Glibbipedia Hacked!

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In which Mr Glibbly searches for the internet but fails to find it.

This is the story of Mr Glibbly. As you are probably already aware, Glibblys are well-known for the often thoughtless and superficial things they say in a smooth and slippery sort of way.

Mr Glibbly is a politician, which is an ideal profession for a Glibbly. Mr Glibbly is a very important man, because he decides what millions of our children will have to learn in our schools for many years to come. The country can’t afford for Mr Glibbly to get it wrong. But the problem is, although Mr Glibbly knows a great deal about a lot of things, he doesn’t know anything at all about teaching and learning or how to use the internet. And that’s quite a problem.

A little while ago, Mr Glibbly was due to give a speech. It was going to be a very important speech, and he thought he would show how clever he was to everyone who was listening. So Mr Glibbly decided to explain why you couldn’t learn anything from the internet. Here’s what he said, in his usual Glibbly sort of way:

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you Google it. But the first paragraph on the Wikipedia article mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of google searches which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’.“

Silly Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise that what he said would reveal his entire lack of understanding about how to search the internet and how good teachers teach. Would you believe it – Mr Glibbly thinks that a good education for the 21st century is exactly the same as the one they had back in the 19th Century?

Now, as everyone (except it seems Mr Glibbly) knows, if you ‘Google’ something, you don’t just only click on the link to Wikipedia. It can be a useful starting point, but you are almost certainly going to need to check out some of the other links. If you search for ‘Radiation’, all you have to do is look a little way down towards the bottom of the first page of results and there is a link to a site called ‘Radiation for Kids‘.

And there, had Mr Glibbly had any digital skills and understanding at all, he would have found the following ever-so simple explanation that even All Change Please! can understand:

‘Radiation. All objects radiate energy and heat, even your own body. However, the radiation coming from hotter objects is more intense than that coming from cooler objects. Radiation leaves an object in the form of waves. The hotter an object, the shorter the wavelength of this radiation.’

And there are plenty of other similar sites that perfectly adequately explain all the other terms Mr Glibbly referenced, and each without the need to search for the meaning of other words.

Now sadly it is true to say that in some schools children are not properly taught the skills of using search engines, appropriate search terms or to be able to critically assess the value of the information they find. That’s a pity, because that’s one of the really basic skills everyone needs in the 21st Century. But fortunately there are plenty of other capable and confident children who know how to find pretty much anything they want to learn about on the internet. Quite unlike Mr Glibbly.

But meanwhile let’s re-write what Mr Glibbly said and substitute the word ‘encyclopedia’ (you remember – those big books we used to use when we were at school) for ‘Wikipedia’…

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you look it up in an encyclopedia. But the first paragraph mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of encyclopedia articles which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’. “

So it seems the problem Mr Glibbly described is not specific to the internet, but to the transmission of knowledge in general. But of course what Mr Glibbly doesn’t understand is that teaching involves rather more than just standing at the front of rows of obedient children reeling out lots of old-fashioned facts for them to memorise. Indeed, let’s re-write his paragraph yet again…

“Say, for example, your teacher is telling you about nuclear energy, and uses an unfamiliar term: radiation. As you, unlike many others in your class, are not afraid to look stupid by admitting you don’t know what radiation is, so you put your hand up and ask. The teacher explains what it is, but in doing so uses another unfamiliar term: ‘particles’, so up goes your hand again, and so on with all the other terms until the teacher can’t stand it any more and just tells you to be quiet and in future pay more attention to what he’s saying.”

In each example – the internet, the encylopedia, the teacher – it’s exactly the same problem. It’s not the technology or having the knowledge that makes the difference, it’s how well the writer or presenter can explain the specialist terms in ways that can easily be understood by the non-specialist. Mr Glibbly can’t be so clever if he hasn’t realised that yet, can he?

Meanwhile Mr Df-ingE continues to try to attract high-flying academic graduates into the classroom at the expense of people who actually know how to effectively communicate the underlying concepts of their subject and to engage children in the classroom. Perhaps what Mr Glibbly should be doing is to try and somehow help break the cycle of large numbers of children pursuing academic subjects through to university only to discover that the only job they can get is teaching children academic subjects through to university only to discover, and so on… If there was less emphasis on theoretical academic subjects for all it might help a bit with the teacher recruitment crisis too.

Meanwhile it might be a good idea for Mr Glibbly to discover how to use a search engine to learn a thing or two about what education is really all about. And to listen more attentively to what the teaching profession is telling him.

Many people say that Mr Glibbly isn’t really the most suitable person to be in charge of determining the school curriculum. What do you think?

