Obvious to the Eye or Mind: Making Learning Visible | Harbord & Khan | 5 Min Read

Chapter 3

Ethical dilemmas have an impact on student interest and motivation. This discovery inspired our exploratory culture of learning in our Design laboratory and led us to develop a framework shaped by ethical values and ethical dilemmas–the Harbord & Khan Ethical Modelⓒ. Using this model can help make ethical issues more visible.

Making learning visible has become the goal for many schools in recent times. John Hattie’s meta-studies of more than 80 million students provide evidence to support the idea that student learning is optimized when teachers approach learning through the eyes of their students and empower students to become their own teachers [John Hattie’s latest podcast with Tim Logan of Future Learning Design may be found here]. Although it is tempting to draw conclusions from Hattie’s 252 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement, one needs a greater understanding of context to really get at what is useful from this study.

Hattie’s study includes data that shows the importance of teacher expertise in student learning. What other profession would need a study to confirm that their practitioners need to be experts in their field? This, sadly, reflects how poorly the teaching profession is viewed by many. The data also contains valuable evidence that we need to examine more closely. Many scholars prefer empirical evidence that is measurable because of the belief that facts do not lie. This study’s data has given educators validation for many things they knew anecdotally from their practice. It provides evidence for educators to explore and encourage cultures of learning in schools and beyond. Visible learning is one such concept that is supported by quantitative research and therefore has received wide acceptance. 

When we talk about evidence, words like justification, proof, assessment, or research might come to mind. Evidence can be data that reaffirms our belief (or lack of it) in systems. Oxford Languages Dictionary identifies its origins as Middle English: via Old French from Latin evidentia, from evident — ‘obvious to the eye or mind.’ What happens when we use our critical and creative thinking to look beneath the surface? When we use new tools and ask questions that are not obvious, we might discover there is more to the evidence than meets the eye. Sarah Parcak, Egyptologist and Space Archeologist, has done just that. Author of Archeology from Space: How the Future Shapes our Past, Parcak took her exploration of the past to the skies. This seemingly counterintuitive perspective was a game-changer: Sarah Parcak manipulated satellite images to enhance subtle aspects of the terrain to reveal previously unknown archeological features. This process exposed the chemical changes in the soil as a result of ancient Egyptians’ activities and their building materials. As a result, Parcak can ask new questions and has found new ways to answer them.

Can we model Sarah Parcak’s more expansive view to ask questions that are not obvious and discover unexplored details to reveal new facts about ourselves and how we learn? We often formulate questions using the following headings: Identify & Describe, Reasons, Processes, Time, and Place. In addition to these, using ethical values intentionally generates challenging questions that evoke strong emotions. Suddenly the topic can become more personal and relatable for students.

An Example

  • If we explore the question of fairness:
    • “What is fairness? What does it mean to me? Who are the people I know that are fair? Why does this matter?”
  • In considering the ethical value of fairness, by implication, we need to think about unfairness as well. What happens when we add ethical values into the mix?
    • e.g. Fairness (ethical value) + Identify & Describe + Reasons + Processes + Time + Place
  • The powerful difference in this approach is the intentional use of this value and the fact that the value drives inquiry as opposed to being a by-product of it.
  • For PBL teachers: How could this approach enhance aspects of your students’ learning in PBL?


Try this with your students.

Place students in small groups of 3 or 4 and give them a topic. Have the groups discuss and debate the idea of fair use of water and ask them to report their groups’ findings to each other.

This example relates to the use of water in a river: How can the water be allocated fairly among the farmers, townspeople, watersport enthusiasts, and environmentalists?

Another example of fair use could be the use of public spaces: Some people want to play sports, some want to have a concert, some want to walk their dogs, and some want to have picnics. What would be fair? Who makes the decision?

You can use this technique in your learning environments with both students and faculty (with different scenarios). It also aligns with state standards. Exploring the human value of fairness meets the Grade 9-10 English Language Arts Standards in the areas of Comprehension and Collaboration, for instance:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.C: Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.D: Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.

The pandemic has challenged many schools’ concept of assessment and what the data reveals about learning, but if we are trying to make learning visible, we need evidence. Designing a method of assessment to understand and gauge how student beliefs and values about the world affect their well-being and their development of Global Skills is a contested point. Our Harbord & Khan Ethical Modelⓒ provides teachers with opportunities to create content and develop rubrics that embed awareness of ethical values into your curriculum. In our drive to measure and obtain data, we must remember that our students have many difficult questions to which we currently have no answers. Our priority is our students’ well-being, and one way we can support them is to provide a non-judgmental framework at a time when many are feeling they have a bleak future.

You may also enjoy the other articles in this series:

Part 1: Moving Goalposts 2022: More Educational Leadership Challenges

Part 2: Learning from Nature: Imitation and Invention | Harbord & Khan

Harbord and Khan

Meredith Harbord EdD and Sara Riaz Khan are global educators who use ethical dilemmas to enrich and transform curriculum. Their student centric approach is driven by an ethical model and innovative tools that support critical thinking and creativity. Meredith and Sara’s collaboration as Design teachers at ABA Oman International School in Muscat, focused on sustainability, ethical design and global mindedness and inspired them to establish Harbord & Khan Educational Consultants. They develop units of work based on real world issues to engage and challenge students for diverse curriculums (IB, PBL, Common Core and Australian) and are available for professional development and to create programs to meet the specific needs of your school. Meredith and Sara have authored two teacher curriculum books ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 1, 2 & 3’ and ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 4 & 5’ (2020). Website: https://bit.ly/3XopEzQ

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *