Little Diss Trust

1-380814854_615413d2d3_z

Every year thousands of tourists from all over the world visit Britain to soak up its history. Countless heritage visitor experience centres provide a glimpse of what our life was like in the past. The latest addition to these highly profitable venues are of course our schools where the public can immerse themselves in what it was like to receive a English education in the 1950s.

Elizabeth Truss speaks about curriculum reform
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/elizabeth-truss-speaks-about-curriculum-reform

All Change Please! will leave it to others to challenge the reliability of the use of PISA statistics in Ms Truss’ speech, but meanwhile here a few responses to some of the other statements she made:

“Whatever pupils want to do after school, and whether vocational or technical training is right for them, a solid academic core helps them get there.”

So why does the ‘core’ need to be academic? Indeed isn’t it precisely because the core is academic that so many non-academically orientated children fail to grasp the very basics of spelling, grammar and times-tables?

“..our EBacc prioritises the subjects employers value.”

Not according to most businesses who want so-called ‘soft’ skills – creative problem-solving, communication, team work and collaboration.

“Good schools are taking advantage, providing activities like debating, public speaking, negotiation – a school in my constituency is offering business mentoring, for example.”

So why have you removed the speaking and listening component from GCSE? And why isn’t business studies part of the National Curriculum?’

“Pupils who haven’t yet achieved a C at GCSE will keep studying Maths.”

But as they don’t have to do an exam at the end they probably won’t bother to turn up to the weekly lesson.

“By 2020, the vast majority of young people will be studying maths right up to 18 – every one of them achieving the highest standard they possibly can.”

Just because they study something does not mean they will achieve the highest possible standard they can. But of course as you’re not a teacher you couldn’t be expected to understand that.

“The earnings return for a level 3 apprenticeship in engineering or manufacturing is double that of arts, media or business administration apprenticeships.”

But if your interests, abilities and talents lie more in the creative and performing arts or business, you’re unlikely to make very much money following a career – or even get a job – in a STEM subject.  And the arts, media and business also make a very substantial contribution to the UK economy, or at least they did before the EBacc was introduced.

“Our new design and technology courses focus on the practical application of science. It will expose students to the most exciting and transformative technologies – 3D printing, robotics, biomimicry, computer-aided design.”

So why did you remove any specific reference to these exciting and transformative technologies in the final version of the revised curriculum?’

“Coding – one of the essential skills of the 21st century – will now start at age 5. We are aiming to develop one of the most rigorous computing curricula in the world, where pupils will learn to handle detailed, abstract computing processes and over-11s will learn 2 programming languages.”

Coding is the new motor-vehicle maintenance. It’s now mostly done by a computer via someone much cheaper in India. Being able to code, even at a detailed and abstract level, in itself is unlikely get anyone a worthwhile job in the future – a much wider, creative problem identification and solving skill-set that identifies and meets needs and opportunities in a business context is what’s really required, and which unfortunately our children will not be prepared for while at school.

“People say that technology has transformed the world. But it’s actually made writing more important – so much of the new technology requires written communication. I think it’s right schools focus on getting the basics right”

So much so that new technology – in terms of predictive texting and voice recognition and activation – is about to fundamentally challenge the very nature of written communication. Perhaps that’s what we should be debating and working out ways of preparing children to deal with?

We are indeed fortunate, are we not, to be able to rest assured that our Heritage Education Curriculum is safe in the hands of the National Truss.

Image credit: Dullhunk  http://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/380814854

Can you tell me how to get to…BEANOTOWN?

2-P1040716

The other day All Change Please! got to pay a visit to BEANOTOWN, a free, especially menacing summer exhibition at London’s South bank. Once you’ve manage to push past the suitably noisy, excited and disruptive children, then towards the back of the space is a wonderful exhibition showing the original artwork of selected stories that chart the comic’s seventy-five year history. The original drawings are of course much larger than they appeared in the Beano itself, and as a result the quality of the linework and dynamic composition comes across much more strongly, and even more joyously.

