Not waving but drawing…?

Recently a contact in the IT industry sent me a link to this site about a neat little new gizmo called ‘Leap Motion‘. He had managed to get hold of one before its general release, and having put it through its paces described it as being ‘pretty cool’.

https://leapmotion.com/

Essentially Leap Motion is a small, inexpensive iPod-sized unit that you attach to your PC and it enables you to control and interact with your computer by waving your hands, or rather fingers, around in front of the screen, Minority Report-style. It’s fast and fluid, sensitive and accurate, and brings with it the need to develop a whole new set of control gestures that have the potential to enable one to interact with a computer in  completely new ways.

For now, of course, it’s a solution looking for a problem, but, like the iPhone and iPad, that’s where creative developers will come in and create applications we never imagined we needed or wanted.  It remains to be seen if it turns out to be no more than a novelty item or the start of something that will become commonplace over the next few years.

There are obvious applications in games and 3D modelling such as rotating CAD drawings and renderings or clay modelling, but what about its impact on artistic mark-making? At one extreme, as shown in the promotional video, it offers little more than an instant art experience. But at the other, what opportunities might it bring to a more serious production of works of art? I’m not suggesting for one moment that a Leap Motion device is going to replace existing forms of drawing, painting and sculpture, but I’m wondering if it will provide a new media that, like the iPad, will have its own potential and limitations defined by specific new skills and techniques?

All that remains to be seen, but if I were still in the classroom I would love to have such a device to play with, or rather I mean of course, for my students to creatively explore and experiment with!

Going For Old?

Pikemen engage musketeers during a re-enactment of the Siege of

Academics engage Vocationalists during a re-enactment of the English Civil War

A few days ago someone drew to my attention to a link to my post ‘Your Country Needs You‘ (published in October) that had been included on ‘Scenes From The Battleground‘s recent blog post. In return I am pleased to reciprocate a link, and hope he will get as many extra views of his site as All Change Please! has since enjoyed as a result.

http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/attitudes-which-cause-dumbing-down/

In this post I want to discuss some of the arguments that Scenes From The Battleground and other academics often present to justify their approach to teaching and learning, i.e.:

•  since the introduction of the GCSE, all teaching and learning has been made less challenging, or ‘dumbed down’
•  an academic approach to teaching and learning is the only one that can provide a worthwhile education, is appropriate for everyone, and if they are all taught in academic way exam results will automatically improve
•  it is better to have had an academic education and fail, than to have any other sort of education
•  teachers advise working class children not to apply for university
•  employers are only interested in graduates with good academic degrees

It remains of great concern that some academics, rather like the managing directors of companies such as Comet, Jessops and HMV, fail to acknowledge that the world is changing almost beyond recognition, and that the old ways are no longer necessarily the best ways. We can no longer afford for our children to experience a re-enactment of an education system no longer fit for purpose.

Dumbing down

Scenes From The Battleground seems convinced that education has been ‘dumbed down’, and he attempts to provide evidence that supports his fears, compounded by the fact that, as he admits, the posts he has linked to have been written by intelligent and experienced educationalists.

The thing is, you don’t exactly need to be a rocket surgeon or a brain scientist to work out that if the numbers of students going to university since the 1970s are going to rise from around 10% to 50%, then either standards of teaching and learning are going to have to rise unbelievably, or the entry examinations are going to need to be made  easier to pass. Of course academic education has been ‘dumbed down’. So in that respect All Change Please! finds itself in complete agreement with Scenes From The Battleground, Mr Gove and others like them, in that standards of academic education in schools have fallen over the years, and that they justifiably do need to be raised.

The only way is academic

However, that’s about as far as our agreement goes. What Scenes From The Battleground really means is that there has been a lowering of academic expectations.  I would argue that at the same time there has been a raising of expectation and standards of technical and vocational ‘practical’ standards that are far more appropriate for the majority of students. There is also the frequent use by academics of the word ‘rigour’. Why do academics, politicians and journalists only associate ‘rigour’ with academic study? Rigour is something that can be and is applied to any area of study, be it in the Creative Arts, Business Studies, Physical Education, and so on.

Returning briefly to my ‘Going for Gold‘ Olympic medal analogy post, it’s like insisting that all athletes only prepare themselves for the rigour of the 100 metres. As a result, many swimmers, pole vaulters, marathon runners, etc., would never discover that their particular aptitude lay in a completely different discipline. (And I am equally concerned by the further comparison that only those athletes deemed likely to win a medal at the next Olympics will be given funding). The EBacc, as presently conceived, might well succeed in raising academic standards for a small minority, but at the same time will produce a much higher number of failures and disaffected teenagers.

