A parent learns to blog on East Lothian's eduBuzz blogging-for-learning platform, alongside her daughter at Humbie Primary School. Pic: David Gilmour
Today, in a world of social networks young people have never written or
read so much. And now, a new more robust survey in the UK shows
conclusively that social networking, blogging and generally publishing
writing online does improve students' attitudes to writing by about a
sixth. I'd add that, in the hands of a good teacher's structured approach, the quality of that writing itself should be seen to improve, too.
Action research of mine that got published almost exactly four years ago showed that blogging within a structured learning environment improves writing in a foreign language, by providing an audience - and would help improve reading, too. Last year, Becta's Web 2.0 research showed that the increased use of social networks in itself didn't necessarily correlate to more creativity or better production of media, but that the role for mentors (e.g. parents, teachers) was still paramount in eking out the most constructive use of technologies.
A survey of 3,001 children aged nine to 16 found that 24% had their own blog and 82% sent text messages at least once a month.
In addition 73% used instant messaging services to chat online with friends.
the children who neither blogged nor used social network sites, 47%
rated their writing as "good" or "very good", while 61% of the bloggers
and 56% of the social networkers said the same.
suggests a strong correlation between kids using technology and wider
patterns of reading and writing," Jonathan Douglas, director of the
National Literacy Trust, told BBC News.
"Engagement with online technology drives their enthusiasm for writing short stories, letters, song lyrics or diaries."
Douglas dismissed criticisms about the informal writing styles often
adopted in online chat and "text speak", both of which can lack grammar
and dictionary-correct spelling.
"Does it damage literacy? Our research results are conclusive - the
more forms of communications children use the stronger their core
It's good to see some balanced journalism from the Beeb this yuletide, pulling in the pantomime "boos" of the National Association for Primary Education to cast a de-professionalising spell over any enthusiastic educator:
"Most primary school
teachers are doubtful about hooking children up to computers -
especially when they are young," said John Coe, general secretary of
the National Association for Primary Education.
enormous advantages in the relationship between teacher and child.
Sometimes the computer is closer to the child than the teacher by the
age of 13."
Nonetheless, it's vital that research like this being taken on board by those making purchasing, training and pedagogical approach decisions.
A question, then, to those in the higher echelons of classroom practice decision-making: will over four years of conclusive research tip you into overtly supporting the use of web publishing in your school environments, from elementary through to secondary and higher education?
Clive Thompson in Wired has summed up some definitive research that backs up what many of us have been saying from our guts for years: kids have never been reading and writing so much, and with the proliferation of social networks and mobile messaging this stat will only increase with time:
Andrea Lunsford is a professor of writing and rhetoric at
Stanford University, where she has organized a mammoth project called
the Stanford Study of Writing
to scrutinize college students' prose. From 2001 to 2006, she collected
14,672 student writing samples—everything from in-class assignments,
formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat
sessions. Her conclusions are stirring.
"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of
which we haven't seen since Greek civilization," she says. For
Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving
it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.
The first thing she found is that young people today write far more
than any generation before them. That's because so much socializing
takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the
writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it
took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it.
Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.
Not only that but the writing is of an excellent technical standard, with status updates training our youngsters in the kind of "haiku-like concision" that their verbose parents could only dream of.
It's the kind of research that would have proven handy 18 months or so ago, when I had helped colleagues design some of the most forward-thinking literacy policies in the world, where text messages, computer games and blogs were deemed suitable 'texts' to study alongside the great classics. I got a bit of a hard time for condoning this at the time, and still get a rocky ride in believing that iPhones and iPod Touches could be amongst the digital toolkits in which our most reluctant readers might find the reading bug.
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.
The MET Schools, Rhode Island, USA, take open-ended schooling to a level about which most of us can only hypothesise. I was fortunate enough to visit four of these schools in Providence this summer as part of BLC07.
Pick-Me-Up When you enter a MET School, initially funded through the Bill Gates Foundation and now providing education on the same funding as any other state sector school, you get what the students get: an early morning Pick-Me-Up. Someone shares a story, what they've been doing: a student, a teacher, the Principal, an 'outsider'. They effectively give a face-to-face blog, where the comments come thick and fast and a dialogue begins. The whole school attend pick-me-up, but when your maximum school size is 150, with a Principal and the administration that entails, it's not too much to ask.
Also, when the walls are magnetic and loosely attached to each other, making a room a few metres squared bigger isn't too much hassle, either.
MET Schools can say with no sense of irony or "management speak" that they are truly centred around the child. When we asked what mechanisms were in place for student involvement, expecting to have seen student councils and boards, the students looked kind of quizzically at us: "we're always saying how this school should be run; we're always working in partnership with our advisors (teachers)."
