#EdTech makes no significant difference

Teachers like me, who are keen on the potential of educational technology to change schools are often the first to say “it’s not the technology that’s important, it’s what you do with it.” We also say things like, “It’s about creativity, collaboration and communication.” After all, I started this very blog as an iPad support site and spent the first 3 years discussing the wonderful things one could make on an iPad and how exciting all the apps and their technologies were. But regardless of how people are collaborating, creating, and getting excited, there’s one crucial thing to remember … technology makes no significant difference to learning.


EdTech output does not equal BETTER learning

To help explain where schools still often miss the point when talking about technology use, I’d like to mention two important educators.

john-hattieJohn Hattie: A New Zealander who has been Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia, since March 2011. He is the Author of “Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.” an influential paper on what has a real impact on learning. In his list of nearly 200 influences on learning outcomes from an ever increasing meta-analysis of global educational research, you have to go to number 70 before you even get a mention of technology. Since it’s first publication in 2008, students self-reporting their own success has proved to be consistently the most influential indicator. This is something most schools don’t utilise at all whilst dedicating hours to training staff in technology.

derek-mullerDerek Muller: An Australian who has had success in teaching through video and even has a PHD in doing so. His extremely popular video on why #edTech has little impact on learning has had more than a million views. In the video below, Derek takes you back 100 years and runs you through the history of the claim that This will revolutionise education.” He highlights that if the goal and content of an activity is the same, the format makes no difference. His summary reminds us that the point of education is not to aim for particular output from students or simply deliver information, even new styles of input & output. “The purpose is to inspire, challenge and excite people to want to learn.” Another key point he makes is that learning is a social activity and is most successful when every individual feels they have a role to play within that learning. Teachers are only truely successful when focused both on the design of and the locus of control within a social learning environment. That requirement is what maintains teachers as so important.

Does tech still have a role to play?

how-technology-in-schools-has-changed-over-time-infographicPlease don’t be confused and think this is an anti-tech post. There’s nothing wrong with using technology as long as the classroom norm is that individual students expect to evaluate their own outcomes (Just as Hattie’s studies indicate) and preferably against calculated targets for understanding and impact that the students devised or negotiated in the first place. All learning must include the questions below, if it does, technology only opens up further opportunities, if it doesn’t, then technology only becomes the distraction that many fear it is.
Click the infographic to the left for a nice history of EdTech.

Questions for all learnERS

  1. Why am I learning this?
  2. How will I measure my own success?
  3. Who with and how might I best succeed?
  4. What are my next steps?
  5. How am I tracking my progress?

Technology will help answer all 5 questions but if they are absent from the mind of the learner, technology will not assist true learning at all. My primary concern as an educator now is who is driving the learning in my classroom, be they using tech or not.

I have covered many aspects of future education trends in my $16 book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. Here’s the Ad:

The Art of Learning

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-3-31-13-pmIn my school, we are on a development journey to shift responsibility for learning from the teachers to the students that may take 5 years. This requires a shift in mindset by all involved, including the community, who put most of the pressure for grades on the teachers. To compliment this, we have shifted our attention when observing classrooms. Rather than focus on the behaviour of the teacher, which is common in many classroom observations, we are carrying out learning conversations with selected or random students in the room. Once the class is underway with a task, the “observing” teacher sits down with a student or group and asks what at first seem like obvious questions:

  1. Do you know why you’re learning this?
  2. How do you know how well you’re doing?
  3. What would your best attempt at this look like?
  4. What’s your next step?

These might seem obvious when considering the apparent purpose of education but parents and teachers themselves can get quite a shock to find how often the answers are not clear to the average student. This is because we have developed education systems that place such an emphasis on teachers issuing education to students, that as long as work is being completed, the learners can feel quite separated from the reasons they’re there in the first place.

“Let’s just get this fiNished”

In a BYOD environment it is common for students to develop habits where they gravitate towards the same app and output format because it becomes the most familiar and thus quickest with which to complete work. So in my school, I am finding that teachers offering free choice of expression are still receiving predominantly presentation slides as the output of choice. So, during a number of my learning conversations, I decided to find out how much thought was going into considering approach to a goal and the actual output produced.


