Have a comfy drive to work today?
There is a story all designers should know about the US air force during the space race. In short, as test pilots were being put into rockets they were crashing… a lot! Initially the seat was designed for the average pilot and pilots were selected who fitted the average. Crashes continued, and it turns out the average design, based on thousands of pilots, didn’t fit a single one of them. To get the full explanation you can read a more detailed account in “The end of average” by Todd Rose or the full research by Gilbert Daniels who took the measurements in the early 1950’s.
After becoming aware that their cockpit design for the average pilot, and subsequent recruitment of pilots who fitted in this small range of proportions was a problem the air force insisted on manufacturers changing, after some protestations adjustable seats, helmets, pedals and so on were produced and became standard. Because pilots were dying and expensive equipment being destroyed there was an imperative for the Air Force to insist on change. This is the beginning of adjustable chairs, such as those in your car.
Any system designed around the average person is doomed to fail.
This is quoted in Todd Rose’s book as the conclusion Daniels came to. Therefore should we consider whether our education systems are designed around the average. If it is… Are we doomed?
I became aware of a tool called Ally, from Blackboard, which scans content submitted by a course instructor through their LMS and gives accessibility metrics on the content. It suggests improvements and the student gets choice of the file type they want, without the instructor doing anything. I am not suggesting you all get this tool, however it shows what happens when you design for individuals. By being user focussed on students with accessibility issues a solution has been created which frankly benefits all students. Understanding their challenge has led to a design which makes the course more accessible for all.
You can find out a bit more about that specific tool below:
How might we design our curriculum for the individuals and not the average student?
This is the challenge we can take on in schools. It does not have to mean 32 lesson plans for each class but how can learning be adjustable because non of your students are average. If you approach this from a traditional teaching and learning standpoint I think the challenge is sizeable.
I was delivering a training session in Scotland on G Suite and the new generation of Chromebook that flip round from laptop to tablet and come with a stylus. As we delved into a task with the devices I noticed that despite the task being the same for everyone (criticism may or may not be fair) the Chromebook was being used in a variety of ways. Some had it in standard laptop mode, occasionally using the touch screen. Others preferred ‘tent’ mode with the stylus in hand. The Chromebook was on laps in tablet mode too. It struck me then more than before that technology is providing us with choice, sometimes about when we learn or what we learn, more significantly it can allow us to choose how we learn and select options we know suit us best.
In my training I was told some children need comic sans font on buff paper. Clearly giving a few students a different worksheet has it’s problems but with technology the student can choose. Who’s to know if they decide to click on the open dyslexia extension to stop words jumping around their screen? So what if they zoom in beyond 100% in the browser?
Teachers don’t have to differentiate, the learners can do it for themselves… IF! If they have an understanding of the options technology gives. Do teachers know Google Docs has a voice typing option for children to express themselves even if they type slowly? Do they know it understands most languages for the children who express themselves best in another language?
Gilbert Daniels discovered that if you design a cockpit for the average pilot it fits NONE of them.
If you design learning for the average learner….
Today I can no longer introduce myself as “Maths Teacher” as I leave the classroom. Though I might still use my former job title for introductions at parties to make things simple.
I move from the classroom to take up a training and consultancy role supporting schools looking to implement change and embed technology for the benefit of learning. That is less snappy isn’t it!
As I move on from the classroom after 13 years I thought it worth taking a moment to reflect. Telling other teachers you are leaving the classroom was hard, not just the ones you are leaving your tricky classes with! My own reasons were varied but an opportunity came up at a time I was traveling 54 miles to my school. I have also come to the decision that the way schools work can improve for the benefit of teachers and students. I don’t see myself as someone who would necessarily implement this change from within by moving up so I have another route to take. I have had great feedback from my educational technology (edtech) training and speaking events so I am going to embrace this and work to support schools with change.
In my first classroom after PGCE training I had an overhead projector to project notes and develop diagrams on. However, don’t be fooled into thinking I am that old. Within a year I had a Smartboard installed and smartnotebook was my lesson planning tool for years. My own view on interactive whiteboards is they are not a cost-effective resource for schools to invest in, despite replying on mine for many years. It proved invaluable for demonstrating concepts but I feel sure that £2000 per classroom could be spent more effectively. I never had a chance to try out my ideal scenario of whiteboards (normal dry wipe ones) on every wall and surface but I must take this opportunity to apologise to the classroom cleaners who removed dry wipe pen from my desks every day. If there is one legacy I have from my time in Maths classrooms it is writing on desks.
My embracing of technology for learning was due to two factors. Firstly the summer I tried out twitter and discovered teachers sharing! The second factor was a teacher called Dan File who joined our Maths faculty as an advanced skills teacher (AST). We could be found in school beyond 6pm most of the week getting excited about ways we can change learning in our lessons that didn’t work the way we wanted. He joined us having pioneered instructional videos at his last school and we both set about populating our youtube channels with videos. Exam paper solutions to avoid that boring lesson when you go through the exam paper… instead “watch the videos of the questions you got wrong”. Then children started requesting videos so we moved to revision videos. We tried our own versions of the flipped classroom with classes too.
