From the fingers of babes and sucklings

There are some very cute videos available of very young children interacting with iPads. This is one such, referred to on a talk list today.

A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work (by UserExperiencesWorks)

Does this prove that an iPad is inherently a better environment for learning or a preferred medium of communication than a magazine?

No – they are just different! If the magazine was useless, why did mum buy it?

I’m no expert in infant psychology, but I understand that babies like to investigate their environment. They learn cause and effect by “doing”; if something doesn’t respond they will soon get bored with it. The fact that the infant in the video found that pinch-to-zoom did not work on paper taught the child a lesson – it’s not that she didn’t learn, but she found that different objects in the environment that may look the same behave differently. If she had seen a photo of play bricks and found that she could not pick them up, this would have taught her that pictures are not the same as three-dimensional objects. This does not make either valueless – they just serve different purposes.

As far as I can see, the child in the video has no direct understanding of anything that is shown on the iPad’s screen, but she has learned something about how to interact with the wider world. It may be a more complex interaction, but is it any different to learning to push the power button on the TV remote, or pressing the toy bear’s tummy to make it say it is hungry?

The touch screen may well be a better form of interaction with a consumer gadget but, at its heart, it is still a computer. There are some things that can be done better on screen than using a text book – almost always when the screen is used as more than an electronic book or video player – but each still has its place. Computer games can – and do – promote positive behaviours and deeper conceptual understanding when used well. But this is no argument for replacing all types of learning with computer games. Given a stark choice, I’d rather see this little girl (when she is a little bit older) playing imaginative games with her teddy bear and a few friends than pushing a representation of the same around the screen by herself. However, I would rather not drive us down that route of false polarisation.

Steve Jobs may be coding part of this girl’s operating system, but I hope it does not too often lead to the situation where she plays with the iPad because her mother is too busy elsewhere. Otherwise, this will code a part of her social operating system to make do without other people – and that will also stay with her for life.

Posted in Learning technologies | Comments Off on From the fingers of babes and sucklings

The internet cannot be trusted, right?

Man looking highly skeptical

Distrust - Flickr image, CC by Reskiebak

Oh dear, yet another internet-bashing story circulating today, following Demos research. See this BBC report Is the internet re-writing history?

Since when were distortion, lies and propaganda a unique feature of the internet? You only have to look at reports of young people’s attitudes to sexual health to find that myth abounds in an area replete with online advice, face-to-face teaching in schools and regular articles in media that young people are supposed to trust.

Rumours and conspiracy theories have long been the fare of playground gossip – and of general public tittle-tattle for that mattter. Pamphleteers commonly wrote and distributed political and polemical tracts in (if memory serves me well) the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Their accuracy then was no more (and no less) to be trusted than that of blogs and other informal media today. Indeed, you could argue that modern conceptions of libel may rein in some of the excesses then seen.

People believe the earth is flat, despite all the evidence that most of us (including Columbus by the way) would consider to the contrary. Often, people will believe what fits with the prevailing world view, so it is not surprising that the muslims students refered to in the Demos research had in mind the truth of reports concerning acts of terror.

(Muslims have had reason to be suspicious at times – see how Anders Breivik’s Norwegian attacks were briefly considered the work of Islamic extremists. That was followed, in many reports, by association with Christian Fundamentalism – which was only marginally less tenuous. Oh, and who reported all that? Yep, the ‘trustworthy’ mainstream media.)

I wish people would stop knocking Wikipedia!

I have used Wikipedia extensively in my past work writing articles for the (then) Becta TechNews service. While it is true that articles were of variable quality, the information they contained was, as far as I could judge from cross-checking, extremely accurate. Really, it is only when you look at areas  of celebrity or significant controversy that you must tread warily.

Demos seem to be advocating teaching ‘digital judgement’ as part of the core curriculum. Not only do I object to people with particular hobby-horses trying to push even more content into an already overcrowded curriculum, but the problem is not digital judgement at all.

We need discerning young people able to make judgements (and research the ‘facts’) across all aspects of communication – from playground gossip to the great controversies of our age.

[Update: Link to Demos report]

Posted in Curriculum, Reliability | Comments Off on The internet cannot be trusted, right?

The Internet of Abandoned Security

Labels containing RFID tags

Labels containing RFID tags, flickr CC image by Security4all

(This – indeed any – post is long overdue.)

People are talking about the Internet of Things. What they mean is that many everyday items will either become directly connected to the internet, or, at least, that the internet will become aware of them.

This sounds all-well-and-good, until you think of your jeans being tracked through shops, transport networks and all kinds of other places. Privacy no more!

