One of the biggest issues in discussing the purpose of education in this borderless forum is revealed in our original challenge: we're preparing a discussion for "the election" (in Westminster, England) in three years' time when, for the five million of us who share the same island, the elections that really matter for education happen in 90 days. If you're in the US, you've barely got two years. In Canada… In Egypt… In India… In China…
In Scotland, education is managed by our own Parliament, not by those sitting 400 miles away in Westminster. And over the past year, after taking some of the ingredients suggested by this blogger, the SNP’s Government created Engage for Ed, a now burgeoning series of blog posts, provocations and discussions between ministers, parents, interest groups, teachers, students from our youth parliament and others from that amorphous glob we call The General Public. Has it had a tumultuous effect on policy? It's hard to say. University remains free to attend for Scottish students. The nearly new Curriculum for Excellence has had some more time, effort and money spent on it to heighten its potential impact in creating a 3-18 curriculum of student-led, passion-based learning. As all the parties sharpen the instruments in their manifesto toolbox we'll see how much the opinions and ideas of those online contribute to their vision for the purpose of education.
Government policy-making, cash injections and tinkering with frameworks of schooling can only have a limited impact on how teachers, parents and pupils perceive "what education is for". Ultimately, these three vital groups make up their minds based on what they see in the classroom and what they see in the connection (or lack of it) between what goes In School and what happens everywhere else in the community: the way students interact with their community on the walk home; the way they dive into working on personal projects that actually matter to them or argue with their parents over homework whose value no-one in this triangle of learning is particularly sure.
The desire to learn is woven into the concept of contentment and that, for me at least, is the basic purpose of any education system. Contentment can flourish into happiness, riches, recognition or any other myriad of emotional and material gain. But without a content society, with an ambition to continually discover and question the world around them throughout life, we end up with society's biggest enemies: complacency, stagnancy, apathy and ambivalence.
We have an ongoing contentment problem, and the answer to it lies in helping young people discover what their passions are, giving up the artificial reins we as teachers, parents and governments use to strangle those passions and the creativity that lends itself to their growth.
You can have places where you cannot build a school. More commonly you can have schools in places where good teachers do not want to go. So what do you do? You still have children there who need and want to learn. That is the issue that Sugata Mitra is trying to solve with his latest experiment, the Granny Cloud.
He is building on the Hole In The Wall learning experiment, where children autonomously access an 'ATM' computer on the streets of India and South America and, with their peers, learn through the activities and experiences in front of them. Not just that, but given most of the content they are accessing on the web is in English, they're also having to learn English. All this without a teacher, without a school building in sight.
On one trip to see how the Hole In The Wall experiment was working he asked a girl to take on the role of the grandmother, standing in the background and applauding the self-directed learning going on with the "My goodness, I couldn't have done that" empathy that all our grandmothers, or grannies, take on.
The Granny Cloud was born. This is a group of grandmothers all over the UK who log on once a week to Skype with youngsters in India, and take on that appraising role that all grannies do so well, to tell stories, to stimulate fresh ideas and new ways of looking at the same old things. Mitra hopes to see a 25% increase in attainment thanks to this coaching/feedback mechanism.
This type of 'learning from the extremes' is working in schools in the UK now, too. By splitting up into groups of four, children answer 'impossible' questions simply through going to find out. For example, "Where does language come from?". In the video above you can see how the answers reached - without the aid of a teacher - are just as 'correct' as those that might have been 'delivered' by a teacher, but reached through some other mechanic, something other than the way we've traditionally thought children learn. It also throws into question the assumption that we always need a specialist teacher in front of kids in order that they learn.
When I was talking with Sudhir Ghodke at The Education Project last year, captured in the video below, he made a terrifying point: that in India there are not even enough bodies, skilled teachers or otherwise, to put in front of a growing child population, for the notion of traditional schooling to work at all. It's understandible in a country holding 25% of the world's under-25s, or 135m new people entering the workforce:
The Hole In The Wall was a product that benefitted those who had access to it. The Granny Cloud, or at least the findings of this experiment in reinforcing self-directed learning from outside the classroom, offer us a set of techniques and approaches that can be used wherever you are in the world. You might need Skype to harness the British Grannies themselves, but adults can change their approach to learning and teaching and have just as profound an impact: again, it's about getting out of the way of learning as much as possible.
Young people do, and they might just care about privacy more than the adults who care for them. That's what I pick up (with all caveats r.e. my reading between lines as well as on them) from the fascinating research on late teens and privacy that danah boyd has published with Estzter Hargittai:
Overall, our data show that far from being nonchalant and unconcerned about privacy matters, the majority of young adult users of Facebook are engaged with managing their privacy settings on the site at least to some extent...
...Based on data collected in early Fall 2009, Pew found that 71 percent of the 18–29–year–old social network site users they surveyed reported changing their privacy settings while only 62 percent of those 30–49 and 55 percent of those between the ages of 50–64 had. While Pew’s practice–oriented data do not measure youth’s attitudes towards privacy settings, the findings do suggest that younger users are conscious enough of privacy issues to take measures to manage which parts of their profiles are accessible.
While the paper is concerned with students in higher education, who have by now left the high school nest, I think there are some conclusions that we could work backwards into high school and even primary school, given that many in late Primary / Elementary are already experimenting with Facebook.
Above all, I'm increasingly aware of how little research we have in Scotland, in the UK and further afield into how young people approach social networking in our countries. Most of what teachers and school-based decision-makers here see is based on "assumptions that all users have a uniform approach to the site and how their accounts are set up are incorrect [leaving] certain user populations especially vulnerable."
