Formerly Computers in Classrooms. Now in its 16th year!
Here’s another bumper edition of the Digital Education newsletter. There is plenty here to keep you going for a while, including three articles on assessment, one on teaching computing, and discussion topics for use in your lessons. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
In this issue...
- About this newsletter
- A message from our sponsor, ICT Direct
- The Editor speaks
- Competition results
- Advert: Reading the ICT & Computing in Education blog on the move
- Brexit and education technology
- Advert: Me, my work, and Facebook
- Why reading by and for students is essential
- Discussion topics
- My other newsletter
- 5 mistakes I made when teaching Computing
- The KAP test
- Top tip: a great use of space
- 12 things I’ve learnt about assessment
- Top tip: Coding Cadets
- The future of the teaching profession
- Useful links
- How technology can transform a student’s learning
- For your diary
- Research corner
- The EdTechX Europe Conference
- The ITTE Conference
- Digital Assessment
- The role of IT in the new assessment landscape
- End bits
About this newsletter
Hello, Terry Freedman here. I started this newsletter in 2000 in order to share useful tips and information with teachers of information & communications technology, education technology and computing etc. I knew how hard it was to keep up with reports and research as well as teach full time, so I thought it would be useful to do things like summarise national inspection reports, reflect on relevant news items and share ideas on how to spread the use of technology across the curriculum.
That has remained the case for all this time, despite the change in name and the occasional change of format or emphasis.
The change of name is interesting in itself. The newsletter was originally called Computers in Classrooms – because in those days having a computer in each classroom was cutting edge. I changed the name to Digital Education in the hope and expectation that the new name wouldn't come to seem quite so outdated in the future.
Digital Education is concerned almost exclusively with ed tech. I say "almost exclusively" because occasionally I include articles or book reviews that are not directly related to ed tech, but which would probably be interesting for a teacher of ed tech. Two cases in point are the review of Bounce and the article on the future of the teaching profession in this issue.
What you will not find are my personal views on life, politics, food or anything else that is entirely irrelevant.
All the articles in the newsletter are written by experts in their field. Sometimes I feature articles by students, which may seem to contradict that statement. It doesn't, because as far as I'm concerned a student who is using a particular piece of software or has been learning a particular thing is well qualified to write about his or her experience.
The newsletter is also completely independent, which is to say that the content is not determined by the demands of advertising. You may also be interested to learn that it is read by thousands of people from all over the world.
If you haven't subscribed yet, please do so: sign up now!. You'll benefit by receiving the newsletter as soon as it comes out. If you do subscribe, then please pass it on to a friend or colleague using this link: Forward this email to a friend
Finally, if you would like to advertise here I can let you have the appropriate statistics and advertising rates. Just get in touch.
A message from our sponsor, ICT Direct
Gold star warranty for schools from ICT Direct
Warranties offered by suppliers and manufacturers can vary significantly and in some cases be quite costly. You often need to check the small print to ensure there are no hidden clauses. Many warranties that state they’re “Return to Base” actually expect the school to pay to box and send the faulty item back to the company for repair, which can be quite an expense to the school.
ICT Direct’s “Advance Replacement Warranty” does exactly what it states. It is a customer service driven, comprehensive, transparent and free of charge warranty!
The warranty is focused around the customer being inconvenienced as little as possible.
Any fault is diagnosed over the phone and a spare part sent out immediately for the school to fit. If the fault can’t be easily diagnosed, then ICT Direct will send the school a replacement unit and pick up the faulty one at the same time at their own cost. This ensures there is as little downtime as possible for the school.
The two-year Advance Replacement Warranty comes as standard with all refurbished PCs, laptops, workstations, servers and monitors. Schools can extend the warranty to 3 years for a small premium, or even 5 years in some cases.
John Graham, Head of Public Sector Sales at ICT Direct commented, “Schools hugely value our Advance Replacement Warranty. Losing any piece of equipment for a period of time can be very disruptive for teachers and students. Our warranty ensures there is minimal downtime so the school can run as smoothly and effectively as possible. Many standard warranties expect the school to send the equipment back and wait for it to be repaired which can be both costly and frustrating.”
ICT Direct are also adopting a new RMA management solution, where schools will just need to email firstname.lastname@example.org and their order will be logged, tracked and delivered in an efficient and speedy manner.
About ICT Direct
ICT Direct supplies hundreds of schools across the UK with high quality refurbished business grade computer hardware. Schools have saved thousands over the years using our reliable computers, backed by comprehensive warranties. ICT Direct specialise in PCs, laptops, servers, printers, monitors, tablets and laptop/tablet security. ICT Direct also run a “Try before you buy” scheme where schools can try the equipment free of charge before deciding to purchase it. They’re members of BESA and the Microsoft Refurbisher Programme.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Digital Education. It contains a new section called Discussion Topics, which I'd like your opinion on. Also, several articles on assessment, plus a well-researched article by William Lau on the mistakes he made when teaching Computing.
But first, if you live in England, please complete the incredibly brief survey referred to below.
Thanks, and enjoy!
If you teach ICT or Computer Science at GCSE, then I have some good news. I’ve updated my list of approved qualifications in this area. It’s fairly comprehensive, and includes some viable-looking alternatives to ICT itself. (For some reason, ICT is still on the list, but it’s probably safer to ignore it, as the Department for Education seems pretty intent on scrapping it.)
To obtain this seminal document, all you need to do is let me know what subjects you intend to offer at GCSE come September. You can do so via a very short survey, after which you will be sent the list automatically.
Thanks in advance for doing that.
Congratulations to Prakash Deo, Assistant Professor of Education Technology in India, for winning the Brown Dogs and Barbers book competition. And, of course, many thanks to the author, Karl Beecher, for offering his book as a prize. You can read Roger Davies’ review of it here: Exploring a world of Brown Dogs and Barbers. You may also wish to read my own review of the book at Amazon: my review of Brown Dogs and Barbers.
Advert: Reading the ICT & Computing in Education blog on the move
Did you know that you can subscribe to the ICT & Computing in Education blog on your Kindle (if you have one)? Yes, it's true! the ICT & Computing in Education blog is now available as a Kindle subscription. There's a charge of £0.99p per month or $0.99c per month, but that's a small price to pay for the convenience of reading brilliant content on your Kindle!
There's a two week free trial if you're not sure.
Here is the link for people in Europe: UK subscription site
And here's the link for people who buy from Amazon.com: USA subscription site.
I also have a writing blog called Write!, at www.writersknowhow.org, where I write about technology for writers and writing, and review books about writing. That's available on the Kindle too. Same price as the other one. Here are the links:
I'm not sure where the subscriptions are available from apart from Europe and the USA, so if you live somewhere else I'd suggest trying the one that fits in with where you usually buy stuff from Amazon. (I did try to find this out, honest!) I'd be interested to hear your experiences.
Brexit and education technology
No political views here!
I have the feeling that the reason you’ve signed up to this newsletter is to find useful information about educational ICT and Computing rather than to hear my views on world affairs. That’s why the comments in this section are about matters pertaining to education technology. That means that you can read on without fear of being berated, patronised or lectured to. Isn’t that grand?
Most of the articles and comments I've read about the implications for education technology-related matters of Britain's decision to leave the European Union, or Brexit, have been pure speculation.
However, one at least was quite interesting as far as teachers of Computing or ICT are concerned, posing the question “How will the decision affect our data protection laws?”
This is a crucial issue for schools, of course, because if a divergence between UK and EU law starts to emerge, some schools may need to amend their practices. I received a press release about this issue, part of which reads as follows:
“Speaking before an audience of over 200 senior managers from across the financial services sector, experts from leading international law firm Simmons & Simmons and Henley Business School agreed that reform of the Data Protection Act (DPA)1998 is still on the cards following the UK’s historic vote to leave the EU, although they stopped short of predicting the DPA 1998 would be scrapped altogether.
Alexander Brown, partner at Simmons & Simmons and head of the firm’s TMT sector group commented: “While there was stiff opposition to many measures contained in the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) during the negotiations with the UK Government, it’s highly unlikely that the Data Protection Act 1998 will remain in place without some form of reform. In any event, it will be difficult to avoid the implications of the GDPR for many financial services clients that conduct business across the EU and therefore will need to comply with it.”
