Nicholas's Reflective Journal: Digital Technologies

Input 5: Mobile devices and e-books

February 20, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

As previously covered in this blog, lessons using more than one semiotic system can offer measurable improvements in pupil attainment (Beauchamp, 2012). While an interactive whiteboard is often the main source of multimodality in a classroom, the increasing prevalence of tablet devices (typically iPads) offers a more individualised approach to multimodal learning (Beauchamp, 2012). But are iPads really a panacea which will finally help close the stubborn attainment gap, or are they an expensive, unproven distraction sucking up money that could be better spent elsewhere?

With Glasgow City Council’s recent announcement that 54,000 iPads will be given to its pupils and teachers (Stewart, 2018), the drive to embrace tablets in education isn’t slowing down. Nine years after the introduction of the 1st generation iPad, evidence is building regarding the educational worth of tablets in classrooms. A 2012 University of Hull evaluation of iPad usage in Scottish schools reached several positive conclusions:

  • iPads opened up a wider range of learning opportunities and activities, encouraging teachers and pupils to explore new forms of teaching and learning.
  • iPads promote greater collaboration between teachers and pupils
  • Pupils report improved quality of ICT lessons following the introduction of iPads
  • Parents report their children have an increased willingness to discuss their school work when iPad based.
  • iPads helped deliver core, cross-curricular CfE outcomes

(Burden et al, 2012)

A more recent study evaluating iPad use in Welsh primary schools by Beauchamp and Hillier (2014) details similar benefits while cautioning that rises in attainment were not specifically reported by the teachers taking part in the study – a significant point worth serious consideration by any current or future educator.

Moving from an overview of iPad usage, a 2012 Guardian article offers an educator’s personal experience. Andrews (2012) details four broad benefits: user-friendliness, eBook access, powerful audio-visual tools, and multimodal creativity. But it’s Andrews’ list of problems which I find most interesting as they have largely been resolved in the period since the article as written, either by software updates or broader changes in the tech sector.

“One of the biggest criticisms of the iPad is its inability to work with Adobe Flash and Javascript. A lot of content in schools is dominated by Flash. Despite this, it could be argued that the iPad easily makes up for this restriction with a huge selection of apps.” (Andrews, 2012, n.p.)

Flash has always been a buggy, power-hogging, security nightmare – which is why Apple decided against supporting it on its mobile devices from the very first iPhone (Jobs, 2010). Flash developer Adobe has announced it will finally end support for it next year (Barrett, 2017) so any remaining schools apps requiring Flash really should have been updated by now. Additionally, Javascript is supported by iPads but as Andrews himself points out, native apps almost always offer a slicker, faster solution.

“Multitasking: A drawback with the iPads is the fact that multiple ‘windows’ or files cannot be kept open, side-by-side unlike on computers, although there are apps that allow multiple pages to be open side by side.” (Andrews, 2012, n.p.)

Multiple windows have been supported on iPads since 2017.

Split-screen mode on an iPad.

“Word processing: The iPad is quite limited as a device that you would use regularly to word process on. I much prefer to type lengthy documents on my computer, where I can switch quickly between browser, word processing and email.” (Andrews, 2012, n.p.)

When Andrews says “limited” he is referring either to the software or hardware. Today, fully capable versions of Microsoft Word and Apple’s own Pages are available for iPad and completely compatible with their desktop/laptop counterparts. In terms of hardware, I do personally prefer typing with a real keyboard (and, ideally, a mouse) but I wonder if this is just another generational difference and suspect today’s young people will be perfectly comfortably typing lengthier documents on touchscreens.

 

Personal Observations

I have witnessed some good and some not so good iPad usage in schools. To give an example: I assisted with a class creating PowerPoint presentations on iPad minis. It wasn’t an especially successful lesson for two main reasons:

Wrong hardware. The size of iPad minis create challenges when they’re being used as productivity tools – the screen is simply too small for many tasks. For good reason, Apple tends to promote the iPad mini as a media consumption device rather than a productivity tool. Not that minis can’t be used for creative output but doing so requires appropriate apps, which brings me to…

Wrong software. Instead of the native iPad app, pupils were using a web-based version of PowerPoint which was not optimised for touchscreen use (several core functions were not possible due to the lack of a right-click option). Additionally, drop-down menus were difficult to access, some text was difficult to read, layers were horrendously difficult to control, etc.

The native PowerPoint app is optimised for touchscreens.

