Nicholas's Reflective Journal: Digital Technologies

Looking Back, Looking Forward…

April 8, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

“Self-evaluation should be a useful process that is rigorous and enables you to be critically reflective about yourself as a professional and your practice.” (GTCS, n.d., n.p.)

As the Digital Technologies module comes to an end, it’s time to look back and evaluate my progress over the last few months. I will reflect on how my understanding of the uses and value of technology in education has improved, along with a broader consideration of my development as a future teacher.

New technologies

Rereading my first blog entry, I’m surprised by the vagueness of my goals. I had hoped to learn how best to use my already reasonably up-to-date tech skills to enhance learning in a primary setting. A rather general aim but a valid one nonetheless, and I would say I’m feeling considerably more informed and confident in this area.

I learned about – and more importantly had a chance to play with – several programs and devices that were entirely new to me. Bee-Bot and ScratchJr, both engaging and user-friendly introductions to the world of coding, should find a place in any classroom. While I’d certainly heard of Minecraft, I had no idea there was an Education Edition or realised it could be used to support learning across so many curricular areas. ActivInspire remains a clunky disappointment but from that input came a deeper appreciation for the power of multimodal learning. Also, for what it’s worth, now that I’m aware of ActivInspire’s interface shortcomings, I can devote an appropriate amount of time getting used to it – which is another positive. I was introduced to more new software with Puppet Pals and iStopMotion and, not being overly impressed with either, I investigated alternative solutions which I felt delivered a better, more satisfying experience.

It was also gratifying to see that certain past and present hobbies of mine, such as filmmaking and animation, have a place in the modern classroom. This was a particularly exciting discovery and I have already started to think about new activities in which both of these crafts can enhance learning.

Curricular connections

Without question, one of the most useful aspects of this module was completely unexpected: the requirement that the activities we were devising had to link to specific Curriculum for Excellence Experiences and Outcomes. In truth, prior to these tasks, I had only a loose understanding of how the curriculum was structured so being guided towards deeper engagement with its principles of design and experience and outcomes was incredibly instructive.

Consequently, I have a greater understanding of how the various curriculum areas link together – and the importance of such links – and a clearer sense of how the curriculum reflects the Scottish government’s education strategy. All vitally important knowledge moving forward.

This was also my first significant experience of creating teaching activities. Some were more successful than others, but that too is all part of the learning process. I feel I now have a solid foundation on which to build towards BA2 and beyond.

Additional Support for Learning

Probably the most meaningful personal development was the realisation that I had been overlooking the use of digital technology in ASL education. I’ve always regarded myself as a firm believer in inclusive education and a proponent of fairness and diversity in all areas of life, but somehow I was still habitually evaluating technology from the perspective of, frankly, someone just like me. After realising this, I strived to be more mindful of the perspectives of all learners and I believe this is reflected in subsequent blog entries.

I believe ASL education may see something of a revolution in the coming years thanks to cutting-edge technologies such as augmented reality (Majumdar, 2016) and this is now an area of particular interest to me and one I will watch closely.

Funding, training, and the attainment gap

It was interesting to consider the availability of digital technology in schools, particularly as I began to understand the degree to which the Scottish government believes such resources are one of the key factors in closing the attainment gap.

Almost every week would bring the stark conclusion that there was little a teacher could do to deliver technology-based lessons and all the associated benefits if the resources simply weren’t available. With spending in Scottish schools falling by over £400m in the last decade (Macnab, 2018), this is an issue that may face teachers for some years to come.

I’ve also come to realise how it’s incumbent on us as educators to keep our technology skills current and that we need to be aware of – and aware how to use – any new devices, apps or services which may benefit learners. As the Scottish Government indicates: “Simply providing more technology does not result in improved outcomes for learners” (Scottish Government, 2019, p.4). In other words, a teacher must themselves have the confidence and skills to harness technology as effectively as possibly in the classroom.

Conclusion

Overall, Digital Technologies has been an informative and inspiring experience, with an abundance of practical advice and suggestions. I believe I have a clearer understanding of the application of technology in education and how it can be used to meaningfully enhance learning. I also recognise the importance of government policy and resource availability when planning digital technology-based activities.

What isn’t covered above is just how fun the module has been. Perfectly capturing the first principle of curriculum design – “challenge and enjoyment” (Education Scotland, 2019, n.p.) – the last twelve weeks have been a thoroughly challenging and enjoyable experience. That fun and learning have gone so closely hand in hand is not lost on me and I will be taking this lesson forward, among countless others from this module, as I continue my development as a future educator.

 

References

Education Scotland (2019) What is Curriculum for Excellence? [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/scottish-education-system/policy-for-scottish-education/policy-drivers/cfe-(building-from-the-statement-appendix-incl-btc1-5)/What%20is%20Curriculum%20for%20Excellence? [Accessed: 7 April 2019].

GTCS (n.d.) What is self-evaluation? [Online] Available: https://www.gtcs.org.uk/professional-standards/what-is-self-evaluation.aspx [Accessed: 5 April 2019].

