17 December 2013

Time to Teach Your Parents


Who Teaches Parents Tech?

They do, their children do, but now with the help of the guys and gals at Google, Google does too.

For decades society has been dominated by media such as books, comics, cinema, radio, and television — all are technologies, whether or not the users recognise it, all of which now have a digital equivalent, so that even if parents weren’t familiar with the particular content their children engaged with, at least they could access and understand the medium, so that, if they wished to understand what their children were doing or share the activity with them, they could.

However, with the advent of digital media, things have changed. The demands of the computer interface are significant, rendering many parents to believe that they are 'dinosaurs' in an information age inhabited by their children.

Only in rare instances in history have children gained greater expertise than parents in skills highly valued by society. More usually, youthful expertise—in music, games, or imaginative play—is accorded little, serious value by adults, even if it is envied rather nostalgically. Thus, although young people’s newfound online skills are justifiably trumpeted by both generations, this doesn't help their parents much. For everyone of these mouse wielding, track pad savant,  'tech-savvy' students there is quite likely at least two not quite so tech-savvy parents - parents who often find themselves on the less competent end of the conversation - a conversation often sprinkled with a fair amount of eye ball rolling, groaning and huffing and puffing. Thankfully, the people at Google thought there had to be a better way...


The result of their brainstorm is TeachParentsTech.org, a site that allows you to select any number of simple tech support videos to help ameliorate this situation, you might even want to send them to your own mum, dad or uncle Vinnie. The site is not perfect and hardly covers all the tech support questions you may be asked, but hopefully it’s a start. 

Better than a click in the teeth, anyway.





With the considerable influx of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in sch0ools, inevitably parents will find themselves increasingly faced with the challenge of providing adequate access to digital technologies at home, ie, a computer. To complicate matters further some of the resources that our students will be attempting to use can be quite demanding about the extent to which the home Windows PC or Mac is kept in efficient operating condition.

Following these (hopefully) simple pointers will mitigate a great many headaches for parents.
  • Keep your computer up to date, the Internet is constantly evolving, and your computer needs to be constantly updated to keep up with it, so if you get a message prompting you to update your computer - do it! This not only keeps your machine working well, it also makes it less vulnerable to malicious attacks. An out of date computer is a computer that is vulnerable to exploitation, and one that will be frustrating to use as it struggles to 'keep up' with the pace of change of the Internet.
  • Direct your child to use the Google Chrome browser for their homework, this is the recommended browser at UWCSEA as well. Once your child as signed in and synced' all of the bookmarks, passwords, browsing history will magically follow them home as well as at school. The Chrome browser can be downloaded from here.
  • Keep your browser up to date! The above links above include a tutorial on this. This is very important, many of the Web 2.0 technologies your child will be directed to use are very demanding of the latest browser technologies. An out of date browser will struggle to cope with even the most basic tasks. The Google Chrome browser has a useful option of automating these updates, I highly recommend you use it.
  • Make sure your Adobe Flash Player is up to date. if in doubt click here to check to see if you have the latest version. This software is essential to run may of the awesome animations that are commonly used in these websites, such as Mathletics et al.


And always remember the '3 Rs' of troubleshooting"



Refresh (the browser)


Retry (Quit the browser and try again, or try a different browser)



Restart (the computer)

That's it. 

Finally... you might want to consider creating a separate user account for your child/children, guidance on how to do this on a Mac can be found here. This in effect feels to your child like that computer is as good as their very own, until you log them out. Activating Fast user switching makes switching between their account and yours a very simple process.

Finally, maybe the best tip of them all?




16 December 2013

Size Matters

Size Matters 

Do your students know their bytes and pixels from their mega/kilo/giga/tera bytes? Thanks to an outdated emphasis on traditional units of measurements, this is extremely unlikely.



Unfortunately our antiquated education systems have yet to realise that in the 21st century the units of measure that matter most are not kilograms or kilometres, or cm or even mm—sure they are important, but what measurements do we deal with daily? The measurements of computer memory and particular of pixels. Any yet, ask yourself, how often do we set our students situations in mathematics that requires them to learn or use these units of measurements—NEVER—why? The sad truth is that most educators know as little about these units of measurement than most of their students. That, is a travesty.

So, here's the skinny:

The smallest unit of memory is a bit, then a byte, and they go up in thousands from there, so a thousand bytes in a kilobyte, a thousand kilobytes in a megabytes... and so on.

Here's a simpler way to imagine it...




1 bit (short for binary digit) = teeny tiny, the smallest size you can get, and yes, useless to almost everyone.

1 byte (b) = 1 character in the alphabet, eg the letter 'a'. = still useless

1 kilobyte (Kb) = 1000 bytes = 1000 characters, eg, a page of text = now we're getting somewhere...

1 megabyte (Mb) = 1000 Kilobytes = 1000 pages of text = 1 large digital image = 1 minute of music (mp3)


5 megabytes = 5,000 kilobytes = 5,000 pages of text = 1 very large digital image = a 5 minute song (mp3) This is pretty much the upper limit for email attachments.

10 Megabytes = 10,000 KB = 10 large photos = 10 minutes of music = 1 minute of video.



1 gigabyte (Gb) = 1000 megabytes (MBs) = an entire film/movie

1 terabyte (Tb) = 1000 GBs = MASSIVE = Pretty much only relevant for storage, external hard-drives etc.

Yes there are more...
...

In a nutshell

bytes - pretty much useless, like a grain of rice, or an ant.

kilobytes (KB) like pages of text (text emails and small images would be measured in kilobytes) the most useful size online, not too small not too big. a bowl of rice, or a cat.

megabytes, now we're getting 'heavy' - large photos, music, 10 MBs or more for video. A 1 Kilo bag of rice, a large dog.

gigabytes, woah, that's big - high definition full length films, 1000s of high resolution images. A sack of rice, a small horse!

terabytes, OK, now we're talking massive - entire collections of films. A van loaded with sacks of rice, a large elephant!



Particulars about pixels


To confuse things, images use more memory than text, and are measured in pixels, which do relate to size, but are not the same thing. A laptop Pro screen is at least 1400 pixels wide, so that gives you an idea...

As a rough guide:

10 pixels square =  the size of one lower case letter = 1kb
100 pixels square = size of 4 desktop icons = 10kb
1000 pixels square = small/standard monitor (screen) size = 1 Mb
10,000 pixels square = large/high definition (size of a door), high resolution image/poster = 10 Mb


So when Googling images, a pixel size of about 500px is ideal, 50px is too small (blurry) and images in the 1000s are probably too big (takes ages to load, and display).


So, what is the next step? Take some time to plan some problems solving scenarios in a Maths lesson that use some 21st century units for a change.


31 August 2013

Paedophilia, Protection, Paranoia & Parenting



A Slate article I read years ago, and this one more recently from CommonSense Media, has a habit of continually popping back into my head, every time an inevitable web scare rears its ugly head.

