Well, most peple seem to get into a bit of a mess when it comes to assessmnt for 21st century learning. I've been battling away, making quite useful prgress I think, to stop assessment being the barrier that it has so often been. A host of projects - from the International Certificate of Digital Creativity (that very much informed Edexcel's DIDA) through to the remarkable QCA funded eVIVA project where children ended their year of learning with a full viva via their mobile phones.
Why the QCA, after their KS3 ICT tests have collapsed, didn't pick up the extraordinary success of eVIVA (they were vocal enough about its successes at the time) is completely beyond me. But three steps forward and two back I gess. We'll get there... and there is exciting news to come on assessment projects - watch this space...
Anyway, this was a turn-of-the-century piece about assessment. Still holds good today (and probably tomorrow, sadly).
300 word summary if you are in a hurry:
Computers are everyday tools for us all, seen or unseen, but their value in learning is as tools for creativity and learning rather than as machines to “deliver” the curriculum. These tools, in our children’s hands, are forever pushing the envelope of expertise that previous technologies excluded them from: they compose, quantise and perform music before acquiring any ability to play an instrument, they shoot, edit and stream digital video before any support from media courses, they produce architectural fly-throughs of incredible buildings without any drafting or 2D skills, they make stop frame animations with their plasticine models, they edit and finesse their poetry, they explore surfaces on their visual calculators, swap ideas with scientists on-line about volcanic activity, follow webcam images of Ospreys hatching, track weather by live satellite images, control the robots they have built and generally push rapidly at the boundaries of what might be possible, indeed what was formerly possible, at any age. Little of this was easily achieved in the school classroom ten years ago although the many projects emanating from Ultralab over that decade offered clear enough indicators of what might be possible. The challenge here is to criterion referencing. So often the cry of the teacher “that work is better than my degree exhibition piece!” reflects a substantial step change in both the age at which a creative act can be enjoyed and the quality of the tools supporting that creativity.
Before we get too excercised about the revolutionary impact that ICT might have on assessment, it is quite instructive to reflect on the extent to which our current assessment techniques have been distorted by the rather poor technologies of a past century. For example, we are seeing the second generation of children who have enjoyed mastery of the word processor, with all its agility and opportunities to revise or refine, yet in their assessments this “wired” generation are very rarely offered a chance to demonstrate their new literacy and creativity. Yet the ubiquitous word processor, in various guises and brands, has been found in classrooms since the beginning of the 1980s. The consequence is, as many moderators have found, that reduced to a pen, children must rely on a patchwork of arrows, insertions, and crossings out as they discover just what a poor vehicle for their new creativity and literacy the pen is.
Another example is the way that weak past technologies drove oracy out of our schools; every parent, every employer, every teacher and certainly all children will testify to the importance of the spoken word in communicating, critiquing, collaborating and demonstrating understanding. Yet, until we reach the giddy heights of a PhD with its interrogative viva, an oracy element in our assessment experience is almost entirely absent. Why is this? Simply because our poor technology offered no solution to the need for rapid moderation of children’s work. We had no tools for rapid indexing or for skimming speech, no solutions for taxonomising spoken contributions, and because the tools were non existent, we conveniently forgot that the thing we were finding impossible to moderate was nevertheless fundamentally important. Probably, we should have trusted teachers more and accredited their judgement; countless report slips had already reflected : "if only her written work was as good as her spoken contributions she would be top of the class".
It is clear that there is a mismatch between the assessments we want to do and what old technology, pens, OMR and the like, allow us to do. Mercifully, we do now have great tools for dealing with spoken contributions - indeed for very many years our various national security agencies have been turning our phone calls into text with considerable accuracy, which begs the question about why we have been so slow to harness the same well documented, commercially available technologies to assessment. Good enough for GCHQ should be good enough for GCSE too!
Part of the answer to that conundrum lies in the need of policy makers and politicians to demonstrate that they have made a difference, trapping us in the un-ambitious quicksand of criterion referencing. “We spent more and look, things are better” is the clear message that re-elects parties. Sadly, given the pace of change of new technology and the speed with which the children’s sense of entitlement accelerates alongside it, the best we know that we will be able to offer is “We spent more and look, things are different but here is our evidence to show that different is better” which will win less hearts and minds at the ballot box unless the evidence that different is better is clearly presented, is persuasive and is in the public domain. One of many sorrows about the impact of much current assessment of children is that their very best work, the work that results from focus and intense application, is produced for the assessment process yet is rarely seen or celebrated by any audience other than examiners and moderators. In a recent exploration of creativity (part of an Ultralab national education policy consultancy for a Pacific rim nation) children were asked about the piece of work they were most proud of having produced. Over three quarters reported that the work was produced as a direct assessment output. The supplementary questions “where is that work now?” and “did your parents see that work?” we largely, met with “don’t know” and “no”. This is individually tragic, but nationally a substantial missed opportunity; if we are to win hearts and minds in moving education forward ambitiously this evidence of excellence has a key role in persuading nations that children’s work, even where it is very different from what went before, is showing a real improvement.
And different is inevitable. New technology advances apace and this, of course, is well documented; computers are designed with computers, the better they are the faster that even better ones can be designed. Computers are everyday tools for us all, seen or unseen, but their value in learning is as tools for creativity and learning rather than as machines to “deliver” the curriculum. These tools, in our children’s hands, are forever pushing the envelope of expertise that previous technologies excluded them from: they compose, quantise and perform music before acquiring any ability to play an instrument, they shoot, edit and stream digital video before any support from media courses, they produce architectural fly-throughs of incredible buildings without any drafting or 2D skills, they make stop frame animations with their plasticine models, they edit and finesse their poetry, they explore surfaces on their visual calculators, swap ideas with scientists on-line about volcanic activity, follow webcam images of Ospreys hatching, track weather by live satellite images, control the robots they have built and generally push rapidly at the boundaries of what might be possible, indeed what was formerly possible, at any age. Little of this was easily achieved in the school classroom ten years ago although the many projects emanating from Ultralab over that decade offered clear enough indicators of what might be possible. The challenge here is to criterion referencing. So often the cry of the teacher “that work is better than my degree exhibition piece!” reflects a substantial step change in both the age at which a creative act can be enjoyed and the quality of the tools supporting that creativity.
