February 16, 2007

CESI: Why should we innovate?

This is a follow-on run-through from the start of the talk I delivered today to the Computer Education Society of Ireland. You can read the beginning, perhaps, before reading the middle.

PrivategardenStephen Heppell speaks about the innovation cycle: change will always be happening, just a question of jumping on, and jumping off (no-one tells you that part). The successful innovator knows when to jump off and when to keep on just in case. Teachers don’t need to be the ones innovating: students can do that, too. Take a look at this innovative kid, left, talking through her "Private Garden", where the stems move with each incoming and outgoing email, chat, text message, phone call... It's a 21 Century kid doing the innovation, not the teacher, not the school.

Innovation is not something the teacher makes the decision to do, it just happens around us. All the time. Continuously. Not all innovation will lead to better attainment, more fun, more motivation, better learning - some of it is the equivalent of the Pepsi sweetener. Other innovation needs to be drunk by the can - it's not until you've gone through, learnt the hard way and failed a good bit along the way that you and the kids get the benefit.

I use five arguments to justify why there needs to be some evolutionary change in the way we use ICT. We've forgotten the 'C' part (Communication) for too long. The communication doesn't always need to take place through the technology, but can take place Face-to-Face thanks to the technology in a collaborative film-making activity in class, for example, where the communication comes not just from the message in the video but also the collaborative activity (negotiation, role-allocation, instructional language...) taking place in the making of the film. It's difficult to have that level of collaboration between 30 people if one person, the teacher, wants to maintain constant, uncompromising control on each decision, outcome, next step or tangent. The tech is going to change the teach.

Slide023 1. Audience
I always harp on about this, but if my kids produce some work I'd like to think it was interesting enough to share with at least one other person. Parents, peers, other teachers, other countries, the local community - how are you going to let them know about the work your kids are doing, the processes they've gone through to get there, the failures they've overcome...?

In the 19th Century classroom...
...the average audience for student work is one (two for a conscientious student who bothers to read their own work). Even in whole school display I'm not convinced the whole school becomes avid viewers of their peers' artwork or essays. When I was at Musselburgh I stood in the corridor for weeks at breaks and lunchtimes, looking to see who stopped to observe student work on the walls. I was surprised quite so many did, but they were all from the class to whom the display 'belonged'.

Slide019 In the 20th Century classroom...
...there have maybe been some missed opportunities for kids to communicate with their local communities. With more abundant projectors than ever before why are two or three of these not pointed window-wards to project that day's best artwork and sculpture from the school? Passers-by in the community could observe the work taking shape and then, at the end of term, see the final products in their full glory. You could even take things to extremes at certain points in the year, doing what they did at Rouen Cathedral with a couple of Monet prints.

In the 21st Century classroom...
...we invite children to redraft work in its entirety in jotters, workbooks and foolscap paper (it's called foolscap for a reason ;-) In three clicks I can publish whatever I want - this text, links and photos, for example - to whoever wants to read it. Because it's a blog people can subscribe to the content so that every time I write something new they get it in their inbox (find out how to do that). That means that I have an instant audience of around 1200 people for everything (and anything) I pop up.

We don't need to rely on a staff to run our print presses anymore, we can do it with one finger and an internet connection. And we don't need permission - kids are already encyclopedia editors and self-publishers on the net. How many English teachers are there who have published work? Hmmm...

Writing on a blog means that your content is frequently updated which means you have great Googlejuice. The location of today's talk was Coláiste de h-Íde, whose traditional school website has been knocked into second place by RateMyTeacher - RateMyTeacher doesn't even have a 'feed' (wee orange button that replicates the content elsewhere on the web for you, helping others find you) in the same way as a blog does, so the school would find it really easy to create a better web presence just be handing over the school blog to the kids to update daily.

2. Creativity Unleashed
Taking a digital photo is quite creative. Preparing it for publication more so. Publishing the photo and commenting on other photographers' work is highly creative. Publishing the already highly creative work undertaken in schools means that creativity is truly unleashed.

358355868_c4e58d41c2 Take the Five Frame Story or Six Word Story based on one photograph. Besides being a creative enterprise, with thought of storylines, aesthetics and meaning, publishing the photos on Flickr adds an additional creative element: students can leave comments on pictures, so each member of the class can write alternative elements to stories under each photo. Not being able to publish pics of kids may not be such an issue if you let them work around that rule: Play Mobil and Lego can take on a life of their own in a photo story.

What about adding some notes to a photo to explain the history of art concepts from that trip to the museum? You can't do that with one printed photo or a textbook.

Comments from these kids as they made a podcast on their city show that simply publishing their work made them work harder and better.