Here is a summary of these conversations from multiple classes of 15 year-olds:

  • Teacher: “why are you learning this stuff?”
  • Student: “cos it’s probably useful”
  • Teacher: “Why are you using Keynote?”
  • Student: “it’s easy and teachers say we get higher marks for colour and pictures but we don’t know why”
  • Teacher: “why is that slide a useful one in the presentation?”
  • Student: “it’s got words and pictures … I don’t know really”
  • Teacher: “If you’re all doing Keynote presentations on the same topic, how do you know they won’t all be the same?”
  • Student: “… How about … we not talk to each other!”
  • Teacher: “what grade are you hoping for?”
  • Student: “Above average.”
  • Teacher: “Do you ever aim for a top grade?”
  • Student: “If I like my teacher or am already good at the subject”

Answers like these are common in schools around the world. They are also eye opening to teachers who don’t spend enough time discussing learning and focus too much understanding course content. The lack of genuine engagement in what one is doing is symptomatic of an understanding that what is taking place is a teacher devised workload, not a learning experience that one is part of. The drive for results can reduce the art of teaching to an ability to produce completing, compliant students, but what about the art of learning?

Engagement relates to locus of control

It is time that classrooms place the emphasis on students making nearly every decision regarding what, when and how they go about learning. It is time for teachers to focus on challenging students on their decisions whilst realising that through practice, students will develop an understanding that they are in charge of and thus responsible for their learning. When I’m talking to students in a year’s time, I hope to receive detailed explanations as to how and why their learning is happening the way it is.

I would not have understood this by carrying out a standard teaching observation. I would have reported on wonderful teachers carrying out their lessons with nice compliant children. Let us worry more about developing learners than topic absorption and we will eventually shift the pressure from that of compliance to that of students articulating their own learning success.

More like this in my book A learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

How I made my advertisment in Keynote

coverIt was very exciting to become a published author this year and a big thank you to Holly Clark and the EdTechTeam for encouraging me to write A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining Education. The book explains all the amazing things that are happening in New Zealand’s education and why I believe it will lead the world in future-ready education for some time. Thanks to all those who have bought it so far. Below is my advert for the book but I’m being asked each day – “How did you make it?” Like everything I do, I used Keynote for Mac. I was tempted to use one of the many video animation websites such as Powtoon but I wanted more precise control over the visuals and style.

Here’s the advert and below are some lessons on how I produced it.

Lesson 1: Trust me, You can draw!

Drawing your own objects in keynote is easy, even for non-artists. In this video I show you how great drawings can be created in Keynote by tracing photos and graphics. This is done with no fine control of the mouse or technical drawing skills.

Lesson 2: Don’t just transition … Animate!

Keynote comes with both advanced drawing tools, extended photo manipulation and also multiple action animation per object per slide. In this lesson I show you how I used these multiple actions to make things move around a slide instead of just entering and leaving.

I hope these helped and please contact me with any more specific questions you have.


Whoever drives learning determines the destination

Whilst reminiscing with adults about our own experience of school, there are two types of story or description that emerge Classroom stories normally focus on the teacher, be it the way they talked, dressed or displayed terrible personal hygiene. Any other school stories include personal memories from trips, stage performances or embarrassing social moments. Now, notice here that stories that relate directly to the individual are outside the classroom, and most classroom memories do not relate oneself.

Where is the self in the classroom?

Who drives learning-eduwellsTeachers are often proud of their ability to build relationships with individual students but it’s the nature of and reason for that relationship that I want to examine. What I am about to write might frustrate some who see the nature of these relationships as the cornerstone of their practice. But like I have done many times, it’s the fundamental systems that schools use to deliver education that I am questioning and the way in which those systems impact on the relationships many teachers have with their students.

