Simplicity

bulbThe other day I was reintroduced to something I had seen a while back but forgotten about; the five minute lesson plan (http://teachertoolkit.me/the-5-minute-lesson-plan).   An excellent resource for planning lessons that is quick, focussed and clear yet effective.    I then came across a mention of the 5 minute lesson review (http://teachertoolkit.me/5minplan-series/the-5-minute-lesson-review), which is equally quick and focussed.

This reminded me of De Bono’s book, simplicity.   As a fan of some of De Bono’s books, I can’t say I found simplicity to be one of his better works however in this case it got me thinking. I remember starting teaching with lessons plans listing the objectives, time, student activities and teacher activities.   Not long later I remember being told to add differentiation as a section to my plan.  This was to improve my plan by making sure I referenced how my lesson was to include differentiation.   A little bit further into my teaching career and SEN students and G&T students were added as boxes to fill in.   The lesson plan was 2 pages by this point.   Again, a little further on in my career and yet more columns, rows and boxes were added in order to further “improve” the lesson planning process.  References to blooms taxonomy, learning styles, etc. had to be included.   The process of planning a lesson by writing a plan now took time I didn’t have plus was a complex process, having become so in the quest for improvement.

But what is the core point of planning?   To me its the quest for outstanding lessons where learning takes place for all students.   Does the filling in of 100 different boxes help?   I don’t think so and those adopting the 5 minutes lesson plan seem to agree.

If we can over complicate something as simple as the lesson plan,  what else have we overcomplicated in the sphere of education?

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Twitter CAN replace professional development

twitter-bird-calloutI was sat this morning looking through twitter when I came across a comment and blog discussing how Twitter could not replace Professional development (http://readingbyexample.com/2013/09/25/twitter-for-pd-yes-twitter-to-replace-pd-not-so-much/).   As such I thought I would add my views to the discussion, deciding that 160 characters would be insufficient to clearly articulate my thoughts, hence my views are expressed here.

Professional Development

I think a key issue in the discussion of professional development and where twitter may or may not be involved, is what people perceive as professional development.   Matt’s post suggested the importance of collective instructional capacities and of what I will call traditional professional development in their development within a group.   This traditional professional development was deemed as not possible via Twitter.    Now I can see the point here in that a professional development programme may allow a group of staff within a school to receive the same information plus to discuss and agree on actions to be taken, however its usefulness relies on professional development being driven by the professionals themselves; the teachers.   In my experience a lot of professional development is driven by government, educational authorities or school leaders who believe they know what teachers need.   As such it can be inappropriate in terms of meeting teacher’s needs, too generic in terms of policy or just a total waste of time.

I also have an issue with the title of professional development.   The idea of development suggests that teachers are in some way underdeveloped or lacking in an area which requires development.    I much prefer the concept of professional learning, in that, as professionals we are always learning and trying to build on and improve our classroom practices.

But what about Twitter?

Twitter provides teacher access to a wealth of ideas and resources from teachers across the world.   It allows teachers to develop professional learning networks which are wide and varied, much beyond what is normally accomplished within professional development sessions.   Yes, this may mean individual teachers pick up different ideas and techniques however individual teachers are individual after all.   Each teacher has their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of their teaching as well as their own preferences and style.   A perfect example of this was a recent blog article which was critical of the use of De Bono’s thinking hats (http://www.learningspy.co.uk/myths/six-silly-hats-ok-mock-stuff-think-daft/.   The blog met with a number of comments from defenders of De Bono, who stated how they found De Bono useful while others argued that De Bono’s ideas were of no or little value.   This perfectly illustrates how teachers are individuals with their own perceptions of what works.   These perceptions are borne out of what works for them, as opposed to “what works” in impossibly general terms.

That being said, teachers as part of the learning community which is a school, and also as part of the learning community that is their department, subject or faculty, have a responsibility to bring new ideas, techniques and thoughts to their colleagues for discussion.    These discussions lead to the collective adoption of ideas and techniques, or not as the case may be.    It is these opportunities for sharing and discussion that allows twitter to potentially take the place of traditional professional development.

