid for a private education for their kids. But if not academics then what? And if we ostensibly believe in equity until it’s our kids in the mix then do we really believe it at all?  What is going on with parents’ decision-making that means these kinds of contradictory decisions are being made about their children’s schooling? 

This brings me (finally!) to my point: it felt like the missing thread drawing these disparate research papers together is the influence of parents. After all, which is the largest group of stakeholders in this game after teachers and children themselves? I think we downplay the influence of parents in the education of children at our peril. We can train teachers to be absolute superstars, we can lobby governments for more equitable funding allocations and better conditions for teachers, we can study cognitive development and how children learn in schooling contexts, we can work on inclusion, fairness and tolerance among students in school communities. But I wonder: if the influence of parents is not directly and explicitly confronted in research that examines educational inequities, policy or social justice (whether the influences are positive or negative), do we have a confounding variable problem? And if so, how can this be resolved?

No offence intended to the (possibly multiple) papers at AARE 2022 that did consider the role of parents in the education of their children. In particular among the presentations that I wasn’t able to catch on the final day was an intriguing one in a Politics and Policy symposium entitled ‘The construction of (good) parents (as professionals) in/through learning platforms’ presented by Sigrid Hartong and Jamie Manolev. Secondly, Anna Hogan presented her work in the Philanthropy in Education symposium, examining the changing role of Parents and Citizens (P&C) organisations in public schools. The findings of this work show how ‘parents are now operating as new philanthropists, solving the problem of inadequate state funding through private capital raising’ in public schools (from the abstract). I’m looking forward to papers for both of these studies in the near future! 

Postscript

These last few years have been challenging times for researchers in many fields, but maybe particularly so for education. Oftentimes it seems as though we move in totally different realms to the governments that make educational policy and the school sites which contain the teachers and students we are interested in supporting. The rise of research agencies external to universities (e.g. the Grattan Institute, the Centre for Independent Studies and AERO) or those subsumed within government departments (e.g. the Centre for Educational Statistics and Evaluation) may mean that our research work is sidelined or ignored, particularly when the findings are not immediately applicable or contradictory to national narratives of educational decline. 

AARE 2022 has reinforced to me the quality and depth of the research that is happening in universities across Australia in many diverse subfields of educational scholarship. I found out so much that I did not know before: and perhaps this in itself is a challenge for us. We know that our work is important and to whom it should apply. We can see the value in each other’s work when we attend conferences and allow the space to connect, discuss and imagine. How then do we ensure this value is recognised not only by the wider community, but also by all the teachers, early childhood educators, policymakers, parents and young people who are both the subjects and potential beneficiaries of our research?

Sally Larsen is a Lecturer in Learning, Teaching and Inclusive Education at the University of New England. Her research is in the area of reading and maths development across the primary and early secondary school years in Australia, including investigating patterns of growth in NAPLAN assessment data. She is interested in educational measurement and quantitative methods in social and educational research. You can find her on Twitter @SallyLars_27

Possibly the last blog of the conference . . .

Still happy to take contributions inspired by the AARE Conference but we will be returning to regular programming next week so please follow these guidelines. Please write to jenna@aare.edu.au

Thank you very much to everyone who contributed posts and photos over the past week.

Meghan Stacey, senior lecturer in the UNSW School of Education, writes, Symposium: What’s the “new sociology of education”, then and now? Looking back to the 1970s and ahead to today

In 1971, Michael F.D. Young published the edited collection ‘Knowledge and control: new directions for the sociology of education’. This among other signature texts of the 1970s constituted work characterised as ‘the new sociology of education’, which saw the field shift from, as symposium convenor Julie McLeod put it, ‘taking problems’ to ‘making problems’. In this shift, aspects of schooling which had previously been taken for granted, such as what and whose ‘knowledge’ constitutes the curriculum, were opened up for scrutiny. 

The symposium asked contributors to consider what this ‘new sociology of education’ did and did not notice; its legacies; and what might or should constitute a ‘new’ sociology of education for today.

The first response to this remit came from Bob Lingard, who pointed to large scale assessments, datafication and globalisation as examples of forces which have shifted studies in the sociology of education and which demand a move beyond methodological nationalism. Lingard’s talk resonated with points made by the third speaker in the session, Joel Windle, who argued for ‘rescaling’ in a ‘new’ sociology of education for today, in which thinking about knowledge and control is shifted to a global level. 

Lingard and Windle’s arguments were given a useful counterweight by the fourth speaker in the session, Eve Mayes, who brought discussion of the new sociology of education to the level of classroom-based research and practice through the example of the ‘Teachers for a Fair Go’ project, highlighting the ongoing need to question ‘what schools can be’.

Yet questions of the future, and in particular a future for the sociology of education, were seen by some speakers to be under threat. Lingard noted that while in the 1970s, sociology of education would be taught in the first, second, third and fourth years of initial teacher education, this presence has since dwindled significantly. A similar point was made by the second speaker in the session, Parlo Singh, who noted an (over?) emphasis on Bourdieuian theory in the sociology of education today, despite Pierre Bourdieu having only a relatively fleeting engagement with education (unlike, for example, his contemporary Basil Bernstein). Singh argued that the lack of sociological training in today’s initial teacher education may explain this trend.

According to Jessica Gerrard and Helen Proctor, who presented the final paper in this session, “declarations of the new” always bring with them “whispers” of the old. For Gerrard and Proctor, this raises questions about just what is sought to be ‘conserved’ in ‘conservative’ views and politics. 

Yet in the context of this symposium, where the future of the sociology of education itself appears to be in danger, perhaps an important question is what needs to be ‘conserved’ from the legacy of the developments of the 1970s. In particular, there may be a need to emphasise the central role of the sociology of education in supporting, as Mayes highlighted, the ‘fair go’ that classrooms can but often do not provide for students. As such, the sociology of education is not separate from but in fact central to initial teacher education. As the discussion that followed the papers highlighted, the sociology of education supports an understanding of teachers as navigators and negotiators of a curriculum which is not taken for granted, but instead, understood as culturally contingent and power-laden. This means we should be enhancing, rather than further marginalising and denigrating, the sociological education of the pre-service teachers we teach.

As convenor of a large, sociologically-informed undergraduate education course, I am sometimes questioned as to the ‘practicality’ of my course for students of teaching. It is too ‘theoretical’, some students (and sometimes colleagues) say. And while the theory is essential, it may be that the links between this theory and the actual work of teachers in classrooms needs to be made more explicit for the next generation of teachers. As such, and as session convenor Julie McLeod suggested as the symposium concluded, foregrounding the importance of the sociology of education in schools and initial teacher education classrooms may need to be a first priority of any ‘new’ sociology of education moving forward.

