Tuesday, 28 July 2009

eAssessment for schools - millstone or life ring?

Gerald Haigh's '5 Things To Think About' is an excellent blog from the NCSL covering all things BSF. Sign up to the RSS feed if you don't already.

His most recent blog details some very interesting developments in the field of eAssessment, particularly the pioneering approach a region of Norway is taking.

This made me think about the problem, and the opportunity of assessment. In my experience of consulting on multiple BSF and single school capital build projects, getting heads and teachers enthused about the transformational potential of ICT is an exciting process, but almost always stumbles against the, er, mixed metaphor of assessment hiding in the long grass.

"This is all very well," the Head of English/ Curriculum Deputy/ Chair of Governors will say "but I've got 190 year 11s who need to be able to write a coherent exam essay within 45 minutes or our GCSE results will suffer". They're right to be concerned as this is high-stakes stuff - schools live and die by their exam results and the league tables they produce. And this is the sticking point - one arm of government is promoting innovation and transformation of pedagogies, whilst another is forcing schools to continue orthodox practices, because of the requirement to be able to measure schools' performance. Summative exam results provide easily comparable data to do just this.

A similar mixed message can be seen in the Harnessing Technology strategy, which promotes the development of ePortfolios as the ongoing, slowly-growing, holistic record of everything a learner has achieved and is capable of. As a method of demonstrating a lifetime of learning, transferable ePortfolios are surely a more accurate description of students' ability and experience than a summative test (often of learned facts) at the end of a Key Stage. However, currently very few qualifications make use of this type of evidence of learning and therefore progress at a school level in the use of ePortfolios is unlikely to reach any meaningful level.

Even more fundamentally, we as a nation need to consider summative assessment in the digital age. When the entire cannon of human knowledge is accessible via your mobile phone's internet browser, should the measuring of one's retention of facts have such a dramatic influence on your future life chances? Surely post-Google, it's how you judge the reliability of information and then what you do with it which is more important?

It seems clear (to me at least) that the solution to the Assessment conundrum needs tackling at a policy level. Examination boards are eager to progress eAssessment; schools are gradually implementing the infrastructure to support it; students are keen to utilise powerful, familiar tools and wider evidence of their ability; but direction and impetus is needed from the different layers of government in Whitehall but also it's agencies and organisations such as Becta and Ofsted. Until a clear and unambiguous direction is set, the potential of technology to transform assessment will be hobbled.

So, let's imagine a future education system with a mature eAssessment model;
*ePortfolios and online 'stage not age' access to examinations provide the means to accurately measure (as I don't think we're going to get away from this requirement) the success of schools in helping students to make progress.
*The nature of these tools offer a genuine picture of learning, not only exam technique or memorised facts.
*Schools are freer to concentrate purely on learning, not the evidencing of this, and feel the confidence to innovate and explore different ways of doing things.
*Models of learning and of teaching are challenged and transformed, without the fear of a 2% drop in GCSE results hanging over practitioners...
*...and learners benefit from a system which concentrates on their learning, not the measurement of it

Monday, 27 July 2009

Online Schooling in the UK?

'Learning without Limits' by Christine Van Dusen. EsN April 2009

Whilst I was reading this interesting special report in-school News www.K-12.com/educators, I was struck by the notion that although there seems to be some evidence that the nature of schooling is beginning to change in the United States, with 44 states offering some kind of online schooling within their public school provision, very little seems to be happening in the UK.

Online schooling is still seen to be very much as the domain of the sick, disabled or celebrity pupils who can’t attend normal schooling . Online students are thought to be considerably worse off and less well socialised than normal school pupils. However, the US experience seems to contradict this with many normal schools using online schooling to address greater personalisation and augment their curriculum to allow students to raise their attainment levels and learn at their own pace. This would seem also to reduce stress on fixed resources, allow for more flexible use of time, respond to pupils' learning styles and encourage motivation and engagement. The responsibility for learning can be shared between the teacher and the pupil as the basis of online schooling is greater interaction between teachers and learners and between learner and learner and allows for just as much opportunity for group work and collaboration as the traditional school.