My thoughts this week relate to my recent discussions about factory style compliance being the driver for school practice and decider of success. When compliance with teacher issued work and rules is the primary concern during the school day, it has the tendency to shape the relationships of all those concerned. A topic that is talked about often is the difference between education and learning, where education is a finite something received from others and learning is a personal and authentic journey that doesn’t necessarily have an final destination. My feeling is that relationships formed within an environment of education do not recognise the individual beyond a need to comply with and complete work issued. An education predefines how learning takes place and so one-to-one relationships have to centre on either compliance assistance or issues outside the learning, like recent sporting successes or student hobbies. Relationships formed within an environment focused on learning are designed around the needs and passions of each individual to progress. In this way, education does not equip the individual for further learning as much as a personally driven experience that develops one’s own strategies and tactics.


I was invited to speak about change at another New Zealand high school this week where I did my best to explain the shift from educating the masses to developing individual learners and why the changing world was busy extending our need to do so. The thing I couldn’t stress enough is that whole school change is not worth attempting. The senior students in 90% of high schools have been trained to be educated by others and will often resent the idea of taking charge and being responsible for their learning.

So play the long game. Start with your youngest year group and have the teachers build a library of learning strategies and classroom expectations that have the learners consider “How might we or I progress towards this goal?” Challenge your students more to practice considering all the available options rather than waiting to be given them. Equip and empower your learners to be more independent but also self-aware in knowing when and how to seek assistance from those inside and outside the classroom.

Same workload – less stress

Confusion exists amongst teacher about student-driven learning. It requires just as much work from the teacher but the focus of the work is strategic and centred on resourcing students (example here) so they know:

  • how to go about being productive
  • how to hold meaningful discussion
  • how to evaluate information
  • how to think deeply
  • how to listen
  • how to communicate ideas
  • how to show empathy
  • and so on…

These questions must feature as the most common discussions in classrooms if schools are to genuinely recognise the individual learner. Once teachers are brave enough to start the long game and build better learners, the stress levels plummet. As a teacher in such a situation said to me last year: “why didn’t we do this 20 years ago!”

I have covered many aspects of future education trends in my book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. Here’s the Ad:

Does your classroom make learning visible?

I had a fantastic planning day with the leaders in my school yesterday where we evaluated how conscious and engaged our students were in their own learning. The consensus was that our overall system was still very teacher driven and much work had to be done to encourage teachers to involve the students in, and make them more aware of the process of learning they were experiencing.


Why IS a Math test like a clay elephant?

I had a brief conversation with a 12 year old boy this month that went as follows:

Teacher: “What’s your favourite subject?”
Student: “Art”
Teacher: “What are you doing in Art?”
Student: “Making clay animals”
Teacher: “Why are you making clay animals?”
Student: “I don’t know, it’s like a math test. The teachers give you this stuff and you do it!”

Unless teachers make the reason for and the progress in learning something permanently visible to the learners, the tasks and activities just become “more work.” There are many tools teachers can use to do this:

  • Learning / goal matrix
  • Micro credits
  • Student reflection & planning time
  • Student designed assessment criteria
  • Peer-assessment
  • Peer critiques & discussion on progress

The more progress, however small, is visible to the individual, the more they will develop a growth mindset(My intelligence can grow and is not fixed). Once this mindset is present in a learner, many problems that schools have to deal with start to disappear. Motivation becomes intrinsic and extra effort is applied. This post by Peter DeWitt highlights the great work of Carol Dweck on proving that growth mindset does not come from simply applying more effort but is what generates more effort.

Elephant Maths-eduwells

Feeling involved as an active player in the learning process

The important consideration that came up in our discussion yesterday was the sense that the individual learner felt involved in the process. Offering every opportunity available for the students to make decisions and be responsible for the shape of the outcomes that achieve the goal, preferably a goal they set themselves. It was important for students to not be taught as a class because they would think as a class and not individuals. Understanding one’s existence as just a body in a class undervalues the individual and lessens genuine engagement beyond that of compliance.

Teachers need to ensure they are planning and developing environments where the individual expects to act as such, devising and tracking their own progress towards goals. Once the process of learning is made visible and the individual feels involved in that process,  answering the question “why are we doing this?” is much easier for everyone, including the teacher!

Note: Computer games are popular predominantly because they all make progress as visible as possible.