Photos below are just some of the images from the conference

Louisa Field, PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, writes on Teachers’ Work and Lives

Philip Poulton

The University of Sydney

Primary Teachers as Classroom Curriculum-Makers: Emerging Findings From a Longitudinal Study Exploring Teachers’ Experiences in Curriculum-Making With a Standardised Curriculum 

“I just have to make the thing with the outcomes, in the way that others want me to make, and then I have to teach the thing in the way it says” and “I think what guides the programming is really driven by our questioning of how we do we equip these students for a world that we can’t anticipate or envision yet?” These are two examples of the very different experiences of curriculum-making for teachers in Phillip Poulton’s doctoral study. In this longitudinal study, Phillip has followed preservice teachers from their final year of initial teacher education into their first year of classroom teaching, exploring the realities of early career teachers’ reported curriculum-making experiences. This study has found that whilst these teachers reported varied curriculum-making experiences, these were not always characteristic of more knowledge-led forms of curriculum-making. Rather, these were characterised more by instances of curriculum delivery.

During this presentation, Phillip drew on two individual teachers, both alike in terms of their valuing of education and conceptions of curriculum-making. However, in their first year of teaching, these two teachers found themselves in classroom fields with very different agendas and orientations towards curriculum. One teacher reported greater agency in working with curriculum in a flexible and collaborative environment, guided rather than restricted by the syllabus. The other teacher reporting a contrasting experience, finding herself in a non-collaborative environment and ticking off ‘outcomes’ prioritised above all else. Phillip’s study provides fascinating insight into the lived experiences of early career teachers who, while all aspiring to be knowledge-led curriculum-makers, were either enabled or constrained by the conditions of their individual classroom fields. Understanding more about these experiences is particularly pertinent today, especially with current discussions centred on ‘ending the lesson lottery’ and centralising lesson planning for teachers. Phillip’s doctoral study offer impetus for us to challenge such delivery agendas placed on classrooms which often narrow teachers’ curriculum-making practices. Rather, teachers’ curriculum-making needs to be reinforced as a key tenet of teacher professionalism – practices that are dependent on teachers’ professional knowledge of their students, pedagogy, and content.

Dr Claire Golledge The University of Sydney

No Capacity, No Equity: Schools, Universities, and New Challenges for Teacher Professional Learning  

Dr Claire Golledge’s paper focussed on how teacher professional learning (PL) mandates can exacerbate inequity across schools and systems. All Australian teachers are required to meet mandatory professional learning expectations in line with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Dr Golledge’s presentation drew on her own experience as a former leader of professional learning, and from her doctoral case study research to illustrate that not all teachers are positioned equally to meet these mandatory PL requirements. To highlight this point, Dr Golledge presented two case studies of teachers in vastly different learning contexts, one in an inner city, elite, independent school and another in a regional, government school where the bulk of students come from low socio-economic backgrounds. Despite vastly different PL needs and differing capacities of these teachers to access professional learning opportunities, both of these teachers are subject to the same PL standards and requirements.  While the teacher in the independent school was supported with their PL with a healthy budget, covered classes, and access to a range of accredited PL, the teacher in the regional school faced additional challenges of funding, finding casuals to cover classes, and access to accredited professional learning within her school. Dr Golledge’s study raises a key point that we often talk about educational inequity amongst students, but what about the impact on teachers? This is something which is all too often overlooked. This presentation sparked lively conversations about the ethics and equity of for-profit professional learning providers as well as asking what role universities should play in helping to support teacher professional learning and access to research in schools.

Why we should ditch metrocentricity now (and read about a new book too)

We are coming to the end of the conference but still happy to take blogs about papers you heard and papers you’ve given. I’m on jenna@aare.edu.au

Sally Patfield, Senior Research Fellow, Teachers and Teaching Research Centre, School of Education, The University of Newcastle writes on the Rural Education Symposium

Knowledge and rurality: Deconstructing geographic narcissism in education

Philip Roberts, Natalie Downes, Jenny Dean, Kristy O’Neill, Samantha McMahon, Jo-Anne Reid, Laurie Poretti, Ada Goldsmith

Approximately 7 million people – or 28% of the Australian population – live in rural and remote areas across the country. Rural communities are unique and diverse, not only in terms of geography and demographics, but also in terms of the emotional and material realities of residents’ lives, framed within the interrelated context of the local and the global.

We’re all used to hearing the phrase ‘educational disadvantage’; it’s rolled out repeatedly to capture and conceptualise the apparent education achievement gap between rural students and their metropolitan peers. Particularly when it comes to standardised tests like NAPLAN, it’s a well-worn narrative that the achievement gap between rural and urban students is persistent and widening.

This symposium turned this narrative on its head by interrogating the metro-centric bias inherent within curriculum, educational institutions like schools and universities, and even within academia itself. It re-frames how we think of the ‘problem’ by asking: ‘what, and whose, knowledge is valued?’ And: ‘what if its not rural students who are failing to perform, but rather, the education system which is failing rural communities by marginalising the perspectives of the rural?”

The four papers presented within this symposium weaved together a powerful argument that challenges the way we think about the very nature of ‘educational disadvantage’ by questioning existing practices and illustrating the important role rural knowledges and ways of being can play for young people, their families, and the future of their communities. 

Each paper provided a different layer of insight and analysis: granular case studies that demonstrate how schools are already integrating rural knowledges into curriculum enactment; large-scale analyses of achievement data which examine how school location influences senior secondary outcomes; an examination of the experiences of rural students in higher education, focusing in particular on notions of belonging; and finally, questioning the way research may (perhaps inadvertently at times) even (re)produce deficit notions of the rural, marginalising different ways of knowing, being and doing beyond the metropolis.

The first three presentations brought to the fore key issues around the ideas of spatiality, inequality and knowledge production: that is, that rural space has a reality and, relatedly, that rurality is “reality producing”. In this way, the presenters clearly demonstrated how notions of space and place are central to both the maintenance and representation of social difference.

Overall, this symposium challenges us to think about how we define and engage with the rural – both as educators and researchers. In the third presentation, Natalie Downes and colleagues sadly showed how rural university students see rurality as misrecognised and misrepresented in their coursework and curriculum, with rural locations and careers portrayed as problematic – places associated with staff shortages and a lack of opportunity, for example. Unfortunately, rural students reported that the way rurality was depicted not only impacted how they felt at university but also once they returned home to their communities. Clearly there is much more to do to transform how we embed rural knowledges and promote rural careers across higher education degrees.

