One small step

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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
http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/2014-winter-olympics-sochi-mexico-mariachi-race-suit

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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?

http://mashable.com/2014/02/17/twitter-time/

Infotragic?

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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

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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

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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
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

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No face, no name, just a number?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not Khan, it’s Kids…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kids Academy. For learners, by learners.

Funding, anyone?

Image credit: 123RF

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

Dome, Sweet Dome

The reviews, posts and tweets about Learning Without Frontiers 2012  (or LWF12 as it has become better known) that have already started appearing are, as one would expect, all busily documenting and commenting on what various speakers at LWF had to say. So of course I’ve decided to be different. Indeed I’ll admit that this year I didn’t go primarily to listen to the speakers – and in fact I would have heard more of them had I just stayed at home and watched the free on-line stream.

So why did I go? Well partly for the ‘networking’ and catching up with old friends opportunities, but mainly to see the inflatable domes and, would you believe, the signage system?  It makes a change for an organisation to invest in the design of the conference environment, and, for me anyway, it made a real difference.

Up on the balcony of Olympia’s National Hall, the main conference area was surrounded by an encampment of what were called ‘pop-up’ domes, pods and salons – futuristic inflatable structures – to house trade shows and locations for breakout presentations by various organisations. At long last, the Space Age we were promised in the 1960 and 70’s seems finally to arrived – well at LWF anyway!



During my visit I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Carla Turchini of Turchini Design who had created the conference programmes and the signage system for the event – that all-important necessity that ensures you end up in the right place at the right time – or not as in the case of many conferences I’ve attended. She told me…..

‘For LWF12 the brief was to design and produce very large wall panels to welcome, inform and direct the visitors to, about and through the Conference and the Festival events. The white inflatable domes and pods would be lit only by coloured lighting so we decided to merge the big wall panels into the surrounding darkness by using black as the background colour, allowing the big bright orange or white lettering to come through the darkness. A subtle dark grey outline representation of a dome on the black background, visually linked the wall panels to the futuristic structures in view beyond. Meanwhile all timetable signs outside each pod, dome or the main conference theatre were designed for maximum legibility with a white background and alternating light grey and white rows.’

The event may or may not prove to determine the Future of Learning, but it certainly showed the way ahead for 21st Century conferences!

And if you do want to learn more about what was said in the main conference, here are some good places to start:

http://dajbconf.posterous.com/learning-without-frontiers-2012-lwf12

http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com/2012/01/border-crossings.html

Breaking News…. ICT ‘deleted’.

“We have ways of making you learn”

Herr Gove announced today that from September, the National Curriculum requirements for teaching ICT are to be scrapped from September 2012. Schools are free to do what they want.

“Our school system has not prepared children for this new world. And the current curriculum cannot prepare British students to work at the very forefront of technological change….Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum.”

It would seem to be extremely naive of him to believe that just by ‘deleting’ ICT lessons in schools we are going to somehow move to the forefront of technological change, especially as last year nationally only three teachers with a computer science degree became teachers, and many traditional subject teachers would still rather not have computers in their classrooms.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the long-term. Presumably what will emerge will be a great muddle, sorry, diversity, of provision, with some schools going overboard on coding (which many kids will find even more boring than current ICT lessons), and others ignoring IT all together, or specialising in just one area, and with very little sense of continuity and progression. Some really good, balanced, coherent guidance and CPD is needed, but in the current economic situation this seems unlikely to happen?

Comments please!

Teaching to the techno-test

Now if only I spoke French…

The other day the all-important official figures were released of the most-played tunes of the last decade.

1. Can’t Get You Out Of My Head (Kylie Minogue, 2001) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFx3WX4DES0
2. Toxic (Britney Spears, 2004) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOZuxwVk7TU&ob=av2e
3. Angels (Robbie Williams, 1997) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CCiLlNxSDY&feature=fvst
4. Superstar (Jamelia, 2003)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbx0rY5uRKw
5. Just A Little (Liberty X, 2002) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOMFS0fGwuQ

Ever heard of any of these so-called tunes?

And any idea what’s Number One in the singles chart this week? http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/chart/singles

It’s hard to imagine that a track such as ‘Superstar’ will be being re-released in 50 years time as a classic Golden Oldie. Or rather I hope not. Especially as the unbearable ‘Angels’ (which I don’t think would have even charted in the 1960s) is already 15 years old.

Increasingly, most of these successful ‘techno-pop’ songs are written to something closely resembling a mathematical formula, closely informed by up-to-the-minute data analytics based on what the purchasing public are currently downloading and listening to on the radio. Other factors based on media exposure, celebrity gossip and what’s currently trending also play an important part. Meanwhile sites such as http://www.musicmetric.com/ provide real-time tracking through Facebook and Twitter, peer-to-peer and websites matched against related real-world events such as gigs, album releases and TV exposure. Each word of each song is carefully scrutinised to ensure it is suggestive enough, without being explicit, reinforced by the moderately seductive, if predictable videos. As a result there is very little creativity and limited melodic, harmonic, structural or rhythmical complexity. The lyrics are little more than banal.  It’s about giving the general public what they are most familiar with, without challenging them or opening them up to new sounds and musical experiences. And all to ensure that the record companies get the maximum payback from the minimum investment.

Now of course, something like all this couldn’t possibly happen in education could it? The idea of a mathematically derived series of on-line videos and multiple choice question assessments and scores informed by a global database of learner inputs and successes and failures would surely not appeal to anyone who truly understands that education involves more than formulaic learning with a limited range of repetitive techno-test predictability all done to get the maximum payback from the minimum investment?

When the long-overdue education revolution finally occurs, there’s no guarantee it will actually be an improvement. In our rush to embrace the exciting potential of new and emerging technologies it is more than ever important than ever to ensure that the potential to improve the quality of learning is not subverted by savings in the cost of learning that reduces it to a Toxic, mindless set of facts that you just Can’t get out of your head. We could be so unlucky. If we are going to make Just a little progress we’re going to need an Angel or a Superstar to guide and help us.