Imagine the future, says government contractor

Don't look to the past or present to predict the future in ICT and its applications, counsels David Copeland of CWA Media.

Don’t look to the past or present to predict the future in ICT and its applications, counsels David Copeland of CWA Media.

Rather than trying to extrapolate from what we have today, ICT developers, like all people, should imagine the future they want and work to create it, he says. “The future belongs to those who want it most.”

CWA has been responsible for a number of innovative projects, including metadata and search capabilities for the e-government website, but most prominently teaching materials for the Ministry of Education, clustered around the bilingual educational resource website Te Kete Ipurangi. In that role, the company has certainly had to imagine a new future in education and how ICT tools fit in.

Copeland, speaking at a NZ Computer Society meeting late last month, spoke about recent theories of learning, particularly the idea of “learning objects” — discreet educational chunks to be assembled on the fly into an individually tailored curriculum. Other ideas, such as innovating, being creative and taking risks, apply equally to IT and business.

Copeland ran video interviews with innovators from other disciplines — stage designer Tony Rabbitt and Fisher & Paykel’s Julian Williams — to bolster his view of innovation. Key is including the pessimists and the people who will criticise your idea, Williams says. “Learn to trust yourself,” says Rabbitt.

Evolving a new framework for professional teacher development with heavy ICT involvement brought scepticism in plenty from the Ministry of Education, Copeland says. Mistakes will be made, but we must avoid the all-too-frequent reaction of seeking someone to blame for causing the problem, he says, as this creates a risk-averse culture. A clear kinship between these ideas and some of the concepts of agile programming, where code is often kept deliberately anonymous so time is not wasted attacking the person who supposedly caused the problem.

The agile way of thinking comes right through to the philosophy of education built into TKI curriculum materials. The “learning objects” approach avoids a completely standard curriculum in favour of selection of materials and approaches to learning based on each student’s natural abilities and inclinations. It’s a learning supermarket, Copeland says. “You go into a supermarket with a list and fill your trolley and the contents of your trolley are not like anyone else’s. Why should learning be any different?”

He showed an example of TKI interactive learning from the mathematical discipline of long multiplication. The program presents the task of multiplying two quantities of more than one digit as a rectangle, letting the student split the rectangle into sections that represent what for him/her are more familiar multiplications. For example, 35 x 19 may be seen in the conventional way as (30 + 5) x (10 + 9), or as the “round” (35 x 20) – 35.

Another exercise centres on “building the Eiffel Tower”. Essentially, it teaches “project management 101”, Copeland says. The skills introduced at an early age could again be of use in a career in software development.

Such novel thinking “does not excite the public service”, he acknowledges. Battles have been fought to persuade educational establishment figures to accept it. Innovators used to be able to say that if one government doesn’t appreciate their ideas, “governments tend not to last very long”, he says. “That may not be the case any more.”

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