"The really interesting question – as yet to be decided – is whether the European Commission will recognise the UK as an ‘adequate country’ for the purposes of cross-border personal data transfers.” adds Brown.
According to the experts, the most likely outcome is that the EU will make a determination in favour of the UK as an ‘adequate country’ given its been at the forefront of providing legal protection for consumers with respect to personal data for over three decades. The UK was one of the first countries in the world to empower its Data Protection Authority to impose fines for personal data breaches.”
For your information, my company, Terry Freedman Ltd, has been registered under the Data Protection Act for many years.
The cookie law
The digital technology industry
I’ll include a couple of comments for the sake of completeness. However, you will note that they both say pretty much the same thing and, like the rest of us, the people who made them don’t know how things will work out.
These are taken from press releases I received.
Matt Hunt, CEO of Apadmi Enterprise, the UK’s leading app developer, says:
“The UK and EU are markets that have continued to offer tech businesses huge growth potential and the international business community has been overwhelmingly supportive of our industry.
Technology does not observe boundaries and we have been lucky to enjoy an inspiring array of tech from the UK, Europe and even further afield, which we have been able to access and use for the benefit of our customers. The UK tech industry has been in a strong position and the only limitations we’ve faced to do business has been our own ability. With the impending Brexit, there is now a high level of risk and uncertainty over our future and questions are being asked as to how will we be able to build on our success and further grow without the support of the EU.”
Daniel Reilly, co-founder at Ruler Analytics, a visitor level marketing analytics and call tracking solution provider, said:
"Here at Ruler Analytics we are disappointed in the vote to leave the EU. However, the digital marketing sector is one of the most resilient and growing sectors of recent times. Whilst there are a number of negatives to leaving the EU there are also many positives for an industry that has no borders.
“We certainly don’t think this change will affect the ability to recruit skilled labour from abroad, nor do we believe this will cause a shortage of jobs within a constantly developing and evolving market place. We are a serviced-based financial economy, which is driven by a great infrastructure of both education and training, and this has allowed us to be at the forefront of digital, and will continue to do so for many years to come.”
There’s an interesting round-up of the issues as found on social media here: Vuello's EU Membership Referendum: Stakeholder response and media analysis.
Tricia Kelleher, Principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation, said:
“The future is not pre-ordained. There is no reason why we should not remain globally connected and globally minded. And our young people need to be prepared to be active citizens nationally and internationally.
Educationally the narrow focus on qualifications, the idée fixe of the current government, is not the best preparation for life in this globalised society. The facility to pass a test is entirely different from having the capacity to thrive and prosper, to make a meaningful contribution to society and to respond to the demands of a world where change is, if anything, accelerating.”
Phil Foster, MD of Love Energy Savings, made an interesting comment:
“For small businesses who are looking to grow outside of the UK, airfares will be crucial. But if prices spike following the exit from the EU, entrepreneurs who may already be keeping a close eye on their bank balance may struggle to afford the journeys to the mainland.
But thanks to modern technology, travelling hundreds of miles isn’t the only way to conduct a successful business meeting. There are dozens of different programs available to hold voice and video conference calls — all you need is a strong internet connection. My advice would be to consider investing in some decent computers, internet and software packages to ensure you keep communication with your clients, partners and customers a top priority.”
TIGA, the network for video games developers and digital publishers and the trade association representing the video games industry, has raised concerns about intellectual property:
“IP is the lifeblood of the video games industry and the impact of ‘Brexit’ here could be significant. There are many commercial considerations. For example, the UK is part of both the Registered Community Design regime and the EU Trade Mark regime and also recognises the Unregistered EU Design Right. Such rights provide protection to rights holders across the EU Member States. Potentially such EU related rights might lose their validity in the UK. The implication being that those parties who originally held such EU rights may need to apply for UK trade mark and design rights to protect their rights in the UK. This may result in issues relating to existing development and publishing arrangements, IP licenses and security over IP rights.”
So, what can we learn from all this? That nobody knows anything for certain. The good news for teachers, then, is that you can have a discussion with your students about some of the issues raised here in the certain knowledge that neither they nor you can be proved wrong (yet)!
If I were still teaching I’d have a two-pronged approach:
With students of any age from primary (elementary) to secondary (high) I’d discuss issues such as data protection, Intellectual Property Rights, and the potential costs and benefits of the Brexit decision as far as digital technology issues are concerned (using the appropriate level of language, of course).
With older students I’d also discuss what they could do to make themselves stand out in the higher education and employment markets.
I always did that anyway, but I have the sense that many young people need practical strategies to help them make their way in this newly uncertain world.
Advert: Me, my work, and Facebook
I don’t make announcements on Facebook, Twitter or other social media about my comings and goings — apart from the odd status update like “Enjoying being on the top of a number 8 bus. What a view!”, to which someone usually responds along the lines of “You should try the number 63!”. But as far as work is concerned, I don’t tell the world what I’m doing.
Unfortunately, that means that a lot of people aren’t sure what I do for a living, so here is a summary. Hopefully this will serve both to satisfy your curiosity and encourage you to offer me lots of work!
I like to write about education technology, ICT and Computing, and education in general. In addition to writing for publications I write for other organisations’ blogs and newsletters. Clients have commented on how quickly I turn around such assignments, and they hardly ever need editing. So, if you need someone to help with a school newsletter or company blog, get in touch.
I’m available for giving talks or running workshops related to ed tech, ICT and Computing. I tend to be more interested in topics like how to make Computing more interesting and appealing, and run a Computing department more efficiently, than how to wire up an Arduino.
I am also available to chair panel discussions and conferences on ed tech.
If you’re interested in hiring me as a speaker or chairperson, get in touch.
I’ve been running courses in how to assess pupils in Computing for several years, and you can see what delegates have said about them here: Course testimonials.
I also run workshops and training in other topics, like how to make Computing more interesting and appealing, and run a Computing department more efficiently, and how to market Computing in a school. If any of those appeal to you, get in touch.
Feel free to approach me with other kinds of work if you don’t see your requirements specifically mentioned here.
Why reading by and for students is essential
I was reminded of the importance of reading when I attended a talk given by Headteacher Geoff Barton at the Society of Authors on 7th May.
It was a very inspirational talk, but what struck me the most were two things. First, the so-called Matthew Effect: those who have a rich vocabulary become even more word-rich through reading. Their reading is, in effect, a membership ticket of a literary club.
The second, related, point he made was that schools have a moral imperative to ensure good whole-school literacy. I would certainly agree, and apply the same logic to reading about education technology and related areas.
Part of being literate in a particular subject area is learning to think and write like the professionals in that area. Thus when I taught Economics I regarded myself as teaching people to become economists, not to learn Economics. In the same way, Geoff said that a good Chemistry teacher will teach students to write up experiments using the language of a scientist, not a school student.
When I taught ICT and Computing, I saw my role as teaching students to become computer scientists, not just how to write code.
When I was teaching, I gave my students lots of material to read and discuss, especially from the news. Geoff does a similar thing, but much better, on his Geoff Barton’s Pick ’n’ Mix blog, where he posts links to news items that will be of interest to his English students. Have a look there to see what can be done, and what should be done.
Inspired by Geoff's example, I've started an occasional series called "Discussion topic…". At the time of writing there are only two entries, but I will be adding to the repository of articles. The purpose of the series is to take a news item that involve digital technology in some way, and to pose questions for students and their teachers to ponder.
I’ve always thought that it’s important to encourage students to read, and for the Computing/ICT area in a school to have its own library. Indeed, an article of mine saying why I think that, and how to create a library, will appear in Teach Secondary very soon.
In the meantime, and this will be of interest to you I hope, the next few discussion topics are featured in this issue of the newsletter. That means that as a subscriber, you will see them before non-subscribers.
If you haven't subscribed yet, what are you waiting for? Here's the link to the sign-up form:
Subscribe to the wonderfully informative and entertaining Digital Education newsletter!
After the UK voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, an online petition was started to change the rules, so that a higher turnout would be needed. By all accounts this gained traction. If an online petition garners 100,000 “signatures”, Parliament decides whether or not to debate it. Note that, contrary to what many people believe, Parliament is not obliged to discuss it. In short, having 100,000 signatures guarantees that Parliament will definitely consider thinking about discussing it.