I written more on this subject in my new book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining Education (Paperback and eBook)




Book preview 01: A Learner’s paradise by Richard Wells

coverWow! I wrote and published a book! I was asked to write the book by edTechTeam after an online chat where I outlined what I had presented about NZ education at an event in Miami. My aim in writing the book is to inspire educators around the world to implement significant change based on the amazing initiatives that are forging adaptive, future-focused education in New Zealand. In this series of book previews, I’ll choose and blog my favourite examples from the book of how NZ systematically grows it’s educators and schools collaboratively as a nation. Thanks to those who’ve already bought it. BUY IT HERE!

Preview1: Teaching as Inquiry

The topic of professional development can spark conversations that go on for hours (Trust me, I’ve sat through hundreds of planning meetings). You can spend one meeting after the next discussing how to approach professional development as a school: Who needs what? Should there be elements of compulsory training? And the most frightening and misguided question: Which tech should we be using? In all the schools I worked in during the first decade of my teaching career, these marathon meetings led to minimal success.

Even today, many teachers’ vision for how learning should look is based on their own school experiences. Some see professional development as a sporadic series of (often – disappointing) events that they choose to or are asked to attend. What is most sad to me is when I meet student-centred teachers who, when providing training to other staff, do not use their normal classroom techniques because they know the audience of teachers are expecting and comfortable with the stand-and-deliver format. It is certainly not a bad thing that the number of education conferences continues to grow. But the attendees at these events tend to be from the minority of teachers who have developed some type of growth mindset. The majority of teachers I’ve worked with in schools, both in the UK and here in New Zealand, have yet to attend such an event and many wouldn’t see much need to.

Remember, the New Zealand system is fantastic, but Kiwi teachers are still coming to terms with it. The question for any education system, then, is this: How do we make having a growth mindset the norm amongst educators? In truth, it takes time to develop a culture where growth is the expectation, but including a systematic approach to developing this mindset as part of your national curriculum document is a good first step.

A National Growth Mindset

It is with great pleasure I can tell you that New Zealand is systematically solving the issue of nationwide, authentic professional development. The solution comes from making every teacher accountable for designing and reporting a personal inquiry into their own classroom practice. This is done through an action research model we call Teaching as Inquiry (TAI). Asking teachers to challenge and reflect upon their teaching automatically makes it more relevant and personal than if they were following a mandated lesson plan—or even simply following their own lesson plans from the previous year.


This call for continual personal reflection and professional development is the opposite of any form of one-size-fits-all approach. The trick is to make teachers accountable for sharing their reflections with, at a minimum, others in their school and, more preferably, the world. The style of learning and area of growth targeted are chosen by each individual teacher and are expected to produce a measurable challenge to some aspect of their teaching. The purpose of TAI is to instil in teachers the belief that professional development is, and should be, instigated by the individual. It also promotes the idea that development and learning is continuous and not isolated to planned events.

Learning is personal

teacher chatThe best professional development comes from reflecting on one’s own practice and applying measurable challenges to one’s own teaching. It is a practice that empowers teachers to keep and improve the good stuff whilst throwing out the things that don’t make a measurable difference to learning in their classroom or school. Teachers are then encouraged to share those measurable challenges or inquiries with other educators, be it in one-to-one meetings with a “critical” friend or on a blog, as a growing number of Kiwi teachers now do.

TAI is a practice that is successfully developing a culture amongst teachers in New Zealand for collaborative reflection and shared growth. This culture, in turn, helps to build trust within the system as teachers are more accountable and transparent in what they are doing and trying to achieve. The sharing of TAIs also provides a library of ideas and resources to any educator willing to tap into the blogs and wikis created by their fellow educators. I created this diagram of the SITTI model to show how the TAI process fits with schools’ professional development goals and creates a vision for learning that includes everyone.

SITTI Model-EduWells

Want more great ideas and initiatives from New Zealand? My book A Learner’s Paradise by Richard Wells is full of them. Available now on Amazon.com

Is your classroom filled with students or learners?