You see the Wild Weird Wonderful Web is an amazing place, but it is a metaphorical jungle, and the wild wild web has a lot in common with a jungle as it happens, not too many leaves, but lots of good stuff and yes, some dangers, that with a few basic precautions, can be easily avoided.

These Articles and this other more recent one, makes a few controversial but critical points, which could be broadly summarised as:

Less monitoring more mentoring


The expectation of constantly monitoring children and teenagers on the Internet is an impossible ideal. Who has time to stand over the shoulder of your kids while they are on the Web? Children’s freedom to roam in the physical world has been radically curtailed. While previous generations could ride bikes or walk to school or play outside unsupervised till dinner time, this generation is watched all the time. They have lost that thrill of being on their own until they are much older, and, for them, the Internet can provide that open space, to test and explore and try out the outside world—while being a lot less painful than ... say ... falling out of a tree, a risk that was commonplace in my childhood. There is educational value in this kind of risk, this exploration even if it is online, perhaps even because it is: a lot of the work kids do is apprehending the social world, and for them, much of this work is done online.


Less restriction more responsibility 

The important thing is to give kids the ability to handle choices, assess risks, and take strategic, or calculated risks. You want, in other words, to create the kid who can handle the Internet without you. And how can they become that kid if you are watching them all the time, if you are always hovering right there next to them? You don't just throw a 5-year-old out on the streets and tell them to figure it all out. The same is true online. But, accordingly, you can't expect to put them under surveillance and control every action they make until they're 18 and then magically assume they'll be fine at university, and the world 'beyond school' (I dislike the use of 'real world' to describe life outside school—school life is real life too!) when they haven't had any experience managing their own decisions.

Pain is a powerful teacher, not kind, but it is effective.

Parents need to face up to the idea that they cannot protect their children from every potential negative experience, this is an impossible fantasy, there is no way to seal your children off from awful or painful or frightening things. This is nothing new, think back to your own childhood, bad things happened, you got over it, hopefully you learned something from it.

A caveat...


With great power comes great responsibility, not anonymity

A huge part of responsibility means ceasing the ludicrous practice by many of allowing kids to create social networking accounts in anonymity, based on the ludicrous notion that this somehow protects the child. SERIOUSLY? All this does is remove all responsibility, and in far too many cases actively encourages irresponsibility as far too many children wreak havoc online from behind the veneer of a name like Puff the magic Dragon, with an Avatar of an aardvark or ... a pineapple ... or, you get the idea... Like no paedophile has ever thought of doing that? It is important to note here that online predators are far less likely to be paedophiles, and far more likely to be your child's own 'friends' and acquaintances. All you've done is encourage a situation where your anonymous child is forced to socialise with other anonymous people online, strangers, because they are similarly anonymous, oh, but they SAY they are your child's best friend ... . If you're going to let your kid 'play outside'; make sure they are playing as themselves, no disguises, no anonymity, their name, their face, and they should make sure to only socialise with people who do likewise.

The point, is not to create a safe world, but a safer world. 



Tim Elmore wrote an article more recently on this subject,  Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How to Correct Them - a great article, and again, if you will permit me, it can be summed up similarly and thus:

Over-protection is damaging our children—

We Risk Too Little

“If you’re over 30, you probably walked to school, played on the monkey bars, and learned to high-dive at the public pool. If you’re younger, it’s unlikely you did any of these things. Yet, has the world become that much more dangerous? Statistically, no. But our society has created pervasive fears about letting kids be independent—and the consequences for our kids are serious.” (Gever Tully)

The truth is, kids need to fall a few times to learn it is normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. Pain is actually a necessary teacher. Over-protecting our young people has had an adverse effect on them, we are failing miserably at preparing them for a world that will not be risk-free.

We Rescue Too Quickly

This generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did thirty years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. We remove the need for them to navigate hardships. This may sound harsh, but rescuing and over-indulging our children is one of the most insidious forms of child abuse. It’s “parenting for the short-term” and it sorely misses the point of leadership [parenting]—to equip our young people to do it without help. Just like muscles atrophy inside of a cast due to disuse, their social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual muscles can shrink because they’re not exercised.

We Rave too Easily

Praise effort and persistence, not ability. Carol Dweck (Mindset) tells us that our affirmation of kids must target factors in their control. When we say “you must have worked hard,” we are praising effort, which they have full control over. It tends to elicit more effort. When we praise ability 'you're smart/clever/awesome!', it may provide a little confidence at first but ultimately causes a child to work less. They say to themselves, “If it doesn’t come easy, I don’t want to do it.”

A helpful metaphor when considering this challenge is inoculation. Inoculation injects a vaccine, which actually exposes you to a dose of the very disease your body must learn to overcome. It’s a good thing. Only then do we develop an immunity to it. Similarly, our kids must be inoculated with doses of hardship, delay, challenges and inconvenience to build the strength to stand in them.

So let them fail, let them fall, and let them fight for what they really value. If we treat our kids as fragile, they will surely grow up to be fragile adults. We must prepare them for the world that awaits them. Our world needs resilient adults not fragile ones.


"We need to let our kids fail at 12 - which is far better than at 42. We need to tell them the truth that the notion of 'you can do anything you want' is not necessarily true."

05 August 2013

Take a minute (or 2) to pick up an ICT skill or 3


"We know what we know, we know that there are things we do not know, and we know that there are things we don't know we don't know"

Donald Rumsfeld (4 Sept 2002) (Woodward, 2004: 171) The initial insight is reportedly Arabic.



You don't know what you don't know - obvious but especially important in ICT, where knowing a certain skill can be the difference between wrestling with a computer for hours, or doing it in minutes with the right tool in the right way.


"He that knows not,

and knows not that he knows not

is a fool.

Shun him


He that knows not,

and knows that he knows not

is a pupil.

Teach him.


He that knows,

and knows not that he knows

is asleep

Wake him.


He that knows,

and knows that he knows

is a teacher.

Follow him."


(Arabic proverb)


NEIGHBOUR R (1992) The Inner Apprentice London; Kluwer Academic Publishers. p.xvii


But, the common cry is 'I DON'T HAVE TIME' sure - but and it's a big but - you do make time for things that matter, right?

Well, ICT skills matter, and using these minimax* resources, you don't need much time either:


http://minute.maine121.org/episode-list-2/






Read more on 'Knowing and not knowing' http://www.doceo.co.uk/tools/knowing.htm#ixzz27LWRmy5V

*minimax—minimum effort, maximum result.

04 August 2013

To YouTube or not to YouTube. That is the question.


Video, ViewTube, Viewoogle & Vimeo





Picasa and Google Doc/Drive Videos are my preferred medium for video use and the sharing of video. However YouTube is still the number one video viewing option on the web, and we'd be mad to ignore it. There are some good reasons for using YouTube with your students, what are those? Well there are some times when utilsing your YouTube account is handy, for teachers as well as students. When? I’ll tell you when ... Firstly though—


Why is YouTube a problem? 