Image © Tristram Shepard

Schools should keep children away from the Daily Mail

8074294232_4e69b89084_k-1s“What do you mean, where’s the switch to turn your slates on?”

Up to its usual trick of simply re-drafting articles written by other newspapers, that devious, despicable, malicious Daily Mail recently produced some shouty headlines proclaiming:

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The subsequent article states that Bennett said that the cost to taxpayers when iPads are broken is ‘horrific’, and that he even believes there is ‘absolutely no need’ for children to have access to the Internet, adding: ‘Kids are kids – they will see things you don’t want them to see.’

Apparently Bennett also criticised teachers who told children to use the internet to complete homework, which he described as like ‘sending them to a library without a librarian‘. He also added that it was a teacher’s duty to point out mistakes on the web.

However, a few days later, the Great Behaviour Saviour ‘Please don’t call me a Tsar’ Tsar took to the TES to earnestly inform us that he didn’t actually say any of those things the Daily Mail said he did. Which makes it all a bit confusing – who is All Change Please! to believe? Anyway, based on the Tsar’s myth-busting TES article here’s All Change Please!’s surprising suggested set of alternative up-dated attention-grabbing headlines…

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But of course it’s all come too late to prevent the Df-ingE getting all excited and using it as an excuse to launch an investigation into the impact of allowing mobile phones in the classroom, which apparently includes ‘tablets’, even though they are somewhat different devices with far more educational benefits. Quite why an investigation is needed is a bit of a puzzle to All Change Please!, because it seems fairly obvious that if lessons and the curriculum are relevant to children’s needs, interests and abilities and are well planned and delivered then they won’t have any desire to become distracted in the first place? And if a teacher can’t manage to insist that mobile phones must be kept switched off during lesson times, then maybe they shouldn’t be in the classroom in the first place? Perhaps it’s the impact of allowing teachers in the classroom that needs to be investigated, and it’s the poor teachers who should be banned instead of the mobile phones?

Meanwhile there has also been the Mail’s stunning ‘right to know’ expose about the exact same Behaviour Tsar’s alleged misbehaviour in allowing the nightclub he managed to become too noisy, even when it wasn’t open.

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Interestingly though the headline writer somehow failed to add a final, and rather important, bullet point taken from the article, which should have read:

• However he denied all charges and accepted compensation for unfair dismissal.

Meanwhile in other news that proves that you don’t have to be mad to be a headteacher but it probably helps, it seems that these days what really matters is the size of one’s pencil case and ruler. And then there’s this suggestion that all children should be learning the same thing and the same time in the same way.

All Change Please! decided to undertake some virtually unreal digging, and somehow managed to convince itself it had found the following letter in the archives of the Times newspapers.

Dateline: September 1915. The London Times Letters page.

Sir. – It has come to my attention that schools are now in the habit of providing children with these new mass-produced pencils and notepad devices which seem to becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to the tried and tested slate. I have been so informed that they often use them as a distraction to play noughts and crosses on, and to write messages to each other which often contain offensive words and rude comments about their teachers. In some of the worst and most unruly schools they have also used them to draw rude depictions of famous women on. It is my opinion that they are used far too often as a pacifier by teachers who can’t control classes. Whilst I am convinced these new pencil and paper devices are no more than a passing fad, writing on them should only be allowed with the greatest caution and only when supervised and directed by an academically well-qualified and experienced teacher. Of course it will also be essential to regularly check that pencils and associated carrying devices are of the correct length and of uniform colour, adding significantly to the teacher’s workload.

There is no research evidence to support ideas that using pencils and paper aids a child’s education, and the cost to taxpayers of replacing these throw-away items on a regular basis is horrific. There are those who say children should be given pencils and paper because they enjoy learning with them, but the reality is that they just enjoy using pencils and paper. Parents who allow their children to stay up late writing and drawing with the result that they arrive at school tired should have scholarship money withdrawn.

The traditional slate is of the ideal size, proportion, weight and appearance to work with, and it is my sincere hope that one day schools will sensibly return to some sort of similar device that can be used with or without one of these new ‘pencils’.

Meanwhile I am also of the firm belief that there is absolutely no need for children to have access to encyclopedias from which they are likely to learn about things we do not necessarily want them to. Teachers must cease telling children to refer to them to complete their homework, which is like guiding them to a library without a librarian. Teachers also have a duty to point out the frequent mistakes that occur in them.

