Happy Birthday 2 U

To celebrate its 2nd Birthday today, All Change Please! has lived up to its name and, well, changed! As you have probably noticed by now we have a brand new Mac-like look, which we hope you will enjoy.

Meanwhile, over our 2 years there have been 94 posts and 6,152 views – up from 2,474 views last year. The top posts during the pat twelve months have been The future is…Pearsonalised learning and Thinking Works!, followed by Beware of Learner Ministers and why I’m voting for Mickey. And along the way this year we’ve also discussed the Ebacc, free schools, soft subjects, filter bubbles, tweeting and learning, and Siri.

But the big issue remains. Will nice Mr Gove still be education secretary this time next year?

Say Hello to iSir!

The initial response to the iPhone 4S has been one of disappointment in that it did not appear to incorporate any new, amazing wow-factor forms or functions – even though subsequent sales are reported to have been excellent.

But it seems there is something new on-board that may yet prove to be another Apple-led game-changer, and that’s Siri – the voice recognition system. This appears to potentially offer a lot more than the notion of shouting operating system instructions to your desktop monitor, as it enables the user to have a private telephone conversation with their virtual assistant. So instead of opening up an app or searching Google for, say, a weather forecast, you can just quietly ask, ‘What’s the weather like today”? Or maybe ‘What day and time is Dr Who on?”, “Where is the nearest AppleStore”, etc.

Essentially Siri makes it easier to find factual information. So, “What’s the capital of Brunei?” Don’t know? Well you could go to the library and find an Atlas, laboriously type in a search on Google (so 2010?), or now – just pick up your iPhone and, for example, ask it “What’s the capital of Brunei?”

Of course at present Siri is still a bit unsophisticated, and  needs to be made to work better in noisy spaces. But we can doutless assume that over its next few iterations, Siri will become a lot more sophisticated as it becomes increasingly able to match its answers to the historical and contextual information it has about the user with the vast amount of global data it has access to.

” Siri will also be optimized to Bluetooth 4 headsets that will create far more use cases in how it will detect questions from continuous speech. In the future, later versions of Siri will be “Active”, continuously adjusting to interjecting answers even when no direct question was asked (within reason). This will make interaction far closer to an interaction with a friend than any device we have ever used.” 

(from http://www.quora.com/Siri-product/Why-is-Siri-important#ans752714)

So before long it seems like we could all have a personal on-board virtual knowledge agent – surely called iSir – ready at hand to automatically answer any factual question that anyone cares to ask. As usual though, the possibilities and implications for education, teaching and learning are yet to be considered and explored.

But just how clever will Siri get? The other day I had cause to pose what was not quite the ultimate question, “When was the chocolate biscuit invented?”. Sadly I didn’t have the opportunity to ask Siri (perhaps somebody would, and let me know what it replies?), but I’m guessing it would have been honest about the whole thing and reply “Nobody Knows“, which it seems they don’t. But that wasn’t good enough for me and so I had to resort to trying to find out for myself and be able to provide some sort of answer. As the result of a lot of cross-referencing and creative collaboration, I did eventually at least discover that the first commercially manufactured chocolate biscuit was the 1924 “Chocolate Wholemeal Digestive”. On the way though I serendipitously learned a lot of other quite interesting things about confectionery production and the separate origins of chocolate, and of biscuits (though sadly not the Eureka! moment when someone placed a piece of chocolate on top of a biscuit and went “Wow, this tastes really good!”).

Anyway, so all you need now is a Bluetooth ear-piece and next time your knowledge-testing teacher asks the class “What is the capital of Brunei?*” then your iPhone will immediately and secretly provide you with the answer! More seriously, this provides further evidence that we urgently need to start to redefine what items of knowledge needs to be learnt and what can be instantly accessed on a ‘need to know’ basis. For example, I suggest it is still useful to know that there is a country called Brunei that is somewhere in Asia, but learning the name of the capital is no longer necessary. But more importantly than knowing the facts is having the ability to ask the right questions, being able to look in multiple locations and make possible connections, and of course how to analyse, assess and evaluate the accuracy and reliability of what is discovered. Surely now we should start to leave the facts to Siri and start to teach the knowledge search skills we will all need in the 21st century?