The schooling here is based on four 21st Century education principles:
Application of knowledge and critical thinking
Experiential learning: learning by doing
Storytelling and presentation skills
In the MET, every teacher is a generalist, helping to scaffold learning alongside others: students, parents, local business. There's an emphasis on the practical hands-on connection to learning, something they have honed over the past 6-6 years.
What does a day look like? After Pick-Me-Up, groups of around a dozen students enter their Advisory. This is their first and only class, with the same Advisor (teacher) getting to know them, and them getting to know each other, for an unbroken four year period - until they leave school. They plan their learning with their Advisor and each other, once every quarter, building a narrative around a project and then presenting a final exhibition of their work to family, friends and school. The plan is not something that can be formulated in one meeting; it takes a long time for advisor to get to know student, for student to find an internship that's going to actually bring them something worthwhile. It's worth it in the end, of course: Lyall followed her passion of organising events and now works for the New England Patriots doing just that. Passion is the main criteria for doing, or not doing something at school. If a student does not have a personal passion for something then they will not be allowed to follow learning down that road. Just watching Lyall illustrates what I mean:
Assessment and the real world Formative assessment is in, summative assessment is saved for the very end. Meta-cognition, learning how to learn and knowing what and how you've learnt, is equally important. Ultimately, it's the assessment that peers give in that final exhibition that counts most - and makes them never want to fail. Impressing your peers in the audience is the ultimate in motivational carrots.
And school work is not the only thing being assessed. Two days a week are spent in internships with local businesses - the four schools in Providence feed off a network of over 1200 businesses, built up over the years, with students firing off letters and making phone calls to arrange over 1000 internships for themselves every year. The schools' Advisors visit these businesses on a rotating cycle, seeing them at least every three weeks. Individual internships can last anything between three months and several years.
Making time count, 24 hours a day MET Schools have a lot going on in them, with students following completely individualised personalised timetables, internships and learning paths. the equivalent of Literacy and Numeracy hours are set aside to guarantee some continuity of progression. "Where does 'Core PE' fit into this?" you might ask. Here, if a student is taking part in sport outside the main school day, for example, then this is documented and counts towards their school time. The same goes for literature studied or films viewed. The whole time spent my the child counts as learning - why should learning only be accountable between the hours of 9am and 4pm?
University life appears relatively well-structured when that time comes, as students are continuously taught time-management skills to cope with the complexity of working for oneself.
Getting breadth out of depth Having students choosing their own learning paths means that a lot of depth can be gained in some areas, while none is achieved in others. This is where the Pick-Me-Up and close-knit Advisory Group setup is invaluable. As students share in their exhibitions and informal discussions, interviews with Advisories and collaborative brain-picking with peers, the breadth of study you'd hope for in a more traditional school setting is achieved. Key to this working well is the Advisor, who aggregates all the work going on in the school and attempts to make links between students who could mutually benefit from working with each other.
How do they pay for it? As I've said, the amount spent on a student in a MET school and the amount spent on a regular state school are roufghly the same. But in the MET about 80% of student 'cost' is spent on salaries of staff, to make class sizes no more than around a dozen. They're not spending on textbooks or large scale facilities, their schools being so small, which means there's that much more to invest in what really matters: the teachers. There is no shortage of ICT equipment for students to use, with enough money saved up to create media studios and theatres for the community to use, too. When we were in a local rapper and hip hop artists was in recording some tunes in the studio, for free in return for mentoring some students during term time. As you would have hoped, students are encouraged to bring in their own tools as much as possible to ease the load.
Does it work? The MET provides a highly effective means of schooling kids. Attendance runs at 95%. Every child sits their SATs (final examinations), where in many state schools up to 20% can be refused, so as not to negatively affect the overall results. 80% of these students choose to move on to Further or Higher Education - 100% of them get accepted.
The low-/no-assessment model of the MET is respected by the universities, but only after the schools had gone out to the universities to explain how things are done, that the students are that good bit more rounded and that their scores, if the same or slightly lower than the norm, don't reveal this extra added value these students bring, above all their hard-work and passion-led ethic.
The MET's too busy with teaching and learning to be spending the disproportionate time on exam technique that most traditional state schools do.
The schools reach out into the community, often in sensitive areas. There is no graffitti, the sports fields and facilities are open to the community and the community returns the favour by welcoming the school in.
On an emotional literacy scale the MET is somewhere in the stratosphere. In state schools only a third of students say that they feel there's an adult they can approach with their problems. In the MET, nine out of ten students feel that they can approach their teacher. What does that say about the kind of education on offer?
The MET welcomes over 1000 visitors a year, events being organised by students, of course. If you fancy a gander, head over the The Big Picture and arrange your management team or department their own visit.
a) writing down explicitly what they think they've learned;
b) gaining help from peers in comments; and
c) re-reading progress further down the line and using the experience to see what they have learnt, and what needs more work.