It was a frustrating session for both teachers and pupils. And there were other occasions where the iPad wasn’t being used to its full potential or – even worse – was actually getting in the way of the learning. In my view, this underscores the need to ensure iPads are not just used, but used well. Similarly, the conclusion of Andrews (2012), Burden et al (2012) and Beauchamp and Hillier (2014) is that iPads are indeed a useful educational tool – but only when teachers themselves are trained to maximise the potential benefits. Glasgow City Council’s 54,000 iPads delivers a splashy headline, but the multi-million pound investment won’t mean much if all the devices are used for is taking photos and the occasional game of Sumdog.

Another aspect to consider is resource availability. In more than one school I’ve witnessed how a lack of iPads causes last-minute changes to planned lessons or lessons being cut short because another class is scheduled to use the devices. One of the key findings of Burden et al (2012) is that pupils having their own individually allocated iPad, accessible at all times, significantly boosts engagement and learning. The Scottish government, local authorities and head teachers clearly face difficult financial decisions but, at best, it is dishonest of the government to trumpet the importance of digital technology within education without providing adequate funding to support its effective use.

 

Assessment Task

Our assessment task was to use an iPad to create an e-book summarising a children’s print book while introducing interactive elements. I had dabbled with e-book production before but hadn’t thought about it as a classroom activity. This assessment was a chance to evaluate the learning opportunities offered by e-book creation and, more broadly, assess the use of mobile devices for such activities.

The cover of our interactive e-book.

I wanted to approach this task a little differently from those before. All previous assessments had been solo efforts and this time I wanted to collaborate with a fellow student. Working with a partner, particularly when using an unfamiliar app such as Book Creator, is a great way of discovering aspects of the program you may have missed otherwise. It also means immediate support if you’re stuck. And frankly, it makes the process feel like more of a fun challenge and less  of formal task – something I will bear in mind for future classroom practice.

What struck my partner and I before we started the task is how many CfE Experiences and Outcomes can connect to the creation of an e-book. To give just a few examples from the Technologies Es & Os:

“TCH 0-01: I can explore digital technologies and use what I learn to solve problems and share ideas and thoughts.” (Scottish Government, 2019a, p.4)

“TCH 1-01a: I can explore and experiment with digital technologies and can use what I learn to support and enhance my learning in different contexts.” (ibid)

“TCH 2-01a: I can extend and enhance my knowledge of digital technologies to collect, analyse ideas, relevant information and organise these in an appropriate way.” (ibid)

And for this particular task – creating a summary of an existing story – the links extend beyond the Technologies. From the Expressive Arts Es & Os:

“EXA 1-02a: I have the opportunity to choose and explore a range of media and technologies to create images and objects, discovering their effects and suitability for specific tasks.” (Scottish Government, 2019b, p.3)

And from the Literacy Es & Os:

“LIT 2-06a: I can select ideas and relevant information, organise these in an appropriate way for my purpose and use suitable vocabulary for my audience.” (Scottish Government, 2019c, p.4)

These are but a few examples. Evidently, e-book creation is a highly adaptable activity with links to multiple curricular areas across all levels. The Book Creator app itself is simple, intuitive and can produce attractive projects. The book I created with my partner had a charmingly homemade vibe but isn’t as good as a professionally produced e-book and likely never would be, regardless of how much time we spent on it (we’re not graphics designers, after all). So while the app could be used to create custom books for pupils or groups – and this could be particularly helpful when creating materials for children with learning or physical disabilities – I believe its true value, given the wealth of connections to cross-curricular Es & Os, is as an expressive tool for the pupils themselves.

Creating a project directly on an iPad was a fairly new experience for me – I habitually switch to a desktop or laptop when word processing, editing photos and so on. For this task, however, I discovered the iPad was ideal – a slick, easy-to-use, all-in-one solution. The devices are compact, have great battery life, and are generally straightforward to set up and maintain.  And they are, of course, cheaper than equivalently capable laptops. There is also something undeniably appealing about being able to your work in your hands and interact with it in such a direct way. I can understand how the tactile nature of tablets appeals so much to children.

Conclusion

Overall, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that iPads do indeed offer educational value in the classroom – when used appropriately. It’s crucial that 1) resourcing is adequate, and 2) educators themselves are trained to understand the pros and cons of the devices in order to avoid frustrating or unproductive lessons.

 

References

Andrews, D. (2012) An Apple for the teacher: are iPads the future in class? The Guardian. [Online] 13 August, non-paginated. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2012/aug/13/schools-secondary-schools [Accessed: 11 February 2019].

Barrett, B. (2017) Adobe Finally Kills Flash Dead. Wired. [Online] 25 July, non-paginated. Available: https://www.wired.com/story/adobe-finally-kills-flash-dead [Accessed: 11 February 2019].

