Young Upstarts

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[Interview] Russell Hazard, Director Of The Aidi School – Teaching, Learning, And Innovation Center In Beijing, China

When many of us think of education, we think of children in orderly rows taking notes as their teacher tells them about the world in all its complexity. Though that environment can sometimes be useful, that isn’t really the vision Russell Hazard has for our children.

Russell is an educational researcher, teacher professional development specialist, curriculum designer, and classroom teacher who works with schools and also at the level of educational policy development. He believes that students need a much more dynamic kind of education than they are currently receiving in many classrooms around the world. His work provides valuable resources on multimodal literacy, education policy, and project-based Education for Sustainable Development.

Russell works to build partnerships across sectors such as public/private education, EdTech companies, NGOs, and international educational organizations to improve their impact at the ground level. Hazard’s research and curricular work has been presented at international educational research conferences including UNESCO TECH, the National Institute of Education in Singapore, and University College London. He currently leads the implementation of innovative pedagogies, such as multidisciplinary project-based learning, digital literacy, educational technologies, and global citizenship education at the Aidi School Teaching, Learning, and Innovation Center in Beijing, China. He also does volunteer work with a range of organizations such as the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP).

Originally from Victoria, Canada, Russell Hazard received a bachelor of science degree from Trent University. He then completed a certification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) before completing a master’s degree in education from the University of Calgary. He also has a Cambridge Teacher Professional Development Qualification (PDQ) leadership certification and a doctorate in education (ABD). He has studied with a range of top international teaching and learning teams such as the Buck Institute of Education and Harvard’s Project Zero.

During his time as Director of the Teaching, Learning, and Innovation Center, Russell Hazard has developed a number of initiatives focused on developing the future of learning, STEM, sustainable development, multimodal literacy, and the requisite skills for 21st century living. He also designed and developed curriculum for an open-concept, high-tech, multidisciplinary, project-based, sustainable development Innovation Lab for budding young change-makers.

You’ve advocated for the need of more STEM-based education such as coding and robotics, as well as socio-emotional learning and project-based learning.  What kind of digital intelligence do you think is required to sustain entrepreneurship in the future?

Russell Hazard: Well, I actually don’t place technology education above everything else. Although, things like computational thinking through coding and overall technological competence should be improved for many students, the arts and other programming are also incredibly important. With regard to digital intelligence, or DQ, you are talking about a relatively new framework of competencies that was developed by the DQ Institute in Singapore and which is being adopted globally in conjunction with both the World Economic Forum and the IEEE standards organization. It is genuinely important because of the unique realities of the digital world that many people, and especially young people, are still unable to navigate. Research in this field has identified many issues such as the viral nature of information, the unique realities of detecting bias or outright “fake news” in the digital world, cyberbullying, and other features of emergent digital life that are pivotal for the well-being of young people but also for the health of our societies as a whole.

These competencies are not just for young people. As workplaces continue to change, as we increasing interact digitally with people from different national or cultural backgrounds, as ad-hoc teams are increasingly brought together for a single project and then disbanded, and as teams with combined human-AI properties become more commonplace, digital intelligence traits such as digital empathy, cyber-security, and digital global citizenship competencies will logically contribute more heavily to the success of both individuals and teams. 

The digital age requires young people today to have new knowledge, skills, and attitudes that relate to the digital realm.  Why is the development of this knowledge just as important to students as traditional IQ?

Russell Hazard: Traditional IQ is actually a fairly contentious issue and considered by some to be a pretty biased measure. However, if we just focus on the foundational idea of the ability to acquire, retain, and process a variety of types of information cognitively, IQ is clearly extremely important. What DQ researchers might say is that because of the rapid shift toward fully integrating our digital and analogue lives, which is will shortly be intensified by near ubiquitous augmented reality and artificial intelligence, DQ competencies will start to have just as significant an impact on important life variables such as income, health/mental health, and job performance as have been previously posited for IQ.

