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.


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.

Demos (2007): four characteristics of informal learning

18 January 2007

The Demos report  identify groupings of young people. Those that regularly use instant messaging, text messaging and online spaces to interact with peers are classified as ‘everyday communicators’. Those that adopt new technologies and are comfortable with a wide range of technologies are known as ‘digital pioneers’. I have no problem with the latter although I wonder whether the first is a causal or effectual label. Are they ‘everyday communicators’ because the technology enables them to communicate everyday? Or are they using the technology for communication because communicate is what they do – with or without technology?

In other words  what is the driver – their need for communication or their ‘digital native’ ability to use technology?

Taking the digital pioneers, the report then identifies four characteristics of their informal learning: self-motivation ownership, purpose and peer-to-peer communication. The last  being common to the other group, who are not identified as pioneers.

Taking out of context of the report these are fairly unremarkable. We learn best when we are self motivated, take ownership and have a purpose. Maybe the difference here is in the ownership. Digital pioneers take ownership of the technology perhaps. They go beyond the everyday use, exploiting new techniques and resources. These are the ones who are comfortable in trying out new technological tools to develop their learning – often manifested through creative products such as multimedia. That, at least, would make a far more distinctive definition for me.

And how does this relate to assessment? Is there something in the notion of self-motivation and ownership that distinguishes the higher levels? In another guise this week I have been looking at final year undergraduate and first year postgraduate assessment criteria. Higher levels of achievement are marked by ‘autonomy’. What is this if it is not creativity borne out of self-motivation and ownership?

Demos (2007) on creativity

17 January 2007

Returning to the Demos report I see a weak if discernible thread running through it – the relationship between creativity and technology. Or, put another way, the ways in which technology supports or enhances creative skills.

The report cites earlier Demos research in which young people are asked to rank ‘life skills’ in order of importance. Creativity comes a ‘only the eighth most important’ (page 27). In considering the life skills a dichotomy is established between traditional skills for the knowledge economy and the newer skills developed through growing up with technology. These are equated, in some ways, to creativity – or at least to those needed for the creative industries (p 24). Further, when surveying parents, 47% of men and 40% of women believed that their children’s use of technology helped developed creativity.

What are these skills? One set in the report (p 23) looks at those related to the role of guildmaster in the game World of Warcraft. Here it lists those that are to do with group development, apprenticeship, group strategies and dispute management. It goes on to argue that these ‘soft skills’ cannot be pigeonholed into one (or more subjects) and that there is a false split between knowledge and skills.

On the other hand these creative skills can be harnessed in both formal and informal contexts so long as the school does not block of, or deny, the technology that is an everyday part of the learner’s lives. In doing so, I believe, there would be greater potential for the detachment of assessment of the skills and knowledge acquired through using technology from the assessment of them.

But what is creativity? The NACCCE report has a definition ‘imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value’ (1999:29). For me there is an interesting exploration here – is what is learnt in informal contexts more ‘imaginative’ and ‘original’ than in formal context, simply by its very nature? Or might that be the perception of learners and teachers?

Another angle on this comes in the Becta report by Twining et al (2006). Here the constraining nature of an assessment-led curriculum is seen as a barrier to creativity:

Assessment and curriculum are closely connected, and while there is little in the way of empirical research that indicates a clear link between the introduction of the National Curriculum and National Strategies and a reduction in risk taking in schools, there is substantial support for this view within the education community (Hacker and Rowe 1997; Harlen 2005; Harlen and Crick 2002; Black and Wiliam 1998). This is accompanied by advocacy of the need to adjust the curriculum and assessment to place greater emphasis on creativity and higher-level skills. The ‘thinning down’ of the National Curriculum in 2000 (DfEE 2000) and the introduction of the new Primary Strategy (DfES 2003), which place emphasis on creativity, suggest that a shift is occurring at least at the ‘lower’ end of the education system.

(page 56)

Twining P et al (2006) Educational change and ICT: an exploration of Priorities 2 and 3 of the DfES e-strategy in schools and colleges: The current landscape and implementation issue, Coventry: Becta

NACCCE (1999) All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education. London: DfEE/DCMS