In a connected world with Wikipedia and Youtube, and technology that deletes more and more workplace roles every week, what should schools be focused on? Many teachers simply feel they do a better job that the internet at tailoring material to ensure students pass assessments. Teachers still prepare resources to read, watch and complete. Students are given or access these resources and work through them over a set period of time. They are then assessed and conclude that they have either acquired (temporarily) the skills and knowledge or not. What’s missing from this experience? – Learners! One analogy question I have for schools:

Is your school serving fish on a plate or issuing fishing rods?


What’s the difference between a learner and a student? A student goes through the motions of learning for the sake of school structures and assessment, whereas a learner knows the context of the experience, can measure their own progress and makes decisions on next steps. The next steps might include consulting with an expert, such as the teacher, but it’s a learner who drives the experience. Well, that’s what I do when I’m learning something these days and it’s certainly not what I did at school.

Like the vast majority of current school leavers, It was after school that I spent years having to learn how to learn and look after myself. The school day had never given me any significant reason to look after myself beyond abstract grades and thus the teachers operated on the basis I never would show any genuine interest. They issued everything I needed in bite-sized chunks hoping I’d re-enact it in the assessment. Learning is exciting, being a student sucks, and as Chuck Berry said in 1957 – “Soon as 3 o’clock rolls around, I finally lay my burden down.” I remember thinking exactly the same thing and know that most students still feel the same.

“learning is exciting, being a student sucks”

So what should schools be doing? Developing learners. If from an early age the expectation is that one will learn how to look after one’s own learning and this expectation remains consistent, teachers wont find they have to do all the ‘learning‘ preparation on behalf of the students as is happening today, even with university students. No matter how much teachers would like it, the standard factory model school (still the vast majority) is not designed to and thus should never expect to develop true independence. Any school’s successful students who seem more independently driven, will be so due to expectations  for decision making and showing initiative during experiences outside the classroom somewhere – think scout leader, sports captain or orchestra member.

Scaffolding how to go about learning and be productive is what teachers should be working on.

Making decisions about what, how and who to work with so as to produce and evaluate outcomes, should be the norm in any classroom at any age. Scaffolding how to go about learning and be productive is what teachers should be working on. We need faith that by placing “how to learn and be productive” at the heart of classroom thinking, the average student will gain experience in driving situations just like our best students receive outside the classroom. 2 Posters I use to continue the learning conversation are below.

How to Learn.001

Design Thinking - EduWells

How New Zealand builds the best and the brightest teachers

The conversation around diminishing teacher numbers and the quality of new applicants has been going on for some time. Here’s one from 1999! You only have to look at the stock exchange to realise that the brightest flock towards the money and teaching in most OECD countries, doesn’t pay enough. Until the shortage of teachers becomes the largest of political hot potatoes,  It might be decades before the public in general support significant rise to wages. In the meantime, rather than wait for the golden ticket, New Zealand has taken a systematic and pragmatic approach to ensuring quality teaching and learning.


Teacher certification-Growth NOT compliance

Question: Will a teacher’s current practice and content be appropriate in ten years? Given the rapid developments in culture (transgender), communication (Social Media) and technology (Uber), values, skills and their subsequent requirements are also changing rapidly. To ensure relevant and quality teaching, one does not just require people to be clever and talented. An education system in the 21st century needs teachers who adapt and challenge their practice against such changes.  This is where New Zealand has hit the ground running. For over a decade now, teachers in New Zealand have been asked to provide a portfolio of evidence that confirms their quality practice every three years.

To many teachers around the world this would seem like an affront to their professionalism, but in New Zealand we are developing a new kind of growth-mindset culture amongst educators. Teachers are not asked to prove their compliance with a set of rules but show growth in twelve teaching practice criteria determined by teachers and the NZ education council. This turns conversations onto development and experimentation with new ideas and research trends. As long as a teacher is showing they are applying effort to grow their practice, that’s fine. Collected over three years, evidence of growth in these Twelve areas of practice is required.