Beauchamp, G. (2012) ICT in the Primary School – From Pedagogy to Practice. [Online] Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 14 February 2019].

Beauchamp, G. and Hillier, E. (2014) An Evaluation of iPad Implementation Across a Network of Primary Schools in Cardiff. [Online] Available: https://www.cardiffmet.ac.uk/education/research/Documents/iPadImplementation2014.pdf [Accessed: 11 February 2019].

Burden, K. Hopkins, P. Male, T. Martin, S. and Trala, C. (2012) iPad Scotland Evaluation. [Online] Available: https://digitalteachingandlearning.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/ipad-scotland-evaluation.pdf [Accessed: 10 February 2019].

Jobs, S. (2010) Thoughts on Flash. [Online] Available: https://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash [Accessed: 11 February 2019]

Scottish Government (2019a) Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/Technologies-es-os.pdf [Accessed: 10 February 2019].

Scottish Government (2019b) Curriculum for Excellence: Expressive Arts – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/expressive-arts-eo.pdf [Accessed: 14 February 2019].

Scottish Government (2019c) Curriculum for Excellence: Literacy – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/documents/literacy-across-learning-eo.pdf [Accessed: 14 February 2019].

Stewart, C. (2018) Glasgow schools digital strategy to see 54,000 iPads for school pupils. Evening Times. [Online] 3 December, non-paginated. Available: https://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/17271078.glasgow-schools-digital-strategy-to-see-54000-ipads-for-school-pupils [Accessed: 11 February 2019].

Input 4: Coding

February 11, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

After last week’s disappointing dabble with ActivInspire, today’s session was a chance to try out an unfamiliar program that, in contrast to the IWB presentation suite, was intuitive, responsive and a lot of fun: ScratchJr.

ScratchJr’s friendly and intuitive interface

Designed to introduce the basics of programming to children, ScratchJr enables 5 to 7 year olds (and excitable student teachers) to create interactive stories thanks to an easy-to-understand interface and simplified workflow. Helpfully, ScratchJr also represents a natural progression from the programmable toys previously discussed in this blog and builds upon the sequencing and logic skills introduced by Bee-Bot or similar tech.

But do children really need to know how to code?

As the Internet of Things drives ever greater connectivity in our everyday lives (McEwen and Cassimally, 2014) and automation and A.I. begins to radically change the job market (BBC News, 2017), it is crucial that children are equipped, as the Curriculum for Excellence directs, with effective digitally literacy and computing skills. Given that software underpins the operation of every digital device and system, it seems sensible to regard coding as a key priority.

Naughton’s 2012 Observer piece – a smart, sharp and evidence-based article – agrees that coding is a foundational skill – or at least soon will be. He is also critical of the then approach to computer education in British schools, suggesting that too much time was devoted to training pupils to use Word or similar productivity applications at the expense of the real computing science nuts and bolts. This chimes somewhat with my own experience of both Standard Grade and Higher computing. I remember a fair amount of pottering with desktop publishing and other lightweight tasks, but there was also more advanced content covering binary calculations, system architecture and so on. But I definitely don’t remember being taught how to code and I suspect that, as with learning any new language, it may well be an easier task for young, fresh minds. Certainly my own recent attempt to learn the programming language C++ was a frustratingly slow – and frankly bamboozling – process. It convinced me of the need to introduce programming at an early education stage.

Naughton would hopefully find a different situation in today’s classrooms as the curricula of Scotland and the rest of the UK now include coding across all levels.

Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies Experiences and Outcomes (Scottish Government, 2019, p.9)

While the Scottish government sets ambitious digital literacy and computing science CfE goals (with programming structured as a specific Technologies E&O organiser – see above), the actual implementation of computing education can be – by the government’s own admission – somewhat inconsistent (Scottish Government, 2016). Interestingly, the issues of resource limitations and variable levels of teachers’ own technology training were anticipated some six years earlier by Curtis (2013) in reference to the then imminent introduction of coding to English primary and secondary schools. In 2016 the Scottish government announced a strategy to address these concerns and further enshrine digital literacy at the heart of the education system, but the success of the plan remains to be seen.

And it’s not just about coding

“Will every job involve programming? No. But it is crucial we equip future generations to think about the world in a new way.”

(Crow, 2014, n.p.)

As Dr. Crow suggests, teaching pupils to code isn’t simply about them learning to write apps or how to control technology (although that’s certainly important), it is also about introducing the principle of computational thinking.

Computational thinking encourages people to approach a problem in the same way a software engineer might solve a programming challenge. Techniques may include breaking the problem into smaller, more manageable problems or using algorithms to create a generalised solution which can be adapted and applied to other problems (ibid).