Finally I would like to support the appointment of the new schools’ behaviour tsar, despite the fact that he was apparently previously sacked from his position as a Soho ’Free and Easy’ Drinkshop manager after he allegedly failed to control the disorderly working classes who refused to sit still and in complete silence whilst enjoying the specified refreshments and entertainment made available at the correct time, and as defined by the National Consumption Curriculum. Apparently the complaints all came from a single teacher who routinely complained about noise coming from adjacent rooms, even when they were empty.

Yours, &c.,

No Change Please!


Image Credit: Flickr/Angus Kirk


One small step


If teachers can’t agree on what schools of the future should be like, someone else is going to decide for them

In All Change Please!‘s recent “You Say Right and I Say Left, Oh No…” post, it concluded by suggesting:

“At the end of the day/lesson, the debate should not really be focused on whether traditional teaching is any better or worse that so-called progressive teaching, but simply whether traditional and more progressive methods are being applied well or badly in the classroom.”

This sentence was picked up and re-tweeted a number of times, so to extend this thought, here are some extreme examples of good and bad traditional and progressive approaches to lessons that All Change Please! has at some point had the fortune, or misfortune, to observe. Although they didn’t all occur in the same school at the same time, they are things that actually happened in real lessons.

A ’traditional’ teacher is sitting at his desk at the front of the class. He addresses the class, who have learnt to sit still and face the front in fear of being individually demeaned by the teacher’s penchant for sarcasm or informing them they are both stupid and failures. After pouring his considerable knowledge into the empty vessels before him, he writes some notes on the whiteboard (while still lamenting the removal of his blackboard) and tells the students to make some notes about what he has just said, which they do, in silence. He then asks a question and the children slowly begin to put their hands up, cautiously responding to his ‘Guess what I’m thinking’ game. Eventually he reveals the correct answer which, they are informed, is the one they will need to give in their final examination. Without variation, this approach continues to the end of the lesson, and homework – to ‘read the next chapter of the textbook for a test next period’ is set.

In an adjoining classroom is another ‘traditional’ teacher, standing at the front of a class. She has smilingly welcomed the students in and starts by re-capping the last lesson with them. A number of keywords have been written on the board, which are particularly checked for recall and understanding. By using more open-ended question and answers she is able to judge how much knowledge has been retained, and by whom. While she challenges those who have obviously not been listening or have not completed the set homework, she is positive and encouraging, and clearly has a good rapport with the class. Her explanation of the lesson content is enlivened by a PowerPoint presentation that highlights the key points with some strong, memorable images. She uses analogies and metaphors to help the students relate the concepts she is explaining to situations they will be more familiar with, and tellingly she draws on her own experiences of life outside school. During the lesson, the children are asked to briefly discuss an issue, either with a partner or in a small group, before making their own notes. To keep the pace of the lesson moving, there is a strict time-limit imposed. At the end of the lesson there’s a re-cap, as at the start, and she explains how today’s lesson has informed the next. Clear learning objectives have been set, and met. She sets the homework which is to study the next chapter and compare its content and presentation with a given web page on the same topic, ready to present during this next lesson.

Meanwhile in another part of the school a ‘progressive’ teacher is working with a class who are mid-way through a term-long project. They are working in groups. At the start of the lesson the teacher told them to get on with their work, and she is now circulating, becoming absorbed in sorting out in each group’s projects and problems one at a time. The rest of the class sit are round chatting and have little idea what they are supposed to be doing, and find working together difficult. They have done some research, mainly printing out pages from Wikipedia. Some students have decided what they are going to do, while others are still unsure, or claim they have finished. The teacher has no idea as to the extent and level of the problem-solving skills they have already developed in previous work, and as a result few children manage to extend their capabilities. During the lesson the teacher makes no whole-class input, or seeks to break-up the long double-lesson time. The room is noisy, with some minor instances of misbehaviour occurring, which the teacher ignores. The bell rings and the children dash off to their next lesson.

But next door, it’s a different story. Another ‘progressive’ teacher, working with a different class on the same project topic has started the lesson with a class review of progress to date from each group. He introduces some new content that he wants the class to consider and incorporate during the first part of the lesson, which they do while he goes round and quickly checks what each child has done for homework. He then asks the class to break off from their on-going work to reflect on how well their group is working and to establish some clear targets for the next fortnight. One group learns that one of their members is likely to be off sick for some time, so they re-allocate their roles amongst themselves accordingly. Back on their project, everyone is working and there is a busy, lively, purposeful atmosphere. Many of the children are talking, but the conversation is about their work. The teacher is circulating, but generally observing rather than directing, and being available as and when needed. Well before the end of the lesson the teacher stops everyone working and sets an individual research task, informing the class that simply printing off a page from Wikipedia will not be acceptable, and that they need to consult a variety of sources, evaluate the reliability of each and state their own conclusion. At the end of the lesson he asks one group to share an account of their progress with the whole class and uses what they say to ask some searching questions and highlight both positive achievements and where greater application is needed if they are to progress further.

