I recently managed to fully complete my first MOOC after previous courses where I dropped out after a few weeks. The course was a very good course run by Norwegian University NTNU called Smart Læring (English: Smart Learning). I will reflect on the course more in another post but for those who read Norwegian you are welcome to read my 3000 word final assignment the title translated to English is “Are computers a good learning tool for all? My reflections and memories.”
Those who don’t read Norwegian you can try and google translate it!
The assignment reflects on some of my experiences learning and teaching with technology. It’s my first substantial piece I’ve written in Norwegian (or any foreign language) and there is no way I would have managed without spellcheck, online dictionaries and translators and of course volunteer proof readers.
It got me an A grade and I hope will be of interest to others, those interested in the topic, those wanting a trip down memory lane or maybe those in future cohorts of the course!
A picture popped up on my Facebook feed today which has been nicknamed the “viral Rembrandt kids on phones photo”.
The original photo is from November 2014 and it received mainstream media coverage from The Telegraph in the UK in January 2016. If you want a detailed summary of the photo, story and reaction the Telegraph is a good start. In summary: The photographer took the photo below at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. He was fascinated by the sight of students sitting by a masterpiece and staring at their phones. You can click the photo to head to Flickr for his full description. Anyway what I find more interesting than the photo is the reaction. In one word “outrage”. In two words “outrage & disgust”. In three words “condescending, outrage & disgust
So I’m biased because my specialism is integrating education and technology but from my perspective this picture shows two things. One how little most people know about learning and the school system we have today. Two how quick people are to react on social media.
For me this picture says “WOW”. Because too many kids are stuck in old fashioned school classrooms where they never go out of the classroom and only learn facts from textbooks and blackboards. The kids in the photos have been taken to an art gallery, that is a big thing in itself, art is one the subjects, in many countries, that is always under pressure because it is not a “business skill”. So these kids are out of the classroom despite the bureaucracy and cost hurdles (and they can be big), big thumbs up from me, and at an art gallery – wow their teacher is making them learn about art! Now when I was at school we took trips to museums and galleries and let’s be honest, often the highlight was the gift shop! Sometimes we got a good tour guide and we learnt along the way but not always. As an adult I visit art galleries and have done across the world but what I get out of the visit varies as I am far from an expert. The world renowned Uffizi gallery in Florence, also renowned for the length of the queue to enter, was an underwhelming and unexciting experience for me when I visited as a 21 year old. These kids are not just at a gallery but so engaged with their learning (via mobile phones) that they don’t even look at the photographer.
A quick comment on technology in the classroom. I don’t believe kids should be on their phones all the time but overall I think it is pretty rare for kids to use phones in school for learning. Of course I understand that when in a room with a masterpiece it is a shame to not look at it but it is also a shame to not learn about it. The balance is the key! There may be a problem that kids spend too much of their free time on technology, but I think they could and should spend more time at school using technology, where it brings benefit and engagement. And remember the school system most countries use is a slowly developing archaic model built to train students to be skilled to do jobs from the last century.
And my comment to the quick, judgmental and damning reaction on social media? Mobile phones and technology are here to stay as a part of our everyday lives. You might not like it but it’s a fact and you are reading this on your PC/phone right now. We need adults to lead the way to show kids when to be on their phone and when not. Let’s face it, most adults don’t do this very well. So before you criticise the kids think about the example and training we are giving them.
We live in a digital world where everyone has the opportunity to be a creator and where we are all consumers of information. Aside from the occasional paywalled website, information is free and accessible by all in a variety of formats.
This last week a video entitled “Kony 2012” has gone viral and sparked a debate. The debate though has gone off in two tangents; one about the issue it was meant to look into, ie a war criminal, human rights abuses and child soldiers; the other about how charities and campaigns use new media and the internet and whether they should tell us how to think or what to think?
Being critical of media especially online media is a skill and is an important one for children to learn. Of course many adults haven’t mastered this either which I can judge by the number of chain mails and scams I still receive from people who think they need to forward them! But in the world we live having the critical skills to see investigate, summarise and make up your own mind are more important than ever.
More than one subject in UK schools already tries to do this: English devotes time to learning about the media and seeing different perspectives, geography, history, citizenship and RE all spend time looking at different opinions, controversial issues and propaganda and of course science and mathematics look at how to analyse data and draw conclusions. When is comes to analysing digital media it is often IT teachers who end up with the responsibility. When I taught ICT we spent around two weeks either in year 7 or year 8 looking at how you could trust websites and the information on them. Children were delighted by the absurdity of Dog Island and the British Stick Insect Foundation but the internet has moved on a long way since then. Digital literacy, including being able to look critically and evaluate online materials and is a key skill and too often falls in the gap between subjects. Wherever it does fall there is also a need for teacher training on how to deal with controversial issues which is not something many teachers are comfortable with regardless of their level of subject knowledge.
