Tag: Education (page 21 of 23)

Assessment in UK schools: a convenient hypocrisy?

Dilbert on graphs

There’s a couple of lines in the otherwise-average film In The Loop that not only made me laugh but made me think. At one point in the film, a British civil servant is remonstrating with his US counterpart. They end up in a very modern-looking chapel within a government building. The British civil servant starts shouting and swearing at which point the American reminds him that they’re in a sacred place, adding:

Neither of us believes that, but it’s a convenient hypocrisy.

I’ve realised that convenient hypocrisies happen often. Unfortunately, I believe it happens with assessment in UK schools every day. πŸ™

Now I’m no expert on assessment, but even I know that research has established the following:

  1. Students regress as well as progress due to emotional, psychological, sociological (and other) factors.
  2. National curriculum levels and sub-levels are intended as summative, end of Key Stage assessments.
  3. Not all students progress at the same rate.

Yet, in all of the schools I’ve worked in during my teaching career, we’ve done the following:

  • Used National Curriculum level descriptors on a half-termly (or even a weekly) basis.
  • Set students targets based on the number of National Curriculum sub-levels an ‘average student’ will get through during a Key Stage.
  • Make few allowances as to the reasons why students’ attainment might fluctuate.
  • ‘Level’ as much work as possible when we know that doing so destroys any impact formative comments may have.

Using data systems based on numbers for assessment purposes looks impressive, gives control to senior leaders and produces pretty graphs and reports for parents. But is it useful to students? I’d argue that it’s not. Students become hung up on progressing through National Curriculum levels that aren’t always coherent and meaningful. It’s also very easy for Heads of Department to artificially inflate the National Curriculum levels of students whom they’d like to take their subject at GCSE. After all, if you’re a Year 9 student and you’re on a Level 6b in Geography and a 5c in History, which one are you going to take?

The reason for my inclusion of that particular Dilbert cartoon at the top of this post is that I reckon most UK teachers couldn’t differentiate between a Level 4b and 4a in their subject. In fact, the distinction’s pretty meaningless. I’ve seen some schools use the sub-levels as following:

  • Level 4c – some work at Level 4 standard
  • Level 4b – most work at Level 4 standard
  • Level 4a – all work at Level 4 standard

In that case, why use the sub-levels in the first place? :-s

It’s my belief that Assessment for Learning, that buzz-phrase from a couple of years ago, has been hijacked and contorted into something it’s not. I’m certainly not arguing against students knowing where they’re at in a subject and how to improve. It’s just that using National Curriculum levels as a means for doing this smacks of laziness to me. Instead, professional teachers should be able to convey the key skills, processes and subject knowledge students need to be able to progress. That’s just good teaching.

If the above has left you feeling the need to brush up on your knowledge of assessment, you might want to read Beyond the Black Box and/or view the TeachersTV videos on the subject.

What are YOUR views on assessment? :-p

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‘So… what do you do?’

Abstract light 8109

(image by atomicShed @ Flickr)

It should be an easy question. In fact, it’s the one that usually comes in rapid succession after enquiries as to your name and perhaps where you’re from. But ‘what do you do?’ is increasingly a difficult question for me to answer.

If I want to move the conversation onto other things – or indeed to get out of the conversation quickly – I simply say I’m a ‘teacher’. Except I’m not any more (although it is in my portfolio). As a ‘Director of E-Learning’ I’m in a job that has only existed for a couple of years in a handful UK educational institutions

So what do I say? One colleague referred to me recently as ‘Director of Excitement’. Sometimes, to get a cheap laugh, I refer to myself as ‘Chief Geek’.Β  But, whilst there’s a grain of truth in each, neither’s true in its own right.

The acid test is my 85 year-old grandmother who doesn’t really know what the internet is. I find myself at a loss for words to try and explain the world I inhabit. It’s so different to that which she grew up in it’s unreal; we have few common frames of reference.

So what do I do?

  • I blend digital and physical worlds.
  • I tell stories about how learning can be.
  • I show people stuff.
  • I research.
  • I find the best of the best.