In both the successful traditional and progressive teachers’ classes, there are some children who clearly shine and prefer either the more knowledge-based or more process/skill-based approach. What’s important is that children get the chance to experience both types of teaching and learning, and that they are properly supported in the approach they feel least comfortable with.

Meanwhile a striking feature of the two ‘good’ lesson examples is that they are not actually that different. As the new ‘academic’ (as opposed to practical?) year gets underway, isn’t it about time we stopped arguing amongst ourselves about whether traditional or modern educational methods are best, and start to develop a broader, more consensual approach to teaching and learning? We need to take the best of both approaches, and not be afraid to mix them up and make them nice. And in reality of course that’s what already happening in a lot of schools.

Meanwhile teachers are certainly are going to need to be singing from the same song-sheet if they are to successfully rise to the real challenge of the next few years and ensure that low-cost, second-rate, multiple-choice assessed computer-based teaching and learning systems do not become accepted as an adequate substitute for the real thing.

Why replacing teachers with automated education lacks imagination

or, as Timothy Leary didn’t put it in the 1960s:

‘Sit down, switch on and shut up!’


Image credit: Flickr/bsfinhull 

The Joy of Trending

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Just in case you didn’t know already, All Change Please!‘s alter-ego curates two Flipboard magazines created especially for students of the Creative Arts, Design and Technology.  All Change Please! recently managed to catch up with itself and asked what they were all about.

First of all, can you explain what a Flipboard magazine is?
Flipboard is an app that works on a variety of tablets and smart phones, although the magazines can be viewed on any PC with a web browser connection. The app brings together images and articles from the web selected by the curator into what are known as magazines. The ‘pages’ can then be easily ‘flipped’ through. An image and the first few paragraphs of an article are shown, which gives just enough of an idea to know whether it’s something one wants to look at in more detail before opening the original source web page. The results look stunning on screen, and it’s a pleasure to use. And of course, it’s all completely free. There are a few advertising pages within the articles themselves, but they are not obtrusive or offensive. As you’d expect it is available worldwide, anytime, anyplace.

How easy is it to create a magazine?
Very simple. So easy that even a teacher could do it, let alone a student! Of course it would be great if teachers of Art, Craft Design & Technology started to create their own personalised magazines for their students that directly supported their courses. Students could then flip the pages they found particularly interesting into their own magazines. Even better, similar to the way students use sketch books as a reference journal to collect together things that interest them, they could create their own magazines and share them with each other. And perhaps their teachers could then flip the best finds to create a bespoke departmental Flipboard magazine.

So what’s special about AC:DC and All Things Design?
There are a lot of amazing images and fascinating articles on the web about everything to do with Art, Craft, Design and Technology. Some are very superficial and others are inappropriate for some reason, so the problem is finding the ones that are just right for students of the subject. The content of these two magazines is carefully chosen to be exactly right for students between the ages of about 14 to 18. AC:DC  Art, Craft Design & Communication is aimed more broadly at all areas of Art & Design, while All Things Design is more for those doing 3D Product design based courses. But a lot of the material is suitable for both. As well as delivering inspiring images and ideas, the diversity of the material will considerably widen students’ awareness of all the wide variety of creative arts and design activities that are currently going on, as well as the historical and cultural dimensions of Art and Design. It’s intended to be playful, surprising and ask questions and arouse curiosity. Both magazines are updated on a near daily basis, so there’s always something new to discover.

I’ve heard a rumour that you’ve recently been trending?
Yes, that’s correct, though only in a modest sort of way. Until a couple of weeks ago about 250 people had viewed All Things Design at least once. Then someone who had over 600 followers tweeted it, and the numbers suddenly started to shoot up. After 3 days it had become 500 readers, but then suddenly on the 4th day it became 2000 and by the 7th day it was 5000. It then continued to grow but at a slower rate, but a week later it had climbed to over 7000. It’s very exciting to watch something trending online and to see the numbers escalate so quickly – one of the new, must-have experiences of the 21st Century! Especially as from some of the comments it was clear that these readers were coming in from all over the world. But it is still important to keep it in perspective, given that there are some 100 million global users of Flipboard!

