ICT: An embedded specialism?

16 January 2012

One of the threads that is emerging, as the curriculum for ICT and Computer Science is revamped, is the multiple natures of the uses of digital technologies for learning. There are the existing ICT curriculum – very broad – specialist aspects of programming, algorithmic thinking, systems design. There is creative media, there’s games-based learning. The list is long and is a different list is drawn up by each person who considers it.

I think a useful approach to this is to consider which uses of digital technology might be embedded elsewhere in the curriculum. When the National curriculum was first drawn up in England in 1988 ICT/IT did not exist. It was part of technology. Government announcements seem to be moving back to ‘technology’ as the catch all term. Indeed the consultation announced by Naace and ALT for Dfe has the URL schoolstech.org.uk. This view has ICT/IT embedded in technology. It didn’t work, of course, as much of the curriculum of ICT/IT was at odds with the rest of the subject and in 1995 it was split out leaving ‘Design and technology’. But there seems, to me, to be some merit in looking at how parts of ICT/IT might be aligned with other subjects. And one is reminded that Maths and Computing were conjoined in schools specialism.

So if the creative media aspects were aligned with English and taught by English and ICT specialists would this give greater ‘rigour’ to the subject? Not here that I do not advocate the removal of the ICT specialists but that they work in other subjects. Perhaps the rigid structure of ICT-as-subject with the concomitant few-teachers-teaching-all-pupils and atomised schemes of work has led to the poor perception of the subject. Maybe rich, demanding digital technology in other subjects could help to redress that. But only if it was properly embedded. The NC once had statements that said that all subjects had responsibility for ICT. But it was never ‘enforced’ and eventually it was removed. We shouldn’t make that mistake again.


14 January 2012

Oh the tyranny of the sub editor. Journalist writes article, sub editor fits headline to it. Soundbite, provocation, something to fit the space. All of these considerations means that, often, headlines distort the true meaning of the article or report.

Take the Guardian’s “ICT lessons in schools are ‘highly unsatisfactory’, says Royal Society“. Gloom mongering. We know of course that the overwhelming majority are not. Even Ofsted agree. Even if not as many are reported as excellent as might be. The article actually says:

“The current delivery of computing education in many UK schools is highly unsatisfactory,” the scientists, who include Nobel prize winner Paul Nurse, argue. “We appear to have succeeded in making many people comfortable with using the technology that we find around us, but this seems to have been at the expense of failing to provide a deeper understanding of the rigorous academic subject of computer science.”

It’s computer education lessons that are unsatisfactory, failing to provide deep understanding of computer science. Well that’s not surprising, the ICT curriculum wasn’t intended to do that alone. There are many excellent lessons in ICT, digital literacy, creative media that do not address the discipline of computer science. That is perfectly acceptable. It does not make them, per se, unsatisfactory.


13 January 2012

One of my PhD findings was the enculturated nature of student perceptions of ICT (and yes I’ll do some proper posts on the research soon). By this I mean that their views were very heavily biased by the school’s approach to the subject. Predominantly – these were year 11 students – this meant that they valued things that were in their ICT qualification’s specification and coursework and didn’t really value anything else. I’m talking about the majority – a few were programming, a few were tinkering with hardware, a few were editing video, composing music.

They didn’t value things they did out of school with technology but then they didn’t really do much (see also Crook, 2008). Far from being technologically literate because they use technology in their non-school lives, it seemed for many of them that their only use of ICT was that which was directed by school. Gaming, social networking, surfing and downloading things (music, films) their only informal use. Their technological literacy comes from the ICT they do at school.

Of these gaming has the greatest potential for ‘learning’ in the sense that any game has strategy. It may also allow customisation, development of numeracy and communication, problem solving, possibly teamworking. All essential attributes. Students did not value games though ‘because it is not on the specification’.

I don’t want to go down a games argument here. That is not my field. The point is – things done outside of school, however valuable for learning in the my eyes, were not valued by students. They had become enculturated by the system they found themselves in.

I reflect on events of this week and, like others, wonder ‘what has gone wrong?’ I don’t agree with all of the headlines and sound bites. ICT is not boring or harmful. Young people are not digitally illiterate. But where has that perception come from?

One of the things that struck me is that we hear teachers saying that the ICT specifications are boring (although I did hear a splendid exposition of how to teach OCR Nationals well today at BETT – from a Computing specialist I might add). Have we, as teachers, also become enculturated by the system? The system of high stakes assessment. The system of inspection. Have we become risk averse? Can we no longer teach how and what we want?

I see lots of evidence that this is not true. Splendid examples of teachers doing exciting things (do a Google search for Teachmeet TV or follow @eyebeams). But maybe we have allowed ourselves (at KS4) to be dominated by the pressures of the examination (sic) and inspection system. Results are everything. And the way that ICT’s contribution to those results has been distorted since the 4xGCSE league table fiasco over the last ten years hasn’t helped. And now the Department wants to make it easier to sack teachers. The pressure increases.

On the other hand students perceptions of ICT being dominated by the external assessment system need not be a bad thing. It can be an opportunity. If we get the KS4 curriculum right then these students will again take it on board. We can enculturate them in a good way. But perhaps we also need to involve them in the design.

And perhaps Gove’s message of teachers being allowed to teach ‘what and how they like’ can also be turned into a liberation of the culture that might otherwise enslave. After all its what many many excellent teachers are doing already.

What’s the Welsh for ICT?

12 January 2012

Digital classroom teaching apparently*. CAS member Gareth Edmondson (@welshgje) alerts me to the statement put out by Leighton Andrews, AM, in September where a task and finish group was established to ” to review the use of digital classroom teaching”.


* It is, of course, technoleg gwybodaeth a chyfathrebu

What now for ICT teachers?

12 January 2012

With the changes to the place of ICT in the curriculum  announced by the Department for Education this week the future is ‘exciting’ for ICT teachers. Being able to teach “how and what they like” is the promise. With the steer that Computer Science is the new black. But what might that future really be like?

Well I suppose it depends on how ‘ICT teacher’ is defined. There seems, to me, to be at least three categories of such teacher (and I am referring here to secondary schools). Each have different futures as far as I can see. All ‘exciting’ in their different ways. ‘Exciting’ as in mountaineering.

– The specialist teachers of ICT whose background is in Computer Science. Such teachers will probably have qualified as ICT teachers if they qualifed in the last 10 years or so (before that ICT was not a subject of initial teacher education). Such teachers will probably be the most genuinely excited. They will be able to go back to teaching Computer Science, to introduce it to more students. They will need some CPD,  will probably be part of the Computing at Schools association and will benefit from what it, and associated universities, will offer.

– The specialist teachers of ICT whose background is not in Computer Science. These are the majority of those who qualified in the last 10 years. They will have backgrounds in IT-related disciplines with degrees such as Business and IT. They will be adept at teaching that which has been slammed as ‘boring’ and ‘harmful’. It isn’t of course. Any subject can be made boring and harm students by denying them interesting learning. That’s down to the teachers, not the subject. These teachers will probably be the least excited and the most fearful. They will not find a transition to teaching Computer Science easy on the whole. My hope for this group is that they will be liberated from restricted assessment systems – every student being entered for bloated ICT qualifications  with minimal timetabled lessons – and be able to help develop digital literacy and understanding across the school (while retaining some specialism ICT courses for those students who want that specialism). They’ll also be liberated from being responsible for assessing every student. I still shiver at the sight of a lone ICT specialist in a school having to write reports for over 300 students in a year group. Matthew who?

