16 June 2009

Digital Britain

To the RSA to see Stephen Carter launch the Digital Britain final report. This is well covered in today's press and contains few surprises other than the fixed line levy. However, I was impressed by how 'joined-up' the thinking seems to be.

In the skills and education section there a coherent references to to the relationship between Jim Rose's proposals for ICT, Estelle Morris's review on digital life skills (which proposes and adult entitlement to an introduction to digital skills), work by the SSCs e-Skills and Skillset on creating skills for the digital economy and on the importance of media literacy as well as a host of smaller initiatives and pilot programmes that might find new and appropriate practice and promote this.

There is also a recognition that investment in hardware and software for the education sector has not yet produced a teaching workforce capable of harnessing the investment - though there are no new proposals as to how this could be achieved...

So whilst impressed by the coherence of the report I am reminded once again of how difficult (and slow) policy implementation really is. When leading large enterprises in the private sector it was possible to plan and deploy large scale innovation in a year or less. In the private education sector it has been possible to engineer transformations across groups of schools in less than two years. But in the public sector and on a national basis it's hard even to set the agenda.

It's a pity that Stephen Carter won't be around to maintain focus on delivering the Digital Britain vision.

7 June 2009

Dog ate my USB...

From Eszter Hargittai's Blog, a post about digital junk!
"At IHE, Scott Jaschik has a piece about a site that sells corrupted files to students as a way to get a few extra hours or days to finish an assignment. The idea is that the student submits a corrupted file, it takes the instructor a while to figure this out, in the meantime the student finishes the assignment."
I don't work in HE but in the school sector I've not had an instance of this and would be interested to hear colleagues' experience. But apparently unreadable files have created problems consistently for some colleagues over the past few years - the issue is file formats.

Learners sometimes use applications that are not available in school (e.g. MS Works) and save them in proprietary file formats that can't be read in school. Or they have a later version of MS Word than the school and don't save in a backward compatible format. Most teachers don't know about readers and translators (nor should they need to) and many of these files end up in my inbox to sort out.

Perhaps the various XML file formats might sort this out in the future but with the lag in software acquisition by both institutions and individuals I'm not holding my breath. As I sit here editing this piece in the 'Blogger' editor my thoughts turn to Learning Platforms to provide a solution. An LP worthy of that title will provide an editor with more formatting capability than most teachers would wish to see in a piece of written work and the option to 'lock' a final delivery edit at a defined time. Learners can use the editor to create their work or paste in the text from their word processor of choice.

If work is to be delivered digitally surely standardising around the server platform must offer the best chance of consistency? How many 'Becta Approved' learning platforms have this facility?

6 May 2009


In a thoughtful piece by Ben Williamson in Flux he considers the implications for ITT of the recommendations of the The Children, Schools and Families select committee National Curriculum Enquiry. The committee recommends putting a limit on the amount of time learners spend on the prescribed National Curriculum at 50% so that teachers can plan a curriculum for the remaining time. Williamson considers what teachers might need to know in order to become curriculum planners "given that teacher training has been quite theory light in the last couple of years". In addition to studying curriculum theory he also ventures that:
"it does seem important to me that teachers do engage with the dominant theories not only of teaching but of knowledge in our era. If using ICT within a curriculum, it’s important to recognise how knowledge is constructed, circulated, and contested, since ICT allows claims to “knowing” to be made by almost anyone."
All sensible thoughts and worth considering further (as I will in a later post). But if we expected teachers to have awareness and understanding of current theories of epistemology how might they acquire this in the limited teaching time in ITT courses or by CPD?

As we have have already witnessed trying to extend the utilisation of technology in schools managing change and implementing strategy is fraught with difficulty. More than ten years after this government began to invest in educational technology Becta's research is only just beginning to show modest impact on learning. Training non-ICT teachers to use technology in the classroom is still left in the main to the lottery of which school teachers train in and utilisation of technology and ICT by individual teachers across the curriculum has been inconsistent at best as well subject to local system and environment variables.

With the Rose review recommending that ICT replaces Science as a core (and assessed) strand of the primary curriculum and that ICT should be embedded in every subject we need to ask ourselves whether we have the wherewithal to make this happen. There are very significant risks here (although of course, the risk of not developing ICT is also very significant).

Becta's submission to the Rose review is absolutely on-strategy for their Harnessing Technology: Next Generation Learning 2008-14 follow up to the e-strategy and is full of reassurance that 'Becta can help' with a variety of difficult transformations. But research by Sero Consulting and the University of Nottingham set in motion by Becta to track the development of technology and identify significant disruptions to their strategy identifies no less than 24 emerging disruptions. Here's just one:
"Emerging disruptions
Over the coming years, it is necessary to analyse the extent to which the promise of major capital investment programmes is being realised, identify any barriers to achieving the full potential of the strategy, and assess whether the contractual arrangements that schools enter into for managed services are sufficiently flexible to support the innovation that is likely to be needed in respect of the impact of Web 2.0 technologies and the Net Generation of learners. Changing technologies, teaching practices and environmental concerns could make new school buildings inappropriate and in need of major structural change. A significant concern is how to design for continual flexibility"

I'm particularly interested in managed services as there do seem to be rather a lot of questions over the flexibility and efficacy of the current offerings and several schools feel that they are being asked to pay more than their current costs for a less valuable service. With 23 other 'emerging disruptions' the report is well worth reading as predicting, responding to and managing these disruptions are some of the biggest issues facing education today. Our record managing educational change to date does not put us in the top set.


