Pass or Fail….But be resilient.

Passorfail_small

The educational world is full of contradictions.   A perfect example is the recent discussions on the importance of developing resilience in students and even digital resilience as discussed at a recent conference in Australia.    I strongly agree with the need to develop resilience in students as throughout their life students are likely to encounter difficulties and even failure.   Teachers need to support and develop students such that they are able to get past such difficulties and learn from then, picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and marching onward.

The issue is that all of this is against a background of student examinations and standardised testing where students are either considered as pass or fail or in the case of standardised testing, above or below average.    I would question how possible it is for a teacher to develop resilience in a student who often hears and sees reference to how they are below average.   I would equally wonder how possible it is for the above average student.    Students invariably look at scores and grades and no matter how much we try to avoid categorising ability based on such quantifiable measure they will focus on these and make comparisons between themselves and their peers.    Students after all are often told by their parents about the importance of qualifications and of grades, and they see the focus put on these measures by their older family members including brothers and sisters.   Failure to meet expectations therefore has a significant impact and even more so where a student perceives it to happen regularly or even often.  No number of positive comments and reinforcement from teachers is likely to address this.

If resilience is as important as is claimed, and I believe, then we need to re-evaluate what we currently do particularly with regards constant testing, grading and examinations.   If resilience is just another fad then we need to drop it now and concentrate on what really matters, whatever that is.

Photo courtesy of Sira Anamwong at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

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1.5Mb! Why would I need more?

Technology continues to have a significant impact on our everyday lives but not only that, as technology advances at an ever quickening pace, so it changes our everyday lives.  During the last week two specific events have caused be to reflect on this.

The first event happened earlier this week when I came across the below tweet:

This got me reflecting on my own journey with computer systems and in particular the storage space and data which I interacted with.    My early life with computer systems involved 5 ¼ inch floppy disks and later the higher capacity 3.5 inch not so floppy variety.   The sum of all the data I could create and consume could be stored on 1.5Mb discs without any problem.    As time went on however it became apparent as my disc collection expanded into the hundreds that I needed a new storage solution to cope with the ever increasing amount of data I was both producing and consuming.   Enter my first proper IBM compatible PC complete with a whopping 500Mb hard drive.   This was the solution to all my problems or so I thought for a while anyway.   It wasn’t long before the 500Mb drive inside my nice new PC had to be provided with a friend to play with, in the shape of a 2nd 500Mb hard drive taking my total storage to the impossible to fill level of 1Gb of storage space.

I won’t bore you with the intervening years so let’s fast forward to the here and now.   My storage requirements these days run into terabytes and let me just say I have a few terabytes worth of data.    Part of this might be that I am a bit of a hoarder including keeping the data, files and other creations which I have developed over the last 10 years of so.   I may even be able to lay my hands on specific emails from 3 jobs and almost 10years ago.    Part of this may be the ever higher quality and complexity of creations and part may also be the increasing speed with which I can generate new digital data or content.     The tools I have at my disposal now allow me to create new content at a far faster rate than I could all those years ago working with 5 ¼ inch floppy discs.

This is the point I want to make here, that our ability to create and consume content is increasing at what must almost be an exponential rate as technology provides us new methods for both producing and creating content, plus to share this content for others to adapt and share again.     This brings us to the second of the events I mentioned at the start of this post.   While reading “The New Digital Network” I came across the below statement:

“Every future generation will be able to produce and consume more information [or content] than the previous one”

Given this it is important that we as teachers are adequately preparing our students to deal with this ever increasing amount of content for consumption plus to manage the increasing levels of content which they find themselves producing.       Students need to understand how search engines work and why certain items float to the top, they need to be able to evaluate information for validity using alternative sources to triangulate and confirm the truth.    They need to understand differing standpoints, religious differences, cultural differences, philosophical differences and ethical and moral differences.      Students then need to be able to present their own beliefs and viewpoints while understanding that others may disagree.   They need to understand how the content they produce will be stored and presented on the internet and how any shared content or information could have a profound impact on their life as it is now or in the future many years from now.

The above represent only a small number of the issues which we should be seeking to help students understand.   I would suggest that the current programmes of digital literacy and e-safety lessons barely begin to scratch the surface of the discussions we really need to be having with our students.

Collating ideas

I am a hoarder; I love to collect things however once I have them I have difficulty throwing them away as I am convinced they might come in useful at some later stage.     In terms of physical items this tends to be technology items such as old Atom processor based netbooks, every type of cabling you can think of plus some old 10Mbit network switches and routers.  I also suspect I have some old floppy discs and floppy drives lying around.

