Infotragic?

130315TeachersloveTechFinal

In All Change Please!‘s Campaign For Real 21st Century Education post it discussed the skills and learning involved in so-called 21st Century Education. Then in Memorable Open Online Coffee it looked at how online learning was shaping up. It’s easy to get the impression that schools as we know them are about to go the way of the dinosaur. In this post it wonders how far away we are from the moment of meteoric impact.

To begin with though, many thanks to Alison Morris, who kindly suggested that All Change Please! might like to feature the impressive infographic above that she had recently created. As with all good Infographics it’s creatively visualised to make a series of fascinating facts more accessible, interesting and informative, and this one is no exception. But the problem with most Infographics is not the graphics, it’s the info. Facts From Figures. Lies, damned lies, and statistics. It all depends on who you ask, what you ask them and which data you choose to present. Doesn’t it Minister?

Even taking into account the figures in the Infographic above are from USA schools, All Change Please! finds them a bit unlikely. Indeed the figures quoted in the first listed source were obtained from a survey that ‘spanned 503 web-based interviews with US pre-K-12 teachers’, i.e. 503 teachers who were already internet users. And it needs to be noted that the Infographic was commissioned by an organisation called Online Universities, who provide a promotional online resource for students interested in going to college online.

Now, of course All Change Please! belongs to a bygone era when the only educational technologies it had available when it first started teaching were paper, pens, pencil and ink, some well-worn textbooks, and occasional access to a slide and film-strip projector and OHP (Overhead Projector for the uninitiated). It happily relied on Banda machines and Gestetner stencils at a time when photocopiers and VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders) were still something yet to be. My, how times have changed. Or have they?

In the UK the figures in schools are thought to be more like a twenty to thirty percent positive uptake of new and emerging educational information technologies. Meanwhile many schools still ban the use of mobile devices, while a good number of teachers still reluctantly only use computers for their own admin work. It’s true that some teachers love technology and use it effectively, but most of the ones All Change Please! meet use it poorly, or not at all, and have yet to understand how to adjust their pedagogy accordingly. That’s not to say that students don’t potentially benefit from educational technologies, more that they are often discouraged or prevented from doing so. Few schools have good wi-fi access in every classroom.

In reality too many UK schools still rely on computer suites inherited from the 1990s, where IT is isolated in a single space. There is of course the BYOD movement. What does BYOD stand for you probably aren’t particularly wondering?  Why, ‘Bring Your Own Device of course’. One day, maybe, today’s smart phones will be as cheap and disposable as a pocket calculator, but until then the problem with BYOD is that children from poorer households – and those not willing to risk their child accidentally losing their device on the way to and from school – will be excluded.  And, as previously mentioned, in many schools it’s still a case of LYODAH (Leave Your Own Device At Home), which, in case you are wondering, is an acronym All Change Please! just made up. One day the uptake may indeed be this high, but it’s not yet.

And then there is the need for an e-portfolio system that is a great deal more sophisticated than children uploading Word files or answers to endless Multiple Choice Questions. While the lessons learnt from the e-scape project are being embraced in a range of developments taking place in various countries across the world, no further development work is currently being done in British Schools.

As the Music Industry and the High Street retailers have already discovered, the Information Technology revolution goes beyond the simple automation of existing practice. It turns it on its head and drives fundamental change, and at present there’s very little sign of that happening in education, where it’s still very much a case of new technology but old learning.

So to summarise, the tragic reality is that at present there is considerable confusion about what children should be taught, how they should learn, how their work can be monitored and assessed, the role of the teacher in relationship to online learning and the sort of electronic devices that should be used. Hardly a recipe for the dawn of an exciting new era of educational provision in an advanced technological age is it? Perhaps the future is a little further away than some of us would like to imagine?

Perhaps the first real sign of a tipping point will only come when we manage to tip Govosaurus* and its off-spring into the nearest landfill site ready for their fossilised remains to be dug up by archaeologists in the millennia to come.

* according to Wikipedia (who else?) a Gorgosaurus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorgosaurus  was, like many other dinosaurs, essentially a ‘terrifying lizard’ from the distant past. Thus All Change Please! feels perfectly entitled to apply the term ‘Govosaurus’ to a terrifying lizard-like education secretary from a bygone age.

Image credit:  OnlineUniversities.com “http://www.onlineuniversities.com/teachers-love-technology

It’s not Khan, it’s Kids…

Don’t just flip the classroom, flip the video lens too

Regular readers will be aware that up to now All Change Please! has not been exactly one of The Khan Academy’s greatest fans. Until now that is. Yes, All Change Please! finally gets the Khan Academy! It’s been inspired by this article:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/a-video-critique-khan-academy/

The suggestion is that teachers and tutors evaluate the content of  Khan academy videos, and then make better versions.

So let’s go a stage further and set up ‘The Kids Academy‘*, where today’s students, who are much more media-savvy than their teachers, are able to make and upload their own peer-to-peer educational videos that speak the language they speak?  Which is a brilliant idea, and so obvious – indeed, All Change Please! is left wondering why it didn’t think of it before!

It’s often said that the best way to understand and learn something is to try and teach it to someone else as it involves reinforcing and clarifying one’s own fundamental understanding of the content. At the same time questions such as ‘How could this be more clearly and memorably be presented? and ‘What are the most difficult and important things to have to grasp about this concept?’ need to be asked. And often provides the starting point for more personal exploration of one’s own.

We often ask students to analyse and evaluate prose, TV programmes and 3D products, so why not educational technology and resources?

The Kids Academy. For learners, by learners.

Funding, anyone?

Image credit: 123RF

* There appear to be a number of educational enterprises that already use the name ‘The Kids Academy’. However, they provide completely different services to the one suggested here, and are completely unconnected with this post.