One organisation that does tremendous work on dealing with controversial issues surrounding religion is the Three Faiths Forum http://www.3ff.org.uk/
It was Debbie Danon, a friend who I have collaborated with on a few workshops and projects who brought this issue to my attention and I’ll finish by sharing her initial thoughts along with a group of her resources that may be of use to teachers or anyone interested in this issue.
Say what you like about Invisible Children’s The Kony 2012 Campaign, people are talking about it like crazy. About Kony’s heinous crimes, and the need for him to be brought to justice, yes. But let’s also zoom out to observe the power of shiny, youth-focused media, aiming to unleash Youth Activism 2.0. The film implores young people to ACT on the basis that they already have all the FACTS they need. I wonder how many young people will have looked elsewhere to verify the facts offered in the film before sharing/posting? Even when propaganda is for a good cause (and let’s admit, this is a propaganda film), shouldn’t we engage with it critically? Whether a little more research turns us off a campaign, or strengthens our resolve to get involved, I can’t help but feel that little time would not be wasted.
I’m not saying I don’t believe in IC’s cause, but justice and development issues are complex. So in the name of complexity, here’s the IC film; the blog of a critic; IC’s official response; and an awesome online project “Digital Disruption” which helps young people identify and understand propaganda online. And I say to myself…what a complexified world!
This morning I woke up to the rather alarming headline that “dull” ICT was to be dropped from the school curriculum to be replaced by computing. The story coming on the back of a department of education press release summarising a speech to be given later in the day by education minister Michael Gove.
I’ve learnt from experience to never judge a story by its headline, and the premise of the story that ICT would be dropped in favour of computing seems now a simplification if not a mistake. Nevertheless the speech did contain criticisms of the current ICT curriculum and described much ICT in schools as dull, this based on the recent OFSTED report similarly criticising much ICT teaching. But the speech did also mention excellent practice and teaching by some schools so it wasn’t all negative by any means. It is a fact that many schools spend inordinate amounts of time teaching students basic office software skills, not necessarily a waste of time but certainly not engaging for a large number of students. But contrary to Gove’s crticisms much of this isn’t necessarily down to the existing curriculum, which is fairly broad and flexible, it’s down as much to the play it safe attitude of schools and a lack of suitably qualified ICT and Computing teachers. ICT in many Secondary schools became a place to pick up league table points by offering GCSE level qualifications based on office skills and ticking boxes. Even in schools where this wasn’t the case the threat of Ofsted and school management lead many schools to feel uncomfortable innovating lest the inspectors or school review system should find out that that basics were not being covered. During my time as an ICT and Computing teacher I was lucky to be able to innovate and bring in new ideas but I was “told off” on more than one occasion for deviating too far from what the other teachers were teaching. This wasn’t a problem with what I was teaching but more a problem that we would find it harder to assess, compare or show we are meeting the same standards when different classes were not all learning the same stuff.
From my understanding, today’s announcement gives schools a much freer rein to teach ICT without worrying so much about ticking boxes or being checked up, it sounds like teachers will be given room for innovation… in a best case scenario. In a worst case scenario it could become a box ticking exercise of a different kind, where cross curricular ICT/Computing, both the dream and fear of every ICT teacher, is brought into schools. Cross curricular ICT is done successfully in some schools, where there are no or few discrete ICT lessons and students study different topics in different subjects, sometimes supported by ICT specialists. In reality it is very hard to get to work because in a traditional subject based school curriculum teachers tend to concentrate on teaching their own subject and any ICT would come second, and this is assuming the teachers have sufficient knowledge themselves.
The part of the speech today which I am very excited about is the promotion of computing in school. Computing isn’t a subject that every student will love or thrive at. But like many other subjects it’s important that students at least get to try it and learn some programming. The best coders who will truly bring about innovation and entrepreneurship in the future are not necessarily those who need teaching in detail, but at least giving them the chance to learn the basics could give many students a foundation to develop skills in their own time, ala the developers of the 1980s who graduated from the first generation of home computers to write software, games and create some of the household IT names we have today. The announcement by Gove promoting computing is some feat and a massive u-turn in many ways. Computing, always a niche subject, has gradually been dwindling over the last few years. A group, Computing at School was set up by teachers and industry just a few years ago to try and buck this trend and this group, along with industry pressure and pressure from a number of other interest groups they seem to have caught the ear of the government. It’s a major u-turn for many reasons, when the Conservatives came into power one of the first quangos they scrapped was Becta, the internationally renowned agency for technology in education. Not necessarily an anti technology move but it was easy to see it as such. Next was the promotion of traditional teaching and subjects such as latin. Not necessarily anti-technology but computers didn’t have a place in grammar school education of the past. Next was the e-bac, which included many subjects such as history or geography but not ICT or Computing. Finally last year Michael Gove didn’t even turn up at BETT (the UK based educational technology exhibition which draws people worldwide) a statement in itself.