This a new, intriguing concept to me. I can see the benefits of equipping children with a durable and adaptable set of problem-solving skills with rationality and logic at their heart. As Dr. Crow seems to be suggesting, the world could certainly use a little more rationality and logic – and perhaps coding is the exciting and accessible way to introduce the concepts to children. Encouragingly, the Scottish government appears to agree as computational thinking is a specified Technologies organiser (see below).

Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies Experiences and Outcomes (Scottish Government, 2019, p.8)

Assessment Task

For our assessment we were to use ScratchJr to create a short interactive story which promoted literacy skills with reference to appropriate Es & Os. Before developing my resource I had a look at a few completed projects on YouTube and in our class materials. Most were delightful pieces designed by children who were clearly engaged by the process and proud of their efforts:

What I noticed about many of the projects – and this is true of those created by adults as well as children – is they offered only very limited interaction.

For example, one featured a series of animals which the user was to name – the problem being the programme continues regardless of the user’s response. Even if the user doesn’t answer or gives the wrong answer, the programme declares the answer to be correct. Not an entirely satisfactory outcome which is more akin to watching a video rather than interacting with a story. I knew I wanted to avoid this pitfall and make sure my story was not a passive viewing experience.

I decided on a simple question and answer structure based around First Level knowledge of the alphabet. But crucially, my story pauses until the user has responded by tapping one of the possible answers. It also advises when the user has answered incorrectly. And only when the correct answer is given will the programme proceed to the next screen and question.

What I liked about using ScratchJr – and what I’m sure children will like – is you can learn how to use it largely by simply trying it out (after perhaps a minimal introduction). I think this instils a great mindset in children: be adventurous, be brave, try new things. Beyond programming fundamentals, I discovered ScratchJr also encourages art and design skills (through the endlessly modifiable characters and backgrounds), numeracy (positioning, timing and loops are key aspects), and literacy (understanding “rules” of language construction as a means of expressing your ideas). I also liked how both the process of creating a story and the finished project itself were both teaching opportunities.

Character creation is engagingly simple

More unexpectedly, ScratchJr also emphasised the importance of collaboration. For the interactive element of my story to work I needed a way to make a character respond to the user’s answer, acknowledging whether the answer was correct or not. The solution – ScratchJr’s “messaging” system where one character sends a command to another – was given to me by a fellow student. In turn, I was able to help a different classmate with a problem when they were stuck. As we developed our projects, we were each discovering new parts of the app and sharing our discoveries with the group. This mutual support characterised a session that was engaging, inspiring and fun. I learned a lot, and I firmly believe ScratchJr has an important place in any First Level classroom.

 

References

BBC News (2017) ‘Robot automation will ‘take 800 million jobs by 2030‘ – report. [Online] 29 November, non-paginated. Available: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-42170100 [Accessed: 31 January 2019].

Beauchamp, G. (2012) ICT in the Primary School – From Pedagogy to Practice. [Online] Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 29 January 2019].

Crow, D. (2014) Why every child should learn to code. The Guardian. [Online] 7 February, non-paginated. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/07/year-of-code-dan-crow-songkick [Accessed: 31 January 2019].

Curtis, S. (2013) Teaching our children to code: a quiet revolution. The Telegraph. [Online] 4 November, non-paginated. Available: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10410036/Teaching-our-children-to-code-a-quiet-revolution.html [Accessed: 4 February 2019].

McEwen, A. and Cassimally, H. (2014) Designing the Internet of Things. [Online] Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 31 January 2019].

Naughton, J. (2012) Why all our kids should be taught how to code. The Guardian. [Online] 31 March, non-paginated. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/mar/31/why-kids-should-be-taught-code [Accessed: 31 January 2019].

Scottish Government (2016) Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Digital Technology. [Online] Available: https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/publication/2016/09/enhancing-learning-teaching-through-use-digital-technology/documents/00505855-pdf/00505855-pdf/govscot%3Adocument [Accessed: 31 January 2019].

Scottish Government (2019) Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/Technologies-es-os.pdf [Accessed: 29 January 2019].

ScratchJr. (2019) About ScratchJr. [Online] Available: https://www.scratchjr.org/about/info [Accessed: 29 January 2019].

Input 3: Interactivity and Multimodality

February 3, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

As is likely to become a recurring theme of this blog, the technology explored in this week’s input – the interactive whiteboard (IWB) – was quite a way off when I was a primary pupil. Overhead projectors were about as advanced as school presentation devices got in 80s and 90s, and mostly it was still chalk and blackboard. This session was an interesting opportunity to consider if lesson delivery via IWBs offers meaningful benefits over the more traditional teaching styles I experienced.

