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

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/

D&T: pushing up the daisies?

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‘I come to bury D&T, not to praise it’

There have been recent reports that the draft Design & Technology National Curriculum is in fact to be seriously reviewed by the DfE. It would however be unwise to expect that what will be eventually published will be substantially different from what is there already. For example, given the weight of the pressure group that got it there in the first place, horticulture is likely to remain. Meanwhile the extent of the document is unlikely to occupy much more than its current length, providing little opportunity for all the detail that die-hard D&T-ers would perhaps like to see included. It’s almost as if, having spent the past 20 years complaining about the extent of the requirements in the specification, D&T teachers somehow can’t seem to live without them.

At best the given examples might be changed to be somewhat more rigorous and ‘hi-tech’, and the relationship between problem-solving and growing food and learning how to cook it made more clearly separated. While this will doubtless please many within the D&T community, the danger is that it heralds a future in which D&T continues on pretty much as before. It remains to be seen whether D&T can fully recover from its currently proposed portrayal as a hi-tech subject reduced to planting, growing and flower-arranging, but at the same time it has been disappointing to see the outright rejection of horticulture and the potential of repair and maintenance activities as possible worthwhile content. Maybe now is actually the time to bury D&T and see what might emerge from the soil instead?

While there are a number of schools that have succeeded in developing show-case D&T departments that demonstrate what could have been, there remain too many that still provide an incoherent, meaningless learning experience that fails to deliver successful designing or making. The reality in too many D&T departments is that the teaching of high-level craft skills has been replaced by the teaching of low-level design skills. And even where it is currently delivered well, is it still appropriate education for the 21st century – or will it just become an initial training ground for those interested in working in hi-tech engineering-based industries? All Change Please! somehow rather doubts D&T will suddenly start to embrace and emphasise collaborative, sustainable design and a DIY approach centred around localised production using 3D printing, not to mention the discussion of the development of the broader skills of analytic and creative thought and action along with the understanding of the relationship between people and technology that everyone is going to need to survive during their coming lifetimes.

Which is why it was initially refreshing to read the Design Council’s Bel Read presenting a new, more balanced agenda for Design Education. To summarise, essentially what is proposed is a programme involving design awareness, the application of user-centred design methods, a multidisciplinary approach, the development of technical skills and an industrial, academic and cultural framework.

All Change Please! has no problems with this of course – indeed it’s not that different from what was being proposed and pioneered in the late 1960s and 1970s. However, on reflection, it’s not nearly as simple as it seems (though, to be fair, the article is intended as a starting point for discussing rather than as a final specification). First, there’s a notable infrequence of the use of the word ‘creativity’, which is an essential component of design activity, and one that desperately needs to be more evident in our schools. Secondly there’s a complete absence of the word ‘sustainability’. And finally no reference to collaboration. So as such it continues to reflect an extension of 20th century professional industrial design practice, rather than something that might prepare all children for the future. And of course it entirely ignores the central issue of exactly who is going to deliver this enlightened approach. Not to mention what the DfE’s response might be.

Design Education has an essential contribution to make in the preparation of all today’s children to live and work in tomorrow’s post-industrial society. Its future lies out beyond Planet D&T as currently charted, engulfing the spiral arm of the galaxy located in regions known as art & design, business education and computing, and indeed all of the existing curriculum clusters.

Meanwhile, in other news, DATA have just published their draft response to the D&T proposals. It can be downloaded from their site here.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Sue Murray

Not waving but drawing…?

Recently a contact in the IT industry sent me a link to this site about a neat little new gizmo called ‘Leap Motion‘. He had managed to get hold of one before its general release, and having put it through its paces described it as being ‘pretty cool’.

https://leapmotion.com/

Essentially Leap Motion is a small, inexpensive iPod-sized unit that you attach to your PC and it enables you to control and interact with your computer by waving your hands, or rather fingers, around in front of the screen, Minority Report-style. It’s fast and fluid, sensitive and accurate, and brings with it the need to develop a whole new set of control gestures that have the potential to enable one to interact with a computer in  completely new ways.

For now, of course, it’s a solution looking for a problem, but, like the iPhone and iPad, that’s where creative developers will come in and create applications we never imagined we needed or wanted.  It remains to be seen if it turns out to be no more than a novelty item or the start of something that will become commonplace over the next few years.

There are obvious applications in games and 3D modelling such as rotating CAD drawings and renderings or clay modelling, but what about its impact on artistic mark-making? At one extreme, as shown in the promotional video, it offers little more than an instant art experience. But at the other, what opportunities might it bring to a more serious production of works of art? I’m not suggesting for one moment that a Leap Motion device is going to replace existing forms of drawing, painting and sculpture, but I’m wondering if it will provide a new media that, like the iPad, will have its own potential and limitations defined by specific new skills and techniques?

All that remains to be seen, but if I were still in the classroom I would love to have such a device to play with, or rather I mean of course, for my students to creatively explore and experiment with!