As many local authorities are looking at rebuilding their school estate, now might be the time to consider the potential contribution of online schooling to the transformation of learning in the future. Schools are already heavily engaged in tackling the problems of more flexible working required by the 14-19 curriculum and online schooling may well help in this respect. School buildings could be smaller or schools could be appreciably larger but with fewer students attending the physical school at any one time. The virtual school could tackle the problems that occur through bad weather (two weeks closure every time it snows?!?) or what to do when there is a swine flu pandemic and all the schools are closed and enable learner with special needs to be truly accommodated. Students can access learning at a time, place and pace that suits them and the development of fully integrated learning platforms in every school ought to be key to the delivery of online schooling in the future.

As it is, the Government in the UK is currently suggesting that should schools have to remain closed in September to contain the spread of swine flu, students will be able to attend virtually. It remains to be seen how many schools in this country have the infrastructure and resources in place to accomodate this.

David Meaton

Games based learning or games-based teaching?

Paul Pivec July 2009 http://www.becta.org.uk 'Games based learning or games based teaching?'

Paul Pivec, an Australian academic who has a 20 year background in the IT and games industry, takes a critical look at current games-based learning and, in particular, examines the lack of rigorous research evidence whether cognitive training games actually increases the skills and knowledge of the players or simply teaches them the skills they need to play the games.

He makes an interesting re-assessment about the notion of “digital natives” and poses questions about whether learners brought up in a digital world learn in any different ways than those who are not, do they utilise technology in different ways than those of the teachers who are teaching them? Pivec suggests that it could be the technology itself and the way it is used that simply appeals to creative learners, and the digital native theory is simply a marketing ploy created focused around the game.

He claims that it is the teacher-led learning activity taking place around the game that has the real potential to make a difference and this is what he prefers to call games-based teaching. This article was commissioned by Becta as part of the 'Emerging technologies for Learning' series and can be found under Technology Research.

David Meaton

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Growing evidence of ICT's impact

I've just been reading Becta's interim report on the evidence on the impact of ICT on learning and was struck by a number of things;

*Impact2 (2003) really did damn ICT with faint praise didn't it?! However...

*The findings of the SWEEP study into Interactive Whiteboards in the Primary sector were interesting - it's very rare for girls (and high-achieving ones at that) to benefit from ICT significantly more than boys.

*Valentine et al's (2005) work looking at the impact of home access to computers and the internet should be heartening reading for the Right Honourable Jim Knight and his Home Access programme - the claims of a 10 point impact on GCSE results are significant. I assume this means spread across 7-12 actual GCSEs, so not perhaps transforming life chances from chip shop to Oxbridge, but positive nonetheless.

*The link between eMature schools and schools which achieve well in measured outcomes is strong - Butt and Cebulla's (2006) study makes a convincing case for this, as does Ofsted's evidence (not cited in this report) that schools with the ICT Mark are 4 times more likely to be graded 'Outstanding'.

*And finally, the elephant in the room: that the process of learning is massively complex - it may not be possible to extract a single strand and demonstrate a consistent effect through current social research methods. If we've learned anything about ICT's impact in education, it's that it is only a part of the fiendishly tricky jigsaw which goes to make up a successful school.

The FE Capital Build Crisis

Following the freezing of funding for the Capital Build programme in December 2009, a recent investigation by MP’s on the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee condemned the "catastrophic mismanagement" of the college building scheme which now could waste hundreds of millions of pounds. The chairman Phil Willis has been quoted as saying: "It really beggars belief that such an excellent programme which had showed real success in transforming the further education experience for students was mismanaged into virtual extinction” and that "warning signs were missed and even worse, ignored. LSC didn't notice as the total value of the projects it was considering began to overshoot the budget and a review which could have prompted action was shunted around committees and policy groups."

The problem has been that the LSC encouraged colleges to bid for funds and approved projects it did not have money for. By last November, 144 colleges had together invested tens of millions of pounds in preparing bids and getting approval from the LSC. Recently, it was announced only 13 of those projects would go ahead this year.

The term ‘beggars belief’ certainly reflected Novatia’s thinking as the story unravelled. We were working at the time with a number of colleges and their design teams on what promised to be ground breaking projects to provide learning environments and facilities in tune with their young learners. It must be noted that school leavers are increasingly expecting greater control over their learning in line with the ICT rich environments and flexible learning they are experiencing within both the Primary and Secondary sector, each of which have their own Capital Build projects.