The idea is not at all far fetched. See today’s BBC article Should you worry when your jeans go smart? RFID chips are already being inserted into clothes. These passive devices can be scanned as you pass sensors that actively broadcast a radio signal, which the RFID chip ‘reflects’ back with an embedded code identifying itself.

So, if the government of [insert name of paranoid nation-state here] wants to know where you are at all times, all it needs is the code of your jeans and a large network of sensors. There’s an easy solution to this (inspired by the climatic scene from the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair): every time you see someone wearing your size of jeans, just swap. Yep, the mind boggles.

The privacy furore around Facebook and Google’s debacle with its Wi-Fi ‘snooping’ could pale into insignificance in comparison. The BBC article rightly points out that we are being tracked daily by our mobile phones and credit card transactions, so we are much further down the road than many realise.

But what do our students know of all this? How many turn off location on their phones so that pictures they post are not geotagged on Facebook? How many have the slightest clue how the privacy system even works on Facebook? (I get lost in the myriad of options – and much of the time I have no idea what information apps may be accessing on my Android phone. I was rather surprised when WhatsApp told me who else I knew that was using their service.)

And do they forget, that once the information (such as ‘inappropriate’ photos) is out there, it’s almost impossible to get it back? Their whole life since age ten may already be irretrievably posted online.

There may, however, be an upside to all this. People have been auto-tweeting birds pecking on a ‘keyboard’ – hey, for all I know, someone is already tweeting the movements of Joe the Limpet – but, any savvy amateur can turn some of this tech-stuff into weird and wonderful contraptions. A BBC Magazine article, Viewpoint: The internet of things and yet another revolution, reflects broadly on the ‘Maker‘ culture and how expressing yourself using off-the-shelf technology can enhance your experience of the world.

Opportunity or threat?

Posted in Privacy, Social networks | Tagged , | Comments Off on The Internet of Abandoned Security

Employers don’t care for your league table ranking

Baby with "not bothered" expression

not bothered, Flickr image by Lucy Crosbie, CC licence NC, ND

Schools say they act in the interest of students.

Schools’ aims statement say (or infer) that they want to improve learners’ employability.

Schools push pupils through quasi-vocational qualifications that give two or more ‘good’ GCSEs if you can just repeat the same formula enough times (and take plenty of screen shots).

HELLO, schools…

Employers. Don’t. Want. To. Know.

The education system is currently delivering the wrong skill set. What we’re creating is a generation of IT consumers, but not IT creators.

This was from Andy Palmer, head of skills at BT Group, in a ZDnet article IT skills gap faces lack of qualified teachers. Palmer is further quoted:

Students will need to accept that the knowledge is often transient and will frequently change over the course of their career.

Computing also quotes Palmer:

GCSE and A-level ICT and computing are focused on using IT to produce outcomes, rather than exploring the application of IT to make improvements to processes or encouraging development of new products and services.

Study of such nature goes no way to prepare students for employment and does not prepare them technically for the challenges they would face studying computing at university.

These articles arose out of the Westminster eForum debate last week. PC Pro also commented on the issues raised in two articles: ICT classes leave students “bored rigid” and Q&A: How Britain’s throwing away its tech heritage.

In the latter, Dr Sue Black (@Dr_Black) argues that programming (of a simple nature) should be taught from as young as five:

You could teach programming concepts even if you weren’t teaching programming. Just simple things, so kids understand what an algorithm is, how a computer takes instructions, how a computer works. That sort of thing is completely missing from our computing teaching at the moment.

With due deference to Dr Black, I do think that many KS1 classrooms teach such things when they get out the BeeBots or talk about ‘programming’ a microwave. But this is often lost as pupils move through the school system.

In IT courses need “radical” change to attract women Mike Carbonaro, of the University of Alberta, argues for teaching game construction to male and female students together. According to PC Pro, researchers in his department “found that women were far more interested in designing and building games than they were in playing them”.

Whether it is programming, game construction or a range of other approaches, what is not needed is more screen shots of trivial customer databases cobbled together in Microsoft Access.

It seems that the qualifications offered to many youngsters are more about schools’ league table positions, based on ‘good’ GCSEs, rather than on their future employability.

In just whose interests are schools educating?

(This post was – in part – inspired by @anna_debenham’s piece Help keep ICT in our schools.)

Posted in Curriculum, Employment, KS4, Qualifications | Comments Off on Employers don’t care for your league table ranking

ICT is Facebook innit!

