The Woolf Fisher Research Centre team hosted a small gathering on Tuesday 11 June to celebrate 21 years of the centre, together with the Woolf Fisher Trust trustees and other key supporters.
“We are very fortunate to have made a huge number of connections with many wonderful people who have had an association with the Woolf Fisher Research Centre during the past 21 years,” director of the centre Professor Stuart McNaughton said.
Also on this special occasion, the centre was gifted a new Māori name, Te Pūtahi Whakatairanga Hapori Ako Angitu (The Centre for the Promotion of Successful Learning Communities), which reflects the many partnerships the Woolf Fisher Research Centre has formed over the years.
From the 9th to the 10th May, the Developing in Digital Worlds team hosted a delegation from SMILE, the Shanghai Municipal Institute for Lifelong Education at East China Normal University. SMILE is the first research institute of its kind in China, with an aim to provide solid decision-making consultation and academic support for the development of lifelong education in Shanghai and across China more broadly. The SMILE staff are experts in varied research fields including higher education studies, adult and vocational education, pedagogy, and educational governance.
Associate Professors Dingkai Hou and Yun Bai, along with Project Manager Chen Huang, spent two days with us in Auckland as we presented findings from the Developing in Digital Worlds project and learned about their research. From our side, we shared our current research in the digital, 21st Century and school-home partnership space, and investigated opportunities for future collaboration, including in our research of digital tools to promote cognitive, social and student achievement. The delegation expressed particular interest in argumentation as a means of developing student perspective taking and critical thinking. Members of the Woolf Fisher Research Centre also presented on other Centre projects including Summer Learning Journey and The Manaiakalani Project.
We were fortunate to learn about what the team at SMILE are doing to form a Chinese model for lifelong education in the international arena, including their development and practice of livelong education theory, and collaborative interventions between families, schools, and communities. We also had the chance to exchange ideas from respective Summer and Winter school holiday programmes. Before wrapping up our two-day session, we met with Associate Professor Mark Barrow, the Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work, and visited Literacy Aotearoa, a national organisation of adult literacy providers.
“The planet Astria is doomed to destruction by an approaching asteroid, and you, Alpha Leader, must save it. Only you can engage the help of scientists and world leaders to find a solution to the threat. Your planet needs you!”
The educational game Astria: Countdown to Impact lifted off in Term 4 last year with 4 classrooms at 3 schools taking part in game play. Each of the playing partners became Alpha Leader, reading through documents from both reliable and unreliable sources to fully investigate all possible solutions and save the planet Astria from imminent destruction. With the pretence of a planet under attack, students’ cognitive and social skills were tested and extended by problem solving, goal seeking, planning, decision making, and critical thinking.
The core skill focus of Astria is critical literacy, and the game was in fact developed in response to project profiling data indicating limited classroom opportunities to engage in critical literacy practice. The game provides students with a collaborative game experience in a low risk and highly engaging context, while asking them to identify bias, credibility of source, and whether particular statements can be classed as “facts” or not. In this way, the Astria educational game develops critical thinking, critical literacy, and vocabulary skills for both upper primary and lower secondary students (years 7-10).
Various measures were undertaken including students’ base line skills, skill development and interactions. Firstly, students and teachers completed a game experience questionnaire which asked how often they played games (or used games in the classroom), what sort of games they had played, their educational focus, and whether any of the games offered the opportunity to learn critical literacy competencies. Then, at the beginning of the game play, the students took a test of critical literacy which was embedded in the storyline.
After playing the game in class for one hour, students were required to blog about their experience. Finally, when students resumed play the next day, they completed a post-test of critical literacy which was, again, embedded into the storyline of the game. A small sample of students were also asked to screencast their game play so that researchers could analyse their interactions while in the Astria world.
The Developing in Digital Worlds research team has now began to analyse the game play data, and hopes to feed this back to schools by May this year. The Astria game will be tweaked in accordance with student feedback, and the final version of the game will be released in June.
The Developing in Digital Worlds study is now in its last phase, and our data collection operations are now complete. If you participated in the Developing in Digital Worlds study over 2015-2019, we would like to sincerely thank you for your support and involvement.
We are now turning our attention to the analyses and dissemination of findings to national networks including:
school boards of trustees
Communities of Learning (CoLs)
education trusts for our participating clusters of schools
Māori and Pasifika advisory groups and community networks
Ministry of Education
Direct knowledge transfer will also be delivered through initial teacher education and professional development at the University of Auckland. Check out our Findings page for key research on teachers, parents, and students.
To read our findings, click on the banners below. Our complete findings can be found on this page.
A recent feature article in the New Zealand Herald has profiled the Developing in Digital Worlds study and its impact on New Zealand’s social and economic future. The study is at the forefront of international research on digital pedagogies, the article reported, and New Zealand stands to benefit socially and economically from the findings.