Anyway, success came quickly apparently, with the number of signatures reaching over a million in almost no time at all. Indeed, so successful was it, that even people from North Korea signed it, and many more times the number of people living in some areas signed it. Now that’s what I call a successful petition.
Of course, if odd facts like the ones just cited had not alerted the authorities to the possibility of a bit of skulduggery going on, a cursory glance at the IP addresses would have done so.
Interestingly, hiding your IP address, in the interests of privacy, could also be taken as indicating possible fraud. That’s because if the IP address is hidden, it’s impossible for the authorities to be sure that you live where you seem to live.
It might be worth discussing with your pupils how to check whether online petitions are being manipulated in some way, and how the powers-that-be would find out. In a wider context, in the light of all this do online petitions serve any useful purpose? Here are some references for you to check out:
I've tended to bemoan the paucity of public mobile phone charging points, especially in places like shopping malls. I was in one once when my phone had run out of juice, and discovered to my astonishment that there were no public telephones there. That is to say, the people who run the place have just assumed that everyone who goes there has a mobile phone.
I think that's a pretty big assumption to make.
But anyway, I found some public chargers in a mobile phone shop there, which came in handy. However, now I have read that using public chargers can put you at risk:
Anyway, there are a few ideas for discussion here:
• Should there be some sort of requirement to provide public phone kiosks in shopping centres? I understand that villages in England have to have one, but maybe some mobile-phone wielding politician managed to have that law annulled, I don't know.
• What steps do your students or their parents take to protect their data and identity? Many people use the password "Password" or "123456789", so is it likely that they will take the public phone charger warning seriously?
• Come to that, should we take it seriously? I don't know how easy it is to put malware on a charging station if that charging station is inside a mobile phone shop.
• If you do acquire malware from a mobile phone charging station in a shop, is the shop liable? When I availed myself of a shop's facilities, I didn't see any warning notices stating that I used it at my own risk.
Are biometrics better than passwords?
People come up with pretty useless passwords, apparently, so one solution to this is for security systems on computers and other devices to use biometrics instead. In other words, data that is unique to your biology, such as your fingerprint, your face, or even your heartbeat.
I've always objected to the use of biometrics and resisted buying any device that requires them, for both pragmatic and safety reasons. For instance:
• What happens if you burn your fingers? I've read that once your fingerprint has been burnt off, it doesn't come back.
• What happens if you are injured in an accident or develop an illness that changes what your face looks like?
Have a look at the very good article Biometrics will replace passwords, but it's a bad idea for even more objections.
What do your students think? Can they come up with a better idea?
Are self-driving cars really safe?
It was bound to happen sooner or later. The first fatal accident involving a self-driving car has occurred. Read the story here:
What do your students make of it? How did the computer program fail? What are the ramifications for the future of self-driving cars? Who should be held responsible?
Are modern programs too complex?
An interesting further discussion to be had might be the complexity of modern programs, and how it’s impossible to test for every scenario. A few years ago I created a spreadsheet for someone, and a few weeks later he told me that if you press some weird combination of keys, it deleted all the data. I contacted Microsoft and they said they didn’t know about this, or even what to do about it — apart from upgrade to the next version or refrain from pressing that combination of keys.
Programs used to be so much simpler...
What do you fancy doing this evening?
We've all had these conversations. Your partner says "What do you want to do?", and you reply "Dunno. What do you want to do?". This was portrayed very comically, and accurately, in the scene with the four vultures in The Jungle Book.
But what do you think of a future in which your answer is, "Dunno. Let's ask the bot?"
There's a very interesting article about this here: This Facebook bot will pick your next movie for you.
I suppose it could be helpful, although I wonder if we will simply cease bothering to think for ourselves once these sort of bots become ubiquitous? Could one of the unintended consequences, over the long run, be early onset dementia?
Just a thought.
Again, what do your students think?
Google street view in India
The Indian government is passing a bill aimed at preventing Google from photographing the country in detail, because of concerns that it could help terrorists’ planning. Long gone are the days when you could hope to fool an enemy by removing the signposts!
More information about the situation in India may be found here:
What do your students make of this?
Over to you
So, what do you think about this new section of the newsletter, featuring discussion topics? Is it interesting? Useful? Should it be continued?
I'd be interested in your opinions, and also in how you have used these topics in your lessons. Here's the email address to use: email@example.com.
I also publish another newsletter, in case you’re interested.Called Reviews for writers, it features reviews of things that will be of interest to writers, funnily enough. I haven’t published the first edition yet, but if you would like to be there when that happens, go to www.writersknowhow.org and click on the newsletter sign-up button.
5 mistakes I made when teaching Computing
Head of Computing William Lau discusses what he has learnt about teaching Computing over the last ten years.
“ Nothing fails like success because we don’t learn from it. We learn only from failure” –Kenneth Boulding
Looking back on the last ten years, I’ve learnt a significant amount about teaching and pedagogy. Based on Kenneth Boulding’s statement, this implies that I’ve failed on numerous occasions whilst teaching Computing. This is true and these mistakes are something I’ve learnt to embrace and reflect on somewhat obsessively.
Doug Lemov, in his brilliant book Teach Like a Champion* covers a technique called “Excavate Error”. He encourages teachers to “Dig into errors, studying them efficiently and effectively, to better understand where students struggle and how you can best address those points”. I think there’s great mileage in this technique, not only to help our students but also to help ourselves as reflective teachers. In this article, I will look at five mistakes I made whilst teaching Computing.
Mistake 1: Making learning easy and effortless
During my first year of teacher training, I visited many classrooms. At the time, I was lucky to be in a school with more than ten Advanced Skills Teachers (ASTs). These were excellent teachers with a subject specialism, who had chosen to continue to develop their teaching in the classroom, rather than pursue pastoral or managerial leadership roles in school. Needless to say, these teachers had impeccable behaviour in their classrooms and the students seemed to be progressing at an impressive rate; naturally then they possessed a somewhat revered status.
I remember going into one Religious Education class run by one of the school’s ASTs, Joanna. The class was studying Buddhism and in order to get them to empathise with Buddhist meditation, she asked them all to close their eyes and for five minutes, the students meditated in silence. I had just come from a lesson in which it took more than five minutes just to get my students logged on and facing the board! The students then returned to the present moment and wrote in silence for 10 minutes about their experience and why they thought Buddhists chose to meditate several times a day. I was impressed and for many years, I aspired to be just like Joanna, running a silent classroom where everyone was “working hard”.
To facilitate this hard work, I thought that I should help my students by making the challenging tasks easier. By scaffolding all the tasks so that they could complete them effortlessly. I held the false belief that effortless perfection was what a teacher should be aiming for. The reason this was such a big mistake is that quiet classrooms are a very poor proxy for learning. Graham Nuthall discusses the challenges of knowing what students have learnt in his book, The hidden lives of learners*. Dylan Wiliam would argue (based on a course I attended) that a quiet classroom could simply be one where nobody is being stretched, where students are bored or where students are afraid of taking risks. Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam’s work on formative assessment and assessment for learning in Inside the Black Box* and, especially, Embedded Formative Assessment*, tells us that the best proxies for learning need to make the learning visible. A few solutions that they suggest are using mini whiteboards, exit tickets and traffic lights to quickly see what the students are thinking.
Mistake 2: Should learning be easy?
The second mistake I made was thinking that learning should be easy. The Sutton Trust commissioned Coe et al to perform research on What Makes Great Teaching and found that:
“One paradoxical finding is that some approaches that may appear to make learning harder in the short term, and less satisfying for learners, actually result in better long-term retention.”
Mistake 3: Too helpful by far?
The third mistake I made was scaffolding the learning for students with Low Prior Attainment (LPA) and then allowing them to become reliant on the scaffold for the remainder of the year. I remember printing out step-by-step worksheets for many students whilst teaching Spreadsheets, Databases and Control and the students would become reliant on these worksheets. Every lesson, students would ask for the worksheet, without trying the task first. David Didau and Oli Knight advise that in order to develop independent learners, scaffolding should only be provided if there is a plan for taking this away later on in the unit of work.
Moving on from there, I now accept that lessons and learning may not always be effortless and smooth. I accept that students might struggle sometimes. Many concepts in Computing are quite abstract. Explaining the difference between a For Loop and a While Loop for example or explaining the use of Master Slides in presentations are both quite challenging concepts to grasp. However, I have taught my students to embrace the challenges, struggles, setbacks and mistakes; it shows that we are trying hard and therefore learning.