Macnab, S. (2018) Spending on Scots schools falls by £400m in a decade. The Scotsman. [Online] 6 August, non-paginated. Available: https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/spending-on-scots-schools-falls-by-400m-in-a-decade-1-4779195 [Accessed: 7 April 2019].

Majumdar, A (2016) Utilizing Augmented Reality For Special Needs Learning. [Online] Available: https://elearningindustry.com/augmented-reality-for-special-needs-learning [Accessed: 7 April 2019].

Scottish Government (2019) Pupil Equity Funding – National Operational Guidance – 2019. [Online] Available: https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/advice-and-guidance/2019/02/pupil-equity-funding-national-operational-guidance-2019/documents/pupil-equity-funding—national-operational-guidance-2019/pupil-equity-funding—national-operational-guidance-2019/govscot%3Adocument [Accessed: 7 April 2019].

Input 10: QR Codes and Outdoor Learning

April 8, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

A QR code in its blocky, monochrome glory.

Unlike the last few sessions when I had an existing interest in the technologies we were evaluating, I had only a very limited knowledge of QR – or Quick Response – codes. I had never used one nor seen them used in schools. To be honest, I always thought they were a largely ignored advertising gimmick so I was interested in discovering how these high-tech barcodes could be applied in education, and also how they link to the other topic covered by this week’s input, outdoor learning.

Dabbling with QR codes for the first time, I found them to be snappier and less clunky than I had imagined. Simply hold your phone or tablet in front of a code and you’re immediately linked to either embedded text or a website, picture, audio file, video clip, or map location – or really any piece of information or data that can be stored online. They were clearly more flexible than I expected as demonstrated by an example QR treasure hunt activity. Using multiple choice questions to link from clue to clue, the task was a smart, engaging use of the technology which featured cross-curricular learning (more about specific Experiences and Outcomes later).

However, as I searched online for further examples of QR activities, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the suggestions. Many were in fact minor variations of the treasure hunt. Others added a layer of technology to a task that would probably have been no different – or in some cases better – without it (The Chalkboard, 2017). I understand that using a technology “hook” to engage children is entirely valid, but some of the suggested activities seemed, frankly, light on content and a little too dependent on the hook.

Turning to more authoritative sources, Morris, Uppal and Ayres (2015) offer a list of QR ideas including:

  • Using QR codes in books to link to questions about the text
  • Placing QR codes in homework to link to support materials
  • Using QR codes to supply worksheet answers

These suggestions would certainly provide efficient access to the relevant information – certainly faster than typing a web address and with virtually no risk of errors – but I’m not quite sure what else. Not that swiftness isn’t important, but I think I was hoping for something more. That said, such speedy linking to information means QR codes do still have their uses. A nice example was discussed in class (and also appears on Morris, Uppal and Ayres’ list): QR codes could be used in a school library to provide links to book reviews written – or perhaps even recorded in the form of a secure audio or video clip – by other pupils. I think this is a lovely idea. It’s a creative way to foster a reading community and may even encourage reluctant readers to pick up a book if it has been recommended by their peers.

I did notice that some of the QR support material suggested by our lecture notes was produced almost a decade ago – a lifetime in the tech world. This only adds to my reservations. I’m not convinced QR codes would be regarded as particular relevant by today’s learners. I think there would be a curiosity factor when first introduced – and the QR treasure hunt was enjoyable with clear educational value – but I wonder if there would be much engagement after the novelty had worn off. Unlike many of the technologies we have looked at, this one doesn’t seem to be particularly adaptable.

(Jones, 2010, n.p.) The Daring Librarian site is a decent introduction to QR codes but a 2010 publication date and references to The Matrix do nothing to convince me the tech is a touch outmoded.

Where I think QR codes do have value is in ASL education. Instant retrieval of information via a visual link could be helpful for learners who, for example, find it challenging to process text-based instructions (Harpold, 2012). And being empowered to access materials without the assistance of a teacher would potentially build a learner’s confidence and encourage autonomy.

Barcode.com (of all places) offers the specific example of placing a code next to a shoe rack. Should a child need help tying their shoes, they could scan the code to bring up a link explaining the steps in a form – pictorial, signed, audio or video – accessible to the child. What the article highlights, and what I hadn’t considered, is how such content can feature a familiar face or voice, likely a parent or teacher but really any trusted presence, to help put the child at ease while also maintaining their independence (barcode.com, n.d.).

Our QR task

Working again in groups, we were asked to create a QR-based activity which promoted outdoor learning. Unfortunately, our group somehow managed to forget about the second element of the task – i.e. the get-out-of-the-classroom part.

It almost certainly got lost along the way simply because we struggled to come up with any interesting ideas for this task. We found it extraordinarily difficult to devise an activity that included QR codes as an integral component, and that couldn’t be accomplished in an easier way without QR codes.

However, we persevered and eventually decided on a simple concept based around shopping. We created an e-book featuring a character – hello again, Grantus Maximus – buying items from a shopping list for a birthday party. The reader would scan the relevant item’s QR code, keep a running total of the cost, and be tested on that total at the end of the book.

 

 

The task linked directly to the following First Level Mathematics Es & Os:

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, 2019b, p.2).