Mainly because of its exposure - as the number one video sharing tool on the planet it is the best way to get your work seen by as many eyeballs as possible - which, in theory at least, could be a good thing, if that is what you want (see later note on this) but for most educational purposes there is a distinct discomfort with that kind of exposure when kids are learning, and wrestling with learning - YouTube can be a cruel place, and you are in danger of being exposed to a LOT of undesirables if you just put it out there - especially if you allow viewers to leave comments, and likes and dislikes, this can be potentially destructive for anyone, never mind our students.





Unwanted/inappropriate advertising

One of the major drawbacks of using YouTube is working against Google’s determination to make money out of it - namely pushing advertising at the eyeballs that are so interested in your video. Usually the ‘mosaic’ viewers will see at the end is harmless, but the problem is that you have no control over this (You do with Vimeo though). Nor do you have control over the ‘recommended’ videos that appear in the panel at the end. So you have to ask yourself - are you prepared to take that risk? This will very much depend on the age of the kids you are directing to watch the video. These adverts are becoming increasingly more invasive. There are ways around this which I will outline below, but the fact is most of our kids are inclined to just upload and not to think even once, never mind twice about the settings that are necessary to mitigate these problems. If you want your kids to use YouTube, you need to make sure you consider how to use it properly.


So, are the ways around these undesirable elements? I think so.

Use YouTube via a Google Site

Inserting a YouTube video into a Google Site effectively bypasses the advertising - at the end of the video there is no mosaic, there is a tiny YouTube logo, which will take them to YouTube with a click, but lets face it, they can do that by just typing ‘YouTube’ into the browser anyway.




ViewPure

www.viewpure.com allows you to remove all the clutter around the sides, but you still get a ‘mosaic’ at the end...








Why would you use YouTube?

Exposure

If you want maximum exposure, you WANT the publicity - YouTube is the way to achieve this. Maybe your students have put together a stunning short film designed to move as many people as possible to action - well YouTube is the place to put it if you hope to get as many eyeballs as possible, and the motivation of ‘views’ and ‘likes’ is undeniable - BUT and it’s a big but, kids need to be aware of the measures they have to take to protect their fragile egos. My advice? Maybe disable comments (although this means they won't get an positive feedback either). Certainly look very closely at the options before (or after - it’s never too late to change!) publishing, and make sure they have considered the implications of the various options - there aren’t that many.

Google Presentations

Uploading via YouTube is the only avenue currently available to students (and staff) who want to use their own videos in a Google Presentation.

Video for viewing on an iOS Device (iPad etc)

If you’re creating a ‘web log’ (blog) with blogger, using video other than YouTube is annoyingly fiddly - something that will no doubt improve - but for now ... Even if you do manage to get it to work without YouTube it won’t display on an iOS device. You can use Vimeo to get around this but it’s a little complicated (can anything BE a ‘little’ complicated? It involves ‘embedding’ using HTML code - se what I mean?). Using YouTube for Blogger is relatively easy - BUT, and this leads to my next point..


Easy Export

The way YouTube is integrated into the actual operating system of the Mac and all iOS devices really makes it an option for sharing that you have to consider - you know your students will. It’s there, it’s obvious - so why would you not use it? Well the reasons above for a start - but also, increasingly our students will need to store exported video in a format that is owned by them, that is not stuck in YouTube, or technically owned by YouTube. An actual video file sitting safe and sound in their own drive, where it can be uploaded, edited, repurposed however, and whenever they want is far more preferable. Downloading video from YouTube is a far from a straightforward exercise*,

But ... isn't sharing video direct to YouTube an easy option? 

Yes, as long as it is short. Is it easy? Yes. But I would advise you to use it for more adhoc use, ie less ‘essential’ more temporal video - maybe sharing a work in progress, a simple observation, an interesting but not pivotal moment. Or as a backup plan of other methods fail - you can download it from YouTube later, albeit at a less than stellar quality.





So I only use YouTube when I am convinced that I have exhausted all my other options, these are, specifically, in order of preference:

Google Drive/Docs Video
Picasa
YouTube
Vimeo


* Use a site like www.dirpy.com or even better the FireFox Add-on ‘Easy YouTube Video Downloader’.

01 August 2013

A Framework for Transformational Technology - SAMMS



Five Transformational Triggers for the Integration of Digital Technology


Transformative applications of digital technology are the holy grail of educators spanning the globe, and yet it is far from easy to achieve...



Moving from the Mundane to the Magnificent

Frameworks like SAMR and RAT are incredibly helpful here, but we still need a framework to assist with the top levels of redefinition/transformation of learning through effective uses of digital technologies. SAMMS is a framework that attempts assist with this, by determining exactly what the 'magic ingredients' are that move tech use from the mundane to the magnificent.

Determining these 'ingredients' starts from a position of describing what it is about digital technologies that make them unique, transformative—what is it they facilitate that cannot be replicated with traditional tools? Exactly how do pixels out perform paper? I've been reading a LOT about ICT integration over the last four years in my pursuit of a Master's degree, and throughout my readings I noticed a pattern forming—certain aspects of ICTs that were deemed to make a significant difference in teaching and learning, or to use the academic vernacular, 'unique affordances' ...

So what are the transformative, unique affordances of digital technologies?


Five features or facets of pixels that out perform paper -  (SAMMS):

Situated practice (work anywhere)
Accessibility (access to information)
Multi-modality (screen centred creations)
Mutability (provisionality/fluidity/malleability)
Social networking (syncronous/asyncronous people power) 



I've expanded on these categories in another post, here I want to consider what happens when you cross reference these with what I believe are the 5 core digital domains of ICT:



Text | Image | Audio | Video | Data

By all means consume, but the exciting stuff happens when creating‚ of course you can't have one without the other, you can't connect the dots, unless you have dots to connect... But if you work in any of these domains and also exploit as many of the aspects of ICT that are unique as you can, you create transformative experiences—the more you of these you exploit, the more transformational it becomes. And when you start merging these elements it gets really exciting, eg situated use, means you can access multimodal content anywhere, sharing with others, collaborate, and even revise your content as you go, on your own or with others.


Take the domain of text, most likely this means word processing, (although many typographers and graphic designers might argue with you about that one) but what does working with text look like when it is...

Situated Text

Everywhere is here. Exploiting the ability for ICTs to make the boundaries between school and home permeable, means that your students don't need 'homework' they just continue with their classwork—well that's what we do in the 'real world' right? I take my work home but it's not 'homework', it's work, some of which I am doing at home, and will continue at work tomorrow. If you're using mobile devices this kind of 'situated practice' becomes even more transformative, with kids adding/editing/tweaking on the bus/train as inspiration occurs, or as research based revelations are revealed.