Now as you’ve probably guessed by now All Change Please! has been a lifelong Beano fan, ever since it remembers reading it for the first time in the early 1960s. Here suddenly was a world where children had minds of their own and were allowed to challenge the authority of their conformist parents, and, although they didn’t always get what they wanted, their disruptive approach often succeeded in initiating positive change in the way things were.

Never dreaming that one day it would take on the role of Teacher, All Change Please!‘s favorite strip was of course ‘The Bash Street Kids’, bringing with it its insights into the world of the classroom. There was the extraordinarily prophetic strip from 1964 in which the kids were all given individual ‘Teacher TV’ sets to answer factual questions from (before they worked out how to change the channel and reverse the process and use the CCTV system to spy on Teacher sitting in the staffroom drinking coffee). And the early 1980s visit by the school inspectors in which Teacher was presented with his own ‘unsatisfactory’ report card. Not to mention the 1970s send-up of progressive education when the kids spend so much effort freely expressing themselves in class that they are too exhausted to go out and run around in the playground at break. But most of all, the classic answer Smiffy provides to teacher’s question: “Who can tell me what design is?“, to which he responds with alarming perception: ‘De sign is de thing that points de way…

And elsewhere, as long ago as 1969, Professor Screwtop was inventing a computer to help Lord Snooty and his Pals do their homework for them. Is there nothing new?

Today The Beano might not be what it once was, and it certainly costs a lot more. But now there’s also a website and, of course there’s even a Beano App

And no less a person than Wayne Hemingway has recently defined ‘brand design guidelines‘ for Beano typography and graphics, and it was Hemmingway who designed the current show at the South Bank, which runs until the 8th September – so come up with a really good dodge, put on your best minxing outfit and Billy Whizz down there as soon as possible! It’s to be found the lower level, in between the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth Halls.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2013/jun/11/beanotown-southbank-festival-neighbourhood

http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/festivals-series/festival-of-neighbourhood/beanotown

1W-P1040719

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

Memorable Open Offline Coffee

P1000988-1W

Today’s mystery acronym is MOOCs, which know-it-all All Change Please! can proudly reveal stands for Massive Open On-line Courses. And when they say Massive, they really do mean Massive – the size of enrollment often ranges from 10,000 to 80,000 students.

Such things have been called into existence for two main reasons. The first is to enable access to learning to anyone, anywhere, anytime, which is of course a great idea. And the second is to enable Universities to market themselves as being at the forefront of the use of new technologies, and if they just happen to generate some extra funding to compensate for the reduction in full-time student numbers, then that’s all to the good too. Having said that, they do require a lot of initial up-front investment, except that seems to be increasingly being supplied by commercial publishing companies who are obviously going to prescribe their own online textbooks, and as a result the courses are somewhat likely to become more Closed than Open.

Meanwhile, clearly any A level student about to make a decision to apply to university needs to be well informed about the variety, type and quality of MOOCs being offered by different institutions and of the impact they are having on the more traditional lecture and tutorial content of the courses. It appears that there is not just one species of MOOC in existence, but a diverse range of the gargantuan creatures. Donald Clark – quite possibly the Darwin of MOOCs – has recently identified the following taxonomy of mutations and cross-species:

• transferMOOCs – the transfer of existing courses into an online format
• madeMOOCs – less formal, including software driven interactive experiences
• synchMOOCs – have fixed assignment delivery times, course start and end dates
• asynchMOOCs – have no fixed assignment delivery times, course start and end dates
• adaptiveMOOCs – uses algorithms and data analytics to provide personalised learning experiences
• groupMOOCs – small, collaborative groups of students that come together for short periods of time
• connectivistMOOCS – MOOCs that attempt to harvest and share knowledge, rather than teach pre-defined knowledge
• miniMOOCSs – short-term and intense courses in specific subjects, often commercially run

http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/moocs-taxonomy-of-8-types-of-mooc.html

http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/moocs-more-action-in-1-year-than-last.html

http://futurelearn.com/

http://theory.cribchronicles.com/2013/05/12/participate-or-perish/

Although currently the play-thing of Higher Education establishments, MOOCs are an approach that can’t at some point be ruled out for secondary education, because computer terminals are cheaper than teachers, especially as it’s administrators and accountants that make the decisions these days. And just as with any style of teaching and learning, on-line courses suit certain types of students, but by no means all types – indeed course-completion rates are apparently low, with many students complaining they found the courses ‘boring’. On-line learning is also clearly most appropriate for knowledge transfer, and not so good for practical, experimental and creative work. But do the administrators and accountants know that?