My job’s what I make it. I can live with that. πŸ˜€

(N.B. this brief post has been ‘stewing’ a while, but was prompted directly by Chris Messina’s post The Elevator Pitch in which he recounts a similar problem)

Director of E-Learning: Doug Belshaw

I’ve just typed ‘Director of E-Learning’ (in quotes) into Google. The results left me surprised, pleased and dismayed all at once…

Google search results for 'Director of E-Learning'

I was surprised that Laura Walker’s blog post of her (successful) expression of interest in the ‘Director of E-Learning position at her school was in first place. I was pleased for her, and for Dan Stucke – another Director of E-Learning – whose blog post also featured on the front page.

But… where am I? It sounds a bit egotistical, I know, but I was kind of expecting to be there too. Where’s the link to my Director of E-Learning interview blog post? Some may construe this blog post as a blatant attempt to point out to Google that I’m a Director of E-Learning too, thank you very much and to get my name on that front page.

You’d be right. πŸ˜‰

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A Tale of Two Guest Houses (or, what are you offering your students this academic year?)

I’ve been in Devon this past week. Driving back from Exeter to my inlaws’ house I passed the signs for two guest houses:

Guest house with hot tub and wi-fi

Guest house with 'central heating'!

It got me thinking about the differences in educational opportunities being offered at various schools not only in the same country, but around the world. No doubt, the reason why the guest house at the top in the pictures above is successful is because of the bells and whistles it offers. I should imagine they could get away with relatively poor customer service and offering a ’rounded’ experience as they offer the ‘wow’ factor.

The bottom guest house in the pictures above Β is probably still in business due to the personality of the proprietors. The fact that they’re still advertising having central heating and a TV shows how behind the times they are, yet they must offer something the others don’t otherwise they would have gone out of business long ago.

Transferring the above into an educational context, it’s easy to see the parallels. The equivalent of the first guest house is the educator who jumps on every new bandwagon, wanting to test everything so they can say they’ve used the newest tools with their students. The equivalent of the second the educator that eschews completely such technologies and continues by force of personality.

I think our students deserve both: committed, personable teachers who are au fait with technology. I’m sick of the false dichotomy between the two.

I’ll be doing my best to promote educational technology in a way that enhances learning in my role as Director of E-Learning this academic year. What will you be doing? πŸ™‚

My ‘Edonis’ interview with David Noble

edonis

David Noble (@parslad), a Scottish educator with a long track record of innovative and supportive blogging and podcasting, interviewed me last month. David’s one of the founding members of EdTechRoundUp, so I’ve known him for a while. He too is doing an Ed.D. but hasn’t taken the easy route (as I have) and is actually doing some original research!

Focusing on the question How are learning professionals dealing with the social web?, David’s podcasts can be found on his Booruch blog. You can listen to mine either on his blog or by clicking below. πŸ™‚

Contents:

  • My (professional) educational background
  • My experiences of ICT-related training and professional development: as a student teacher, during INSET, and as part of CPD
  • My previous workplaces and the level of web access availble learning professionals
  • My notion of a ‘learning network’
  • My uses of the social web
  • Changes I anticipate in use of ICT over the next 3 years.

The 8 C’s of digital literacy

generator.x show

Image by jared @ Flickr

Poets talk of a ‘muses’ and people talk of inspiration ‘just coming’ to them. Me, I’m a believer that connections come when you completely immerse yourself in something. About an hour ago I had a breakthrough with my thesis, the tentative title of which is What does it mean to be ‘digitally literate’? A Pragmatic investigation.

I’ve been looking for a way to organize the multitude of definitions of ‘digital literacy’ that there are – almost as many as there are writers on the subject! Then, as I was looking for categories, I noticed that almost every category I used began with ‘C’! I quickly wrote down eight and tweeted it out:

My original tweet

Josie Fraser, herself quite the expert on digital literacy, responded that I really needed a ‘critical’ element in there:

Josie - helpful tweet

She had a very good point and I noticed that the similarity between the things I wanted to put in the ‘cultural’ and ‘community’ sections I’d demarcated. Hence, I changed it round to come up with this, the 8 C’s of digital literacy. Each of the following I believe to be an element with which any definition of the concept must deal:

  • Cultural
  • Communication
  • Cognitive
  • Citizenship
  • Constructive
  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Critical

I haven’t numbered them as they’re in no particular order. I will, no doubt, be thinking and reflecting more on the subject. I just wanted to get this post out before anyone else tried to claim this as their own! πŸ˜‰

A reminder that you can view my thesis as I write it, if you wish. πŸ˜€

The importance of heuristics in educational technology and elearning.

Dilbert - heuristics

This post has been brewing for a while.

