Jumping On The Bannedwagon

That’s the ‘I don’t understand it, so let’s ban it…’ bannedwagon

Right now, everyone accessing the news on their mobile phones is reading how various countries around the world, including of course the UK, are considering banning children from having mobile phones while in school. As usual with the way the media – and even the Guardian – represents the situation it’s easy to imagine that every classroom and lesson in the country is being continually disrupted by the use of mobile phones: this may indeed be the case in a few schools, but it’s certainly not for the vast majority of children who will become the losers if denied access to the digital world to support their learning in a positive way. Meanwhile, as might be expected, traditional, authoritarian teachers who need to feel in control of everything have been excitedly supporting the ban, while others have been giving a far more thoughtful and realistic perspective on the situation.

For some reason All Change Please! always feels uneasy when it’s announced that someone wants to ban something. There are some occasions when it might be desirable and sensible, but it’s usually a simplistic, seemingly easy ‘quick-fix’ solution to a far more complex problem that needs to be properly understood and resolved sensibly and sensitively. Banning something rarely makes the problem go away, and often builds up resentment. Indeed All Change Please! has never forgiven the politicians and the establishment for banning Pirate Radio back in 1967.

With a little help from the media, it’s easy to imagine the scene – a teacher is facing a class of 12-year olds struggling to teach the finer points of writing an essay about the characters in a Shakespearian play while having to deal with children using social media and taking and sharing pornographic photos at the same time. But perhaps they wouldn’t be doing so in the first place if the curriculum and method of delivery was more appropriate to their more immediate needs, interests and aspirations? Meanwhile if a teacher is not able to control the proper use of mobiles in the classroom, then maybe they shouldn’t be there in the first place?

And of course banning mobiles in schools isn’t going to instantly put a stop to cyber-bullying – it will just happen on the bus on the way home from school instead.

At this point, All Change Please! need do little more than refer the reader to two authors whose wise words appeared as if by magic on its mobile phone as it was drafting this post.

The first is a Tweet by Neil Gilbride:


And the second is a recent post on the excellent Mike Cameron’s Blog where he begins by pointing out the difficult logistics of actually enforcing a ban on bringing mobiles to school, and the alternative time-consuming task of counting them in at the start of each day and counting them out at the end while ensuring each child ends up with their own phone. He then goes on to remind us that when they first came out, calculators were hastily banned from school, but now they are seen as being essential. Somehow we’ve managed to teach children how to use them properly.

Some years ago, All Change Please! was involved in ‘e-scape’ – a University research project into ways of recording and assessing problem-solving coursework. The successful solution involved students using mobile devices to take photos of their on-going ideas as they developed, and recording revealing audio and video accounts of their own progress and intentions. The data files were invisibly uploaded into ‘the cloud’ and automatically organised and presented on a larger desktop screen which could be accessed anywhere, anytime. More recently All Change Please! has been working on an on-line ‘chat-bot’ style mobile-phone tutoring support system in which students are asked relevant questions about their projects that stimulate their own thinking. But not of course in schools where there is an outright ban on having a mobile phone.

In terms of a change in the way we live our lives the mobile smart phone represents a major shift and is making a potential impact as, if not even more, significant as the widespread introduction of the motor car over a hundred years ago. We need to be preparing children for their mobile digital futures, not by banning and ignoring it, but by ensuring they understand and can evaluate and control the content on offer. The reason they want to use their phones uncritically and all the time is that so far we have failed to do so.

And things are being made worse as a result of the move to an academic and high-level programming-based Computer Science GCSE instead of the more widely-based ICT, denying the majority of children (and girls in particular) access to a educational experience that they urgently need. Or as the ever-tenacious Tony from somewhere near Tenterden recently wrote:

“When it was first mandated in the curriculum, ICT was described as a ‘capability’ and was included as a component of design and technology. The over-riding purpose was to harness technological knowledge and skills to make meaningful change. It was about ‘agency’ in the modern world. Helping young people to understand how they could be in control and providing them with mediated, real world project experiences to explore this.

The critical aspect of all of this was ‘value’, why are you doing this, what is the purpose and most importantly consequences of the change you are exploring? The Establishment have no understanding, skill or experience of this themselves. Their refusal to imagine education beyond drill and kill fact-recall is why they allowed the computer science brigade to high-jack the area and take us back 40 years to testosterone-driven coded pointlessness. Makes me weep…

The real problem is that state schools are in meltdown, school senior managers are a disgrace, teachers are little more than worksheet delivery agents rather than learning choreographers, and everyone at the DF-ingE needs to be transferred permanently to Love Island.”

Meanwhile as well as making a proper investment in the classroom workforce, a great deal more time, effort and money needs to be put into the design of digital content that genuinely enhances the education process. The latest games and commercial digital products are highly sophisticated in the way they engage, stimulate and reward the user, but these techniques have yet to be properly applied to the pedagogy of curriculum-based teaching and learning.

Meanwhile a recent survey from @TeacherTapp has suggested that around a quarter of schools already spend time collecting in mobile phones each day, and in more than two-thirds of schools children do not have access to mobiles during the school day, even under the guidance of a teacher. Use of phones are allowed at break and lunchtimes and/or under teacher direction in only around quarter of schools. If the survey is correct, it seems like the media-storm is a bit late, as most schools have banned mobiles already.

Some children may well be misusing mobile phones in their lives, but banning them from our schools is not going to make them go away: as educationalists we need to help them learn how to use them sensibly and appropriately.