Now All Change Please! has nothing against MOOCs – apart perhaps from their rather silly name – providing that is they don’t end up being the be-all and end-all of education, in which the poor sit in front of a computer terminal all day and the wealthy get to be taught by real teachers. MOOCs have a positive contribution to make, but it’s only a contribution and not a substitution for the real thing. Indeed just the other day All Change Please! enjoyed its own disruptive variation in the form of a Memorable Open Offline Coffee in town with two former colleagues, both from different subject disciplines. Over the course of two hours current educational theories of learning, Lord of the Flies, Postmodern Design and Music, and Dark Matter were all rigorously discussed and debated. As we departed we all agreed we had each learned and understood more in the past two hours than any textbooks, day-long series of lectures or on-line courses could have provided.

While one day computer technology might facilitate such a rich and compelling dialogue, All Change Please! suspects it’s still some way off. There’s the possibility of video conferencing, but it somehow just isn’t the same as real-life interaction and cappuccino. But that’s how people really learn – not just by being ‘taught’ facts, or even doing practical work, but informally discussing and exchanging ideas and information with the opportunity to explore challenging questions with people they know personally.  Teaching and learning at its best is a two-way, almost mystical process of an exchange of brain waves that produces permanent change in each other’s minds.

It seems that Plato bloke really knew what he was talking about when he said:

‘The teacher must know his or her subject, but as a true philosopher he or she also knows that the limits of their knowledge. It is here that we see the power of dialogue – the joint exploration of a subject – ‘knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning’.

Another Massive Mocha anyone?

Don’t say:

‘A Mini Mooc was a popular beach buggy made in the 1960s.’

‘Don’t Mooc now! is a terrific film made in the early 1970s’

‘It’s a mooc point, but…’

‘Have you ever watched the Moocs of Hazard?’

Image credit: All Change Please!

The Campaign For Real 21st Century Education

1S-Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 10.54.09

So what’s the problem? You can always buy the skills you need on Amazon…

Now one could be forgiven for thinking that schools across the country are busy putting away their toys and girding themselves up for a major onslaught of facts to throw at their poor unsuspecting students who, at least up to now, had found their education to have been of at least some interest and relevance. And while some schools are probably doing just that, there’s a growing underground resistance movement of teachers who are preparing themselves, or rather their students, for what are secretly known as ‘21st Century Skills‘ which are to be delivered using ‘21st Century Technology‘ through a mysterious process known as ‘21st Century Learning‘. And when Herr Gove finally surrenders and realises that he can’t win the war without any troops behind him, there’s a strong possibility that the resistance movement will emerge victorious and schools will start to move forward again.

But what exactly are these 21st Century Technologies, Skills and Learning of which they speak? A simple enough question indeed, but not so simple to answer. Well the first bit – 21st Century Technology – is relatively easy in that it’s widely taken to refer to the use of computers and the internet, even though it does not necessarily follow that the technology is being used to deliver appropriate 21st Century learning and skills – but we’ll save that discussion for a later post.  However what there definitely isn’t is a single, nicely defined, commonly agreed, all cleverly packaged-up in a box designed by Apple statement as to what what 21st Century Skills and Learning actually are. Here therefore is:

All Change Please!s Beginners’ Guide to a Real 21st Century Education

First, one of the most common classifications of 21st Century Skills builds on the 3Rs by adding the 4Cs:

• Critical thinking and problem solving
• Communication
• Collaboration
• Creativity and innovation

All Change Please! can’t help having a slight issue with the first of these however, in that critical thinking and problem-solving, while related, should be separated – problem-solving needs to be more closely linked to creativity. And then there’s the ‘I’ word – Innovation, which is often associated with creativity without any clear understanding of the difference between the two, and in reality has more to do with business practice.