Unfortunately this extraordinary potential for progress comes at a time when we are wedded to an assessment model that satisfies us if children attempt the same activities as they predecessors, but do so a little better. In an age of rapid progress is this fatally masks rapidly falling standards and stultifies ambition. On the one hand new technology supports children’s abi;lity to make new leaps of imagination and creativity, yet a reliance on criterion referencing denies the value of that imagination and creativity by excluding it under the feeble pretext that it wasn’t how we did it before. The result is that schools habitually confiscate or deny new technology removing everything from ball-point pens (“it will spoil your handwriting”) to mobile phones (“disruptive”) and teachers report that the best creativity they observe is in the non curriculum space of lunchtime clubs or out of school activities. We have failed to respond within the curriculum and its assessment process to these new opportunities for creativity. On the other hand the new tools that children are able to harness for their learning also deliver real productivity, but we have failed to respond to this productivity either by setting rapidly rising standards. Surely we know that children can write better with a word processor?; it offers them the opportunity to refine, revisit, draft, finesse and error check their work. They can take countless risks with their work without the penalty of longhand copying. Word processors bring them whole new strategies for creative writing (again, strategies that were largely once the domain of authors, not schoolchildren); they produce more and better work and this has been well documented since the 1980s. So, thirty years after the first word processors appeared in our classrooms, have we responded by setting much more ambitious targets for children's writing performance? Of course not, we simply exclude the word processor from the examination room under the pretext that it won’t allow us to compare their ambitious work with the pen written output of a previous age. Thus we rob our children of both opportunity and ambition. Or worse, we capture the productivity of the word processor for our own assessment administration convenience. Wouldn’t it be good if the computer could mark our assessments for us ? Bluntly no, it would be such a wasted opportunity, but it would be good if the new things that children do with computers might be acknowledged by the ambition and creativity of the targets we set them.
To attempt to face down the constancy of change, the certainty of uncertainty, with the leaden yardstick of past history is palpably silly, but whilst we can take the phone or the word processor out of children’s hands we cannot take the accompanying sense of entitlement out of their heads. A major impact of new technology has been the rapidity with which our attitudes change. Ultralab drove the national rebranding of IT (the sterile “information technology” label) into ICT where the added “C” stood for Communication. New technologies are essentially communication tools and whether that was the visual spreadsheets of the 70s, the desktop publishing of the 80s, the world wide web of the 90s or the pocketability of the new millennium these have been communication revolutions. Incidentally, it is interesting to reflect on how these four massive revolutions have impacted on the assessment process so far: very little. But his revolution in communication has brought with it a sense of entitlement that we might all have a voice in the communication age. We might communicate with others. The effects of this entitlement to communicate can be seen in many sectors: for example, in the way that the under 35s are falling out of representative democracy around the world (“why won’t our government listen to us!”). A sense of entitlement to communicate carries with it a sense of audience and of being an audience for others. Even those for whom the symmetry of communication (essentially a two way act) has been difficult concept to embrace have begun to realise that without this two way conduit we lock people out, deny their new sense that technology will give them a voice and role and generate dissatisfaction, alienation and anomie. A major Ultralab project with the BBC started in 2002 and finally sees children empowered to make, broadcast and stream their own programmes, by children for children, using a variety of broadcasting opportunities including digital terrestrial channels and large screens at football stadiums. In another research project at Ultralab Stan Owers surveyed over 3,000 “A” level students, in 1996 to build a picture of their views of the curriculum. its creativity, relevance, interest and more. Some of the data produced was unsurprising: children interested in a subject tended to be studying it for example. However some deeply disturbing trends emerged too for which much blame must be laid at the door of a assessment processes that values product over process and that had failed to recognise the changing tide of children’s expectations of this ICT age. For example, the question “how creative does the curriculum all you to be in Mathematics?” brought a predictably dismal response from those who had rejected Mathematics as an “A” level specialisms, but it also brought a near identical overlaid graph of responses from those who had opted for mathematics as an “A” level option. We should be dismayed by this. What had changed of course was not the curriculum, indeed that may be a substantial part of the problem, but the student’s expectations that their learning world might be a creative world too. Repeating the survey in 2002, again with over 3,000 students Owers and Constable are already confident part way through their analysis that in some ways the situation has declined further.