Like anything, twitter relies on its appropriate use.   Where used appropriately it can have a positive impact on helping teachers improve their practice through access to wide and varied professional learning networks.     Traditionally viewed professional development, also where used appropriately, can have a positive impact although it very seldom provides access to same variety of opinions and ideas as presented via twitter.

As such twitter could replace professional development however I say this with one contingency;   that opportunities are provided within schools for ideas gleaned through twitter to be shared, discussed and agreed upon.      Now I hear some of you saying that such opportunities are surely “professional development” opportunities however my perception of professional development sessions involves the delivery of specific topic area, concept or technique.    The opportunities I refer to would have more in common with TeachMeets where the topic and discussion is more open and creative in nature, however that may be for a later discussion.

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?

ICT in lessons across the school

roadHaving spent some time today in a school discussing various aspects of ICT use in lessons across the school, including school policies, software tools as well as hardware configuration, I found myself presented with a period of quiet thinking time; namely a 1 hour drive home.

As I drove the long, relatively straight and fairly unpopulated road, I sat thinking about my post from yesterday, the day I had spent discussing ICT in schools and also the whole issue of encouraging the use of ICT in lessons across a school. The word “school” in the phrase “ICT use in lessons across the school” stuck in my head and I couldn’t work out why. As such I gave some thought to what it meant I arrived at the fact that it referred to the use of ICT by all teachers in the school. The word “school” was being used as a general term to cover all those involved in teaching.

So all teachers should use ICT, but are teachers not each individual’s with individual skills and experience? Is the job of the teacher not to provide students with the best learning experiences possible, even if that may not involve ICT?

As a teacher said to me, some staff have very basic ICT skills and are not that motivated towards the use of ICT. If they provide high quality learning experiences, should this matter?

This brought me back to the term “school”. It was being used as a general term to mean all teachers as the school is the sum of all teachers efforts, among other things. But what if what “school” should mean, is that across the school there should be SOME evidence of ICT use in lessons? It would then be for school leaders to decide what “Some” means in terms of how often, how many teachers, etc, and this decision could be justified based on knowledge of the staff, equipment available, etc.

We often refer to the need to use ICT in lessons because our students live in a technological world and have been brought up with this level of technology however how often do we consider that some teachers were not brought up in this world, barely engage in the digital world in their daily lives and are not motivated towards it. We don’t consider it fair to drag students back, but have no concerns about pulling ALL teachers forward, despite the fact that there are those that neither have the skills, experience or the motivation.

Encouraging IT use in lessons: A complex task

lab_smallHave been in the process of developing some professional development programmes and resources to help in encouraging and supporting the use of technology in teaching and learning however I have came to realise quite how complex this area of education is.

Consider the factors that might impact of the use of technology within a school:

  • Availability of appropriate hardware and software including internet access and filtering
    • In IT labs or centralised areas
    • In classrooms
    • Student equipment
    • Mobile equipment
    • Availability of appropriate IT support staff
    • Teacher IT skills and IT confidence including motivation
    • Teacher pedagogy with regards using IT in teaching
    • School culture and in particular opportunities to share and discuss ideas for using ICT
    • School IT strategy
    • School vision for IT within teaching and learning
    • School budgets for equipment, time for sharing and professional development

Now I don’t believe these are the only issues.   In addition the issues are not fixed, and change with time plus they are interdependent.   Consider the availability of hardware and software;   The computer hardware ages with time and therefore becomes less usable in classrooms, which in turn leads to a reduction in teacher motivation towards the use of IT.    This reduction in motivation then gathers pace and results in a change in the school culture with regards sharing ideas and discussing IT usage in lessons.

So how do we make sure IT is used effectively in lessons?

I can’t help but think that it is up to every teacher to do the best they can with what they have; Not exactly a new perspective given we hope that teachers do this in respect of all resources at their disposal or not at their disposal as the case may be.