Linking back to your previous question about entrepreneurship, I think it should be clear we need well-balanced people that have competencies that match the needs of the time. We can’t get too hung up on one narrow model. So, while accepting the undeniable importance of digital intelligence, I think that sustaining a dynamic environment in which people are able to ideate, plan, and build successful enterprises that lead them to happy lives requires more than just DQ. I am sure that most people who understand digital intelligence would agree with that. We certainly also need what is sometimes called IQ and also emotional intelligence, or EQ. Empathy and communication are becoming more important than ever in the workforce. The frameworks don’t operate at the expense of each other. It is also quite important to remember that these are all just frameworks and don’t fully express the complexity of human intelligence. It is easy to confuse the components of each that are relatively stable with those that can be developed over a lifespan.

There is also a lot of talk about how our old model of developing knowledge-skills-attitudes is shifting so that the priority is becoming attitudes-skills-knowledge. Attitudes and dispositions such as considering the needs of others, ecological awareness, intellectual curiosity, embracing diversity, resilience, and comfort with complexity are becoming drivers of excellence as much as any specific subject’s content knowledge. This refocusing on attitudes, dispositions, and values is important as attitude formation is complex and requires different teaching and learning practices than something like the rote memorization of knowledge.

None of this saying that traditional IQ ability such as the acquisition and retention of knowledge and the processing of that knowledge through thinking maneuvers is unimportant. Learning to be an adept digital citizen is now a crucial competency, but it continues to be situated within a broader whole-person education. 

You agree that digital literacy training should start at home and at an early age.  What can parents do to ensure their children are up to speed? 

Russell Hazard: First, I think that digital literacy will need to be part of lifelong learning because the technology, and therefore the implications of the technology, will continue to change rapidly for the foreseeable future. Therefore, I think parents would do well to truly educate themselves and commit to their own continual engagement with these issues. We know that media shapes our beliefs, perceptions, interactions, and our collective political decisions. Understanding issues around this phenomenon is now a basic life skill for everyone, whether younger or older.

Practically speaking, learning about the issues and developing competencies alongside your child is a great way of modelling the idea that you are a lifelong learner that demonstrates the attitudes of curiosity, openness to change, and critical thinking you are trying to help your child develop. There are many resources for this joint study available, but a good place to start would certainly be discussing the ideas and programming offered by the DQ Institute through DQ World as it is the current international standard, it pitched for young people, and it carries the foundations for in-depth discussions that adults can engage their children in. 

At the same time, the role of teachers is crucial in this changing world, especially with the impact of technology.  Broadly, what would be your ideal vision for the future of education?  

Russell Hazard: That is a big question. A good place to start is with being more open to changing education as the world around us changes. Some of the most respected researchers in the field of educational policy, such as Harvard University’s Fernando Reimers, argue that education needs to continually transform as the needs of society and the individuals within those societies change. As we are experiencing a sustained period of exponential change, I think the future needs to be one of continual experimentation and an openness to question the very foundations of what we are doing. Fundamentally, education needs to help us grow into mature people who are able to contribute to our families and communities, inspire us to be excited by the world around us and the lifelong learning necessary to understand it, and prepare us to solve the problems that we notice in our own lives. Job readiness is certainly a part of this, but not the whole picture.

To support this, education needs to focus much more on generating high quality thinking rather than the regurgitation of facts. I really respect the work of Project Zero for this reason. Teachers and students need to become ‘thinking masters” who understand, who can name, and who know when to apply a range of highly specific cognitive and metacognitive thinking processes. Subject knowledge is just the material that we manipulate with thinking. Their approach to individual and collaborative thinking can help to future proof us all as the knowledge base in the world around us changes ever more quickly. It could also help to support dynamic, thoughtful citizens.