A key finding is “the need for New Zealand children to be better critical thinkers (reasoning and problem-solving) with better critical literacy, the art of seeing beyond words to the motivations that produced them.” Professor Stuart McNaughton, who is the principal investigator on the study, added that “we’ve seen that generally New Zealand children have a relatively low rate of critical thinking – one of the key assets people will need, along with critical literacy, in a digital future.”
Key researchers Dr Rebecca Jesson and Naomi Rosedale presented a workshop entitled The Three Dimensional Digital Landscape at the New Zealand Literacy Association (NZLA) Conference in Palmerston North.
The workshop began by posing questions about how online landscapes increasingly mean that students need to employ higher order literacy, thinking and social skills to engage with and through texts. They used a three-dimensional metaphor to describe how a new model of literacy could equip students to think “higher,” “wider” and “deeper.” These three dimensions of the digital landscape correlate to three main modes of engagement in higher-order thinking:
Synthesis — bringing knowledge together from multiple sources to create new meanings
Critical thinking and critical literacy — being able to recognize how a text positions the reader and whose interests it serves
Practice and transfer — repeated opportunities to explore similar ideas in new forms and contexts
The researchers then presented a model of pedagogy that builds on what are commonly termed “21st century” skill sets and in ways that supports integration into the everyday classroom curriculum. They showed how learning can be designed, with a wide set of texts and the support of the project’s digital tools, to develop higher order thinking, wider interactions (inter-personal and inter-textual with text sets) for deeper understandings.
Might a traditional focus on writing and oratory to persuade (e.g. speech; formal debate) rather than consider, be reinforcing a single perspective reasoning profile? In what ways might a strong focus on persuasive argument have unintended consequences when transferred to online environments, and also embody norms and dispositions that are inadequate for interactions, values, and thinking in the 21st century? How might the use of online discussion platforms be integrated into everyday literacy work to provide opportunities to practice argumentation instead of persuasion?
This morning, Mike Hosking of Newstalk ZB spoke to our principal investigator Stuart McNaughton about argumentation and empathy.
In the age of increasing digital classrooms, Woolf Fisher Research Centre director Stuart McNaughton said that learning how to argue and be more empathetic would help kids learn to think about other people’s positions.
Professor McNaughton is concerned the concept hasn’t been put in the foreground at schools, when it’s something people need to be good at.
“They don’t have to be separate from these things, you know, maths and science, you think about having a really good argument about fracking or drilling for oil or sustainability.”
Recently, the Developing in Digital Worlds research team presented at the annual hui of the project’s digitally experienced school cluster. Having collected data from students, teachers and parents in the profiling phase via questionnaires, observations, and discussion board activities, it was our chance to give back by sharing and discussing the findings.
The presentation began with a simple question. Looking seven years forward, the presenters asked, what would it take for 21st century skills to underpin innovation across the curriculum? They offered specifics: what would it take for three sets of 21st century skills to underpin learning improvement and innovation: intrapersonal skills (self-control), interpersonal skills (empathy, perspective-taking, collaboration), and cognitive skills (critical thinking, critical literacy, and argumentation)? As the presenters explained, the Developing in Digital Worlds project is exploring links between these three sets of skills and student outcomes. Moreover, since digital environments provide further opportunities for students to develop these sets of 21st century skills, the link between the skills, digital environments, and student achievement is of even more importance. But consistent effects will depend on teacher augmentation.
The Developing in Digital Worlds team then presented a series of findings:
Using well known measures of personality and of more specific behaviours, the research team looked into whether innovating with digital environments and pedagogy over a long period does impact on children’s development of cognitive and social skills. Initial findings are that four out of five personality dimensions (openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion) had stronger ratings by students in the digitally experienced cluster, suggesting that curriculum innovation with digital tools can impact on some aspects of children’s social skills. Other analyses are looking more closely at possible effects on the range of social skills, and the picture that is emerging is that impact is particularly noticeable with areas of self-control (or agency).
According to teacher questionnaires collected by the research team, new digital tools do provide more opportunities to promote the three sets of 21st century skills. The classroom observations confirmed that teachers in digitally experienced schools are already building instruction around these skills, but that there is more emphasis on the development of social skills than cognitive skills.
Argumentation findings suggest that students face difficulty integrating others’ perspectives to inform their reasoning and decision making. The research team showed how teachers in the school clusters have been creating new ways of supporting dialogic argumentation in response to these findings.
In response to limited classroom opportunities for critical literacy practice, the Developing in Digital Worlds team designed the game Astria: Countdown to Impact to provide students with a collaborative game experience. The most recent version of the game gives greater opportunities for teachers to consult analytics and augment their guidance.