Indeed the way Scenes From The Battleground sees the situation exemplifies exactly where much of the problem lies. While a few academics seem to have managed to join up the dots and grasp the bigger picture, for many a narrow academic education tends to produce people who only see the world from their own point-of-view. It worked for them, so it must be good for everyone, and all that needs to happen is for everyone to receive an academic education, and everything will be wonderful.

It is better to have tried and failed than never to have had an academic education

http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/yes-those-were-definitely-examples-of-dumbing-down/
Having seemingly reassured himself that he is correct, in an up-date post Scenes From The Battleground states a commonly-held view amongst many academics:

‘It is better to make everyone try to get into a good university, and have a lot fail, than to write off so many of the able-but-poor like we do now. University should be a goal for all because a good education should be a goal for all and even in failing to achieve that goal, one may be given the means to achieve many other goals instead.’

Now this is a very contentious statement, and one I suspect few outside academia would agree with. First it has no regard for the future of the majority of students who would indeed fail to get to university, beyond the unsupported suggestion that as a result somehow they would be able to achieve ‘many other goals instead’. And it also quite wrongly equates university with being the only possible source of a worthwhile education.

Class Wars

Scenes From The Battleground also poses the question: “What would pushy middle-class parents make of this (non-academic activity)?” and suggests that they would perceive evidence of dumbing-down. If they were hoping their children were bound for a Russell Group university, then of course I would agree. But if a parent’s main concern is that their off-spring should find a worthwhile and well-paid job in the emerging economy – and that will in the future give them a good chance of enabling them to be happy and to live independently – then an increasing number are starting to realise that there is more relevant and up-to-date learning going on in some other more practical and less theoretical disciplines. And anyway, All Change Please!, like the majority of teachers, did not go into education specifically to meet the demands of the pushy middle-class parent, but the needs of all children, whatever their background.

‘Teachers cannot afford to be emphasising to kids that university is one goal among others, because the effect won’t be to deter the posh-but-thick; it will be to deter the working class’.

Scenes From The Battleground then goes on to discuss the much-used argument that social class remains the key factor in going to university (which indeed it may well be), and that teachers deter the working class from going there. I simply do not believe that the majority of teachers do this, at least not if the student shows the required level of potential academic ability and has the desire to do so. What they do do however, is to suggest that perhaps some students who are quite unlikely to achieve the necessary academic standards should consider alternative educational pathways that are more likely to enable them to succeed and obtain employment through more practically-related knowledge and experience.

Employability

Finally, and how many times does it need repeating, top company chief executives keep stating that what they need now is not graduates stuck in the old Industrial Age ways of memorising and recalling a prescribed, often out-of-date, body of knowledge, but life-long learners, creative risk-takers and collaborative problem-solvers willing and able to work flexibly to respond to ever-changing and entirely unpredictable markets that embrace instability. According to this article, today’s young people will find themselves living and working in the ‘Age of Chaos’, and will need to have a ‘Generation Flux’ mindset. I can only advise academics to stay in their ivory towers and lock the door firmly behind them!

http://designtaxi.com/news/355262/Are-You-Prepared-For-The-Workplace-Of-The-Future/

So why is it that at the same time though employers quite rightly complain that many school-leavers often lack, or are far from fluent in, basic numeracy and literacy skills? Perhaps this is because what they are being taught in schools is often too theoretical, and not grounded in the context of everyday, real-world problems?

Education needs to be appropriate for everyone, not just the academically-able.

Image credit: Anguskirk  http://www.flickr.com/photos/anguskirk/4944028963

Oh No, Minister!

Over the past months there has been some much welcome renewed criticism of the EBacc proposals as a whole:
http://m.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jan/07/gcse-ebacc-michael-gove-reforms
http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/dec/05/michael-gove-warned-exams-unworkable
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/tory-grandee-attacks-goves-huge-mistake-on-new-exams-8431683.html

Indeed All Change Please! would like to suggest that perhaps getting the Arts included in the EBacc is not actually the challenge. The real problem is the EBacc itself, and in 2013 that’s what we should be concentrating on completely demolishing.

Now, it so happens that by an amazing co-incidence All Change Please! has just obtained a transcript of a conversation that took place in the summer of 2010  between Sir Humphrey Appleby and Malcolm Tucker, shortly after the present coalition government wasn’t actually elected.

SHAMT-1

Sir Humphrey:  Ah, Malcolm, good to see you. Tell me, how is your new Education Minister – that Govey chap – settling in?

Malcolm Tucker:  God, what a ****** he is. Thank goodness he doesn’t know the first ********* thing about education, otherwise he might realise that the rest of the department doesn’t either. Anyway he’s taken the bait and seems to think he’s about to do something worthwhile.

SH:  Ah yes, you mean while in reality he’s just generating a lot of controversy, anger and press-coverage to divert everyone from the real economic problems the country faces?

MT:  Absolutely. I’ll tell you something a bit *****odd though – he keeps wanting everything done by the following afternoon – he keeps muttering ‘next p.m.’ all the time

SH: How strange. We must be careful – we can’t have that.