Ultralab runs an annual summer school. Each year a group of around 100 children are given tough tasks that recent changes in technology have made cheaply accessible to school age children. Their tasks are phrased in an open ended way, and they spend a relatively small amount of time in the lab being introduced to both task and technology. In the summer of 2001, for example, students were confronted with a challenge to produce a “framed” artwork to be shown at the Victoria and Albert museum, if good enough. The artwork was to be executed not in water-colour or acrylic, but in video and sound. The simple rules include a requirement to incorporate the “artists” names as some form of “signature” and a limit of two minutes for what was to be a “looping” collage of images and sound. Each of the one hundred children was given a unique word, for example: Dazed, Smoothly or Tragedy. Each group of four children, rejected three words and adopted one as their theme for this tough collaborative challenge. Only an hour and a half was set aside to introduce the task, the software (iMovie), the computers (iMacs), the cameras (hand held Canon DVs) and to introduce the intended display area in the V&A. Staff and parents were under strict guidance to support the summer schoolers by driving them around and helping with other logistic support, but not to intervene in the production or creative processes. The children we left in no doubt that their work needed to be good enough to be shown at the V&A and of course had the ambitious outcomes of previous, very different, summer schools to help set a goal for their ambitions. After the summer, and after spending varied amounts of time, typically spread across parts of a week, the children came together to show the fruits of the labour and imagination. Each year the children demonstrate an ambition beyond the expectations of school and curriculum. The teachers are a key part of the process that sets the annual tasks, but in the first year one commented “this has been like an epiphany to me; I had literally no idea of the quality of work that these children might be able to produce. It has changed my whole view of what we teach and what we should teach”. The 2001 “video collage” group were no exception and produced work that stood up to the quality of the V&A and was previewed to an ecstatic audience. Interestingly a parent confided at the end of the preview that his film and media degree final piece had been eclipsed by the work of these mostly 12 year old children that he had just witnessed. This annual creativity feast confirms several key lessons for assessment:
Firstly, it is clear that the entirely new tasks set annually do not map easily, indeed at all, onto any pretence of criterion referencing. There is not even an existing genre to pastiche; this is designedly entirely new work yet technology has allowed the summer school children into the domain of experts very early in their learning lives. It is also clear however that the teachers, who are effectively action researchers on the ground during the exercise, can make clear and valid judgements about quality to the extent of being clear about what is “good enough”, but beyond that the key feedback from children reporting their processes (for example in the formal interview and “crit” that is a part of their V&A show) is critical to injecting any granularity of judgement beyond that “good enough” hurdle. The product in every case was engaging, but the reported processes offered a very fresh perspective, often stunning, but always moving our understanding forwards . Describing the construction of the final pieces enabled the deconstruction and critiquing to be a much more subtle affair. Finally, the clear sense of impending audience served not only as a prime motivator, but was a useful adjunct to the learning process.
In the light of all this it is not unreasonable to ask “Whither Assessment?”. A ground breaking QCA / Ultralab project seeks to explore how some of these lessons might inform the process of assessment. Approaching the task of Key Stage 3 ICT assessment the project proposes three stages:
The first stage is a mapping, by he student, of what their starting points are. At KS 3 students have brought a wide and welcome diversity of experience into their secondary schools. Standards are not about standardisation and helping each learner to map the “beginning of the KS3 journey” is a necessary first step. There is a second task to this first stage, explained below.
The second stage sees the student posting milestones onto a common website to mark what they consider to be pivotal or significant moments in their work. These milestones might be images, video, sounds, speech or text; each is “annotated” initially by the student but subsequently by peers, teachers, even moderators using a device which effectively allows “margin notes” on the web page. A maximum of six milestones is anticipated at this early stage but the project is highly iterative and doubtless feedback from students and their teachers will inform that decision.
The final stage sees students, and their teachers concluding that a sufficient “distance” from the initial starting point has been travelled to be worthy of credit and at that point the student nominates a time and place and prepares themselves for a telephone call. That call, using text to speech technology poses a series of questions for the student to defend, perhaps in the manner of a “Crit” or “Viva”, indeed we are calling this process the eViva. As with any answerphone the student can re-record their responses to each question at any time. Crucially the questions posed are themselves selected from a list by the student at the initial stage, with feedback advice about the portfolio of questions selected. In this way the student is already encouraged towards meta-level reflection about their learning through an awareness of the questions to be defended against at the end. The telephone makes an interesting conduit because sophisticated voice to text technology can turn the student’s defence into text for moderation. A fundamental design intention of this new assessment strategy however is to celebrate in a public space, a website, the children’s work, with some of their milestones (they choose which) and their spoken comments.
Is this the future of assessment? Certainly it is part of the debate that will build such a future, but we can be confident that we need many more such ambitious explorations of the new opportunities presented by both technology and children’s new confidence with it before we can be certain that the express train of children’s capability is not running full tilt at the buffers of the assessment system.
© Prof Stephen Heppell 2001
|@ January 29, 2007 9:13:31 AM GMT ( )|
Can ICT win the World Cup for England?
I am often described as the person to blame for adding the "C" into the middle of IT. It's very likely true and it rather ruined a lot of cute posters in the style of "Let's get down to IT" and similar. But I stand by the change. Information and Technology were simply not enough for learning in the 20th century, let alone the 21st. The "C" allowed everyone to focus a little better on Communication, and on the way that new technology was transforming it, as we have now seen everywhere from SMS and MSN to podcasting and blogs. Rather encouragingly others have now taken up the torch and are valuing community, collaboration and creativity as "C" words too. As we look at ICT in the 21st century it is clear that shared community spaces and inter-group communications are a massive part of what excites young people as we have seen with mySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia, Bebo and the like. YouTube is not just a place where 15 million people go to watch video, it's a place where huge numbers go to contribute and share too. Check out the BTEC final assessments posted there for example. Content isn't king any more, but community might just be sovereign. This is no surprise is it?
Yet UK education has a long history of valuing individual endeavour. Collaboration and communication - whether with parents over coursework, or with peers sharing homework assignments - is all too often classed as "cheating". The annual ritual of exam grades being opened on TV focuses on individuals. Unsurprisingly, as a result of this obsession with the individual, our UK star performers are very rarely team players. Our star sportspersons, from Ellen MacArthur via Nigel Mansell back to Seb Coe, are typically individual stars. This jars with the 21st century. Our Prime Minister is nowadays criticised for being too "presidential" and not "collegiate" enough. Our football team, as we saw earlier this year, is rich with individual talent, but they don't seem to be able to come together as a team in the big events. We blamed their coach because the team failed to gel together. We should have blamed the curriculum.