In the fourth presentation, the stark reality of how rurality is commonly portrayed was again emphasised, with the presenters highlighting that the fact that far too many projects do not engage with the complexities of rurality in definition nor in analysis, often just mentioning ‘the rural’ in passing as the site of the research. The authors made the case that context matters in education research and how we position and work alongside rural communities plays an important role in either perpetuating or dismantling longstanding hierarchies of power and knowledge.

COMMUNITY MATTERS BOOK LAUNCH by Naomi Barnes

On Wednesday, the AARE Local/Global Issues in Education book series launched Community Matters: The Complex Links Between Community and Young People’s Aspirations for Higher Education by Jennifer Gore, Sally Patfield, Leanne Fray and Jess Harris. 

The book explores the complex meanings of community, the pressure young people face to attend university, access to higher education, university aspirations in rural communities, and understanding why community matters when young people express a desire to attend university. 

In reading an excerpt, Gore described how the book was about how “community helps to soften blunt equity categories and remind researchers, policy makers and equity practitioners of the human conditions that mediate the gap between important analytical categories that undergird important social justice efforts”.

The book is due to be published on 30 December 2022

Community Matters: The Complex Links Between Community and Young People’s Aspirations for Higher Education offers a new lens on equity of access. The policy focus, nationally and globally, on widening participation for under-represented target groups too readily treats such groups as if they have a singular voice, a singular history, and a singular set of concerns. Drawing on the perspectives of Australian school students, their parents/carers, teachers, and a vast array of residents from seven diverse communities, this book uses the lens of ‘community’ to reframe inequitable access. It does so by recognising the complex social and cultural forces at play locally that shape how young people form and articulate their post-school futures.

It’s time: Pat Thomson reflects on a (postponed) Radford

One way or another, my research always concerns a “wicked”  problem.  I simply want to know how schooling can be made better and fairer for many more children and young people than is the case at present. I’ve taken this question into research projects on public policy and education systems, schools and school leaders work, and curriculum and pedagogy. The Covid postponed Radford lecture offered an opportunity to take one more step towards bringing some of these research strands  together. So I chose social justice and arts education – or cultural education as it is called in England where I am currently based – as my topic.

 Educators and researchers concerned with social justice and the arts often focus on questions of access. The broad and balanced curriculum that policymakers promise ought to include the arts. But it often doesn’t. The arts can get very short shrift compared to other curriculum areas. Or educators and researchers concentrate on how young people find their way into careers in the arts, a real social justice issue given that the creative industries are dominated by people from relatively advantaged backgrounds . And of course educators and researchers investigate how the arts can be taught. 

 I wanted to add to the social justice and cultural education conversation. In the lecture I suggested that educational researchers concerned with social justice should be concerned about arts education for three additional reasons:

  1. When taught by arts teachers who understand all children to be capable, rather than starting from the position that some children have talent and some don’t, then all children can and do produce work that could be described as ‘high quality” or “excellent” . Or what I prefer to call beautiful work. Good arts teaching is a fine example of educational inclusion. 
  2. Good arts teaching within an “arts rich school” (see later) changes the probabilities and horizons of possibility for the students who typically don’t benefit from their schooling as they should. There is credible evidence for this proposition.  Randomised control trials of arts interventions show that taking arts subjects does not undermine literacy and numeracy or learning in other subject areas. You don’t have to sacrifice the basics to do arts. You can do it all. And several studies from the US and Canada show that young people who have studied the arts are not disadvantaged in their choices of, or selection by, universities. One very important corpus of longitudinal studies focuses on the “arts rich school” and shows that “low SES” students in arts rich schools have better attendance, are more motivated to do well and that their parents are more engaged with schooling than low SES students in arts poor schools. Most importantly, Catterall’s NELS study showed that low SES students in arts rich schools are more likely to go to college than their peers in arts poor schools. Catterall put this down to something about the culture and climate of the arts rich school, and the types of pedagogies in use. He says educational researchers have to look hard to find a more promising avenue for redressing inequity.

My own research on arts rich secondary and primary ecologies explains how the odds are changed. Arts rich school ecologies include committed senior and middle leaders who support the arts symbolically and in resource allocations. Expert teachers with capacious signature pedagogies offer children and young people a variety of ways of knowing, being, doing and relating in, to and with the world. Schools are engaged with a range of cultural organisations arts richness is integral to the schools identity. 

  1. Students from arts rich schools are more engaged in the arts outside of school and are more civically engaged. In Catterall’s longitudinal study former arts rich school students they also voted in far greater numbers than the national average. And the research that my colleague Chris Hall and I have done strongly suggests that children and young people from arts rich schools are appreciative, critical audiences and active cultural producers with the knowhow and experiences to use a range of media platforms genres and practices to have a say in the  public conversations that matter to them. We call this cultural citizenship. Being able to “have a say” is a social justice issue and crucially important for those children and young people whose life experiences, interpretations and individual and collective views are often ignored. 

This Radford lecture will eventually become a journal article for the Australian Educational Researcher. However I am  interested in whether there is any appetite from policy makers who say that social justice matters for a new arts based disadvantaged school programme. I reckon, as a once used political slogan said, “It’s time”. 


Dr Pat Thomson PSM has been Professor of Education at The University of Nottingham since 2002. She is also a Visiting Professor at Deakin University, the University of South Australia, University of the Free State, South Africa, and the University of Iceland. She is an elected fellow of the UK Academy of Social Science and the Royal Society of Arts. She was formerly a school principal of disadvantaged schools in Adelaide and is a life member of the South Australian Secondary Principals Association. Pat’s research focuses on three interconnected areas: leading for socially just school change; the arts in schools and communities, and doctoral education.

Current research projects include Leading in Lockdown, focusing on the recruitment and retention of school leaders during and after the pandemic (schoolleadersworkandwellbeing.com) and Researching Arts in Primary Schools (artsprimary.com) looking at arts rich schools and initial primary teacher education. Her most recent books are School Scandals: Blowing the whistle on the corruption of our education system (2020. Policy Press) and Why garden in schools? (2021, Routledge). Cultural citizenship. Arts education for life and Refining your academic writing. Strategies for reading, revising and rewriting will both be published by Routledge in late 2022. She blogs as patter (patthomson.net) and tweets as @ThomsonPat.

Header image from Pat’s keynote The Thriving Child in 2019.

What makes a culturally nourishing school?