Accessible Text

Reading and researching the world of the written world has always been more than a little overwhelming (if you've forgotten how overwhelming mountains of data can look, you need to visit a bigger library). Thank to the advent of super fast search, all of that data has become more accessible, accessible in a way that is transformative. Teach your kids some basic search skills and they can leverage the unprecedented level of global access to expertise that is unique in history that we now take for granted.

MultiModal Text

Now at first glance this might seem a little contradictory, like, if it's multimodal (image, video, audio), it's not just text, but leveraging other modes of media in conjunction with text is again transforming the ways we consume and create with text. As an example, I now regularly 'consume' media I have not got time to read on paper/screen by listening to podcasts as I commute. Students can use text to speech features to hear how their writing sounds, or to motivate reluctant readers, who may well be more inclined to listen than decode. Taking snapshots of passages in books, posters, flyers, and of course screen shots of inspirational material—quotes, slogans, titles.

What this is really about is a new kind of literacy as the multimedia devices that now are ubiquitous in our worlds mean that speech and writing are already being pushed to the margins of and replaced by image and others. The once dominant page, especially in terms of the newspaper and the book, is giving way to the screen (Kress, 2005). Let's encourage our kids to illustrate, accentuate, emphasise and embellish their text with image, with sound, with moving images and even video. Generally, I assume that when someone makes the claim that an 'artefact' is 'multimodal', that it's 'multimedia' ie, combining text, image and video, although technically using text and image together is multimodal, I would argue this is only true if the images are illustrations, not just decorations, that's a critical distinction. The imagery should be being used to communicate, to add more meaning, not just make the things look pretty.

Mutable Text

This is no brainer—even the most tech phobic will have to concede that the mutability of screen text is revolutionary compared to paper. Although, it is depressing how little this incredible capability is embraced by teachers—editing and revision can be transformational, creative experiences thanks to the provisionality of pixels.

Many teachers may yearn nostalgically for the 'good old days' of handwriting & cursive; and while that skill has it's place, it's hard to argue its benefits if the goal is improved writing in terms of making meaning. Revising text that is restricted to (often barely legible) handwritten annotations squeezed into margins or between lines is clearly inferior when entire paragraphs need moving, adjusting, inserting; with edits of this kind the student in question would need to literally rewrite the entire piece. Hardly motivating or conducive to reflective practice.

Cutting/pasting looking up meanings and synonyms, proofreading, all amplify what we can do with text, but transforming means exploiting things like undo button to encourage kids to take more risks; the save as, revert or history options to manage multiple versions of documents; the effective use of styles so that formatting changes can be made to an entire document with one click; smarter uses of (well designed) templates; grab snippets of text from multiple sources and from multiple perspectives, and mash, mix, mend, and remix them into something unique.

Social Text

We are social and of course nothing beats the power of social connection in the classroom face to face and the powerful synergy that creates. But with the advent of web 2.0 this conversation can continue beyond the classroom and more importantly beyond the strictures of the 45 minute period lesson where you will inevitably struggle to converse with every student on a meaningful level. Now, instead of "setting homework" students can continue with their classwork at home, only now they can collaborate online with you/with their peers who can comment/reply/respond facilitating a virtual conversation through the medium of digital text.

Since students can express their thoughts without interruption, they have more time to reflect and respond (Shea, 2003). This ‘peer-based learning’ is characterised by “a context of reciprocity”, (Ito et al, 2008, p 39) where participants don't just contribute, but also comment on, and contribute to the content of others. This transformational practice is already becoming seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the classroom so that dialogue and pupil collaboration can be enhanced and extended, (Garrison, 2004) a cooperative combination of multiple interactions, which is indicative of a new, collaborative pedagogical practice.


Triggers + Domains = Transformation

So, there you have it, transformational practice and here I have only described how this could apply in just one of the five domains. A similar level of transformation can be experienced by the judicious application of effective technology in transformational ways within each of the five domains, across domains and combining several if not all of the triggers.

How do the five transformational tech triggers transform the use of image? audio? video? data? How does this change when we work within and across these domains in ways that are social, accessible, multi-modal, exploiting mutability and situated (can be done almost anywhere)?

How transformational can our use of ICTs be when we work across domains? Merging text, with image; image with audio; video with data; all of them with all of the others?

Aiming for transformative applications of technology can be daunting, if so, it's a good idea to start with amplified practice and add the 5 elements and 5 domains gradually, like ingredients to a cake mixture, the more you add, the more amplified it gets until it becomes transformative. In my experience you will often find that your students will move from amplified into transformative practice quite naturally.


Let your students show how transformative technology can be. I think you'll find that—regardless of your own expertise—the synergy of a teacher's pedagogical expertise, content knowledge, and experience, combined with the natural confidence of 'digital natives' is intrinsically transformative. 


5 Tech Triggers + 5 Tech Domains = 
Transformed edTech

31 July 2013

It's About Time. 4 Transformational Tech 'Training' Techniques.




I recently completed my Practice Based Enquiry as the final element of a Master's in Teaching (MTeach) for the Institute of Education in London, which culminated in a gargantuan 22,000 word dissertation* (not including appendices!)

This post attempts to 'cut to the chase' 4 years and 200 pages later, what, exactly, did I find was worthwhile? What really seems to work?

This was not 'action research' but 'practitioner research study', something my tutor was careful that  should understand, action research seems to be an 'in' academic sounding term at the moment, but is easily wittered while few understand its iterative and longitudinal nature... The ‘practitioner research’ model was more suitable than an action research model, in that it is expected that practitioners will learn from their research into practice, it also aims at improving rather than proving as an approach to research (Campbell, 2007). 

The focus of the enquiry was to consider:

What are the most effective strategies for overcoming the barriers to the authentic integration of digital technologies in schools?


The enquiry considered barriers to ICT (information communication technology) integration, and possible enabling solutions. Traditionally, the development of ICT expertise is facilitated by the provision of ‘training courses’. However, for the duration of this enquiry this approach was suspended, in order to explore more learner-centred, collaborative approaches for managing teacher development; utilising opportunities for teachers to learn through interactions with their colleagues and with their own students. This practitioner research study explored barriers to the integration of ICTs and the factors that inhibit their use of ICTs for teaching and learning, and the constraints on that use. The data indicated a strong consensus that the barrier of time was the most significant, with the barriers of training and tech support as contributory factors. 

The case study centred on the role of a Digital Literacy Coach (DLC) in the design and exploration of interventions focused on these areas, with three non-technologically proficient, but experienced teachers. The enabling strategies explored, were not focused on a barrier-by-barrier basis, but to overcome a number of barriers simultaneously. Interventions that focused on utilising time in class with students, and ‘non contact’ time during the school day, were found to be particularly effective. Teachers became more confident about drawing on the strengths of their students as a support strategy. A concern that emerged in relation to ICT integration was that the teaching of ICT skills were becoming neglected. Practices to mitigate this were found to be effective but required careful monitoring to ensure that they are pedagogically driven, not skill driven. The data indicated a significant positive change in teacher response to these barriers, indicating that the interventions that were explored were effective in mitigating these barriers, interventions that could be applied in other teaching contexts.