ICT drives a coach and horses through the cult of individuality. And this sets up some interesting tensions. We have seen ICT being harnessed to drive individual's test scores upwards; the rich potential of the computer wasted on what has become appropriately branded as "drill and kill" as we chase the enhancement of individual scores. Oddly, having taking so much social activity out of the curriculum we then seem to demonise children for their anti-social behaviour. ASBOs? We should have slapped one on the curriculum.
But don't despair. Despite all this, we have still seen some stunning collaborations, between and within schools, across groups of engaged motivated learners, increasingly across national boundaries, powered by the extraordinary technology that the 21st century has given us. Personalisation gives us the opportunity to build on that technology to vary and version learning to the particular learning needs, cultures and contexts of our ambitious learners. Their needs include the need to work together, their cultures value community. Personalisation does NOT mean individualisation. Forward looking schools are already clear about that.
This all terrifies the exam-paper fundamentalists who, as we are beginning to see, chant their mantras and attack the evolving alternatives with a reactionary zeal. "Death to coursework" they cry, brandishing their shredders. But of course, it's already the 21st century and we can't turn off progress. Children have embraced the "C" words to build active communities of learners, to swap and exchange insights, to collaborate, communicate, create and challenge. They will neither tolerate having to power down to come to school, nor being locked back into the anti-social world of individualism. Together, our children have seized on the learning opportunities presented by ICT. It's time that the curriculum did the same, before those same children simply take their learning elsewhere.
|@ October 18, 2006 10:43:04 AM BST ( )|
Recently I was lucky enough to be visiting the Sahara Desert. Just my luck it coincided with the moment when the one day a year's rain fell! But the rain didn't dampen the enthusiasm I saw all around me for learning and for new technology. Less than 10% of the world's population have ever seen the Internet but there's more to new technology than the Internet. Standing in an apparently very poor village, no networks or computers at all, two things stood out like beacons: firstly, as I tried inconspicuously to check my mobile phone for a new message (the cell never dropped, even amongst the dunes), an villager nearby pointed at my tiny K700i and said excitedly "nouvelle Sony", which was precisely what it was and we spent a little time exploring the features together. He loved the video and the MP3 ring-tones. We took a few pictures. Tunisia is a very phone aware place, like many developing nations. My 4x4 driver stayed in touch with his extended family on his mobile throughout our trek, TXTing as he drove. Tunisia also has a huge infrastructure of motorised satellite dishes, visible on even the most basic of houses. During last summer I spent time exploring the future of broadcasting and it confirmed my view that the additional functionality of the box that was formally your TV, with the addition of some great new tools for selection, annotation and contribution, promises a whole new potential for broadcasting and TV. And of course it is abundantly clear that, in today's peer to peer world of interleaved communities and personalisation, phones and "new" television (eTV?) have probably more to offer learners than even computers. The second feature that stood out in Tunisia, as it does in many emerging nations globally, was their absolute faith, and investment, in education. Everywhere there I met with optimism, humility and new schools. New schools, new paint, new investment, new future. The school leaving age is raised, university participation rates are climbing and learning is about aspiration, national and individual.
Rushing back home to Europe, and straight to the OnLine Educa conference in Berlin, it was hard not to be hit by the contrast between the European "learning industry" seeking to "deliver solutions" and the bottom up, people powered, wireless world that was Tunisia. The conference was full of friendly, well intentioned folk, many good friends, delivering some interesting papers, but the many ambitious commercial stands there spoke rather dismally, and too often, of "portals", "managed solutions", "content", "delivery" and so on. It was clear that a world where people are embracing the opportunity to do things themselves, to be creative and to exchange their ingenuity with others, within communities, was simply not on their radar at all. The Berlin stands reminded me too often of e-commerce stands I saw just before the bubble of the dot com revolution burst at the end of the last millennium. Readers might make some assumptions at this point.
Whilst in Berlin, I was faced with remotely opening a conference in Woolongong, Australia, during our night. Luckily OnLine Educa had a wireless network running. I had plenty of laptop battery life and my trusty i-Sight camera, so after midnight I wandered around the deserted stands getting connected to Australia. As I did so I was aware of a small gang of German night security guards following me, fascinated. I called them over and we spent a few happy moments playing and chatting to the conference hosts in Australia. As we sat having fun, 18,000 miles apart, I stopped being depressed about the lack of vision of the Berlin stands. It doesn't matter what the marketing people try to tell us, the future of all this will be about people, it will be about communities, it will be peer to peer, it will be phone-savvy and dish-connected, and above all else it will be enormously enjoyable.
It's just that some of the ambitious emerging countries might realise this first, might avoid the marketing hype and the "solutions" they are offered, might learn from our mistakes and hesitations, and might just get there ahead of us.