– The non-specialist teachers of ICT. Often caricatured as hapless innocents, reluctantly being forced to teach a subject against their will. While this may be true in some cases this group also consists of enthusiastic, engaging teachers with other subject specialist ‘labels’ who contribute to students’ learning with technology. The maths teacher who is adept at spreadsheets for developing algebraic understanding, the English teacher using technology to develop awareness of journalistic genres, the historian using technology for role play, webquests, the design teacher using computers for product design etc etc. These folk will also be liberated from having to contribute to teaching every student some  arcane ICT specification to developing engaging activities around their own specialism.


All of this will need CPD. All will need vision for new curricula. Who will provide all of this is a moot point but we are lucky in this country to have a well established subject association in Naace, a vibrant new association in Computing at School and a specialist initial teacher education association in ITTE. Together with HE and industry we surely can use this opportunity to provide a creative, relevant future for our students. And I use creative and relevant deliberately – these were the words that emerged from my own PhD research… of which more soon.




11 January 2012

Gove’s statement says that

we’re giving teachers freedom over what and how to teach, revolutionising ICT as we know it.

This has to be good but it begs two questions in addition to my main one about how assessment might be reformed.

  • What guidance will the new Teaching Agency give to teacher educators? I hope it will be equally liberating.
  • What will Ofsted do? How will they cope without a ticklist?

My fear is that, as in the late 90s, schools will be inspected under a regime that has certain presumptions about what and how to teach ICT (or computer science). What if the school has a radically different view? I know the obvious answers are to do with looking for quality outcomes in broad terms but I fear a plethora of ‘guidance’ which becomes a de facto curriculum which then leads to exactly the same problems we perceive now.

…and what is so boring and damaging anyway?

11 January 2012

Here are the ‘key processes’ in the National Curriculum  for ICT at KS3. Can you spot the boredom and damage? What would you say was not essential to learning in a digital age?

2.1 Finding information

Pupils should be able to:
a. consider systematically the information needed to solve a problem, complete a task or answer a question, and explore how it will be used
b. use and refine search methods to obtain information that is well matched to purpose, by selecting appropriate sources
c. collect and enter quantitative and qualitative information, checking its accuracy
d. analyse and evaluate information, judging its value, accuracy, plausibility and bias.

2.2 Developing ideas

Pupils should be able to:
a. select and use ICT tools and techniques appropriately, safely and efficiently
b. solve problems by developing, exploring and structuring information, and deriving new information for a particular purpose
c. test predictions and discover patterns and relationships, exploring, evaluating and developing models by changing their rules and values
d. design information systems and suggest improvements to existing systems
e. use ICT to make things happen by planning, testing and modifying a sequence of instructions, recognising where a group of instructions needs repeating, and automating frequently used processes by constructing efficient procedures that are fit for purpose
f. bring together, draft and refine information, including through the combination of text, sound and image.

2.3 Communicating information

Pupils should be able to:
a. use a range of ICT tools to present information in forms that are fit for purpose, meet audience needs and suit the content
b. communicate and exchange information (including digital communication) effectively, safely and responsibly
c. use technical terms appropriately and correctly.

2.4 Evaluating

Pupils should be able to:
a. review, modify and evaluate work as it progresses, reflecting critically and using feedback
b. reflect on their own and others’ uses of ICT to help them develop and improve their ideas and the quality of their work
c. reflect on what they have learnt and use these insights to improve future work.

What is boring is the way it is taught when teachers are forced, by assessment systems, to do tedious tasks.

In out, in out, shake it all about

11 January 2012

So the Gove press release on ICT is released by the Dept for Education. ICT is condemned as boring and harmful. The programme of study is to be scrapped (it sounds like we need Arnold Schwarzenegger to blitz it away).

This is why we are withdrawing [ICT] from September [2012]. Technology in schools will no longer be micro-managed by Whitehall. By withdrawing the Programme of Study, we’re giving teachers freedom over what and how to teach, revolutionising ICT as we know it.

But then the press release says:

ICT will remain a compulsory part of the National Curriculum, pending the National Curriculum review.

How can the PoS be scrapped and it remain in the NC. The NC is the PoS...

ICT is boring… discuss…

11 January 2012


20 GOTO 10

I think the time is probably right to start blogging again!

For those who do not know the PhD is finished and is in the process of being published in various places (you can get a copy in the Nottingham Trent Library if you wish ;-).

But today sees a culmination of all sorts of pressures on the UK government to reform ICT (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).  Why this week? Well it is annual BETT show and that’s when these sort of announcements are made. The Guardian news paper/website marks the week by its own campaign for Digital Literacy and this page  (scroll up from the start of the comments) makes a good summary of many of  the ‘pressures’ alluded to above.

The headlines scream “Government to scrap boring ICT”. But is it really boring. My research didn’t find that. I’m sure you could find a sizeable proportion of students who find any subject boring (Latin anyone? Maths?) . ICT is only as boring as teachers allow it to be. But… and this is a big but… a lot of that boredom (in teachers) comes from the qualifications constraining what they teach.

This for me is the crucial thing. Gove’s emphasis on bored teachers teaching bored students is a tad more accurate that simply saying ICT is boring (which is what the headlines say). The use of digital technologies for is rich with potential for excitement and engagement but it falls on the altar of qualifications. The very same qualifications which provide metrics by which schools are measured. We don’t just need to reform the curriculum (actually the National Curriculum for ICT is pretty much ‘open box’ and you can teach a wide range of things in it already) but the the assessment system too. I fear this may be a much harder nut to crack given vested interests in exams and results.

Oh and the answer is not just to introduce programming. Don’t get me wrong, computing and maths are my subject passions – but it coding can be just as boring if the assessment doesn’t allow creativity.

Use of the Internet in Britain.

7 November 2008

From George Siemens elearnspace.org newsletter comes reference to the Oxford report on the use of the Internet in Britain.

His headline is that use of smart phones is doubling every two years.

I think mine might be that of people whose education stopped before FE/HE only 55% use the Internet (compared to 78% of those educated to FE level and 90% of those educated to HE level). And that of those who ‘stopped using the Internet’ 28% of men and 40% of women said it was because they had moved house. Maybe the uptake of smart phones will change this… but what will that uptake mean for learning?

Anyway plenty of stats to digest for research or teaching…

NTU research seminar

6 November 2008

Seminar presentation 6/11/08

I was invited to speak in the School of Education‘s research seminar series. Planning the slides linked here has told me that I am far from certain about my research questions!

Rhizomatic Education

31 October 2008

In this article Cormier discusses the ways in which the curriculum may need to change to reflect the new ways in which knowledge is constructed – through networks and communities of learners, as opposed to the traditional model of content transmitted by teachers. There is one reference to assessment where Cormier looks at how the traditional assessment is against that content.

To quote the article

“Information is the foundation of knowledge. The information in any given field consists of facts and figures, such as may be found in the technical reference manuals of learning; in a nonrhizomatic model, individual experts translate information into knowledge through the application of checks and balances involving peer review and rigorous assessment against a preexisting body of knowledge. The peers and experts are themselves vetted through a similar sanctioning process that is the purview, largely, of degree-granting institutions. This process carries the prestige of a thousand-year history, and the canon of what has traditionally been considered knowledge is grounded in this historicity as a self-referential set of comparative valuations that ensure the growth of knowledge by incremental, verified, and institutionally authorized steps. In this model, the experts are the arbiters of the canon. The expert translation of data into verified knowledge is the central process guiding traditional curriculum development.”

