If you could solve one problem facing education what would it be?
Take whatever comes to mind first or take a moment to ponder, then subject your problem to “the 5 Whys”. Here is an example.
Problem: There is not enough time for teachers to do their job properly
Why do teachers not get their job done in the time they have? Because doing everything required by the school takes longer than there are hours in the day
Why does the school require teachers to do so much? Because they feel under pressure to increase exam results.
Why do schools feel under pressure to focus on exam results? Because that is what they are measured and judged on.
Why are schools measured on exam results? Because other measures are difficult to gauge and compare.
Why are other measures not developed?
First problem: Teacher Time
Real problem: How schools are measured
This process is better when someone else asks the why questions, if you can take your initial problem to someone else and get them to quiz you, please do. You may need to back up a couple of times to get through 5 whys, once you have I would be delighted if you could add it here.
Solutions will be posted to you within 5 working days… If only! Education tends to tweak what it already has and look for marginal gains, not least after the British Cycling team inspired the use of that phrase in 2012. In the spirit of moonshot thinking, what if we stopped looking for 10% (I know, you wish! But stay with me, think outside of exam results) improvements and looked for 10x improvements in education? Time to throw aside the status quo and start from the beginning.
This can only work if you start from a really huge worthwhile problem, hence I am farming them from you. Finding the real problem is not easy or something that everyone does naturally. We take immediate problems we encounter at face value, this is both genetic and in our nature. Why stick around to find out why someone is angrily charging at you? Some schools are moving past the superficial problems and taking root problems. Schools with a laser focus on curriculum design, designed for learners not inspectors, design by teachers, not civil servants would be one example that comes to mind first. I see a place for inspectors and civil servants in the education space too.
How might government and regulatory authorities incentivise long-term planning and innovation in schools?
I want to gather together education problems, real problems, because understanding these makes ideas much easier to develop. I want to gather together these problems to feed into sessions we run with schools on the use of educational technology. I want these problems so I can reflect on who is best places to solve them.
I also wouldn’t mind writing them up into a follow up to this post too.
The internet looks nothing like it did when it started, but schools have taken a slower approach to change!
No one involved in the early construction of a network of networks saw what we have now coming. Therefore how can we know what comes next, but indulge me in an attempt at envisaging the potential impact of modern internet capabilities on the institutions of learning? Might the ever evolving internet have the potential to finally nudge education to innovate and evolve?
“From the moment you wake up, the web is trying to anticipate your intentions. Since your routines are noted, the web is attempting to get ahead of your actions, to deliver an answer almost before you ask a question.”
Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly
The extract from my most recent Kindle acquisition prompted me to apply this idea to my passion, education. Machine learning uses data to predict what you will want to eat, consume, purchase and more. So what will this look like for learning? Google Drive already makes a stab at which documents you want to access when you open it. Google Sheets are starting to predict the formula you want to use, and it will only get better at it. Get your hands on the new Jamboard app which turns your sketch of common items into a neat icon. How? Using all the drawings people have added to quickdraw. If the data is there, a machine can learn from it. Learning is a very complex system but our use of data to measure learning is extremely simplistic.
If you live in Scotland as a 14 year old, this information alone gives a reasonable indication of what you are studying. Furthermore, your documents and data will too. Is it not inevitable that you will receive study materials, curriculum updates, pop quizzes and feedback based on this basic information? Having studied Pythagoras three weeks previous you can be provided with review materials, your notes and suitable problems to solve at the optimal time to review it and ensure it begins to embed in your long-term memory. This is available information ‘the internet’ can use to support your studies with timely content. This is not Sci-Fi, this is functionality many of us experience through our devices because we have traded access to our data for the tools to make our lives a bit easier or more productive. If this kind of automation and feedback were available to students, the kind of efficiency I certainly didn’t achieve (ask my students!), why would they need their teachers? A question you only ask if you are not able to change your view of what a teacher is or could be.
News corporations could not envisage the internet delivering news because their schema did not allow it. They were not able to foresee or imagine all their passive readers and viewers becoming the creators of content, whether that be videos, blogs, social media posts or reviews on Amazon. They assumed the content on the internet would have to be created by them, but that would not be economically viable. Remember, we are abysmal at predicting the future, yet here I am trying!?
What is school?
If a student is receiving feedback on their work quickly and efficiently without having to enter school building then what is the school for? A social place to share your learning, remain mentally sound by providing interaction with other children and experts? Will your schedule be dynamic and each day adjust to your needs? Let’s not forget we like structure… Could a machine learn the structures we work best in?
As a teacher would I have your essay appear in the morning and a meeting scheduled for the afternoon. The marking of your essay against a rubric will already be done the moment you ‘submit’ and I see it too. The thousands of teacher marked essays and millions more marked by machines means the assessment is now better conducted by machine than by a human. Our scheduled meeting is to review and discuss the next steps. Other students may join our tutorial by video link, they are visiting an educational site elsewhere but would benefit from the tutorial so they are added to the meeting if convenient, another institution may have a more convenient essay review of course.
All the while their online professional portfolio is being created and made available to employers and recruiters who might benefit from their skills. Employer data on the attributes of their most productive teams use this to match a students potential profile. This is similar to current sporting recruitment where young athletes with a lung capacity above the mean average might be pushed towards rowing or cycling. As long as every student can participate and have their information accessible in this way social mobility can be accelerated as the screening of portfolios is automated, bypassing our bias for names and backgrounds that we know or are similar to our own.