To make my students more independent, I ask them to use the SPOT framework:
• Self – Try solving the problem independently
• Peer – Ask your peers sat near you
• Other – Research the solution using other resources e.g. Online, video tutorials, worksheets and notes
• Teacher – Lastly ask your teacher.
Other teachers use the 3B4Me model which is very similar, going through the Brain, Buddy, Book and lastly Boss.
This helps students become more independent and whilst the scaffolding might still be provided through a video tutorial which can be made using free software such as Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), these tutorials or worksheets are the third option, only after they have tried solving a problem themselves and also attempted to get help from their peers. Examples of YouTube tutorials that I use in my lessons can be found here.
The Expert’s Trap
Noel Burch developed a model citing the four stages of conscious competence.
Via @ pgballey on Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pgbailey/6429568067
For many Computing teachers, they are teaching skills which they are already unconsciously competent. At this level, we might be considered experts and the expert’s trap is to attempt to teach something without explaining it fully. Collins et al. wrote a paper about Cognitive Apprenticeship in 1991, where they state the importance of making the thinking visible by thinking out loud.
In applying this to Computing, many of the tasks we do and know are implicit. An example of this is closing a tag in HTML as soon as we open it. However, unless we make these implicit habits explicit, our students will be lost as they will not be able to make the invisible conceptual leap that exists in the minds of their expert teacher.
Mark Guzdial, Professor in the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that we should also teach the misconceptions. Predict misconceptions, test students on these misconceptions and teach them where they are likely to fail. This way, students can learn from our mistakes and we can minimise the number common mistakes that students make when learning these skills. He references Phillip Sadler: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/04/understanding-student-weaknesses/
“If teachers are to help students change their incorrect beliefs, they first need to know what those are…The results showed that students’ scores showed the most improvement when teachers were able to predict their students’ wrong answers.” -- Philip Sadler
In Computing lessons, I now try my best to model not only a skill but also my thinking. Thinking aloud feels very unnatural at first, but the gains are immediate and will be apparent in all lessons where you model the new skills well. Frequently, when I reflect on lessons which went less well, I realise that there was an issue with my modelling in that I forgot to think out loud and my students were lost in the silence of clicking and demonstrating.
The media frequently use the terms “Computing”, “Computer Science”, “Coding” and “Programming” interchangeably and most headlines about the curriculum reforms in the UK have used these words synonymously. This distorts the reality that programming is a skill which all Computer Science students will need to learn, but it is not the only skill which is required in Computing. Programming pedagogy is an important part of a teacher’s Pedagogical Content Knowledge. However, equally important are other key software applications and the theoretical subject knowledge which the Computing curriculum is built on.
Mistake 4: An emphasis on the programming language
When I first started teaching at my current school, I focused a lot of time and energy in teaching students how to program using Python. That was the programming language that they would eventually use for their GCSE controlled assessment which would make up 60% of their GCSE grade (for non-Brits: GCSE is the General Certificate of Secondary Education, which is usually taken in several subjects at 16 years of age. It is a school-leaving certificate, or a passport to further study).
This decision was somewhat shortsighted, because what I realised is that the programming language is not the most important thing, neither is syntax. As I reflected back on two years of teaching programming with Python, I realised that the key threshold for learning how to program and to pull students out of liminality (transitional/borderline stage) is in teaching the students the importance of logical thinking. The key to ensuring that a program works (regardless of the programming language) is the logic and the Computational Thinking. Teaching students the process of how to break down a real-world problem down into a problem that can be computed is the key to successful programming. This is where the focus should be when teaching students how to program.
Mistake 5: Not seeing the bigger picture
However, this in itself only solves part of the problem. In 2015, the qualifications regulator for England, Ofqual announced a curriculum reform which resulted in all Computer Science Controlled Assessment from 2017 onwards to be worth only 20% of the grade. Fortunately, by then I had realised that I should be focusing on other skills, concepts and knowledge besides Computing and had started to build a more-balanced curriculum map.
In designing a Computing curriculum, I have learnt not to focus too much on trends and exam boards. But instead to produce a more-balanced curriculum which will provide students with the ability to use digital technology creatively and independently. There is still a need to plan backwards from terminal exams, however the way in which we do this has to be measured and has to ensure sufficient spacing and interleaving of content. Medium term planning is itself a significant area which cannot be covered in sufficient detail in this post. However, it is something which I am happy to advise on by email or in-person. I will also be dedicating a chapter of my upcoming book to the topic.
To close, I would encourage all teachers to keep reflecting on their teaching, to embrace and learn from the setbacks, challenges and mistakes that we encounter every day. I’d also like to thank all the teachers that have helped me become a better Computing teacher. There are countless teachers within the Computing at Schools Network. However those that deserve a special mention (in alphabetical order) are the following. The links given are for their Twitter profiles.:
• Simon Brown
• Dan Copeman
• Corinne Flett
• Oli Knight
• Giles Niklaus
• Tom Wilkinson
About William Lau
William Lau is the Head of Computing at Greenwich Free School. Having trained through the Teach First program in 2006, he has taught Computing from Key Stages 1 through to 5 in two London schools and in an international school in Seychelles. William is currently writing a book on Computing education and pedagogy.
To enjoy further insights from William, follow him on Twitter: William Lau.
* Links marked with an asterisk are Amazon affiliate links.
I formulated the KAP test while cogitating on the good fortune we in England have had as far as the people in charge of ICT and Computing in Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, are concerned. I don’t wish to embarrass them by naming them, but they all pass the Freedman KAP test (patent pending): i.e. they are Knowledgeable, Approachable and Pragmatic.
There’s not much point in knowing a lot if if order to find something out schools have to go through 3 sub-committees and given two months’ notice. I’ve found each of them approachable, especially the last one, who was happy to answer queries through Twitter.
I also found them to be pragmatists too. We all want new initiatives to be implemented straight away, but real life isn’t like that. A case in point is the requirement for schools to have implemented an assessment system and to have publicised it on their websites. Some schools are still in a state of transition, and I’m pleased to say that that appears to be acknowledged.
The KAP in relation to teachers and technicians
The KAP test can and, in my opinion should, be applied not only to Ofsted inspectors but to leaders and experts of all kinds. It’s a good test to apply, and can be used easily and at a moment’s notice.
In terms of your ICT/Computing provision in a school or college, the question is: do you pass the KAP test? Do your staff (if you lead a team)? Do the technicians?
Technicians especially. People are (still) scared of computers and technology, so they need technicians who are not only highly skilled at what they do, but who also speak plainly and don’t mind answering what to them is probably a really stupid question.
You also need a pragmatic approach too. If a printer stops working for no obvious reason, then someone should replace it with one that is. The teacher concerned doesn’t want someone fiddling with a screwdriver while she’s trying to keep the attention of class 11b. She doesn’t need to know that the left-handed widget has blown. She needs a printer.
Digital Champions and KAP
I would also extend the concept of the KAP test to Digital Champions. These are students who have shown themselves to be adept at using technology, and who can help both teachers and other students when it comes to troubleshooting or carrying out undone tasks. They too need to be approachable and pragmatic as well as knowledgable.
Do you like the idea of KAP? Let me know what you think. Click on this link to open up an email with the subject line filled in: The KAP test.
Top tip: a great use of space
Space is at a premium in many schools, so it may be worth looking around for unused or underused areas to see if there’s a way you could use them.
In one school there was a walk-in music cupboard that was storing a few music stands and some chairs. Nobody seemed to ever go in there, so I asked the Headmaster if I could have it. I turned it into a computing area for staff.
As the room was a cupboard, it was long and narrow, so there was no room for easy chairs and coffee tables. But I was able to turn it into a really good utility area. I put in about 8 PCs, a scanner and a top quality printer. The room was almost never out of use, and it had the happy knock-on effect of encouraging more teachers to use education technology in their lessons.
I’ve visited a few schools where a corridor has been partly turned into a computing facility for independent study, or in effect an extra computer lab for children.
The key thing is, when you seen an empty space, think: What could I put in here? Could we install a turnkey DTP or multimedia system? How about a colour laser printer or a 3D printer? How about two or three “pods” where teachers or students could work on their own for a while?