The other side of the coin is not discussed but I suspect that in the new ‘rhizomatic’ (and I’m no biologist so the metaphor is lost on me) model has peer and expert assessment. It’s the old thing about how do we know something is good – often because it is valued by those who need to use it (predictive validity as per the discussion at Cambridge – value <=> validity).

Linked from ERN (George Siemens)

Cormier, D (2008) Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum in Innovate, 4, 5, July 2008 [online] available at http://innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=550&action=article accessed 31/10/08

Digital Disconnect

29 October 2008

This from Ray Tolley on the Naace mailing list http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/index.cfm?i=55665

The ‘digital disconnect’ is alive and well… “kids tell us they power down to come to school.”

More on methodology – the marketing approach

26 October 2008

I wrote recently about the methodology of triple hermeneutics as described by Alvesson and Stöcklund and how it might be relevant to my work. The trail that led to this started with my director of studies’ suggestion that I look at the world of marketing in respect of how it deals with perceptions. This has now led to the writing of  Chisnall (2005). Sure enough in the chapter on “Basic Techniques” there is a discussion of the place of reliability and validity in qualitative and attitude research . I quite like this word ‘attitude’. It helps frame a question ‘What is the attitude‘ of 16-year olds to ICT capability and its assessment. Chisnall says

“The measurement of behavioural factors such as attitudes… has been attempted by a variety of techniques… the ones that are the most reliable and valid from a technical viewpoint generally being the most difficult… to apply” (p234).

Oh well!

Validity for Chisnall consists of content, concurrent and construct validity – so fairly conventional there. One would have expected face validity to be mentioned too, perhaps. He also cites a pamphlet (sic) by Bearden et al (1993) that describes some 124 scales for measuring such things in the field of marketing, consumer behaviour and social research.

Bearden, W, Netemeyer, R & Mobley, M (1993), Handbook of marketing scales: Multi-item measures for marketing and consumer behaviour research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage (in conjunction with the ACR).

Chisnall, P (2005), Marketing research (7th ed). NY: McGraw Hill.

Sir Mike Tomlinson lecture

22 October 2008

Sir Mike Tomlinson, chair of the working group on 14-19 reform that led to the 2003 Tomlinson Report, came to NTU today to give the RSA Shipley Lecture. This year the lecture was also a memorial to former NTU and RSA stalwart Anne Bloomfield. The subject, dear to her heart and to Sir Mike’s, was “Vocational education should be a rounded education“.

With the backdrop of the history of attempted introductions of vocational education (the 1944 Butler Education Act with its tripartite system, TVEI, GNVQs, Curriculum 2000 and Diplomas), Tomlinson argued for the move away from debates about ‘parity of esteem’ towards a view of the ‘credibility and value’ of qualifications. Echoes here of the value and validity arguments of Monday’s seminar at Cambridge.

It was also notable that the lecture included issues of how ‘true’ vocational education must have

  • relevance to 16-year olds (face validity),
  • a knowledge base that is used in, and applied to, occupational areas – however broadly drawn (validty determined by use, not by the test itself)
  • a theoretical content balanced with sector-based skills (content validity)

Again this echoes with Monday. Another thread running through was the role of assessment (systems) in undermining the vocational educational initiatives – TVEI assessment becoming ‘traditional’, GNVQ assessment being changed to equate to GCSE/A level, key skills being decoupled from GNVQs, Curriculum 2000’s insistence on equal numbers of units per qualification with a convergence of assessment types.

Also mentioned, although not in the same sense of ‘undermining’ was the persistence of the BTEC model and the way that NVQs were never envisaged to be other than accreditation mechanisms for on the job training.

The BTEC model of occupational credibility and general education was the model that was paramount in the description of vocational education with the caveat ‘what is general education’?

Throughout I was wondering where ICT fits into all this. Never mentioned as a ‘subject’ nor even as a ‘skill’ it was conspicuous by its absence. It is, of course, present in the specialised diplomas and as a functional skill although the former may be bedevilled by the wide diversity of the sector it is serving, I fear.

Tomlinson was upbeat about the Diplomas but focused especially on the need to get a true progression from level 1 through to 3. The custom of level 1 being what you get if you fail level 2 (GCSE grades D-G rather than A*-C) must not be repeated he urged. Also the need to get level 2 threshold systems so that learners who do not reach that threshold at , I would say the magical (and arbitrary, age of 16 could do so by subsequent credit points accumulation – rather than ‘repeating GCSEs’, a model that doesn’t serve well, he argued.

Another hour of useful insights.

Cambridge Assessment seminar

21 October 2008

I attended  a seminar, on the subject of validity, one of a series of events run by Cambridge Assessment (CA). It was led by Andrew Watts from CA.

This was extremely informative and useful, challenging my notions of assessment. As the basis for his theoretical standpoint Andrew used these  texts 

  • Brennan, R (2004), Educational Measurement (4th edition). Westport, CT: Greenwood
  • Downing, S (2006) Twelve Steps for Effective Test Development in Downing, S and Haldyna, T (2006) Handbook of TEst Development. NY: Routledge
  • Gronlund, N (2005), Assessment of Student Achievement (8th edition). NY: Allyn and Bacon [NB 9th edition (2008) now available by Gronlund and Waugh]

He also referred to articles published in CA’s Research Matters and used some of the IELTS materials as examplars. 

The main premise, after Gronlund, is that there is no such thing as a valid test/assessment per se. The validity is driven by the purposes of the test. Thus a test that may well be valid in one context may not be in another. The validity, he argued, is driven by the uses to which the assessment is put. In this respect, he gave an analagy with money. Money only has value when it is put to some use. The ntoes themselves are fairly worthless (except in the esoteric world of the numismatist). Assessments, analogously, have no validity until they are put to use.

Thus a test of English for entrance to a UK university (IELTS) is valid if, the UK university system validates it. Here then is the concept of consequential validity.  It is also only valid if it fits the context of those taking it. Here is the concept of face validity – the assessment must be ‘appealing’ to those taking it.

Despite these different facets of validity (and others were covered – predictive validity, concurrent validity, construct validity, content validity), Gronlund argues that validity is a unitary concept. This echoes Cronbach and Messick as discussed earlier. There is no validity without all of these facets I suppose would be one way of looking at this.

Gronlund also argues that validity cannot itself be determined – it can only be inferred. In particular, inferred from statements that are made about, and uses that are made of, the assessment.

The full list of chacteristics that were cited from Gronlund are that validity

  • is inferred from available evidence and not measured itself
  • depends on many different types of evidence
  • is expressed by degree (high, moderate, low)
  • is specific to a particular use
  • refers to the inferences drawn, not the instrument
  • is a unitary concept
  • is concerned with the consequences of using an assessment

Some issues arising for me here are that the purposes of ICT assessment at 16 are sometimes, perhaps, far from clear. Is it to certificate someone’s capability in ICT so that they may do a particular type of job, or have a level of skills for employment generally, or have an underpinning for further study or have general life skills, or something else, or all of these? Is ‘success’ in assessment of ICT at 16 a necessary pre requisite for A level study? For entrance to college? For employment? 

In particular I think the issue that hit me hardest was – is there face validity: do the students perceive it as a valid assessment (whatever ‘it’ is).

One final point – reliability was considered to be an aspect of validity (scoring validity in the ESOL framework of CA).

