Posts filed under ‘Digital media’
Monday 30th July 2012 – Day one of my peripatetic journey.
If you don’t know what this is all about, and why would you, I shall explain as succinctly as I can.
For the last 10 years (at least) the Vivid office has overlooked the splendour of the Royal Pavilion here in Brighton. On a daily basis I have strolled from my house, by Queens Park, down Edward Street to the office on the Old Steine to attend to Vivid business around this bustling centre of the city.
Last week we, Vivid staff, moved out of that office with no new office to replace it. We moved out because the owners of the building are seeking vacant possession so that they can sell it. In some ways it suited us because in, any case, most of the people who work with us do so remotely maintaining contact through digital communications, getting face to face only periodically. This is the reality of the increasingly mobile digital world we live in, a reality that actually renders our office with it’s splendid views a luxury rather than a necessity.
Functionally the office had become a means of getting me out of the house, a place where others could occasionally work when we needed them, a mailing address, an anchor. But latterly none of this has been essential to the work we undertake. Indeed our recent award winning (winner of the British Council ELTon award for innovation in learning resources) development of the Sounds app for Macmillan Publishers was undertaken virtually (ha,ha) wholly remotely by the complete team.
So we have complete confidence in our ability to maintain the very highest of standards of the work we undertake whilst operating remotely, and indeed save a bit of cash by ridding ourselves of the permanent physical office overhead.
But there is another important reason for the decision to become mobile. I spend a significant amount of my time describing my vision of the education ‘system’ of the future, a vision that has personalisation, in which each individual can undertake their own unique lifelong learning journey which feeds their individual talents and aspirations, at its core. This is made possible because of digital technology with mobile technology an important component of this.
In essence digital technology rids us of the necessity for a single teacher to teach 30 pupils the same thing, in the same place, at the same time. Now 30 people can be learning 30 different things at any one time. This means that ‘place’ takes on a different aspect. The school building was designed to coral pupils into one place for the purpose of being taught. Now there is a growing recognition that the role of teacher is changing from one of teaching to one of enabling learning, and that learning takes place in a variety of ways, individually and collaboratively.
With mobile technology people can be undertaking learning activities, digitally, individually or collaboratively anytime, anywhere. This doesn’t mean that physical presence, getting together, is not important, or indeed essential, but that such events do not have to be undertaken in the one place called school, between the hours of 9.00am and 3.00pm, during term time.
Thus education itself becomes peripatetic, weaved into our lives, as part of our lives, a combination of individual and collective effort, on-line and off-line, digital and physical, here and there.
In this 21st century, with ‘always with, always on’ technology in most of our hands, the boundaries between learning, working and playing are diminishing. The way that place defines our lives is shifting, the need to delineate the places to learn, to work, and to play is becoming redundant. Whilst my vision for education is of a more dispersed environment, so my vision for the workplace is the same, indeed they are inter related.
Our decision to explore the reality of this, by going mobile is us ‘putting our money where our mouths are’, saying that the future we foresee is happening now. For me it is living my life within the philosphies I profess to.
This ‘diary’ is a device to track progress, to document the highs and lows of this journey, to establish what works and what doesn’t.
My first act is to sit amongst the washing up in my kitchen at home and write this. More later….
In July last year, at Vivid Interactive, we ran a webinar about our app development strategy over the coming months, both for the range of apps we are producing for our own digital publishing activities, as well as cross platform strategies for the development of smartphone apps for our publisher clients. Several months on we have been putting these strategies into practice and now have app development firmly within our portfolio of services.
This is a natural progression for us but highlights the absolute importance of good solid experience of the implementation of robust, pedagogically sound digital technology solutions to education issues. It is unfortunate that some of the ‘education’ apps I come across, often developed by people who know their stuff ‘technically’, lack the pedagogical attributes that are so important.
Having been involved in digital media development for over 25 years I know full well the complexities of developing across different operating systems and browser types, memory options, computer speeds and versions, and this just across PC and Macintosh platforms. Regardless of this, though, it is possible to identify those issues that are common, regardless of the technical differences of particular delivery platforms. For example there are a range of usability principles that were as relevant for early BBC Micro Computer Based Training programmes, as they are now to leading edge smartphone apps.
An important thing to remember is that the user experience is critical, and the principle that any application or programme should transparently ‘do what it says on the tin’ absolutely key. The fact that we have new opportunities for apps that make best use of the multi functional facilities and ‘always with, always on’ mobility of smartphones and tablet devices should not cloud our usability judgements and tempt us to be over complex.
Neither should we be daunted by the apparent complexities of developing across platforms in the smartphone arena. Anyone who has experienced in detail the complexities digital technology over the last 25 years should not be daunted by the spectre of cross platform development of apps across iOS (Apple), Android, (Google), Blackberry (RIM), Windows phone 7 (Microsoft and more recently also Nokia), and a few others. There is a process, involving constant problem solving, that if appositely applied allows a smooth development path.