Here’s a great use of space I saw at the University of Nottingham.
Students are allowed to use these computers for up to 15 minutes at a time, to check their email or timetable for the day. No chairs, standing only. Could this sort of idea be adapted for use in your school? What might it look like in a primary (elementary) school?
12 things I’ve learnt about assessment
I've been thinking about, doing, and running courses in the art and science of assessing what kids know, understand and can do when it comes to Computing and ICT for a long time. Here are 12 things I've learnt. Four of these were published recently as an article on the ICT & Computing in Education website, but as a subscriber you’re getting the real deal!
The more I learn, the more I realise I don't know
I think this must be true of any sphere of knowledge. The more you know, the more nuances you see, the more you become aware of the alternatives.
I experienced the same thing when I studied Economics at school. When I was 18 I thought of myself as a budding economist. By the time I'd finished my degree in Economics I thought of myself as someone who didn't know all that much in the total scheme of things.
Getting back to assessing Computing and ICT, when I was at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority we would spend whole days looking at examples of assessment questions and examples of pupils' work, arguing back and forth about whether this particular question was "valid", or whether that particular sample of work really proved that the student knew her stuff.
Don't believe simplistic solutions
I like simple solutions, but not simplistic ones. A simple (partial) solution might be to say you're going to give pupils a short baseline test at the start of each new topic. That's an eminently sensible thing to do, and with the right tool and the right approach, it shouldn't take long.
A simplistic solution is usually introduced with the phrase "All you have to do is...". In my opinion, any sentence starting like that presages a simplistic "solution" that is not a solution at all.
Consolidation is not progress
I'm certainly in favour of checking that students have really understood a concept, such as conditionality. But I've sometimes seen instructions that tell you that if a student gets the right answer three times to the same sort of problem, they have achieved more than if they get it right only once or twice.
No they haven't.
All that proves is that either they have consolidated their understanding, knowledge or skills, or they have learnt how to answer that sort of question. To evaluate progress, you have to set different types of problem, to come at it from several angles.
As I used to say when we had Levels, achieving a Level 3 ten times doesn't make you a Level 30, it makes you a Level 3.
Groupthink can lead you astray
It's easy to assume that when everyone is saying or doing the same thing, then they must be right -- the "wisdom of crowds" argument. But as Crispin Weston points out in his article, It's the technology, stupid!, the book of that name is somewhat disparaging about the so-called "wisdom" of crowds.
Let's put it this way. Since many of the approaches to assessing Computing, while useful, have effectively reinvented Levels, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by thinking through all the issues for yourself. That is far better than assuming everyone else is right, or buying an assessment product without knowing how it works (which I referred to as outsourcing assessment to an algorithm).
It’s hard, and fascinating
Assessment is a fascinating area to explore. There are so many potential pitfalls. For example, is this test valid? Is there even such a thing as validity? (Dylan Wiliam, in a conference on assessment, suggested that validity is not an intrinsic quality of a test: what matters is the purpose for which you use the test. I think this is obvious once you see it stated, but we tend to become lazy in our use of language. We use shorthand terms, and then forget that were intended to be shorthand.)
Collaboration is essential
Collaboration doesn’t prevent groupthink, but if you collaborate with a diverse range of people, it makes it less likely. That’s what I like to think, anyway.
You need to know how all-in-one solutions work
If you buy a package that has curriculum materials and assessment items built in, and those assessment items can be used to tell you how your students are doing, then you need to know how it’s arriving at its conclusions.
You will probably not be able to find out the fine detail because of intellectual property issues, but you should know how it works broadly speaking.
For example, does it arbitrarily assign some sort of level or grade depending on how a student does on a test? If so, is the test fit for purpose?
Or does it track what the student is doing on-screen, and then try to decide how competent the student is? If so, how does it do that, just in overall terms? Does it sound like it makes intellectual sense?
You must be able to exercise professional judgement
Whatever a test tells you about a student, you need to be able to override the result to take into account other factors. For example, I’ve known students to flounder on a test because they could see how more than one answer could be correct, depending on what assumptions you made. That’s obviously a poorly constructed test, so the student shouldn’t be penalised for it.
Senior leaders are wedded to numbers…
For various reasons in England — I can’t really speak for other countries — senior leadership teams insist on numbers. Never mind the fact that officially we no longer have to report Levels. As far as many schools are concerned, Levels are alive and well.
…So you need to accommodate them
If you work in a school where you have to produce numbers, e.g. Levels, you need to have a means of converting your preferred assessment approach into numbers. No point in refusing to do so, because you’ll probably end up be formally disciplined. No point in pointing out that we’re encouraged to not use Levels because of their drawbacks: the senior leadership will probably agree with you, but that won’t change anything. You are just going to have to bite the bullet.
Your approach needs to work with or be compatible with school system
Even if your particular approach is brilliant, it has to tie in with the school’s system. I think this is easier if everyone in the school is using the same program. Where things become a bit difficult is where widely different approaches are used, and/or different programs.
If you’re in this predicament, I think you will need to one of the following:
• Drop your approach altogether.
• Find a way of converting the results given by your approach into the form that the school as a whole is using.
• Use your approach on a day-to-day basis, but the school’s approach when you have to submit results to the school’s database.
Your approach should be based on a theory
Any system of assessment should have a theoretical underpinning, so you can justify why you use it, and can modify it easily when circumstances change.
My “assessing Computing” courses
I’m not running any courses in assessing ICT & Computing at the moment, but if you need one then you have two choices. One is to keep looking on the Courses section of the ICT & Computing in Education website. The other is to contact me with a view to running a bespoke course for your school or a group of schools. You can see what other people have said about my courses here: Course Testimonials.
You’ve heard of Digital Champions — kids who are able to help teachers and other pupils with their ed tech problems. But how about creating a team of Coding Cadets?
These would be pupils who can help other pupils with programming issues. I first realised the value of such people when I was teaching on a teacher training course last year. I was showing the class how to use Scratch, and getting them to have a go, but then couldn’t remember how to do something myself! I asked one of the students who’d just completed an amazing project, and she helped me out.
The advantage of Coding Cadets for the pupils themselves might be recognition in the form of a digital badge. Another potential advantage, for older students, is that it might be a useful thing to put on an application for a job or university.
The future of the teaching profession
This article is not about ICT or Computing as such, but is relevant in a more general sense. I attended a Westminster Forum conference recently. This looked at the key issues of teacher shortages and professional development. You can buy the transcript of the conference, or persuade your school CPD officer (if you have one) or school librarian (ditto) to do so.
A number of things struck me in particular:
I have always thought of teaching as a profession, based on the fact that I have a Bachelor degree in my original subject (Economics), a Masters degree in Education, and a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education, which is a qualification indicating that I have been trained to teach. That’s a lot of studying.
However, teachers in England and many other parts of the world are not treated as professionals. For me, there are several tests of whether an occupation really is perceived as a profession:
First, respect from the general public. There was a time that the public held teachers in high esteem, but I fear that is less the case now.
Second, a large degree of self-determination, in terms of what to teach, how to teach it, how to assess it, and the professional development required to learn how better to do these things.
I don’t have too much of a problem with Government dictating what to teach: I think a common core or National Curriculum can be very useful, especially when it comes to pupils’ acquiring basic skills, knowledge and understanding. But having stipulated what to teach, politicians should, in my opinion, let teachers get on with it.
Think about it: I have a Masters degree in Economics Education, which means I have looked into lots of aspects of how to teach Economics. I don’t know everything about it, but I’m pretty sure I know more than the average politician.
I taught, and have been involved in the teaching of, ICT and Computing for 30 years. Again, I like to think I know more about that than the average politician.
We have politicians telling teachers who are English graduates when exclamation marks are OK to use, or to encourage pupils to use ‘wow’ words — despite much evidence that professional writers, i.e. those who earn their living from writing, do not agree with such edicts.
In the field of Computing, we have people who know about Computing but who have never taught telling teachers how to teach it.
Given that politicians and other non-experts don’t tell doctors how to conduct their examinations, or barristers how to prepare their cases, one can only conclude that teachers are not regarded as professionals.