Meanwhile abandoning the simplicity of the 4C’s, in this account here we see the welcome addition of Information Literacy and Responsible Citizenship to the list (Surely Citizenship is by definition responsible? Discuss.)  Hmm, with a bit of re-writing we could have a more memorable and marketable different set of 5Cs: Critical thinking, Communication and Information literacy, Collaboration, Creativity and problem-solving, Citizenship.

And here’s another approach:
Ways of thinking: Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning
Ways of working: Communication and collaboration
Tools for working: Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy
Skills for living in the world: Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility

which has further evolved into:
Collaborative problem-solving. Working together to solve a common challenge, which involves the contribution and exchange of ideas, knowledge or resources to achieve the goal.
ICT literacy — learning in digital networks. Learning through digital means, such as social networking, ICT literacy, technological awareness and simulation. Each of these elements enables individuals to function in social networks and contribute to the development of social and intellectual capital.

And how about this account of 21st Century Learning?:

‘Equally important to 21st century learning is the application of learning science research and principles to learning methods and the design of learning activities, projects, assessments and environments. Principles of effective learning important to 21st century education practitioners include:

Authentic learning – learning from real world problems and questions
Mental model building – using physical and virtual models to refine understanding
Internal motivation – identifying and employing positive emotional connections in learning
Multimodal learning – applying multiple learning methods for diverse learning styles
Social learning – using the power of social interaction to improve learning impact
International learning – using the world around you to improve teaching and learning skills’.

All good stuff of course, and just a small sample of the wide range of indicators that 21st century learning is, or isn’t, taking place in a learning organisation. However, as All Change Please! has discussed before in 21st Century Schizoid Learning, most of these skills and approaches to learning were being explored back in the 1970s and 80s and so perhaps should more appropriately be called ‘End of the 20th Century‘ skills and learning – what schools should have been delivering from around 1975 to the turn of the millennium.

In the first decade of the 21st century a number of significant things have emerged. First, the advent of rapid change (predicted in Alvin Toffler’s FutureShock in 1973) is finally coming to pass: organisations and companies – and indeed educational establishments –  now need to be able to respond to changing needs and markets with new products and services potentially within around six months. For All Change Please! then, one of the essential things missing from so-called 21st Education is the notion of helping children learn how to deal with rapid, discontinuous and unpredictable change.

Secondly the impact of the internet has become a widespread disruptive force, changing the behaviours of the mass-population through social and commercial media. Although hinted at in some of of the accounts above, ‘media literacy’ (ie how digital content is produced, manipulated and distributed – and how to create it yourself) also needs to be a major priority.

And there does not appear to be any mention of the concept of Lifelong learning? At the same time there remains a need to completely redefine what might be considered as ‘basic’ knowledge, distinguishing between the grasp of essential underlying concepts and the facts that can now be easily found on the internet. And another thing – again something being anticipated back in the 1960s and 70s (and All Change Please! should know as it was there at the time) – are the 3Rs of Sustainability: Recycle, Re-use and Reduce. Ever read the Waste Makers?

So All Change Please!’s Campaign For Real 21st Century Education includes the need for:
• critical thinking
• creative, active, open-ended problem solving
• collaboration and competition
• flexibility in response to rapid, unpredictable change
• digital media / technological literacy
• initiating sustainable change
• 21st century knowledge
• learning how to learn for oneself

And finally something else that is still far from being a 21st Century solution is the process of the assessment and examination of learning which appears to be regressing into little more than a series of electronically generated and scored knowledge-based multiple-choice questions and answers. Only the e-scape project seems to offer a vision of completely new approaches to processes of assessment that utilise emerging technologies, rather than simply seeking to automate the old ones. Just as business now needs to rapidly respond to emerging fast-changing markets in an agile way, so does educational assessment. The model of developing a pre-specified, fixed course and final examination that takes five or so years to write, get approval for, publish, give schools adequate time to prepare for, and then commence delivering a two year course is no longer appropriate. A more flexible approach is now needed that is capable of responding much more quickly to learning emerging knowledge and skills, using computer technology to create new forms of examination or validation of what has been learnt, rather than what was specified to be learnt many years previously.

