Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Powering up the kids

January 24, 2011

The title is not a phrase I like, though the opposite concept works for me – of the kids powering down when they come into a classroom, putting away their phones and personal computer devices and expecting a linear experience with carefully controlled and limited conversations. I much prefer to talk about the kids engaging with work, becoming highly motivated and taking personal responsibility for what they have to do and the quality of what they produce.

I suppose this is a teacher viewpoint, but we do need to help the teachers see their role in how learning will happen in the future (and should be happening now). This is not just about giving the kids their head to explore what they want to in school, it’s about teachers stimulating and leading their engagement and guiding them to make their learning more explicit and rigourous.

The reason for this post is that I have just watched the video of Karen Cator, US Department of Education, speaking to the Learning Without Frontiers conference It’s really good to hear her say that the examples of new approaches to learning that really impress her are those where the pupils are powered up, creating a much richer and more diverse learning environment and helping each other to personalise the experience. This is very much what I believe from seeing many examples over the years – it’s when the pupils are enabled to take responsibility for their learning that it all starts to happen. And it’s their attitude changes that drive this. The UK schools I have been talking to these last few weeks, to work up ‘compelling case’ studies (in conjunction with the e-Learning Foundation) have been full of these sorts of examples. I will be getting some of these up on my website soon.

It’s just such a pity that the kinds of things Karen is saying are not being said by our current UK government. Expectations, particularly parental expectation, will grow much faster if led by those making education policy. And this need not conflict with schools having full control of how learning and teaching happen. Politicians should not allow their own pride in what they achieved in the school system they went through to blind them to the fact that there are now much richer and better ways for learning interactions to happen. Just think how good these politicians might now be at their job, had they had the opportunities now offered by schools that have embraced pupils’ personal computer devices.

Two kinds of school; two kinds of teacher.

November 24, 2010

The changes in school education being proposed by the new government here in the UK are flushing out quite a lot of comment from teachers on ICT-in-education lists. Given that the contributors are teachers who can see how ICT is changing learning for the better, and changing the world in which pupils will live, some of their comments on the schools they work in are very depressing. We really do have schools that have not grasped how the lives of many young people are changing, schools failing to engage significant sections of their pupils with consequent damage on the learning of the rest.

I have been optimistic these last 25 years that ICT can catalyse the move from schools as places where pupils are taught, whether they like it or not, to places where pupils take responsibility for their own learning, willingly and with some delight in learning. This taking of personal responsibility for learning by pupils is the ONLY common factor I have seen in schools where learning is proceeding better because of the way ICT is being used to support changes in approach to teaching and learning. And we do now have 10% or maybe 20% of schools in the UK where this is happening really well.

But recently I have come to feel that there is no way that some schools and teachers can be encouraged into this new level of education provision in a smooth and progressive way that does not disrupt the learning of whole cohorts of pupils. Jim Knight, the former Schools Minister, speaking recently at the Building Better Schools Conference, stated that “the current paradigm for schools has been pushed as far as it can go”. So even members of the last government are coming to accept that radical change is now essential.

The question for a government is how to create radical change. A lot of people don’t like change and it is very hard to persuade them to change. You need big and powerful levers. The next statement is heresy for all who believe (as I do) in the necessity for inclusive education that works for all young people, to guard against a divided society and for our country’s economic success. But maybe the end does justify the means – maybe the only way that many schools and teachers can be forced to step up to the big change in education that is needed is for there to be failures of schools, sufficient to cause social outrage. Make sure that all government support is removed from bodies and groups that are trying to even-out educational provision. Support and promote the very best so that a clear gap opens up between good schools that are properly preparing young people to thrive in work and life and let anger and desperation of the public force the not-so-good to change.

The key question of course is whether the schools that public opinion comes to recognise as ‘good’ are those that have reverted to an elitist approach, selecting the academically able for whom didactic teaching still works, as they can build around this their broader learning – or schools that have worked out how to engage and excite pupils of all abilities and backgrounds, creating cohesive communities of learning, using ICT in ways that build pupils’ capacity to take advantage of the networked world.

As the government is not going to have the money for big initiatives to direct schools towards an elitist approach (if this really is their preferred future for education) what emerges as the public perception of ‘good’ schools is largely going to be in the hands of the schools themselves – and in the hands of the media who will distort national perceptions according to their prejudices, to the degree that communities and the public generally allow.

There really is everything to fight for, if those who believe and are implementing radical, ICT-enabled changes to learning and schooling are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and trumpet their success.

Winston Churchill said “If you are going through Hell, keep going!”. If there is to be the hell of the failure of some schools and major differences between the educational opportunities and experience of young people in different communities, the faster we go through this period, the better.

One per child

September 24, 2010

I was having an email conversation yesterday morning with Paul Haigh about the sense in schools enabling pupils to use their own mobile devices and even phones in school because they can be very powerful tools for learning. And because schools will not be able to afford to buy mobile computers for all pupils while it is inevitable that your own computer and connection to the Internet will become seen as indispensable for learning.

I have written about this on my website because I have been thinking about it a long time – I was involved in attempts to design a One Per Child (“OPC”) device at Acorn. Once we had the ARM chip in the late 1980s we met once a year to see if the surrounding technology had moved on far enough to make an OPC feasible. I brought harsh marketing criteria to these discussions, the main one being that it had to cost less than a decent kid’s bike. It was going to have to be bought by parents in the main.  A back of the envelope calculation easily showed that even at that price the education system was very unlikely to afford OPCs for all – just multiply 8 million pupils by a couple of hundred quid and assume say a 3yr replacement cycle. We always failed to get the cost of the bits sufficiently inside the price the device had to be; the ARM chip was not the problem, it was the cost of screens and the batteries to drive them. Now of course we are seeing the kind of thing we had in mind and the ARM core is there doing its job in very many mobile phones.

But that is another story. What has stimulated this blog is that after talking to Paul about kids using phones for learning, that evening I dropped into our local for a pint. The partner of the guy serving behind the bar was sitting in a corner, biding time till the end of his shift to go home together. And her portable hobby to pass the time was knitting. Complicated knitting of something very small, using 4 needles.

But to finish off what she was knitting she had a problem knowing precisely how to do it. Fortunately there was another friend there, and after a conversation about her difficulty he volunteered his mobile phone, and the pub has wifi so reception was no problem. So there she was sitting at a table, using an iphone for the first time in her life but easily managing to scroll up and down a series of images that showed her what to do. And she very neatly and successfully finished off what she was knitting.

My mind immediately went back to the conversation with Paul. Why can’t the kids in school have the same opportunity to grab some help from the Internet and to do just-in-time learning when they need to. It just does not make sense for schools and teacher unions to fight against this. Take the advice from Paul on how to do it and get an acceptable use policy instilled into everyone in the school and develop a culture where phones and mobile devices can be used in appropriate ways at appropriate times.

Oh – and what was she knitting? A neat little jersey case for someone else’s phone!