Twitter: Shifting Paradigms

Was working with teachers today in a school during which time we were looking at lesson planning using the 5 minute lesson plan from @teachertoolkit.    During the session I used my usual prompt for ideas as shown below:

Now a couple of teachers raised some issues with regards student behaviour and suggested that they had already exhausted their 26 available letters.   My response to this was to suggest that as a group of teachers, together we may be able to share ideas.   If each of us has 26 ideas, corresponding to the 26 letters in the alphabet, then there must be a high likelihood that as a group we will be able to collectively generate more than the 26 ideas which we can generate individually.   It was at this point I realised that “if plan A doesn’t work” quote is only the first part of the process.   The second part is if Plan A to Z fail, widen your pool of ideas.    So at this point we seek the advice of our immediate colleagues for more ideas.   I would suggest that this group of teachers would increase the available number of ideas however on reflection I would suggest that the increase would not be significant.   All teachers in the group are most likely working in the same school and as such will have a shared perception of the issue at hand.   As such they are likely to have approached the problem in similar manners meaning that the ideas generated will generally show high levels of similarity with only a small number of new ideas being generated by enlarging from an individual teacher to a group of teachers within the same school.   Enlarging the group further to encompass local schools or teachers still within easy communication, or geographical distance would result in still further ideas however again if teachers are within the same national educational context, curriculum context, etc, there are likely to be shared perceptions which again will limit the ideas which will become apparent.

Enter twitter.   Twitter allows teachers to contact and seek ideas from teachers across the world from totally different contexts.   This means that there is a higher likelihood of original ideas which may not have been considered among the groups previously discussed.    We have effectively widened our pool of ideas about as far as we can do.   Now this advantage does not come without some disadvantages, namely those with polarised beliefs as to the “truth” and “fact”.   Where people come from totally different contexts it is possible that one teachers “fact” may be another teachers “fiction”.   Some tweeps are a little too forceful with their expressions as to their “fact”.   This disadvantage, however, should be minimal as teachers are after all professionals and therefore should be able to have professional disagreements plus should be able to appreciate differing viewpoints and contexts which may exist.

Overall, twitter is not just about opening us up to more people and therefore more ideas, but about opening us up to ideas from totally different contexts.   It opens us up to ideas we may not have been able to arrive at ourselves given the paradigm within which we operate.    Access to these ideas may also in turn spark new ideas in us born out of the paradigm shift which may result from seeing a problem through a totally different viewpoint.

 

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School Data: A puzzle or a mystery?

€Žcooldesign from freedigitalphotos-net

Over the last couple of weeks I have tweeted on a couple of occasions regarding data in schools. Most of the tweets revolved around the fact that the importance of data and in particularly standardised data such as EMSA and PISA is often stated. As such a fascination seems to have developed with number crunching through detailed student performance data followed by the creation of colourful pie and bar charts with the occasional line graph thrown in for good measure. Now my tweets focused on the fact that I feel educators are being sucked into this world of data, and in some cases are pouring over these tables, charts and graphs for hours on end, presenting them to all who will listen. This time spent looking at data to me seems to be a distraction from what is really important which is student learning. I accept that we need some data to know how students are doing and progressing however I think we need to balance this against the more important task which is key to schools; teaching.     If the data takes hours of time to analyse or if it doesn’t result in changes or action within lessons is it worth it?

It was while listening to Malcolm Gladwells what the dog saw, on the usual journey to work, that something struck me. We are treating student performance and the need to improve it as what Gladwell described as a puzzle. A puzzle according to Gladwell is solved through gathering additional information. As such our fascination with data and having more and more data in the hope of more insight and therefore better results seems logical. However, Gladwell also describe Mysteries; these are situations which are not solved through more data or more information but through the insightful use of what we do know. It is at this point that it struck me; student performance is a mystery not a puzzle. We cannot solve it through more data and in fact all this will do will detract from the core task at hand in schools; teaching. We instead need to focus on using what we do know and have readily available to draw insightful conclusions which we can action.

One thing, it strikes me, stands in the way of this and this is the dreaded school management system. It is designed to gather all the data you will ever need into table after table of grades, scores and criteria achievement. Some will even create the pretty charts and graphs for you. The issue at hand is the usability of these systems. The way they present data requires analysis. It is not instantly user friendly for teachers who want to be able to view data and draw conclusions quickly and on the move. It is my belief that school management systems need to be redesigned. Now, to that end I have started to build a concept for a new more intuitive and user friendly school management system focusing first and foremost on the teacher in the class.

Please if you have any suggestions or would like to contribute ideas to what the ideal school information or school management system should look like and do, etc get in touch.

 

Image courtesy of cooldesign from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

New Design

Have started making some changes to the design of the site today and hope to make further changes over the coming days to try and make this site more useful, user friendly and interesting.

Now the reason for this is a recent disaster I have had, where 4 other sites I had developed and was managing all got deleted in an FTP blunder.   I cannot say I am all to happy about this having put a significant amount of work into one of the aforementioned sites in particular.   Am also unhappy about this as the actually blunder was not one which I myself made, but was made by an organisation updating a website, where a number of websites were being hosted on sub-domains within the same parent domain.   A pretty rookie error as far as I am concerned however not much I can do about it now.   Sadly I didn’t have backups of the sites (Ok, so that’s a pretty rookie error on my part!) and although they are recoverable I have decided that it may be better to cut my loses and to focus on a single site instead; this site.   I will try to make sure and keep backups of this site in order to be prepared should a blunder occur once again at a later date.

So hopefully this marks the start of a new phase for this site and also for me as an educational professional.