KS3 SATS scrapped in England

16 October 2008

This somewhat unexpected announcement was made this week. Tests for 14 year olds in maths, English and science have been scrapped. Given that many schools start their GCSE/level 2 courses at 13 now, especially in ICT, this might change radically the ways in which the middle years of secondary are organised. It may also affect students’ perceptions of assessment as they will not have had those high stakes external tests at 14.

Tutorial part 2

16 October 2008

I had a tutorial (by telephone) today with the other part of my supervisory team. An interesting model emerges that develops the earlier one:

What emerged was a clarity of vision: I am looking at

A how year 11 students perceive ICT capability and
B how the assessment system (at 16) perceives it.

My project is to define the difference between A and B and to suggest ways in which the two may be aligned.

What now emerges is the more sophisticated notion of a number of views of what ICT capability is, with some sort of Heideggeran absolute at the intersection. Thus there may be four views of what ICT capability is:

  • the view of the awarding bodies
  • the view of the students
  • the view of the education system (policy)
  • the observed view from research

Is there also then a Heideggeran absolute, autonomous view somewhere in the intersection of all these?

We also talked about the notions of perception and interpretation of the students view and came down to the question: How authentic and relevant does assessment feel to students? This, of course, has limitations as due to precisely because of the hermeneutical considerations of it the students’ view.

Building on the notion of the abstract view that would define assessment of ICT in absolute terms (and my stance which rejects this in favour of the diversity of views listed above), we then talked about the importance of the social cultural view in which students’ interpretations are coloured by their class, peer groups, families etc.

One final concept is the emergence of literature on assessment as learning and how the ‘teaching to the tests’ means that students are spoon fed and do not learn beyond the framework of assessment.

Connectivism and serendipity

14 October 2008

In looking around for thoughts on Husserl I came across the WordPress blog ‘Between Husserl and Heidegger‘ – a blog as an adjunct to a taught face-to-face course. On clicking on one of the tags (Husserl) I was surprised to see a link to a post in another blog about connectivism. This is the theory of learning espoused by two of the leading lights in the technology and learning arena – George Siemens and Stephen Downes.

The surprise was not that this should turn up in a search (although the link to Husserl is pretty tenuous through a quoted marginalia). Rather it is the subject of an online course that one of my colleagues is attending and blogging about at this very time. Is that serendipity, coincidence or reticular activation?

Is that a milestone?

14 October 2008

So another day’s study leave – another 3000 words or so committed to ‘paper’… at least when it is printed out it makes a thud on the desk!

This month I have restarted the PhD, many things have happened to enable this… a colleague reported that she will finish during this year… a research cluster meeting has signed me up to present a paper at  seminar (maybe I need to sign up for the one at ITTE in Cambridge too!)… I have booked the aforementioned study leave and set some targets (pretty basic ones like ‘write something proper’ but I now have 17000 proper words – although I am under no illusion: about half of them will probably go before I’m done)… I have restarted tutorials… I have built this PhD into my performance development review targets… I’m doing a different job, which seems to suit better… I am supervising three other candidates and see the process from the other side… all good… for now!

Putting the Ph into the PhD?

14 October 2008

I have been struggling this week with the concept of ‘perception‘. After a tutorial my focus was on how I might apporach the capture and analysis of students’ ‘perceptions‘ about assessment. This word has been quite fundamental to my description of the research. In the tutorial, we got talking about marketing theories and perceptual analysis as a method in that discipline.

Needless to say I know little about marketing. So what is the perceptual analysis? It has proved an elusive hunt but I have travelled over some interesting territory. One laden with ontological considerations and debate.

First there is the hermeneutics of Husserl and Heidegger. For one the importance of the existence of the objects  of consciousness ONLY in the way in which they are perceived by the consciousness, for the other the autonomy of such objects irrespective of the sense we bestow on them. This perception is then reported linguistically and Wittgenstein’s concept of the language game filters any such sense.

Then there is the triple hermeneutics of Alvesson and Sköldberg (2000). Hermeneutics – the analysis of interpration, double hermeneutics – the analysis of interpreted interpretation (the dual lenses of researcher and respondent), triple hermeneutics – the analysis of interpreted interpretation and the context behind that interpretation (the three lenses of researcher, respondent and context).

Lowe et al (2005) propose a 4th hermeneutic in the context of marketing (and that was how I came in) but I am not sure yet how this applies!

Finally, and most pragmatically (*), Conroy (2003) examines interpretive phenomenology (or rather re examines it) and develops a  methodology and methods for doing something fairly similar to what I am proposing, albeit in the context of nursing (the usual context for this approach, it seems). Here is a model that I need to examine and critique for its use in my study as I move towards the primary research phase.

And in this phrase – interpretive phenomenology – hides the word I have been meaning when I have said perception: it is interpretation. So not ‘what is a student’s perception of….’ but what is a student’s interpretation of…’ The problem is, you see, that perception has a particular meaning in this philosophical arena. I had to go down the false road of Arnold Berleant to realise it… Thanks are due here to my colleague Kev Flint…

I have a fair chunk of literature review written, I have many ideas about methodology and method. Now is the time to crystallize this and move on to ‘action’. My director of studies agrees and this ‘permission’ is what I have been waiting for…

(*) pragmatic in the the sense of being related to action… but actually very philosophical in nature

History of assessment

14 October 2008

Blindingly obvious I guess, but nevertheless not a field I have mined much. “History of assessment” needto be a significant contextual filter for my research.

I am attending some of the seminars of the Cambridge Assessment Network as and when I can (Kathryn Ecclestone on Ofqual, Harry Torrance on Policy and Practice). There are others that I have been unable to attend but would like to have done. Fortunately useful overviews such as this one from Helen Patrick are often put online.

MUPPLE (Mashup and PLE)

14 October 2008

This report (Wild, Kalz and Palmer, 2008) on the proceedings of the first conference on Mashups and Personal Learning Environments (MUPPLE) is interesting to me for the underlying concepts.

While it is necessarily focused on the technological developments that have allowed mash ups to become part of users’ armoury, there is an interesting parallel (explicit in the title but maybe less so in the content) with learning. As more tools become available learners are able to combine them (mash them up) for their own purposes. Personalisation of the curriculum is another parallel and these all have interesting consequences for assessment and for learners perception of capability. If someone appropriates tools for their own use are they, de facto, demonstrating high levels of ICT capability?

Becta report into Web 2.0

6 October 2008

Becta have published a research report (Crook & Harrison, 2008) on use of Web 2.0 by learners, teachers, at home, in school etc. This statement in the summary caught my eye:

Pupils feel a sense of ownership and engagement when they publish their work online and this can encourage attention to detail and an overall improved quality of work. Some teachers reported using publication of work to encourage peer assessment.

Where is the use of these tools in extrenal assessment? Come to that, where is the use of peer assessment in external assessment.

Also noticeable is the emergence of yet another Rogers’ adoption curve – with the earley adopters being the young ones etc… is this true? DO teachers really not use Web 2.0 tools? How does that square with the quote above? It is borne out in the research of Solheim (2007,  which cites OfCOM’s 2006 statistic of 40% of ‘adults’ having used social networking sites*, compared to 70% of 16-24 year olds and Comscore’s 2007 finding that over half (1.3 million) of Facebook’s new users in the previous year were 25 or older.

* OfCOM’2 2008 report tates that ‘only’ 21% have ‘set up a profile’ on such sites.