2 May 2009

Facebook hurts grades (or does it?)

danah boyd blogs an overview of a story that made it to Fox News in the US but hasn't yet made it here in the UK that claims that Facebook users get lower undergraduate grades than non users. The story rapidly proliferated in online and print media. To cut a long story short, she shows that numbers of academics (summarised here at First Monday) have since demonstrated that the story is based on a media misunderstanding of an un-reviewed draft piece of statistically unrepresentative and insignificant research. She uses this to illustrate the media's need for folk devils and sensationalism.

This particular folk devil - technology as a destroyer/fragmenter of attention - is central to much of the debate about technology in education and young peoples engagement with technology across the whole of their social being. In the UK most recently Baroness Greenfield - a prominent neuroscientist - addressed the House of Lords on the consequences for young people of games, IM, chat and social networking sites. This was picked up by most UK media and presented with only slight differences by such sources as the Guardian and the Mail. This is the Guardian:
"Greenfield warns social networking sites are changing children's brains, resulting in selfish and attention deficient young people"
It's interesting to compare this with the thoughts of Chris Applegate - a "twentysomething geek and wannabe polymath" who works for a digital agency specialising in conversations online. In "Distracting ourselves to attention" he writes:
"Discussion here is dominated by Twitter, but for “Twitter”, read anything new, distracting and disturbing in Web 2.0 that is emerging or will emerge in the near future...we choose to adopt them because we are able to as well as because we’re willing. This can appear puzzling to the outsider, and the only way to join in (if you want to join in) is to produce and consume more information to help train up one’s filters"
As danah boyd reminds us:
"There is little doubt that each new wave of media has fundamentally altered the
structure of many aspects of everyday life (McLuhan 1964), but it is not clear that
new media is the destroyer of culture" (p19).
Baroness Greenfield may be right that technology will impact children's neurological development. Is this a negative development as the press presents it? Could we or should we do anything about it? The question remains what are we educating our children for? and what knowledge acquisition situations and environments must we provide in order to achieve this? Where do children do their learning? It's clear we are far from consensus.

1 May 2009

Who taught me to use the phone?

Despite a report in the Guardian (on 25th March by Polly Curtis) that the draft Rose Report would recommend primary learners should study Twitter and Wikipedia a full text search of the final report and its documenta (published 30th April) finds no reference to either of those words nor to Facebook or social networking.

I'll comment further on the report in the coming weeks but since it's clear that Rose's team sees an expanded role for technology in in the primary curriculum and that the press and opposition politicians will feast on the proposed changes lets think for a moment about social software in the primary school. According to current policy every secondary school should by now have a Virtual Learning Platform (VLE) up and running and plans to have this integrated with e-portfolios for all students across the curriculum by 2010. Primary schools should not be too far behind.

An integrated VLE should deliver the opportunity to Blog, to build a Wiki and for instant messaging as well as an adaptable profiling tool and the capability for each learner to build a set a friends and message them across the institution regardless of yeargroup or subject. By using these tools across the curriculum in appropriate (and multiple) projects over their school life children will learn about social software in a real and useful environment.

Meanwhile children learn much in informal environments that are not school. Real world social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook. Bebo and (for primary) Club Penguin are likely to fall into this category of learning. Whilst we do not in the UK have the sort of comprehensive research as that funded by the MacArthur Foundation in the US Mimi Ito et. al's White Paper - Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project shows just how much informal learning both about and using social software is becoming increasingly peer-based and networked. The curriculum is not intended to compete with this and educationalists might learn something from the structures observed by this team.

30 April 2009

Voodoo Histories

To the RSA to hear David Aaronovitch talk about his new book 'Voodoo Histories' on conspiracy theories. In a world of rapidly proliferating information David argues for a 'true scepticism' based on historical knowledge and common sense to counter conspiracy theories. Amongst comments about perceptions of truth and asides about a 'Baudrillardian conspiracy', Matthew Taylor raised the issue of what implication conspiracies had for education.

In Britain, scepticism fits squarely into the ICT curriculum, in particular at Key Stage 3 (and under Jim Rose's proposals KS2) where children should be able to use technology to find and qualify information. My limited experience teaching KS3 tells me that scepticism in the modern or scientific sense is hard to foster. "I found it on google/wikipedia, sir" translates as "It must be right...".

I have more success with scepticism when teaching media where it is possible to consider issues like narrative and history. In media lessons, children learn ICT by stealth - they hardly know they're doing it. Practical application makes it apparent that anything produced comes with a point of view and that objectivity is hard to achieve and not necessarily what's intended. But of course media is not a core subject where ICT is.

ICT should not be the locus for teaching scepticism which should be (David is right) a core competency for a modern teenager and straddle their approach to science, literature, history and living in the real world. Trying to teach it within ICT emphasises the weakness of trying to teach ICT as an isolated subject. Many children do not make the connection between the various subjects they learn nor do they see how technology might both support this or be used to deceive them. We are not using technology effectively for it to be seen as worthwhile for young people and to support critical thinking. Meanwhile, reality media becomes the predominant genre for factual communication.

Of course, the RSA 'Opening Minds' curriculum also has scepticism at the heart of several of its competancy strands but I have not yet had a chance to observe this in action.