So—What Works?


Emphasise ‘continuing’ in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) over InSET

In short InSET (one off training days) is not effective unless it is a part of CPD, and regarding CPD it was generally felt that relying only on making time after school for CPD is ineffective. InSET (In Service Educational Training) ‘Training’ and ‘Courses’ do not really take account of the actual needs of teachers, “there can be no one size fits all training (Hu and McGrath, 2011, p 50)”. When teachers can see the explicit relevance of the technology to enhancing their practice, their motivation increases, along with willingness to make the effort and to find the time to change (Daly et al, 2009). For some teachers a certain amount of ‘unlearning’ is need, especially in terms of assumptions about what constitutes ‘training’ and when and where this is most effective... PD needs to stop being about certification and focus more on transformation. Intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation.


THE major barrier could be summed up in one word. Time.



It's all about time, or more specifically the lack of it. Lack of time to fully prepare and research ICT materials for lessons, and to become better acquainted with hardware and software (Fabry and Higgs, 1997; Manternach-Wigans et al, 1999).

So this approach to CPD was all about being smarter about time, with what could be described as ‘less is more’. Less efficient, but more effective—specifically, often teaching identical, or very similar, skills to several small groups of teachers, at times and places more efficacious to them, rather than once, to all of them, at a time more convenient to the school. 

Essential to the success of this change was the reframing of the dominant school paradigm of ‘training’, from a didactic, ‘instructor as expert’ approach, to that of working with a mentor/mediator; positioning learning around a ‘gradual release of responsibility’ (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983), where all ‘instruction’ is scaffolded for learners, learners who become capable of handling tasks with which they have not yet developed expertise, in effect, ‘learning by being’ (Brown & Adler, 2008)—a form of apprenticeship. With this in in mind, traditional ‘en masse’ teacher training was suspended in favour of a core set of ‘little and often’ strategies that were developed with the case study teachers and piloted with their grades; these 4 strategies  (3Ts & a J) are described below: 

'Team Time'

Teachers were asked to use a ‘timetable audit’ to reflect carefully upon a typical week at their grade level. What emerged was that at least twice a week, during the school day in each grade, all the teachers were ‘free’ at the same time.  This was dubbed, ‘Team Time’, a time when the DLC would be available specifically to that team to facilitate collaborative and individualised (Hixon & Buckenmeyer, 2009) teacher-generated opportunities to learn from and with each other (Pickering, 2007). These shorter, smaller and more frequent meetings are the kinds where collaborative work is more effective than larger, infrequent meetings (Cordingley et al, 2005; Devereux, 2009). Most weeks these are informal affairs, that provide a forum for collaboration; teachers are able to discuss technical and curriculum questions, classroom management issues and assessment practices, as well as how to use available technology, and share tips and short cuts they have learned with/from their students (Ciampa & Gallagher, 2013). One teacher’s efficacy (often a 'Tech Mentor'—a teacher designated as having a particular role in the development of ICT within the grade level or department—but not always)  with a particular tool can quickly became ‘viral’ with two or three other teachers eager to learn from a colleague’s expertise, very much imitating the way they observe their own students learn from each other. 

Trickle Down Training’ 

Teachers benefit far more from informal, home based activities (Hustler et al, 2003), so when they (somewhat guiltily) request assistance with personal uses of ICT, they are often pleasantly surprised to learn that it is precisely this ‘self-centred’ use of ICT that can provide a synergistic, symbiotic ‘cascade effect’ on the development their own ICT skills, such as for creating a ‘home movie’, or cropping an image for use with a social network profile. This kind of CPD, based on personal interests, takes account of how adults learn, and recognises the importance of individuals taking ownership over their own personalised learning journeys. 

'Techsperts’ 

Many students are quick to learn many of the skills and potentialities of digital tools, what Mishra & Koehler (2006) call technological knowledge (TK), yet are not necessarily skilled at, for example, sharing them. The involvement of students through skilled facilitation (Ruddock, 2004) creates a collaborative ethos that harnesses the time spent in the classroom as time for ‘training’ by taking advantage of the students’ natural facility with digital technologies, while also harnessing the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of their teachers—their unique perspectives based on many years of experience. This is a repurposing of Mishra & Koehler’s TPACK model (2006) I describe as TK + PCK = TPCK. 

Scenarios become commonplace whereby a student finds a new way of doing something or makes a discovery that the teacher has never come across before, but rather than feeling threatened by this, the teacher facilitates this and turns it into a “teachable moment” (Crook et al, 2010). In this case the teacher could give the student control of the screen, eg, via a projector, to guide the class (and often the teacher) through the process. The students have a natural sense of determination and perseverance when faced with technical problems; even though they accept that these problems happen, they see this as an inevitable aspect of using technology - not an exception. 

At present I run 'classes' during a lunch-time each week, with 2 to 3 students per class (In a grade of 9 classes, that means a manageable number of about 20 Techsperts) are invited to attend and pick up skills (from the DLC and from each other) to share with their classes. This started off just being for certain units, but it's popularity with the students and teachers led to be being established as a year long arrangement. 

JITT

JITT or ‘just in time teaching/training’, is an organic, serendipitous or spontaneous intervention that occurs on a ‘need to know’ basis, when needed or “just in time”. These are, "spontaneous and short tutorial sessions—both student to student and instructor to student—driven by immediate requirements (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p 1036)." Teachers acquire ‘problem-solving’ technical skills to overcome first order barriers (Ertmer, 1999) as ‘short, sharp, specific’ interventions at the point of need, within instructional practices that incorporate meaningful uses of technology (ibid). In this way collaborative learning can be achieved which is “shorter, smaller and more frequent”, the kind of ‘needs-based training’ advised by Karagiorgi & Charalambous (2006, p 406), tailored to each teacher’s needs. This is a form of ‘training’ targeted directly at the point of need—assuming the teacher makes a point of noting how the recovery was improvised—so it can become a learning opportunity in and of itself, and not just reinforcing their dependence on what could easily become just another form of technical support. 


The complete report [pdf] is available herehttp://goo.gl/lM1Tq 

References

Campbell A and Groundwater-Smith S (Eds) (2007). An Ethical Approach to Practitioner Research: Dealing with Issues and Dilemmas in Action Research, London: Routledge

Hu Z and McGrath I (2011). Innovation in higher education in China: are teachers ready to integrate ICT in English language teaching? Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 20: 1, 41 – 59. 

Pearson P D and Gallagher M C (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary educational psychology, 8 (3), 317–344.

Brown J and Adler R (2008). Minds on Fire. Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0. Educause Review January/February

Hixon E and Buckenmeyer J (2009). Revisiting technology integration in schools: Implications for professional development. Computers in the Schools, 26(2), 130-146.