Comscore (2007), Facebook sees flood of new traffic [online] available at http://www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=1519 accessed 06/10/08

Crook, C and Harrison, C (2008)  Web 2.0 Technologies for Learning at Key Stages 3 and 4: Summary Report, Becta [online] available at http://schools.becta.org.uk/upload-dir/downloads/page_documents/research/web2_ks34_summary.pdf accessed 06/10/08

Ofcom (2006), The communications market. [online] available at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/cm/cm06/ accessed 06/10/08

Ofcom (2008),The communications market report, [online] available at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/cm/cmr08/ accessed 06/10/08

Solheim, H (2007) Digital Natives versus Higher Education: who is ready for whom, MSc dissertation, University of Southampton.

Theories of motivation and assessment of ICT – some questions

2 October 2008

One of the books that I have cherished in this process is Tombari and Borich’s on Authentic Assessment in the Classroom (1999). I have returned to it to analyse their categorisation of theories of motivation and used this to generate some questions that may be useful in data collection.

Attribution theory

How do students perceive success in ICT tasks and what do they attribute that success to?

Self-efficacy theory

How do students see their ICT capability and where does that view comes from?

Goal theory

What assumptions, if any, does ICT assessment make of students goal-theory characteristics and how do students themselves view their capacity to succeed?

Taxonomy of difficulties in the assessment of ICT

2 October 2008

This paper, from the Assessment in Education Unit at Leeds, is again bang on the line of what I am doing. Albeit that they are looking at the KS3 onscreen ICT tests (the AEU were commissioned as part of the evaluation of that project). Nevertheless there are some very pertinent analyses of the didfficulties students, and the system, encounter in assessment of ICT. For example

… sources of difficulty that relate to the subject being assessed. The assessment of ICT brings particular risks. As McFarlane (2001) points out, assessment of ICT capability need not in itself be computer-based, but as in this case it was, the sources of difficulty in our set that are associated with this aspect all relate also to on-screen assessment, e.g.

Pupils know enough to succeed in the tasks without using ICT for all the steps.

The demands in the interaction between tasks and software on short-term memory and organisational skills are greater than the level of ICT capability that is being assessed.

Activity theory and ICT

2 October 2008

Now that the new academic year is under way, and I am in a new job (again) I hope to be able to crack on with this project. If not.. well I need to decide one way or the other.

Anyway, I am in the middle of three days study leave and ma busily writing up what I have so far. In doing so I have also come across some useful things which I will include here.

Firstly a paper from the School of Education conference at Leeds University by Aisha Walker. This makes some interesting links between activity theory and attainment in ICT and provides a model that may be useful when I come to look at the data colleection and analysis. 

The title “What does it mean to be good at ICT” really caught my eye. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

Net Gen Nonsense

8 June 2008

Net Gen Nonsense

I came across this blog via George Siemens’ elearnspace ERN newsletter. It provides a balance (if not a balanced) to counter the oft made assertions about the generation of younger learners who are completely net-savvy, digital natives etc. I also came across similar balancing statements in a dissertation I have just examined… I’ll need to get the references!

A three axis model

1 May 2008

Taking the ideas from the previous post and putting them into a diagram I get this

Some assessment uses ICT (or technology) – this is e-assessment (x axis).

Some assessment is designed to assess ICT capability (y axis).

Elliott’s Assessment 2.0 seems to be using ICT, not as e-assessment, but as a medium for allowing judgement to be made about the ICT capability (z axis).

Now of course, analysing any one particular assessment methodology one could locate it in this three-dimensional space. for example:

A traditional written paper would be on the y-axis. The NAA online assessment activities designed for KS3 would be in the space between all three axes (with perhaps a lower y- and z-values than x-value. Coursework would have an x-value of 0 but would have some components of y and z. Online assessments such as the driving test would be on the x-axis.

My questions here are “Where is the highest validity”? and “Where is the highest reliability?”. How does one use Elliott’s Assessment 2.0 to determine success in a certificated qualification?

Elliott (2008) Assessment 2.0

1 May 2008

Much as I dislike the nomenclature (Assessment 2.0), I found this paper by Bobby Elliott (and thanks to my colleague Bruce Nightingale and the ALT newsletter for bring the name to my attention) illuminating on many levels. Firstly here was someone making the links between theways in which technology is reportedly used by young people and the ways it could be used for technology. Secondly the author works for a government agency – the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Is this evidence of policymakers thoughts are changing to embrace the vicarious ways in which evidence of learning can be presented by technological opportunity?

My thoughts return though to the Macfarlane distinction between assessment of technology (eg the ICT curriculum) and assessment through technology (ie the methodology). This paper by Elliott seems to be moving a little away from the latter and perhaps towards the former. But perhaps, also, it is defining a third axis – assessment of technological capability through evidence presented through that technology. Maybe it is asking the question ‘What should be assessing?’ (ie the curriculum) rather than ‘How should we assess it’ (the methodology). But more than that it is saying can we assess the ‘what’ through the ‘how’.

The impressive list of tools that may be used for evidence presenting (and assessment) in Elliott’s paper also underlines my sceptcism of a one size fits all technological solution to assessment. And when I look down that list I am reminded of surveys presented by Terry Freedman (at a TDA conference in Nov 07) and others that show that young people’s use of tools is very diverse and very thinly spread. It is also very transient – MySpace here today gone tomorrow.

The very tool that Elliott uses to present his iPaper may well be a case in point. What if an awarding body decided Scribd was the thing to use. How long before it becomes the sliced bread superceded by the next best thing? How do we build in agility for assessment so that it does not become an exercise in rewarding the fashionable? (as opposed to the current system which rewards the old-fashionable).

PS Yes it’s been a long time… Higher Education management – ie my temporary role for 07/08 – and PhDs don’t easily mix… but I know that is also my excuse… and I’m sticking to it…

Two reports on usage of media/online tools

13 September 2007

This week’s eLearning Resources and News from George Siemens draws attention to two recent reports.

Firstly from Deloitte a report on ‘media democracy in the US‘. (PDF)

71% of 13-24s read content created by others, with 56% claiming to be creators of online content.

Secondly, and more enlightening, a report from the US National School Boards’  Association (CREATING & CONNECTING//Research and Guidelines on Online Social — and Educational — Networking ) looks at the use of online tools by teens. It has a section on the educational uses of social netowrking – 59% report they use such channels for learning purposes.

It identifies 31% of teens as being non-conformists. Those who break rules (or maybe conventions) on access and safety. These non-conformists lead the way in creation, sharing and networking online.

Also interesting were the stats that show almost universal expectations across board districts that students should use online sources for learning, while at the same banning networking and communication tools in school. And also an very low percentage of teens reporting having met someone face-to-face having first met them through the Internet (but maybe they just aren’t saying). Still a very interesting picture of the educational dimensions of social networking.

The context of use

25 July 2007

Reading the Futurelab report Beyond the Digital Divide: Rethinking digital inclusion for the 21st century (Selwyn and Facer, 2007) (1) I am struck by their exposition of a number of digital divides – beynd the ‘traditional’ one of access. In particular, there is the divide caused by a misalignment of the culture of the context in which ICT is being used.

This leads me to address the question: How can we assess the ICT capability of a person without assessing the mediating effect of the context and culture in which they are operating? In particular the context of the school and the education system.

To quote the report (p16) “If the wider cultural context of use (such as the workplace,  school or home) does not fi t well with the culture of the ICT application, then  use will not easily follow. As such ICT use is not just based on the individual  being able to ‘understand’ the potential benefi ts of ICT use, but how well  ICT-based activity ‘fi ts’ with the wider contexts within which they are  operating.”

