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EduScotICT – Objective 3: Promoting New Behaviours

October 9, 2011

The Scottish Government is carrying out a consultation exercise into the future of ICT in Scottish Education. To the best of my knowledge, this is one of the most open consultations with regards to education I have heard of. It is all the more important because there appears to be a real desire on the part of Mike Russell, Scotland’s Education Minister, to make changes. I believe we are looking at a Government who are open to suggestions, and who are not afraid to ask for them. In short, there is a real sense that this is too important to get wrong, or to ignore the views of everyone and anyone with an interest in Scottish Education’s approach to ICT.

Glow lightbulbs 260_tcm4-626704.jpgWhen it was launched, Glow was a truly ground breaking project. It was justifiably lauded for its ambition and its intent. However, for those who began using it, it very quickly paled compared to the newly emerging social media tools that were springing up. Many teachers (myself included) have been levering tools like wordpress, wikipsaces, glogster et al to enhance our classroom practice, and as a result, we have seen Glow become more and more ‘clunky’ in comparison.

The greatest strength of Glow as I have seen it, has been the single sign on for a host of services… but in a remarkable move, Mike Russell has called a halt to the procurement process for Glow 2 and has decided to ask everyone what we should consider next.

The EduScotICT wiki to support the discussion closes to entries and editing tomorrow for passing on to the Scottish Government, and so I spent a wee while chipping in some final thoughts on one particular aspect, namely: Objective Three – New Behaviours for Teaching

I’m afraid my answers kind of grew and grew… so in the interests of giving them a slightly clearer narrative thread, I have collected them into this post.

The wiki’s preamble to my comments and thoughts is as follows:

Objective 3: Promote new behaviours for teaching

Picture 1.pngUpdate: The Cabinet Secretary has expanded on this objective and set the context in a post on Engage for Education.

Benefits: a measurable improvement in the application of technology in learning; increased innovation by teachers and learners in classroom practice; increased achievement by learners; increased sharing and collaboration amongst teachers to develop themselves as learners.

What do we need to do:

  • Revisit models of classroom interaction and share good practice. Technology has changed how we learn – how we find information, how we share, how we interact – our classrooms need to more fully reflect this.
  • Support all Education staff in identifying the benefits of using technology to improve pupil learning.
  • Promote good models of effective learning and teaching
  • Support teachers in seeing themselves as confident, life-long learners.
  • Adopt a pro-technology stance for our daily activities, allow use of technology and access to the web for all learners as a routine part of the teaching process. Computer access in formal examinations and tests; move the emphasis from knowledge to skills by making the knowledge freely accessible for all.

My Thoughts and Responses

How will we do this:

1. Have a basic standard for ICT competence in classroom – re-enforced by GTC , Teacher Training Institutions, HMIE ( Education Scotland) , SQA ( perhaps through appointee network and where necessary qualifications )

I completely agree that there should be a basic standard for ICT competence — with the proviso that, by codifying this, we are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the past. We have reached the current impasse simply because there are LA ‘standards’ for tool provision and access, and these are part of the problem. As soon as you wish to try something new, or that is not covered by a set of standards that will be out-of-date as soon as the next FaceBook or Twitter or BlackBoard or School Intranet is invented, you are likely to create new friction points based on these ‘standards’. The simple fact is that the whole landscape is changing with regards ICT and especially education. ‘Standards’ is perhaps the wrong word. ‘Skills’ would be better as this should have more ‘future-proofing’ built in. Let me illustrate:

(Likely) Standard: Teachers should be able to use Powerpoint competently and justify that use on pedagogical grounds. [Problem: Many teachers believe wrongly that they can already use PowerPoint and will not accept that they might anything more to learn, thus effectively making the standard a dead-end with built in obsolescence and no incentive to improve or share]
(Attempt to define an equivalent futureproof) Skill: Teachers should be able to use a presentation software tool of their choice and justify that use on pedagogical grounds. In addition, they should be able to share their presentations online using a suitable and appropriate online service.
[Intention: That teachers are allowed to use new services such as Slideshare and Prezi to create engaging and effective support materials, and that the ability to experiment with new tools is built in. In addition, it is essential that we move towards a culture of openness and sharing.]

This is one possible way that I see the imposition of standards playing out. I am using Ppt as an example that most are familiar with, but it is the underlying notion that we should allow a ‘standard’ to be flexible and open-ended that I believe to be the most important thing.

2. Support development of subject networks and encourage subject specialists to belong to these as part of their continued professional development. Support independent services for subject specialists where they exist don’t reinvent wheels.

In a sense, this is an encouragement to acknowledge the value of the Social Media Networks that many teachers have already accepted and have seen as an invaluable part of their personal CPD. It matters not whether this means being a member of the TESS forums, or an active Facebook or Twitter teacher, it is the recognition that we are learning and developing outwith the usual channels, and that this needs to be encouraged.

It goes without saying that there will be many who are uncomfortable with the notion of using ICT in this way, however, the financial realities mean that it is much more cost effective to have an online equivalent of the old Subject Advisors in these straightened times. For example, a National English Base (to use the bricks and mortar equivalent as an analogy) would allow easy dissemination of professional materials, SQA updates, Govt initiatives, and so forth. It could also be a fantastic means of sharing lessons and blethering with colleagues across the country… in short, everything we hoped Glow would become.

If I give a simplistic interpretation, Glow failed not because the information wasn’t there, but because the information wasn’t easy to find. If you know Twitter, you will know how easy it is to follow a theme or conference or conversation through the use of hashtags… imagine an online Subject Base that allowed us to use hashtags to follow relevant conversations and/or initiatives. Simpler and clearer, with the added benefit of being a familiar model to many, and easily explained for the rest.

