Here's a list of some of the books I'm reading at the moment.
*Indicates an Amazon affiliate link.
Share and share alike?
• What’s yours is mine: a critique of the so-called "sharing economy" – it's not all peace, love and happiness, man. This doesn't sound like it has much to do with technology, but it does. Companies like Airbnb and Uber rely on digital technology to put buyers and sellers in touch with each other.
This book is about the dangers of unintended consequences -- for those using such services, those supplying them, and the wider community. A fascinating read, which I'll be reporting on in a forthcoming issue of my newsletter, Digital Education.
• The Content Code* is why your online stuff doesn't get shared as much as you'd like – and what you can do about it. I've read it once, and now I'm going through it again, so I can review it. I intend to review it first in the Reviews for Writers newsletter, and then on the Writers' Know-how blog.
Teaching through the ages
• Essays on Teaching* is a fascinating collection of readings about education spanning the years 380 BC to 2011. Surprisingly, a lot of concerns haven't changed much over the centuries. Hmm, maybe not really surprising at all. Anyway, I've already reviewed that book, here: Essays on Teaching. It's not about ed tech, but definitely worth reading despite that.
You'd think that was enough to be getting on with, but I'm also reading a few other books too. More of them in Digital Education.
If you don't want to miss my education-related and ed tech-related book reviews, sign up to Digital Education. It's free, thought-provoking and full of practical advice. It's been going for 16 years, so I must be doing something right!
Something for your students to discuss...
A bust of ISIS.
Pity the people who live in Isis Close in Cambridge. As far as Paypal is concerned, anyone living there is a member of ISIS. Clearly, the company uses an algorithm that prevents people living in an Isis-named road, or possibly companies that have Isis in their name, from using Paypal to purchase anything. (See Live on Isis Close? Then don't count on using PayPal: Web payment system blacklists addresses named after the Egyptian God in case they are terror-related.)
Thus, despite the fact that Isis was the name of an Egyptian deity, and that Cambridge is on the River Isis, as far as a Paypal program is concerned, "Isis" is associated only with the Isis we usually read about.
This is a good example of a bad algorithm -- or an algorithm that works only too well, depending on how you look at it!
How does the algorithm work? What is going wrong, in computational thinking terms? How could the algorithm be improved?
A word cloud of the GCSE options that schools are offering in Computing and related subjects
A couple of weeks ago I launched a survey to find out what GCSE options schools were offering to their students. In return for completing the survey, you receive an up-to-date list of officially approved qualifications in Computer Science and other digital technology subjects. If you would like to take part in the survey and by so doing acquire this marvellous freebie, here is the link:
ICT and Computing Qualifications Survey
Actually, that's the link even if you don't wish to take part in the survey, but you know what I mean.
Anyway, here are some initial results. Bear in mind that I haven't had the chance to send out this "call to action" in my own newsletter, Digital Education, yet, so these results may change once I've done that.
The big picture
First thing to do is look at the word cloud above. I thought that would be the easiest way of conveying the gist of what schools are doing. As you can, Computer Science is the main offering, with the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) a close second (perhaps unsurprisingly given that one organisation has claimed to be able to get students through it in three days -- see this news article).
The ECDL is a skills-based course. Cambridge Nationals is a vocational, business-oriented alternative to the (soon-to-be-scrapped) ICT qualification, and that, too, is extremely popular. As you can see, it is more or less neck and neck with the ECDL.
I think it's encouraging that some schools are offering skills and vocational alternatives (or additions) to the more academic Computer Science. (Don't forget: in theory you can offer any approved subject from the third "bucket" of Progress 8. That means that you could offer Computer Science from the second "bucket", which would count towards the eBacc, and a more vocational option in the third "bucket". I say "in theory" because in practice much will depend on the senior leadership team -- and the head of department's ability and willingness to "sell" the other options.)
Cambridge iMedia is popular too, as you can see from the word cloud, though apparently less so than the others I've already mentioned.
To put some numbers to these findings, 85% of respondents are going to be offering Computer Science GCSE, while 72% will be offering a computing-related option from the third "bucket". The reason that these figures add up to more than 100% is, of course, that schools can offer more than one computing option.
The reasons given for offering Computer Science includes "academic rigour" and the EBacc. Reasons for offering alternatives include "engages girls and boys across ability ranges" and "suitable to the needs of the target audience".
The long-term view
As an eternal optimist I see the demise of ICT as an opportunity. Like the discarding of Levels in the context of assessment, it should act as a catalyst to rethink one's approach. Looking at the list of approved qualifications, there are some interesting and exciting-looking alternatives.
Some schools have reformed their Key Stage 3 curriculum in the light of the requirements of Key Stage 4. There is a danger that doing this at too early a stage could perhaps serve to narrow an individual's choices, so flexibility should be built into the system. On the other hand, taking, in effect, five years to cover a GCSE subject should yield very good results. Certainly that proved to be the case when I adopted such a strategy, ie introducing GCSE-type work and questions into Year 7 and beyond.
I will be publishing the results of the survey soon after the forthcoming half-term I hope. If you wish to take part in it, and acquire the list of approved qualifications by so doing, then once again the link is: ICT and Computing Qualifications Survey.
There has already been a sizeable response to the survey, but obviously the more responses the better, so please do take part if you have not done so already. I've designed the survey in such a way as to not take up too much of your time.
Do algorithms have a secret bias?
Something to discuss with your students...
Objectivity and bias in algorithms
People who know about programming know that programming isn't as objective as it may appear to be.
Here's an interesting article that makes that point:
Technology is neither magical nor neutral
Is the article accurate? Does it matter?
Will he dictate even more of what you see?
What would it be like to be immersed in the news? That is, to not just watch it or listen to it, but to feel as though you're a part of it?
Virtual Reality (VR) now makes fully immersive (360 degree) news possible. It will happen, because anything that is possible usually does, sooner or later. But would you want it?
It strikes me that being fully immersed in, say, a riot or a bomb blast wouldn't be a heap of fun. It also strikes me that journalists would have an even greater responsibility to think about how they report the news -- and what they report.
I read a science fiction story once in which VR journalists and broadcast media had found a way to "enhance" viewers' emotions. I don't like the sound of that either.
It also strikes me that although "360 degree" reporting implies that one os getting the whole picture, how would you know if that was indeed the case? When you are in the middle of something, you can only see what's going on around you from your own position, in the middle. In VR journalism, your position would be chosen for you, by the journalist, or an editor.
But most of the time the best vantage point is not in the middle of something at all, but outside it.
VR technology conjures up some intriguing possibilities -- and a whole lot of moral or ethical questions too.
What do your students think of all this?
For a glimpse of what this brave new world may be like, have a look at Inspirational VR Journalism.
A slightly different version of this article was posted on the Writers' Know-how website.
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