Such a big u-turn should inspire extra confidence. But anyone who has been in state education knows that one government announcement doesn’t make real change. All teachers have had the experience of sitting in an INSET (compulsory teacher training) session learning about a new initiative to improve their teaching but in reality finding it another box ticking exercise or finding it scrapped or superceded a year later. A few years ago the government decided that ICT would be tested as a SAT exam in an onscreen test. I spent 3 days of training along with 2 other ICT colleagues preparing for this, as well as hours of classroom time running the test with students rather than teaching. Our network manager likewise spent hours configuring the software. Not long after we found that the “award winning” test had been scrapped, not just the cost of the project down the drain but all the teacher hours. Bringing computing into schools may also be a large financial investment but with support from industry and other organisations that is set to grow it may just work. There is already a scarcity of qualified ICT teachers in schools, teachers such as myself with a computer science degree are even rarer, but to teach computing to a certain level you don’t necessarily need a degree, you need patience, willpower, support, an abilility to learn but most importantly time to learn. It can happen and I hope it will happen but we’ll have to wait and see!
The truth of the program is in the compiling (or was it something with pudding and pies)
While it may be the case that the majority of teens don’t tweet judging by today’s trends on Twitter in the UK they certainly have a strong presence.
Twitter trends UK 25th Aug 2011
All the trending items with a red arrow annotated show topics related to GCSE examinations. These UK examinations are typically taken by 16 year olds.
It may be that most teens don’t use twitter, it’s probably true that most people don’t use twitter, but of those that do teens certainly have the power to make their voices heard. Imagine what they could do if they clubbed together – the student voice could become quite powerful!
The Purposed Project has got me writing on my blog again rather than just thinking of things I should get round to writing. I’ve taken part in 3 stages of the project starting with my earlier blog post “Time To Learn”, then a bit more passively with this lovely picture quote mashup created and contributed by @grumbledook (thanks and I was flattered).
I’m now contributing again with a purposed futured interview. I couldn’t help signing up for another one of these “tasks” as they’re interesting, fun, different and make me and I hope others think about some bigger questions for a short while. This task allowed me to perform my first over the phone interview using Audioboo, as instructed, to record and share the audio. I wasn’t sure who to interview when I signed up but in the end went for someone from a faith community, because I thought it may give a different perspective, and someone from the Jewish community, because I feel it’s an integral part of the privileged education path that I have followed and am still following. Judaism has always been a religion that prides scholarship and learning for the sake of learning, in some communities maybe too much over and above the skills required to earn a living! The immigrant history has also meant Jewish communities have always made education of their children a priority in order to have skills and work that could be transferred from country to country. Having known my interviewee, Rabbi Pete Tobias, for some time, I did not expect a religious sermon or historical lecture. I was surprised though to hear opinions and visions that are incredibly similar to many of the participants and I guess the instigators of the purpose/d project. I hope you enjoy it.
This is my 500 words for Purpose/d. Another wonderful project from a group of educators looking to inspire, create debate and eventually change. I’m supposed to read the posts before mine and respond to some of the points. I’ve read some but not all, and I’ll use that as my segway to my 500 words, because I just didn’t have time to read them all. And time is surely the killer for much change and innovation in education. There’s precious time to think, to innovate and be creative, and that goes for teachers and students.
In the UK, when we learn to be teachers, we don’t learn about pedagogical theories beyond a brief look at learning styles. In a 36 week practical based course there just isn’t time. When I did my MA the largest revelation was that all the things I did anyway in the classroom had a theory attached to them. But good teachers don’t always need a theory, they just do it because it works for them or their students, it just seems right to them. And a good teacher knows what makes it right in one situation doesn’t make it right for every teacher or every class.
There’s never enough time in the curriculum for every subject. Recently I’ve seen online campaigns to save PE, RE, ICT and Computing from being removed or marginalised in the UK. Campaigns led by specialist teachers and national subject associations may seem self serving, but they do it because they care. After all remove sports and kids may become unhealthy, remove RE and kids may become intolerant, remove ICT and kids may become unskilled. I can’t disagree with the passion of these teachers who know the ‘Purpose’ and the benefits of what they teach.
I’ve been out of the classroom now for 6 months. People ask me if I miss it and how life is different. There are many differences but the biggest one is not having the guilt on your shoulders because there isn’t enough time to do everything for your students. Teachers learn to live with many kinds of guilt; the guilt of not preparing enough, the guilt of not marking enough, the guilt of ignoring a school policy, the guilt of straying from the scheme of work, the guilt of setting too much homework. What is the ‘Purpose’ of all these things we worry about?
