Six years ago we got a hard time for getting our students to create little snippets of audio for each other and the wider world - using iPods for learning was seen as expensive and gimmicky. "Who has those devices? We couldn't possibly purchase devices for children. They're far too expensive for them to own them any time soon."
Six years on Abdul Chohan was getting the same feedback at his school, the Essa Academy. At the Learning Without Frontiers conference he recounts how he had seen iPod Touches, the next generation of device from our low-fi iPods of 2004, as the key to untapping new learning landscapes for his learners.
With a seamless wifi setup in the school students never lost touch with the web through their mobile devices. Polish students, recently arrived at the school, were able to decipher English-language physics lessons by backing up their learning with the Polish language version of the theme's wikipedia entry.
Above all, teachers could stop judging what students should or could be doing based "on their date of manufacture" (or, as some might add, on their sell-by date). Youngsters were able to extend or support their own learning as they saw fit, when they saw fit.
Students overnight had knowledge at their fingertips (and in their pockets) in text, on the web and in podcasts (boys in particular were amongst those downloading 900 or so GCSE Pods to revise for the examinations).
Edmodo provided a learning social network through which teachers and learners could send messages, manage their learning, set tasks, ask for help.
The £40,000 ($80,000) leasing bill for printers will, as a result, be greatly reduced as the amount of paper being used is reduced significantly.
The cost of the devices themselves, even with a refresh rate of 18p/35c per day included, is therefore relatively affordable.
The results? Where, a year or two before, the school had been set for closure by the Government watchdog for having a pass rate never above 30%, examinations results coming in after this mobile investment, at Grades A*-C, were running at 99%.
When we believe that youngsters are capable of anything and, vitally, provide the human and virtual help and support to make that potential a possible, there's nothing that can hold them back.
I'm pleased to see that former colleagues in Learning and Teaching Scotland have managed to get their LTS iTunes U site opened, following our friends at the Open University. Scotland heads out as the first iTunes U provider of professional development material podcasts for those working with 3-18 year olds.
It's not been an easy journey. In 2005, on joining LTS to head up their Modern Languages work, I challenged the organisation to get podcasting (audio) the entire Scottish Learning Festival contents, and video as much as possible. Four years on we're still not able to access good quality recordings of everything, despite the costs of doing so being derisory and the long-tail interest being high - just take a look at the figures viewing what might be conceived as obscure education topics on the Slideshare site I created for the event.
We also had a challenge getting more audio and video material out in subsequent years through the now-defunkt Connected Live site, intended to be an evolution of the print magazine with media-rich addition to the limits of the atom presented by the magazine. Arguably, as with all social media projects in the large, it took two years for the culture to change sufficiently for blogging one's experiences to be seen as part and parcel of one's work, not a geeky pass-time. Mike Coulter along with Saint Andrew of Brown and others have continued to develop that culture slowly and successfully over the past year. We now have an education agency with elements that have moved the organisation from its glossy corporate sheen, to a more 'honest', approachable voice.
LTS's involvement with iTunes U is part of that evolution, and signifies a small victory for those of us who had been pushing for some more budget and effort to be spent on bite-sized professional development designed for small mobile screens, at a time when there was no YouTube or video podcast device.
The organisation's biggest challenge is to make sure it does not become the voice of the marketer or a self-referential poster-child for the politics of education, but a place where grassroots honesty and constructive reflection on our teaching and learning practice can be amplified.
Maybe one of the last of these podcasting workshops I ever do. Not that they're bad, but I think I'll have some other things on my to-do list. Here are Colin, Tara and the unknown Canadian telling me where to go out in Calgary this weekend. You'd be welcome to join me...
This is the 25-minute keynote, Unleashing The Tribe, which I delivered at the Tipperary Institute in May this year, a shorter version of the 90 minute marathon I was invited to give at Redbridge Council the same week. It's a "here's where we are now" on what makes communities tick online, on mobile, in face-to-face settings, and why understanding this is so important for learning, borrowing unashamedly from Clay Shirky, danah boyd, a plethora of the hundred or so research reports that have crossed my browser this past 12 months and all the conversations I've had, blog posts written. Not bad for less than half-an-hour of audio and slides.
Does your technology make learning better? Does it make assessment better? Does it make learning more enjoyable? These are the key questions asked by Professor Richard Kimbell from Goldsmiths when he's looking at technology, and he found a problem with all three in e-portfolios. They need to change.
Currently, performance portfolios are created as an end result of project work. With teachers who are increasingly aware and communicating what will gain a good grade, we end up with a project and therefore a portfolio which are not real, which are fiction, which have no real sense. It is, says Kimbell, one of the reasons girls do better than boys - girls have more patience and creativity for presenting the results in a well-finished manner.
Cue Project E-Scape: this project was about generating real-time performance portfolios and finding new ways of assessing them. Initially, the idea began on paper.