3. Agree nationally to change the nature of devices allowed in examinations through consultation with SQA, Scottish Government and other partners. 

Arguably, this is a no-brainer. About the only time I use a pen nowadays is to mark. When I am writing new materials, preparing for meetings or any of the other countless jobs I have to do, I use technology: a school PC, or more likely my own iPad or even my mobile phone. It seems indefensible and more than a little perverse to continue insisting that learners be denied the very tools they will be required to use after they leave school. ICT is no longer an extra, it just is.

4. Provide central consultancy support (perhaps via Education Scotland?) to help schools and local authorities who wish to open up access to student and staff owned devices, deploy “1 to 1” computing initiatives or engage in other innovative learning space or school design projects. This will help avoid “reinventing the wheel”.

I am a little concerned at the get-out word: “wish”. This one word would probably be enough to prevent most LAs from changing on the basis that they would not ‘wish’ to change, so they won’t.

I’m tempted to ask ‘Why are we making this even more awkward than it needs to be?’ If I want to use my local library’s free wifi, I key in my reader number and a 4 digit PIN. I have no doubts that anything I then access is being logged and recorded, and for a public/council service, I would not expect anything less. How difficult is it to roll this simple model out for schools?

In addition, given that most school filtering software sits between the wifi connection points and the internet itself, we would already have the means of ensuring that users (ie learners/pupils/young people) were protected from inappropriate content.

As a final point, if this is likely to lead to bandwidth issues, then quite simply, we need more bandwidth.

5. Teachers should be encouraged to take risks. Some of the savings generated from not continuing with the procurement of Glow Futures should be developed into a system of providing teachers with small amounts of money (grants) to try new things, observe lessons, visits other school and undertake training. This investment should be where it matters – at classroom level. This is key to enabling new practices which require additional ICT equipment, such as microphones or webcams.

Risk taking is an anathema to many… and understandably given the accountability that is heaped on us. One possible means of encouraging ‘risk taking’ could be to have a peer-review committee, much like an ethics committee for some of the medical disciplines, and they could approve , guide and mentor new practices. The downside of this would be that nothing would happen because by the time anything ‘risky’ was approved the teacher would probably have lost interest or retired! The plus side would be a means of reviewing and evaluating new practices, and if done properly, of then sharing these with the education community as a whole.

6. Develop resources to support schools in teaching on-line learning skills. These skills are an important part of a broad general education particularly as some learning in the senior phase is likely only to be accessible to some schools via on-line arrangements.

moodle-logo.jpgThe short answer:

This could be done in two simple stages:

i) give every school a Moodle deployment,

ii) provide every teacher with a copy of Moodle for Dummies.

Job done.

The long answer:
It is not easy to deploy on-line learning well. For a school, the answer is in deploying Blended Learning solutions where the on-line aspect enhances the classroom practice. This is not the same as Distance Learning which would need to be used in the scenario mentioned in the point about the senior phase only being able to access some courses using on-line arrangements.

This is one area where I do think that money should be spent centrally to develop National Courses using the very best teacher’s resources and input from the SQA and EducationScotland as well as teachers with the relevant skills and know-how. This is an important area for a whole host of reasons, but one that will require very careful management lest it become son-of-Glow.

7. Government or Education Scotland should investigate alternative models of centralised on-line schooling to assist individual local authorities deal with aspects of inclusion (for example travelling families, children in hospital, excluded children, children in care, children with phobia, etc.). Stephen Heppell’s  NotSchool.net model is also worth investigation.

See my longer comment to point 6!

8. Scottish Government or Education Scotland along with local authority, industry and higher education partners should start to develop and capture examples of emerging pedagogical practice for learning, teaching and assessment. This should include 1:1, flipped classroom and mobile technologies in learning. Scotland may benefit from a centre of emerging practice.

I love the notion of a Centre of Emerging Practice, especially if it shares actively all that it uncovers. I am thinking along the lines of FutureLab. While LTS did sterling work in this respect, I actually think we have the opportunity to devise a new body to encourage and develop and share the very best practice from where-ever it may be found, be that Scotland, England, the world. More importantly, we would need the capability to support other teachers who wished to try identified strategies. It is one thing to read a case study, it is quite another to then try to implement that in the classroom.

9. Teachers, and pupils, should be able to access small amounts of funding (£100, £200, £500 or £1000) to trial new tools or resources and communicate the outcome. This could be done in conjunction with industry partners. Some of the money saved by cancelling the Glow Future procurement could be invested here where it will really have an impact in the hands of classroom teachers.

I love this idea. The notion that teachers could apply for funds to trial something that would then be fed back is as clever as it is simple. As with my comments above, there would need to be some means of centralising both the distribution of these funds, but also, and more importantly, collating and evaluating the results of these studies with a view to sharing them and then supporting those who wished to further investigate new practices.

The key to this would lie in evaluating the effectiveness of any trials. I am being drawn more and more to the notion of some form of professional review body for pedagogy. One that oversees these trials and offers advice and guidance for the participants as well as being a peer review body for the results.

This particular idea has immense potential… maybe not in isolation, but as part of a coherent whole, it could be a real game-changer.

Conclusion

As I attempted to answer/address these points, I became aware that I was almost arguing for a body like an ethics committee, ie: a group of peer teachers who could review and advise and guide teachers on pedagogical rounds. Whether this would be desireable (or whether such a body already exists) is a question for another day… but for now, feel free to agree or disagree with me here, or even better, on the EduScotICT wiki itself!

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