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  1. Digital Education post-Bett edition now out
  2. Philosophy and technical support
  3. My best and worst IT lessons #8: Logging in
  4. Uncertainty and ignorance: an issue for assessment?
  5. The trouble with Levels
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search Blog - ICT & Computing in Education
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Digital Education post-Bett edition now out

A scene from Bett 2016 Photo by Terry Freedman

The latest edition of Digital Education, my free newsletter for ed tech people, is available now. Here's what it contains:

A reprieve for ICT?
Competition results
Forthcoming conferences
My courses
Readers' blogs
Analysis: Challenge
The relevance of Stephen Potter
Perverse incentives in assessment
A troubled romance (guest post by Crispin Weston, about the Education Secretary's speech at Bett)
Let's go round again
My best and worst IT lessons
Bett 2016
Tech City
Guest contributions: Observations on Bett 2016 from:

    Ian Addison
    Maria Brosnan
    Natasha Campbell
    FutureSource, courtesy of colin Messenger
    Dave Gibbs
    Rose Luckin
    Thomas Ng
    Malcolm Payton
    Peter Rafferty
    Mike Sharples
    Dave Smith
    + a short round-up of Bett 2016 on other blogs

Sponsored articles
Articles from around the web

It's available here. But to have it delivered to your inbox in future, you should subscribe. Do so by clicking on the button below:


Philosophy and technical support

Hume on the help desk? Picture is (c) Existential Comics

What would it be like if your tech support employed philosophers to help people out? This comic strip from Existential Comics provides an answer.

What I like about the site, apart from the fact that the strips I've looked at so far have brought a smile to my face, is that there is an option to have the joke explained to you. At the end of each strip there is a list of the philosophers featured in it, and also this button:

Click here for an explanation.

Click here for an explanation.

When you click on that you see a box like this:

Here's the joke explained.

Here's the joke explained.

I think this is a great way to teach philosophy. When I was a teacher, I used cartoons and comic strips to teach (at various times) Computing, Economics, English, ICT, Politics and Sociology. However, unlike the Existential Comics website, I didn't provide the explanation of the joke -- I asked my students to do that.

If you would like to create your own comic strips, see the article 25 useful resources for teachers, as it contains a link to 20 websites where you can create your own cartoons and comics for free.

If you're interested in a philosophical perspective of Computing, see the guest article by Mel Thompson, Should philosophy influence educational policy?

Incidentally, both of those articles first appeared in the Digital Education newsletter, which is free. You can subscribe to it by clicking on the button below. Thank you.



My best and worst IT lessons #8: Logging in

Logging in -- Photo from CC0

Logging in -- Photo from CC0

Fortunately, the lesson I'm about to describe was not mine. It describes how a lot of time was wasted. Even more annoyingly, it was entirely avoidable.

I was observing the first lesson of the new Year 7 (11 year olds) in the computer lab. The teacher, a deputy head, was giving them their network log-in details.

This consisted of calling out their names in turn, telling them what their details were, and then getting them to try it out. Each one took around 2 minutes, and there were 30 kids in the class.

This activity took up the whole lesson, which was bad enough. What made it even worse was the fact that until or after a child had been given their log-ins, they had nothing to do. So out of a 60 minute lesson, each pupil was idle for 58 minutes.

Obviously, it wasn't quite that bad: time has to be allowed for entering the room, a short intro by the teacher, and then packing up and leaving. So, erring on the generous side, I'd say the pupils weren't doing nothing for 58 minutes, but perhaps 45 minutes.

Imagine going to a private tutor for some Spanish lessons in advance of your planned vacation in the summer. You site there doing nothing for 45 minutes, and then at the end of the hour the tutor says, "That will be £25 please?". What would be your likely response?

The whole activity could have been reduced to almost no time at all. One way would have been to have given each pupil a sticky label for them to put into their homework diary. The label would consist of their username and password. Five minutes to give them out, then 5 minutes for the pupils to try logging in. Job done.