Hand drawn status "update" box on wallpaper

By Neil Adam, CC licence, SA NC

The latest @naace newsletter carried a link to a Public Technology post, Editor’s Manifesto: ICT, a casualty of the curriculum review?

The post (rightly) laments the Government’s relegation of ICT to the also-ran of the curriculum and Michael Gove’s insistence on bringing facts to the fore. But it also quotes Microsoft research:

A recent study by Microsoft revealed at BETT earlier this month, found a staggering 71% feel that they learn more about computers and technology outside the classroom than in it. Indeed, 82% of 16 to 18 year-olds in education already use Facebook every day…

I don’t know that the last part of this actually comes from the MS research. (I cannot find the original source and the MS Schools Blog does not mention it.) However, the implicit, underlying curriculum model sets no vision for ICT, no rigour. It’s trivial! No wonder young people think they already know all about ICT – and we are the ones setting a parochial, restricted agenda.

Yes, Facebook is ICT, but ICT is very definitely not Facebook.

A colleague (to remain nameless here) recently wrote in a @naace forum post

Rationalise and simplify the NC – should be popular with schools and politicians. Bring NC demands in line with National Occupational Standards. Improve the links between subject processes (eg presentation to audience in English and the Arts) and ICT. Refocus specialist IT more on the competences needed for e-portfolios and the collaborative technologies needed to support learning across the curriculum.

Is that it for specialist I(C)T? The ability to record and upload aspects of ‘school’ work (via video and audio, as well as written outputs), plus the skills to use collaborative technologies?

I trust my previous posts have indicated my concerns about ICT in KS3 and the focus (in many classrooms) on ‘office’ productivity software. But replacing that with a different – and even more limited range? – of communication and collaboration technologies is no solution at all.

I have no doubt at all that the colleague who wrote the above would want students to understand what they were doing and use such applications to develop a range of higher level skills (such as reflection and critical analysis). But that is hardly a curriculum for specialist ICT.

We need to be opening up a panorama of applications of technology, not closing in on social networks and communication tools.

Posted in Curriculum, KS3, Social networks | Comments Off on ICT is Facebook innit!

Where to with KS3?

My previous post outlined some of the problems I see in KS3, although friends on Twitter suggest that the Strategies are not being followed (or at least used as a broad basis for schemes of work) as widely as I suspect. Certainly, there are people like @andyfield, @mwclarkson and @4goggas trying hard to take more innovative approaches. (And, yes, there’s others too!)

What should schools be doing?

For a start, we should be looking at the “big picture” of ICT in the real world. For example:

industrial robots

By chrischesher, Flickr, CC-SA-NC licence

  • 3D in games and films
  • robotic production lines
  • privacy in the age of Facebook (and why learners under 13 shouldn’t be using FB)
  • massive databases, such as Amazon, EBay and Google
  • sensing in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), Hubble telescope or medical applications
  • games as models (rather than dull spreadsheets)
  • the role of communications in ‘popular uprisings’
  • programming apps for the iPhone and other platforms
  • touch and gesture interfaces

Of course this list could go on. It is also clear that some issues and technologies will be either transitory or fads, but these are things that are ‘now’ and potentially of direct interest to students.

I am not trying to define content with the preceding list, but context.

It is important that key ICT skills and ‘higher order’ thinking are embedded in KS3. But do we need the approach that seems to emphasise software skills above all? Why not use the skills that young people already have and develop these through mentoring, formative assessment/AfL and targeted support, while ensuring that the contexts used are real.

Roughly, I’m thinking of an approach that:

  • Sets out a problem/issue/technical development
  • Organises learners into research groups
  • Leaves then to make choices about how to organise their research
  • Leaves learners to decide whether to report their findings using a document, presentation, audio response, video, blog post…
  • Showcases innovative responses, good use of technology, interesting questions
  • Develops self- and peer-assessment that picks out the good points and areas for development
  • Ensures learners develop their software skills in context across a range of applications.

I want learners to be saying things like “How did she do that?” and “I want to do that next time”. Further, they should be asking each other how to achieve a particular outcome.

BUT I particularly want them to go away with an appreciation (at least) of exciting new areas of technology.

Of course there’s really little new in the above and it would be wearisome if the same approach was being used continually across KS3. @andyfield argues (rightly IMHO) that gaming and programming need to have a real role.

Many are already looking at the wider use of gaming in the curriculum, not least the brilliant @timrylands, @dawnhallybone and @derekrobertson. The latter is particularly involved as leader of the Scottish Consolarium project.