Don’t be put off by student data being accessed. This can easily sit within data protection laws if the service we want is for students to get prompt and useful feedback, then the data processor is within their rights to use the data they need to provide the service. The data controller, would that be the institution… Or could it be the student’s family? Whether you have “Alexa”, “Siri”, “Cortana” or just “Hey Google..” ringing around your house, you will be familiar with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. My phone gives me driving times to different destinations on different days, based on my previous journeys. So let’s take this scenario to learning. Based on your habits and working patterns might we have these types of prompts from our devices?
“It looks like you are studying, how long would you like notifications turned off”
“This is usually your most productive study time, shall I open your current assignments?”
“Looks like you have finished your essay, would you like to get feedback on it now, if so a lecturer is available in two hours to review the feedback, shall I schedule a tutorial? 7 other students on your course will be present.”
“You are not studying effectively, take a break I will check if your friends are free”
“Ready for a pop quiz on the civil war?”
These interactions could be the way we manage our studies, automated and based on our data. Machines using our responses to improve predictions and support.
Where might learning happen and what of the experts, coaches or teachers supporting that process? It would appear unlikely we would do away with physical space dedicated to learning. Our access to online learning is now vast, with reputable institutions offering courses online. However, the completion rates are very poor and these Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may not be the future of learning.
The screen in the Principal’s office provides an interactive infographic of feedback metrics on student participation and progress in courses, student ratings for tutorials and dynamic course numbers. Permanent staff include trained councillors, learning facilitators but the teaching staff are fluid depending on need from week to week. Through their profile, many join via video link to support a burst of course interest or required expertise. Others are longer term on site having had superb feedback and progress metrics. They have built strong relationships and reputations for your institution and also contribute content to the courses. Their involvement with other institutions benefits the cross-pollination of innovations in learning. Why not have Elon Musk as your visiting transportation lecturer?
What are your qualifications?
There are signals of the waning value of traditional academic achievements. Will the transition between learning and work blur? How restricted are we in our exam systems? I am going to go and read more on assessment, the skills needed in a changing world and train some teachers on using G Suite for learning.
Writing this post is foolish as I am planting an artefact online that will surely be embarrassingly inaccurate. However, I will continue to consider what learning may look like as the world changes. I am confident change will come, but in education, I cannot predict whether it will be a systematic evolution or a learner revolution.
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?
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.
The Weald School in Billinghurst is not the obvious place to end up hearing from a History teacher sitting in the car park of a 7eleven in Missouri but it happened at #TMedtech a Teachmeet focussed on educational technology. Thanks to Andy Cooper, who previously connected his class with Rhett, we were treated to a hangout with the US History teacher who actively pursues experiences for his pupils beyond their own community. If they are studying Greece he will find someone in Greece to get on a smart phone and shown his class around. His class have arrived early before school for some of the hangouts he has organized. As Rhett said…
“Would your students come to school an hour early for your best lesson?”
Rhett Oldham, 2017
I have been showing Google’s Virtual Fieldtrips video for a few years now as it demonstrates the impact technology can have on learning with no significant outlay of cash. If you use the SAMR model it registers on the M or R.
I used to have a classblog for a year 9 maths class and through Quadblogging we connected with classes in Singapore, California and Melbourne. A child from one of these classes commented on our lesson and it gave us an idea we put on place the following lesson. Lesson feedback from thousands of mile away! Deputy Mitchell, who runs quadblogging is looking for secondary school classes to get involved. I should crank up the old blog at my current school.
Whether you are swamped in devices or have to beg, borrow and steal to get your students into a room with a working computer, connecting learning to the wider world and bringing experts into your classroom is getting more and more achievable.
If you want to engage with other classes around the world here are a few options you could use to get started.
If you would prefer to get your day to day learning out their for the wider world then start a class blog. I used WordPress for mine where one student wrote the content each lesson and I took the pictures on my phone. (No faces or second names was the rule I stuck to)
Edublogs provides the opportunity for every student to have a login but ensure only the teacher can publish and is based on WordPress so has the credentials of a ‘proper blog’.
Google Classroom, Google’s tool for managing, sharing and collaboration in your classroom, has had an important update in the last month. A teacher can now assign a task to specific students, something we can all do ‘in real life’ but teachers who have found Google Classroom to be a time-saving effective tool for sharing content and accessing work have been calling for this feature for some time. To see the other updates, including usage statistics in admin panel click here.
When I presented a Google Classroom session for the first time at an Appsevents summit it solved many problems for teachers who already used Google Drive with their classes but those using Edmodo, Hapara Teacher Dashboard, Moodle liked the interface and usability but when they asked if it:
Can share information with parents like show my homework
Sync with markbooks like…
Work on iOS and Android
Annotate student work like…
It didn’t, but it does now! What we have learnt is that the feedback button was worth pressing. Google’s team of project managers and developers read every piece of feedback and have aggregated the main requests to regularly improve the product based on user’s requests. If you appreciate being able to sort by first and last name, you’re welcome.
All the items I listed in my training slides that Classroom couldn’t do have consistently been crossed off. Third party tools have made Classroom even more effective, more and more of your favourite web tools and apps work seamlessly with Classroom. Here are a few of my own favourites:
Share to Classroom
Desmos (sort of)
More and more providers of educational tools are taking advantage of the API access to integrate their tools with Classroom so your favourite may be linked soon if it is not already. Check out the ones that do here.
For admins, some who eagerly await more integration with the tools teachers want to use, others who have used a lack of integration as a reason to deny teachers use of it, there are now ways to sync users, create classrooms for the whole school and monitor usage. Parents can get updates on assignments and a calendar is created for every class.