Also, as a professional, and, fortunately, self-employed, I can make up my own mind as to whether or not a course or other form of CPD is useful, and therefore whether or not to attend it. Many teachers are compelled to attend in-school training days that are useless — see It’s your time you’re wasting for an hilarious description of this phenomenon. At the same time, they are not permitted to attend courses to help them teach Computing. Professionals are expected to keep their knowledge up-to-date, and to choose how best to do so. Many teachers are unable to meet these criteria, through no fault of their own.
For these reasons I support, cautiously, the idea of the Chartered College of Teachers, which seeks to professionalise the teaching profession. I say “cautiously” because I find its web presence so confusing (different Facebook, Twitter, email and website addresses) that I have my doubts as to whether it can make itself known to enough teachers to become a going concern. However, I understand from Professor Angela McFarlane’s talk that the College is making haste slowly, which is a sensible idea. Also, its Advisory Group has some well-known and respected people on it. It’s definitely worth checking out their aims and other details if you live in the UK. Here’s the website: Claim Your College.
Another aspect of professionalism is being able to innovate in your classroom, but when I am running my courses in assessing Computing I find time and time again that teachers are constrained in what they are allowed to do in their own classroom. Surely being a professional involves, by definition, being able to use one’s professional judgement, but that often appears to not be the case.
One of the questions I asked at the conference was:
“What should a new teacher do, or a new teacher in a school do when they have that mind set about wanting to do research, but the headteacher has dogmatically insisted that we are an X school, where X could be flip learning, bring your own device, anything, but in the headteacher’s quest to be that school it kind of stops any individual research from going on?”
I was very heartened by the response of Dr Robin Bevan, Headteacher, Southend High School for Boys, Essex. He said:
“I think that there is no doubt that one of the defining features of a high quality teacher is autonomy and I would even push it slightly towards the anarchic, by which I mean to be a highly effective teacher you have to be willing to break out of the constraints that are placed on you.”
He then went on to suggest that if you have an idea for something you’d like to try out, ask to run it as a pilot — an approach I wholeheartedly agree with.
Finally, I should point out that he did go on to say that if a school is in the process of dealing with difficulties, it is perfectly reasonable for expectations to be standardised at first.
I think this is a good point, and it raises a wider issue that it would not be appropriate to explore here, which is that being a maverick, or doing out-of-the-ordinary things, is something of a luxury. I always tried to do interesting and exciting things with my classes, and have a good laugh along the way — but only once I’d established routines and discipline. I suspect that headteachers in difficult circumstances have a similar balance to strike.
Incidentally, Dr Bevan undertook some interesting research into concept mapping, which he wrote up as a case study for his Mirandanet Fellowship. You can read that here: Mirandanet Fellowship case study — http://www.mirandanet.org.uk/casestudies/193.
STOP PRESS! Between writing this article and publishing the newsletter, I discovered an article that highlighted the complete absence of autonomy. That prompted me to write this article: 10 questions arising from lazy thinking in ICT and computing in schools.
Routes into teaching in England
Finally, apparently there are many routes into teaching in England. There used to be just two, and as the number of routes multiplied to the point that I had no idea what they all were, I assumed that the confusion was all mine.
That turns out not to be the case at all: the whole area is confusing. Obviously, I could find out what all the routes are, but that’s not the point. I (still) encourage people to go into teaching, which I’ve always regarded as a very noble profession. But if and when they say “Yes, that’s what I’ll do!”, what options are there, and which is the best — for them?
There really does need to be clear guidelines, and consistency between routes. For example, it would be good if there was a common body of theoretical knowledge (pertaining to pedagogy) that student teachers have to learn, so that those who go for learning on the job don’t lose out.
After I’d written the above, I thought I was going to have to delete it. Why? Because I discovered the Government’s “Get into teaching” website. Unfortunately, it’s not the one-stop shop I thought it would be: you still have to look at the courses offered by individual training institutions.
Still, its options page is a starting point.
As I noted at the start, this article was not about education technology but I hope you feel it was worthwhile reading anyway, as a sort of background piece. I don’t know about teacher training in general, or Computer teacher training in particular, in countries other than my own. If you do, or of you have any comments on the issues raised here, do get in touch.
Useful links for Ed tech, ICT and Computing teachers
The ISTE conference
At the time of writing, the ISTE conference has recently been going on in the USA. To keep up with the myriad presentations and other good stuff, keep your eye on the following hashtags in Twitter: #ISTE2016 and #notatiste2016. Note that although the conference has finished, people are still tweeting using those hashtags.
The digital skills crisis
I wrote briefly about it here: The digital skills crisis.
Recording an interview with someone over the web
I had a horrible experience recently when I tried to record an interview with someone using Google Hangouts on Air. First of all my camera suddenly stopped working, then after it sprang into life again my audio stopped working. As I hadn’t changed anything I assumed it might be a bandwidth problem, but I turned for help to someone who has been doing this sort of thing for ages: Shelly Terrell.
Shelly gave me some excellent tips and links:
Shelly went on to say:
“The problem is you need the best bandwidth for both sides to do hangouts. If not, it won't work well. I would recommend Skype and have a Skype recorder or if it is because of Youtube then do Youtube live and see if that works better. https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2474026?hl=en”
The Digital Economy Bill
This is not of direct interest to schools, but it proposes penalties for online pornographers who don’t implement age verification, and sets out the standards for broadband speeds for people and businesses. Here are the links:
The Minecraft Generation
Writing on the move
Inspired by Inspire
Amazon goes open. An article on the Technology and Learning website by Christine Weiser, on the launch of Inspire. Inspire is an online market place for lesson plans and other educational resources.
How technology can transform a student’s learning
This article has been sponsored by Trilby TV.
Technology plays a critical role in the life of students and given the right tools and guidance can help motivate and inspire them to achieve great success.
Vickie Bacon, a teacher and leading Apple Distinguished Educator who is passionate about enabling her learners to achieve their best, produces daily blog posts demonstrating the positive impact certain apps can have on a student’s learning. Here are a few snippets from Vickie’s blog that show the real value of technology when integrated into the classroom:
“As a teacher we always put our practice under the microscope and dissect it. This micro management can prevent the students from expressing themselves. Independence of thought as well as independent choice of how to present understanding is the ultimate goal.”
Vickie reflects on the powerful impact of technology in learning:
“As a personal reflection, I sat and watched the celebration screens around the school. As I watched, I was bowled over by the variety and scope of the work that the digital citizens in our school can communicate and share. Their work is exceptional in parts and wonderfully wacky and individual in others. But somehow it works. Learning has been transformed, and through TrilbyTV has managed to reach and 'infect' others with the excited buzz that digital learning continues to bring."
The power of digital leaders in schools:
“Collaborative, informed and responsible learners are the ultimate aim of any digital strategy that I support. The students should have exposure to the skills that will support them as informed digital citizens. Digital natives that work confidently, flexibly and on reflection try to improve and refine their skills. Appointing digital leaders in the school goes some way to achieving this lofty aim. However, at my present school, all the children get the opportunity to be digital leaders, mentor and tutor to allow others to benefit from their digital skills. This enhances their self confidence and motivates them as they reap the reward of feeling valued for their skill set.”
How Technology can transform a student’s learning experience:
“One child joined the class with limited ability to read and almost non existent writing skills - decoding is unknown to him and at 10 years old he's finding school an alien environment. But today his success was obvious as his work was spoken into the iPad and after discussion he was able to convert his ideas into a beginning, middle and end of a worthwhile story. The task took 40 minutes which is the longest that he has stayed focused and willing to participate. At the end of the day he remarked, " it can't be home time yet normally the day drags and lasts for so long...” This is a celebratory moment, further reinforced by the star of the week certificate for good work and that he can see his work on the screens around the school having uploaded his video to TrilbyTV - the icing on the cake.”
The power of sharing learning:
“TrilbyTV was introduced in the library and the screen was instantly rich with examples of
excellent ways in which the students & teachers communicate their learning. From the QR codes on the displays containing links to the video diaries of the geography field work trip, generated by the public link in the app, to a collection of still images punctuated by captions and comments. The screens echoed to the delightful sound tracks which signalled the ePub books made in Book Creator exported directly to photos as a movie file. This enabled the students to directly upload to the screens as easily as 1,2,3...with huge smiles on their faces. Their teacher could also instantly recognise the appropriate use of connectives, nouns and accurate SPAG (spelling accuracy and grammar)!”