AARE Symposium : The Culturally Nourishing Schooling Project

Dr Keiko Bostwick (UNSW), Associate Professor Kevin Lowe (UNSW), Dr. Greg Vass (Griffith), Professor Annette Woods (QUT), Dr. David Coombs (UNSW), Mrs. Candace Kruger, Dr. Tracy Durksen (UNSW), Dr. Rose Amazan (UNSW), Professor Andrew Martin (UNSW)

It was a full house for this symposium which shared progress and initial insights from the first year of the Culturally Nourishing Schooling (CNS) project – an ambitious, collaborative school reform project involving researchers across a range of institutions with a focus on improving schooling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through deepened connections between schools and First Nations families, educators, and Communities. 

Associate Professor Kevin Lowe commenced the symposium by outlining the impetus behind the Culturally Nourishing Schooling Project, drawing together findings from recent Australian research to argue for the establishment of a new model of schooling for Aboriginal Students and Communities. Lowe shared the foundational conceptual underpinnings of the Culturally Nourishing Schooling program – Learning from Country, curriculum workshops, professional learning conversations, culturally nourishing pedagogies and cultural mentoring. Lowe shared how these five integrated, Indigenous and critically informed strategies interlock in a holistic professional learning program to support a whole-school approach to the education of Indigenous students.

Dr Greg Vass  then shared insights from the intensive two-day curriculum workshops for CNS participants in which teachers work with notions Learning from Country and apply different analytical frameworks in their curriculum work. Participants shared how the workshops developed greater critical consciousness and supported teachers to move beyond tokenism in their practice to develop deep and purposeful reflection on knowledge and their own influence.  The workshops represented a hopeful, energising and positive influence for the teachers. 

Paper 3 in the symposium from Professor Annette Woods shared findings from the first culturally nourishing pedagogical cycles undertaken by teachers across eight public schools in New South Wales. This model of locally-designed, research-supported professional learning was designed to engage educators and researchers alongside community educators and Cultural Mentors to shift the relations of pedagogy and curriculum in classrooms. 

Dr Tracy L. Durksen and Dr Rose Amazan then shared another dimension of the CNS project – the use of professional conversations to develop a common language and build a cultural body of knowledge within a Community of Practice amongst researchers and participants. The conversations highlighted the importance of relationality in designing and implementing professional learning with the goal of improving schooling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in ways that are sustainable for communities in the longer term. 

Finally, the symposium concluded with Dr Keiko Bostwick exploring quantitative research on teachers’ self-efficacy for teaching First Nations perspectives and curriculum in their classrooms. Findings from this research demonstrate that participant CNS teachers tended to report significantly higher self-efficacy beliefs for teaching First Nations perspectives than non-CNS teachers within the same schools – demonstrating the exciting potential of the CNS model to influence practice and schooling in the long term. 

Discussant Professor Bob Lingard drew together the presentations in his final reflection – noting that the idea of ‘nourishing’ means the promotion of growth, health and conditions for flourishing. Professor Lingard noted the capacity and potential of the CNS model for the future – in forging powerful relationships between schools, researchers, communities and families in ways that make a meaningful difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students. 

The emotional labour of academic labour – it’s all related

Here is another of our intermittent blogs during the #AARE2022 conferenceIf you want to cover a session at the conference, please email jenna@aare.edu.au to check in. Thanks!

Theory of practice architectures symposium H603 

The symposium was made up of members of PEP Victoria, with a focus on theory of practice architectures. The theory of practice architectures examines the ways that practices (sayings, doings and relatings) are made possible through social, political and economic arrangements. The focus of the symposium was on “relatings” and the affective aspects of practice. 

Part 1

Paper One: The emotional labour of educational leading: A practice lens 

Jane Wilkinson, Lucas Walsh, Amanda Keddie and Fiona Longmuir

The presentation draws on a 2017-2018 qualitative study of case studies of exemplary schools, who respond to social volatility in their communities. The school populations comprised diverse student populations. New aspects of a principal’s role, such as community building and trauma informed care, are often ignored in considerations of principals work. This emotional work is an integral aspect of 21st century principalship. 

Emotions play a transformative role in education practices, residing in the sayings, doings and the arrangements of practices. They are social, and a crucial aspect of how people come to know in a practice, emotions are a non subjective pattern that resides in the collective. Using a critical incident Wilkinson et al., gain a deeper understanding of the taken for granted, often invisible, practices involved with emotional work. A project of practice in the school was the “building of community” and “community making”. Using examples from a teacher and a principal the paper identifies how principals and teachers are involved in projects of practices that are “invisible” in market drawn systems that prioritise ‘professionalism’. These constrain and shape the ways that teachers and principals conceive and relate to students and each other.

Paper Two: The relational intensity of risk-taking in ECE

Mandy Cooke

A relational study in three early childhood services considered exemplary. Beneficial risk taking are acts that take someone outside of their comfort zone and are enacted in the hope of beneficial outcomes. It is an inherent part of life and education, however, current education systems are obsessed with removing risk. This study aimed to examine the lived experiences of educators who engage in risk taking. By understanding the role of emotions in risk taking, we are able to support and enable educators as they engage in these activities. There is a relational intensity associated with risk taking, and this is due to tensions between the beliefs of educators and maintenance of trust with the communities, colleagues and parents. There are three main tensions: learning vs duty of care, child vs family desires, autonomy vs collaboration. The tensions evoked negative emotions from educators, which may present a barrier to them engaging in risk taking. The educators used a range of strategies that neutralised, enabled or constrained risk taking, such as compromise, communication, collegial support, and adjustments. Cooke argues that engaging in risk taking could be considered mini critical incidents, that invoke increased emotional labour on behalf of the educators. Thinking-feeling praxis was evident in the educators practices and ways of doing, knowing and relating. When displays of emotions are not considered appropriate in professional settings, it is important to bring emotions to the fore, and to talk about them. 

A question was asked about “neutralising” practices and the extent to which this removed risk. Cooke identified these practices as identifying why  it is important to have conversations, rather than neutralising risk. Wilkinson suggested that there is a professional mask involved in this work.

Part 2

Paper Three: Relational intensities: The practices of education in international schools

Alexander Kostogriz, Megan Adams, Gary Bonar

International schools are an interesting product of the neoliberal market and the rising middle class. Kostogriz highlights the tensions that occur in international schools including relations of power between schools and local communities, creating enclaves, (re)professionalisation of teachers, pay disparities, loyalties to curricula and job insecurities. These tensions form an affective atmosphere in these schools, and there were positive aspects such as growing professionally, being supported and feeling part of a team. International teachers are part of the global precariat, and precarity becomes part of the relational work of teachers. The paper uses two case studies of international bilingual schools that cater largely to local populations, one in China and one in United Arab Emirates. Kostogriz makes an interesting comment on the architecture of these buildings and the ways in which they ‘stand out’ in the landscapes. The tensions in working in precarity were often overcome by affective dimensions of caring for others and establishing relationships with other teachers. Relational work of teaching is the foundational work, it is the “starting point” of doings and sayings.