I also think we need to work more on aligning attitudes-skills-knowledge both to the needs of the local, and to the global. I think that Education for Sustainable Development is a very useful framework for this. Some people hear this term and think that is it only for lower income countries or for environmentalists. However, it is actually geared around developing a full suite of 21st century capacities for identifying and solving problems while considering the context of those problems are occurring in and the future ramifications of our actions.

These project-based approaches don’t necessarily need to completely replace traditional teaching and learning. Often, they can be complementary and help students to integrate discrete subject knowledge into understanding that can more effectively be transferred to a wide range of real-world situations. This model certainly seems to be an excellent way forward for entrepreneurs as well as for whole societies looking to generate a mix of innovative enterprises, capable civil servants and governmental leaders, and a populace capable of making good decisions. This seems to be true regardless of the current level of economic development in a country.

Educational technologies of the future should likely take a greater role in providing highly personalized learning so there are periods in which every student is studying at the optimal level of difficulty and speed for their own needs. However, the social and collaborative aspects of learning mean that teachers and learning communities will continue to be as important, or more important, than ever. Educational technology will hopefully have an especially profound effect on the most vulnerable populations of students around the world quite soon. For example, there are researchers currently working on providing low/no cost digital personalized learning that can be delivered through mobile devices to students in developing countries who now receive little or no education.

I hope and believe these threads are all coming together to support a world powered by what Project Zero describes as a positive culture of thinking. It is not a utopia. Such a world is one in which deep thinking is valued, and in which the responsible and respectful communication of that thinking allows a diversity of perspectives but also an improved opportunity for broad consensus based in empathy and mutual understanding. Without this there is a significant danger that we will fail to mitigate, much less overcome, very serious issues such as global conflict, climate change, and the potentially enormous problems arising from rapidly emerging technologies such as AI, biotechnology, and automation that are now upon us. 

The primary aim of Global Citizenship Education is helping students become responsible and active citizens.  How is this concept pertinent to solving the world’s challenges?  

Russell Hazard: There is a lot of confusion around Global Citizenship Education. I am not sure if we can reasonably aim to “solve” all the world’s challenges, but we do have an immediate need to address them strategically. Unfortunately, the concept of Global Citizenship Education is often completely misinterpreted. It does not mean losing your local, regional, or national identity. It does not mean disloyalty to your nation or culture. It does not imply an abandonment of healthy competition.

It does mean recognizing that we are part of a complex, closed ecosystem that has limits. It does mean recognizing that certain issues cannot be solved without cooperation. It does mean recognizing that what happens in one part of the world can directly impact people somewhere else in the world. It does mean recognizing that the same feelings of thoughtfulness and respect that we value so much when applied to the people we care about in our own lives can be extended outward to other people, cultures, and even the majesty of nature.

On an environmental level, does it matter that the Amazon is being decimated? Yes. It matters because people all around the world will quite literally experience the environmental impact if we don’t do anything about it. On a social level, does it matter that many of the local people in the Amazon are suffering as part of that process? Yes. The environmental and social systems are completely entwined. Even if you don’t personally care about the individuals, the problem itself won’t be rectified unless both the social and the environmental are dealt with as a whole. Coming to terms with this kind of complex systems thinking, as well as the global background knowledge required to engage in it, is part of Global Citizenship Education.

Problems require awareness, but also the willingness to act in a meaningful way and that will almost always involve some kind of collaborative project workflow. The attitudes-skills-knowledge necessary to consider and act on issues of a global nature are increasingly called global competencies and are part of Sustainable Development Goal 4.7, alongside Education for Sustainable Development.

The ability to empathize, think profoundly, communicate, plan and execute projects that consider the future, thrive in rapid technological and social change, and build rich, meaningful relationships is not only pertinent to working on the world’s many challenges, but also to having healthy local economies and the positive human relationships that make for a great life. Optimally, these all come together in an ever-evolving future of education that is currently being developed and trialed around the world.


Young Upstarts is a business and technology blog that champions new ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship. It focuses on highlighting young people and small businesses, celebrating their vision and role in changing the world with their ideas, products and services.

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