Where Are We Going?

I have not written anything for several weeks now as events have moved so fast that there has been no time to reflect. What is more, there is a  deluge of comment out there which has highlighted every possible extreme for the future. However I cannot remain silent for ever so I have to find a way of commenting on individual events in slightly more than the 140 characters of Twitter.

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Scottish Independence – The Campaigns

I despair of politicians and the media. The campaigns, propaganda, spin, misinformation, downright lies and whatever else you might like to add has reduced the debate to pathetic levels. Once again it is the social media and the many blogs which have raised the important issues. Unfortunately the victims of all the misinformation will not normally be exposed to the proper information and real issues which blogs like bellacaledonia are highlighting.

Most importantly, the minute a politician says something “will” happen I shudder. Nobody can say for sure either way on any future happening or outcome.

For me there is one overriding consideration. Vote No and the UK will continue much as it is. If you like the thought of that it’s your choice. But if you are unhappy about any of the things Westminster politicians are doing in your name vote YES because for me it can’t get worse and from the energy generated on the social media it is likely to get better, not on 19th September but at some point in the future. I cannot predict how but I can have faith and hope.

BBC Omissions

I have been prompted to write this by a Twitter person I follow, @reddeviljp or jaydeepee, http://t.co/gLmaK7s7S7. He has started a list of topics which the BBC does not, in his and many others opinion cover adequately. That led me to thinking about how badly skewed the political and social debate is in our country, not just by the BBC but by the media in general. Badly misinformed or deliberately misled, the general populace is unaware of what should really give them sleepless nights.

As I understand it, but I could also have been misled by the lack of proper information, the NHS in England and Wales is being steadily privatised. The USA and  EU are in the process of drawing up a far reaching trade deal. As the NHS will in future rely on private suppliers, it cannot be exempt from the provisions of that agreement.  This agreement will effectively remove the sovereign right of governments to protect their own economic and social environment from private companies of a foreign country party to the trade agreement. In other words the NHS will be wide open to take-over by private American health providers. As far as I am aware the BBC has been totally silent on this issue.

My contribution to jaydeepee’s list was “NHS sell off, democratic deficit, tax avoidance, bank level of toxic debt, voting records of MPs, real level of NHS funding,”.

My example above connects to NHS sell off and also Democratic Deficit. At the last election, nobody was aware that we were voting about the wholesale privatisation of not only the NHS but many other government functions. No doubt there are Tory voters who are happy with events but I doubt that many Lib Dem voters were voting to get rid of the NHS as we know it. And yet for the sake of what they call “power” their MPs are prepared to condone it. Labour are hardly any better. They should never let a day go by without a protest of some sort about this  issue if they were really fulfilling their democratic mandate.

Both our politicians and the media ignore the democratic voice of the electorate. We are rapidly descending from a democracy to an oligarchy.

Back to WordPress

I found posterous.com an easy way to record my random thoughts and so this WordPress blog fell by the wayside, but posterous has failed me and countless others by ceasing to exist as of April 30th 2013. A great shame on Twitter!

However this has spurred me to transfer all my posts from posterous to this site and hopefully it will make me more productive here.

I found the whole process of transfer very easy using the tool provided by WordPress and so congratulations to them.

Aestivation

The title of this post is thanks to John Johnston and the power of Google. And it does mean a summer dormancy. Having never come across it before I plan to use it at every opportunity which with advancing years may well be quite frequently. I have to say that I am still wondering what search term John used as my attempts were not very successful.

This does demonstrate the power of the blogging network and the internet. I have an ancient 24 volume Encyclopedia Britannica and I really have no idea if I could find that word in there. Nevertheless I harbour a slight suspicion that there is a majority of the teaching profession who would regard the use of the encyclopedia as legitimate and the idea of using the internet as cheating. For the first time today I heard an author state that she had included a list of all the websites she visited at the end of her book! The author, Marina Lewycka was talking on Radio 4 about her book The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian which won a prize for wit.

And yet again I ask, why do projects for assessment not include the requirement to provide search terms and websites as used in the work? It kills off plagiarism at a stroke.

Hibernation???

I wonder what the summer version of hibernation is?

I feel I have been doing this over what has been rather poor summer at least as far as the weather is concerned. However, in spite of being officially retired I will still be doing some work for Dundee City Council and will hopefully be at the Scottish Learning Festival (SETT).  That always provides a buzz of anticipation just reading about the speeches and seminars. I have not been in a total state of hibernation but I feel now much more alert and attentive to all the happenings in Scottish Education.

As I look round I see an increasing number of evangelists, early adopters and enthusiasts for all the exciting developments which are about to appear in Scottish schools. The pioneers of Web 2.0 are making so many daily advances that it is actually difficult to keep up. If I were to list the people I admire and follow, it would be invidious so for once I will forgo one of the tenets of blogging and not put in any links!

