Category: Education (page 1 of 57)

A modest proposal for nudging young people into finding a direction in life

If you go to the Mozilla home page, right click, and ‘view source’, you see something like this:

Mozilla source code

Underneath the ASCII art of a dragon breathing fire (and the Mozilla logo), the page reads:

Hi there, nice to meet you!

Interested in having a direct impact on hundreds of millions of users? Join
Mozilla, and become part of a global community that’s helping to build a
brighter future for the Web.

Visit https://careers.mozilla.org to learn about our current job openings.
Visit https://www.mozilla.org/contribute for more ways to get involved and
help support Mozilla.

I don’t know if they’ve got any stats on how many people respond to this call to action, but when I was at Mozilla, there were lots of people who I wouldn’t consider your ‘usual’ tech contributors. I’m guessing things like this make a practical difference.

Last night I had a dream. No, stay with me. In it, I was advising someone who was having a real problem with kids trying to get around filters and firewalls he’d put in place in a school. It’s probably because tomorrow I’ll be at BETT in London where all kinds of technologies will be on offer trying to ever more lock down the internet to children.

Before I continue, I’m not advocating a free-for-all. Goodness knows I have to lock things down a bit for my 12 year-old son at home. However, I do think there’s an opportunity here, and it’s related to what Mozilla do with their home page.


For better or worse, most educational institutions now do some kind of forensic tracking and analysis of searches made and websites visited across their network. Given the duty of care they have and the times we live in, I’d expect nothing different. However, I’m pretty sure we could leverage that to help young people make some choices in life.

It doesn’t have to be ASCII art and volunteering for a tech company! How about the following?

  • Repeated searches for food leads to an email invitiation to cookery club
  • Visiting a bunch of beauty and fashion sites leads to a prompt to ask if they’ve considered doing a qualification in design
  • Violations of school security and privacy policies lead to recruitment to being an ‘ethical hacker’ for the organisation

Schools and other educational institutions have so much data on young people these days. I just wonder whether, with a few little tweaks and some lateral thinking, we could make that useful to students, too?

I’d love to know if anywhere is already doing this! Have you seen any examples?

Some (more) thoughts on private education

This post started as a draft for Thought Shrapnel, but it turns out I had more to say than I first thought…


In 2008, Manchester City, a mid-table English Premier League football club, was acquired by an oil-rich consortium from the Middle East. A decade later, after levels of investment that contributed to FIFA’s introduction of financial fair play regulations, Manchester City won the Premier League with a record 100-point haul.

When it comes to sports, we talk about what’s ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ all of the time, exclaiming “that’s offside!” or “it was never a penalty!”. Recent technological advances such as VAR aim to reduce perceived ‘unfairness’ in football, which is particularly important now that there’s a lot more money at stake. After all, we want the playing field to be level both literally and metaphorically-speaking.

This weekend, Samir Nasri, one of Manchester City’s former players, made his return to the Premier League with West Ham United. Nasri had spent a total of 18 months banned from football for contravening WADA regulations. The crime? Tweeting a selfie of his time spent in a Los Angeles clinic receiving a drip containing 500ml of nutrient-infused water.

Were the actions of the new owners of Manchester City ‘fair’? Were Samir Nasri’s? Whatever your thoughts, both examples show that, when it comes to sport, we take our games pretty seriously. We have regulations to ensure things don’t get out of control.

So let’s talk about private schools.

“My objection to private education is simply put. It is not fair… Those who provide it know it. Those who pay for it know it. Those who have to sacrifice in order to purchase it know it. And those who receive it know it, or should.” (Alan Bennett)

This weekend, The Observer published an article entitled Britain’s private school problem: it’s time to talk by David Kynaston and Francis Green. They have a new book out on the subject, which aims to rekindle the case that we need to do something about the private school system. I’m in broad agreement with their suggestions.

One way of looking at life is that, once you’ve taken care of the essentials, everything boils down to games and stories. There are games that we choose whether or not we want to play, and there are stories that we tell ourselves and others. Private education is a demonstration of both in action, as I hope these reflections on the article will show.

I suppose that I need to be a little careful about what I say here, having already compromised one friendship through a previous rant. I hope I’m more measured in this post, and can have a robust debate with my TIDE podcast co-host Dai Barnes, who has first-hand experience of the private school system.

First, let’s agree with something obvious that the Kynaston and Green state in their article: we can’t place inequality and unfair outcomes in society solely at the door of private education:

It would be manifestly absurd to pin the blame entirely on the existence over the past few centuries of a flourishing private-school sector. Even so, given that these schools have been and still are places that – when the feelgood verbiage is stripped away – ensure that their already advantaged pupils retain and extend their socio‑economic advantages in later life, common sense places them squarely in the centre of the frame.