The sad fact is, despite having had more than 30 years to get ready for the challenges ahead, we’re still totally unprepared for the opportunities and threats of living in the 21st Century.

And finally, here are some people who for some strange reason don’t seem to agree with any of the above!

Michael Gove’s planned national curriculum is designed to renew teaching as a vocation
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/04/michael-goves-planned-national-curriculum-is-designed-to-renew-teaching-as-a-vocation/

The philistines have taken over the classroom | Frank Furedi | spiked

http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/13497/

Teaching and Learning in LA LA Land

2329246714_a95150f7af_o-1

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.

5654023124_db1a53464d_o

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

The Unbearable Obsolescence of Learning

It may be a sad fact of life, but when something has ceased to be of any practical use or value, it needs to be disposed of. Dismantled. Torn apart. Recycled and re-purposed where possible, and the rest sent unceremoniously to the dump, before being replaced and updated by a brand new model that works a whole lot better – even if it maybe doesn’t last quite as long. And that’s exactly what needs to be happening to our current education system right now.

All Change Please! has recently come across three very different posts that are essentially about the same thing – the need for completely new approaches to teaching and learning, fit more for the remaining seven-eighths of the 21st century than the 19th. (Yes, this month we’re exactly 12 years and 6 months through the 21st century! Well, depending where you start counting from, anyway.)

The first: Unwilling to learn?
http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2012/06/unwilling-to-learn.html

This post endorses something that All Change Please! expressed a while back, that children do actually want to learn – it is after a basic survival skill – but that the problem is that we are not currently teaching them things they don’t see the relevance or need of, and don’t care about.

“Let’s put down the burden. Just set it down and walk away. Make schools places where the first job of adults is to discover who these kids are, and provide support, time and resources to help them become the people they want to be.”

Meanwhile in the (much needed) haste to reform the ICT curriculum, all those BBC Micro enthusiasts from the 1980s have taken the opportunity to get back to the good old days and promote the idea that everyone should take a course in Computer Science. Now I agree that all children should experience the basics of programming to discover if it’s something that appeals to them, but the thought that everyone should become coders is nonsense. So it’s good to read this post:

Let’s Not Call It “Computer Science” If We Really Mean “Computer Programming”
http://codemanship.co.uk/parlezuml/blog/?postid=1109

“Of all the mathematical sciences, computer science is unquestionably the dullest. If I had my time again, despite discovering just how much I love writing software, I still wouldn’t study computer science. I’d program, for sure. And I’d buy books on CS and learn what I need to make me a better programmer. Which is exactly what I did. It’s my deepest concern that we don’t put off a new potential generation of software developers by teaching them stuff that a. they probably won’t need to know, and b. will be taught at the expense of things they might actually find useful.

“The graduate would be able to write a program, but write a program to do what? … It’s no good being about to program if you don’t know anything of how to solve problems.”

And finally, designer John McWade on The Vanishing Master:
http://www.mcwade.com/DesignTalk/2012/05/the-vanishing-master/

“You spend a career mastering a craft, over decades becoming so deep, so knowing, so capable, that you are now the wise old man or woman to whom even teachers of teachers come for guidance. And then the craft vanishes, leaving what?  “That’s what’s going missing! We’re not making masters. The changes are coming so fast that everyone is always beginning.” ”…Skills, entire professions, especially in tech, now run a 100-year life cycle in a decade or less. No one gains the wisdom of years.”