I’m sick to death of people ‘recommending’ products, services, applications and utilities based on, essentially, zero real-world testing and feedback. Why? They can’t help with the heuristics.

What are heuristics?

Wikipedia definition:

Heuristic is an adjective for experience-based techniques that help in problem solving, learning and discovery. A heuristic method is particularly used to rapidly come to a solution that is hoped to be close to the best possible answer, or ‘optimal solution’. Heuristics are “rules of thumb”, educated guesses, intuitive judgments or simply common sense. Heuristics as a noun is another name for heuristic methods.

Why are heuristics important?

As I argued in my SHP Conference workshop Raising achievement in History at KS4 using e-learning, it can actually be damaging to:

  • launch into using educational technologies without thinking it through properly (the how not just the what).
  • attempt to replicate what someone has done elsewhere without thinking about the context.

People like Andrew Churches (of Educational Origami fame) deal with heuristics. They show how educational technologies can be used, things to think about, and issues that may arise.

What I’d like to see

Think about new users of educational technologies. Let’s say that someone wants to show parents what’s happening on a school trip in the following country. They ask for advice. Which of these would be the most useful response?

  1. I’d use a blog if I were you.
  2. Have you seen Posterous?
  3. I used Posterous successfully. Here’s how to set it up and here’s an example of how I’ve used it before. Ask me if you get stuck.

Obviously 3. I really don’t want any more of 1 and 2 thank you very much. :-p

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The future of education? My visit to RM’s REAL Centre

Can’t see the slideshow? Click here!

The ICT Consultant for the Academy arranged for me to visit RM’s REAL Centre today. I didn’t know much about it beforehand, but when I mentioned it to others some were excited on my behalf whereas others mentioned that it ‘didn’t live up to the hype’. Given that I wasn’t aware of the hype (it was at BETT 2009) I went in fairly unbiased! πŸ™‚

As you can see from the pictures above, the spaces were set out differently from standard classrooms. All together, it worked well and whilst walking around I was impressed. On reflection, however, given that no school’s likely to have all that’s in there, I started thinking about specifics. Here’s my takeaways:

21st century interactive whiteboard

Current interactive whiteboards tie teachers to the front of the classroom and perpetuate at 20th (19th?)-century model of teaching. That’s why I really liked the ‘horizontal [and vertical!] interactive and collaborative surface’ that was on display. It was a combination of three things, really:

  • A rotatable (fairly standard) adjustable project table
  • An ultra-short throw projector
  • A clip-on sensor to the table (surface) for the ‘interactive’ element

The great thing was that not only was the table rotatable and height-adjustable, but had wheels and a single plug so could be easily be moved around learning spaces. πŸ˜€

Eye-tracking hardware/software

Although I’ve read about them before and seen videos, it was great to try out an eye-tracking device for myself. It took less than a minute to calibrate and get myself up-to-speed on what to do, and after that I was able to write sentences and get the computer to speak them back to me! The only downside was that, being a contact lens-wearer, my eyes felt a little dry afterward. Felt fairly futuristic, though, and potentially life-changing for some of the profoundly disabled students we’ll have at the Academy.

Inexpensive USB microscopes

I’m sure these have probably been around for ages, but it was my first experience with a USB microscope that was both robust and inexpensive (around Β£30). It fed real-time images to an Asus Eee PC via a USB connection, which could save them for future reference. With the netbook and small microscope, students are able to go outside and investigate things, come back and show what they’ve found. Loved it. :-p

Soundproof pods

I didn’t get a chance to check out how much these cost, but I think they’re a great idea. The photo above explains what I’m talking about: soundproof, circular ‘pods’ that allow for meetings, speaking and listening exercises, or some quiet study to take place.

I can see these being used in break-out spaces, in reception areas for meetings with parents – for a whole host of things, in fact. The great things was that, whilst they’re soundproof, they’re comfortable and have clear windows so teachers can see what is going on. A great idea.

Student-centred seating

Again, variations of the seating that was on display at the REAL Centre have been seen before, but it was good to see thought going into ergonomics. The seats, along with the tables, on offer could be stacked into a very small space to allow for drama-based activities. It was almost impossible to lean backwards on them such that the front legs came off the floor. You could, however, rock forwards slightly which was pleasing.