Paper Four: Enhancing praxis in challenging times: Salutogenesis as theoretical resource for empowerment.

George Variyan & Kristin Reimer

Variyan and Reimer looked at academic practices through the Covid-19 pandemic, using data from the beginning and October. 21. They used an online survey and photo elicitation which Variyan called “playful methods”. They were interested in invisible aspects of academic labour, with particular understanding of the ways online work obscures these practices. Using an ecological perspective to build on the theory of practice architectures, they aimed to understand what are the accomodation practices and what are the niches of resistance? They categorised practices as manageable, comprehensible or meaningful to understand how academics were experiencing academic work during Covid-19. There were relational intensities that often went unacknowledged by institutions, such as connecting with colleagues and needing time with nature and away from screens. They looked at how relations to work, environment, each other and to self that were changing and which of these were supporting academics to cope, or which were constraining their practices. As ‘tentative’ concluding thoughts, they identify the need to move beyond simplistic conceptions of how the Covid-19 impact has changed or shaped academic practices. They also identify the ways in which some practices were quite simple, such as being with nature. 

Paper Five: Ethics as situated relational praxis 

Christine Edwards-Groves and Christina Davidson

This paper considers the nature of ethics as an in situ discursive spatial relational practice, and is a largely conceptual presentation. Using a three year project, Edwards-Groves identifies the “shifting sands” of longer research projects, and discusses the ways in which close proximity creates complexity that is often taken for granted. Edwards-Groves would like to “unsettle” the taken for granted complexity of working in schools on longer term basis. The school in which they worked had high levels of disadvantage and transience. Their project sought to develop capacity for oral language and supporting literacy across the school. The project was in situ that required flexibility and consideration of how to engage with teachers, stakeholders and leadership teams. Being in close proximity created pivotal moments or “critical happenings” that meant a shift of practices as researchers. These pivotal moments included miscommunication, disagreements and conflicts. Using the example of a gatekeeper who mediated the process of the research, they highlight the ways in which research may be shaped by practices of others, and the ways in which a gatekeepers sayings and doing shaped the sayings and doings of the research participants. 

Discussant: Dr Kathleen Mahon

Mahon began by discussing the invisible aspects of presenting, the feelings of nervousness before stepping onto a stage. She identified the collective nature of these emotions when she describes them, and how we may be triggered by others descriptions of emotions that we cannot help but respond to. She is nervous as she has been provoked but also hopes to provoke in her response – it forms a risk to act as discussant. Mahon ended by providing provocations for each of the papers to think through further.

In the symposium there is a rich conceptual contribution to our understanding of practices, and to some extent, speaking back to the theory. The papers challenge the way we think about relational practices across emotions, relational intensities. They highlight that emotions matter, particularly with the way relations unfold. Emotions are part of the practices, they are expressed in the sayings and doings, they inform our understandings of how to move forward. Emotions also shape emotional tensions and the demands on professionals in these spaces. There are social norms around what is acceptable to feel, and who can feel these things in particular roles. Making visible things that matter, is a key role for research. 

What’s happening in the collaboratories?

Emergent Publics Through Research Symposium 

Organisers: Parlo Singh and Stephen Heimans

Presenters: Parlo Singh, Henry Kwok, Carla Tapia Parada & Sue Whatman (Griffith University), Stephen Heimans (UQ) & Andrew Barnes (DET QLD)

All authors: Parlo Singh, Stephen Heimans, Henry Kwok, Andrew Barnes, Gabrielle Ivinson, Roberta Thompson, Carla Tapia Parada, Debbie Bargallie

The four presentations in this AARE symposium explored ways in which research collaboratories can be designed and enacted to help disrupt cycles of educational disadvantage. This symposium brought together papers from an ARC funded project and PhD study at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia.

So, what are research collaboratories? These are designed to create distinctive moments where epistemological “business as usual” is put into question and where researchers have to earn their place at the knowledge generation table. We ask how researchers are relevant and to whom they are responsible. This is because the emphasis moves to trying to think through and work with the entanglements (where causal links between entities and events are not straightforwardly clear) between the ethics of research (in the strong sense of the word as concerning the taking of responsibility for the outcomes and impacts of the work), the ontological aspects of the research (what realities are being performed here that might not have existed before?) and the knowledge processes. 

Complex models of teaching, particularly in public schools servicing high poverty communities, are being displaced by learning and measurement discourses, overrun by “norms”, with a logic that has generated a marketplace for commercial providers promoting testing instruments, accountability schedules, scripted or teacher-proof lessons and curriculum packages. Similarly, complex models of research are being displaced by narrow definitions of ‘evidence’, ‘data’, and ‘learning gains’. Randomised control experiments are heralded as the gold standard of research. 

We make the case for thinking differently about teaching and research – not as an intervention (cause and effect), but as encounters for understanding, sense-making and wise judgements that promote human flourishing in open, uncertain, and complex schooling systems. Such an invitation requires a re-thinking of the resources deployed collectively by school leaders, teachers, researchers to generate educational-research practices.

The first presentation of the symposium was presented by Dr Henry Kwok on behalf of co-authors Stephen Heimans and Parlo Singh, on Standards, Normalisation, or Normativity? Re-imagining Teacher Professionalism in the Age of Performativity

Kwok set the scene that, over the past few decades and in the wake of ‘crisis’, global educational policy movements have converged upon standards-based reforms. Public statements about performance expectations, such as the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APSTs), are expected to cure all social and educational ills spontaneously. 

But, is it the reality? What is a teaching standard? Does it exist? 

Drawing on a collaborative ARC-funded research project with public schools serving high-poverty communities in Queensland, Australia, Kwok asked the audience to re-think teaching standards, drawing upon the distinctions made between ‘normalisation’ and ‘normativity’ by the French philosopher of medicine, Georges Canguilhem. 

Kwok presented a compelling argument that while teacher standards may share some features of ‘social norms’ and shed light on the direction of quality teaching, the challenges in the lived reality of education are more important than measurement and cannot be redeemed by the inscription of ‘standards’ alone, especially in communities experiencing historical, structural inequalities and complex intergenerational traumas. 

Kwok on behalf of his co-authors implored us to reimagine ‘teacher professionalism’ differently, noting that pedagogic practices can be envisaged in multiple ways, which should be more than performativity, beyond the policy speak of ‘excellence’, in order to reclaim the space for social justice and democratic professionality.