Our education system has yet to really consider that impact on teaching and learning of the rate of change we are now experiencing. In the 1950s, you left school feeling you knew just about everything there was to know. These days you leave knowing virtually nothing in terms of the amount of global knowledge there is. And whereas before you spent a lifetime gaining experience and wisdom, now, if you are lucky, that experience lasts just six months before the world has moved on, long before any wisdom has begun to emerge. If it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, then it is important to discover early on in life what that skill might be.

At present, the majority of children moving from Year 1 to Year 11 spend more than than discovering that they are not cut out to spend the rest of their lives as an academic. And we need to ensure that the skills we need to master are as transferable as possible. Somehow we need to find a way of teaching essential and desirable skills and knowledge that will still ultimately lead to some sort of wisdom, while at the same time preparing children for a world in which the skills and knowledge they will actually need are, to a large extent, currently unimaginable.

The world of education is still tinkering with the past at a time when its approach is obsolete, and the time has come when it needs to be disposed of. Dismantled. Torn apart. Recycled and re-purposed where possible, and the rest sent unceremoniously to the dump – and, unlike the last three sentences, not just be repeated again sometime later when everyone has forgotten how inadequate it was the first time round.  Just as we need completely new processes of collaborative thought and action to deal with things like the global economy, future sources of more sustainable energy, the potential use of new and emerging electronic and bio-technologies, etc., so we need completely new processes of thought and action to deal with the requirements for a future education system that is flexible, appropriate, effective, and fit for purpose – well for the next six months into the future, anyway.

Image credit: Mattias Olsson  http://www.flickr.com/photos/maol/254171944

Oh, Lordy Lord *

Yesterday I attended a seminar at the House of Lords, somewhere I’d never been before. In terms of the nation’s heritage, it’s grand and impressive inside, if somewhat reminiscent of a public school. It’s well worth a visit, especially as it gives one some important clues as to why politicians seem so stuck in the past rather than looking towards the future.

In many ways, the session I attended was little better. It was entitled ‘A New Vision for Design Education: is design learning at school fit for purpose?’, and organised by the ‘Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group‘, whoever they are. It was a gathering of the great and the good in the field, all very eloquently expressing the purpose and benefits of design education. Here’s the question I asked the panel:

“All the values and aspirations expressed here today were initially identified and developed in the 1970s. It didn’t succeed then in scaling itself up and being embedded in the curriculum, so how and why should it now, particularly in the context of the current political ideology in which Schools Minister Nick Gibbs recently welcomed the decrease in the time that pupils studied subjects such as Art and Design, Design and Technology and Drama as ‘an encouraging trend’?”

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/education/timetable-boost-for-traditional-class-subjects-7678723.html

Sadly no-one really responded to this challenge, although one of the panel did say something about it being important not to be pessimistic, which I regret to say I still am. No-one really said anything that had not been said already during the past 35 years. It was all largely about preparing students for life in the last quarter of the 20th Century rather than the first quarter of the 21st Century, and as a means of recruiting new designers for the old profession. The potential impact on design education of the rapid shift towards on-line learning, and how the industry itself will need to respond to the changing circumstances of a population being able to design and make things for themselves at a local level using CAD and 3D printers, was not mentioned.  And I didn’t notice anyone in the audience with an iPad, and neither was I aware of anyone providing a live commentary via Twitter.

On the positive side it was good to hear everyone essentially in agreement about the importance of design education, and an emerging consensus that a lot of the problem was that the message was not being co-ordinated and driven by a single body, though there were no suggestions as to who this might be, let alone any volunteers. Strangely no-one mentioned the fact that design education provides an almost perfect fit with the wider specification for what are currently referred to as 21st Century Skills.

However I did learn one thing I didn’t know before. Apparently no current member of parliament has the faintest idea what design is all about (OK, well we have all already guessed that). Except for one, who owns a 15% stake in his family wallpaper and fabric design business. Any idea as to who it might be? No? OK, here’s a clue:

http://www.osborneandlittle.com/

* Lordy Lord – as in the expression used to “express frustration, exasperation, worry, or tiredness”. Pretty much sums up my response really.