However, the truth is that, if you’re from a well-off family, have no moral qualms, and want to do your best to ensure your offspring will be ‘alright’ when they’re older, you’d be mad not to send them to private schools. On a macro level, they may perpetuate inequality, but you’re only making the decision for yourself, and it’s very likely to end up going in your favour.

This kind of worldview sees the world as a giant series of competitions, as trials in which one side must vanquish another. Education is a game and, if you’ve got the resources to tip the scales in your direction, then why not? It’s not really any different to Manchester City’s new owners buying their way to Premier League success. If it’s people’s own money, and they’ve earned it legitimately, then why should we tell them how to spend it?

The answer, of course, that access to good schools, hospitals, and legal representation is not like buying material goods:

Education is different. Its effects are deep, long-term and run from one generation to the next. Those with enough money are free to purchase and enjoy expensive holidays, cars, houses and meals. But education is not just another material asset: it is fundamental to creating who we are.

Whether or not it’s intended, whether it’s in football or education, massive inequality results. Even fellow Premier League clubs can’t hope to compete with Manchester City, even after FIFA’s regulations. When it comes to English education, society hasn’t even got those basic kind of regulations:

The underlying reality of our private-school problem is stark. Through a highly resourced combination of social exclusiveness and academic excellence, the private-school system has in our lifetimes powered an enduring cycle of privilege. It is hard to imagine a notable improvement in our social mobility while private schooling continues to play such an important role. Allowing, as Britain still does, an unfettered expenditure on high-quality education for only a small minority of the population condemns our society in seeming perpetuity to a damaging degree of social segregation and inequality. This hands-off approach to private schools has come to matter ever more, given over the past half-century the vastly increased importance in our society of educational credentials. Perhaps once it might have been conceivable to argue that private education was a symptom rather than a cause of how privilege in Britain was transferred from one generation to the next, but that day is long gone: the centrality of schooling in both social and economic life – and the Noah’s flood of resources channelled into private schools for the few – are seemingly permanent features of the modern era. The reproduction of privilege is now tied in inextricably with the way we organise our formal education.

Football is a game. So is education. We should recognise that, and regulate it properly.

Now then, before someone who knows me well points our the obvious, I’m very happy to admit that my house, which is located a mere 300 metres from one of the ‘best’ schools in the north-east of England, is worth significantly more because of that fact. I’m well aware that there’s selection by ability to pay fees, but there’s also selection by academic ability, faith, and buying a house for over the odds to get your child into a decent state school.

This is why simply forcing private schools to shut down would not necessarily solve anything. Instead we need to look long and hard at what we want our society to be built upon. Do we want to have competition or collaboration as a cornerstone? If there are no quick fixes, then what do we want our direction of travel to be?

So much for games, let’s move on to stories. Given private schools make up only seven percent of the schools in England, yet make up a startling 71% of barristers and 50% of cabinet MPs, it’s beyond doubt that their alumni are disproportionately represented in positions of power.

I’m sure that with extra resources, and without decades of political interference, private schools may well give children a better experience, but that’s not the whole story. We may pretend that we live in a meritocracy, but the reality is nothing of the sort:

The term “the establishment” can be a tiresome one, too often loosely and inaccurately used, but in the sense of complementary networks of people at or close to the centres of power and wealth, it actually does mean something.

All of which leaves the private schools almost uniquely well placed to make their case and protect their corner. They have ready access to prominent public voices speaking on their behalf, especially in the House of Lords; they enjoy the passive support of the Church of England, which is distinctly reluctant to draw attention to the moral gulf between the aims of ancient founders and the socioeconomic realities of the present; and of course, they have no qualms about utilising all possible firepower, human as well as media and institutional, to block anything they find threatening.

The overwhelming reason parents send their children to to private schools is to get the examination results to get into elite universities. Those that are successful may get a good education, but they also get to tell a story. It’s a kind of shorthand to say you went to Oxford University. Privilege in schooling ends up with privilege in the job market.

So, what should we do? Well, as I mentioned earlier, there’s no quick fixes here, and abolition is likely to either further distort the housing market, or allow private education through the back door through intensive tutoring or parents setting up ‘free schools’ with exclusionary policies.

Instead, let’s look at Kynaston and Green’s suggestions. The first, to my mind, is a no-brainer: ensure that private schools are not allowed to claim charitable status, and have to pay business rates in full. It’s ludicrous that they can get away with this in the year 2019.