|@ August 1, 2005 6:19:10 PM BST ( )|
The Death of TV
Technology certainly changes things, but sometimes the things that get changed don't notice until it's far too late. Over Easter I enjoyed a one day workshop with children from all over the world, visiting London to be part of the wonderful ChildNet Academy. The children's ages varied from 11 to 18 and they were a lively mixture of nationalities, cultures and capabilities. With colleague Neil from the 'lab I was challenging them to storyboard, film and then edit a 100 second video telling a story of romance between two objects, but with a tragic ending. I'm still chuckling at the ingenuity of what they produced. However, whilst they were completely absorbed in the detailed editing of the videos that they were producing, a BBC camera crew arrived to interview old mate Bill Thompson about Google's new mail service. Bill's daughter Lili happened to be one of the Academy networkers this year and thus he was there too. The children were immersed in a huge bustle of creativity, surrounded by their own cameras, the lab's Powerbooks and various other bits and pieces of increasingly pocketable technology; the BBC crew had a grand camera, the usual sound and lighting kit, and a mission to capture Bill's wise thoughts. The TV crew showed no interest, professional or inquisitive, in the work the children were busy with, despite the chaos of cameras, computers and the cacophony of throbbing soundtracks. The children were busy making their own TV, but significantly they showed absolutely no reciprocal interest in the TV crew's predictable approach. As the TV crew tried to usher children out of the background so that they didn't "spoil" the shot the children simply shunned the TV crew. In that moment the Death of TV was signposted as clearly and as vividly as could be imagined. Technology empowers everyone to contribute and participate and it was abundantly clear that none of these global children, gathered together in Kensington, will tolerate the passive role of couch potato that characterised their parents. This rebuttal of a passive role is causing significant revolutions everywhere. In music the historic role of companies like EMI would be to seek great new bands, mould them a little, then package them up and market them to eager fans. Nowadays those "fans" are downloading music from each other, often illegally, before editing it - perhaps adding a spoof rap from samples of their least favourite politician - before contributing it back to the swapfest of peer to peer file exchange that fills teenagers' lives. Already stock exchanges are asking serious questions about the role of companies like EMI. Why can't the TV companies see that they are next for the tumbrils of new technology?
As if to confirm the distance that all this has travelled in my lifetime, two colleagues in the lab, Tim and Jonathan, busied themselves over Easter helping the BBC with a celebration of the 40th anniversary of pirate radio in the North Sea. BBC Essex manned a lightship off Harwich, as a tribute to the far-off days of Radio Caroline. Tim and Jonathan set up a texting service direct to lightship, and mounted webcams to watch the studio and the seascape via the Internet. But as tens of thousands of aging baby boomer's TXTed the ship and watched the studio live, marvelling at the power of these new changing technologies and the Peter Pan looks of the venerable DJs, Essex children were ignoring this passive old world and learning about a creative new one from each other. Rock and roll was always based on youth challenging establishment, but this time around the youngsters have rather better tools, including video, than a very big radio mast on a rusty ship.
Back in the 1990s I made a Horizon TV programme entitled "The Death of TV". In Kensington and Harwich this Easter that moment might finally have dawned, but much more importantly for learning everywhere it felt to me like two more large steps towards the rebirth of creativity. And if a creative, active generation are rejecting packaged pop and passive TV, how long will it be before they demand a voice and a role in shaping their curriculum too? Not long I hope.
|@ August 1, 2005 6:13:39 PM BST ( )|
I've returned a lot to the simple idea that geographical economies of scale no longer determine ideal school size. With ICT we shouild be able to support tiny, as well as substantial, school sizes all effectively. I wrote and presented a very short TV programme for Channel 4 showing how the School of the Future could easily be a rural primary school.. and had a huge mailbag as a result. ALL supportive of the idea of course.
Anyway, this was one such bit of writing... for a big SCET conference in Scotland. i wrote it almost ten years ago in 1996.
In most of rural Scotland, and elsewhere on mainland Europe, there are small schools, each deeply embedded in their local community. Their existence starkly contrasts with the huge urban and regional schools that grew up through the 1960's. The rural homes and communities around them contrast with the vast 'new housing' tower blocks that also sprounted in that era.
The tower blocks seemed like a good idea at the time; they were cheap, they seemed to offer a new and modern way to live and of course strong demographic currents threw up a need for them. Unfortunately it turned out that most (but not all) were unpleasant places to live. The traditional community where young supported old and old passed wisdom and experience back to young was broken up. And now we are demolishing them. The vast new schools we created also needed new structures, organisational ones. The old vertical pastoral system, where young chased the role models of older students and these older students reinforced and revised their own understanding by explaining to younger ones, was replaced by huge horizontal year structures. Traditional learning communities and strategies were broken up in the name of economies of scale, and the modern school emerged. The parallels between tower blocks and large schools are clear. But has information technology removed some of our reasons for building these vast schools?
At the time, there were compelling reasons to build these huge schools: how could we offer examination level Russian in a school of only 400? Where would we find a specialist for Higher level economics? And anyway, the pressures of demography were considerable. But suddenly, as we approach the end of the 1990's, we find that information technology is also communication technology; the need to create the critical mass of students that allows broad curriculum choice does not depend of a common geographical location. We can connect them together in different places. Students as far apart as Australia and Scotland are busy proving that technology can bring learners together in a way that is sociable, affordable and plausible. Whether it is the vast distances of the outback or the remoteness of our highlands and islands, a copper wire (or better still, dark fibre) with a handful of silicon offers a stark challenge to much that we had uncritically accepted about the way we have managed learning in the last 40 years or so. It may just be that with the disadvantage of size solved by technology, the small rural school, heading for extinction a decade ago, now offers the blueprint of future learning organisations and institutions.
It is clear from many on line learning experiments around the world (as SCET saw earlier than most with their Contact and eCademy initiatives) that electronic communication does a lot more than simply circumvent the problems of distance and remoteness. The opportunity to reflect before offering your comments, coupled with the chance to review others' contributions, has helped to generate electronic learning environments that are genuinely delightful. Teachers and students within them find that, freed from the indicators of age and status that are normal in our schools, a modeless learning develops where young and old work together when their interests and needs coincide and where teachers are happy to learn from and with students. In a large school, where it is possible to find whole rooms full of children where their immediate learning community is determined by a birth date that falls between two Septembers, this modeless learning may sound radical; however, in a tiny school on the West coast of Scotland this just sounds like everyday life and again it is to tiny schools that we must look for the skills and strategies to make the most of the new collaborative and intimate learning environments that technology is offering us. Interestingly enough, as children from our large schools begin to link electronically with each other the questions they ask most frequently are about "How old are you?" and "Are you a boy or girl?", but as they become more experienced on-line learners these questions diminish because they matter less than questions like "Are you interested in Viking?".