These people are (largely) talking about gaming supporting other parts of the curriculum. But games are just the best place to talk about modelling using ICT. They are engaging; part of what many young people ‘do’; direct in terms of understanding what the model is intended to achieve; and not downright boring like Excel. Financial models are important for some people (and Excel is a great tool in many other contexts), but simulations – to which games are akin – are a much bigger and more exciting part of modelling.

Why don’t we use these things?

I realise that there are issues with hardware (for video reports, or gaming) and internet filtering for researching some topics. But we must raise our eyes and our expectations.  If we expect young people to engage with the tools and skills they already have I think we will be continually surprised by what they can do.

I am sure I am not the only person grappling with these issues. Just this morning, Marilyn Hartwell from the Vital “IT Specialist” community pointed to an article arguing that Cyber security could interest children. This article also outlines the context in the delcine of uptake in ICT. The IT Specialists community wiki (for which you need a Vital login) has other examples of ‘real life’ ICT applications. The task of the group is to enhance ICT at KS4, but the contexts could be applied to younger learners too.

The #ictcurric group has further resources for teaching ICT contributed by @dwsm, @largerama, @ZoeRoss19 and others.

I am convinced that the problem at A Level and KS4 is really the problem of KS3.

Posted in Curriculum, KS3 | Comments Off on Where to with KS3?

The problem with Key Stage 3

Sign saying "Dull unicorporated"

By AGlassDarkly, Flickr CC licence

Key Stage 3 is in the doldrums and it doesn’t look like it will be rescued any time soon. Not only is there the well-known “dip” in all areas on transfer from primary, but the ICT curriculum that young people face is staid, uninspiring and out of touch.

I am not a hard-line advocate of “relevance” as I think it is good to be exposed to things you have never met before and look at ideas from other people’s point of view. But KS3 ICT is dull, dull, dull.

Of course I am really referring to the National Strategies framework, not the actual ICT Programmes of Study. The latter is very open in what can be taught, let alone how. This was always the intention, as the authors knew that specific technologies would change. Sadly, the Strategies then took it and applied the lowest common denominator (in terms of available resources) and produced something which has determined (or strongly influenced) the experienced curriculum in nearly every school.

I have been reflecting on this for a while, but it has been brought much more sharply into focus by the recently launched National Curriculum consultation.

Somehow, 11-year-old students are expected to be excited about designing a logo for a mythical company or financial modelling for a hypothetical disco.

Gloomy hallway

By Marco Wessel, Flickr image, CC license

Is it any wonder that young people are uninspired and say they learn more ICT at home? Many good primary schools have probably taught the skills required by the end of Y4 or Y5. Yes, we must acknowledge that not all primaries do this and not all children are “Digital Natives”. Indeed some of the digital natives are are actually quite undiscerning consumers of information mediated through ICT – but teaching them “goal seek” on a spreadheet is hardly going to set them alight.

We live in a world swamped with ICT (used in the general sense). Go to a cash machine, pay for goods in a shop, drive your car, watch your TV, phone a friend – nearly everything you do will be mediated by ICT systems, often embedded where you cannot see them.

Our country is desperate for ICT-capable engineers, programmers, designers… but take-up of related A Level courses is dropping off alarmingly. (Take a look at any e-skills Labour Market bulletin or other report.)

To be fair, ICT was never intended to be about computing/IT, but was about ICT capability – understanding key principles and being able to use them across a range of subjects and in the wider world.

(We could enter into a sterile argument about the intended differences between ICT and IT, but we are way past that. UNESCO, the EU, e-skills and most employers in the UK now refer to ICT. Let’s just accept that the two are, de facto, synonymous.)

However, we have done young people a disservice by leaving them with the impression that ICT is about software skills and trivial applications. That says even more about some of the teaching at KS3 and – even moreso – about senior managers’ attitudes, which see ICT as a “service subject” for other parts of the curriculum. This doesn’t even reflect the aspirations of the ICT Strategy, which was supposed to engage learners with “higher level” skills.

The Strategy is now nearly ten years old. It is time we moved on and brought back some excitement to ICT.

Posted in Curriculum, KS3 | Tagged , | Comments Off on The problem with Key Stage 3

Resetting the default

Right, I have reinstalled everything and learned quite a lot about WordPress in the process:

  • Make sure the install options are right from start
  • Don’t fiddle with install directories (I know, I know)
  • Sometimes it is easier to start again, especially if you haven’t got very far

Perhaps someone in education might take note? Mr Gove? It’s not (quite) too late to reset to default.

Posted in Admin | Comments Off on Resetting the default