Who remembers the OHP now?

The Centre for Education Economics has produced an interesting research digest on the ‘Evidence on uses of technology in education’.  http://www.cfee.org.uk/sites/default/files/CfEE%20Annual%20Research%20Digest%202016-17%20-%20web%20version.pdf?mc_cid=9c5c208670&mc_eid=11bc2206a8

Now, the use of technology isn’t new in education and much technology, such as the cassette tape-recorder, banda copiers and the OHP has come, gone and faded into the memories of those of us of certain ages. Throughout the whole of my life, the problem all too often isn’t the technology, but rather the way teachers and others are taught to make use of it in helping the learning process.

If I was still teaching geography, I guess I would have a string of web sites open on my interactive whiteboard to let pupils watch for a magnitude 6 earthquake; a volcanic eruption and at this time of year the development of hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean, all so as to engage all my classes in knowing the dynamics of these natural events and possibly encouraging them to find out more. Today, I would have a web cam streaming live from somewhere in the USA celebrating the 4th July. All this is low level motivational use of technology.

I am convinced that data recording can help play an important part in pinpointing where resources are needed, although all too often teachers are required to create and input the data. The next generation of learning technology should address that issue. Indeed, I wonder whether we should be spending the cash currently expended on research into driverless cars into improving the learning process for those we fail at present in our education system. I always wonder whether, with the development of technology we need, those preparing the next generation of teachers are as open to new possibilities and to enthusing the next generation of teachers to be aware of the way the world is changing as I would like them to be.

I first used a word processor in 1979; it revolutionised the work I could undertake for the dissertation I was researching and eventually writing at that time. From mail merging the letters accompanying my questionnaire, to changing spelling mistakes the day before submission, there were lots of small advantages. However, the real benefit was longer to arrange and rearrange my thoughts and analysis to produce a higher standard of writing that would have been much more challenging to achieve with just pen and ink or that other disappeared piece of technology, the typewriter.

This blog would be possible without the developments in technology and I would only be able to communicate with the outside world if someone, as the TES did in 1998, offered me the opportunity to write a column for their magazine.

Indeed, TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk our free to schools and teachers job board is the product of disruptive new technology that has driven down the cost of communicating teaching posts to the audience seeking them out.

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the 1870 Education act, I remain an optimist that technology can improve our lives for the better and reduce the learning deficit some many children still experience, especially at the start of their formal education.

Immediately after writing this post I came across the following BBC video posted today that raises many of the same issues about technology and learning


Well worth a view.

Hawks, doves and the art of leadership

Watching the TV programme ‘Educating the East End’ on the day that Ofsted published its well trailed views on discipline in schools was illuminating, not so much for what happened on camera as for what was happening around the framed shots. If you put together that evidence with other programmes such as ‘tough young teachers’ and both ‘Educating Essex’ and Educating Yorkshire’ a pattern begins to emerge of what it is like teaching in these schools, especially for some teachers.

Overall one has to say that edited highlights of hours of filming that are need to fill a brief to entertain, inform and educate in that order may not be entirely reflective of the norms of a school. Nevertheless, the lack of graffiti, clean, mostly litter free corridors, and open spaces and classroom where displays can exist without being totally trashed suggest that there is an overall sense of order in these schools, with leaders knowing having a clear sense of direction and understanding what is expected of them. These are not ‘blackboard jungles’ in the fictional sense of the term or as depicted in the 1960s and 1970s by TV series and films such as Please Sir and St Trinians films. But, they are places with large numbers of adolescents starting the change from childhood to adulthood in a society where respect for authority is rarely a feature of everyday life outside of school.

Each lesson witnesses the battle of the soap opera that exists in many classrooms and this is evident in the TV programmes. The average pupil still too often tunes in at the start, tunes out once they know the plot of the lesson that continues to run in the background and only tunes back in at the end, especially if homework is being set. In the meantime whether they participate effectively or do their own thing depends upon how well the teacher handles the most disaffected elements in the class.

What I hope the Chief Inspector is saying is that time on task, and hence learning, is closely related to the classroom environment and that in turn is set by the level of control over the lesson that the teacher exercises. In a school, the tone is set from the top. This is especially important in those parts of the country where we now have large numbers of relatively inexperienced teachers. The number of such teachers will grow over the next few years as pupil numbers expand and assuming funding remains stable.

Creating learning environments for all pupils took me five years to achieve as an untrained teacher in the 1970s. These days we should expect better results from the preparation courses as we know so much more about learning and society than in the 1970s when teachers were coping with the new world of non-selective secondary schools. My field these days is not teacher preparation, so I don’t feel qualified to say how we should prepare our teachers or even really how we would run schools on a daily basis, but I suspect the moving line between authority and anarchy still exists in many schools. Creating learning for all while not stifling individualism is a tough ask and I respect those leaders that achieve it whether by being hawks or doves.