Updates were given on the design of a Connecting Home & The Schools (CHATS) intervention programme, and the associated Learning@Home website resource. The intervention is being piloted in three classrooms in response to findings from whānau questionnaire responses requesting a) more regular reminders to have learning conversations with students about school learning and cybersmart issues; b) connection with teachers and the school to align digital learning practices at home with the classroom. Future analyses of these data will assist whānau to support their children’s learning in digital worlds and in particular, development of 21st century skills.
To view the full presentation, click on the slide deck below:
Last week, the Faculty of Education and Social Work hosted visiting academic Dr Cynthia Greenleaf, a key researcher on the Developing in Digital Worlds project team and the Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd, USA. As well as giving workshops to teachers in Developing in Digital Worlds partner schools, Dr Greenleaf addressed the University community with a lecture titled “We Make the Road by Walking.” What would it take, she asked, to make evidence-based argumentation from multiple sources the very definition of reading comprehension in middle and high school literature, history/social studies, and science classrooms? How can we create this road for others by walking ourselves, first?
Dr Greenleaf is one of the directors of a multi-year, multi-institution, multi-site research project which set out with the aim to make evidence-based argumentation the definition of reading comprehension in schools — Project READI. But reaching such new and ambitious standards in teaching and learning has meant a certain amount of “bushwhacking” to open new pathways forward, she said. By partnering with middle and high school teachers in local inquiry networks, her team co-developed curricula, tools and processes; built on promising practices; developed new routines and learning progressions; supported classroom try-outs and ongoing reflection on student work; studied teacher learning processes; and carried out collaborative design-based research during formal implementation of units.
In her lecture, Dr Greenleaf traced the development of the Project READI innovation from collaborative design-based research through to large-scale randomized trial. She spoke about how her team worked within the constraints of the efficacy trial to maintain fidelity to principles of teacher generativity and adaptive expertise, illustrating how lessons learned from the collaborative design and DBR phases informed the intervention design. She also described the tool development that supported teacher learning and adaptive implementation at broad scale, and the positive impacts on teaching practices and student reading comprehension.
You can listen to the lecture recording below, and download the slides in pdf form here.
About Dr Cynthia Greenleaf
Dr Cynthia Greenleaf is Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd, a research, development and service agency in the USA. In this role, she has spent nearly three decades conducting research in adolescent literacy and translating it into powerful teacher professional development and instructional frameworks. She directs an integrated set of research and development initiatives in collaboration with secondary teachers to promote higher level literacy and academic identities for diverse youth. She designs inquiry-based professional development programs and carries out fine-grained studies of both student and teacher learning, integrating the development of both socioemotional dispositions and academic skills. Dr. Greenleaf’s research has been integral to the development of the Reading Apprenticeship framework, the central organizing principle of the Strategic Literacy Initiative.
Most recently, as one of the directors of Project READI, she led the Strategic Literacy Initiative’s participation in a five-year federal research project to improve reading comprehension across the United States. Concurrently, she has co-directed multiple large-scale dissemination grants funded by the Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement to bring the instructional framework, Reading Apprenticeship, to over 2,000,000 middle high school students in U.S. public schools.
Dr. Greenleaf has published major research papers, won highly competitive grants, authored peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and co-authored the bestselling Reading for Understanding. Her dissertation “Computers in Context” was awarded Best Dissertation by the American Educational Research Association, and she has been recognized for her use of multimedia in teacher education with an award from the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.
Of particular importance to the Developing in Digital Worlds research project is Dr Greenleaf’s expertise in argumentation, collaborative reasoning and dialogic classroom practices. Dr Greenleaf is one of the directors of the multi-year, multi-institution Project READI which began with the aim of making evidence-based argumentation from multiple sources the very definition of reading comprehension in middle and high school literature, history/social studies, and science classrooms. Eventually, Project READI expanded from a collaborative design-based research project through to a large-scale randomized trial funded by the United States government.
For our New Zealand audiences, Dr Greenleaf presented two staff development sessions at our partner schools. The first took place at our ‘early adopting’ cluster on September 13, and the other at our ‘later adopting’ English medium schools on September 12.* The aim of these sessions was for teachers to deepen their understanding of the arugmentation profiling findings that the Developing in Digital Worlds study has produced. One of the findings, for example, is that 80% of students who participated in Google Groups discussion boards only articulated a single perspective. Although the project is promoting digital discussion boards as an innovative tool for evidence-based argumentation, how can teachers create an environment that supports ongoing discussion and the integration of others’ perspectives? Working face to face with upwards of 60 teachers at each workshop, Dr Greenleaf facilitated teacher engagement with the Developing in Digital Worlds findings in practical ways.
Examples of Dr Greenleaf’s strategies include the following:
Collaborative norm setting: creating a series of classroom norms with students that supports their participation in discussion.
Debrief to “Go Meta!” and refine/augment norms: prompting students to think about how they engaged in the “investigation” exercise.