I've also observed a marginalisation of any institutional action around how we teach youngsters to use social networking sites effectively in a schooling setting, with the shield of school intranets and virtual learning environments as "safe internets" abounding since 2006 (about the same time Facebook went public).
Notable in the report are some clues as to how we should approach our discussions and learning opportunities around Facebook with young people. Traditionally, in the UK at least, fear has been used as the number one blunt instrument to get young people thinking about privacy. CEOP (the "chop shop") are the UK agency responsible for chasing up and prosecuting instances where children's protection is compromised, yet their voice of "stranger danger" vastly overpowers those that point out the relatively larger benefits of taking some measured risks online.
Let's consider this notion first, as an adult. As an adult running his own company, but also as someone who wants to learn from other's experiences, I have learned and earned more from publishing my mobile phone number (it's +44 791 992 1830) and a safe contact address (i.e. not my home) as well as my general location (Edinburgh, but also other places I might end up day by day through the Dopplr platform).
But these arguments, as I say, are all too often drowned out by the far more conservative (and therefore far easier to condone and express in public) attitudes that one should try to limit one's public sharing as much as possible, sharing only with those we know we know we know, the implication having been that we've met them face-to-face. Government officials request features that sound great, like the Facebook panic button, but which actually create more problems for those who really need help. And the argument that employers will not want to see your real life shenanigans online is just too distant a worry for most teens and tweens. That's just not the way the online world works when these youngsters hit late teen-hood and adulthood. We need to educate, not stipulate.
What approaches might work for increasing awareness of privacy management?
One simple approach to helping youngsters get an even better handle on how to manipulate their privacy settings in the way that will best work for them is just to talk about privacy settings. When Facebook prompted their own users to think about their privacy settings with a welcome screen message:
35 percent of users who had never before edited their settings did so when prompted. Facebook used these data to highlight that more people engaged with Facebook privacy settings than the industry average of 5–10 percent (E. Boyd, 2010).
We also learn that “a student is significantly more likely to have a private profile if (1) the student’s friends, and especially roommates, have private profiles; (2) the student is more active on Facebook; (3) the student is female; and (4) the student generally prefers music that is relatively popular (high mean) and only music that is relatively popular (low SD).” Therefore, if we can get friendship groups rather than class groups in school to learn together about these principles,we might stand a better chance of creating a culture of understanding about privacy.
What also shines through this report is that more frequent users of Facebook change their provacy settings more often, engaging more with the concepts of privacy the site throws up:
Avoid fear as a means of making young people think about privacy
The main reason we heartily discourage young people from engaging with those they know they know is fear: fear of stalking, bullying or making friends with someone you've never met face to face. boyd points out the shortfall of 'fear' as a tactic for instructing media literacy in youngsters:
While fear may be an effective technique for prompting the development of skills, the long–term results may not be ideal. The culture of fear tends to center on marginalized populations and is often used as a tool for continued oppression and as a mechanism for restricting access to public spaces and public discourse (Glassner, 1999; Valentine, 2004; Vance, 1984). To the degree that women are taught that privacy is simply a solution to a safety issue, they are deprived of the opportunities to explore the potential advantages of engaging in public and the right to choose which privacy preferences and corresponding privacy settings on sites like Facebook serve their needs best. For example, many young people value the opportunities to participate in communities of interest or peer–based production (Ito, et al., 2009). These communities support a wide variety of public practices — they serve as a distribution channel for participants to share artistic creations or promote their bands; they provide infrastructure for participants to learn about their practice or develop new skills; and, they provide a cohort for collaboration. In interviewing teens, boyd (2008) found that some girls who wanted to participate in these public forums were too scared to do so. Fear paralyzed some girls, limiting their engagement with some of the “geeking out” communities that Ito and her colleagues (2009) highlight. Furthermore, by adopting and promoting a gender–differentiated narrative that focuses on women’s safety matters, core issues about privacy that concern both men and women get overlooked. While our data do not allow a direct examination of these questions, future work should examine the role that safety rhetorics and fear play in online participation and practices.
So what are those core issues about privacy that we might be overlooking in our quest to fear youngsters into a media literate approach to networking?
Every day our brains deal with 34 gigabytes of information. But, contrary to what technosceptics will lament as we enter the decade of who-knows-what, scientists in California and England don't believe that this will have any negative affect on our brains. Indeed, it might be changing them to cope better with handling increasing amounts of spoken and written clues. In the Sunday Times:
"The speed of modern life is 2.3 words per second, or about 100,000 words a day. That is the verbiage bombarding the average person in the 12 hours they are typically awake and “consuming” information, according to a new study.
"...We are faced with the equivalent of 34 gigabytes of information each day — enough to overload the typical laptop inside a week.
"The total amount of words “consumed” in the United States has more than doubled from 4,500 trillion in 1980 to 10,845 trillion in 2008. Those estimates do not include people simply talking to one another.
Total information consumption from televisions, computers and other media was estimated at 3.6 zettabytes (3.6m million gigabytes) in 2008.
"...Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at the universities of Oxford and Warwick, said: “One of the things we have learnt over the past 20 years is that the brain does have a capacity to grow and increase in size depending on how it is used. Perhaps the personal experience of having to deal with all of this information will cause new nerve cells to be born and create new nerve connections in the brain.”
"It may be infuriating but it is no threat to the brain itself, say experts.
"In some ways, he adds, what has changed is the nature of information more than quantity. Where we now stare at a computer screen, once we studied faces, which may involve absorbing just as much data."
Just bear that in mind when your inbox is labouring under 300 emails, 1400 feeds and relentless Twitter friend requests.
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.
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.