Where to next – back to school?

This is my attempt at writing a newspaper article to reflect one quadrant of a scenario matrix.  This article loosely explores virtual schooling, qualifications and equity in 2032

Virtual educational facilitators have been called to a crisis meeting.  This was pre-empted by a particularly nasty cyber attack that shocked the learning fraternity.  Serendipity, one of the facilitators tells her story:

I have been virtually facilitating learning from when our virtual learning school (VLS106) first opened.  Mostly things have gone smoothly in VLS106, which opened in 2022.  There are many positives, which make learning really exciting for students. For example the advent of high-speed travel in 2020, means that we can send language students half way around the world for a morning of in situ language learning in France.  Rapid access data systems and time shifts mean we can spend quality ‘face-to-face’ time planning individualised learning experiences that suit our students.  Money that used to be spent on the up-keep of school buildings and technology infrastructure can now be put straight into resources for learning, now that caregivers are responsible for connecting students to our virtual school.  We have found that it is still important to put students in touch with each other, so we do this through virtual community projects.  Our students gain assessment points for their creativity and problem solving contributions to these projects.

The downside of our virtual learning environment has meant that students unable or disinterested in connecting have become very disaffected and isolated.  Some students become isolated anyway – they find it difficult to socialise unless it is face to face in real time. Others resent the intrusive nature of our virtual personal tagging and tracing systems (GPS and NPD).  Learning experiences, achievements, time on task, virtual and real movements are all displayed for all to see.  They do all they can to abort the system. Online learning doesn’t suit them, but unfortunately the economy of such an approach is a compelling reason for the Government to continue this way now.  We call these disaffected students the ‘turn-offs’ or ‘isolationists’.  They turn off all opportunities to engage with online learning, preferring to go underground, setting up negative networks and undermining the system.  I have to admit though there is an equity issue here – not every family can fund the extra participatory activities for learning, as is expected now.  Some students have set up amazing online businesses, which help off set their learning account.  But others with little to give are disadvantaged.

We have been called together today because a massive cyber attack on the hospital system has been traced back to our virtual school network.  There have been calls to have these students better managed.  Questions have been asked about how we are meeting the needs of these students and how effective our virtual tracking and tracing systems are.  I know that some of the students’ issues could be solved, by getting to know them better, and attempting to meet their learning needs in real time.


My Deductive Scenario Matrix


I have to start here with a disclaimer!  This is my first attempt at a scenario matrix and I have to say I am not sure whether I have a full understanding yet.  But here goes:

I was playing around here with some future focused thinking and working on the assumption that schools could either still be a physical space that students attend or they could be virtual spaces with students connecting asynchronously.  These are my uncertainties.  On the one hand it may be that for the very reasons that education was first mooted in the 1870s, to keep control of children; social issues may continue to dictate that students physically attend a school. 


Further musings on this theme:  the current growth in accountability and standardization of what students can and cannot do; and the commodification of education would indicate a growth in greater control of education.  This of course could go hand-in-hand with technology, where students movements both online and physical movements are tagged keeping track of the whereabouts and actions of each student as a means of control.  We are currently having these debates with the GCSB bill and wider afield with cloud based service Lavabit closing as the US Govt. tries to track Edward Snowden’s moves.

Is it equitable that all students have the same educational opportunities?  Certainly that was the premise of early educational theorists and something that NZ has prided itself on.  The growth of personalized learning and the ongoing debate about what is important for students to know and be able to do will continue.  Creativity, problem solving, resourcefulness, resilience will come head to head with standardized tests and deficit theorizing.  Will a coherent curriculum and assessment system (whatever that might look like) be the answer?  Or will more flexibility lead to fragmentation and issues of equity and access, with diverse curricula and qualifications entrenching the status quo?



Decision Making Simulation

My decision making context: I am viewing the scenario through my current lens as a Blended e-Learning PLD provider.  Our PLD is provided to assist schools lift achievement for priority learners in schools.

Overview of the scenario:  The scenario I chose was from the KnowledgeWorks Forecast 3.0: Learning in 2025.  The site explores learning in 2025 through mock up ‘interviews’ with students about their learning styles and the way they learn in the year 2025. Learning is personalised and students and families map out the way their student will learn.  This can be home-based, in face-to-face small learning communities or self-directed learning using a combination of online or face-to-face events.  Learning advisers and mentors are available to help families and students map out a learning pathway.  Availability of good quality learning is still dependent upon the wealth of the family so equity is an issue.  Those with money have access to ‘enhancements’ through drugs or transplants to improve learning possibilities for students.  Students speak about learning best through ‘doing’; gamification; authentic tasks; community involvement; and an understanding of family and culture are all important to students.