How to encourage a growth culture

To complement this demand for professional growth, New Zealand has devised a development model called “Teaching as Inquiry“. As part of their professional development, all New Zealand teachers are expected to document small action research projects that target either weaker areas of their own practice or new initiatives. Teaching-as-inquiry_referenceThey are expected to use data to evaluate the success of these new ideas and can often be found running several each year, as part of their teaching. This makes the planning and implementation of teaching a much richer experience that generates critical thinking discussions between teachers.

I believe it makes for a more positive debate when people discuss the potential growth of current teachers, than that of asking how do we attract better people? New Zealand has developed a model based on growth-mindset and there’s very much a national sense of collaboration and support between government agencies and schools. I am proud and excited to work with all New Zealand teachers.

Want to know more? My book is out next month! A Learner’s Paradise by Richard Wells

Book banner


Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Leader in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International Speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.



DIY – Breakout #Education

There are crazy people in Auckland who pay to be locked in a room and forced to escape. Why? Because it’s fun! The people at EscapeMasters provide problem solving escape challenges for parties and corporate team-building. There’s also an app version where clues around the room combine to be your key to escape. So, how are educators using the popularity and opportunity these game ideas present? How could schools possibly get away with locking children into a room? Well, the people at BreakoutEdu have solved the problem.


Breakout Education

Breakout Education is a gamification of teaching and assessing knowledge and skills. You can purchase or build your own to whatever complexity you require. Instead of breaking out from a room, participants attempt to solve and combine the clues around the room to break into a padlocked box. The box, obviously, is filled with treats. BreakoutEdu.com offer products that include multiple types of padlocks. This allows you to invent numeric, alphanumeric or directional solutions that the clues might lead to. When I was introduced to it by EdTechTeam, we had to solve 4 different types of padlocks!

Limited time = simpler problem

I decided to give this a go but with 1 hour lessons periods, I thought one padlock would do. I bought a metal box and a 4-digit numeric padlock. I then created a simple enough set of clues that would lead to the 4-digit solution that might be introduced and solved in one hour. My problem worked like this:

  1. Four picture clues that point to four numbers used in my sum
  2. Each number is coloured in the clue
  3. 2 more clues point to how the colours are paired-up in the sum
  4. One clue reminded the children about the order of operations (The order of the sum)
  5. 3 clues combined to draw out the position of numbers in the sum

I divided a class of 24 kids into 3 teams of eight. I think teams of 5 or 6 would be best. I found with 12-year-olds, I had to remind them to write down in one place, everything they had discovered so far. This included “You have found numbers, colours, pairs of something and order.” It took one team of eight 12-year-olds 40 minutes to piece together my clues and break into my padlocked box. For mine, they needed phones or iPads as I’d used URLs and QR codes as clues. I also ‘hid’ a clue in ultraviolet ink and quietly left a UV light in a jar on a table. I’ve attached the slides of clues below that you could use as a template or just print off and use as it is.

More complexity and topics

Clues can be made really tricky. Such as, making a QR code from a plane journey that stops at a number of airports, whose airport codes are an anagram of a required number in the sum! Using URLs, QR codes or AR to get to Google streetview points where clues can be found at street level in other places around the world. Science can use material clues to point to atomic numbers in the periodic table. The potential exists to involve any type of content, so get creative!

ALP book banner


Google Classroom in one minute

Here’s a one minute post with a one minute tutorial. I’m busy at the moment encouraging colleagues to start using Google Classroom. The reason I’m pushing it is that for the majority of teachers and especially the less technically inclined, it removes so many of the regular problems with choosing and setting up various apps and platforms for communicating and sharing files in a BYOD school. So here’s my summary poster that explains the key elements of each of a classroom page.

Make BYOD easy with Google Classroom:

  • A class is up and running in 5 minutes – no technician / admin required
  • Classroom automatically organised Drive folders for you
  • No more emailing required
  • Students can submit any file type for an assignment
  • Messaging can happen as a class or privately to one student
  • Multiple teachers can run a class
  • Mainly use assignments as they have the most options
  • Try to get most student work created from within an assignment

Alice Keeler has load more advice on Google Classroom

Here’s my poster:

Google Classroom Pages-eduwells