A change in pedagogy The tasks are real: repackaging lightbulbs to make the packaging reusable and multifunctional. The results: the box should be hexagonal, with a taper for the narrow end of the bulb. If you get enough of them you would end up with a sphere to surround the lightbulb. You can cut the ends to create lettering or animals which are then projected around the wall. Their projects are entitled "Your name in lights" or "Jack-In-A-Box light". You can see an example of project in this video.
Students, in their projects, are handed a script by the teacher, which choreographs their activity but does not dictate it. It's a scaffold for some improv. These students end up working like engineers, with the teacher in a technician role: "you could do it this way, or that way, or this way. It's your call". Teachers hate it, seeing their role reduced in some way from the sage on the stage to very much the guide on the side.
The need to make assessment digital The project became digital as a result of an argument, an argument between two students about where their project should go. If only the teacher could capture that discussion it would make such a difference to the final assessment, providing a way to fill a gap in the learning process which is rarely assessed, if at all.
E-Portfolios, though, have three core problems. Firstly, they are generally works of fiction, created in a sterile ICT suite or on a laptop in a students' bedroom, not in the workshop or art room where the action (and learning) was happening. Secondly, It's a secondhand activity, digitally constructed as an afterthought to the learning itself. Finally, what kids tell you they're learning is different from what they write down in a portfolio.
So, E-Scapes asked if they could capture, in a portfolio, the learning that was happening in typical, messy, complex classrooms. They answered with handheld learning devices and collaborative co-creation of ideas: ideas are created, swapped around and extended by team-mates. As work is done, step-by-step, the work is uploaded dynamically to the e-portfolio website. Each stage of the learning 'build' can be accessed in a browse mode, or examined in greater detail. It's real-time, so the teacher can see and hear everything, all of the time, act on the spot or react later. You can see more of the process in this video.
How can this be assessed? One potential methodology is based upon the law of comparative judgement. Think about eye tests, where we are asked which spot is sharper, the one on the left or the one on the right? We've only got two options, so we answer which one is better, without considering or knowing why. Taking this further, the E-Scape team, with their especially hard-to-judge non-identical projects, is to use a comparative pairs methodology (pdf). On a very simplistic level, assessment from seven judges is carried out on pairs of projects at a time, each judge marking 17 pieces of work. The judges decide which one is better, and move onto the next pair for the first round.
In a second round, the 'core' of median performances are taken and worked on further to create a rank order of evenly spaced performances. Using the resulting curve of performance, grade boundaries can be created retrospectively to award a grade, and the margin of error between the highest and lowest opinion of judges can be seen as clear as a whistle. These large margins of error are down to judges disagreeing, so these portfolios need to be pulled out and looked at further. We can also look at the judges and how consensual each one is with the rest of the judging team (the principle of moderation, which Scottish schools already practice). Those who are too harsh or too 'easy' can stimulate discussion as to why a project might be more or less strong. So this formative assessment informs the judges and teachers.
The reliability coefficient of all this? 0.93% It's virtually faultless, and no assessment system anywhere else comes close to getting this realistic in its outcomes. The team are working now on the third phase pairs being selected automagically after each judgement has been made, making sure that the process is as efficient as possible.
Gosh, it's been a long week... and it's only Thursday. I was working with some great teachers at BETT yesterday and in Oxford this morning, learning about podcasting, Myst and digital photography. But, oh, my poor voice.
The problem for publishers is this: they're one of the few industries who don't sell to the people who use their products. Ultimately, though, they need to keep making money, so let's see how the current model is working for them in the long term.
They sell to the middlemen (teachers), who then have to sell it to the customer (the student). The customers' feedback ("this is boring") merely makes the middleman feel even less motivated to spend any more time on the unit of work as necessary. The feedback stops with the middleman, there being no standardised feedback mechanism that is part and parcel of the purchasing-resell experience. If the middleman has the motivation, the original product merely serves to give more work to the middleman to create an alternative product that suits the customer's needs (resource-creation around the textbook course).
If this really were a business in any other product, I think I'd be calling in the administrators soon.
That was the feeling I had on Tuesday night after debating as one of four on a panel on what impact social media was having on education, what impact it could yet have and how this would affect the publishing and broadcast industry.
In Online Creative Communication's hour panel debate and the hours of informal debate that followed I'm not convinced we really got to the bottom of those last two questions, and I left feeling that a lot of the people doing the business of 'traditional publishing' have the same aspirations that many educators would have for something new and different from the textbook, CD-Rom and accompanying 'interactive whiteboard compatible' web or network service, but have the same fears of what 'them upstairs' would say about it.
Media Convergence Divergence In an age where the buzzword is 'Media Convergence', the feeling I get resoundingly from the chalkface is that life in school and life in the real world are increasingly diverging. The average length of one session on Bebo is 36 minutes, averaging out at about 47 minutes per day (that means lots of kids going onto Bebo every other day and spending maybe more than an hour in one sesh). Your average UK teen currently spends 1400 minutes a week online, and only 60 of them in front of a computer in school (most of which may be offline, on a slow connection or on a networked proprietary exercise).
