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  1. Messy problems and ed tech
  2. What I've been reading: Computers, they drive us crazy!
  3. 5 minute innovation in education technology
  4. 9 things a Head of Computing or ICT should do to improve things
  5. 9 ways to make your Computing classroom 'immersive'
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search Blog - ICT & Computing in Education
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Messy problems and ed tech

The next best thing to being at the ISTE conference is following it online. So I was delighted to come across this video, in which Kevin Hogan of Technology & Learning interviews Alan November.

Alan makes some interesting and excellent points about the kind of problems that teachers set students, and where technology comes into the equation.

In the course of the conversation, Alan discusses Jamie McKenzie’s Questioning Toolkit. This was devised 20 years ago, in 1997, and it has never aged. Well, it wouldn't, would it, seeing as it’s a classification of all the different sorts of questions you can ask? In fact, I’ve been recommending it to delegates on the courses I run in assessing Computing. It really is an excellent resource, and you should check it out.

Funnily enough, I have included Alan’s conference details in the next issue of my newsletter, Digital Education. It’s called Building Learning Communities. I attended in 2005, and I can honestly say it was one of the best conferences I’ve been to, partly because of the quality of the speakers and the workshops, but mainly because of the myriad opportunities for networking.

I also like the way Alan thinks. When I had the privilege of introducing his talk at a Naace conference, in 2006 I think, I told the audience that Alan didn't so much think outside the box, as not recognise the existence of the box in the first place! My views haven't changed.

And while I’m in “the giving vein”, to borrow from Richard III, Technology & Learning is a good magazine and website too — and I’d think that even if I didn’t write for them!

Enough of this persiflage! Enjoy the video!

 

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What I've been reading: Computers, they drive us crazy!

It probably won't have you clutching your sides and gasping for breath, but may bring a smile to your face.

It probably won't have you clutching your sides and gasping for breath, but may bring a smile to your face.

I don't need any excuse to leap into the nearestsecond-hand bookshop when I'm out and about, but if I were forced to provide one, it would be this. You occasionally come across some real gems.

My latest find is “Computers: they drive us crazy!”, by Helen Exley and Bill Stott. Having been published in 2007, this now officially counts as an ancient document. You can try purchasing a new copy from Amazon, if you're prepared to wait until the book is in stock, which could be never. Alternatively, you could pay anything from a penny to almost £800 to receive it very soon if your idea of deferred gratification is having to wait for the tea to brew.

Because of the difficulty of acquiring this book I thought more than twice about writing a review of it. So regard this as an exhortation to visit used book stores and a plea to give cartoon books like this a second glance.

It's a slim volume, consisting solely of wry comments on technology in the form of cartoons. It's thin enough to get through in a single sitting, and while the jokes won't have you visiting hospital with cracked ribs, they will probably bring a smile to your face.

These comments pertain to this particular book, of course, but I think they probably apply to many if not all such books.

Are they good value for money, these books? Strictly speaking, not really. At least, I tend not to buy such things for myself. On the other hand, as a small gift for the geek in your life, or a little extra on top of their main present from you, a book like this can be a nice touch.

Here's the link to this particular book on Amazon, just in case you can find a decently-priced used copy: Computers: They drive us crazy!

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5 minute innovation in education technology

When I was studying for my first degree at university, the hardest essay I was ever set in the whole three years was “Explain the competing theories about capital in no more than 500 words.” To give you an idea of what that means, 500 words is approximately a handwritten side of A4 or two typewritten pages of A4 – not exactly loads of space to summarise what has taken scores of economists and thousands of trees. In this article, I explore how you might use this “less is more” approach in school.

Use your imagination!

Use your imagination!

The clock is ticking...As Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. I'd just like to suggest a few uses for it in school, including the staffroom.

Talking to colleagues

In my opinion, it’s crucial to be able to explain how technology could benefit them, either personally or in their teaching. But not just explain, but do so in a couple of minutes – and certainly no more than five.

I was impressed recently, for example, when Joanna Bersin, Director of Education at Kano, constructed a computer* in around 4 minutes. This challenge was set by Filippo Jacob (whose Primo Toys won an award, by the way). This was good because it's all very well saying that you can build a computer in three minutes, but actually doing it while talking to an audience about something else takes some doing.

(The July 2016 issue of Digital Education will include more information on these as well as the micro:bit. You can sign up by clicking the button below.)

What I’m saying is that it’s good to develop an elevator speech for ed tech. Actually, several elevator speeches, to cover a number of contingencies:

  • “I already get great grades for my kids, so why do I need to bother with this stuff?”
  • “I haven’t got time to learn this stuff because I have to spend too much time marking books”
  • “How can technology help me teach X better?”
  • “Go on, show me something I can do with technology that is going to knock me off my seat, and that I can apply in my next lesson!”

5 minute instruction

I sometimes think we give students too much material rather than too little. In my days of teaching Economics, I decided to summarise the key macro-economic theories for my students in the form of blues songs. It worked, because they remembered them months later.