IWBs have become a fixture of modern classrooms for a number of reasons:

  • they allow quick access to information from a wide range of sources (Beauchamp, 2012)
  • lessons can be saved and reopened at a later point (Scottish Government, 2015)
  • lessons can be recorded and shared with parents or pupils who missed class (Deubel, 2012)
  • they open up possibilities for multimodal teaching – perhaps the key feature (Holloway, 2015)

There appears to be a broad consensus that these benefits result in measurable increases in pupil attainment (Scottish Government, 2015). In my own placement and voluntary experiences I have certainly seen IWBs used to deliver lessons which engage and inspire learners.

However, Deubel (2010) cautions that an IWB shouldn’t be considered a miracle tool which automatically raises achievement, and notes (among other reservations) the evidence supporting IWB use is less conclusive than it appears due to small study samples. Where Duebel (2010) agrees with Beauchamp (2012) and Holloway (2015) is that an IWB is only as effective as the person using it. In other words, the quality of the teaching matters more than the technology used to convey it – a key point I will bear in mind.

 

Multimodality

As mentioned, the principal advantage of IWBs is the ease with which they bring multimodality to the classroom. Holloway (2015) includes the following infographic analysing multimodal teaching results:

(Cisco, 2008 citied in Holloway, 2015, p.74)

Cisco, it should be noted, provide technology infrastructure to institutions and corporations so its statistics should be treated with caution. That said, the conclusions do line up with the Scottish government’s own findings.

The results are particularly impressive when higher-order skills are taught using interactive multimodality. I hadn’t heard the term before but it helped me understand why, based on my own observations, some teachers’ IWB use seemed to be especially engaging: they were using interactive multimodal teaching which, as the infographic explains, minimises instances of pupils passively absorbing information in favour of them working directly with resources, experimenting with practical simulations, collaborating with classmates and so on. (It’s interesting to note the infographic indicates a non-interactive approach is sometimes best depending on the complexity of the skill being taught.) It seems reasonable to conclude that educators need to be proficient not only in the technical use of IWBs but also how to utilise them in a more creative sense to fully harness the potential of interactive multimodality.

The variance in the effectiveness of IWB-driven lessons is perhaps understandable when trying out – as I did for the first time – the software used to design them: ActivInspire. My initial impressions were not positive. I found the program to be sluggish, the interface unattractive, and the user experience marred by a lack of intuitive controls and processes.

ActivInspire’s “primary” interface. But surely “child-friendly” doesn’t have to mean garish and cluttered.

Not all applications are easy to use, and some require an investment of time to master even basic functions – Photoshop springs to mind – so of course it’s possible that ActivInspire is a powerful development tool when users get to grips with it. But should presentation software really take that much effort? Keynote and PowerPoint – admittedly not exactly comparable – certainly don’t.

I can’t help but feel there should be a more elegant and simpler solution to creating interactive multimodal lessons – perhaps one that even the most techophobic teachers could embrace. Interestingly, Cisco themselves have recently moved into the IWB market and their website emphasises their system’s ease of use and simplicity when specifically compared to ActiveInspire/Promethean boards.

My ActivInspire grumbles aside – and I will reassess after spending a little more trying to figure it out – the benefits of good multimodal lessons and IWBs are clear. While they are not substitutes for great teaching, they are undoubtedly invaluable tools which can elevate great teaching even further.

 

References

Beauchamp, G. (2012) ICT in the Primary School – From Pedagogy to Practice. [Online] Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 24 January 2019].

Deubel, P. (2010) Interactive Whiteboards: Truths and Consequences. The Journal. [Online] Available: https://thejournal.com/Articles/2010/08/04/Interactive-Whiteboards-Truths-and-Consequences.aspx?Page=1 [Accessed: 24 January 2019].

Holloway, A. (2015) Delivering the mathematics curriculum through technology-enhanced learning. In: Younie, S., Leask, M. and Burden, K. (eds) Teaching and Learning with ICT in the Primary School. [Online] pp.71-79. Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 24 January 2019].

Scottish Government (2015) Literature Review on the Impact of Digital Technology on Learning and Teaching. [Online] Available: https://www2.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00489224.pdf [Accessed: 24 January 2019].

Input 2: Programmable Toys

January 26, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

One of my hopes for this module was to be introduced to new technologies – at least new to me – specifically created for use in the classroom. The programmable toys input presented the first such tool in the form of a cheerful little robot bee.