Vickie concludes by showing how her school has been completely transformed with integrated technology:
“The screens around the school displayed the positive images of our school community learning together using TrilbyTV as well as added to the school’s website via an embedded code that the clever widgets incorporated in TrilbyTV allows. Technology is now experienced by all the stakeholders within the school “
Vickie’s blog posts demonstrate just how powerful technology can be in an educational environment and the huge difference it can make to a students’ learning.
There are some fantastic educational tools available that can transform teaching and enhance the learning environment and TrilbyTV is certainly one of them. With its focus on student voice, teacher sharing and celebrating success, it is fast becoming the number one digital signage platform for education and being utilised successfully by several schools across the UK.
For more details see www.trilbytv.co.uk or call 0121 333 6860.
I’ve decided that a one-size fits all approach to reviewing books (or anything else, come to that), just won’t do. So I’ve categorised my reviews into 4 types:
Full review, in which I look at what the book is about, relate it to a wider context (such as education technology or writing), and look at its strengths and weaknesses, and recommend it (or not).
Thumbnail sketch, in which I very briefly say what the book is about and my thoughts on it. I try to keep reviews in this category to 200 words or fewer.
Honourable mention, in which I mention a book that looks good but which I haven’t actually read. For example, I may have read a sample of it on my Kindle or on the publisher’s website. Honourable mentions are my way of saying, “Look, I’ve come across this book. It seems like it might be useful, but I can’t really say because I don’t have a copy and so I haven’t read it yet.”.
And finally, Books I want to read but will probably never get around to. This title was inspired by Nick Jones’ Existential Ennui blog. Like me, Jones seems to have a compulsion to buy used books, and also like me he appears to buy more than he can ever hope to get through. He has a section entitled “ books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly – indeed may never get round to blogging about properly – so this will have to do.” I quite like that, as I think it’s a useful mechanism for alerting people to the existence of a book without saying very much about it.
And now, on with the reviews!
Bounce, by Matthew Syed
This book is not specifically related to ed tech, but so many ed tech people have referred to it in articles that I thought I'd take a look. Bounce seeks to answer the question: What does it take to become an expert?
It turns out that genetics and social class are not determining factors, according to Matthew Syed, the author. So what does matter, and why is any of this relevant to teaching Computing?
Continue reading this review here: Review of Bounce.
The Content Code, by Mark Schaefer
Have you ever wondered how to make your content visible without being obnoxious — or why you should even need to bother? There is now so much content out there that it's becoming increasingly difficult to make oneself heard above the cacophony. The conventional wisdom espoused by many well-known bloggers is that content is king. Well, yes, but if hardly anyone sees that content then you might as well not bother.
Read the full review here: Review of The Content Code.
What’s yours is mine, by Tom Slee
It used to be quite common for people to draw a distinction between the online world and what they called “the real world”. Indeed, judging by the way some people put just about every aspect of their private lives on social media, not everyone understands even today that that distinction is a false one.
If you harbour any doubts about this, consider the so-called “sharing economy”. Armed with just a smartphone and a few well-chosen apps, you can arrange to have your home cleaned, a meal delivered, a place to stay on vacation and a car to take you to the airport.
The most famous examples of such services are, of course, Airbnb and Uber, but there are many others. I’ve always had my doubts about such services because of the horror stories one sometimes reads about in the newspapers, such as cab passengers being sexually assaulted and poor attention to health and safety in holiday accommodation.
But, as this well-researched book makes clear, these are not the only costs. The providers of such services, by which I mean the people actually driving the cabs or delivering the meals, often make less than the minimum wage. To add insult to injury, they have no workers’ entitlements such as sick pay, holiday pay or pension schemes.
There are often community costs as well — costs that have led Berlin to ban whole-property rental on Airbnb.
This book is good at digging out the connections between people and corporations that are by no means obvious. Also, it doesn’t deal only with the big players, but smaller ones too, and other, related, aspects of this phenomenon. A case in point is open source software, which is promoted as a great community enterprise in which everyone contributes their labour free of charge, for the greater good, but which in fact turns out to be quite lucrative for some.
I think the book is required reading if one is to guard oneself against what the author calls “the naiveté of twenty-six year old CEOs [and] the hubris of their venture capital advisers.” It is also useful to be able to help your pupils see beyond the world of apps, and to appreciate that there are often unintended and unforeseen consequences of innovation. You may think that the sharing economy is entirely beneficial, but as a great economist once said, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
My only criticisms of the book are as follows. First, that it seems one-sided. After all, many people, consumers and providers alike, benefit enormously from the sharing economy. Secondly, that the author offers no solution to the problems he identifies beyond a bit of wishful thinking.
Nevertheless, a book that is filled with facts, and eminently readable, What’s Yours Is Mine is highly recommended.
You can buy the book from here: OR Books.
Please note that I was sent a copy of the book to review.
Thumbnail sketch: How to read journal articles in the social sciences, by Phillip Chong Ho Shon
When I was studying at school, I used different coloured pens to denote different kinds of notes, e.g. green meant someone’s opinion, while red meant factual information. When I went on to university I discovered packs of rainbow coloured paper, so I wrote biographical notes on yellow paper and key revision points on red paper. The author of this book has devised a much simpler (and cheaper) method of annotating notes, using codes such as SPL — Summary of Previous Literature. I believe that teachers might want to adapt this kind of structured approach to help their pupils read properly.
That sounds very insulting, because as the author points out, teachers assume that by the time youngsters reach secondary school age they are competent readers. However, unless they have been trained or have trained themselves to do otherwise, they probably read in the same way they were taught to when they were five years old.
This is not an easy read, being aimed at university students (I think) and their lecturers. However, I believe that it could be useful for teachers who despair at their pupils’ poor reading habits and/or low retention rates.
You can buy the book from here: How to read journal articles in the social sciences. Please note that that is an Amazon affiliate link, and that the book was sent to me to review.
Thumbnail sketch: Academic writing and grammar for students, by Alex Osmond
There are lots of books on correct usage of English, but where this book distinguishes itself from the rest is its focus on academic writing. As well as perhaps obvious (to teachers) advice to avoid emotive language in essays, the book contains information on sentence structure and other aspects of grammar.
What is especially good is that the examples are all taken from academic writing in different subject areas. In addition, the book is easy to read because it has a simple two-colour format with clear headings.
With sections on how to avoid verbosity and common errors, Academic Writing and Grammar for Students is definitely worth having in your school or Ed Tech library.
You can buy the book from here: Academic Writing and Grammar for Students. Please note that that is an Amazon affiliate link, and that the book was sent to me to review.
Thumbnail sketch: Digital literacy skills for FE teachers, by Jonathan White
Although this book is aimed squarely at teachers in Further Education, I think it would be a useful resource for school teachers too, and even university lecturers. There are many references to the Digitally Literate FE and Skills Teacher Framework, which are, of course, extremely useful if you happen to be an FE or skills teacher. But even if you are not, this book is worth having, not least because it is bang up to date, with sections on MOOCs, copyright, cyberbullying and critical reading.
If you have a team comprising staff who are not as steeped in these subjects as you are, or if you sometimes need a handy reference, this book is definitely worth buying.
You can buy the book from here: Digital Literacy Skills for FE Teachers. Please note that that is an Amazon affiliate link, and that the book was sent to me to review.
Honourable mention: Drones in Education
I came across this intriguingly-titled book while browsing on the ISTE website. It covers just about every aspect of using drones you could wish for, including regulations, health and safety, links to standards and using them in the curriculum. For non-US residents, the links to standards and the regulations won’t necessarily apply, but the ideas on implementing them in lessons would work anywhere I think. Definitely worth investigating if you’re thinking of going down this new and potentially very exciting route.
You can buy the book from here: Drones in Education.
Building Learning Communities, Boston, 19th – 21st July 2016.
Samsung Digital Academy, London 27th July 2016. “We are providing free taster session to students between the ages of 16-18 on coding, Networking and Social Media to help their decision on a career in the digital world.” See this page to book.
Bergen, Norway: 21-22nd September 2016
iNacol Blended and Online Learning Symposium, San Antonio, October 25, 2016 - October 28, 2016
EdTechXAsia 2016, Singapore, 8th – 9th November 2016.
