tartanhare designed in Scotland

#EduScotICT

by David G Smith
Monday 10 October 2011

A month ago Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, Michael Russell MSP, recently posted a message on YouTube announcing a consultation into the future of GLOW. Just in case you missed it…

In one week there will be a conference in Stirling, with a mix of invited guests attending, with streaming of discussions for anyone to join/comment. There was even a wiki set up to elicit opinions and start the discussion going. I have to say the attitude is refreshingly progressive.

I am not sure I feel qualified or entitled to contribute to the debate. I first saw GLOW three years ago, and have bumped into it a few times since, but I have never had a GLOW account – and sadly I am not likely to in the future, but I will come to that later.

I can only scratch the surface here, but after a month of reading and occasional discussions, the following things occur to me…

Objective 1: Change the culture of the use of ICT

ICT skills need to be treated with the same importance and weight as numeracy and literacy. Until then pupils and teachers will not be expected to have the skills they require, and schools will not be expected to provide them.

Pupils need to be able to access the same resources at school as they can at home, and ideally on their own chosen device. It is ridiculous that a school would block YouTube (for example) when so many wonderful resources reside there, and when pupils can sit during lunch watching completely unfiltered content via their 3G smartphones.

Filtering, if it is to exist at all, needs to be implemented in a far more liberal way. Teachers need to be the arbiters of appropriateness of material, not technical staff or local authorities.

All this technology makes it really easy to share resources, and yet somehow it happens surprisingly rarely. The #EduScotICT wiki, as well as numerous individual blogs, is evidence that people can share, but it happens infrequently in a meaningful way. We have the opportunity to produce shared instructional materials and activities, and on top ofthat we can encourage debate and interaction with and beyond these.

Objective 2: Improve confidence in the use of ICT for learners, teachers, school leaders and parents

Expect competency from teachers and support learners (including teachers, leaders, and parents). We expect numeracy and literacy to a minimum level from our teachers, surely we should expect the same of their ICT skills. But, of course, support is needed to make sure that they can meet expectations. Training, exemplification, sharing, and encouragement – for all these learner groups).

Recognise a wider variety of skills. Can we please kill our obsession with Microsoft Office? Although we have to be careful not to replace that with an obsession with iPads. If you can demonstrate a skill, or an understanding, does it matter how you do so, or which tool you use? Let’s understand that people learn in different ways.

Be wary of qualifications. ECDL and PC Passport are formulaic approaches to delivering and assessing ICT skills, and if they fit your needs then that’s great. However, teacher training courses had ICT as a core skill a decade ago and yet still teachers are joining the profession lacking skills and confidence. A piece of paper is less effective than a commitment to share ideas and good practice.

Create national resources. Good resources. Resources to help all learners specifically with ICT skills, and more generally resources that teachers will want to use. If there are benefits to gaining ICT skills, people will be more likely to want to gain them.

Encourage the use of “personal learning networks”, whether via Twitter-like tools, forums, or blogs. Equally, encourage the same in the physical space. Teachmeet, in-school groups, area discussion groups, and national conferences. I am sure there are many more options available.

Objective 3: Promote new behaviours for teaching

I cannot really comment on this without thinking that the real issue is actually that we need to work out what we are going to teach and how we are going to assess it. But that’s another post.

I don’t think it’s about “new” behaviours so much as good practice, which must always have been at the forefront of any good teacher’s mind. Of course, with changes in technology, especially as it infiltrates further into schools, there will be a need to change teaching behaviours. But I hope that all good teacher would recognise that.

We also need to recognise that just because technology is an integral part of life, and increasingly school, does not mean that everything should be about the technology. But again, I am sort of hoping that this is a given.

Objective 4: Deepen parental engagement

All schools should go beyond the web site. And it might depend on the school, the parent population, and the currently prominent tools. But communication in a number of ways, from which parents can chose, seems a minimum.

Email. Twitter. Facebook. It really does not matter, except there should be multiple methods of communication, and new ones should be added as they become widespread. The parents should choose the one they want.

Open pupil records to parents (and pupils). Let them log in and see a pupil’s progress and current work. Give them a chance to discuss and promote the school.

Let pupils contact parents, and other pupils, themselves. Blogs and wikis, or Facebook and Twitter – again, it perhaps depends on the school etc., and as technology changes so must the available tools.

Importantly, give pupils and parents some control over the method of communication. Again, we all work in different ways. We all want different things.

Objective 5: Strengthen position on hardware and associated infrastructure

All schools need a reliable, high bandwidth network connection. Without the infrastructure, no amount of improvement in ICT provision within school will be of benefit.

Whole site Wifi access is required in all schools, with pupils and staff allowed to make use of their own devices, in and out of classes. Ubiquitous access to all resources.

One to one deployment of devices should be the norm. Type and uniformity of device, and funding issues, are up for much debate no doubt – but everyone needs something. Universal access to all resources.

Ideally there should be a single login for each user. Technologies like OpenID/oAuth allow such an idea to be a reality. Many tools already support generic login methods, and others do so by use of plug-ins, while I am sure others would be able to with relatively minor funding/encouragement. Though this is much less essential for staff, much less likely to be an issue for parents, and only really critical in junior school years.

Create a national resource repository. Encourage sharing, editing, and rating of resources. All teachers should have access to all resources. Resources need not be centrally stored, but should be catalogued by course and topic. We have thousands of teachers in this country, and many more internationally, let’s make use of that. Let’s all create things for each other.

And finally…

I would not have thought about this, but for my involvement in trying to get GLOW opened up to independent schools and further/higher education, but really…

Whatever replaces GLOW, assuming it is somehow curated, will not be a truly national resource if organisations are excluded from accessing it and contributing resources to it.