TeacherDude this morning adds to the examples, but he's been finding Flickr useful as a visual learning log. It's true that his photography stream has been one of the few that I subscribe to, not just because he's producing good shots but because he's producing increasing better shots each week. See what he has to say about how his learning log is now helping him improve further.
It looks like later this month there will be a new member in the famous and incredibly influentual Black Box series: Inside the ICT Black Box, taking a look at how formative assessment, assessment for learning and assessment as learning can be enhanced by the use of ICT.
Following on from the ground-breaking research outlined in Inside the Black Box (1998) and Working Inside the Black Box (2002), this booklet forms part of a new series offering concise and easy-to-implement advice on how to promote assessment for learning within secondary classrooms.
In this booklet, the authors Mary Webb and Margaret Cox focus on the needs and opportunities relevant to secondary ICT teachers and those teaching ICT as a subject. The ideas presented are based on substantial research evidence and have been widely shown to improve students’ learning and achievements. The booklet concludes with a discussion of the importance of planning, school support and team working in order to achieve policy change.
What is the role of Computing Studies, learning the science of computing, when so much of the curriculum that has been devised and relatively unchanged for the past 10-15 years is now expected to permeate the rest of the curriculum?
On Friday afternoon I had a great final session (for the moment) with some of East Lothian's computing studies teachers, Morna Findlay and Duncan Smeed (who suggested the title of the post) from Edinburgh and Glasgow universities and a teacher visiting from just over the county boundaries in the Borders. We set out a couple of months ago to look at what the Computing Studies classroom could look like in the age of the Live Web, empowerment of pupils without the need to know about coding or programming. It was a tough session in points, but we came out in the second half of our 200 minutes with some superb ideas and some actions to take forward.
There were a few things that I picked up on:
Project and product-based learning It seemed that often the common or garden computing course is made up of units, weeks or lessons based around particular technology (Week 3 is Word Processing, Week 4 is Spreadsheets). I showed my favourite Be Very Afraid video, where a student has taken several concepts (databases, spreadsheets, craft and design, potentially digital video and photography, too) to come up with a product. Two worlds collide.
The process of the product involves everything our Curriculum for Excellence stands for, but we are left asking the question: "What was the role of the teacher here?" We were also left wondering how the student learns the nuts and bolts required to see the potential of tools that could be used, how the student designs a project where (s)he reaches his or her zone of proximal development. How do you know what you don't know? How do you design a project which, each time, brings you a little higher than you were before? How do we do both 'fun' personalised projects and get the pupils to acquire the knowledge that's required to fulfill their projects? What comes first, the training or the project and experiential learning?
Social computing is where students' passion lies Since computing has always, to some degree, lain in the domain of bringing people and knowledge, and people and people, together, we need to design a curriculum and process which underlines this. The ethics of computing need to appear and be discussed to understand the potential of the tools. From these discussions the ideas for projects may arise.
Life B.C. (Before Computing) It's all too easy for us to be astounded by the potential of computing technology, from email to the gaming console, but for kids technology has always been a given (I remember by computing studies teacher being astounded by coding a traffic light system to work, but I had been doing coding every weekend on my Spectrum since I was six - I wasn't as impressed, or motivated for that matter.)
Taking a look at technology's impact over time, looking at what life would be like without certain technology helps us understand the ethical implications, positive and negative, of each technology. This helps frame why we might want to learn more about how they work and how we can harness them for our own gains or the gains of others. This is where the basis for a project à la Extreme Learning may come into play.
Learning (b)logs I've been hammering on about learning (b)logs instead of learning logs (on paper) for years, and even had some of my research on it published. For me, the links are clear, and even clearer for a subject where a learning diary is already being kept for examination purposes. For once, we can see the direct use of a blog for examination and formative purposes - all at once.
But it also makes a superb introductory term for our first year secondary students: here's your own blank blog. Write a first post (what is computing for you?), design its look, choose your widgets, personalise your workspace. Ethics is in there from day one: what is public, what is private, what is acceptable?
Yes, they may already have their own online space but, at that age, many won't. Also, this is introducing the concept of a social space as being a workspace, too, something their Bebo page almost certainly is not.
As a result, we should have at least 200 new eduBuzzers this coming term.
Primary-Secondary Computing We all had a little play of Scratch, and see this as a great way to get primary students into programming in a fun way. How secondary school computing teachers build on this is the challenge. Could we see the start of more primary-secondary collaboration as gaming, game-making and programming make their way into the primary schools, in the same way as Digital Video, animation, podcasting and web publishing are more P6 than S6?
I look forward to being of as much help as possible in helping a new project-led curriculum emerge, along with the ICT Team and other teachers at East Lothian Council Education. It's the beginning, I think, of an exciting and bright new chapter in computer education.
