Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Would the dogs eat it? Hmmm – they’ve been starving for years...

A post from prolific tweeter George Couros got me thinking.  George is a Canadian Principal who consistently seems to be at the cutting edge of educational use of technology.
His post was rather arrestingly titled “Would the dogs eat it?  In his post George cites Nick Bolton’s book “I live in the future and here’s how it works”.  Taking a leaf from George I’ll post some text from that work.

“Imagine that you owned a restaurant and offered your employees free food, but they instead brought their own lunch and dinner from home. Would you look the other way if plates of freshly cooked pasta and garlic bread sat untouched on the table? Hopefully not. If it were my restaurant, I’d want to know why they weren’t enjoying my product, and I would do everything I could to try to change that. At Google they call this “dogfooding.” That is, if you make dog food and the dogs won’t eat it, you might have a bit of a problem. The people who built Gmail have to use it for their e-mail service, and if something doesn’t work, they have to fix it. ” Nick Bolton
This reminded me of some research done years ago – in 1988 in fact.  Any academic will tell you that research that is so dated is of limited value – and they may be right. However, in this case it serves to set the historical benchmark. In the 1998 survey 25 000  grade 8 students in the USA were surveyed.  The findings included;
·         Teachers indicated  20% of students were inattentive.
·         More than 20% came to class late or without necessary equipment
·         47% of students said they were bored more than half the time.
·         More than 10% were frequently absent.
(cited in Brady & Kennedy, 2010.  “Curriculum Construction”, Pearson, Frenchs Forest, NSW)

There is a danger in using such old data and extrapolating across different school systems.  But there is also a sense of familiarity about the picture painted by these figures.  Student disengagement is rife – and it has been for decades and across many, if not most, western school systems.  To return to the “dogfooding” metaphor – our puppies are hungry and we are not feeding them.
As a society we cannot afford continue to waste our greatest resource – our students.  We need to  find better ways to teach and engage our students.  School reform is a huge task  - but several organisations are working in the field.  An excellent resource giving suggestions, examples and background reading is the NAIS pdf “A guide to becoming a School of the Future”.  
 I’d recommend it to any educator, parent, and employer  – everybody in fact.

1 comment:

  1. I like the metaphor, being a schools sysadmin I'm often frustrated at laying out a lovely spread just to have teaching staff say they want to eat somewhere else. Not because they don't like the food here but just because that's what they've always eaten or that they only like to eat new and shiny food. At the other end there are the complaints that they have enough on their plate already.

    So I'm not sure that our puppies are hungry neither the big dogs nor the little dogs they are trying to teach new tricks to. The young dogs would rather be off playing and sniffing each other while not enough of the old dogs seem to like new tricks.