It’s been interesting to try and analyse exactly what happened from the limited data Flipboard makes available. But it seems that it was just one link that proved to be particularly popular:

Olympic Skier Wears Mariachi-Inspired Race Suit for Mexico

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So it was probably the combination of sport and fashion – a lethal cocktail of two extremely popular searches – that drove it onwards and upwards. Meanwhile as it started ‘trending’ a clever little algorithm buried deep on the Flipboard servers went into action and featured it on its ‘Flipboard Picks’ pages, so that then extended its exposure even further.

Surely every child should be learning about how things go viral on the internet. Or to put it another way, perhaps every child should be explaining to their teachers how things go viral on the internet?

And finally, why is there a photo of a large inflatable plastic duck on the cover of All Things Design?
I’m glad you asked me that! When I was an Industrial Design student we got fed up being asked to design high-end consumer goods that didn’t solve any problems that really needed solving. Someone suggested we might as well be designing yellow plastic ducks, so that’s what we did – we created a series of renderings, technical drawings and production models for what we called Yellow Plastic Duck Technology. If you look at some of my previous publications there’s often a photo somewhere of a yellow plastic duck – so it’s become somewhat of a personal signature!

So what are you waiting for? Click on the covers below to check the magazines out, and then make sure you subscribe! And if you are a teacher, pass the links on to your pupils before they pass them on to you!

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And finally… here’s some helpful advice to help you set up and maintain your on-line life more effectively – you are keeping up now, aren’t you?



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  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: “

Memorable Open Offline Coffee


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

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

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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

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

Getting IT Right – again

All Change Please! is still the tiniest bit concerned about what seems to be a distinct lack of debate concerning what schools should be teaching in terms of IT. The broad media message is that spreadsheets, databases and presentations are now Out, and that coding is In. The first question no-one seems to be asking is exactly what level of coding needs to be taught? Clearly some basic principles should be established during primary school, but flogging away at dead computer languages through secondary school is going to be about as relevant as learning Latin, and indeed probably even less interesting and fun. I first raised this in Rasberry Pi in the sky back in March. And indeed here is some evidence of what all pupils will be doing if we are not careful: 12 Things to do with Raspberry Pi. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with this Boys’ Own construction kit approach as such, providing it is just a small part of a much wider programme of IT-related learning.

Next question:  how essential is it actually going to be for everyone to be able to code as the 21st century progresses? Back in the late 1980s if you wanted to use a PC you needed to have some understanding of DOS – and then along came Windows. In the mid 1990s if you wanted to set up a website you had to learn html – and then along came a variety of iWebGoLiveDreamWeavery programs that more-or-less did all that for you. And just a couple of years ago if you wanted to create an electronic multimedia textbook you needed to be able to apply some fairly heavy-duty coding – now you can use iBook author. So I’m not entirely convinced that in the future everyone needs to be fluent in high-level programming languages. Though obviously at the same time we do urgently need to find ways to attract and encourage our more capable students – and especially girls – to consider working in the IT industry.

Meanwhile the flavour of the month appears to be ‘Create your own App in your bedroom and make a fortune‘, which I have to say I find a little dishonest, in that the average student probably has probably got as much chance of doing so as they have of winning the ‘X factor’ or ‘Britain’s got talent but I just hope this isn’t it’. Creating successful apps involves a great deal more than a good idea – thorough market research into user needs, wants and behaviours is required, along with some high-level coding expertise, an Apple developer account, a US tax reference number and a substantial marketing budget. If we really are to become a nation of enterprising app-builders we need to be teaching coding in the context of creativity, risk-taking, on-line collaboration, business management, venture capital and crowd-sourcing, along with user-interface design and information metrics.

We also need to be seriously questioning whether IT as such should be ‘taught’ as such in the current formal education system, particularly given that, by and large, the BBC Model B/Microsoft Office raised workforce in place to teach it often have little or no experience of the reality of the fast-moving, agile and highly competitive IT industry. The anticipation in the late 1990s was that IT would soon simply become embedded in the curriculum as a whole, with a properly coordinated scheme in place that ensured appropriate coverage and progression over the years – which of course never happened. Would it perhaps be more beneficial for schools to focus more widely on how to effectively use IT to learn independently, rather than how to create new content?

Meanwhile outside the school system, those who are sufficiently interested and motivated (aka ‘geeks’) should be offered guaranteed access to regular informal sessions to develop their expertise, alongside an online collaborative network of professional programmers and designers who recognise the need to themselves participate in the life-long learning community. Now that really would be 21st Century Learning.

These may not be all the questions that need asking (or indeed the right answers) but at least All Change Please! is asking them…

*Older readers might recall that Getting IT Right was the title of a series of KS3 ICT textbooks and support materials All Change Please! was the series editor for back in the late 1990s.