A related suggestion is to tax school fees to a level as high as 25%. That tax would have to perhaps even be higher: right now there are eye-watering taxes on on whisky and gas-guzzling vehicles such as Range Rovers, and they seem to remain popular.

After that, the authors point to various schemes from the Sutton Trust and in other countries where children from low-income families can attend private schools. I’m sure these are all well-intended, but to my mind end up both propping up the system.

My proposal, once we’ve got private schools recognised as the businesses (and not charities) they are, is to take control of state education away from politicians. Just as the Bank of England was given control of interest rates, so educators with the long-term interest of our country in mind, should have control of education policy. They should have the whole of education under their purview, including the private sector.

If we understand life through games and stories, we need to think about the story we’re telling ourselves and future generations. Is ours a country that is organised for the few instead of the many? And if we’re going to organise education as a series of games, then how could we change the rules to ensure that the same kids don’t always get picked?

Given our concerted focus on diversity in western democracies at the moment, it seems more than a little anachronistic to have an unreformed and unfettered private education system. Let’s do something about that.


Image by amanda used under a CC license

A conversation with Adam Procter about Project ‘NodeNoggin’

I was pleased to have the opportunity to talk last night with Adam Procter about his PhD and Project ‘NodeNoggin’. Listen below or click here:

Notes can be found here, ways to get involved in the project are on GitLab, and you can discuss our conversation in this thread at Adam’s forum.

My takeaways from Stephen Downes’ talk on personal learning

In general, I have great intentions to watch recorded presentations. However, in reality, just like the number of philosophy books I get around to reading in a given year, I can count the number I sit down to watch on the fingers of one hand.

I’ve been meaning to watch Stephen Downes’ talk on personal learning since he gave it at the at the Canada MoodleMoot back in February. Since I’m talking with him this afternoon about Project MoodleNet, that served as a prompt to get around to watching it.

(as an aside, it’s a blessing to be able to play YouTube videos at 1.5 or double speed — presentations, by their nature aren’t as information-dense as text!)

Groups vs Networks

Downes has been talking about groups vs networks since before 2006. In fact, I often reference this:

Groups vs Networks

CC BY-NC Stephen Downes

The presentation builds on this, and references a tool/environment he’s built called gRSShopper.

Groups vs Networks

Downes doesn’t link any of this to politics, but to my mind this is the difference between authoritarianism and left libertarianism. As such, I think it’s a wider thing than just an approach to learning. It’s an approach to society. My experience is that some people want paternalism as it provides a comfort blanket of security.

Personalized vs Personal

There’s plenty of differences between the two approaches. In his discussion of the following slide, Downes talks about the difference between a ‘custom’ car and a customised car, or an off-the-self suit versus one that’s tailored for you.

Personalized vs Personal

My position on all of this is very similar to Downes. However, I don’t think we can dismiss the other view quite so easily. There has to be an element of summative assessment and comparison for society to function — at least the way we currently structure it…

Personal Learning Environments

Downes’ custom-build system, gRSShopper, is built with him (the learner) in the middle. It’s a PLE, a Personal Learning Environment:

gRSShopper workflow

All of this is based on APIs that pull data from various systems, allow him to manipulate it in various ways, and then publish outputs in different formats.

Note that all of this, of course, depends upon open APIs, data, and resources. It’s a future I’d like to see, but depends upon improving the average technical knowledge and skills of a global population. At the same time, centralised data-harvesting services such Facebook are pointing in the opposite direction, and dumbing things down.

Personal Learning Record

So gRSShopper creates what Downes calls a Personal Learning Record, complete with ‘personal graph’ that is private to the learner. This is all very much in keeping with the GDPR.

Data aggregation and analytics

The real value in all of this comes in being able to aggregate learning data from across platforms to provide insights, much as Exist does with your personal and health data.

Analytics and Big Data

Downes made comments about pulling resources and data between systems, about embedding social networks within the PLE, and browser plugins/extensions to make life easier for learners. I particularly liked his mention of not just using OERs as you learn, but creating them through the process of learning.

Conclusion

I’m looking forward to our conversation this afternoon, as I’m hoping it will either validate, or force me to rethink the current approach to Project MoodleNet.


Main image CC0 Marvin Meyer

Reframing the ‘Progressive’ vs. ‘Traditionalist’ Debate in Education [DML Central]

It’s been a while, but my 38th post for DML Central has just been published. It’s my attempt to get beyond the reductionist ‘traditional’ vs. ‘progressive’ debate that currently plagues educational discourse.

An excerpt:

Ultimately, I see a lot of educators as pragmatists and carrying out a role in accordance with a “Social Efficiency” curriculum ideology. Most of the “flamewars” and unhelpful debate I’ve seen takes place between Scholar Academics and Learner Centered educators arguing over the nature of knowledge, so I’m looking forward to the day when we each understand that not everyone becomes an educator for the same reason as us.