A question asked from the audience was how do schools, such as those in high poverty communities, escape the need to be compared to “norms”? Kwok and Singh asked in reply, why can’t schools generate their own unique norms, that make sense to the members of that school community? And articulate how they are “doing” against meaningful norms. It was a thought-provoking start to the symposium.

The second paper, led by Stephen Heimans from the University of Queensland and Andrew Barnes, a school Principal from one of the collaboratory sites, on behalf of co-authors Parlo Singh and Gabrielle Ivinson. They outlined what they meant by 

Play for Play’s Sake in Primary Schools: Exploring playfulness as educational subjectivity. 

During the initial COVID lockdown, the school, which serves a low socio-economic, culturally and linguistically diverse community, had to remain open for students who were deemed vulnerable and at risk. These students also had limited opportunities to engage with ‘online pedagogies’ as many homes relied on smart phones for internet connection rather than tablets and computers. The school day for these ‘most-at-risk’ students contained many opportunities for play. 

Staff noticed something transpiring through play: increased play seemed to equate with improvement in academic results, and reduction in behaviour incidents. The school took this experience of play and built a ‘loose parts playground’ based on the philosophy of ‘playwork’, a child-centred approach to thinking about education. 

In attempting to understand this ‘play work’, the presenters theorised different dimensions of child-initiated and led play in relation to emerging playful educational subjectivities as ‘minor’, ‘ludic’ and ‘speculative’ (drawing on process philosophical research). Multiple examples were provided by the team, such as how one child buried an old sewing machine deep in the playground, for someone else to ‘discover in the future’, and another play café offering a space for social and emotional care of peers. 

This collaboratory suggests that rethinking playfulness as a core educational ethic can be a way forward for schooling, a way which also delivers other educational priorities, particularly for students who live with intergenerational trauma, violence and the other enduring and daily situations of poverty.

Audience members commented on how this paper resonated pure joy, another commenting that they desperately wanted to play in the loose parts playground themselves.

Parlo Singh and Andrew Barnes presented on behalf of co-author Roberta Thompson Framing and Reframing Positive Behaviour Policies, using the lens of Goffman to explore how student behaviour is constructed in official policies. Against a context of increasing incidents of ‘behaviour problems’ and student suspension, and the increasingly younger age of those suspended, the research collaborators asked ‘What are students trying to communicate? Why are they using these ways of communicating? How might we teach children to communicate in alternative ways?’ 

Singh and Barnes also explored how this school used play or playwork in the loose-parts playground to encourage students to remake and reclaim the space of schooling. Is it possible that different kinds of play spaces that might be created as alternatives to marketized models of play which can provide children with opportunities for enhanced participation in school life? 

The final paper in the symposium was from Carla Tapia Parada and Sue Whatman, presenting on behalf of their colleagues, Parlo Singh and Debbie Bargallie, on  ‘Teacher Activism: Struggles Over Public Education in Chile’. A PhD project of Carla’s, there were highly interested audience members present who also have worked in Chile’s education sector and were keen to hear Carla’s insights as a Chilean Mestiza researcher and the interpretations of her co-theorist participants, following Bargallie (2020) via testimonio, photo-story and yarning.

Carla noted that while much has been written about student movements against the neoliberal privatizing of education in Chile, less attention has been given to teacher activism around educational matters. Drawing on these yarning stories from teacher activists in Chile and thinking together with them about what and who is engaged in these struggles over public education. The research sought to understand (1) what is entailed in strengthening public education? (2) what is the conception of the public in education? (3) how can covert or endo-privatization be undone?, and (4) can public education be strengthened by increasing individual rights and regulating the function of private institutions? 

Whatman introduced the concept of pedagogic rights from Basil Bernstein, a concept which developed out of little-known work he conducted and co-published in Spanish in Chile in the 1980s. This theoretical work on pedagogic rights and emergent publics is used to think with and about the yarning stories of teacher activists. Examples of enhancement, inclusion and participation were interpreted from the co-theorist teacher activists, further suggested as possibilities for democracy, where which teachers pedagogised their activism into their everyday teaching practices.

Each of the papers served the purpose of the symposium well to illustrate how research collaboratories can disrupt educational inequalities and disadvantage.

The perplexing political life of education online

One of our intermittent blogs during the #AARE2022 conferenceIf you want to cover a session at the conference, please email jenna@aare.edu.au to check in. Thanks!

Online spaces have arguably given voice to more diverse actors and advocacy activities related to education policy. While policymakers have a responsibility to address areas of concern to Australian education, a highly digitised public sphere presents challenges to implementing appropriate reform. Online political machinations can open education policy decision making to moral panic, misinformation, and culture wars, but also offer new opportunities and hope. 

This symposium aimed to spark questions about the confluence of political shifts and online information sharing, commentary, and activism on the formation of Australian education policy. The series of papers presented in this symposium were a short overview of politics related to education online. Each raised questions about the influence of the Internet, and education-related information ecosystems, on education policy. The point of this symposium was to provide a national platform for discussing the challenges and possibilities of education projects that employ digital sociological approaches. The papers used a variety of online platforms and employed diverse methodological approaches to investigating education online. All projects are led by early career researchers and higher degree research candidates exploring cutting edge and traditional approaches to theory, qualitative and quantitative methods.

First, Barrie Shannon from the University of Newcastle spoke about how young people, especially young queer people, are looking online for relevant, affirming information about health, sex, gender and identity. Shannon explained that there is a wide body of knowledge that suggests young people in Australia are dissatisfied with the quality of the sexuality education they receive from school, that tends to take a heteronormative focus on puberty and reproduction, and the information that is presented is often piecemeal, irrelevant, or cautionary, framed as a minefield of potential risks and dangers. Further to this, contemporary political discourse in Australia positions trans youth in the fray of ongoing ‘culture wars’, with schools serving as central battlegrounds. This presentation drew on narrative data from trans, nonbinary and gender diverse Australians aged 18-26 who reported using social networking sites to find information, make friends and establish communities of care. Using the microblogging platform Tumblr as a case study, Shannon illustrated how the affordances of certain social networking sites facilitate alternative ways of communicating, peer-learning, and teaching that are not delivered by a formal authority figure and are not mediated by government policies or curriculum documents. 

