PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is administered to roughly 510,000 students across 31 OECD countries and 31 partner countries. Although China does not participate as a nation, Shanghai participates as an economy. In both 2009 and 2012, Shanghai placed first in the PISA rankings, demonstrating considerable improvement in 2012.
That same year, to its traditional PISA assessment subjects (reading, mathematics and science), OECD added an optional computer-based assessment, ‘Creative Problem Solving’ in which 44 countries and 85,000 students participated. The test measured the ability of students to “respond to non-routine situations in order to achieve their potential as constructive and reflective citizens”. Although Shanghai was among the top performing contestants in this new subject, their rank in contrast to other subjects illustrates an imbalance in the Shanghai education system. Classes and coursework are exam-oriented, and focus on preparing students for the mandatory gaokao, or the National Higher Education Entrance Examination. Structured classrooms leave little room for creative or critical thinking or problem solving.
In response to the results of the problem solving assessment, the Shanghai Education Bureau provided a license to Bestway Education, a leading Shanghai-based educational services company, to develop a series of eight teacher-training programs to be introduced throughout the municipality.
The goals of the teacher training programs are to help teachers:
- Enhance Creative Thinking. Shanghai students show a weakness in creative understanding and output, driven by the results-oriented approach of the system. The training programs should help teachers understand and implement types of Sessions that enhance creative thinking among students.
- Improve Problem Solving Skills. Students are not as comfortable solving unstructured problems in unfamiliar contexts as they are with other basic subjects. The training programs should demonstrate examples of how to design projects based on real-world situations in order to improve problem-solving skills.
- Introduce Interactive Learning Modules. The classroom format is rigid and leaves little room for interactive, collaborative learning projects that help students develop a better understanding and ability to solve complex, real-world problems. The training programs should help teachers move away from traditional classroom formats to include more interactive, group-based projects that enable creative thinking and problem solving.
- Develop Collaborative Learning. Students don’t often get the opportunity to work together on collaborative research and problem-solving projects. The training programs should illustrate to teachers the effectiveness of collaborative learning projects and how they can be implemented.
- Effectively Manage Non-traditional Classrooms. Given that many of these objectives are foreign to traditional methods of classroom management in China, the training programs should emphasize different types of learning interventions.
In June 2014, Bestway partnered with Knowledge Platform to design, develop and implement the training program. It was the first of eight ordered by the Education Bureau and was to serve as a model for subsequent programs.
Knowledge Platform and Bestway designed and developed the training as a 3-day hands-on, blended learning workshop.
Forty teachers from ten government schools participated in the training program. They instructed students in the primary and middle schools in Chinese, English, Natural Science, Computing and Arts.
Bestway and Knowledge Platform decided to structure the training program as follows:
- Role Play. The teachers played the role of students; trainers from Bestway and Knowledge Platform played the role of teachers.
- Explicit Objective. The stated Learning Outcomes were to be achieved through an immersive approach in which the teachers would (1) learn about best practices in design and problem solving and (2) apply their learning to design, develop, test and improve a bird feeder that may be put up in a school.
- Learning Model. Teachers would learn about basic skills in research, analysis, idea generation, brainstorming, hypothesis development, design, construction, testing, redesign, and presentation through access to an online content repository, application of the skills in class, and evaluation of internalizations of the skills at both a conceptual and practical level.
- Collaboration and Competition. The teachers were divided into 8 groups of 5 teachers. Each group had to collaborate internally and to compete with all other groups in the design and development of their bird feeder.
Teachers were given in-class practice objects and assessments through Knowledge Platform’s Learning Management System
TRAINING PROGRAM PROCESS
The training program was broken into 11 sessions over the course of three days. The program blended online assessments and surveys with hands-on, group practice and at-home assignments. The training program ran from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM each day and concluded with final presentations of each group’s bird feeder. The goal of the training program was to teach teachers how to conduct similar projects in their own classrooms.
- Day One consisted of sessions 1-3 and was conducted 80% online through Knowledge Platform’s learning management system and 20% offline. Using the ‘flipped classroom’ model, the teachers were encouraged to go online to review pre-loaded videos, PPTs and PDFs. This allowed the trainers to move away from the whiteboard and provide more interactive training to the small groups.
- Teachers participated in 20-minute online assessments using clickers to track data and save scores.
- Sessions during day one focused on how to appreciate the types and benefits of group discussion and how to hold effective brainstorming sessions
- Day Two included Sessions 4 – 8 and was conducted 30% online and 70% offline.
- Sessions during day two taught teachers how to apply their research to the actual design and engineering of a bird feeder, how to sketch and design in 3D and how to present supportive evidence of a theory.
- By the end of day two, teachers were beginning to build their bird feeders.
- Day Three consisted of final Sessions 9 – 11 that were conducted 30% online and 70% offline.
- Teachers were taught how to test and revise their product, followed by final presentations
- Each group was given 15 minutes to present their final bird feeder while the rest of the class scored the project using Knowledge Platform’s LMS. Teachers were surveyed and evaluated on
- Mastery of skill
- Creativity of their solution
- Anticipation and resolution of design problems
- Teachers completed a final assessment that determined their successful completion of the course. All teachers passed and were awarded a certificate of recognition.
At the end of the workshop, we conducted a survey to gain insight on teacher attitudes towards using blended learning techniques in the classroom.
Teachers were asked to rate the Ultrabot Learning Management System on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being excellent). The majority of teachers enjoyed using the Learning Management System, and felt it beneficial and effective in the course. Many would use the same technology in their classroom.
Teachers rated the use of Knowledge Platform’s LMS on a scale of 1 -5, 5 being excellent
Based on observations and interviews with the teachers, the following positive results were noted:
- Learning-by-Doing. The teachers appreciated the ‘learning-by-doing’ approach of the training program: they learned about both collaborative and competitive group-based learning and technology-driven learning through practical immersion.
- Efficacy of Flipped Classroom in Project Context. The ‘flipped classroom’ model worked exceptionally well given that the teachers had been tasked with a project. This gave the teachers a clear orientation for their online readings.
- In-Class Assessment and Group-Based Learning. Given that the class was divided into groups that were conducting their own research, the in-class assessment using clickers provided a highly effective method for the trainers to identify and address learning gaps.
- In-Class Surveys and Competition. Given that teachers were being evaluated on non-qualitative factors such as creativity, the use of an in-class survey tool using clickers proved extremely helpful.
- Remote Learning Option. The availability of the content and assessments through an online learning management system enabled both after-class review and testing of teachers who were absent.
- Online Structure and Innovative Learning. Given that the subject matter and competitive, group-based format were new to the teachers and could have led to considerable confusion, the online content, structured through a taxonomy, and the online assessments and surveys, provided an intuitive, easy to use structure.
- Overall, the blended learning approach worked very well in helping teachers tackle both new subject matter and new classroom dynamics. Almost every one of the forty teachers appreciated the way student-centered and technology-driven learning complemented each other.
This was the first of eight training programs to be rolled out across Shanghai. While each training program will incorporate a different STEM + topic, this first training program will serve as a model for the remaining programs to be developed throughout 2015.