I had never heard of Bee-Bot, and I hadn’t seen it used while I was on placement. Upon first glance I was, truth be told, initially skeptical that such a simplistic toy could 1) appeal to children likely used to far more sophisticated tech at home, and 2) deliver opportunities for meaningful teaching. But our lecturer’s obvious enthusiasm, based upon real classroom experience, along with feedback from fellow students who had observed Bee-Bot on placement, convinced me to consider its potential.

I checked YouTube where I found video after video of school children from all around the world engaged with Bee-Bot lessons covering literacy, numeracy, geography, art – the curricular possibilities seemed endless. I was particularly impressed by this video:

(Mr. Vacca, 2017)

The teacher has a great presentation style and seeing how an experienced educator introduced the Bee-Bot to his class was inspiring. Of course, the sincerity of such videos must always be assessed – viewers can never be sure they are not watching disguised adverts. However, given the number of similar clips and, frankly, the highly variable production quality, it seems reasonable to consider them honest testimonials. Indeed, the overwhelmingly positive reactions of the featured children would be tricky to successfully fake.

Formal studies and more anecdotal reports also support the use of programmable toys. Janka (2008) highlights three main benefits:

  • Given that so much of the technology we encounter everyday is user controlled, it is important to introduce children to the ways in which we effectively interact with such technology.
  • As their name suggests, programmable toys establish the principles of programming – a key computer science skill which is increasingly desirable in an increasingly digital workplace.
  • Interacting with programmable devices may enhance a child’s thinking, learning and problem solving capacities.

Lydon (2008) offers a less formal but still informative – and again very positive – review of Bee-Bot usage with younger children. While academic studies remain the gold standard for evaluations, I would argue much can be learned from the practitioners actually using the tools (while being mindful, as with the YouTube videos, of potential conflicts of interest).

Perhaps the most important endorsement of programmables is from the Scottish government itself which has enshrined them in the Technologies Experiences & Outcomes:

From the Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies – Experiences & Outcomes (Scottish Government, 2018a, p.9)

I was surprised the Early and First Level outcomes were so ambitious, and yet it’s clear that children can gain the necessary experience and knowledge in a fun, practical way using programmables like Bee-Bot because they are “tangible technological devices [which] children can directly manipulate” (Janka, 2008, p.2).

As with all educational resources, care must be taken to introduce it properly to the learners. Janka (2008) cautions that children may lose interest in a programmable if they are not set specific goals to achieve. This issue can be addressed though the use of storytelling or world building (e.g. Bee-Bot has to travel around a town map buying the necessary supplies for a birthday party). Janka (ibid) further highlights that an appropriate number of devices must be available during or the pupils’ impatience may get the better of them – a major consideration given budget limitations.

The Assessment

The Technologies Es & Os were a crucial consideration when tackling our first assessment challenge: we were tasked with creating a Bee-Bot learning resource. We were to choose a Curriculum for Excellence level and curricular area, and design and create a Bee-Bot activity to deliver the appropriate cross-curricular teaching.

Another YouTube search gave me, at the very least, an appreciation of the range of possibilities. It also emphasised that like all teaching tools, Bee-Bot can be implemented well and implemented not so well. My initial idea, a space exploration theme, was overly elaborate and I had difficulty matching the information I wanted to include with the First and Early Level Science Es & Os. (I had decided to focus on Early or First because of Bee-Bot’s design – it will be interesting to investigate how well Bee-Bot – or its more high-tech bluetooth cousin – would be received by older children.)

I started over. And this time I settled on a simple idea appropriate to First and Early Levels: pupils would guide Bee-Bot around a garden map decorated with various flowers and obstacles to collect pollen. I also wanted to bring in a numeracy element as mathematics is such a crucial aspect of digital technologies so I selected the following Es & Os:

“TCH 1-15a: I can demonstrate a range of basic problem solving skills by building simple programs to carry out a given task, using an appropriate language.” (Scottish Government, 2018a, p.9)

“MNU 1-03a: I can use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division when solving problems, making best use of the mental strategies and written skills I have developed.” (Scottish Government, 2018b, p.2)

The learners would answer an addition question from a stack of cards (answers on the back) and if they get the right answer and also manage to program Bee-Bot to move from the beehive to the flower with the corresponding number of petals, they would be rewarded with two “pollen points”. Get either only the calculation or the movement right and the pupil gets one point. Land on an obstacle and the pupil would lose a point.

A very, very rough sketch of my proposed Bee-Bot map…

…and the final result, complete with question cards and “pollen” tokens.

I found that the process of selecting a CfE level, then a curricular area, before planning appropriate teaching in respect to the Es & Os was just as instructive as the digital technology content of the lecture. Indeed, it’s the first time I’ve had to devise a teaching resource – albeit a rudimentary one – in this manner. Having the chance to do so was incredibly useful and demonstrated how the Es & Os provide a helpful, practical framework to guide lesson planning.

