Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Studying in California (2017 Term 1 Week 2)

Over the last twelve months I have been undertaking some further study through the University of Sydney Business School. During the summer break my cohort of students participated in a module titled Finding Opportunity in Disruptive Technology, which was based in California. As has been the case with each of the modules so far, I found the learning to be engrossing, stimulating and challenging on a range of fronts. 

One key point that was driven home constantly is the extent to which digital technology has disrupted and will continue to disrupt the world as we know it. On one level this is an unremarkable observation, as we are all experiencing this disruption in some ways and have done for years. Online banking, shopping, and research are all entirely normal to us. Many of us have an experience of work that is significantly different to previous generations of worker in similar fields; for example, staff did not have email in my first school, but it is now woven into the fabric of daily life.

However, some time in Silicon Valley has forced me to realise the extent of further disruption that is underway. I have written before about the magnitude of the revolution, but it was exciting, daunting and a little frightening to see it actually happening. I could cite a number of examples that struck me during our time in California, but I will limit myself to two.

First, it seems increasingly apparent that the transport industry will be reshaped through autonomous vehicles by the time our Junior School students graduate high school, whether it is through the efforts of Google, Uber, Tesla or a Chinese rival. On site visits around Silicon Valley, the Google autonomous cars (under the badging Waymo) were highly visible, and we saw the technology being deployed for Uber's self-driving vehicles. What place will remain for truck drivers, delivery vans, taxis (or Uber drivers) or even owning your own car? What need for carparks in urban centres or garages in suburban homes or drivers' licenses at all? Kiss and drop may well take place on Billa Road without parents in attendance!

Disruption is also being experienced in the publishing industry. For decades, publishers of academic textbooks have owned metaphoric rivers of gold, whereby every year another cohort of students would have to purchase textbooks. With the advent of the internet, they no longer have a stranglehold on content. In addition, online platforms facilitate second-hand sales, textbook rental, and piracy of content. For good or for ill, students expect access to material that is interactive, mobile and that seamlessly integrates multiple modes, in the same way that their social media does.

I could go on with an exhausting list of all the industries and aspects of life that are being disrupted, but it is not necessary. We all get it! The question for me, both as a school principal and as a parent is 'How do we prepare our young ones to thrive in the brave new world?' The conservative parent may wonder 'What jobs will be safe?' The entrepreneurial parent may ask 'What opportunities will emerge?' Either way, our concern is to play our part in equipping our children for their future.

As I met and observed dozens of people from all over the world, drawn to Silicon Valley and its digitally disruptive ecosystem, I was struck by what I would call 'agency'. These are people who are not passively floating in the flow of change, but are actively seeking and seizing opportunities to learn, to grow, to influence and to play a part in shaping the world around them. What influences and experiences shape a young person to be like this? How do we cultivate student agency?

At Inaburra, this is exactly the question that we are asking. As flagged in our Strategic Directions 2016-2018 document, one of our priority areas is:

To develop student agency in their learning, as expressed in the Inaburra Learner Profile. Students are active participants in their learning, not passive recipients. The ILP describes the non-cognitive capabilities that will enable young people to thrive as life-long learners. Inaburra will increasingly incorporate these capabilities as key learning outcomes, along with the BOSTES curriculum outcomes. 

As the year unfolds, this will be a theme to which we will continue to return and which will spark initiatives both large and small. The design and layout of the new Learning Commons is intended to provide scope for student agency, as students make decisions about when and how to apply themselves to their learning. The experience of reflecting on data - reports, results and Effort Point Average (EPA) - and setting goals for the semester, which is done by all Senior School students in the first few weeks of the semester, is intended to encourage student agency. Providing opportunity and choice, whether in outdoor education, learning tasks or sport, establishes a context for students to make decisions, take responsibilities and live with the outcomes. We are trying to create a culture wherein agency can grow. It will be needed!


  1. Hi Tim
    Great article. Just an idea, why not organise a couple of work/life experience trips for year 10-12 over to silicon valley. I am sure it is possible to get access to some of those companies over there and get the students thinking of the future of work before they go to uni? Cheers Peter Caddick

  2. good blog post comment,thank for your sharing