Have you tried turning IT off and then turning IT on again?

Just over a month ago if someone had told me that by mid January, both D&T and IT would have been let loose from government control I wouldn’t have believed them. In fact I’m not entirely sure I do now, even after Mr Gove’s recent announcements. Meanwhile it must be galling for teachers of English, Maths and Science who have faithfully done as they have been told for the last 20 years or so to learn that technology teachers are obviously all so clever and trustworthy that they can just be left to get on with it, and that somehow just through the means of social networking they will magically lead us into a new golden age of prosperity.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. No technology teacher under the age of around forty has ever been in the position of having the freedom to determine their own course content, and suddenly asking them to do so is a little like sending a domesticated animal out into the wild for the first time. I suspect most IT and D&T courses will in reality stay well within the safe confines of exactly where they are now. The lack of expertise in the current workforce means that there’s going to continue to be a lot of working in Wood and Word for some time yet.

In a few schools there will be outstanding exceptions, and enlightened enthusiasts will form collective departments that use the time to create new schemes of work that imaginatively merge IT and D&T to explore the creative processes of designing innovative electronic products, services and systems that are easy and satisfying to use. It is these schools that are likely to provide the future programmers, developers, interaction and games designers that can potentially save the country’s future economy and global standing. But there are unlikely to be many of them.

Meanwhile the responsibility for defining the technological curriculum of the future would now seem to be in the hands of the examination boards. No school is going to offer a course in Technology that does not lead to a GCSE or equivalent recognised vocational qualification at 16+. And at the same time, those boards will have to face up to the challenge of providing a format for examinations which can be seen to effectively assess technological capability – a three hour written or multiple choice question paper taken in the school gym just isn’t going to reveal evidence of the ability to undertake creative and collaborative open-ended problem-solving.

Now that the current Technology curriculum is about to be switched off, there is a potential opportunity to create something new and exciting, and finally provide a grounding in what are frequently referred to as 21st Century skills (or more accurately, the late 20th Century skills that were never provided).  The question is how?

And, one wonders, was Mr Gove given an iPad for Christmas and at some point needed to be told to try switching it off and then on again?

Keep taking the tablets

So, with today’s Amazon announcement of a range of new Kindles, assuming the colour version is released in the UK sometime next year and costs less than £199, is this likely to have an impact on the number of pupils in 2013 owning their own tablet that they bring into school – or on schools deciding to equip students with such a device to save on the purchase of textbooks?

If this happens, as the Kindle does not include a camera or microphone, will the potential to use tablets for other than reading texts severely limit its value in the classroom?

Will Apple be forced to compete with cheaper cut-down educational iPads or iPhones?

And will teacher-phobes continue to reject the idea of using such devices in schools?

Is this going to be the device that sets the world of education on fire, or is it yet another damp squib?

Comments please…

Hey! You! Get off of my iCloud

The use of the term ‘cloud’ as the name for the new computing services being offered by the so-called ‘Cloud Capitalists’, ie Apple, Amazon and Google, is an interesting one. Presumably the idea is of a never-ending cycle in which my files ‘evaporate’ up into the cloud and fall back down to my desktop as a shower of digital data?

I am indebted to a recent article by Charles Leadbetter, author of ‘Cloud Culture’, for exploring the analogy further. He refers to the first classification of cloud types, created in 1803, in which some 52 varieties of cirrus, stratus and cumulus clouds were identified, each with different qualities and characteristics. It is this variety and diversity that makes our clouds a thing of beauty, wonder and delight, and what I suggest we need to strive for electronically. Surely the last thing we want is a continuous blanket of grey digital cloud cover?

Meanwhile educationalists are starting to wonder if there’s anything in the Cloud for them? Apple’s free 5Gb of storage, bypassing the need for local area networks that won’t easily speak to each other, is certainly a plus in the development of personal e-portfolios – but of course it only works if all participants are on the same type of cloud.

As for All Change Please!, we’re patiently awaiting the development of iCloud 9 – that’s the one we want to be on. ‘Cloud 9’ is defined as ‘being in a state of great happiness’.  Apparently – if you believe anything you read on the internet – there are 10 cloud-types and Cloud No. 9, ‘Cumulonimbus’, is the highest-topped and most comfortable-looking. So, nothing at all to do with drugs then.

Or perhaps this is all just iCloud cuckoo land, where, according to a play by Aristophanes, there is a perfect, unrealistically idealistic city in the clouds.

But surely the iCloud is actually made up of lots of smaller individual clouds – one for each of us. How secure are these mini-clouds? Do we want to be able to share our personal clouds with each other? As the Rolling Stones didn’t sing back in 1965, ‘Hey! You! Get off of my iCloud’. 

And as William Wordsworth warned back in 1807, clouds can be rather solitary, when he didn’t write ‘I wandered lonely as an iCloud…’

The great e-scape

During the past five or so years I’ve been involved as a consultant with Goldsmiths Univeristy in London for a project looking at the development of on-line portfolios. Not the sort of interminable ‘Make a Powerpoint presentation of your finished project and upload it to the exam board’s website’ sort of portfolio, but one in which learners’ thoughts and actions are recorded as they happen using words, photos, audio and video immediately uploaded into a webspace that they themselves own and control. In turn this has led to research and development in ‘comparative pairs’ – a remarkable new way of holistically and reliably assessing work on-line that is set to dispense with traditional approaches to ‘marking’.

To find out more go to:
http://www.gold.ac.uk/teru/projectinfo/projecttitle,5882,en.php

Here you can download the web-based e-scape ‘brochure’ and the full report of Phase 3 of the project.