 

Image credit: Oliver Quinlan

21st Century Schizoid Learning

I first encountered the world of education (as a prospective teacher as opposed to a student) some 37 years ago, in 1975, which by chance marked the dawn of the final quarter of the 20th century. It was a time when design and processed-based education was being pioneered. The phrase ‘throw-away society’ had already be coined, and we all knew about the hidden persuasive power of the media and advertising. And because of the oil crisis in the early 1970s there was much talk of the need for conservation and alternative energy, and public collaboration and for greater participation in new design processes. Quite clearly the end was in sight for the then current approach to the industrial society, mass-production and established design-by-drawing methodologies. By the end of the 1970s the impending impact of the computer on our lives was becoming evident too.

So when I come across the phrases ‘21st Century Learning‘ and ‘21st Century Skills‘, I can’t help thinking that what is actually being discussed is ‘late 20th Century Learning and Skills‘. The need for critical evaluation and problem-solving, creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration was clearly identified way back in the last century, but it has taken 37 years for them to start to become more widely identified and accepted (except of course by the present UK government).

Let’s project forward another 37 years then, to 2049. What are the educational needs of someone actually born in the 21st Century? The oldest will be turning 12 this year, and by 2049 will be 49. But unlike the 1960s and 70s when the next 25 years seemed relatively easy to anticipate, there’s now little indication as to how things will be in the future. The only prediction we can perhaps make, based on the fact that technology has clearly entered a highly disruptive phase, is that the next quarter of a century is completely unpredictable.

Thus the so-called ’21st Century Learning and Skills’ might well be hopelessly out-dated and inadequate to deal with living and working in the later years of this century. I suspect (and hope) they will still have some value, but who knows what things will actually be like in the brave new world our current generation of school-children will find themselves?

Perhaps the most important thing we should be focusing on is to ensure the inhabitants of tomorrow’s world are as flexible as possible in their thoughts and actions, well prepared for and accepting of discontinuous change as something normal, and more than willing to take risks and deal with failure. But surely the most important thing of all is to ensure that 21st Century children gain a positive view of education, and the ability to be able to learn for themselves in whatever future they encounter? Sadly, at present, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Image credit: Photo-Extremist: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thevlue/4839060646

Froth always follows function at the Fab Lab cafe!

Just for a change, and especially as it’s Easter weekend, it’s good to finally come across something to rave about!

Ever since I first came across MiT’s Fab Lab concept, I’ve always seen it as a great model for the future development of Design and Technology in schools, and one that moves it away from an out-dated 1960s approach to mass-manufacture, towards the needs of a 21st Century post-industrial society.

Essentially a Fab Lab (short for Fabrication Laboratory) is a small workshop where people from the local community can go and design and make small batches of the things they and their local community need, using 2D and 3D CAD/laser printing systems. And where better to site such a workshop than a local secondary school where it can be used during weekdays by students and in the evenings and at weekend by the public (in many case working with, and probably guided by, the students).

But this new ‘Fab Cafe’ in Japan takes things a step further, and moves the idea out of a workshop into a cafe environment – traditionally a place where people congregate to talk, write, read, draw and entertain one another.  There are more photos of the cafe here.

So let’s consider replacing a traditional D&T workshop in every secondary school in the country with something similar. Students, staff and members of the local community can come in, relax, have a coffee together, collaboratively and globally discuss local needs, and develop their design ideas on their iPads and send them to the 3D laser printer in the corner. It would also be a great environment for learning coding and other IT skills.

However, it seems that 3D printers may soon be a thing of the past.
http://www.fastcodesign.com/1669426/mit-developing-self-assembling-sand-that-builds-objects-instantly

And maybe one day someone will even be able to explain to me how this actually works?

Don’t say:  I’ll have have a double de-caff skinny latte with an extra shot of laser-resin and a slice of Raspberry Pi. Oh, and an icy tea for my friend.

Do sayTea. Earl Grey. Hot.

Top image credit: masakiishitani