USA: Dr Anthony J DeNapoli

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Dr. Anthony J DeNapoli - Nova Southeastern University

Dr. Anthony J DeNapoli on innovation, technology and the value of international education to the global workforce

Dr. Anthony J DeNapoli has been an educator for 33 years, in elementary, middle and high schools. His experience covers teaching and administrative roles up to district office type positions. He has worked exclusively in Higher education for the past 13 years and his area of expertise is educational leadership and international education.

As the Dean of International Affairs at Nova Southeastern University, he now focuses on international development for the University, extending the University's offer globally and looking internally at internationalizing the curriculum and opportunities for students and staff.


The Value Of An International Education

Dr. DeNapoli's focus on international education derives from his recognizing the rapidly changing needs of employers and economies worldwide and understanding the implications for education.

He believes that in a networked world, and one where movement between different countries is common, the capacity "to operate and work in a global environment" is increasingly important, but that capacity is often lacking in the US:

"Interestingly, most of our graduates are not equipped to work in a global environment. They don't have the skills, the knowledge base and they don't think that way. My work is focused on trying to get them think globally, differently and internationally".

Dr. DeNapoli sees much of the changes we are undergoing as being driven by technology, noting that:

"Technology has changed the opportunities for people to equip themselves for the skills that they need"

and believes that the unprecedented connectivity afforded by the Internet is instrumental in shifting attitudes and behaviour towards a broader perspective:

"(Using technology)...Folks do start to think globally rather than locally".

He supports the creation of 'dual degrees', which he describes as:

"International partnerships that create dually delivered degrees. It could be a program delivered by two Universities that result in a single diploma. We now do a lot of dual programs with the EU - students get a US degree and an EU degree. Those are things that equip students with other skills for the workforce and I'm happy to say that the students coming out of those programs all got jobs".

His belief is that these degrees offer students a distinct competitive advantage as they provide a broad range of diverse experiences in every area of life, resulting in graduates coming out with a "different mentality" compared to the typical student coming out of a traditional degree from a single institution. Another example cited by Dr. DeNapoli is that of a 'rotational' medical degree, where students at NSU are given the opportunity to work in Argentina, Guatemala and Ecuador during their training - an experience he believes is incredibly valuable to the student:

"When you think about a doctor coming out of a traditional medical degree in the US and put them up against one of ours who's had the chance to practice medicine in rural Argentina, they have all sorts of experiences that actually make a huge difference to their performance".

It's this experiential learning that Dr. DeNapoli feels is so important, and he believes that teaching problem solving, communication skills and "a wider world view" is extremely difficult to teach effectively in the classroom:

"Cultural awareness can only really come from experiential learning as you need to experience culture to get it".


Innovation And Barriers To Change

In terms of the wider skills debate, Dr. DeNapoli believes that although things have changed in terms of pedagogy and curricula, many educational approaches and programmes are now outdated:

"Technology is helping us break out of the box, but if you go back 30 years you will see the same classics being read, the same instruction taking placed. Although you have some very innovative things happening, a lot happens in schools that have IVY curriculum so you a have a whole different perspective".

He continues:

"Some schools have effectively integrated technology and I have seen evidence of this, but not on a wide scale. Part of the issue is that innovation has been stifled by unionization of teachers".

He explains that school unions do not allow for substantial change stating that "our hands are tied" on issues such as the school schedule:

"Where corporations use a differential schedule to adapt to the 24/7 operation, schools haven't as this would change working conditions. This mentality stifles innovation and we still use the same schedule, based on the same calendar that was originally based on an agrarian calendar. Kids used to go out to work on the farm - they don't anymore".

Dr. DeNapoli adds that the year-round school movement was squashed by unions and summer camps, resulting in a continuation of the annual time limit on the education cycle - an innovation he believes would have real benefits to students:

"We are bound by things like accrediting agencies, teachers unions, and state wide and national curricula... all those create issues that restrain and stifle innovation".


The New Administration And Future Changes

Dr. DeNapoli is optimistic about the Obama administration and its stance on education reform, stating he is happy to hear Obama acknowledging the role of the school unions in delivering change:

"We have battles to fight and in order for anything to happen, things (with the unions) need to change drastically."

He criticizes the previous administration and specifically the ' no child left behind' legislation, explaining:

"I am optimistic this administration is serious about change, as opposed to the last administration and 'No child left behind' which was a dismal failure because there was no funding associated with it. It was an attempt at accountability and it did make some movement but there was no funding".

He explains that although 'No child left behind' tried to address the important issues of high dropout rates and bringing achievement levels up, it was fundamentally flawed as it forced teachers to focus entirely on exam results, narrowing an already limited curriculum:

"You can raise standards but without the right teacher and curriculum nothing is going to happen. With 'No child left behind' we had 'teach to the test' when we should be moving to an outcomes based assessment that might look at a child working in a group-based project."

Dr DeNapoli continues

"There is no interdisciplinary approach and no connecting the dots. The information we're giving (kids) has no application to the real world. This is not new, but the difference now is that the world is so much more complex that you have to have a different skill set to be able to survive".


The Drivers Of Change

Dr. DeNapoli believes that

"Technology is pivotal in changing the way education is delivered in this country at all levels".

and draws an interesting link between the potential of transformative technology and the impact of the current economic crisis on education:

"Now, with the bad economy, people are going back to education to re-tool themselves. People are coming back looking for new knowledge and new skills in order to get a job, and the online model works perfectly because people cannot afford to come to campus".

Dr. DeNapoli believes that as a result, perceptions of online learning are improving, driving demand and rapid improvement in the quality on online and digital learning tools and content. He also argues that:

"As technology gets better, the teaching gets better".

When considering the question of re-imagining education systems, Dr. DeNapoli proposes re-structuring the entire approach and model of education,

"Setting technology in the center of it all, adding a global component for everybody and of course teacher training".

He re-iterates the need to include experiential learning in this new model, and believes that technology can also be utilized to facilitate this:

"Experiential learning can easily be done virtually now, much better than before and at minimal cost. Experiential learning, using simulations, has to be added to the curriculum".


The Role Of The Teacher - A Paradigm Shift

For Dr DeNapoli, a paradigm shift in the way we think about and deliver education is already underway, evidenced by drop out rates, a world undergoing radical change and the pace of technological change:

"We are at a point where some of the older folk in the teaching profession realize that they cannot stand in front of class and teach they way they taught for years because it leads to disinterested, disenfranchised students who are pulling out their i-phones and working on them without listening to anybody".

His solution is to attack the challenge from two perspectives:

"We need massive reorganization not only from a physical structure perspective, but from an instructional standpoint"

and implores teachers to think differently about their role in the classroom in order to inspire their students and equip them for the demands of the 21st century:

"The roles have changed. It is not about knowledge because the knowledge base is now available at your fingertips... We're talking here about the facilitation of learning where the facilitator can guide the kid to use technology and sort out the trillions of bits information out there - those are the skills we need"

For Dr DeNapoli, it is technology that will help us to re-imagine the fundamentals of education and deliver systems that are fit for purpose:

"We are in a completely different mindset where technology is what is driving and should be driving education reform".