The Verdict

My initial Bee-Bot skepticism was firmly pushed aside when I had to test my own design and realised what a fun challenge it was to guide Bee-Bot around the map. I was also impressed by the range of cross-curricular teaching opportunities offered by programmables as demonstrated by numerous YouTube videos and the wonderful variety of projects created by my fellow students. I believe programmables will be an invaluable tool to help children not only learn the principles of programming but, perhaps even more importantly, understand that programming can be be a lot of fun.

 

References

Janka, P. (2008) Using a Programmable Toy at Preschool Age: Why and How? [Online] Available: http://www.terecop.eu/downloads/simbar2008/pekarova.pdf [Accessed: 18 January 2019].

Lydon, A (2008) Robots in Early Education. Sharing Good Practice. [Online] Available: http://moodle1819.uws.ac.uk/pluginfile.php/39830/mod_resource/content/1/Reading%20Programmable%20Toys/ICTopus%20-%20Sharing%20Good%20Practice%20-%20Robots%20in%20Early%20Education%20%20.pdf [Accessed: 18 January 2019].

Scottish Government (2018a) Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/Technologies-es-os.pdf [Accessed: 19 January 2019].

Scottish Government (2018b) Curriculum for Excellence: Numeracy and Mathematics – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/numeracy-maths-eo.pdf [Accessed: 19 January 2019].

Vacca, M. (2017) Using Bee Bots in Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd Grade Classrooms – Hour of Code w/ Mr. Vacca. [Online] Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uULpYYE1Agc {Accessed: 17 January 2019].

“Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” Revisited

January 26, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

After a necessarily information-heavy introductory lecture, I was looking forward to shifting gears and moving on to this week’s more practical session exploring programmable toys, a technology I knew little about. But before I get to the fun stuff – and spurred by our lecturer’s encouragement to be rigorously critical of sources – I want to look back to my previous blog entry and, more specifically, at the references to Prensky’s seminal 2001 article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.

In truth, I merely skimmed the document before writing my blog post. I had already heard the Digital Native concept mentioned enough on the BA Education programme to know it was an influential piece and I naturally thought it was a good idea to refer to it in my blog to demonstrate I’ve done some background reading. It should go without saying that it’s generally a bad idea to drop in a well-known source without taking time to properly consider its content. Indeed, when I did reread Prensky – really reading it this time – I found much to disagree with.

Prensky’s premise that younger people are more technological skilled and process information differently because they have grown up in an age of technological ubiquity didn’t seem right to me. I could count too many examples from my own friends and family running entirely counter to Prensky’s position. I have millennial and generation Z cousins who instantly summon me (considerably older than either of them) when they have a problem with their phones or laptops. I have a friend in his 70s, a former lecturer, who is one of the most technologically adept people I know. There is also my own computer enthusiast father, hardly a Digital Native, I mentioned in my previous blog. Now these are, of course, all anecdotal examples with little academic value. However, they convinced me that legitimate reviews of Prensky’s findings likely existed and some research did reveal several interesting and insightful criticisms.

One such analysis by Kirschner and De Bruyckere (2017) concludes that Prensky’s core points are simply not supported by meaningful evidence – so-called Digital Natives are not more technically minded than Digital Immigrants, nor do they have, as Prensky also suggests, a greater capacity for multi-tasking. Indeed the authors go further, indicating that Prensky’s theories, specifically his conclusion that Digital Natives learn in a fundamentally new way, can actually be counterproductive when applied in the classroom (ibid).

I believe it’s also reasonable to evaluate the contemporary relevance of Prensky’s article. When originally published, it is likely the digital experience gap between educators, who had not grown up in a technology-rich environment, and their pupils, who had, did indeed exist. However, two decades later and the vast majority of today’s student teachers are themselves, by Prensky’s definition, Digital Natives. Following Prensky’s own logic, the problem he describes is surely mitigated simply by the passage of time. Of course there will still be working teachers who fit the definition of a Digital Immigrant in both outlook and skillset, but it is difficult to see how these refuseniks can be persuaded on the potential of digital tech if they have resisted for the last twenty years.

That’s not to say Prensky’s article is without merit. It certainly remains true, as he emphasises, that educators should be technically savvy so they can pass these crucial skills on to their pupils in a credible, authoritative manner. But I believe White and Le Cornu (2011) offer a more balanced, pragmatic alternative to Prensky with their Residents and Visitors model. Instead of using a simple generational divide to classify levels of digital ability, White and Le Cornu propose a spectrum with those who, broadly speaking, enjoy using various forms of digital technology at one end, and those who don’t at the other. In other words, it recognises that simply being in the Digital Native demographic is no guarantee of being technically confident and that the opposite is also true: older people are not necessarily digitally deficient.