This need to collect extends beyond just physical items to teaching ideas and resources.   I feel the need to collect the good ones which I find.   For some time now I have been using twitter and reading a variety of educational blogs and websites, and as a result have found lots and lots of new ideas and resources.   As I have found more and more new ideas and resources there has been an increasing need to find an efficient way to store plus to collate these ideas and resources.   This has weighed on my mind.

Having just purchased a new tablet in the form of a Galaxy Tab S I appear to have found my solution in using both Pinterest and also EverNote.   I am not new to either of these two apps however up until recently my used has been rather limited.   Ever since getting the Tab I have found myself throwing the ideas I find straight into Pinterest and EverNote.    I have found myself using both Apps much more than I used to and have also started to learn more about effectively using the Apps to collate the materials which I have found.   This has made me consider the importance of collation in this world of ever increasing amounts of information.    We often want to quickly and easily find specific ideas or resources which we have previously encountered.   The internet will allow us to find similar items easily however as the amount of material on the internet increases it also becomes a little more difficult to find the specific items which we wish to find among the masses of other similar info.    Using something like Pinterest or EverNote allows me to collate together all the resources and ideas I find, and to tag them such that they are easy for me to find whenever I need them.

This got me thinking about another issue; lets consider that I do use Pinterest or EverNote to gather all the ideas and resources I like over a period of time.   This would be an excellent resource for me as an educator as the ideas would all be ideas I identify with and often would be things that I tried shortly after finding them.    My ability to recall ideas is limited in a way that computers are not, hence  you could consider the use of the internet and Pinterest or EverNote as an attempt to augment my mental capacities.   I would be able to recall ideas and resources I had found years ago without difficulty.    I may come to rely on this enhanced recollection ability.   The issue is that this excellent stored resource of my ideas and resources would exist only in the cloud.    As such the service provider such as Pinterest or EverNote could at any time change the service they offer or could even close the service altogether.   At this point this repository of my individual ideas may be lost.

So the question is how much should we rely on cloud based services in our lives and in our work?    I also wonder about young students who have been avid users of social media solutions; Have they considered that the total story of their life as presented in FaceBook or other sites, which they are proud of, may suddenly and without much warning cease to exist?     Or do students just not hoard the way I do as they can find anything they need via the internet, and could the increasing using of SnapChat be an indication as to this being the case?

I think there could be some good discussion points in the above, particularly where the issues are discussed with students.

Divergent Thinking: What is the purpose of education?

The development of 21st century skills has been stated for quite a while now ( a good thing given we are now 14 years into the 21st century, however it does make me wonder how long we are going to continue looking at skills for the now and when we actually start looking at 22nd century skills.   Remember that students are with us for 12 years so that means students starting school now will be coming out in 2026 with over a quarter of the century gone!).    These skills include communication, collaboration, critical thinking (or problem solving depending on where in the world you are) and creativity.   So how do we encourage students to problem solve, where due to the pace of technology we cannot predict the problems they are likely to face?    Also how do we encourage creativity?

De Bono suggests that lateral thinking was an important factor in addressing this issue while Ken Robinson agreed referring to the factor as divergent thinking.    So how do we encourage these approaches?

One method would be to introduce students to the concepts of lateral thinking or divergent thinking and to actively encourage students to make use of these approaches.   In terms of what this might look like in a classroom I saw an excellent video which was shared via twitter by  @thought_weavers which seemed very much in line with my thinking.   You can watch the video here.    Now this approach if successful would lead to students who are open to lateral thinking or thinking outside of the box.   As such this should help creativity and problem solving.    It would also result in students who may question the what and the why of their learning, which may initial be uncomfortable for some teachers due to the unpredictability of questioning however if teachers are facilitating learning as opposed to delivering learning, then this could open up new pathways in terms of learning.    As such any initial discomfort is well worth it.

Now a key issue in all of this is teachers;   If we want students to develop 21st century skills and to be divergent thinkers then teachers need to model this, showing students what divergent thinking looks like.    So to that end I would like to ask a question: What is the purpose of education?    And if you are a teacher or school leader, when was the last time you sat and thought about what the purpose of your role was, or do league tables, inspection results and standardised test results take up a significant part of your thinking?