Brainstorm a list of recommended decisions:

  • To improve equity of access for all students to good quality blended, authentic learning experiences irrespective of background.
  • To provide greater opportunities for students to socialize and learn with and from each other
  • To ensure that students have a wide range of experiences and key skills and capabilities to help them cope with an ever-changing future
  • To provide students with a strong sense of self and self-determination
  • To ensure students give back to their community and support and work with community projects
  • To ensure that all students are reaching their full learning potential, having challenges and understanding that failing is part of learning

My Two most important strategic decisions are: 

  • To improve equity of access for all students to good quality blended authentic learning experiences irrespective of background.
  • To provide greater opportunities for students to socialize and learn with and from each other.

For many of the students interviewed, equity of access to good quality learning was mentioned.  Poorer students felt that the learning opportunities they had access to, was limiting their opportunities to succeed in life.  They wanted someone to care about their learning and support them to make correct choices and to help steer them in the ‘right direction’.  There was a sense of powerlessness in some of their comments.  Other students felt that the subjects or interests that they had chosen were looked down upon – the arts, music was less valued than science.  It was their wish for those subjects and the ‘hands-on’ nature of learning they enjoyed to be valued, giving  students’ peace of mind and a sense of well-being. By working in teams in a blended manner on authentic community projects some of these issues would be mitigated for the students.

Some of the students expressed feelings of isolation as a result of their sheltered learning opportunities. They wished for the opportunity to be more engaged with the real world and to mix with and learn to socialize with others.  They also expressed a desire to know what skills they needed to make the most of any opportunities and be able to support themselves.  Providing greater opportunities for students to socialize and to learn with and from each other while engaged in authentic community based projects could go a long way to making all students feel that they had a sense of belonging and the experience to negotiate their way in the world.

Transferability of recommended decisions for my alternative scenarios: The two scenarios I chose as most important do transfer to the other scenarios in my list.  As I wrote the paragraphs above, I realise that in 2025, many students feel isolated as a result of perhaps a preponderance of virtual learning and personalized learning pathways.  Each scenario matches well to my suggestion of finding authentic community projects that students could be part of as teams in a blended learning experience.  This would enable them to mix with others of a similar age group, to appreciate the cultural diversity evident and allow them to value the variety of skills and expertise that each can contribute.


Scenarios can’t predict the future!

Scenarios can’t predict the future, that is true, but scenario planning provides a greater good to organisations.   It is not used to predict the future; rather it is used to explore what possible futures lie ahead of us all to better prepare for eventualities.  Further the scenario planning process that organisations engage in, has great benefits for lifting thinking of all employees and providing them with a more strategic focus. Wiki.answers identifies further benefits of scenario planning.  The process can serve to challenge long-held company beliefs, it can help to change corporate culture and enables personnel to develop a common language when discussing strategic change.

Oliver Freeman of the Neville Freeman Agency talks of taking those involved in scenario planning to the future and then getting them to work their way back imagining the events that may occur.  He also points out that people within organisations all have something to contribute, their input plus the expertise of ‘remarkable people’ help to envision possible futures.  It is important too, the experts point out, that it is not just one ‘future’ that is envisioned, but all possible outcomes should be part of the brainstorming process.  From these 3 or 4 should be chosen to work with more rigorously.

In an article in Harvard Business Review in 1985, Wack describes the process:

“From this” (deep discussions with a range of experts) “the group aims to draw up a list of priorities, including things that will have the most impact on the issue under discussion and those whose outcome is the most uncertain. These priorities then form the basis for sketching out rough pictures of the future.”

It must be borne in mind that strategic planning and scenario planning differ in time, scenario planning has a much longer time frame.  It feeds into and supports strategic planning which is much more immediate in it’s scope.





Wack’s description of Scenario Planning

“Scenarios deal with two worlds; the world of facts and the world of perceptions. They explore for facts but they aim at perceptions inside the heads of decision-makers. Their purpose is to gather and transform information of strategic significance into fresh perceptions. This transformation process is not trivial—more often than not it does not happen. When it works, it is a creative experience that generates a heartfelt ‘Aha’ … and leads to strategic insights beyond the mind’s reach.”

I can well imagine that someone would indeed feel an ‘aha’ moment if they were able to change significantly important information into new thinking.  A very serendipitous moment!

Simplified Scenario Planning

The part of the overall process which is radically different from most other forms of long-range planning is the central section, the actual production of the scenarios. Even this, though, is relatively simple, at its most basic level. As derived from the approach most commonly used by Shell, it follows six steps:

  1. Decide drivers for change/assumptions
  2. Bring drivers together into a viable framework
  3. Produce 7-9 initial mini-scenarios
  4. Reduce to 2-3 scenarios
  5. Draft the scenarios
  6. Identify the issues arising

Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scenario_planning

NB: There has been next to no research carried out on scenario planning.  How does one know that the correct scenarios have been chosen in the first place?