Click here to read the article in full.

(Note: I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to comment on the original article!)

Safer Internet Day 2017 resources

Ironically enough, it was due to having to fix my hacked (and re-hacked) sites that has led to me posting these resources towards the end of Safer Internet Day 2017. Still, better late than never.

Today, I’ve been at the International School of Geneva, at the invitation of Richard Allaway. I ran three sessions with Years 10, 11, and 12, and then an after-school session with staff. You can find the slide decks I used below:

Many thanks to all involved — I had a great time, and some of the discussion was really thought-provoking!

Utopia, pedagogy, and G-Suite for Education

This week, I’ve been over in Jersey helping a school with their educational technology. In particular, I’ve been doing some training on G-Suite for Education (as Google now call what used to be ‘Google Apps’). The main focus has been Google Classroom but, as this is basically a front-end for the rest of G-Suite, we spilled out into other areas.

A bit of history

I first used G-Suite for Education back when I was a classroom teacher. We didn’t have it rolled out across the school but, back then, and in the school I was in, I was left to just get on with it. So I can remember being administrator, sorting out student accounts, forgotten passwords, and the like. The thing that impressed me, though, was the level of collaboration it encouraged and engendered.

Then, when I became Director of E-Learning of a new 3,000 student, nine site Academy in 2010, I rolled out G-Suite for Education for all 500 members of staff. It worked like a dream, especially given some of the friction there was harmonising different MIS and VLE configurations. The thing that I valued most back then was the ability to instantly communicate between sites by using a tool which has now morphed into ‘Hangouts’.

At that time, I was a bit of a pioneer in the use of Google’s educational tools, which is why Tom Barrett and I, along with some others in our network, were ‘Lead Learners’ at the first UK Google Teacher Academy. That’s grown and grown in the intervening period, while I’ve been working in Higher Education, at Mozilla, and consulting.

Back to the future

Fast forward to the present, and we’re in a very different educational technology landscape. Where once there seemed to be new, exciting services popping up every week, the post-2008 economic crash landscape is dominated by large shiny silos. The dominant players are Google, Microsoft, and Apple — although the latter’s offering seems less all-encompassing than the other two.

I have to say that I’m a bit biased in favour of Google’s tools. I’m not a big fan of their business model, although that’s a moot point in education given that students and staff don’t see adverts. It’s a much more ‘webby’ experience than other platforms I’ve used.

The more I get back into using G-Suite for Education the more I appreciate that Google doesn’t prescribe a certain pedagogy. The approach seems to be that, while particular apps like Classroom allow you to do some things in a certain way, there’s always other ways of achieving the same result. It’s also extensible: there’s loads of apps that you can add via the Marketplace.

So what?

OK, so that’s all very well and good, but what has that got to do with you, dear reader? Why should you care about my experiences and views on Google’s education offerings?

Well, a couple of things, I suppose. First, in relation to my 7 approaches to educational technology integration post, I feel like there’s some really easy ways to move staff up the SAMR model towards the ‘transformational’ type of technology use we want to see. One thing I’ve been focusing on recently, is explaining the mental models behind technologies. In other words, rather than telling people where to click, I’m explaining the concepts behind what it is there doing, as well as situations in which it might be helpful. How they teach is up to them; I’m providing them with skillsets and mindsets to give them more options.

Second, I feel like there’s a huge opportunity to integrate Open Badges with G-Suite for Education. It seems pretty straightforward to build upon Google’s platform to provide the email addresses of who should be issued a badge, as well as the environment in which badge issuing would be triggered.

I’m thinking through a badging system for one of my clients at the moment, built upon the usual things I emphasise: non-linear pathways, individual choice, and an element of surprise. In that regard, I’m planning on starting with something like a ‘Classroom Convert’ badge that recognises that staff are developing mindsets around the use of Google Classroom, as well as skillsets.

There are, of course, ways in which staff can go ‘full Google’ and become (as I am) a Google Certified Teacher, and so on. That’s not what this is. My aim in any badge system is to encourage particular types of knowledge, skills, and behaviours. Whatever system I come up with will be co-designed and go beyond just the use of G-Suite for Education. As the TPACK model emphasises, the system will have a more holistic focus: integrating the technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge required for purposeful educational technology integration.

Utopia

Ideally, I’d like an approach where students can use something like Unhosted apps to bring their own data store to the applications they choose to use when collaborating with their teachers and fellow students. I’d like to see them have a domain of their own, and learn enough code to have real agency in online digital spaces.