There are, of course, various techniques, like, say, agile development methodologies, that can help the process. But in the end, the key, the absolute critical factor that makes the difference between a development that is fraught with difficulties, a development that doesn’t deliver to objectives, is good solid experience of developing within the particular environment of digital technology for education publishing.
We can easily find the technical expertise required for app development, but there is no substitute for experience.
I read a post recently that came through the BECTA ICT Research Network from a PhD student in Australia who was looking at the potential of smartphones to deliver personalised learning, something I believe in.
In fact I believe that education content delivered through this medium will become massively important rather faster than people tend to believe (see Ray Kurzweils ‘Law of accelerating returns‘ about the exponential progress of technology). I also believe that through the use of digital technology there is the opportunity to transform education beyond recognition in a way that finally allows our young people to fly.
However, we do have to be careful that our use of smartphone technology for this purpose does not become intrusive in young peoples lives.
Rather worryingly the Australian PhD student characterises the possibilities of smartphone technology for this purpose thus:
‘As we well know, a mobile device can collect data relating to a student’s interests (gathered from search history, applications and communications), location, surroundings and proximity to others (GPS, Bluetooth).
However, what has been less explored is the opportunity for a mobile device to map the movements and activities of a student from moment to moment and over time. This longitudinal data provides a holistic profile of a student, their state and surroundings.
Analysing this data may allow us to identify patterns that reveal a student’s learning processes; when and where they work best and for how long. Through revealing a student’s state and surroundings outside of schools hour, this longitudinal data may also highlight opportunities to transform a student’s everyday world into an inventory for learning, punctuating their surroundings with learning recommendations. This would in turn lead to new ways to acknowledge and validate and foster informal learning, making it legitimate within a formal curriculum.’
I raise this because it is a part of the wider debate we should be engaged in about the real, often unsaid, implications of digital technology. There is an excellent series on BBC2 in the UK, The virtual revolution , that really does express and expose the reality and the dangers of the web based information society we currently live in. You can’t come away from the programme without the feeling that the question we should be asking ourselves is not ‘if’ the personal data about us being gathered by Google or others will at some point be used for purposes more sinister than sales and marketing, but ‘when’ it will be used in this way (or if, indeed, it is already being used so without our knowledge) and what, if anything, we can do about it.
Our children, the so called ‘digital natives’, tend to approach all this with the innocence of the young, gratefully grasping the myriad freebies that they are presented with. It is the duty of the adults who understand this to forewarn our kids of the dangers and to arm them with strategies of defence, even things as simple making it absolutely clear to them that anything digital that they post to the internet, through whatever forum, is there forever. There is no going back.
It is also the duty of adults, I believe, to recognise an over intrusive application of technology as characterised above. My own kids who are 12 and 15 would be absolutely appalled at the idea that there location and movements were being tracked through their mobile phones. A huge part of their maturity is gained from the trust they are shown by their parents and other adults. Stripping this away is condemning them to a sort of nether life where they never feel they can completely take full control of their own lives because we are always watching. After all, it’s not as if they’re all on asbo’s.
We really do need to trust our young people more and believe, as I do, that allowing them to fly means trusting them with far greater control of their own learning.
So holidays have faded into the background, kids are back at school grinding their way through a new term, I’m trying to make sense of the ‘system’.
To do this I thought it might be useful to review the current state of the various government schemes for education that have been developed over the last few years. As a specialist in digital media for education I consider that I have a reasonable grasp of these.
As a starting point I made a list of acronyms of these schemes with their actual definitions with the intention of reviewing the current state of play with each one. Initially I came up with about a dozen or so of these including things like bsf (Building Schools for the Future), ECM (Ever Child Matters), AfL (Assessment for Learning), HTG (Harnessing Technology Grants) etc..
Then I read the ‘National Strategies Annual Plan Summary’ for 2009-2010 which at 45 pages is a helluva summary and lists in an annex 65 acronyms that are used within it. This makes the ‘summary’ virtually incomprehensible. Here is a typical example:
‘A significant number of LA’s are struggling to mainstream NPSLBA within their school improvement services and their CPD offer and need to target recruitment of priority schools and with PRU leaders and staff to NPSLBA.’
Even when you decode this it doesn’t make any sense. It is little wonder that our education system is in a state of apparent disarray when such a plethora of acronyms abound.
One of the difficulties, I think, is the attempt to force uniformity on an education system that actually needs diversity if it is to be appropriate for the 21st century. As a useful report about barriers to innovation in education produced by Futurelab puts it:
“…(education policy) should be committed to promoting, encouraging, archiving and sharing the development of widely diverse educational responses in order to ensure that there is diversity in the system to allow adaptation whatever changes emerge, rather than seeking out and disseminating universal and uniform solutions.”