One part of our work which was most important was our efforts to get parents through the doors of the school to see what we were trying and why we were trying it. We we trying to get their kids more excited about maths and make them achieve more. We were willing to fail infront of our classes trying something and take the feedback on board to improve. We had some of the best results in the school’s history over those years but that wasn’t because of technology, it was because we had a dedicated department open to trying things out. And in subsequent years the politics of education has made it hard to hit those results again… so a bit of luck and timing too.
Trying new things in schools take effort, determination and a bit of nerve to seek forgiveness instead of ask permission.
It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.
Grace Hopper, 1986
Good culture is easy to break and hard to build, however the school’s culture is critical to success. What makes it possible for teachers to walk through the doors in the morning with a spring in their step instead of dread? Many teachers are going into work with dread, fear, stress and concern. I have been fortunate to work with teachers who are so committed to their students they put phenomenal hours in and take incredible pride in doing all they can to help students achieve. However, in some schools the culture is such that even working at their limit teachers feel they are not doing enough, failing or letting someone down.
Culture is the difference between a teacher spending an evening planning an parental engagement activity or just marking another pile of books.
Culture is the difference between teachers choosing to spend their Saturday at professional development events or sipping on a Lemsip (other medicinal products are available) so they can be ready for next week.
Culture is critical and every school leader will agree, but their words, actions and emails contribute to a culture that doesn’t bring the best out of their colleagues or leaves them unable to manage the workload.
Get the oxytocin flowing and your school will improve more rapidly than you could ever dream. Avoid your school being cortisol factory!
I have spent time in head of faculty roles, working within a school leadership team and alongside school improvement partners in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT). There are things you learn in leadership and things you discover you bring to it. You learn more about your leadership skills when you leave a role (because that is when people choose to tell you), and the weaknesses… come on, we all know our weaknesses don’t we? The challenge is whether to hide them or address them and I think I have done both at times.
If you read anything else on this blog you may spot my interest in deign thinking. I was aware of the term for a while in passing on social media but it was something I understood better and its place in education first via Tom Barrett and Ewan McIntosh. Sometimes referred to as user-focussed design, design thinking is a culture and set of tools that schools can use to super charge their improvement. Get empathy and find the problems you need to be solving before any ideas get thrown around. Develop a culture where ideas are not precious and owned by individuals. I strongly believe that schools who embrace a design thinking culture could reap profound results in the way their staff think and work. Design thinking provides an empathetic view of the way your school works (or doesn’t) and gives the chance for democratised decision making to prevail. Earlier I mentioned making your school oxytocin rich… this is how you can do it.
I wrote abour the results of our maths faculty a few years back. These are sometimes attributed to me as head of faculty. It is easy to let that stick (with good results) and accept #fakenews. The reality is very different and something I have learnt to be more honest about over the years. I was lucky. We are often judged against our best moments, which are often lucky. I had great teachers in the faculty who came to work and worked hard with integrity every day. I had good leadership who asked me direct questions but let me try things. I preceded some of the changes that have taken place to GCSE’s and A-levels in the last few years which have taken measures to make the qualifications more rigorous. My point is, think team. I see some teachers coming into the profession with an expectation that they should be ordained with promotions and more pay too quickly. Teaching is a fickle beast so take your time to tame it before you put your head in its mouth.
To give a clear understanding or my own view of education’s rate of change in relation to other industries consider the London Marathon. If the elite and club runners represent the nibble industries able to change and even lead change then I see education as Lloyd Scott (look him up), well intentioned, honourable, hard working, but so very slow.
The challenge I am taking on, leading schools to embrace technology to support learning, is a backwards problem. I hear “We need to use more technology” but I have to ask “Why?” and the answers are not convincing yet. Here is another reason to utilise a design culture of finding problems worth solving; attainment gap, accessibility, aspirations are all worthy causes and we haven’t even reached the b’s yet. A teacher in US will have his class voluntarily arrive at school 2 hours before school starts to come to his lesson. The reason? He has arranged a video call with someone on the other side of the planet as part of their current topic. Technology made it possible but is not the reason he does it.
Would your kids arrive at school for 6am for your best lesson? This has resonated with me and I pass the baton on to you… but let me know if you want help making it the case!
Here are some of the people who have helped me enjoy, survive and even thrive over the last 13 years… (Making a list like this is dangerous but hey, if you are not on it there are two possible reasons…)
Jeff Place, Jon Chaloner, Jack Mayhew, Hugh Proctor, Dan File, Pete Taylor, Tom Barrett, Ewan McIntosh, Allison Mollica, Jon Neale, Dean Stokes, Oli Trussell, Mark Allen, Donna Tueber, Ashcroft twins, Christina Dimitrantzou, Matt Duffield, Evan Scherr, Dan Taylor, 10a1, Asiq, Glyn digital leaders, Keri Cloete, Martin Giles, Simon Brown, Tom Able Green.