This presents a key goal for the education system: ensuring teachers and pupils alike, regardless of age or background, are encouraged to recognise the empowering potential of technology and are equipped not simply to function, but to flourish, in an increasingly digitised world.

References

Kirschner, P. A. and De Bruyckere, P. (2017) The myths of the digital native and the multitasker. Teaching and Teacher Education. [Online] Vol.67(2017), pp.135-142. Available: https://www.gwern.net/docs/psychology/2017-kirschner.pdf [Accessed: 16 January 2019].

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon. [Online] Vol.9(5), pp. 1-6. Available: https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/10748120110424816 [Accessed: 18 January 2019].

White, D. S. and Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday. [Online] Vol.16(9), n.p. Available: https://firstmonday.org/article/view/3171/3049#p2 [Accessed: 18 January 2019].

 

Input 1: Introduction

January 13, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

A program displaying “Hello, World!” is often the first taught to novice coders due to its simplicity and immediate output.

 

“The appropriate and effective use of digital technology within education will give all of our learners the opportunity to improve their educational outcomes and to develop digital skills that will be vital for life, learning and work in today’s increasingly digitised world.”

(Scottish Government, 2016, p.4)

 

With the Scottish government placing digital technologies at the core of its education strategy, it would certainly seem professionally prudent for student teachers like myself to embrace the potential of such technologies. But this practical consideration is only one of the reasons I have chosen the optional Digital Technologies module – the other being more personal: I have a life-long passion for digital technology. I hope to develop my existing skills, acquire a few new ones, and, most importantly, learn how to apply them in the classroom.

I’m a littler older than Prensky’s “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001) but despite this – and perhaps unusually for someone my age – I have been using computers since the mid-80s. I was fortunate to have a dad who developed a very early interest in very early home computers and I happily inherited his hobby. While not officially a digital native, I do have first-hand experience of the evolution of computing from simple 8-bit machines (with all of 48 kilobytes of RAM – who could possibly need more?) to today’s super-powered workstations with ultrafast internet connections. Not forgetting, of course, we now all carry handheld devices with more processing capacity than the computers NASA used for the moon landings (Grossman, 2017).

I like having that historical context. It’s been a fun, fascinating journey. And more meaningfully, it helps me recognise the staggering speed of development – and appreciate that such rapid progress is unlikely to slow. Teachers need to stay ahead of the curve (as much as anyone can) to be be seen as relevant and authoritative by their pupils in this crucial curriculum area. We need to speak the language. We need to understand the culture. As Prensky indicates, we need to acknowledge how digital ubiquity has changed the very ways in which young people think (Prensky, 2001).

One week into the Digital Technologies module and, as I hoped, I am already learning. I now have, for example, a better understanding of the Scottish government’s digital education strategy and admire its drive to use technology to close the attainment gap. More significantly perhaps, I am also learning what I don’t know. Unfamiliar tools and services have already been introduced (e.g. Bee-Bot and ActivInspire) and I look forward to learning how these and other devices and platforms offer innovative and engaging teaching opportunities.

A self-assessment task was also incredibly effective for identifying specific gaps in my digital skill set. I consider myself to be a very capable user of Microsoft Word but have little experience with Excel – an issue for an aspiring teacher given the amount of data teachers have to process. I intend to continue identifying and addressing similar skill gaps.

As mentioned earlier, while I understand the power of digital technology as a creative, communication or information tool, I lack the knowledge of how to harness this potential in the primary classroom. Or rather I do have vague notions – and indeed I observed some very good uses on placement – but I want to strive for better than that which is where this module comes in. I want digital technologies be a particular area of strength for me as an educator. I believe it’s something I could be good at. I have 12 weeks (and one blog) to find out!

References

Grossman, D. (2017) How Do NASA’s Apollo Computers Stack Up to an iPhone? Popular Mechanics. [Online] 13 March, non-paginated. Available: https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/moon-mars/a25655/nasa-computer-iphone-comparison [Accessed: 9 January 2019].

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon. [Online] Vol.9(5), pp. 1-6. Available: https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Scottish Government (2016) Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Digital Technology. [Online] Available: https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/publication/2016/09/enhancing-learning-teaching-through-use-digital-technology/documents/00505855-pdf/00505855-pdf/govscot%3Adocument [Accessed: 9 January, 2018].

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