Pickering J (2007). ‘Teachers’ professional development: not whether or what, but how’, in J Pickering, C Daly and N Pachler (eds), New Designs for Teachers’ Professional Learning. London: Bedford Way Papers, Institute of Education, University of London. 

Ciampa K and Gallagher T L (2013). Professional learning to support elementary teachers’ use of the iPod Touch in the classroom, Professional Development in Education, DOI:10.1080/19415257.2012.749802

Cordingley P, Bell M, Evans D and Firth A (2005). 'The impact of collaborative continuing professional development (CPD) on classroom teaching and learning. Review: How do collaborative and sustained CPD and sustained but not collaborative CPD affect teaching and learning?' Research Evidence in Education Library London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. 

Crook C, Harrison C, Farrington-Flint L, Tom├ís C, Underwood J (2010). The Impact of Technology: Value-added classroom practice Final report. Becta. 

Daly C, Pachler N, Pelletier C (2009a). Continuing Professional Development in ICT for Teachers: A literature review. WLE Centre, Institute of Education, University of London. June 2009. 

Devereux C (2009). Beyond the curriculum: The positive effects of Continual Professional Development for a group of post-16 science teachers. WLE Centre Occasional Papers in Work-Based Learning. London: WLE Centre, Institute of Education, University of London. 

Ertmer P A (1999). Addressing first-and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development.

Hustler D, McNamara O, Jarvis J, Londra M and Campbell A. (2003). Teachers’ Perceptions of Continuing Professional Development. London: Department for Education and Skills. 

Mishra P and Koehler M J (2006). ‘Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge’, Teachers College Record 108 (6) pp. 1017– 1054.

Rudduck J and Flutter J (2004). How to improve your school: giving pupils a voice. London: Continuum.

30 July 2013

Trickle Down Training


'Trickle Down Theory' is an economic idea which more or less states that decreasing taxes, can act as a stimulus. It's not popular. According to trickle-down theory proponents, this stimulus leads to growth and wealth creation that benefits everyone, not just those who pay the lower taxes—but what has this got to do with pedagogical technology?

Well it's my belief that a very similar approach is extremely effective (arguably more effective than the economic application) in terms of increasing the 'wealth' of tech expertise in a team of teachers, a wealth that benefits everyone, especially the students they teach.

How do we 'tax' our teachers tech skills? By having overly narrow definitions about what constitutes 'educational' technology. I believe we should encourage any sort of technological practice, yes even the sort that is likely to get you a slap on the wrist, yes Facebook, and online shopping I'm looking at you.

Tech needs to be personal

For teachers to implement changed pedagogies that integrate ICT, they must be at the centre of their own learning (Schibeci et al, 2008). Teachers benefit far more from informal, home based activities (Hustler et al, 2003), so when they (somewhat guiltily) request assistance with personal uses of ICT, they are often pleasantly surprised to learn that it is precisely this ‘self-centred’ use of ICT that can provide a synergistic, symbiotic ‘cascade effect’ or 'trickle down effect' on the development of their own ICT skills, such as for creating a home movie, or cropping an image to use for their social network profile. This kind of CPD, based on personal interests, takes account of how adults learn, and recognises the importance of individuals taking ownership over their own personalised learning journeys.

Trickle down in effect

This approach has proved to be particularly effective with the teachers I work with. For example one teacher repurposed ‘dabbling in stocks’ at home into a Maths activity where students used a stock App and spreadsheet to track and manage their virtual investments using an artificial currency.

Another teacher learned how to use online web albums (Picasa) for sharing photographs with her extended family—this in turn gave her the confidence and understanding of the technology to repurpose the same tool with her students to create online albums of their respective families in a unit they were doing on migration.

There are many more.

Sometimes the greatest barrier is the operating system itself, and the challenges with navigating and organising this effectively. Once (again purely for 'selfish' reasons) they start to make inroads in this they feel a great deal more confidence in using these tools with their students, in particular the use of email for managing communications with both students and parents, and more effective use of image libraries as teaching resources.

Perhaps the most profound, for many teachers, is the transfer of the video editing skills they acquired in the context of editing home videos, to embracing video editing as a powerful tool to use with their students.

Disempower Techphobia

This strategy has been the most effective with the teachers who are the most resistant. Let's take a teacher (hypothetical of course...) who has no interest whatsoever in using ICTs, never mind to teach with, give him a laptop and it will just languish in a desk drawer. Why? Simple; if he can't see any use for it, how could he see any use for it for his students?  It needs to be at the centre of his own experience. The Goose/Gander factor*, if he has coped all of his life, why can't they? The way in for this teacher was Facebook, he wanted to be able to stay in touch with his family, especially his two daughters—that was the key. Trickle down learning included:

  • Taking a digital photo
  • Cropping the photo
  • Resizing the Photo
  • Uploading the image to his Facebook page
  • Basic Keyboarding and navigation (Status Updates)

That was it, he was hooked. In the weeks that followed he was like a child with a new toy, making excited discoveries on a daily basis, JITT (Just in Time Training) was all he needed to keep him going, just 5 minutes here and there. Within a month he was:

  • Using iPhoto and Picasa to build a library of photographs (to share on Facebook)
  • Adding Captions
  • Organising his images into albums
  • Scanning his favourite images
  • Writing Personal Messages—which inspired him to get and use an email account 


He's already started asking about slideshows ... next step, video?


Instead of discouraging teachers from 'wasting' their time on Facebook—maybe we should be leveraging this as an opportunity for learning? 

It is my belief that these skills and technologies have a habit of 'going viral' technology is contagious, it's about time we harnessed this potential instead of complaining about it.



*What's good for the goose is good for the gander. 

29 July 2013

JITT or ‘just in time teaching/training'



JITT or ‘just in time teaching/training’, is an organic, serendipitous or spontaneous intervention that occurs on a ‘need to know’ basis, when needed or “just in time” (The role of ICT in the PYP, 2011, p 3) these are,

"... spontaneous and short tutorial sessions—both student to student and instructor to student—driven by immediate requirements." (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p 1036).

Teachers acquire ‘problem-solving’ technical skills to overcome first order barriers (Ertmer, 1999) as ‘short, sharp, specific’ interventions at the point of need, within instructional practices that incorporate meaningful uses of technology (ibid). In this way collaborative learning can be achieved which is “shorter, smaller and more frequent”, the kind of ‘needs-based training’ advised by Karagiorgi & Charalambous (2006, p 406), tailored to each teacher’s needs.


Emergency contact?

Simply providing nervous teachers with my ‘emergency’ contact number, is one simple but effective way to manage the technical barriers and the resulting stress that is common when (not if) ICT fails to deliver. Having someone—‘gofer’ is seen by many of our teachers as very effective. Someone who, at short notice, can, literally, ‘pop in’ for a few minutes to provide a brief intervention. This is a form of ‘training’ targeted directly at the point of need—


And it's a big but, this assumes the teacher makes a point of noting how the recovery was improvised—so it is a learning opportunity in and of itself, and not just reinforcing or worse creating a dependence on what could easily become just another form of technical support. Touch timber—our teachers have, by and large, used this strategy responsibly, yes there has been 2 (out of 60) who were becoming a little, shall we say ... reliant on this, but that's what conversation and negotiation is for, right?