Next, Blake Cutler from Monash University spoke about his work with Lucas Walsh, Libby Tudball, and Thuc Huynh surrounding  the rapid growth of the School Strikes 4 Climate movement over the past few years. Cutler argued that this movement has been an important way for young people to negotiate and enact their participatory citizenship and democratic rights, given the barriers they face to engage in formal means of civic participation. The presentation explored the role of Twitter in how young people identify with and express their political and civic identities in relation to the climate strikes. The team collected a total of 92,360 tweets from between 1 October 2018 and 5 October 2021 that contained the #auspol hashtag with at least one of the following: #climatestrikeonline, #fridaysforfuture, #climatestrike, #schoolstrike4climate. Using a novel deep learning algorithm they predicted the demographics of users to explore the role of young people (i.e., those under 29 y.o.) in this online space. 

Next, Keith Heggart from the University of Technology Sydney spoke about how Edutwitter is a fraught environment, with competing discourses about teaching approaches, how to teach reading, and the role of teachers in society. He explained how this space has become filled with a variety of third party actors, such as educational gurus, think tanks and institutes that work between politicians and the populace in the formulation of education policy. Heggart’s presentation examined the role of various non-governmental agencies in determining Australian education policy. Two sites were considered: Critical Race Theory in Australia, and the anti-vax movement amongst the Teachers Professional Association of Australia. These two sites provided evidence of policy borrowing (where policy is uncritically taken from other jurisdictions on the basis of its outrage appeal), policy washing (where extreme positions are cleaned through various interactions in order to appear more acceptable) and ideological absence (where organisations and other actors are quick to abandon principled positions in the pursuit of influence). 

Next, Naomi Barnes from QUT spoke about Wikipedia as a place where knowledge is contested and often vandalised. Unknown to many, Wikipedia communities have taken a major role in advocating for informed understandings of concepts like Critical Race Theory (CRT). As politicians increasingly do their policymaking in the media, Wikipedia stands as an important site of knowledge production. While ideas like CRT morph into policy objects, editors protect the page from misinformation and bad actors through a variety of editorial processes. Barnes explained this politics of knowledge protection and production within the context of the recent Australian Curriculum Review that saw both the Commonwealth and NSW Senates, courtesy of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and Tasmanian Liberal senators, ban CRT for Australian schools. This replicates a pattern in the political spheres of both the USA and the UK and is a danger to evidence informed policy making. 

Finally, Jessica Prouten, an Educational Doctorate candidate at QUT, spoke about the link between the presentation of teacher identity on social media, looking at how practitioners manage the interplay between personal, professional, monetised, relational and activist spheres. The paper used Foucault’s ideas of governmentality as a lens to understand social media policy as related to teachers and how people manage behaviour and have their behaviour managed by a network of gazes. 

These papers, collectively, highlighted the simultaneous affordances and perplexities of online spaces, and prompted questions about the politics of education online, including:

  • What do these various online communities and spaces enable and constrain for those engaged with them?
  • What kinds of literacies do young people, educators, education leaders and policy makers and researchers need in navigating the politics of education online? and
  • What are the ethical considerations, for researchers, when working in these online spaces?

These papers, collectively, prompted a robust discussion of the politics of education online.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, hstory and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.

Eve Mayes is a Senior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Pedagogy and Curriculum. She currently lives and works on unceded Wadawurrung Country. Her publications and research interests are in the areas of student voice and activism, climate justice education, affective methodologies and participatory research. Eve is currently working on the ARC DECRA project: Striking Voices: Australian school-aged climate justice activism (2022-2025).

When one shocking shortage led to another

Here is another of our intermittent blogs during the #AARE2022 conferenceIf you want to cover a session at the conference, please email jenna@aare.edu.au to check in. Thanks!

Symposium: ‘Teacher shortages in Australian schools: reactive workforce planning for a wicked policy problem’ (post starts after the photos!)

With nine people sitting on the floor, six standing, and a long queue leading from the entrance, the symposium ‘Teacher shortages in Australian schools: reactive workforce planning for a wicked policy problem’ was forced to change venues before it could even begin. The overwhelming interest in this session speaks to rising concern and anxiety for the state of the teacher workforce around Australia today.

The first paper, from Jo Lampert, Amy McPherson and Bruce Burnett, featured an analysis of how 20 years’ worth of government and university initiatives have sought to recruit, prepare and retain teachers in ‘hard to staff’ schools, the impact of these initiatives, and the policy lessons that can be learned from them. The analysis found that mostly, these programs have emphasised recruitment over retention (a frustratingly familiar feature of current initiatives like the Teacher Workforce Shortages Issues Paper, too), with few featuring any formal evaluation process. Policy lessons included a need to focus on benefits, provide financial support, and focus on the wellbeing and working conditions of staff.

Scott Eacott’s presentation on the operational and strategic impact of a teacher shortage on school leadership argued that we have a social contract in Australian education which is not currently being fulfilled. Eacott pointed to the need for a whole-system response instead of a school system which “cannibalizes itself through poor design and incentives”.

Eacott’s paper was followed by work from Susanne Gannon, tracing the #MoreThanThanks campaign of the NSW Teachers Federation, which has sought improved wages and conditions for teachers in NSW public schools. Gannon drew on the work of Carol Bacchi to explore how the construction of the teacher shortage ‘problem’ in NSW has become combative space, from ministerial denials of a problem at all; to a swathe of positive press releases from the NSW government on how teachers are purportedly supported; to the use of the phrase “the committee divided” 93 times in the recent, ‘Great Teachers, Great Schools’ report. Gannon concluded by questioning whether perhaps it’s “not even thanks” that NSW teachers are getting, but instead, open ideological warfare.

The final paper in the session was from Dadvand, Dawborn-Gundlach, van Driel and Speldewinde, exploring career changers in teaching and why they stay or leave. Career change teachers are often positioned as part of the workforce shortage ‘solution’, yet these participants were unsure about their future as teachers. The paper used in-depth interview data to privilege teacher voice and highlight the issue of teacher working conditions and support whilst in the job as what needs to be, but is not often, the focus of reform. 

A clear thread across presentations was an explicitly identified tension between the needs and desires of the local, straining against the structures of the centre. Eacott, for example, pointed to the challenges created when substantive teachers take leave without pay, resulting in their position having to be filled by precariously-employed staff (if they can be found). Yet supportive and attractive working conditions – including but not limited to leave provisions – are arguably what need to be addressed if the teacher shortage ‘problem’ is to be meaningfully engaged with. And this, in itself, requires re-assessing just what the ‘problem’ actually is: one of teacher working conditions, and the need to build supportive structures around teachers’ work in all schools. As discussant, Professor Martin Mills, concluded the symposium by asking, “What would a school look like where people committed to social justice wanted to teach?”