(1) Selwyn, N and Facer, K (2007)  Beyond the Digital Divide: Rethinking digital inclusion for the 21st century, Bristol: Futurelab available online at http://www.futurelab.org.uk/resources/documents/opening_education/Digital_Divide.pdf accessed 25/07/07

Heppell on ICT, creativity and the need for systemic change

22 July 2007

In a discussion in the Naace online community (1), Stephen Heppell comments on the ever-changing nature of tools and the permanence of ICT as a force for creativity. His comments resonate with the ‘practice’ side of my model in the previous post and how it can be counter to the theory/system side.

Heppell reflects on young people’s changing usage of tools – MySpace is so yesterday, Facebook today, something else tomorrow. Further, he points out that young people never e-mail now. My step daughter added a different lens to this – they do e-mail but only when communicating with adults or when they are passing on links, files etc.

Some selected quotes from Heppell’s comments are posted here (reproduced from the posting to the Naace mailing list by permission of Stephen Heppell, they should not be reproduced without citing this context)

“Most efforts that I can remember to establish standards in educational ICT have failed. And that is no loss. They hold everything back … The whole world of ICT is so organic and changes so rapidly – one minute MySpace is cool, the next it’s where your grandad goes. Just as adults get their blackberries finally emailing to each other, so children have stopped emailing altogether (“it’s what your dad does..”). And so on.”

And then, on the need for systems and policy to match students’ ambitions:

“Systems are never ambitious for children. Children are, so are their teachers, parents and others are too, but without a shared vision of just how good all this can be, it all founders into a generation of coasting kids delivering on dull targets. If you word search the “Higher Standards, Better Schools For All” white paper for example you will find the word “creativity” is entirely absent, as indeed is the word “ingenuity”.

“[I , and others,] constantly see, and are delighted by, just how ambitious children can be for their learning – especially where it is mixed age, project based, over a decent length of time, shared and not capped in any way. We need to lock that ambition into policy.”

On students a leaders of learning

“Last week I was in a school working with a group of young secondary children who were busy designing a CPD workshop to bring their teachers up to speed with the cool things they might do on Facebook, with why poking isn’t rude any more, with Bebo and myArtSpace and YouTube Comments and so on. They were very sanguine about what their teachers needed to know and were in turn interested as to the ideas their teachers might have about using these new places and spaces in learning. There is a rich irony in imagining that down the corridor their teachers might have been busy parsing a policy document to plan the ICT curriculum for those same children!”

On the need for assessment ot be relevant to this debate:

“I think if Hollywood can measure satisfaction as people leave the rough cut of a movie (and then fund the re-shoot of an ending as with Pride and Prejudice in the US version) then we can measure creative esteem, ingenuity, delight, satisfaction and so on. All or any would be more helpful measures than cohort aggregate exam passes.”

On his related projects:

“Have a look at www.learnometer.net or indeed at www.heppell.net/doctoral if you want to see where I imagine all this will be going. The learnometer project is already under way.”

(1) Naace is the association for the advancement of ICT in education. Its community has a private mailing list from which these comments are drawn (they should not be reproduced without citing this context)

Futurelab (2006) Social software and learning

20 July 2007

I hadn’t come across this paper until today…

To quote from the executive summary…

“This paper is focused on exploring the inter-relationship between two key trends in the field of educational technologies. In the educational arena, we are increasingly witnessing a change in the view of what education is for, with a growing emphasis on the need to support young people not only to acquire knowledge and information, but to develop the resources and skills necessary to engage with social and technical change, and to continue learning throughout the rest of their lives. In the technological arena, we are witnessing the rapid proliferation of technologies which are less about ‘narrowcasting’ to individuals, than the creation of communities and resources in which individuals come together to learn, collaborate and build knowledge (social software). It is the intersection of these two trends which, we believe, offers significant potential for the development of new approaches to education. ”

These new approaches include those encapsulated in these quotes

“Today, the use of social software in education is still in its infancy and many actions will be required across policy, practice and developer communities before it becomes widespread and effective. From a policy perspective, we need to encourage the evolution of the National Curriculum to one which takes account of new relationships with knowledge, and we need to develop assessment practices which respond to new approaches to learning and new competencies we expect learners to develop.


“A rigid curriculum inhibits the development of the knowledge and skills that may be useful in the 21st century. If we are to promote the benefits of problem solving and collaboration then they need to be validated and legitimated by the assessment system. This is the greatest challenge for education policy.

There is some sort of mapping in my mind between the two trends identified in the first paragraph and the two aspects of my research.

The report has a change in the purpose of education and its interface with the change in technologies. I have the two views of ICT/assessment of ICT, (and maybe also views of the purpose of ICT in education). Putting these four onto a diagram I see that two are to do with system, theories etc and two are to do with learners, users, practice.


Future Forces and New School

2 July 2007

Derek Wenmoth has  recentlyposted two articles on his blog that have relevance to the area of my study.

Firstly, the reinvention of schooling in Knowsley – schools being replaced by learning centres with ‘rich tasks’ and enhanced possibilities of personalised learning. Does the very concept of school mitigate against the alignment of assessment with capability?

Secondly, the seemingly avant garde yet, in some way, strongly pragmatic map of future forces affecting education. Here the landscape of current trends and dilemmas is mapped out. Crucial for me are the aspects of schooling and the characteristics of “Generation Y” or “Millennials” (Howe and Strauss).

Reframing and a timeline!

26 June 2007

Following on from my tutorial at NTU I took the landscape to my ‘external advisor’, Peter Twining (of Schome fame). We spent an hour and a half in heated discussion. Heated to the extent that my brain fried but all very amicable! The outcomes were firstly a re-framing of my thoughts – and probably of my aims although that can wait for a while, and secondly a timeline for the project.

What emerged was a clarity of vision: I am looking at

A how year 11 students perceive ICT capability and
B how the assessment system (at 16) perceives it.

My project is to define the difference between A and B and to suggest ways in which the two may be aligned. This latter point, of a PhD thesis making recommendations, is one of the doctoral level learning outcomes that I hadn’t really paid attention to. Actually I hadn’t come across any of these outcomes before this month… I’ll post something about them if I can find an electronic copy or time to type them up!

I also came away with a timeline. The literature review that have embarked on will need to give way to a finding my way to a suitable methodology. This will require a change of focus of reading to look more at the methodology and methods I wish to adopt so that I may collect data in the coming academic year. Part of this discussion will be to look at the literature around ascertaining student’s perceptions and gathering the student voice.

I will also need to consider the impact of eliciting views from students in school situations as opposed to outside school. The choice of data collection instruments will also be subject to discussion – will interviews suffice, or will observation of their capability be necessary. It is likely that a piloting of a range of tools will be needed with a fuller data collection in 2008/09.

This data collection, together with the literature review, will yield information about A above. Further review of the literature, this time on policy, together with examination of assessment materials (exams, coursework assignments), will yield information on B and reveal the differences between them. This will then lead to the recommendation phase.