The attempt to impose uniformity, and the failure of that attempt, can be aptly illustrated with the framework of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS). This framework neatly divides the essential skills ‘that will enable young people to enter work and adult life as confident and capable individuals’, into the six categories of, independent enquirers, creative thinkers, reflective learners, team workers, self-managers, and effective participators. Having made these divisions the framework then helpfully points out that:
“The groups are interconnected. Young people are likely to encounter skills from several groups in any one learning experience.”
In other words every child is an individual. Any teacher worth their salt already knows this and, within the constraints of class numbers, will respond to each child appropriately. Unfortunately the PLTS framework simply panders to the misconceived desire to package every child according to a single set of rules, ‘universal and uniform solutions’.
I do understand the temptation to think this way. With an average class of 30 kids it seems to make things so much more manageable but it does not allow individual talents and aspirations to flourish.
Back in the dark industrialist days there didn’t seem any other way to manage things. But now in the 21st century we have different aspirations and we have technology to help us.
So we don’t actually need to try and package things in a neat ‘PLTS’ way. We just have to loosen up a bit, ditch the acronyms, trust the kids, support them, and let them get on with it. That is true personalised learning.
This post is an addendum to my previous tiny post about new research showing that smaller class sizes would help to improve learning’.
I read about that just after having read several articles in Vision, Futurlab’s magazine, littered with all kinds of research projects and findings about how we learn, games in education, informal learning etc. – the list goes on.
All interesting reading, much of it gathering evidence for significant changes in our education system. But one does wonder how many research reports are needed before real fundamental change becomes possible.
In October at the Handheld Learning Conference in London Stephen Heppell said :
“It’s time to be cracking on. Its time for us to say we have done enough confirming what we knew already. It’s time for us to act on what we knew.”
He was talking about implementing radical changes in our education system, many made possible through digital technology, to allow young people greater involvement in their own learning.
The problem is that such change must involve teachers, parents and pupils many of whom are not yet ready for change for a variety of reasons. So, actually to convince more people of the necessity and value of change evidence is still needed.
But I don’t think it is academic research as such that we need. I think we can find all the evidence we need through simple observation of how young people behave in different circumstances, what switches them on, what turns them off, what they are really capable off, what they want to do, trusting them with their own futures.
This week Teachers TV have a focus on education of the future and every morning have a presentation by a different education guru. One of these is by author and educational consultant Tony Buzan, great proponent of mind mapping techniques (http://www.teachers.tv/video/5082).
He argues that we should not be teaching young people ‘what’ to learn, but should be teaching them ‘how’ to learn.
I think young people already know ‘how’ to learn, evidenced by all the things they learn before they even get to school. Fundamentals like walking and talking, colours, numbers, different animals etc. Some of these they take on for themselves, some we, the parents and carers, teach. But nowhere on that journey does anyone teach ‘how’ to learn.
I also think kids want to learn, and will learn best if allowed to do so, if trusted to do so without too much interference.
So another BETT passes us by. As ever the show was huge (although minuscule by say Frankfurt Book Fair standards). For me this year was characterised by ‘very little to report’, a sense that we were seeing more of the same, no sense of any real visibility of things to come.
This is hardly surprising in times when so much is in doubt, not least the detail of how the application of digital technology for education will actually shake down. Eavesdropping on conversations between teachers at the crowded café areas seemed to indicate that the spectre of the implementation of Learning Management Systems was looming large.
Many schools continue to struggle with their own networks and adding the additional LMS layer can only serve to add further complication. It is not the capabilities of schools network administrators that is in doubt but the fact that teachers are not given the time, opportunity, training to really understand the implications of digital technology on what they do.
Goodness knows what it must be like for a teacher to make sense of the myriad digital offerings on display at BETT. I find it incredibly confusing, and I’ve been ‘in the business’ for over 20 years.
All of this is exacerbated by the fact that in all likelihood the VLE’s and LMS’s being rather painfully introduced into schools will quite quickly become redundant as the concepts of cloud computing, physical IT needs being met from out there in the ether, hits the world of education.
Seeing the gimmicky introduction by Smart (the interactive whiteboard people) of the ‘Smart table’ suggests to me that too much effort is being made to introduce the next iteration of stuff (Gillette like) – technology rather than application led. I am old enough for these interactive tables to remind me of the old ‘Space Invader’ tables that enjoyed a brief sojourn in pubs across the land but died a rather fast death condemned to far corners under spilt drinks and distant memories.
The Smart tables use double touch technology and I imagine are quite fun….for a few minutes. Outside of that I simply ask the question, “Why?”.
The other big question on peoples minds is ‘what? That sense of not knowing where things will shake down does leave the purveyors of digital offerings in a bit of a vacuum.
As a colleague remarked at the show perhaps everything should just stop for a year or two, until there is some more clarity over where things are going.