Meghan Stacey is a senior lecturer in the UNSW School of Education, researching in the fields of the sociology of education and education policy and is the director of the Bachelor of Education (Secondary). Taking a particular interest in teachers, her research considers how teachers’ work is framed by policy, as well as the effects of such policy for those who work with, within and against it. She is an associate editor, The Australian Educational Researcher Links: Twitter & University Profile

The AI future for lesson plans is already here


Another of our intermittent blogs during the #AARE2022 conference
If you want to cover a session at the conference or want to respond to something you’ve heard, please email jenna@aare.edu.au to check in. Thanks!

George Siemens gave the 2022 AARE conference keynote speech yesterday morning and the takeaway was this: artificial intelligence (AI) is already changing education in Australia whether we’re ready for it or not. He went on to suggest that unless we’re mindful we, as researchers and teacher educators, may not have a seat at the table in deciding what the future of education will look like. This blog post is about the future of AI-generated lesson plans and how we might think about this development today and into the future. Think of it as a concrete case study of exactly what George was talking about this morning where the conclusions might apply to other areas of education

What do today’s AI-generated lesson plans look like?

AI-generated lesson plans are already better than many people realise. Here’s an example generated through the GPT-3 deep learning language model:

Prompt: A lesson plan for English for teaching 16 year old students about the idea of “juxtaposition” within Romeo and Juliet.

Output from GPT-3 (verbatim, with formatting provided by the algorithm):

Background

Juxtaposition is the act of placing two things side by side, often for contrast. In literature, authors often use juxtaposition to create a certain mood or atmosphere, or to emphasize certain qualities of a character or situation.

 In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare uses juxtaposition extensively to contrast the two lovers and their families, the Montagues and the Capulets. He also uses juxtaposition to contrast the tragic events of the play with the light-hearted moments.

 Objectives

 By the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

 – Understand the concept of juxtaposition

– Identify examples of juxtaposition in Romeo and Juliet

– Explain how juxtaposition is used to create mood and atmosphere in the play

 Materials

 – A copy of Romeo and Juliet

– A whiteboard and markers

– A teacher-created handout with examples of juxtaposition from the play (optional)

 Procedure

 1. Introduce the concept of juxtaposition to the class. Explain that authors often use this literary device to create contrast and emphasize certain qualities.

 2. Ask the students to think of an example of two things that are often juxtaposed. Write some of their responses on the board.

 3. Tell the students that they are going to be looking for examples of juxtaposition in Romeo and Juliet. Explain that they should pay attention to how the contrast created by the juxtaposition contributes to the mood and atmosphere of the play.

 4. Give the students time to read through the play, or assigned sections of the play if time is limited. As they are reading, they should be looking for examples of juxtaposition.

 5. Once the students have finished reading, ask them to share the examples of juxtaposition that they found. Write these examples on the board.

 6. Finally, ask the students to explain how the juxtaposition affected the mood and atmosphere of the play. What did it emphasize about the characters or the situation?

 Extension Activity

 Have the students find additional examples of juxtaposition in other works of literature, or in everyday life. They can share their examples with the class and explain how the contrast created by the juxtaposition contributes to the overall effect.

Imagine that you’d set a task for a class of second year Bachelor of Education students to create a lesson plan with that same prompt. How do you think the AI response would compare to some of your students?

Anybody can generate their own lesson plans for a year level, subject area, and topic that interests them with a similar prompt: https://beta.openai.com/playground

Some concerns

It is trivially easy to generate useful lesson plans using this technique. One obvious upshot is that setting assessment tasks for any students in initial teacher education that involve them creating lesson plans isn’t a great idea any more—it’s too simple for them to generate one. Yet there are new opportunities that arise:

  • Why not get students to generate a few lesson plans, look at the patterns, and write something about the essential structure of this thing that we call a ‘lesson plan’?
  • Why not get them to take a generated lesson plan and improve it, annotating the reasons why their changes have made it better?

Another legitimate concern that arises is that inservice teachers might start to use the next generation of AI-generated lesson plans (which will undoubtedly be an order of magnitude more powerful) without critique—or worse, that some jurisdictions might actually request that teachers use such an approach in future.

A word that we need to look to is “design”

The issues raised by AI regarding lesson plans and in many places in education too can be addressed by consideration of design. When design in education is done well (whether that’s learning by design, design thinking, co-design, or within the subject area named “design”) it always places an emphasis on two things:

  1. Authentic problems: such that the learner must always construct an interpretation of the problem before they can address it
  2. Process and rationale such that the output that the student produces is impressive only if their process and rationale support what they’ve done.

When assessments follow these two ingredients then educators can give students free rein to use whatever tools they have at their disposal. The adoption of AI stops being a concern. When students are being assessed through their process rather than their output, students can use whatever tools are available. The challenge is integrating use of such tools into solving problems through collaboration, critical thinking, cultural understanding, and creativity.

Design as a response to “what should be taught”

George Siemens concluded his presentation by suggesting a list (controversially) of what should be taught in the context of an AI future. A summary/interpretation of his key points of what we should be teaching is:

  • Beingness: what it means to be human in the world, the interconnectedness of all things
  • Systems thinking: how systems change and what complexity is about
  • Technology and how to use it: machine learning and data literacy, computational thinking, collaborating with non-human intelligences

Increasingly, design has become a part of education: design for learning, learning by design, thinking, and so on. The epistemic fluency to design using computational tools in a way that enriches material life and human culture is at the root of all three of these areas. 

For any subject area, teaching using a design approach shifts the focus from knowing content to knowing process. It becomes less about how to get from A to B in a straight line and more about knowing how to frame problems, use tools, and communicate outcomes. More design in education provides one way of responding to this increase presence of AI in education, whether we’re ready for it or not.

It might even provide a response to George’s provocation about McKinsey, Deloitte, or Microsoft trying to get in on a slice of the education sector. Education conceived as design—process rather than output—prioritises the humans involved in the enterprise and makes it harder to sideline educators.

Dr Nick Kelly is a Senior Lecturer in Interaction Design at the Queensland University of Technology, in the School of Design. He is a genuinely cross-disciplinary researcher spanning the fields of Design and Education. He conducts research into design cognition (how designers think), metacognition in learning (how teachers and learners develop their metacognitive abilities), and places where these two things come together (design pedagogy, design for learning, learning by design, design of learning technologies). His specialisation is in the design, facilitation, and analysis of online communities.

Dr Kelli McGraw is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Creative Industries, Education Social Justice at QUT. Currently teaching units in Secondary English curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, her prior experience includes teaching high school English and debating in Southwest Sydney, NSW. Kelli researches the fields of English curriculum studies, secondary school assessment, teacher identity, digital literacy, popular culture and new media texts.