A rough timeline has been developed (click image to see it full size):


Whither my landscape in this simplified model? The landscape had four features – assessment, learning, policy and technology. These may be seen in the model, I believe:

  • assessment is in A and B
  • learning is in A
  • policy is in B
  • technology is in A and B

PDPs, training and support for research degree students – the Anglia model

19 June 2007

My previous post was with Anglia Polytechnic (now Anglia Ruskin) University. While there I served on the Education Faculty’s research degrees committee (RDC) and also attended the University RDC. One of the things that I was involved in was early steps to develop the use of personal development planning (PDP) tools.  It is interesting to revisit this two years later on their website “Planning your research training”

I was reminded of this by discussions at the PhD supervisors’ course at my current employer (Nottingham Trent University). There is a need for us to look at this aspect of PhD support and guidance we felt.

The APU (ARU) materials came were stimulated by papers from UKGrad. Their website contains a PDP database that lists many other case studies on the development of such support and training.

General Teaching Council report calls for no school tests for under-16s

11 June 2007

Call to ban all school tests for under-16s | UK News | The Observer (10 June 2007)

“All national exams should be abolished for children under 16 because the stress caused by over-testing is poisoning attitudes towards education, according to an influential teaching body.

In a remarkable attack on the government’s policy of rolling national testing of children from the age of seven, the General Teaching Council is calling for a ‘fundamental and urgent review of the testing regime’. In a report it says exams are failing to improve standards, leaving pupils demotivated and stressed and encouraging bored teenagers to drop out of school.”

Demotivation, stress and, crucially for my work , poisoned attitudes. Will year 11s thoughts on the validity of assessment at 16 be coloured by their experience of testing (and other assessment) pre-16. Fairly inevitable I should think…

Innovate – NetGeneration

6 June 2007

Innovate – June/July 2007 Volume 3, Issue 5

The latest issue of the online journal has more articles on the “Net generation”.  Of particular interest, perhaps is the small scale ethnographic research of Lohnes and Kinzer who  found that college students still see education as being about face to face contact with teachers even thought they see ICT-mediated commuication tools as essential parts of their everyday lives.


31 May 2007

Had the tutorial this morning, and very helpful it was too. What emerges is a landscape.

It would seem that I have four key concepts – assessment, learning, policy and technology. Each of these informs the landscape. We talked about the need to paint this landscape and then draw out the salient features of it that inform my research questions. In the foreground of all of this is the learner perception/construct of their learning in ICT and the way in which it is assessed. Lurking over the landscape like some cloud is the thorny question – what is ICT anyway. This provides another theme which filters the light and colours the landscape.

Maybe I need to paint a picture.

We also talked about what the research is not about, and how that needs to be explained in my writing. In particular e-assessment – while a hot topic, it is not something that is especially relevant to my aims and less relevant still to the students I’ll be researching into as they won’t have had any e-assessment (probably).

Then there is the nature of ICT (the cloud above) and of assessment itself. We talked a lot about the so-called problem of ICT assessment at 16 being too easy in that it just assesses what people know rather than what was learnt in school. Actually I don’t see this as a problem. I think we need to look at our assessment and accreditation system to ensure it is fit for purpose (and valid). Why shouldn’t we give accreditation students who can demonstrate the four pillars of knowledge, understanding, attributes and skills at the appropriate level. Does it have to be only accreditation of the value added by schools.

This then led to another picture – a continuum going from the individual at one end, through family, friends, peers, teachers, schools to the education system itself. Each of my four features might have dimensions in each of these.

And the landscape metaphor has broken down… no picture needed perhaps!

14000 words

29 May 2007

I’m  minded of the thermometers you get outside churches, promoting their tower repair funds. You know the ones that show how much has been raised by a red blob creeping up a scale in the style of old style temperature measuring devices.

I’ve a tutorial this week and so felt obliged to get my literature review into some semblance of order. Currently there are 14 000 words. Unlike the fund raising gauge, though, I suspect this will fall before long as I cut out the bits that are not contributing to the thesis. 

Still it is good to look at that little word count at the bottom of Word and see six digits.

One thing that is taking shape is the concept map – now turned into chapter titles.

1.    Personal reflections
2.    Students’ construction of their learning
3.    Policy
4.    Technologies for learning
5.    Assessment
6.    Learning

These are how they emerged. I guess a better sequence might be

1.   Learning
2.    Assessment
3.    Policy
4.    Technologies for learning
5.    Students’ construction of their learning
6.    Personal reflections

This way the story builds up to chapter 5. After this will come the definitive statement of research questions and then the primary research with the students themselves. So far three schools have come on board and would be willing to have me interview students in the next academic year.

Once this is all done (!) I see the thesis structure to be developing like this

1.     Introduction, rationale etc
2.    Learning
3.    Assessment
4.    Policy
5.    Technologies for learning
6.    Students’ construction of their learning
7.    Statment of research questions
8.    Methodology
9.    Methods
10.  Analysis of data
11.   Findings
12.  Conclusion: the thesis
13.   Personal reflections

This will give me something to talk about on Thursday at the tutorial!

Article for ITTE Newsletter

11 April 2007

I wrote an article for the latest edition of the ITTE newsletter. Entitled Weblogs, PhDs and Google-generated concept lists it reflects on the process of doing a PhD. In particular issues of using a weblog and the way in which links to the log might help generate a concept map of my reading.

Innovate – The Net Generation issue

5 April 2007

Innovate – April/May 2007 Volume 3, Issue 4

Welcome to the April/May issue of Innovate. Over the last twenty years, a new generation of students has started to appear, first in our K-12 schools and more recently in our colleges and universities. Known as the Net Generation, this is a generation that has grown up with video games, computers, and the Internet. The expectations, attitudes, and technological fluency of this new generation present both a challenge and an opportunity for educators. In this special issue of Innovate, we examine how educators and educational systems can respond to the challenge and leverage the opportunity.

Becta publish Emerging technologies for learning (vol 2)

31 March 2007

Becta – Emerging technologies for learning

These publications consider how emerging technologies may impact on education in the medium term.

They are not intended to be a comprehensive review of educational technologies, but offer some highlights across the broad spectrum of developments and trends. They highlight some of the possibilities that are developing and the potential for technology to transform our ways of working, learning and interacting over the next three to five years.
Emerging technologies for learning

This publication includes the chapters:

* Emerging trends in social software for education (PDF 470KB, Lee Bryant, Headshift)
* Learning networks in practice (PDF 508KB, Stephen Downes, NRC)
* The challenge of new digital literacies and the ‘hidden curriculum’ (PDF 385KB, Jo Twist, ippr)
* How to teach with technology: keeping both teachers and students comfortable in an era of exponential change (PDF 311KB, Marc Prensky)
* Games in education (PDF 596KB, Keri Facer, Futurelab; Tim Dumbleton, Becta)
* Ubiquitous computing (PDF 866KB, David Ley, Becta)

Pupil voice

29 March 2007

So what of my aim about personal constructs of learning?

I had an interesting meeting about some research into undertaken by Barry Mearns, ICT consultant with Leicestershire’s School Improvement Service. The stimulus for his work was the latest round of subject leader development meetings and his belief (with which I wholeheartedly concur) that pupils (or students) have much to tell us about the way in which learning and teaching is organised. The students that Barry interviewed are currently in year 10 ICT groups in a county 14-19 college and there is an opportunity here for me to build on this in my future research by talking to the same students next year. Thanks to Roy Roberts at the college for making the connection for me.

This notion of “pupil voice” is becoming increasingly visible in teacher development activities that I come across. Initially with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and now with the DfES.

Looking on the DfES’ research informed practice (TRIPS) website I see that Pupil Voice is an emerging strand in the literature also. Some findings from the papers ther are given below. The first with its comment about constructivism is interesting itself. Maybe there is something here about the climate in the particular classes? Was uncertainty not a feature students expected n the mathematics classes investigated? How generalisable is there claim, given its surprising nature.