Just looking at the comparison between a social network like Bebo and the lack of interactivity in your average VLE by comparison, shows this divergence. We can also take a look at the kind of non-social simplistic games provided by publishers at the moment, games which amount to little more than drill and (s)kill, with a limited number of levels and only one (or a few) correct answers. Compare that to the ultra complex games made of hundreds of levels and open-ended plot lines defined by the player.
For publishers, though, until they see education getting more aligned with this 'real world' they will not pander to it - because the end-users of their products, regardless of whether they like the products or not, don't actually have the cash to buy them.
Publishers as Change Agents For me, the whole industry needs to reconsider its role in education change. I'm not sure they see how powerful their role in education change is. They are the tail and they are wagging the dog. They have a superb opportunity, along with examination boards, to make a reality in schools the pedagogy of the world's top performing countries (based upon assessment for learning, not assessment of learning, and rich tasks truly centred around the desires and directions of the learners). The could be working on leading a change to quality teaching and learning of the kind we see in Finland, New Zealand, Australia and, to some extent, Scotland, rather than attempting to apply the summatively assessed high-stakes tested pedagogy of the world's biggest countries, such as the United States, India and China.
It's not an easy ride. Just last week I had a teacher from France ask why she would attempt to engage learners in creative writing with a computer game, when, for her, it was so much easier just to show a film. Sure, showing a film is a pleasant experience but you can't do it all the time. Likewise, video games and social networks are arguably just as or more engaging for the young person of 2007 and should enter the toolset of any teacher. It's not easy for them, but teachers like this one have to remember that it's not about them: change requires relearning, giving a damn enough to give a go with something that engages the students. Is lifelong learning just something to which we're going to pay lip service? Surely for publishers, to, there's more money to made in lifelong learning than from just thirteen year's worth of statutory learning.
My final point: the market is there. And if it's not it can be made. In East Lothian, in just one year, we've gone from a handful of teachers sharing their work around a table in one room and on their blogs, to over 300, over a third of the total workforce. Teachers talking not about textbooks and the latest course they're thinking of buying (the kind of thing I see on email discussion lists) but on the pedagogy they have been trying in their classrooms, and the positive results they are gaining from it. It didn't just happen; it was nurtured.
Publishers talk about the fear factor the teachers they speak to would have were they to go down the route of children taking more control of their learning, but especially using technologies the teachers themselves understand very little. Yet, few of these same publishers would say their resources were anything other than "learner-centred". Are publishers just paying lip-service to the notion? Would they put their money where their mouth is and engage in active re-training of teachers to make a better product sell? Softease have been doing this really successfully, showing many teachers and schools why podcasting is an important ingredient in changing the way we teach and learn by holding workshops and engaging further through their numerous blogs.
This, I think, is where the biggest dent can be made:
Five Things Publishers Can Do Now To Survive In The Abundance And Connectivity Of Social Media
We need to help people over the barriers to change, rather than bullishly attempting to break these barriers down. If anyone tries to break a barrier they'll end up sore and failing. Helping the change over the barrier will let it run on.
Publishers should start appealing directly to their end-users by giving them free stuff. There is a market in giving it away to them, and charging those with the purse strings. Just ask Mark at Coffee Break Spanish about the last 10.5 million downloads of his 'little podcast'.
We never see a community of learners related to a textbook. There's a market there waiting to be exploited. I can see how it would work, too. Costs little, makes customers and end-users feel valued and involves everyone in making the product better.
I will continue to avoid trade halls at conferences, because I just start to annoy the stall holders. "But I can do this already with these free tools", a phrase that has been met with every excuse you can imagine. It doesn't matter if I need to log in to two separate sites to do what I want, it doesn't matter if it's not a "one-stop-shop" if it does what I want it to do. When pretty much everything traditional publishers is available for free, and when really what I want my students to be doing is remixing and creating their own content, what purple cows are you going to give me to make me part with cash?
I'd hope to see fewer publishers pandering to the digital natives/immigrants thesis in order to continue selling easy products, selling on the ignorance of customers about what is already out there for free. My pet hate is the school podcasting service that will charge you the best part of $5000 to host a podcast created on Open Source software (Audacity). The whole process could be done by a school for free or a maximum of $100 to do it really well.
Fascinating stuff, both from a global citizenship side as well as a French, Modern Foreign Languages reading and viewing point of view, you simply click on the face of the person who you want to hear speak about love, war, peace, fear, politics, desert, tundra...
On the way home on Thursday night from Derbyshire I was being entertained by (and learning loads through) the fantastic In The Womb video podcast (search for it in iTunes).
Each of the five episodes is only about 4 minutes, a summary of the ground-breaking National Geographic Channel series, revealing in a behind-the-scenes set of videos some of the science behind the foetus, the womb and birth. Fascinating stuff, and all of this sitting for free on the web!
Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.
His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.
Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?
In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.