People seem happy with this morning's keynote although, as usual, I'm left with the bitter taste of never ever being able to meet the expectations of Government officials, curriculum managers, ICT researchers, independent bodies, teachers and Conor's eleven year-old son. At least with a blog post I can try to cover some of the things I didn't have time to say or which, in the excitement, I forgot. This is just the first part. I'll try to chunk posts and link back and forth.
The main message (for those who can't be bothered reading to the bottom)? Teachers are the decision-makers in education and only they can advise on what is required in their schools. Others will have valuable input from the community, from expert research and technical groups or from Government offices, but, in the end, the teacher is more powerful than he or she probably believes.
The Computer Education Society of Ireland seems to have three main challenges which it can overcome with relative ease, if the will is there, if I have indeed identified real challenges which actually exist and if my proposed solutions fit the cultural contexts. I can but try:
Lack of infrastructure: from the pre-keynote talks Jerome Morrisey, Director of the NCTE, pointed out that connectivity is not what it could be. Scotland spent centrally about 60m euros on infrastructure plus probably the same locally. With 200m euros budget to be spent in the next five years, Ireland's got an amazing opportunity to get on some of the fastest web in the world.
Lack of hardware: There appears to be a lack of regular, planned spend on devices which can connect to the internet. Once you've got the web, though, you can start to look more laterally for solutions which lie under your nose: buy more computers for schools, use kids' Nintendo DS and PS2s (they have wifi)
Frustration: I felt it, some admitted to it. Frustration is normally borne of feeling out of control in a particular situation. Is there something simple CESI could do to amplify its members' voices? Is there something the members can do to amplify the voices of their peers? Is there a way to get to the people who need to listen? The answer is 'yes', and I hope to look into that later.
What do people make of innovation or change? The fact that people are often resistant to change is easy to say, difficult to know why.
1. Thin-slicing: In the Pepsi challenge people were given a sip of Pepsi and another cola. They always preferred Pepsi - it was sweet, it was more-ish, people like sweet things. But when faced with a can of Pepsi or a can of CocaCola hard sales show that most people prefer CocaCola. It is less sweet so, surely, fewer people would like it. However, too much sweetness made people feel icky, they don't want to drink any more.
The same principle of thin-slicing can be used in education to describe two things. The first is how people use technology. One of the reasons Interactive Whiteboards are not really delivering significant educational returns is because people don't see how to exploit them in the long-term for what they're good at: collaborative, student-led activity. After the initial sugar buzz (a sip of Pepsi) they are left feeling icky, not wanting any more. What we end up with is teacher-centred uncollaborative work. Had they taken the less attractive, slightly bitter taste of changing the way they had taught all along (teacher-centred, from the front, look at my PowerPoint) to something more collaborative (the kids, not them, touch the board each lesson) then the rest of the drink would be more palatable in the longer term (CocaCola).
He then asked me, "What's a Blog??"... My only thought after that was
if only he knew. If only he had discovered. Not just what a Blog is,
but what a Wiki is, what an RSS or and Atom feed is. How it could
benefit him. If only he had been taught... There are those people who
don't know about Web 2.0, what it is or what it could do for them, but
there are also so many people out there that fear the whole Web 2.0 or
school 2.0 idea, there are even those who still fear the whole concept
of the internet. But why? Well, like I said in my last post, people
fear it because they don't know the facts, the benefits or the
potential. This is human nature, people fear the unfamiliar. So why
aren't people made aware?
3. We assume all sorts of things: What can be changed? What can I change? What can we do with those teenagers ("If I let them use their mobile phone to video their science experiment then they'll start happy-slapping each other. Yes, dear colleague, it really is the phone's fault..."). The problem with assumptions is that they are nearly always wrong, an arrogant solution to an often non-existent problem. In the mobile phone example, we teach students what is not allowed and what is allowed. If they break the rules we deal with them. Truancy. Bad. Not doing homework. Bad. Chewing gum under desk. Bad. Hitting others. Bad. Filming it. Bad. Filming science experiment. Excellent. It's not that hard, is it?
4. We plan too much in advance: Prince II is a management structure that must be useful to someone, somewhere. To someone working with 180 different faces a week, using technology that sometimes works, sometimes does not, and trying to innovate, it is really pointless to write, and stick to, an annual development plan. I work in three month maximums. If I were to do a PhD on blogging would it be of use by the time it was finished? Probably not. Liberate yourself by letting the students take the lead. Get a toolbox of skills and, more importantly, ideas, that allow you to respond quickly and guide your learners towards something worthwhile. It might not be the same worthwhile something you had planned six months previously, but it's probably better.
The video/audio of the lecture David and I delivered at Jordanhill, the Education Faculty at the Uni of Strathclyde, is up and his post reveals how we managed the feedback of students. It was nice to meet some of the students afterwards and see how different technologies got different people so excited. I can't wait to see what happens with this group as they head into the world of the classroom.
School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.