Quality Assurance v Quality Control

One of the interesting features of living in Oxford is that although we are known as a city of learning we also have a thriving car industry. We celebrate 100 years of car production in the city this year. Car production locally has mirrored the fate of the industry nationally. When I arrived in Oxford in the late 1970s the car plant was suffering, along with much of British manufacturing industry, from a range of ills. Nowadays, the Cowley plant is producing the world-beating mini, and once again on top form.

One of the changes in production methods, along with the extensive use of robots and just in time ordering during the past 30 years, has been a change from quality control to quality assurance. At one time a car was checked for defects at the end of the line, and those defects were rectified. It was said that in the worst cases the car had to be virtually rebuilt. This was the quality control approach. In the worst cases what it lacked was any feedback to change procedures. With a quality control approach faults still arise from time to time, but the reason for them is investigated and, if possible, preventative measures are put in place to avoid a re-occurrence. As a result, fewer cars need remediation, and more cars go straight to the consumer rather than back to the factory.

Now, education isn’t a production line, and pupils aren’t components to be bolted and welded together to create an artefact. However, I do think that we can learn from these two approaches. I have been in two different meetings this week where output measures, and specifically, the GCSE output measure, have been discussed. This felt like a quality control approach, with a focus on improving the output.

My preference is to spend more time on what is happening with much younger children. After nearly 150 years of state involvement with five year olds we have a lot of information about those children that fall behind and often why. But, we may need to be more systematic in our approach to what works. Although I am not a fan of synthetic phonics for all because it was a one size fits all approach, it should have persuaded schools and policy-makers to tackle this question of what works. If a pupil arrives at school from a background where the printed word is largely absent, they may well have a different attitude to books and the alphabet than pupils from homes where both the printed and the spoken word are commonplace parts of daily life. If one group is then absent more often than the other we need to work out as educators how we overcome those disadvantages to allow all children to learn effectively. Early failure is costly to the whole education system, and too often results in a ‘cannot do’ rather than a ‘can do’ attitude to learning on both the part of the learner and those responsible for their learning.

So, a quality assurance approach that asks the question, why are this group not learning, and seeks appropriate approaches to overcome this challenge might move us away from the censorial ‘you failed’ view of both the learner and the teacher towards a more challenging but cooperative approach. The move at both the DfE and Ofsted towards looking at progress of all pupils over time is a start, but we still lack a mechanism for communicating what works, and also for schools to ask for help without seeming to be failures. The best Children’s Services, dioceses, and academy chains do provide this support, but one of the problems of the lack of a effective middle tier to support primary schools in particular is that it is less easy to arrange than before. As holders of the purse strings, this is an issue all Schools Forums might like to consider next year when reflecting on budget priorities for their system as a whole.

MOOCs mark technology shift

MOOCS or Massive Open access On line Courses, to spell the initials out in full, are a recent phenomenon. In one sense they are higher education’s answer to the social media age. For a sector that took over 500 years to recognise that cheap printing had made the lecture a redundant form of knowledge transfer the adaptation of UK higher education to the digital age in just 20 years is nothing short of a miracle.

In the mid-1990s Oxford Brookes University held an alternative learning term based around the theme of new technology. One of the events was version of the ‘hypothetical’ popular at the time where a panel of experts was quizzed by an experienced host, in this case the University’s Chancellor Helena Kennedy QC, about how the future use of technology in higher education might unfold. At that time librarians were still wedded to fixed hours and building more shelves and nobody bothered about power points, plagiarism or even the number of PCs available. The fax machine was high tech and the OHP the height of sophistication, even if few lecturers knew how to use it properly.

What is known as ‘clicks and mortar’ universities were the only option, except for those mature students who decided to travel down the Open University route. Now on-line study for free, is big business. However, like other new technology someone will eventually need to find a means of making money out of the technology if it is to survive. What starts as a means of drawing potential students towards degree courses inevitably develops a life of its own. However, the demand for high quality degree courses, probably taught in English, and with the cache that comes with association with a university known throughout the world, will undoubtedly provide a head start for some institutions.

For me, one of the key questions is when and how this technology revolution in mass knowledge transfer will spread to more basic learning? There must be a defined number of issues with learning even a highly complex language such as English, and if we can use technology to help unlock those blockages perhaps we can really start to think about abolishing illiteracy. Even now, the child who is off school with a cold could join the lessons by web cam if they wanted to, with no worries over spreading germs around the classroom.

Technology also allows for new methods of learning based upon approaches not grounded in the limitations of the printed page. One method has been called the Turing approach after Alan Turing’s pioneer work on computing. I don’t know much about it, but am interested to find out more.

What is clear is that the knowledge revolution is beginning to pick up speed and much of UK higher education is determined not to be left behind in the same manner is it was when it took the decision to create the JANET network. For schools, perhaps it is time for Mr Gove to go back to BETT and announce a Minister for Educational Technology. Closing down BECTA may not have been a mistake, but failing to recognise the importance of what it stood for certainly would be.