I can hear it now in a thousand supposedly mobile phone digital-free lessons: “When I said ‘Put you hand up if you know the answer’, I didn’t mean ‘Put your hand up to your earpiece…”

Meanwhile there’s an amusing test of Siri here: http://blhill.org/iphones-siri-vs-my-human-assistant-caseyneist

And it’s good to see that Siri doesn’t take itself too siriously:  http://dvice.com/archives/2011/10/iphone-4ss-siri.php#1


And this is great too!  siris-got-talent-iphone-4s-duets-in-a-touching-love-song-video

*OK, OK, Seeing as you keep asking, the capital of Brunei is……Bandar Seri Begawan

Thinking Works!

In case you missed it, here’s a link to Monday evening’s Newsnight item on ICT in schools:


The item was prompted by the publication of a report by the Games Industry highlighting the need for the education sector to better meet their future needs:

“… the sad truth is that we are already starting to lose our cutting edge: in just two years, it seems the UK’s video games industry has dipped from third to sixth place in the global development rankings. Meanwhile, the visual effects industry, though still enjoying very rapid growth, is having to source talent from overseas because of skills shortages at home. That is mainly a failing of our education system – from schools to universities – and it needs to be tackled urgently if we are to remain globally competitive.”

The report identifies the limitations of the current ICT experiences children have in schools, lamenting the fact that we no longer have the expertise that developed as a result of initiatives such as the BBC Micro in the 1980s, and that instead the emphasis now is still on learning how to use Microsoft Office. Importantly it calls for students to have a mixture of STEM and Arts-related experience and qualifications, and not just one or the other, and to be able to work in multidisciplinary teams.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15240207  (Click on the link to download the report)

Of course it’s not something limited to the Games Industry, but to the rapid growth in a wide range of IT-related enterprises. Indeed I recently came across the website of ThoughtWorks, one of the leading global IT consultancy companies that promotes an agile approach to programming. At one point on its site it lists the key requirements for the attitudes and approaches it needs its employees to have:

  • A constant desire to keep code as clear and simple as possible
  • Refactoring skills so you can confidently make improvements whenever you see the need.
  • A good knowledge of patterns: not just the solutions but also appreciating when to use them and how to evolve into them.
  • Designing with an eye to future changes, knowing that decisions taken now will have to be changed in the future.
  • Knowing how to communicate the design to the people who need to understand it, using code, diagrams and above all: conversation

But wait – apparently there’s a new IT GCSE currently being piloted that will change all that!


Or will it? Essentially it looks exactly the same as previous IT courses that have existed for several decades, with the addition of a section worth just 30% that expects students to write a program. Just 9 out of 45 marks are for design, with the highest marks being awarded for  providing a ‘detailed analysis of what is required…justifying their approach to the solution. There will be a full set of detailed algorithms representing a solution to each part of the problem. There will be detailed discussion of testing and success criteria. The variables will be identified together with any validation required.‘ An exemplification test is to create a standard password system.

Hmm – there’s nothing that could be called forward-looking or creative here – in fact it reads much like GCSE specs from the 1990s with a bit of programming thrown in for good measure. IT in schools needs to move far beyond learning how mainframes work and how to use Microsoft Office. Somehow the retro website graphics and revolving floppy disc says it all.

No-one in IT education seems to have realised that the computer industry has moved on – it doesn’t work the same way it used to, and the principles and practices of last year, let alone the last decade, are increasingly out of date and inappropriate to today’s requirements. Now it’s about agile approaches to high-level computing languages, paired programming and self-organising teams. At the same time we are rapidly moving away from the idea of desktop programs to cloud computing, mobile apps, ubiquitous computers and a host of other innovations that will completely change the way we perceive and use our information technologies in the very near future. And one of the big demands at present is for good interface and interaction designers, user researchers and information architects, expertise in social networking, and so on – none of which are even dreamt of in the philosophy of the current school curriculum.

There’s no doubt that Thinking Works. The DfE and Secretary of State just need to try it some time.