However Don Ledingham has highlighted a recent post by guineapigmum which certainly strikes a chord with me. To my way of thinking, the preoccupation with exams is going to be the main inhibitor of progress in Scottish Education. Not only do they narrow the curriculum, but they also highlight negatives for the majority of pupils who do not get A’s or 1’s.

A senior figure in the CBI commenting on the English GCSE results spoke of the number of employers who preferred Eastern European workers because of their willingness to work hard! That is an horrific indictment of our whole social fabric.

What Next in a Scottish Classroom?

David Muir has been underwhelmed by what he saw of the new VLE in Glow. I have seen the pre-Glow version and would agree with much of what he says. But the VLE should not be the only tool that teachers use in the new 21st century classroom. Within Glow itself there is the chance for collaborative working within a Glow Group. The noticeboard can provide the overall direction of the team’s work plus any announcements or hints which the teacher wishes to give. There is space for document storage and there is a discussion page. Plus, because Glow is but a portal, different web parts can provide a view of blogs and wikis, picture galleries, video streaming and ordinary internet links and I am sure over time much more. The use of video conferencing which is really easy to use, once set up, will not only provide peer to peer networking to anywhere in the world but with some effort the addition of experts to the enhance the learning experience. Utopia!

Perhaps not. Because the students will only see real learning benefits when teachers take on a new mindset. The current mindset of too many teachers is to be the fount of knowledge, the controller of the learning space and the arbiter of right and wrong. The technology apart, this in itself goes against the idea of lifelong learning and the Curriculum for Excellence of independent learners. Like all things new, the new Web 2.0 technologies will take time to gain acceptance. CPD and In-service should not only concentrate on the technology itself but much more importantly on how it can be used to best benefit teaching and learning. For example, if blogs become the in-thing and are applied to every learning situation they will quickly become the new worksheet – boring. Pupils in secondary schools will go from class to class mindlessly writing blogs and probably copying posts from one another.

As an ex computing teacher I have tried to rethink how I would use some of the Web 2.0 technologies and other applications to teach the theoretical aspects of the subject. Firstly I would need to change from the idea of me teaching to them learning. Secondly what about the learning intentions? If my class is aiming for an SQA exam they must all acquire the same chunk of knowledge. Here I should point to The Scotsman newspaper of 13th June and the Soapbox article written by Prof Sir Graham Hills, former principal of Strathclyde University who largely refutes the idea of education as a body of knowledge underwritten by closed book exams, but prefers the idea of skills, particularly the generic skills of the Curriculum for Excellence. So looking to the future, I would conveniently forget about the SQA and concentrate on the skills of acquiring knowledge, presenting it to the class and evaluating the result. If my class really had to pass an SQA Standard Grade exam I would provide them with the glossary of 100 words needed to get a pass at General level.

So the task I set will be to demonstrate the Fetch Execute cycle, one of the fundamental processes of a computer. For anybody who actually wants to know what I mean, I refer you to Wikipedia or an excellent animation from Kelso High School. I won’t specify whether this is group work, classwork or homework but I give them only a week to complete it. What tools do they have presently available?

Powerpoint – the tool for the final presentation

MS Word – for text

Various drawing tools to create a series of images of the cycle

Various picture and video editing tools, either already installed on school computers or available free to download at home.

Digital cameras to make an animation???

Video camera – animation or get a group of pupils within the class to act out the cycle

Flash animation – a la Kelso above (various free flash animation tools available)

Web 1.0 – Google, Wikipedia, How Stuff Works etc., etc.

and that’s all without Web 2.0 but they could use

Podcast – for an audio explanation or an audio diary

Blog – to record progress

Wiki – to pull everything together

That leads me to question this methodology. If I present the class with all these tools for every small scrap of knowledge I want them to investigate, I can already hear the moans about not another presentation. I think perhaps I might take all the knowledge and understanding elements of the course and set them the task over several weeks to come up with a unified single presentation. I could then spend time going over with them some tips about all the tools and letting them practise with whatever materials they wanted to try out, perhaps keeping a blog as a record of learning.

This sounds a very non rigorous approach to learning, but I would insist that every aspect of their work had a proper reference to sources including their search terms. I would be certain to see real progress during class time so it was not just parental work and finally they would have a detailed assessment against predefined learning outcomes including the knowledge displayed as well as the presentation. Each pupil would undergo a peer assessment of how readily they were understood and how much their audience learned from the final presentation. Differentiation would come naturally as the academically poor pupil would produce a minimal piece of work while the truly gifted would produce a wide ranging presentation using a majority of the available tools. In general no two pieces would be the same and by watching each presentation and marking it, each pupil would gain knowledge and understanding.

So why would I bother with all this? Pupils would embed the rather dry and tedious parts of the syllabus without rote learning. They would learn to work on their own or collaboratively. They would learn presentation skills and they would have to be creative. They would all have something to be proud of and for most of them there would be a wiki showcasing their work.

Having said all this I now look forward with some trepidation to having holes picked in this post, but dare I hope that perhaps more real teachers will start to think differently about how their pupils might learn an existing syllabus.