ICT free plan C

A tech 'incident' no longer needs to result in the potential abandonment of a lesson, but becomes more about making productive use of the ‘wait time’ for help to arrive by having an ‘ICT free plan C’, because plan B still relies on technology (Crook, et al, 2010); although, reassuringly, it is not uncommon for teachers to resolve the problem themselves by the time help arrives. Somehow, knowing that help is coming alleviates stress; this often seems to free the teacher to resolve, or at least circumnavigate the problem themselves, or (more excitingly) with the help of their students.

The Cyclops Effect

IWB = Cyclops Effect
Interestingly, IWBs can often exacerbate tech problems, due to what I call a ‘Cyclops effect’—traditional, didactic teacher centred pedagogy, the kind that many teachers are more confortable with—centred around one screen, but, this dependence on one screen actually exacerbates the impact of technology failure, as if/when that screen fails, it results in a catastrophic impact upon the lesson. Whereas for a teacher who uses a more student centred, constructivist model that effectively utilises multiple screens, the failure of one screen does not present an insurmountable problem.

Nevertheless, clearly equipping teachers and students with a rigorous set of core ICT skills is bound to ameliorate this problem; the question then is, which skills, and when? Good question, hopefully this is a reasonable answer.

Just in time—leverage serendipity.


27 July 2013

Team Time - A Less Efficient—More Effective CPD Strategy

Team Time: Less efficient more effective
Faced with the problem of attempting to to attend to the perennial affliction of teachers, 'finding time' we tried a slightly different approach—make better use of the time we already have.

Timetable Audit

Teachers at each grade level are asked to use a ‘timetable audit’ to reflect carefully upon a typical week at their grade level. What emerged was that at least twice a week, during the school day in each grade, all the teachers were ‘free’.  This was dubbed, ‘Team Time’, a time when the DLC (Digital Literacy Coach—me) would be available specifically to that team to facilitate collaborative and individualised (Hixon & Buckenmeyer, 2009) teacher-generated opportunities to learn from and with each other (Pickering, 2007).

Little & Often

These shorter, smaller and more frequent meetings are the kinds where collaborative work is more effective than larger, infrequent meetings (Cordingley et al, 2005; Devereux, 2009). Most weeks these are informal affairs, that provide a forum for collaboration; teachers are able to discuss technical and curriculum questions, classroom management issues and assessment practices, enabling the individual level of support that teachers prefer, the kind that is conspicuous only by its absence in traditional 'training course' models.

"I need to have one to one training if at all possible so that I get new info easily. I need time to have a go and ensure that I have successfully embraced something new or time to write some instructions down so I can practise it later." (Grade 3 Teacher)

The teachers discuss how to use the available technology, and share tips and short cuts they have learned with/from their students (Ciampa & Gallagher, 2013). This is another aspect they value, the opportunity of

“buddying up with those who also feel like this could mean we could encourage each other.” (Grade 4 Teacher)

Team Time Training

Some weeks, based on team request, or DLC prompting, more conventional ‘training’ is offered, when a specific skill, eg how to use functions in a spreadsheet, is required to be grasped by the entire team, as that particular digital tool*  is deemed to be necessary for every student to use in a particular unit—even then, as the training is delivered in a relatively small group—opportunities for individual assistance and differentiation are relatively easily to provide, either from the DLC or by teachers assisting each other, as ‘one beggar tells another beggar where to find bread’.

There's no I in 'TEAM' but there is a ME if you look hard enough.

Teachers describe incidents where ‘just in time training’ (JITT) came from a teacher in an adjacent classroom, or a brief exchange based on shared experience or challenge that led to an effective solution, during a coffee break. One teacher’s efficacy with a particular tool can quickly became ‘viral’ with two or three other teachers eager to learn from a colleague’s expertise, very much imitating the way they observe their own students learn from each other. Teachers are learning that they can imitate the approaches that they witnessed their students using in their own classrooms, in their own CPD.

Me Time vs We Time


"There may be no 'I' in team, but there's a 'ME' if you look hard enough.” David Brent**

Clever isn't it? There's more where this cam from.***
Team work has to be beneficial to each member of the team, not just the team as whole, unless everyone leaves with 'something ventured, something gained', the entire dynamic can become overly parasitic for some rather than symbiotic. Symbiosis and synergy is key, and I'm not afraid to say I'm comfortable with teachers being a little 'selfish' sometimes—but there is a time and a place. So I make sure that at least once a week is a Team Time for 'Me Questions' and in a 'Team Time Training' session I only want to hear 'We Questions'. It's basic but it works, allow me to give you can example:

WE question:
"Can you show us how to use some other functions, like maybe average?"

ME question:
"How do I stop my computer from [insert random but inconsequential behaviour]"


Bottom line, a WE question is possibly of benefit to the entire team, a ME question can only benefit YOU. There's a time for those questions, but not at a time that has been set aside for the team.


* 'Technology' is not a term I like—it's too ... nebulous... :o/

**  AKA Ricky Gervais. For more HILARIOUS quotes like this visit this site.

*** http://www.demilked.com/30-clever-minimalist-print-ads/

26 July 2013

Keeping Pace with Technological Change - Futile, or Fundamental?


For many teachers that I encounter in the day-to-day of teaching digital technology/tool integration, the answer to this question, is something like—

Futility.

Why? Because they hear of, or read things like this:
"Technological Knowledge (TK) Technological knowledge is always in a state of flux—more so than content and pedagogical knowledge. This makes defining and acquiring it notoriously difficult. Keeping up to date with technological developments can easily be-come overwhelming to time-starved teachers. This also means that any definition of technology knowledge is in danger of becoming outdated by the time this text has been published." (p 398)
Judith Harris, Punya Mishra, and Matthew Koehler (2009). Teachers' Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge and Learning  Activity Types: Curriculum-based Technology  Integration Reframed. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 393 Copyright © 2009, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education)

Or...

"...the rapid rate of technological change ensures any knowledge gained about specific technologies or software programs would quite quickly become out of date" (p 151).

Mishra P, Koehler M J and Kereluik K (2009). ‘The song remains the same: looking back to the future of educational technology’, TechTrends, Vol. 53, No. 5, pp.48−53.

These kinds of quotes highlight an issue that has been bugging me for a while, the gist of it goes... "What? Learn ICT skills? What's the point? It all changes so fast, by the time we learn how to use one application it will be obsolete. So, why bother? which usually translates as ... "Let the kids do it, but ME? Me, I'm sticking with tools that I know from the 19th Century."