So All Change Please! says… Let’s ban schools instead

 

And finally…
Always one to support a knowledge-rich blog post and having not been taught it at school, All Change Please! was curious to discover the origin of the phrase ‘Jumping on the bandwagon’, and reaching for its mobile phone it was rapidly able to discover that the original bandwagons were a popular and attention-grabbing part of circus parades in the US in the mid-1800s. Towards the end of the century politicians saw their potential and began using them for launching political campaigns, where they were joined by supporters who wished to be associated with them. And they often warned their audience against jumping on the opponent’s bandwagon in haste.

The photo above shows a typical circus bandwagon in use in the 2009 Great Circus parade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Image credit: Wikimedia commons)

 

Much Ado About D&T

We may be living in more modern times, but at present all is not well in the world of Design & Technology – it seems there is a spanner in the coursework….

Teachers are working through the new GCSEs in D&T and the ‘contexts’ for the so-called non examination coursework have just been announced by the Awarding Bodies. This part of the course is worth 50% of the final marks. Students are expected to make a study of the given broadly-defined, usually somewhat middle-class context  – eg ‘Going to the Seaside’ (Perhaps a title such as ‘Going to the Food Bank’ might be more familiar to some children and promote more designing for need than designing for consumerism?), and in doing so identify a suitable opportunity for design that they then proceed to resolve between now and the end of next March. Previously a number of more specific design tasks had been supplied by the Awarding Body, from which teachers often selected the one they considered most appropriate for their own students and their own expertise.

The other major change in the new exam specifications has been the welcome shift from the provision of material-specific courses (e.g., Textiles, Electronics) to a multi-material approach in which students are able to select the most appropriate to realise their designs.

So what’s the problem then?

Well in many schools there isn’t one, and everything is going according to plan. However, rather like the recent introduction of the new Northern rail timetables, a lot of the drivers, or rather teachers, have not been sufficiently trained to run the new courses. And at the same time the arrangements for the way in which teachers operate during the nearly year-long coursework Is the same as the way in which much shorter projects in more academic subjects are expected to be run.

As far as the student’s identification of a suitable problem is concerned, this is a process that they need to be well prepared for during the early stages of the course. While they might spot a suitable opportunity for design, what they are more likely to lack is the knowledge and awareness of their own capability needed to solve it within the time available. If they choose something too simple, too complicated and/or involves skills they do not have, and/or resources that are not easily available to them, then they are unlikely to achieve good marks on the subsequent aspects of their work throughout the rest of the course. Previously, choosing their own extended project was an expectation of A level students, supported by the advice of their teacher drawing on their previous experience in guiding others through similar tasks and their personal knowledge of the student’s capabilities.

Unfortunately some teachers are only just discovering that their students are relatively unprepared for this exercise, and have only experienced working on short-term projects with a prescribed and limited range of materials and components. There are also reports that in some schools, SMT’s have instructed D&T teachers to set a single identical task for all their students, even though they will lose marks as a result.

But it is the delivery of the coursework project that appears to be causing the most concern at this particular moment. The official rules indicate that from now until the end of the course next March, teachers are not allowed to teach, at least in terms of offering any specific personal guidance to candidates on their on-going work. Any such advice must be recorded on their work, and must be taken into account in the final assessment. While this might be appropriate for a much shorter project that carries less overall marks, it is absurd for an eleven-month project. It also puts teachers in a difficult position in deciding whether to offer and record advice, or indeed to invent ways of offering guidance non-specifically, and/or indeed not recording it.

At the same time, of course, there is nothing to stop candidates discussing their work with each other, or with other adults – just not their own teacher. And, while in school children may only work on their projects under strict supervision, they are then allowed to take them home to continue to develop their paper-work freely – although again there does appear to be some confusion over this.

There have also been suggestions that teachers are not allowed to share or discuss their pupils’ work or progress, or to share any ideas with each other. Thus while teachers may not produce or guide students towards specific resources to help guide them, there is nothing to stop non-teachers providing such resources for the students to discover for themselves as part of their investigation. And it hasn’t helped that the Awarding Bodies have each published slightly different rules, although teachers are encouraged to contact them for clarification.

To put it another way, students are being denied some 40 hours of teaching over the year, a substantial proportion of the whole two year course. Coursework should be a learning opportunity and experience – not just an extended assessment session.

So why isn’t everyone complaining about all this? Because at the same time teachers are being warned that if they do so it might be officially decided that the coursework project will be cancelled, which has already been the case with Information Technology. This would turn the assessment of an essentially practical subject into just another final written theoretical examination.

In many respects the new D&T GCSE is a great improvement on the previous one, but the problem of reliably assessing project work remains. It’s too late to resolve the situation regarding candidates entering the examination next summer, but clearly the situation regarding the coursework project needs urgent review.

D&T is currently the only established subject that teaches children creative open-ended problem-solving skills, and as such makes a major contribution to STEM. It is exactly these skills that are needed to help reinvigorate our ability to produce innovative manufactured products and systems that we can sell to the rest of the world. Yet entries to the examination of this once popular and thriving subject are currently in serious decline and an increasing number of schools are not even offering it at all to GCSE or A level. In some schools students are instead being entered for graphic or 3D options in GCSE in Art & Design, or for purely vocational courses.

As with all the new ‘more rigorous’ GCSEs, academically able D&T students will thrive, while the rest become even more alienated from an educational system that has little to offer them. That’s living in modern times for you…