Growing up Digital: technology, child development, iRights and policy. Another conference from the Westminster Forum people. It looks interesting, and takes place in London on 17th November 2016.
The Bett Show, London, 25th- 28th January 2017
EdTechXEurope, London, June 2016, Dates unknown
ITTE conference, 21st June 2017 (but part of a week of other conferences: more details to come in due course)
Monday, September 18, 2017 to Tuesday, September 19, 2017.
The EdTechX Europe Conference — A very brief Review
This is definitely worth attending, if you can, next year. There were four strands, and it was possible to switch between them.
There was a preponderance of panel discussions, which I found interesting.
I was invited to moderate a panel discussion myself, on the topic of the link between the maker movement and 21st century skills. I was so impressed by the panellists that I have decided to make the next issue of Digital Education a Maker special. See under “Next issue” for details.
Back to the EdTechXEurope conference, I won’t say too much more about here, except that you may wish to make a note of the following:
The EdTechXAsia conference is taking place in Singapore in November:
EdTechXAsia 2016, Singapore, 8th – 9th November 2016.
The next EdTechXEurope conference will be in London in June 2017, dates as yet unknown.
ITTE Conference — a very brief review
ITTE is the Association for Information Technology in Education. It is very much a research-focused organisation, so it is no surprise that its conferences feature presentations of recent research too. The recent one was no exception.
Having an academic bias doesn’t mean being old-fashioned. The last one included a Pecha Kucha session, in which presenters speak alongside an automated presentation comprising 20 slides showing for 20 seconds each. It also included a speed networking session.
One of the Pecha Kucha presenters was Elizabeth Hidson, whom Will Lau mentions in his article in this issue. What a small world!
One of the strengths and also weaknesses of the conference is the small number of attendees. That makes for an informal gathering in which you can get to speak to most if not all of the attendees. On the other hand, if there were more attendees perhaps it would be feasible to have more than two strands.
Thanks to a combination of Transport for London’s decision to do engineering works on the railway routes I needed to use, and my misreading of their website updates page, I missed the first 15 minutes of the keynote. That was annoying because it was well thought out and very interesting. The speaker was Seán Ó Grádaigh, and something he said struck a chord. It’s obvious, and something I’ve known all my teaching life, but which I’ve never consciously thought of much less articulated. He declared that when teachers prepare lessons and resources, they are thinking pedagogically.
Quite, which is why Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister in England, said that teachers should use textbooks rather than prepare worksheets, not all of us were terribly impressed.
Next year’s conference will take place in Hull, in the north of England. It will take place on 21st June 2017, and there are two other conferences going on that week, in the same place. Those are the Mobilising and Transforming Teacher Education Conference, which is free apparently, and the Digital Technologies Networking Conference. So, that week looks like a great opportunity to meet other educators, not just from the UK, but from Europe and elsewhere too.
Incidentally, those links are to the websites of the organisations concerned, not the conferences, about which there appear to be few details published. I’ll publish more details as they become available, or of course you could join one or more of those organisations if you are eligible.
As I wrote above, I attended the recent Ed Tech X Europe Conference, where I looked at DigiExam and interviewed its founders.
The product is, as the name implies, a digital assessment system. It enables students to take exams digitally, and it enables teachers to create, mark and administer exams digitally.
The underlying philosophy of the product is that to assess digital skills, you should do digitally. Also, given that students are using digital devices more and more in school, it seems somewhat counterintuitive to then assess them using pen and paper. Digital assessment, or e-assessment as it is sometimes known, has much potential. Unfortunately, that potential remains to be fully realised.
Perhaps one of the reasons is that it is seen as a step too far. According to the founders of DigiExam, innovators should make haste slowly. That is to say, start off by digitising the current types of assessment, and then start to explore the potential of the technology.
For example, rather than spend hours or even days marking papers, Digiexam makes it easy to mark them electronically. This resulted in a reduction of between 50% and 70% of the time required to grade sets of papers, according to their trials.
The product also includes a tool for quickly creating – and marking – tests at the start or end of lessons for formative assessment purposes.
DigiExam also provides for scripts to be anonymised, which can obviously reduce unconscious bias on the part of the marker.
Another feature I liked was the facility to collaborate with other teachers to create tests.
When I was at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, I worked on an on-screen test. The way the test worked was great, but the technical and hardware requirements let the product down. Formal exams rely on infallible technology. DigiExam's answer to technical breakdowns and connectivity issues is to make the product as reliable as possible by having everything on the machine, and continuously saving everything the student does.
As for cheating by looking up answers on the web, or copying and pasting from answers one prepared earlier, DigiExam is self-contained and simply does not permit those things to be done.
The product is available on any device except those that run on an Android operating system, which is unfortunate. Nevertheless, it won an EdTechXRise 20 Award in the EdTechXGlobal All Stars Award program.
The company is based in Sweden, and here are their contact details: DigiExam.
My thanks go to the lovely people at Livewire PR for providing me with information, case studies, the opportunity to interview the DigiExam people and see it in action.
How do school and district leaders use educational research?
I’m a great advocate for teachers and senior leaders basing what they do on research, but how do they actually use that research. This study seeks to answer that question.
The article in this issue by William Lau contains copious amounts of research, so in the interests of keeping this newsletter from growing even longer, I’ll stop here!
The role of IT in the new assessment landscape
Four school leaders recently got together to talk about the role of IT in the new assessment landscape. The four felt IT could make a difference in encouraging the whole school community to embrace a different approach to assessment – not just teachers, but pupils and parents too.
Here, Sam Hunter, headteacher at Hiltingbury Junior School summarises the key points highlighted in the discussion, which also involved John Goodey, executive headteacher at St John Baptist Primary School, Karen Edwards, headteacher at The Heights Primary School and Tamzin Wood, data and assessment lead at South Avenue Primary School.
Use IT to give pupils ownership of their progress
In the new assessment landscape, the focus is on ensuring every child achieves ‘mastery’ of one skill before moving on to the next. As such, it is important to involve children in this process so they can see their progress and visualise what their next steps will be. One of the simplest ways IT can help engage children in this way is by enabling them to capture examples of work they have done to demonstrate mastery of a skill. This might be via a quick photo taken by their teacher and stored on their tablet. These examples can also be shown to pupils working towards that skill, so that even the youngest children can see what it is they are aiming for.
Engage digitally with parents
No teacher would deny the huge influence of parents in a child’s learning journey and there is no doubt that if a parent knows their child’s strengths and weaknesses, they can step in to help at home. It is not just about helping when a child is struggling either. By simply understanding what topics a child is working on at any point in time, parents can point out things in everyday life that are relevant. This will extend the learning experience, ensuring skills are more likely to become embedded. IT can help by updating parents on children’s learning and progress automatically, enabling time-poor teachers to get on with the job of teaching.
All of the four schools in our discussion used the same curriculum and assessment system for Key Stages 1 and 2 (Learning Ladders) and the fact that teachers could simply open an ‘online window’ to show parents how pupils were progressing against mastering each skill was invaluable in this engagement process.
Use IT to record data which informs
The risk with having IT so readily available to support the assessment process is that schools may record all the information they can about their pupils, rather than considering what information they need. The advice of the schools in our discussion was to record only information that will really add value. The sophisticated analysis of many assessment systems means that these days, you only need a small amount of data to help you spot which children or groups are falling behind. Do not waste teachers’ time with too much data entry and instead focus on getting information out at the analysis stage.
About Sam Hunter
Sam Hunter is head of Hiltingbury Junior School. She is a recognised assessment innovator for her unique Learning Ladders approach to managing assessment and curriculum planning.
You may be interested to learn that I wrote about this approach to assessment, and several others, in a document entitled DfE Innovation Fund: New Ways of Assessing ICT and Computing. This is available at the subscribers only web page: http://www.ictineducation.org/digitaled-subscribers. You will need the password sent to you when you signed up. If you can’t remember that, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next issue, advertising and contributions
In the next issue of Digital Education...
I'm hoping to have a bit of a focus on the maker movement, and to include some information about companies that provide experiences and courses for students in schools in England, arising from my visit to the Digital Careers Show in London. Although the companies are in England, I’m hoping that the feature will give you some ideas of things to look for wherever you happen to be. The feature will also be a neat follow-on to my review of Bounce.
There will also be a competition to win two copies of a book about scannable technology, aimed at teachers.
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