So that was another example of where less is more. I do think that it ought to be possible to explain something very succinctly, eg in a blues song, 140 characters, or while standing on one leg.

Over to the kids

Setting a 5 minute limit is great for use with students:

  • What is Computing about? What is it in a nutshell?” (See the video below in this regard.)
  • Make a 5 minute video explaining how you can keep safe online.
  • Answer 20 questions in 5 minutes on the subject of X.
  • Create a set of instructions for clearing a printer jam/creating a flyer/etc etc. (See also Freedman’s 5 Minute Rule in 7 rules for ICT teachers, co-ordinators and leaders.)

The “5 minute test” (which doesn’t have to be a test!) can be really useful, very informative and quite fun. It’s easy to implement, and all you have to do really is think of some more uses for it. If that’s a bit challenging, why not ask the kids to come up with some ideas of using the 5 minute test? Giving them a limit of 5 minutes, of course!

I think you may find the video below quite enjoyable. It dates from the late 70s.

 

This is an amended version of an article first published here in 2012.

In a forthcoming issue of Digital Education we'll be featuring an article on the ideal conditions for innovation.

* Amazon affiliate link to the Kano computer kit.

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9 things a Head of Computing or ICT should do to improve things

Farmers can teach us a thing or two.

Farmers can teach us a thing or two.

Every day, farmers walk around their farms to check that everything is as it should be. This is known as "farmer's footing".

Here is my version of farmer's footing for the Head of Computing or ICT. Not all of these will be appropriate if you are the only computing teacher in your school, but hopefully some of them will prove useful.

Look at the wall displays

Are there any posters with the corners missing or curled up? I know it sounds pretty trivial, and I know I was rather taken aback by the way one senior management team prepared for an inspection: by checking that posters were looking OK, but when such things are not  right people pick up on it. There’s a café near me where the all the menus are grubby and have their corners torn off. It really puts me off going there, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one who is affected by it in that way. It gives the impression that the owner just doesn’t care.

Walk into lessons

I always liked to encourage an ethos of staff walking in and out of each other’s lessons. Not to check up on people as such, but in order to get a feel for what’s going on, sit with a group of youngsters discussing things relating to their work, finding out if the teacher is happy with everything.

Look at the usage statistics

I would say that having some kind of statistical package on your system which tells you what software is being used and which computers are being used and so on is an absolute must. Apart from being possibly necessary for licence management, the information is needed in order to allow the resources to be distributed as efficiently and effectively as possible, to help you argue the case for more resources, and to enable you to spend money on things which are in demand rather than things which aren’t (notwithstanding the fact that you will ant to spend some money, if possible, on things just to see if they will be taken up).

Check the equipment

You don’t necessarily have to do this yourself, of course. Asking a technician how many laptops are currently being repaired, or if any projector lamps have needed replacing in the past half-term, and if all the computers in the computer labs are fully up and running are all useful things to know about. Being attentive to such details sends out a signal that you’re on the case and will, hopefully, help to avoid the situation I came across in a primary (elementary) school a few years ago in which one of the classrooms was being used as a repository of broken down computers which nobody was even attempting to repair.

Check the disk usage on the school’s network…

Again, it doesn’t have to be carried out by you personally, but you ought to know. Please don’t get into the situation of the Local Authority whose Corporate IT department sent an urgent message round to everyone saying “We’re running out of server space; please backup all essential files to a CD by 3pm today, because we’re going to erase all the data on the drive.” OK, you say, but in our school we store everything online. The same applies. If, for example, your school uses a learning platform, you will have been allocated a certain amount of storage space; going over that could incur extra cost.

… And check what’s being stored on it

This is another area where a usage statistics program comes into its own. Are people storing lots of videos and pictures, for example? If so, perhaps in the longer term a dedicated video server is required, but in the short term it’s no bad thing to expect everyone to do some “spring cleaning” every so often. By the way, what I’m advocating here is getting information on the types of files stored across the board. I’m not suggesting looking into people’s areas to see what they’ve got there, which I should imagine would break privacy laws.

Ask probing questions

Ask at team meetings: how are students doing? Are any giving cause for concern? Is any of the equipment flakey all of a sudden? Are there any lessons which looked great on paper but which are not really working too well in practice?

Walk around the school

Yes, this is still necessary to do on a regular basis, not just as a one-off activity when you first take up the post of ICT leader, especially if part of your role is to encourage the use of technology across the curriculum. It’s also important to try and walk around at different times of the day and week, to avoid this type of conversation arising:

Head of another subject: Every time I walk past the computer rooms there’s nobody in them. What a waste of money.

Me: Presumably you walk past them only when you’re free?

HOAS: Yes.

Me: Which is at the same time every week.

HOAS: Yes.

Me: Has it occurred to you that the rooms may be fully in use at times when you’re not  free?