Yet another area where Scotland's smallest schools have something to teach the world is in the relationship with the home. Again, information technology is changing the playing field. Everyone from the traditional publisher to the digital broadcaster will confirm that home learning is the growth market of the new millennium. With 17 million households compared to less than 30,000 schools it is easy to see why they are keen! Already the sales of 'educational' CD-ROMs to home far outstrip the sales to schools. How we respond to, and harness, the potential of many homes equipped with learning technology (and how we handle the social equity issues of the "have nots") is a genuine cause for debate and concern. Again in the very large school we see a one way export of learning from the 'expert', the school. Schoolwork is taken home as homework and the wealthier parents try to build microcosms of the school with little desks in children's bedrooms. But every teacher in a small school will tell you the same story. Their school is not the only source of learning; learning in the community and the family is especially important and the small school plays a key role in offering a central place where that learning can be shared, evaluated and celebrated. If we are to realise the full potential that technology offers us for learning outside our traditional educational institutions then once again it is the model offered by our tiny rural schools that may offer the best hope: small schools never try to 'own' learning precisely because they are too small to do so. Yet their role at the heart of the learning community is undisputed. The explosion of home learning that technology has brought means that, eventually, large schools too will be unable to 'own' learning, yet they also need a role in the new learning community.
Economic progress has a habit of destroying the things we need for our future in a frantic attempt to bury the past. Tower blocks destroyed the very communities that we are now frantically trying to recreate. We must be careful to ensure that we don't make the same mistake with our learning communities. Information technology and telecommunications allow us to rethink the way we organise learning and we desperately need working and effective models. Scotland at least, has plenty of places to where we can look. It is a huge advantage.
|@ October 18, 2005 12:53:38 PM BST ( )|
Hmmm. I'm very critical of much academic publishing. At its worst it is lazy, egotistical, vanity publishing. At its best it's usually inadequate.
Pretending that most of what is known, is what is "published" in the correct "refereed journals", is a self serving myth that masks and undervalues so much of what is really known. In ICT in particular the papers are often so far off the mark as to be risible; papers don't simply lag behind exceptional, but effective, practice, they miss it altogether. I sit on enough editorial boards to be allowed to be depressed about this.
Asked by a media interview for my "best ten things in education in the last decade" I was not surprised to realise that 8 of them hadn't been written up in "proper" papers.
This would be alarming if reputation was all that was at stake, but too often funding also depends on this myth that the lazy academic writer is the most worthy of support so that they can write even more about what they might, but so rarely actually will, do.
On the other hand a few papers really do shed light and genuinely introduce new voabulary, new uinderstandings or retrospective reflections of real activity, real research and real success. I wish mine were always that good (!) but in this category of the RetroBlog I'll be parking just a representative sample of academic outputs that I think mark a route through some real progress in new learning. I've tried to pick interesting and readable ones too, from both journals and book "collections".
And just in passing , why is it when really big action research projects reach really sound, demonstrable,, unequivocal conclusions, that people ignore them anyway?... Probably because you don't get published by offering agreement, you get published for "new".
|@ August 1, 2005 9:41:55 PM BST ( )|
This is just a note of welcome. This has become a place of publication - of my various newspaper columns, of thoughts, papers and ideas.
Beyond publishing, the blog will be largely retrospective; reflections on a quarter of a century of making learning more delightful, through technology. I hope it will be interesting and revealing to explore past progress in the context of current practice. To that extent this is something of a retroblog, or perhaps a golB?.
For forward facing stuff there is a sporadic (!) podcast.
|@ April 24, 2006 4:06:20 PM BST ( )|
This is just a note of welcome. This will rapidly become a place of publication - of my various newspaper columns, of thoughts, papers and ideas.
Beyond publishing, the blog will be largely retrospective; reflections on a quarter of a century of making learning more delightful, through technology. I hope it will be interesting and revealing to explore past progress in the context of current practice. To that extent this is something of a retroblog, or perhaps a golB?.
For forward facing stuff there will be, shortly, a monthly podcast.
|@ August 1, 2005 6:29:06 PM BST ( )|
this Category of my RetroBlog links to the short "Back and Forth" columns I enjoy writing for Richard Doughty's excellent Edu@guardian supplement in the Education Guardian.
My column gets a bit of sub-editing attention (which improves things no doubt!) - but these links are the original words, warts and all.
The column roams "Back and Forth" around the world musing on ICT in learning.
|@ August 1, 2005 6:34:08 PM BST ( )|
Apart from regular columns I'm lucky enough to be asked to write for various newspapers from time to time. The Times Educational Supplement is a favourite, but there are are others too.
In this category of the RetroBlog I'll try to post some representative examples (which is one way of saying I haven't kept great records and will post these contributions as and when I find them, if i think they are still useful!!
|@ August 1, 2005 9:10:31 PM BST ( )|
The BBC's exellent webwise initiative helped many beginners into the on-line world... and continues to do so today. The BBC asked me to do a number of events to promote the launch of their initiative, one of which was a brief chat with Steve Wright, the legend of Radio 2. I'm a fan.
Steve is very bright indeed and the resultant interview, looking back, is fun to listen to, but very relevant today because the questions are so well chosen and wise.