While I’ve got that in mind, I’m also a pragmatist. The tools Google provides through G-Suite for Education, while not world-changing, do move the Overton Window in terms of what’s possible in technology integration. Even just working collaboratively on a single Google Doc is pretty mindblowing to people who haven’t done this before.

7 approaches to educational technology integration

I’m working with Victoria College, a school in Jersey, at the moment. They’re new to digital strategy, so I’ve been sharing some models that can be useful when thinking in this regard.

1. The OODA loop

OODA loop (CC BY Patrick Edwin Moran)

Much more generally applicable than just to educational technology integration, and pioneered in the military, the OODA loop is useful when thinking about where to get started.

What I particularly like is that it starts with observation, and places great emphasis on context and feedback.

2. The SOLO taxonomy

SOLO taxonomy

SOLO stands for Structure of Observed Learning Outcome and focuses on five levels of understanding, from ‘pre-structural’ through to ‘extended abstract’. I reference this model in my book, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, which is where the above diagram comes from.

The idea is that competence is scaffolded and goes from understanding some aspects, through to the relation between them, and finally, applying that knowledge to a new domain.

3. The SAMR model

SAMR model

Although I’ve seen some recent pushback, I still think that the SAMR model is a useful frame to use for educational technology integration. The idea is that we move beyond technology that merely substitutes for previous analogue examples.

What I like about this model is that it takes minimal explanation, and can serve as an aspirational goal for both individual educators, and whole establishments. This is another diagram from my book.

4. The TPACK framework

TPACK framework

TPACK stands for Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. At its heart, it’s a Venn diagram, showing the overlap between technology, pedagogy, and content, but, again, I like the use of ‘context’ wrapping around the whole thing.

This framework is useful when explaining the importance of technology as an integrated part of a wider institutional/organisational strategy. The overlaps between each circle are also handy for identifying different streams of work.

5. Kolb’s experiential learning cycle

Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle

While I think we can agree that Kolb’s ‘learning styles’ theory was off-the-mark, his experiential learning cycle is definitely worth exploring further in terms of educational technology integration.

As with other models, there’s a balance between doing and reflection, but — and this is where there’s a clear link to the SOLO taxonomy — Kolb’s emphasises the importance of ‘abstract conceptualisation’.

6. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

ZPD

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is a very simple approach to scaffolding learning. It sits between what the learner current cannot do and what they can do unaided. In other words, the ZPD is where maximal learning is happening.

Again, this is a simple approach which most educators should already know about. My father used to talk about it all the time when I was younger and he was doing his postgraduate studies! It’s useful for thinking about scaffolding staff/student digital skills.

7. The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my own work, the product of the years of work that went into my doctoral thesis. It’s a synthesis of what came out of a meta-analysis of digital literacy approaches and frameworks.

There’s eight skillsets (the top row) and eight mindsets (bottom row). In my book and TEDx talk, I explain the importance of co-creating definitions of digital literacies, and placing emphasis on context. In terms of educational technology integration, I think the ‘mindsets’ are often skipped over.


I’m well aware that there are other approaches out there, and no doubt some I’ve never heard of. That being said, these are the models I currently find most helpful when working with clients. What have I missed?

Image by Paolo Carrolo

The importance of working ‘open’ in education and business

I’m pleased to say that two closely-related articles I’ve written about working ‘open’ have been published over the last few days.

As of this month, I’ve started writing for The Nasstarian, a new blog from Nasstar, one of the UK’s largest managed IT service provders. They’ve given me free license to write about things of interest to their readers. The first one I’ve written for them is about the ‘unexpected benefits’ of working open for businesses.

My latest DML Central article takes this approach and focuses in on what this means for education. I’m indebted to Bryan Mathers for the wonderful ‘elevator’ image, and to Matt Thompson and Laura Hilliger for comments on an earlier draft.

Comments are closed here to encourage you to add your thoughts to the original articles! Thanks for supporting my work!

Why It’s Time to Let Go of ‘Meritocracy’ [DML Central]

My latest post for DML Central was published yesterday. Entitled Why It’s Time to Let Go of ‘Meritocracy’, it’s an attempt to explain why a belief in something most people see as unproblematic can actually lead to unforeseen issues.

A sample:

Building an education system around ‘meritocracy’ as it is commonly used post-Thatcher may be a function of those in power being so privileged that they are not in a position to see their own privilege. Those who have never witnessed people having to work three jobs to keep their family afloat may not understand why parents can’t do more to coach their children through an entrance examination.

Click here to read the post in full.

I’ve closed comments here so that you can add yours to the original post. I’d be keen to hear your thoughts!

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