The point is, if the only time you walk around is when most people are or are not using ed tech (well), you may get a completely false impression.

Listen to people

What are people saying about educational technology? Is there a buzz? Or just a whimper?

A longer version of this article was originally published in 2009.

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9 ways to make your Computing classroom 'immersive'

How do you "configure" your classroom to ensure that every aspect of it reinforces the subject you're trying to teach? In this article I look at this from the viewpoint of a computing or ICT teacher.

The idea for this post came from a talk by William Lau, who spoke about making his classroom an immersive experience for his students.

First, though, what do I mean by "immersive"? I have always noted the importance of the so-called 'hidden curriculum': the idea that students pay at least as much attention to what you do as to what you say.

A simple example: if you walk into your classroom looking as if you've been dragged through a hedge backwards, don't be surprised if you find that pupils pay less attention to their appearance when they arrive at your lesson than they otherwise might.

In the same way, if your computing classroom is devoid of stimulation, unnecessarily untidy or full of broken equipment, you're unwittingly setting a pretty low standard of how you expect students to treat the room and the equipment.

What I'm saying, in other words, is that the concept of the hidden curriculum applies to rooms too.

OK, on with the list.

Have an interesting display outside the room

This serves two purposes. One is to let students know that they are now entering a computing lesson. The other is to act as a recruitment campaign to encourage students to opt for your subject.

When I was head of ICT & Computing, I made sure that the wall display outside my classroom reflected the project we were working on at the time. I wanted students passing by to be intrigued, and students entering my lesson to be motivated.

Have interesting posters in the room

An edge-curled poster from the 2012 London Olympics may look pretty (apart from the curling bits), and hide a dent in the wall. But unless you are doing a project on the technology supporting the Olympics or the opening ceremony, it is just clutter.

Research has shown that students don't look at the posters, or at least don't notice them. They have to be relevant, updated periodically and referred to by the teacher.

I've used this photo before, but it's worth using here in this context:

A history lesson

A history lesson

This photo was taken in a history lesson in a computer lab. The students were doing research into the assassination of John F Kennedy. As you can see, the wall was covered in photos on the subject. Many of the pictures were stills from the Zapruder film.

There were also papers, books, and facsimile newspapers. The bulk of the work took place at computers, but all of this other stuff was not merely useful -- it helped to create an immersive environment for the students to work in.

Have useful posters in the room

A poster may be interesting without being useful, and the converse is also true. Vy 'useful', I mean posters that enable people in the room to actually do something.

For example, in my rooms I had posters containing instructions on logging on, printing, using the basic programs, and how to call for assistance.

As far as immersion is concerned, the reason is straightforward. If someone becomes frustrated because they are unable to perform a relatively simple task, they will cease to become enveloped by the room; they will become alienated from it.

Display students' work

I should relate this to the project work underway or recently completed. That rule will help to ensure that you change the display regularly and frequently.

I've written more extensively about ICT classroom displays here: Wall displays.

Number the desks in binary

I've taken this idea from the talk by William Lau mentioned earlier. William numbers the desks and the computers in his room in 'ordinary' ie decimal numbers, and also in their binary equivalents. Thus desk 25 is also labelled as 00011001. A great idea, marred only by the fact that I didn't think of it first. Blast!

Use technology

I don't believe in using technology for the sake of it. Having 'unplugged' lessons can be extremely useful, as I suggested in 10 ideas for Computing or ICT lesson routines. However, I'd expect to see equipment for 'writing' with, taking photos, displaying and interacting. You need to "walk the talk".

Make the room a one-stop shop

Your room is hardly 'immersive' if people have to go elsewhere to do stuff. For example, in one school I came to as Head of ICT & Computing, staff and pupils had to go to another room in order to collect their printing. I thought this was not ideal, and changed it within two weeks of my arrival by buying a new printer for each of the computer labs.

If someone needs to do scanning, web research or even book research (see 7 reasons to have an educational technology library), as far as possible they should be able to do so in your classroom. Or at the very least, a nearby classroom.

Make sure that the equipment works

This ought to be a no-brainer. Actually, it is a no-brainer. If the printer doesn't work properly, or some of the computer keyboards have letters missing or --- basically, if the equipment is less than perfect then people have an unpleasant experience. Or they will have an experience that is memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

This may sound like an impossibly high criterion, but bear in mind that many of your students (and other teachers) will have good equipment at home. Equipment that doesn't lose their work or shred it in the printer, or which they can't save because of some network error.

Have space for collaboration

There needs to enough space at each computer (if you have a computer lab) to enable pupils to work together on a problem.

There should also be desks at which students can work away from the computers, or around a laptop or a tablet. This is because the classroom can only be truly immersive if the students are immersed in their work. So logically, the nature of their work should dictate which technology, if any, is best for a student to use at any one time.

Conclusion

Most of these ideas can be implemented very quickly. How are you making your computer classroom 'immersive'?

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