It makes, I hope, an excellent start to what will be my regular(ish) podcast series.
|@ August 9, 2005 12:08:33 PM BST ( )|
I'm currently busy Horizon Scanning for the DCSF, initially exploring technology futures. Undoubtedly the pace of development is accelerating. My new iPod Touch (I hacked it a bit) is currently fully functioning as web-server in my pocket!. At current rates by 2013 a computer will offer the same computational power as human brain; by 2050 a £500 computer should outperform, computationally, the entire species! The huge challenge for policy, of course, is whether it can develop enough agility to keep up with the potential that technology brings, particularly to the most disadvantaged. Evidence is not encouraging.
In the quarter century or so that I have been exploring the potential of technology in learning a significant change has occurred and it took one of my trustee colleagues on the Inclusion Trust to point it out to me: Policy has become confused with Practice. Previously, a government was judged by what actually happened in practice. That practice took time to embed, through iterative cycles. Today governments prefer to be judged by their policy. It's easy to write policies, tougher to implement changes in practice. Consequently Policy is rarely Practice.
As an example, the government's "6 day policy" says that where exclusion exceeds five days, schools must provide full time education from day six. But in practice our Notschool.net project, for those many excluded from school by circumstance or behaviour, regularly finds children who have been out of school, without any provision at all, for years. As another example the Computers for Disadvantaged Pupils policy offers welcome funding to help e-enable the disadvantaged, but by only doing so through schools the huge army of 100,000 plus children outside of the school system, most urgently in need of that support, are completely missed out: policy is a mile from practice. The policy of changing GCSE Coursework to being under school based supervision only, at a stroke catastrophically destroyed the progress of the many rebuilding their learning outside of schools. Governments say "problem solved; we have our policy", practitioners say "problem remains; look at the practice". Policy isn't keeping up. And the people it is hurting most are the most vulnerable. Ironically these are just the ones technology should offer the greatest hope to.
Raising the age of compulsory participation in learning to 18, says all the right things as a policy. At the Fabian Education lecture, Schools Secretary Ed Balls spoke powerfully of a policy to keep young people learning - but through the systems and policies that are already failing them: keeping them in the care homes they are already absconding from, in the schools they are already excluded and truanting from, writing the GCSEs that have already failed them. In practice the policy's key phrase for young people is this: "if young people fail to take up these opportunities, there will be a system of enforcement...". If the systems are failing, we'll blame the young people - it's easier than reform.
I find all this desperately frustrating. Technology has time and time again shown a way of doing things better: the wonderful Notschool.net project has demonstrated remarkable success in reengaging 98% of its thousands of excluded children full time, on-line. We know it could do even better - an annual target of 50,000 saved is not unreasonable; we know that bespoke on-line workplaced learning for the many that never reached university works; this potentially offers massively increased participation rates, up to 66%. We know ambitious targets matter and have evidenced what successful practice looks like - why then is policy so far adrift?
As a generation technology has offered us the chance to make the kind of difference to social equity that our great-grandparents made through medicine. I have seen that we can inoculate children against poverty through learning. Yet in a world where having a policy is sufficient, regardless of what is happening in practice, these enormous potentials remain unrealised. The huge challenge that technology brings our generation in this extraordinary new millennium is whether we can change our systems quickly enough to transform practice. The evidence thus far is that we can't. I don't think that is good enough.
© Prof Stephen Heppell 2007
|@ January 17, 2008 7:56:19 PM GMT ( )|
This week I'm in Brunei judging the Crown Prince's competition for creative, innovative products. Brunei Darussalam is a fascinating place with a quietly successful cultural mix that offers the world a good prototype of just how different communities can get along. But, like so much of the world, there is a very clear sense of the importance of technology and children. As my fellow judges and I explore the ingenuity of each entry one turns to me and says, with a broad smile "THIS is our future".
Some contrast with the UK. I despair at how we have demonised and robbed this current generation that the media stereotypes as gun totting hoodies: rising property values leave them no chance of home ownership; companies lock them out of final pension schemes when they start work; LAs continue to sell off their school playing fields (2,500 more lost since Labour entered office) then we criticise them as sport averse and unfit. Alan Johnson's daft coureswwork changes stop them collaborating, but meanwhile they are criticised for the very selfish individual behaviours the assessment system now encourages. And we've hardly left them a legacy of a stable world have we? It is amazing they have stood it for so long and a tribute to the patience of these techno-confident children. But everything has its limits.
This generation, of course, have been busy turning to ICT to make the world a little better. Worried about about healthy eating? At my Be Very Afraid event at BAFTA last year children from Essex were making healthy eating podcasts that teachers are now tuning in too. Want to see great teachers, challenging mental arithmetic problems, remarkable world-best performances, schools paired across cultural divides, insights into day to day lives, hot debates about peace and more? Go search on YouTube or elsewhere. Children have leapt outside of the straighjackets of their school learning environemnts, virtual and real, to seize and use the remarkable Web 2.0 tools that are changing all our economies. Schools meanwhile often respond using the excuse of "happy slapping" pupils to ban YouTube and much else. Blocks appear at every turn: children, including a small vocal army of home learners, have embraced with real enthusiasm to the BBC's Digital Curriculum offering, JAM, which lets them learn at home, away from school if they wish. Sadly, even the unique and seductive JAM public service is under threat and it may yet not be allowed to get into the hands of our learners. Are we mad?
Well, it can't last and it won't last. Technology is a great democratiser as we saw with the public rejection of the Big Brother racist bullies. This new generation understands technology even better than any before. They are rightly fed up with the deal they have been given and when they finally call "enough" we will truly see just how well technology can amplify a voice. If you thought the road pricing petition was a protest, you ain't seen nothing yet. Pupil Voice? they'll hear the rumpus from Brunei.
© Professor Stephen Heppell, 2007
|@ April 9, 2007 9:49:18 PM BST ( )|
As we approach the London Games Festival the Guardian had a bit of a handheld theme running - which led me down a bit of a nostalgia pathway...