Some other seating featured an attached circular table. These moved together on wheels until sat on, whereupon they would lock in place. The swivel chair made for multiple configurations of separate work areas when students are working at computers. Well thought-out. πŸ™‚

Visualizer

Apparently these have been around for ages and, indeed, I seem to remember the Politics department at the University of Sheffield using something similar when I took some modules there in my first year (1999!) However, when paired with a projector you begin to wonder whether an interactive whiteboard isn’t just an expensive luxury that perpetuates an outdated system. Having a visualizer makes examining sources, ‘real-life’ stuff and students’ work much easier and much more likely to happen.

The rest

Obviously there was more than just the above at the REAL Centre, but nothing I hadn’t really seen before. There was Lego Mindstorms stuff, a ‘teacher wall’ to provide space and cupboards around interactive whiteboards, flexible tiered seating areas, chroma key hardware, sensory equipment and a stop-motion animation studio, amongst other things. I’m a big fan of the touchscreen Asus Eee Tops that were on display there but, again, I’ve seen them before.

Conclusion

All in all, a worthwhile and enjoyable day. RM have asked for feedback for which I’m pointing them towards this blog post. I’d advise them either to put price tags on everything or give brochures with clear prices immediately after the tour. It became a bit annoying for me, and embarrassing for them, having to ask how much everything costs at every turn!

You could read about everything that’s in the RM REAL Centre online. You may even have come across half of it in the flesh, so to speak. But having time to be shown it all in one place and think about how it could transform teaching and learning is a powerful thing. I’d recommend that if you can, you go and have a look. πŸ˜€

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Why governmental educational reforms fail.

failing_streetI’m sure that I’m not the only teacher sick of wave after wave of governmental reforms, tweaking and general tinkering about with the education system in the UK. We all know it needs changing, but it needs changing root and branch, not some remedial (and expensive) tree surgeon work!

The trouble with tinkering is that it prolongs the problem and means that year after year of students entering school for the first time don’t start off on the right foot.

It hit me in the shower this morning that the model Thomas Kuhn set out in his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions applies here. For those (like me) who find diagrams easiest to understand, here’s one that gives an overview:

(source)

kuhnian_science_overview

Think of Einsteinian physics replacing the previous model based on Newton’s work:

  1. Normal science – everything seems to work under Newtonian physics so people get on with ‘doing science’.
  2. Model drift – some anomalies mean that some ‘fiddling’ has to be done or scientists have to compensate for the shortcomings of Newtonian physics.
  3. Model crisis – there are now so many anomalies that it is interfering with ‘normal science’ taking place. This would happen at the atomic level with Newtonian physics.
  4. Model revolution – a time of great upheaval where scientists propose new theories and models to explain the phenomena. Think of the early 20th century when Einstein came up with his Theory of Special Relativity.
  5. Paradigm change – a model that explains the phenomena and allows science to move forward is settled upon and ‘normal science’ begins again.

I hope you can see already how this model pertains to educational reform. Although Kuhn’s model is of the order of a ‘grand narrative’ there is, I think, much explanatory power behind it.

If Kuhn’s model is applied to top-down government-funded educational reform then ‘normal education’ (akin to ‘normal science’) cannot progress. Teachers (akin to the scientists in the original model) have very little or no control over where their discipline is headed. There’s also the lack of an adequate feedback loop to explain the anomalies.

Finally, the clincher for me under this model is that governmental top-down reforms in education don’t take into account context. This is of fundamental importance and the biggest reason, to my mind, why such reforms fail. Using the Kuhnian model, the length of ‘normal education’, the number of anomalies, and the possible alternatives are dependant upon any number of local factors and features. In fact, not only is every Local Authority likely to be different, every school is likely to be different.

(read more on Kuhnian paradigm shifts here)

What are YOUR thoughts? Does the Kuhnian model work for you? :-p

(image credit: Failing Street by Chris Daniel @ Flickr)

How to promote organizational innovation.

future_of_ideasI’m reading Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas at the moment. It’s excellent. πŸ™‚

After charting the history of the Internet,Β  and especially relating to its ‘open’ nature after the government’s relationship with AT&T, he explains that there are three ‘layers’ to the Internet:

  1. The Physical layer
  2. The Code layer
  3. The Content layer

If all three layers are controlled then this ‘chills’ innovation. I agree.

It made me think about innovation within organizations and I knocked up this table to help clarify my thinking:

3 layers

Whaddya reckon? πŸ˜€

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