Should we expect, as educators, that the technology used in schools has robust reliable research that demonstrates the impact it has on learning before we implement it?
This post is a response to an article that featured in EdSurge on 17 July 2017. You can read the full article here. The article refers to findings from a working group looking into edtech efficacy. The lead researcher is quoted as saying the following:
“Having a lot of research evidence, like the type demanded by the feds, was cool but not essential [for education establishments]. I found that to be pretty surprising and a little bit troubling.”
Dr Michael Kennedy
Is it troubling? Should we be surprised that educational establishments are not trawling research before implementing educational technology (edtech) strategies? If we start with an analogy. When pencils are ordered, it is not underpinned by research about the impact pencils have been proved to have on learning. However, we should expect that the learning taking place that involves the pencil does. For example, in kindergarten or early years we might expect pencils to be favoured over pens for handwriting to enable learners to correct their writing and fail without fear more easily than with ink. Educators should be aware of robust research regarding learning reading and write to inform the curriculum, which in turn helps them place orders for equipment to support the curriculum.
Here, a learning approach is supported by appropriate resources. In the edtech world it seems too often the resources are purchased and the learning approach is then discussed or the new tools are made to fit the existing approach. Therefore is edtech efficacy worth considering, when learning and curriculum efficacy should be paramount?
Chicken or Egg?
The article relates to “Role of Federal Funding and Research Findings on Adoption and Implementation of Technology-Based Products and Tools”, a study conducted by Dr Michael Kennedy in which the findings state:
A range of superintendents, assistant superintendents, technology leaders/specialists, principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, and teachers from 17 U.S. states responded to the online survey. Results demonstrate only 11% of 515 respondents demand a tech-based product have the type of independent, gold-standard research championed by the federal government for funding prior to adoption or purchase.
This piece of work is part of a wider Edtech Efficacy review which took place as part of Edtech Efficacy Symposium in May 2017.
Are schools using evidence to inform their learning and teaching policy and practices? How much research underpins homework, marking, duty rotas/lunch supervision, school timings, learning spaces and so many day to day aspects of every school’s approach to providing exceptional learning?
In the UK, a professional body for teachers, The Chartered College of Teaching, has recently being created (cards on the table, I am a founding member) and here is a video of the impact it is having of headteachers. Watch and then reflect on where edtech fits in this story.
Sally wants her school to base decisions in research and evidence. On this occasion there was no mention of asking one of their software provides or IT services to produce evidence for the impact their product has on learning. However, there were many questions about how every aspect of the school impact on learning. Their research may show that teachers are setting online homework that children cannot complete because of access to devices… which may inform their device purchasing and policies. Their research may find that teachers are spending too long marking homework, which is not impactful or valued by parents… which may lead them to develop their use of edtech to share feedback with parents.
Therefore, should it be troubling that schools are purchasing edtech without the research to back up the impact on learning? It should be troubling if the policies, pedagogies and approaches to learning in school are not based on valid research and evidence, edtech is a tool, one of many, that support schools in delivering their vision for learning and teaching.
Pedagogy efficacy surpasses edtech efficacy when it comes to impact on learning. The article is focussing on one particular area, which for me elevates edtech towards pedagogy and this must be treated with caution. Make sure your pedagogy efficacy is strong and at the forefront of your thinking and your use of appropriate and impactful edtech will follow.
I welcome and expect some comments, there is much more left to discuss around this area and I have only scratched the surface in this short blog post. There are some very interesting findings from the edtech efficacy group. particularly around claims edtech companies make about the efficacy of their product. I have only focussed on whether we should be troubled that schools are not expecting to see the research before purchase, and there may be a reasonable answer to why… they trust their pedagogy?
Edtech Efficacy Symposium Home Page, May 2017
I published My area of work is around the use of technology is schools. on Medium.
Last year two primary school classes in our multi-academy trust submitted questions to astronomical experts related to the Juno mission to Jupiter, which has sent back new and exciting information about the giant planet and its moons.
The excitement for our children was that their questions were answered live on a Google hangout on air by the experts as they watched from their classrooms. Spacelink are offering this opportunity again and it is all free. Check out the hangouts coming up via the link and register your interest to get your class involved.
What we did:
I created a Google document to share with the classes, once they had their class discussions and lessons to investigate the topic they added their questions to the collaborative document and I was able to simply send the document link to the organisers and they had them ready to go during the live hangout, which you can watch above.
At the end of the live hangout the children cheered! Real impactful #edtech should provide an opportunity for learning that wasn’t feasible before. Our teachers found the tech was easy and the learning was inspirational.