3. Differentiate by raising the bar
Differentiation doesn't mean that you have to produce a million multi-coloured worksheets. Differentiation might involve a new skill (creating a radio show or podcast) which is in itself quite challenging, but which allows the weaker pupil to stretched in that area while practicing, drilling their basics. Meanwhile, more able pupils get the motivation to produce something for a real reason (why not add your city guide podcasts to a real city guide site?).

300pxbluetooth Making the work of kids digital, even if it is just taking a picture of display work, means that you can also make it portable. Audio, video and visuals can be transferred via Bluetooth to mobile phones - just transferring one example of a 'good talk' or your teacher-made podcast on the life of the Potato Famine to one mobile, you can have a class of thirty spread this video amongst themselves within a 40 minute class. Take the stuff of viral marketing that works so well for Mentos and CocaCola and make it work for learning.

That means, like the PiE Language Project has done, that the teacher acts as guide, encouraging kids to create their products and publish them in a variety of large, medium and small file sizes that can be read on PSPs, DSs, iPods and mobile phones.

What if you're an English language teacher or the project you are working on just involves more words than it does pictures. You could take a leaf out of Adam Sutcliffe's RateMyMates, a weblog where student work is displayed (PowerPoints, text, MP3 audio recordings) and then commented upon by students in the same class and those from other schools, even. Formative assessment in a manageable and fun format, designed with the kids and not the curriculum-makers at heart.

More lengthy text can be seen developing from scratch in the creative writing process blog, Progress Report. From a short first paragraph full of comma splice and cliché, to a finely tuned finished version, built up over six weeks, the student eventually got a huge jump of grades in a seemingly impossibly short period of time. The difference between her and the rest? She blogged her writing bit by bit, and made the process of creative writing more efficient than was being done in the classroom.

It's also just more efficient and, well, greener. Take a look at the amount of paper wasted on producing folios for English language and you see what I mean.

4. Authentic Purpose
I feel that publishing for an audience is already an authentic purpose for a task - the need to interest, inform or entertain the public with what you are learning brings with it inherent authenticity. The next time a kid asks "Why do we have to do this?" will you secretly answer "Why do we have to do this?"? If you do, what could you do to make that task more authentic, where you could publish the kids' work to make it worthwhile? Why write a 'pretend' newspaper article when they can make the news for real by publishing it on a blog for real people?

5. It's not about the Tech, it's about the Teach. Yes, but...
...the tech will change the Teach. This leads to its own batch of concerns and desires to learn. That's for the next post... In the meantime, do you see a change in the role of the teacher in all this?


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Thanks, Ewan, for all the ideas today. One line above strikes me "tech will change the Teach" ...but this can happen the other way as well. If my memory serves me, the original SMART Board was developed for Drafting Technicians. But when Teachers got hold of it, they developed the "Magic Box" trick!

What I like about the boards in general is, if you don't provide any resources, you can encourage teachers to create their own and, in so doing, get them to think again about the process of teaching and of learning. If you provide a wealth of ready-made resources, you risk creating another dependency, just replacing the pages of a textbook with the slides of a Notebook or Flipchart. However, starting with a 'blank slate' teachers can rediscover their creativity, and infect their class with a new enthusiasm.

Confident (in their own pedagogy), resoureful teachers can help to create learning environments in which their pupils can create, construct and publish and broaden their learning horizons.

You can read more thoughts from the Teachers I work with in a Whiteboard Project at http://www.cbiproject.net/comments.htm

Many thanks for all the wonderful ideas today. I hope you have enjoyed your visit, and I hope you got a sense of some of the wonderful work that is going on in our schools.


PS I really like the Blogging method. We don't do all that much of it here (apart from Matt and Conor of course!) but we have a discussion forum at www.cesi.ie/forum

Thank you Ewan for a thoughtful and provocative keynote address. A couple of themes stood out for me; the notion of audience, and embracing technologies to get to a wider audience and the notion that the teacher or student is still at the centre and is the pivot around which the technology resonates and reachers out to an audience evoking a response.
I hope Ewan, that this will be but the first of many visits to Ireland and to CESI.

Wanted to agree wholeheartedly with the point you made on 'Audience'. I've been producing a learning log on our forces topic on the Pencaitland school blog, http://exc-el.org.uk/blogs/pencaitland/category/primary-three/forces. The children have been really enthusiastic about contributing to the blog, even to the extent of commenting on the blog from home, and directing their parents to it, so they can see what we've been doing. While a part of this may have been due to the 'novelty factor' the log covered 20 different lessons and interest remained high right to the end. What really piqued their interest was that anyone around the world could read what they had been up to. When we reviewed the comments we had received this was one of the highlights of the lesson. It also strenghtens the bond between the school and parent with a lot of encouraging comments (and favourable verbal feedback). As a parent myself I would love to see and read what my children have been up to in school.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

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.

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