Our education system will improve greatly when teachers can remove the guilt from their shoulders and take pride in their skills and achievements.
I subscribe to the terribly liberal but certainly not revolutionary philosophy that different students and different teachers have different needs. We need different routes, different pathways and different systems open to everyone to enable each learner and each teacher to find their own way. There’s never enough time to teach everything and one, just one, purpose of education must be to give students the skills and the passion to learn and thrive in their own interests in their own time.
What is the overall ‘purpose’ and how do we get there? I don’t know but if we are to find it we need to give teachers the room to innovate, experiment and improve and we need to give students room to innovate, experiment and improve. And on that note I’ll leave you with a video of a discussion I led on this topic at the recent Collabor8 4Change event.
Every day at Limmud is different, no doubt I’ve included too much information in this blog post but I wanted to give a full picture of what this conference is actually about. It does miss out all the important little conversations in between sessions, over meals and to the people you are sitting next to, many of whom are complete strangers. Such is Limmud
11-12.10 – Sat in the AV room at the back of RAM 1 with Charles Darwish and Jonathan Hunter streaming the session on the internet – chatting to people online about the session and tweeting about it.
12.30-13:40 – Sat in the same AV room streaming and listening to John Ging of UNRWA in conversation with Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, fascinating.
14:00-15:10 – Sat on the panel of a discussion on “Long Term Prospects for Israel’s Democracy” – really enjoyed discussing the topic with Jpost journalist Yaakov Lapin, Acri (Israel Civil Rights Movement) worker Libby Lenkinski Friedlander and was a real pleasure have the session chaired by journalist and former editor of The Jewish Chronicle Ned Temko, who I’ve been a fan of for a long time. Questions from the floor were brilliantly thought out and very challenging. A great discussion I hope we didn’t disappoint people by not arguing too much!
15:30 – 16:40 – Listened to a discussion on new models for Jewish Communities for the 21st Century. Interesting though more focused on creating communities based around prayer than I had expected.
17:00 – took a coffee break for an hour and chatted to a Dane a Norwegian and two English francophiles!
18:00 – quick dinner, quite nice!
18:30-19:40 – Ran a networking session for Jewish teachers. Was lovely to arrive to an already formed chatty circle of teachers of all ages and areas of expertise, many trainees. There are so many Jewish people working in education and so many are keen to share experiences and resources. www.jewishteachers.org.uk
20:00 – Sat by a Christmas tree and watched football on my laptop, not very sociable of me, best not to say anymore
22:00-23:30 – Attended a very fun and funny session on cocktail making. The most patient presenter, a London bar manager, did a great job.
23:30 until late – sat in the open mic cafe (the acoustic cafe) and listened to some fantastic and a few bizarre performances finishing in a great jam session.
Certainly in the UK, and I know in many other countries we have problems getting girls and boys to study some subjects. As a Computer Science undergraduate at Edinburgh and Birmingham Universities it was hard not to notice the ratio of boys to girls, I would estimate at least 80% boys when I studied 10 years ago. Similar gender imbalances are common in subjects like physics, science in general and I know conversely some subjects struggle to recruit boys.
As a teacher I was always impressed by the efforts made by individual teachers to get a variety of students to take their subject. During one school fire drill, with all the kids streaming onto the field, it was unusual but great to see a boys PE class come out of the dance studio while a girls group were playing touch rugby on the field. Many national organisations have taken this up and I know in the world of ICT and Computing teaching E-skills UK were one group to take on the challenge especially with their creative CC4G programme which I led for 2 years in my own school.
Two recent events have reminded me of the problem of getting girls into certain fields.
That was the first shock I had, the second was a little more surprising. On a bored Sunday Tube (London Underground) journey I picked up a copy of the Toys R Us catalogue sitting on the seat next to me and had a flick through. I promise you I’m not a serial reader of children’s toy catalogues! I was rather surprised with some of the items they were selling and the pictures of each gender child next to the items.
First up the telescopes and sciencey toys
Boys like telescopes
As you can see it’s the boys who are enjoying playing with the telescopes though there is a girl enjoying an anatomy toy. Strike 1 for promoting physics to boys and not girls.
So let’s move to the next photo
Girls with shopping sweeping and ironing toys
Yes that’s right, the girls are not just playing with their ice-cream makers but shopping, sweeping and ironing. Hmm this is getting a little 1950s stereotypical now but it’s all innocent isn’t it. So let’s check on the next page.
Boy with DIY girl with the Cooking
When I saw these I had to look again, no not at the rather weird thought that a parent may buy their child a toy McDonalds kitchen, but by the other sterotypes. The boy doing his DIY, the girl playing in the kitchen. But wait what’s that in the bottom photo? Is it…
Girl serving boy his dinner
…yes a little girl serving food to the little boy, how delightful.
I worry science and ICT teachers are fighting a losing battle.