Even better, parents of the new intake should have been sent a letter, (or an email these days) saying what their child's details were and stipulating that the child must bring those details along to their IT lesson, in just the same way that pupils are told what the PE kit comprises and that they must bring it along on the days they have PE. Time taken to give out the details in the lesson: zero.

Logging in should be a non-problem. As well as the strategies suggested above, others include the following:

  • Keeping details of the pupils log-ins yourself, for for when a pupil forgets their details.
  • Keeping a list of spare user identities and passwords.
  • Label each computer, laptop and tablet with a label stating what the guest log-in details are for that device, a log-in that will give the person access to all the standard programs.

We've recently changed our doctor's surgery. A week later, for the first time ever, we each received a small card stating our name, NHS number, date of birth, name of the doctor, and the doctor's phone number. It will come in pretty handy not just for us, but for anyone who comes across one of us after we've been run over by a bus (or, more likely, by a cyclist who hasn't worked out that the pavements are supposed to be for pedestrians; I can feel my blood pressure going up, so I'll drop that particular subject now).

Cards like this, containing all the details someone needs in order to access a service easily and quickly, take very little time and money.

They just take a bit of thought, and a bit of planning.


Uncertainty and ignorance: an issue for assessment?

Ignorance vs certainty, by Terry Freedman

Ignorance vs certainty, by Terry Freedman

When I was studying Economics at school, I thought of myself as an economist. (I even put that down as my first choice of summer work when I was hoping not to actually be offered a job. My second choice was astronaut: I didn't get that either. I was offered a job as a sweeper in London Zoo. But I digress.)

By the time I'd completed a degree in the subject, I was aware of the vast expanse of ignorance opening up before me.

In fact, academic education can be summarised by the observation that it involves knowing more and more about less and less -- until you reach PhD level, where you know everything about nothing!

On a practical level, it makes setting multiple choice test questions very difficult -- because really clued-up students will often realise that at least two answers are equally viable, depending on the assumptions you make.

I think in the realm of ICT and Computing, it becomes even more difficult to set up a situation in which you can know in advance what the correct answers are, especially if you set open-ended tasks.

Good students will suggest ways of solving a problem that may never have occurred to you. In closed tasks they may be at a loss as to what the correct answer is because they don't know what you had in mind.

For example, let's suppose you asked your students to create a situation in which their solution looks up a data entry, and then tries to match that with something else. You know, the sort of situation you would have when looking up a customer's records. Off the top of my head I can think of several ways of achieving this, and they all have their own advantages and disadvantages.

For instance, a bespoke program or a relational database would seem to be the most obvious options, but if there are only 100 records, say, then those approaches might be considered overkill. That would leave something like a simple database, or a spreadsheet (which in effect amounts to the same thing).

If a spreadsheet is decided upon, should IF functions be used, or the more elegant Lookup functions? Again, each has their own merits and drawbacks.

This is why, when it comes to assessing students' abilities, I don't much like rubrics. They are superficially attractive, but they tend to limit student choices, and are nowhere near as objective as they make themselves out to be.

What's the solution? I would not be so bold as to offer the solution, but one solution is to set a problem, or ask the students to identify a problem, and then let them solve it in whatever way they like. Then judge their solutions using your professional judgement -- see Professional judgement in assessing computing for further thoughts on this. Obviously, you would need to seek the opinions of other colleagues too if possible, just in case you're wrong -- that's why moderation is such a good idea.

But whatever you think of my suggestion, I think the problem itself is worth thinking about. After all, you could end up in the situation in which the student who is the best in the class at ICT or Computing is displaying the most ignorance, just because your assessment tasks aren't really suitable.


The trouble with Levels

The assessment machine, by Terry Freedman

The assessment machine, by Terry Freedman

This is my shorthand for what went wrong with Levels in assessment. All that work, all that evaluation -- and all the pupil had to show for it in the end was a number.

See also: 6 ways to respond to requests for pointless data.


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