I was rummaging through the attic this summer, and under the piles of ageing technology (a BBC B, a Binatone Pong, a HyperCard manual, some lineflow paper) I found my first mobile phone. I put a picture on my phone blog (phone.heppell.mobi, but also took a moment to measure it. It stands 23cm tall, without the aerial, and weighs in at over 5kg. It was whopping. My current phone, with its gigabyte of storage, useful browser and decent camera is 8cms long and only 7mm thick. It weighs 70gms and does quite a lot more than that first big one! There is something powerfully seductive about tiny hand-held technology which is "yours" in a way that a desktop computer rarely is. But if technology has progressed in leaps and bounds it is not entirely clear that policy has.
Of course, back in the last century, schools teachers and students would have to wait for some central policy directive to guide them: a 'strategy' document, a White Paper, a ministerial speech, an inspection framework. Past guidance included the "correct" number of keys on a computer keyboard! With mobile phones, they waited for a decade or so for policy to notice handheld technology, whilst a whole generation of children missed out. But the wait is over; schools have decided that anyway, in the 21st century, they should simply get on with it and leave strategy, policy and speeches struggling (and failing) to keep up. As a result schools all over the place are embracing hand-held and pocketable technology and doing some very cool and creditable things with it.
Recently I was up in Scotland again enjoying a wide range of visits, with Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) colleagues, to their front running institutions, and they have many. In Dundee I came across Derek Robertson at LTS' regional offices with his Consolarium which is, in essence, a little research lab dedicated to the use of portable and games technology in learning. Every school should have one! The children who pass through it are the co-researchers, of course. Like others Derek talks about using Dr. Kawashima Brain Training with some of his research projects and he takes care to properly research the outcomes with learners. He has absolutely no doubt about the magnitude of what he describes as incredible gains in terms of pupil engagement and motivation. I've commented before on how exciting it is to see a generation hooked on the mind-stretching challenges of Nintendo's Big Brain Academy, but Derek thought he would trial a daily first-thing-in-the-morning workout for the children's brains using just that. It is no surprise to readers of this column that performances got better in some key areas of the curriculum, but also that new orders of merit emerged as unexpected performances showed new and unrecognised potential. Being Brainy became cool too and it has been quite a while since schools students regarded anything related to school technology as cool. It a curious thing in education that when we have absolute certainty about what is demonstrably effective, policy still fails to embrace that proven practice for years and sometimes never does. I swapped a couple of emails with Estelle Morris about this and we are both bemused by the sheer inertia of the system. But schools don't care any more. They are swapping ideas, practice, research, results and more.
And of course the technology continues to move on a pace. Apple's recent wireless iPod Touch with its tactile browser is indicative of just where pocketable, cool technology might be going.
And tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, it just gets better and better. Wouldn't you love to be at school again but this time with the world, quite literally, in your pocket?
© Professor Stephen Heppell 2007
|@ September 21, 2007 10:44:21 AM BST ( )|
I was coming back from a vibrant e-assessment conference in Malaysia. At the airport, I stepped onto one of those strange moving pavements and started to stroll along it. In front were a couple - and they had stopped walking. In their minds they were moving forwards quickly enough - the wall posters were passing by. But because they were standing still, they were delaying the urgent family behind me who were clearly late. It was a nice metaphor for ICT. The pace of change is such that many feel just keeping abreast with on-line banking, booking, browsing or buying is enough; it feels like progress. But the generation of children rushing down the moving pathway that ICT offers, want policy to get out of the way of their learning. Education is blocking them.
But just exactly who is it that makes the judgement about what is appropriate progress? A colleague at DfES reminded me this week of the day I dropped a (colossal!) digital mobile phone onto a desk there and declared "that's a big bit of education's future - right there". Incredibly, next year we will be at the 20th anniversary of that moment and whilst children have been early and inspired adopters and users of SMS and other phone based technologies, it is fair to say that education policy, like the couple on the moving walkway, has stood in the way of children's progress with this important communication tool. Twenty years is a long wait. However, lately I have seen a lot of schools doing inspired things with phones, whatever national policy might be. And that is a very clear hint for us about how we might organise education in the future. If we could only share and assure that progress.
Well, now we can: next month, with support from Microsoft, I am beginning to bring together 6 nations in a brave project. Each nation, from China to Spain, will identify schools. The hypothesis is that these schools CAN improve; their scholarship will be to look for tested and effective ideas from other schools, worldwide; their action research is to take these ideas, fit them to a local context and improve their schools. At that point they exhibit their research success and it is rewarded with a Prof D. for the whole cohort of staff involved at the school - teachers become doctors. This is only possible because ICT gives us such great tools to share, communicate and exchange with, but make no mistake this is the beginning of a revolution in educational policy making.
This week I have been amazed visiting a vibrant and wired special school in Scotland (wheelchair country dancing!) and have also been delighted by an ambitious cluster of schools using ICT to unify science and maths vocabulary at the primary secondary divide. Each week I see more great ideas, carefully trialled and measured. These schools do NOT need anyone to tell them what to do, or to cap their ambition; they have a vision and they are getting on with attaining it. What they need most is for their research and reflections to be shared, exchanged, critiqued, valued and tested. Hence the project.
I can't think of anyone better placed to do this than themselves, with their electrifyingly ingenious NQTs, their confident, inquisitive young learners and their nearly-retired wise old teachers. As I've often said before: in the 20th century we built big things that did things for people, in the 21st century we help people to help each other and surely that includes schools. Luckily ICT, with its viral, peer-to-peer world of rich global communication, is rather good at all that.
© Professor Stephen Heppell, 2007
|@ June 14, 2007 7:28:02 PM BST ( )|