Another key student group was that of local businesses and their employees. We know that many are pressed to get staff trained to a suitable standard whilst maintaining the business. They require the facilities and infrastructure sufficient to deliver flexible programmes both on and off site for both groups and individuals. Colleges have put a lot of time into planning for this but for most, the planned builds will never reach the chosen design.

Where do colleges go from here?

Well in the first instance, the committee of MPs have recommended that arrangements for compensation for colleges and possible solvency issues are addressed ASAP. No doubt the regional LSC teams will be working hard on this with the colleges. Also the committee MPs are keen that colleges which want to press ahead by finding alternative funding be offered government help to do so. This offers some light and some exciting possibilities but we await more details on this. We can expect that even with this, colleges' funds will need to be spread further.

What can be achieved with less funding?

Increasingly ICT is central to the any college’s strategy to reach out beyond its traditional parameters and engage with learners, business and the community on a 24/7 basis. These days’ students young and old are more likely to engage with learning through a media rich environment. For example using video, podcasts, blogs, subject based wikis, online assessment supporting all learning activity. Tutorials groups can be formed around the use of these tools augmented by the use of low-cost tele conference software such as Skype for remote tutorial support, offering both tutors to student and peer to peer support. Whether programmes are full time, part time or designed for remote learning, ICT offers the flexibility to scale programmes in a responsive and cost effective way.

As colleges consider their physical estate, ICT offers the possibility of running programmes from any location, whether that is a low-cost unit, a semi permanent base for some programmes or a local employer’s premises. With the exception of more specialist spaces, learning areas require flexibility of furniture and ease of access to a range of ICT to ensure timetabling opportunities are maximised.

Starting with a Total Cost of Ownership/ cost benefit exercise, colleges can make informed choices on use of ICT to extend their reach, maximise use of space and save on space per student. A robust and scalable ICT backbone is required and Capital/ Revenue options are increasingly worth consideration as ICT as a managed service becomes cost effective. Colleges require more ‘bang for their buck’; from experience this is only achieved by effective strategic planning and consensus building, where education and training drive a clearly designed ICT solution that meets needs both now and in a 5-10 year timeline. That is why Novatia have emailed a helpful thumbnail guide for planning, to all college Principals who may be considering their 5-10 year plan for the delivery of their 21st century programmes, with or without help from the LSC. If you'd like a copy, email me at stephen.norris@novatia.plc.uk

Stephen Norris

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Home Access programme

The government have recently announced that following successful trials in Suffolk and Oldham Council (a Novatia client), the Home Access programme is to be rolled out nationally before the end of 2009.

In case you don't know, this is an evolution from the Computers for Pupils scheme, whereby the neediest families will be provided with up to £600 eCredit with which to purchase computing and broadband services from a range of accredited suppliers.

The big idea is that by bridging the 'digital divide' between well-off and less well-off families, every child will have access to 'anywhere anytime' learning and schools will be able to extend eLearning - and particularly their use of Learning Platforms - beyond the school day. The programme is beginning by targetting students in Key Stages 2 and 3. Schools will undoubtedly have a large (if unresourced!) role to play in promoting this scheme to the families they serve.

Novatia's stakeholder data (carried out with thousands of students in schools across the country) indicates that while significant numbers have sole access to a computer and most households are connected to the internet, there remains an equally significant proportion who cannot access school eResources from home. Whilst this disconnected and under-equiped strata of learners persists, it is difficult for schools to really embed their Learning Platforms across all aspects of their business and the potentially transformational benefits of a really eMature Learning Platform are hobbled. Perhaps this funding will provide the impetus needed to get LPs to finally take off in England?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Windows 7 starts to sell

Microsoft today released Windows 7 for pre-order in the UK and is reported to be selling 3x faster than Vista did in 2007.

The beta version has been widely regarded as a success and Windows 7 promises to be more stable than Vista, run older school software, run on lower spec machines such as netbooks and improve remote file access. '7' will be missing Internet Explorer (IE) however, since the EU ruled that bundling gave Microsoft an unfair advantage over other browser vendors.

The physical product will ship in October and is already being integrated into solutions offered by educational suppliers, such as RM and Ramesys.

Novatia Newswire Inaugural Blog

Thanks to blogspot.com (aka Google) we can now bring you the Novatia Newswire as a live blog feed. In this blog you will find news and comment from Novatia's consultants working on ICT transformation and capital build projects in Education.