If theres's one thing I've learned about digital tools/technologies since I first started using them in earnest in the late 1980s, it's this:


... in truth, it's the beginning of nothing. 
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed.
David Bowie - Sunday

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

So digital technologies develop at a pace of change that is impossible to manage/keep up with?

Really? How?

How much has the way we USE digital technology really changed though? Speed, capacity, availability, yes, but use, not so much... Anyway, the same could be said of planes, trains, automobiles - more capacity, greater speed, more availability than ever. Changing capacity is not the same as changing capability.

If we reflect back to the ‘dawn’ of TEL in school in the 1990s, there were five overarching domains of computer use:

Text | Image | Audio | Video | Data

Text, image, audio, video, data. A sixth, ‘control’ was a core element of the ‘IT curriculum’ back then, but proved more difficult to integrate successfully. Ironically, two decades later, based on the recent alarmist rhetoric around a dearth of ‘coding skills’ it would seem control is back, albeit with a slight name change.

So, back in the 1990s when I first started teaching with computers there were 5 domains* of computer use, and here we are 2 decades later, and what do we find? The domains remain the same, the skills have evolved, but not much, and the conventions and tools? Identical, to the point of being nonsensical to this generation... A floppy disc icon to save? Really? An hour glass for wait time in Windows?

The truth is change in Tech happens more slowly than you might think, sure there are people out there attempting to, for example, rethink the design of the ubiquitous save icon, but these conventions have over two decades of embedded use, people like you, people like me, and even the generations who never used floppy disks know what the save icon means, despite its incongruity—so to say change is relentless, in this context, is nothing but  misleading.

http://dribbble.com/shots/506722-the-save-icon-redesign


CDs and DVDs are now almost obsolete, arguably with the recent advances in voice recognition, keyboarding could be next, but they're not dead yet, they are still hanging on... When digital tools change, they change gradually, incrementally, and obsolescence, while inevitable, happens sloooowwwllly.

Even 'professional' applications like PhotoShop evolve very gradually, with key conventions remaining virtually identical:

Nevermind the day to day icons we use for navigation...



Granted, computers are getting smaller, while their capacities grow larger, along with their processor speeds, drives are smaller [physical size], yet bigger [capacity] and faster than they've ever been, but all these changes do is make what we've always done EASIER, not OBSOLETE.

Big. Difference.

Change in terms of ICT skills are far from relentless, in fact, if anything, they are relentlessly, frustratingly, languorous... The domains are the same, and the core skills are virtually unchanged after 2 decades of relentless computer use, design and development.  Think about it for a minute—mouse skills? Keyboarding? Even overarching conventions like drag and drop, desktops, drop down menus, clicking on icons to give commands... Here's some skills from a document that was used by a school I worked at in the year 2000, see anything that is obsolete? Not much.

'IT Works' (Folens, 2000)


And that's about the only out dated reference I found in the entire scope and sequence, other than a reference to CDs and Laserdiscs, that was about it...  So are the core ICT skills that are a prerequisite for success in the 21st Century changing too quickly to bother to learn, or teach? No. But there HAS been change, oh yes,  I'd argue the biggest change is:

Ease. Of. Use.

It's never been easier to use ICTs, or to learn them. Time was, to edit video, you'd need a specialised machine, dedicated hardware and software, designed for professionals, with a learner curve steeper than Mount Everest. With advances in internet speed and connectivity from dial up to BroadBand,  a lot more can be done online than before. But they are the same things! Thumb sticks have replaced floppy discs, but they are still 'drives' that are inserted, read and written, and ejected, and ... lost.

Not. Any. More.

With the advent of 'Web 2.0' all four of the five domains can now be practised right in a web browser, no software installation needed, and they are (by and large) free. Video is a little tougher to edit 'in the cloud' but it's coming, YouTube already provide basic editing tools, and services like WeVideo.com are pushing back the boundaries of web based idea editing every day.

Instructions vs Conventions

The problem here is is not with the tools, it is with the teaching—teachers who focus more on instructions, or specific software, than overarching conventions and procedures. Don't teach kids how to use 'Word' teach them how to word process. Don't teach them how to use 'Safari' teach them how to browse. Again this is nothing new, we wouldn't think of teaching 'Harry Potter' as teaching 'reading' we might use a text like Harry Potter to observe overarching conventions and concepts—it's the same for ICTs.

Classic icon conventions—any change here is purely aesthetic.

Focus on conventions not instructions

Catch up vs change

The fact is that many, maybe even most teachers pretty much ignored the tech revolution that gradually unfolded since the 90's, it hasn't actually changed much in those intervening couple of decades, but the fact remains that 20 years of cumulated skill is a lot of catching up to do. THAT is the problem, not the rate of change, the considerable amount of catch up required. Catch up and change are not the same thing.

So let's stop whining about the futility of learning ICT skills and get on with it, they've stuck around since their inception, I dare say they'll be around for a little longer. The question is not WHY learn ICT skills but HOW? A subject I have written about here.


Mode vs Medium

I am not saying that digital tools do not present a unique challenge, when compared to their traditional counterparts, say... a pencil or pen and paper etc. Regardless of change, the sheer AMOUNT of digital tools are overwhelming, and increasing at exponential rates every day, to an extent that completely and utterly dwarfs the range of options and tools that would have been available to a teacher even 10 years ago. But, and this is worth repeating, I would still contend that regardless of their proliferation, the vast majority of the 'revolutionary' tools on offer stay well within the comfort zone of the 5 domains I have outlined above (6 if you include control/coding). Sure they might dress the context up a little more effectively, or introduce a clever mechanic, say ... touching instead of clicking, but the fact remains that while the mode may have changed, the medium has not. The same transferable conventions, the same iconography, the same procedures remain, regardless of the form factor of the device, the speed of the processor, the storage capacity, or indeed the sheer availability of these machines in recent years.

Dealing with the Deluge

So, the time invested in mastering or at least embracing core ICT skills and conventions are as relevant as ever in the face of this onslaught of pixelated promises. What is also important is to have an effective filter to manage the phenomenal proliferation of digital tools—on, literally, a daily basis, more tools with funky and not so funky names emerge into a market place already filled to overflowing with a veritable cornucopia of competitors. If you're fortunate, your school hopefully already has a dedicated tech integrator to stand between the teacher and the tsunami wave of digital applications, utilities and all sorts of 'Apps' boasting their pixelated promises to 'save you time' etc.

And if you don't? Then by all means ignore these 'wonders of the web' until you do. Yes, sometimes lurking in the sludge of similarity (and revolutionary? not really...) is the odd golden nugget of greatness, but it's not going to terribly affect your teaching to miss out on those. If that is not an option for you, then arm yourself with some effective filters and, like the prospector who wades through the mediocre, seeking to root out all except the most worthy, you can then bring the odd truly terrific tool triumphantly back to your team. Not that they will be as excited about as you will be. Yet.




* If anything at least one domain that has been and gone is back and currently experiencing a renaissance - computer coding, anyone?