It is up to schools to try and provide everything else to help teachers do the best they can.   Now the key here is how do we know what teachers need.   The answer is, schools need to ask.    Schools need to enter into dialogue with teachers as to what they need and what they want.    This then needs to be aligned with whole school needs, curriculum needs and needs of external bodies including school inspectors, but it should start with the teachers.

Do all teachers in a school need the same thing?   Do the same IT tools work in all subjects, at all times for all teachers?    I would suggest not, plus would suggest that for some teachers, ICT may be an area of weakness, however their teaching may be outstanding.    Now this is not to suggest we shouldn’t use ICT in lessons, but maybe we should look more carefully at those who we wish to use it and what they want and need, as the professionals who are responsible in the classroom for the learning that takes place.    We should also look more at a varied rather than standardised ICT provision across schools, as this is more likely to meet the needs of individual or groups of teachers.

Does anyone work in such a school where a diverse range of ICT resources are provided across different groups and individuals with the school?     Or are we all working with the “schools” ICT equipment?

 

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

 

Bring Your Own Device/Technology (BYOD/BYOT)

ipadSchools have traditionally spent significant parts of their budgets on IT equipment, software and infrastructure, however does the use of Bring Your Own Device/Technology represent a solution to this, and an opportunity for schools to redeploy funding?

Traditionally IT within schools has taken the form of IT labs filled with computers.   In some schools these may be in use all of the time, however in other schools these are often empty and underutilised.   Recent years and the reduction in the costs of mobile technology and wireless infrastructure have allowed some schools to exploit technologies which can be redeployed easily within schools, in ways the traditional IT lab hardware could not be.   Moving a little further forward to today we find large numbers of students with access to personal devices they can use in learning.   These may be mobile phones, tablet PCs or various types of laptop, however they belong to students and therefore could support students in their learning across all subjects as they carry it with them.   Isn’t this want integrating IT into learning is all about?   My son already uses my phone to use apps when we are out and about, he uses an Android and a Blackberry tablet at home, and he is only 7.

At this point I normally hear people comment about what a simplistic view I am taking.  Some of the arguments against this approach are:

  • What if the equipment is lost or damaged at school?
  • How do we keep control of student school data?
  • How do we keep students safe when using their own equipment in school?
  • How do I create lessons for use across different platforms in school?
  • What about students who don’t have devices to bring to school?

For those without IT equipment, surely schools can provide for these students at cheaper cost and greater impact than they can when installing traditional IT labs which result in very variable student:computer ratios, which do not even taken into consideration actual machine utilisation.     Looking at the other arguments I could present an answer to each of the above issues however I am choosing not to right now.   Instead let us consider a common factor of the above: school.     In schools we assume students have to be perfectly safe, data mustn’t be lost and all equipment must work.   We also provide a set of software which we decide is appropriate.    In other words we create a separate IT world in which to teach.    Schools, their teachers and leaders assume responsibility for all aspects of IT usage however due to the predominance of technology and in particular Wifi and cloud based apps is this reflective of the real world?    Should students not be taught and required to take responsibility for equipment and data as they will need to in life beyond school?   Should they not be taught to deal with issues with technology as they arise?

We aim to use IT in a little safe bubble, where we can use IT without concern and as such we limit ourselves.   Now this is not to say that some things, such as certain websites, don’t need to be blocked, controlled or limited, however surely educating students to the dangers and also harvesting student ideas as to technology, especially given they have grown up with it, would yield greater long term benefits.

Now some schools are using BYOD/BYOT and embracing the opportunities it presents, and also the restrictions and difficulties it brings, as surely any new approach will, however why is it that so many, if not the majority, of schools persist with traditional IT Labs?    This is more surprising still when you consider the potential budgetary advantages as well as learning opportunities which the use of BYOD/BYOT may bring to schools.

Image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net, Contributed by adamr