You can find the full slides for Dr Greenleaf’s presentation below:
*‘Early adopting’ means the schools have students who are already in high-usage digital environments in and out-of-school, and ‘later adopting’ schools have students who are at the initial stages of digital interaction.
The unresolved story or scenario example comes from George Hillocks’ essay, “Teaching Argument for Critical Thinking and Writing: An Introduction” published in English Journal (2010, volume 99, issue 6, pages 24-32).
The T-chart is a variant of the Metacognitive Note Takers chart which was published in Leading for Literacy by Cynthia Greenleaf, Ruth Schoenbach, and Lynn Murphy (Jossey-Bass, 2012, page 104). The Metacognitive Note Takers chart is available as a downloadable resource from this page (select “Team Tool 5.7”).
Our Developing in Digital Worlds research team have a new article forthcoming in the peer-reviewed journal Computers & Education (volume 126). The article is titled “How Digital Environments in Schools Might Be Used to Boost Social Skills: Developing a conditional augmentation hypothesis”, and will be out in November 2018.
Last month, questionnaires were emailed and posted out to participating parents and whānau who signed up in February 2018. If you received a questionnaire, we look forward to hearing about your child’s digital skills, and how you can be better supported to help your child develop cognitive and social skills in digital environments. There are no right or wrong answers and we welcome your honesty!
Please note that the closing dates for submitting your questionnaire are:
1 July for parents of children in years 3-4
1 July for parents of children in years 5–9
If you have misplaced your questionnaire but would still like to participate, please email the project leader, Angela McNicholl.
Parents who participated in Phase One of Developing in Digital Worlds are invited to take a look at our findings by clicking on the banner below:
This month, the University of Auckland hosted a celebration event at the Old Government House pavilion to recognise research excellence. The event, named Shaping Future Communities, included our very own team from Developing in Digital Worlds who were specially requested to present the study. The Minister for Research, Science and Innovation Hon. Megan Woods, the University’s Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon, and the CEO of UniServices Dr. Andy Shenk were all treated to a showcase of the Developing in Digital Worlds findings, giving invaluable insight into digital education in New Zealand.
If you are a parent of a child in years 3-4 or years 5-9 and were invited to contribute to Developing in Digital Worlds at the beginning of this year, or if you have just heard about the project and would like to participate, we would love to hear from you. Please note that the closing dates for submitting your questionnaire are:
1 June for parents of children in years 3-4
1 June for parents of children in years 5–9
If you have misplaced your questionnaire but would still like to participate, or if you would like to participate for the first time, please email the project leader, Angela McNicholl.
Parents who participated in Phase One of Developing in Digital Worlds are invited to take a look at our findings by clicking on the banner below:
Phase 2 of our project is well on its way with our participating schools putting in their best to report back on their use of digital devices and its impact on 21st century cognitive and social skills. Our Year 3 and 4s have been working hard to tell us how they use digital devices to improve their social and literacy skills, and how online platforms provide a chance to help them develop their critical thinking… In appreciation of their efforts, we shouted them a pizza lunch!
Two members of our research team were lucky enough to be featured on Education Central last week, with an overview of Developing in Digital Worlds and ways the project is supporting development of students’ cognitive skills in schools. “Using the internet to teach critical thinking and argumentation skills might seem a little crazy to anyone who has ever read a YouTube comment section,” the article begins, “but researchers at the Woolf Fisher Research Centre are figuring out how to do just that.”
Professor Stuart McNaughton, the project Science Leader, and Naomi Rosedale spoke about the collaborative nature of the study, the unique learning tools developed specifically for participants, and the new skills that children growing up in the 21st century need. Some of the highlights they included were an online discussion board about Taylor Swift and West Auckland dotterel colonies set up to develop students’ argumentation, and a web-based game in which students collaborate to save a distant planet from asteroid collision.
“There is still so little that we know about the developmental nature of children’s social and cognitive skills in digital learning environments,” Director of the Woolf Fisher Research Centre Professor Stuart McNaughton said. “In fact, to our knowledge, this project is the first in the world that investigates the links in skill development with classroom teaching, whānau support at home, and digital learning tools, including games.”
In the first two terms of 2018, we will be finalizing data collection for Phase 2 of Developing in Digital Worlds. All schools that commenced Phase 2 data collection in Term 4, 2017 will be using the latest version of our argumentation tool to test and further develop students’ argumentation skills.
Invitations are now open to classrooms at schools that are commencing Phase 2 data collection in Term 1, 2018. We will be collecting the following measures from these classrooms:
teacher questionnaire and observation
student questionnaires (social and digital questionnaire; critical thinking questionnaire)
In term 2, we will be further collecting argumentation data using the argumentation tool for these classrooms.
More details on the participation of parents, teachers and students can be found in the participant information sheets below. If you’d like to take part, please have a look at the information in the pamphlets below.