MT: Anyway, what I wanted to see you about was this idea he, by which I mean I, had for this quite unworkable EBacc edushambles omnifiasco nonsense that the Daily Mail will fall for in a big way. There will be a lot of coverage, but I think there might be some serious opposition to it.

SH:  Hmm. Well, let’s suppose the proposal for the EBacc didn’t include certain popular subjects such as, say, Art, Music, PE and RE? There would be such an uproar that no-one would spend much time complaining about the EBacc itself. And, let’s face it, all those arty-farty, singing and dancing, running, jumping and standing still and the on their knees, happy-clappy praying brigade were never bright enough to get into a Russell Group University in the first place, so I doubt they will realise they are being set up. All that should serve to delay it long enough until the next government is formed and the whole thing is abandoned.

MT:  That’s ****** genius. Sir Humpy, you are the saviour of the civil service. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years time they’ll do a remake of you on UKTV Gold with some actor playing you – what would you say to that then?

SH:  I’d say ‘Oh No!’ Minister…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20908049

Meanwhile here’s a petition to sign calling for an extended EBacc consultation period

EBacc Petition
http://www.ebaccpetition.org.uk/

Teaching and Learning in LA LA Land

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No face, no name, just a number?

First All Change Please! would like to wish all its readers a very happy New Year.

Well, of course when All Change Please! writes ‘very happy’, it doesn’t mean it is full of optimism for education in 2013. In fact if anything, perhaps it should read: All Change Please! would like to warn all its readers of something to be afraid of in 2013. Very afraid of.

So what is this LA LA Land of which it speaks? La La Land is known as a state of semi-unconsciousness where everything is removed from the real world, and quite deranged. Most of us would probably agree that the ‘La’ in La La Land stands for the craziness of Los Angeles, or, if you work in government, Local Authority. But if you work in education, it seems like there’s something even more wild and wacky to worry about –  the wonderful world of Learning Analytics.

So what exactly are Learning Analytics? Apparently: ‘the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs’.

To explain Learning Analytics as simply as possible, each and every time a student visits a website, how long is spent there, which on-line tests are undertaken, the number of mistakes and attempts made, the time taken completing each online exercise, the time of day and day of the week, etc., the mouse click or keyboard command is electronically grabbed by a great database in the cloud and silently compared to trillions of other bits of data obtained from other learners. As a result it  becomes possible to make individual predictions about exactly where each learner is struggling and succeeding, what exact nugget of knowledge they need to review or acquire next, what digital resource they might find particularly helpful, and what courses – and careers – they are most likely to succeed at in later life.

It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Indeed, just think about Amazon and the way it cleverly keeps a record of all the books and DVDs you’ve ever browsed and then sends you completely inappropriate recommendations for things you might like. And how those annoying animated web page ads keep trying to recommend something you once showed an interest in and purchased several months ago. Except Learning Analytics claims to be poised to go way beyond that…

It all sounds very convincing doesn’t it, especially if you are an administrator charged with reducing the monthly teacher wage bill? And in the current economic situation, anything that saves money is bound to be a big winner.

However, here’s what Tony Wheeler has to say:

At a time when we’re all anticipating and working towards an education appropriate for the 21st Century that utilises the freedom of the world wide web for learning how to learn for one’s self, it’s alarming to think that coming up fast on the rails is an educational control tool beyond all previous control mechanisms, subverting the notion of ‘personalised learning’ into its own quality-controlled, mass-produced, impersonal education system that perpetuates the myth that knowledge is King: “I know something you don’t and I have analysed how to pass it on to you down to the smallest nanobyte and now technology lets me measure you in infinitely microscopic blinks so that if you deviate from the predetermined track even by a millionth of an electronic bit we can nudge you back and make sure you all come out exactly the same shape and size”.

And don’t think it stops at the learners – this technology can be used to track teachers, managers and indeed administrators. Anyway, not to worry, you can’t see this coming to a school near you soon? These teachers certainly don’t seem to be bothered about it at all:

Teacher predictions: what will 2013 bring for education? http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/dec/31/education-in-2013-teacher-predictions

Perhaps they had better think again: Pearson buys SchoolNet  http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/apr/26/pearson-buys-schoolnet

Indeed All Change Please! controversially suggests that in just five years’ time, there will only be half the number of teachers, and that children will spend half their time at school plugged into a Pearsonalised electronic learning analytic interfaces.

And entirely without the aid of sophisticated date-driven analytics All Change Please! confidently predicts that Learning Analytics is a subject it will be writing a lot more about in 2013.

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I am not a number, I am a free learner.

Image credits. Top: Derrick Tyson http://www.flickr.com/photos/derricksphotos/2329246714  Bottom: Paul G http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-g-uk/5654023124