 

BYOD and Personalisation

phoneTechnology has become more and more personalised to the individual user, since the early days when personal computers were introduced.   Back then there was little in the way of personalisation.   Some years later we started seeing users accounts on personal computers, desktop wallpapers and the ability to change icons, however personalisation was still limited.   Now with so many people having their own mobile phone which is personal to them, and not used by others, devices have became personal, and this personalisation has reached out beyond just phones, into the world of the tablet computer and even the humble laptop.     Devices now are configured with the applications you want, laid out in the way you want and set up with your user account details already pre-entered.   But what does this mean for education and schools?

Consider the situation where a teacher shares a resource with students via a blog or a website, or via google drive or some other method.    The student accesses this resource using their browser of choice.    Should they find it useful they automatically bookmark it for later use, or if the relevance is to their studies is very clear they may instantly drop the resource into google drive.   Having done so the student realises that their friend is off ill, so they share the item via google drive with them, sending an email, using their mail client of choice, to their friend to let them know about the lesson and the shared file.   A thought then strikes the student about something similar they have recently read online so they look through their browser history to find the material, before tweeting the URL to the class group so that they too can consider this in their studies.

The above example shows personalisation at work.    The device is the students own device and therefore has the applications they use already setup with the appropriate account details already entered.   As such the student can seamlessly move between applications, sharing, collaborating, researching, creating and more.

As a teacher I find myself doing the same.    I find a useful tweet and I retweet it, and I might email myself the link for later reference.   If it is appropriate to what I am doing or to what my colleagues are doing, I may share it with others via google drive.    If it is an image I may make use of pinterest for sharing or I might include it in a prezi or share it via slideshare.   I move between my chosen applications quickly and easily.

So the question is can we as teachers in the current technological world continue to prevent students from bringing their own devices into the class or should we embrace personalisation and endeavour to reap the benefits which it may present?

21st Century Skills Development and IT

21stcenturyI am due to present at a conference during 2014 and will be presenting under the theme of how educators can help develop 21st Century Skills with the aid of technology.     This seems to fit with a lot of discussion occurring in schools around how teachers can develop 21st century skills in their students and how ICT can be used to enhance learning.    As such it seemed like a good topic for discussion here ahead of at the conference.

So where to begin:  Well I think the best place to start is to look at what the 21 century skills are.   The Partnership for 21st Century skills identified 6 key areas:

  1. Thinking critically and making judgements
  2. Solving complex, multidisciplinary, open ended problems
  3. Creativity and entrepreneurial thinking
  4. Communicating and collaborating
  5. Making innovative use knowledge, information and opportunities
  6. Taking charge of financial, civic and health responsibilities

The question then becomes how can IT help in develop these skills required for the 21st century, or is that the right question?    Consider the world we now live in and the 6 areas listed above; which of the areas could or maybe more accurately, would be, done without IT?

Points 2, 4 and 5, I would argue, would not normally be undertaken without IT.   To solve complex, multidisciplinary problems requires collaboration, communication, research and analysis.   Communication and collaboration in the current world involves the likes of skype, twitter, google drive, pinterest and a whole manner of other software and apps, to bring people together such that geography is no longer an issue, and sharing ideas, thoughts and questions is easy.    As to knowledge and information, and also research I do not think we can discuss these areas, in the current world we live in without the word “Google” popping to mind.   Now that covers 50% of the points, so 50% of the 21st century skills would normally involve IT so why isn’t  IT more embedded in education?   Why are we still looking to use IT as an “aid” to develop skills which actually necessitate the use of IT?

Now I could also argue that IT has its part to play in critical thinking and in creativity however I am not going to do so, as I think another problem lies here.      In what way do we teach students to be critical and creative thinkers, to question to norms, to be innovative?      I don’t think we do quite enough of this, mainly because we are busy teaching students the “right” answers, so they can pass the tests, get good marks, improve league tables and help to make the country look better in the all important standardised tests.   As such students’ critical judgements are only valid as long as they are in the domain of the teaching they have received, but outside this domain who is to say they will fare as well?   As to their ability to be creative thinkers, I think almost no time is set aside in schools to help develop this area.   Please note I am talking creative thinking here, and not Art, Music or Drama, as I am sure I can hear some people reading this, in the far corners of the web, muttering regarding the fact students receive lessons in these subject areas to provide them an opportunity to be creative.

All in all education has a way to go in terms of helping students develop the skills required of the 21st century.   Let’s just hope we get it right before the 22nd century is upon us!


References


21st Century Skills, Education and Competitiveness (2008),The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net : “Technology In The Hands Of Businessmen” by KROMKRATHOG