Dorman and Adams (2004) concluded “that teachers need to ensure their classrooms are high quality teaching and learning environments. Student confidence was likely to be raised in classrooms characterised by high levels of co-operation, harmony, genuine teacher support, student cohesiveness, task orientation and equity. Teachers who dwelt on student failures rather than helping them to build progression and who created an environment characterised by competition and conflict did not improve levels of student confidence.”

They went on to say that “Two particular concepts have been found in other research to have a positive effect on student learning. The first is constructivism, in which students make sense of the world by linking new ideas to understandings they have already built up. The second is pupil dialogue, which proposes that pupils develop their understanding through discussion. There is a broadly accepted view that constructivist learning environments support academic efficacy. So the researchers were surprised that their results showed little variation in student academic efficacy that could be accounted for by the … scales specifically intended to look at constructivist classrooms.

One possible explanation, proposed by the researchers, is “that constructivism is concerned with critical thinking and higher order learning, whereas academic efficacy concerns one’s ability to perform specific academic tasks. They suggest that it is feasible that constructivism engenders a degree of uncertainty which, in a traditional school system which values certainty, could create a loss of confidence in students. “

Whitehead and Clough (2004) “set out to explore the views of students on the factors which they thought helped or hindered their learning. The 139 Year 8 pupils came from two schools in an EAZ. In this first stage report, the researchers found that students preferred learning activities which enabled them to work in friendship groups through practical work and discussion with peers. Many students disliked whole class work. They were motivated by a variety of factors, including future prospects. 80% of pupils identified poor behaviour by others as the main factor hindering their learning. The research found the majority of pupils responded positively to being consulted about their learning environment.”

McIntyre et al (2005) “found considerable agreement between pupils in their views of teaching and learning. They preferred lessons that were less teacher-led and appreciated interactive teaching that gave them ownership of their learning. They also wanted more opportunities to collaborate with their peers.”

Elsewhere, a study by Cresswell et al (2006) for the NCSL looks at the links between personalisation (or flexibility as they conclude it to be) of the 14-19 curriculum. Here they cite the importance of pupil voice and the key role played by applied qualifications, including ICT, in leveraging personalisation.

Cresswell, L et al (2006) Personalising the curriculum at 14–19, NCSL Research Associate report available online at http://www.ncsl.org.uk/media/DC1/F7/personalising-the-curriculum-14-19.pdf accessed March 2007

Dorman, J. and Adams, J., (2004) Associations between students’ perceptions of classroom environment and academic efficacy in Australian and British secondary schools in Westminster Studies in Education, Vol. 27, No. 1, April 2004

McIntyre D et al (2005), What can teachers learn from listening to their pupils? in Research Papers in Education, 20 (2) pp. 149-168

Whitehead, J. and Clough, N. (2004), Pupils, the forgotten partners in Education Action Zones in Journal of Education Policy Vol. 19, No. 2, March 2004

QCA annual report on ICT for 2005/06

25 March 2007

QCA  have published their annual report on ICT (and other subjects) as part of their “monitoring the curriculum” exercise. The outputs from this report will (or at least should) influence their review of the secondary curriculum. The report formed part of the basis of this BBC article

Some key points in my reading of the report:

The aims of the national curriculum:

  • There is a clear recognition (by schools) of the potential of ICT to help develop pupils’ enjoyment of, and commitment to, learning.
  • Almost half of year 8 said that they enjoyed ICT compared with only 14 per cent who said that they disliked it.
  • More than a quarter of teacher disagree that the PoS ‘helps give pupils the opportunity to be creative, innovative and enterprising’ supporting previous findings that a significant amount of ICT learning and teaching continues to focus on elementary application of basic skills.
  • QCA believes that there are enormous possibilities in ICT for creativity, enquiry and innovation and the secondary curriculum review has enabled us to bring this to the forefront in the ICT programme of study (PoS). However, there may be additional barriers to using ICT in this way in schools and this needs further investigation.


  • There is work still to be done to assist teachers with assessing ICT. Schools  say they need teacher assessment guidelines/materials for assessing pupils’ progress and continued professional development.
  • QCA has recommended that the on-screen key stage 3 test should be rolled out on a non-statutory basis, but will work to develop the test as a formative assessment tool to support teaching and learning.
  • In the survey of year 8 pupils, nearly a third of pupils felt that the level of ICT work they were being given was too easy.

Questions particular to ICT

  • There remains a lack of consistency and coherence in the ICT qualifications currently on offer, which is unhelpful for users and employers.
  • Although uptake of ICT qualifications continues to rise, enquiries to QCA indicate that for some schools the choice of qualification is made on the basis of points for league tables rather than on the appropriateness of the qualification to the learner.
  • QCA has commissioned an in-depth research probe into the qualifications offered in schools and the progression routes offered post-16. For example, if, at A level, more than 45 per cent of pupils are deciding not to continue with ICT at A2 because of their poor results at AS, it would be useful to find out the prior qualifications of those pupils who decide not to continue or whether there are other factors involved.

DfES “Making Good Progress” report

25 March 2007

This is the report that the previous post refers to… and here is an apposite quote…

A key part of the pilot is to try new approaches to
assessing when pupils are ready for moving ahead.
That judgement will of course come initially from the
teacher, but pilot schools will use external tests to
validate teacher assessments, and provide a clearer
benchmark by which parents and pupils can
measure progress. The pilot schools will identify
pupils in the relevant key stage whom they believe
are at or close to achieving a full level of progress,
who would be likely to pass a “test for progress” in
December 2007 (and at six-monthly intervals
thereafter). That decision would be discussed and
agreed with pupils, and involving parents to the
fullest possible extent.

If this is the policy for pre-14 what is the concomitant for 14-19? How does this square with the threat to the Diplomas (which seem to provide much of this flexibility – albeit with ’employers’ added into the last sentence).

Are school tests on their way out?

25 March 2007

BBC NEWS | Education | Are school tests on their way out?
Something extraordinary seems to be happening to school tests in England.

It could be the most radical change since the tests began in the early 1990s, when they were still called Sats.

Yet this is a “softly, softly” revolution. The tests appear to be on their way out, at least in the form we know them today. But ministers do not want to give the impression they are easing up on accountability.

Meanwhile others keep letting the cat out of the bag. This week it was the turn of the head of the examinations watchdog, Ken Boston.

He suggested that national tests for all pupils could be phased out within three years and replaced by a test taken by just a small sample of pupils, sufficient to give a national picture of education standards.

Also reported in the Guardian and elsewhere … including this with some “firefighting” comment by the DfES

TALL blog Some real data on Web 2.0 use

24 March 2007

TALL blog » Blog Archive » Some real data on Web 2.0 use

Results of a survey into the use of Web 2.0 tools in FE and HE (via Derek Wenmoth)

The relatviely low use of these tools (except for Wikipedia), despite their hype and evangelistic use by a few, seems to concur with my infromal findings at HE level. It will be interesting to see what it’s like for 16-year olds…

Diplomas may go horribly wrong

20 March 2007

The BBC report Alan Johnson’s message to the Association of School and College Leaders with the headline  “Diplomas may go horribly wrong“. If horribly wrong means that  they won’t bring parity of opportunity and esteem then I guess he’s right. The Telegraph report has it that they are being scrapped post-16. So just as we prepare for another attempt to make the curriculum relevant then the goalposts are moved…