MNU 1-09a: I can use money to pay for items and can work out how much change I should receive. (Scottish Government, 2019b, p.6)

And to these First Level Technologies Es & Os:

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. (Scottish Government, 2019a, p.4)

TCH 1-02a: Using digital technologies responsibly I can access, retrieve and use information to support, enrich or extend learning in different contexts. (Scottish Government, 2019a, p.4)

Our introductory page…

Not much consideration of Health & Wellbeing here

Time to check your answer!

If I’m honest, I’m not sure the scanning really added all that much to the learning, and there wasn’t all that much learning to begin with. The QR codes were an interactive hook but not a particularly engaging one. More problematic was the fact the project took hours to put together only to be completed in less than a minute by another group testing it out. Important lesson here: do not invest hours of work creating an activity which can be finished by learners in seconds. The other group did offer constructive suggestions on how to extend the activity (e.g. by asking the children to come up with their own shopping list) but, in truth, I don’t think anyone in my group is in a hurry to revisit the idea.

We had a happier time trying out the other group’s task – a well-organised, maths-focused treasure hunt. It certainly took longer than ours to complete, and personally I found it much more engaging. And that was because – unlike us – the group had actually followed the instructions and made outdoor learning integral to their activity…

Outdoor learning

“Well-constructed and well-planned outdoor learning helps develop the skills of enquiry, critical thinking and reflection necessary for our children and young people to meet the social, economic and environmental challenges of life in the 21st century.” (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2010, p.7)

As my group followed the trail of QR clues carefully laid out by our fellow students, I realised how we had really missed an opportunity to add a new dimension to our activity by taking it outside. It was just so much more interesting moving through a variety of settings while enjoying some fresh air and (almost) sunshine. I certainly appreciate why the Scottish government is keen to promote outdoor learning. It’s another aspect of contemporary education that – excluding yearly school trips – really wasn’t a consideration when I was at primary. And it’s another aspect of contemporary education that I know I would have really responded to as a pupil.

The Scottish government regards outdoor learning as not simply desirable but crucial for the following reasons:

  • It encourages children to lead a healthier lifestyle which will improve public health (a vital goal given Scotland’s stubbornly dire health record).
  • It encourages children to respect the environment and engage with Scotland’s cultural and geographic heritage while fostering a life-long interest in the outdoors.
  • Moving outside a formal setting helps educators and learners see each other as fully-rounded individuals which builds a more productive relationship and encourages tolerance and understanding of others.

(Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2010)

I like the idea of breaking down the barrier between school and the “real world”. It’s positive for children to think of learning as a process that can happen anywhere and at anytime, not just in a traditional classroom. It’s also a chance for pupils to make meaningful connections between their learning and their everyday lives – they can see the theory applied in the field, so to speak.

A few examples of how outdoor learning links to CfE, starting with Health and Wellbeing Es & Os:  

HWB 0-25a: I am enjoying daily opportunities to participate in different kinds of energetic play, both outdoors and indoors. (Scottish Government, 2019c, p.7)

HWB 1-25a: Within and beyond my place of learning I am enjoying daily opportunities to participate in physical activities and sport, making use of available indoor and outdoor space. (Scottish Government, 2019c, p.7)

And from Social Studies:

SOC 0-07a: I explore and discover the interesting features of my local environment to develop an awareness of the world around me. (Scottish Government, 2019, p.6)

SOC 1-07a: I can describe and recreate the characteristics of my local environment by exploring the features of the landscape. (Scottish Government, 2019, p.6)

Moving beyond more obvious connections, Numeracy and Mathematics offers countless avenues for outdoor learning including:

MTH 0-13a: I have spotted and explored patterns in my own and the wider environment and can copy and continue these and create my own patterns. (Scottish Government, 2019b, p.10) 

MTH 1-17a: I can describe, follow and record routes and journeys using signs, words and angles associated with direction and turning. (Scottish Government, 2019b, p.13)

MTH 2-17: I have investigated angles in the environment, and can discuss, describe and classify angles using appropriate mathematical vocabulary. (Scottish Government, 2019b, p.13)

Finally, from Sciences:

SCN 0-01a: I have observed living things in the environment over time and am becoming aware of how they depend on each other. (Scottish Government, 2019d, p.2)

SCN 2-01a: I can identify and classify examples of living things, past and present, to help me appreciate their diversity. I can relate physical and behavioural characteristics to their survival or extinction. (Scottish Government, 2019d, p.2)

Of course, these are but a few examples to demonstrate how outdoor learning can be embraced across the entire curriculum. Interestingly, much like the use of digital technologies, the Scottish government is keen to emphasise that outdoor learning should be as regular a part of everyday school life as possible, not a special case or occasional occurrence. This, of course, is the best way to normalise such activities which, considering they drive pupil engagement, improve health prospects, and have inherent educational value, are rightly positioned as an invaluable aspect of modern teaching practice.

 

References

barcode.com (n.d.) New QR Code App Could Change Lives For Kids With Special Needs. [Online] Available: https://barcode.com/201409103566/new-qr-code-app-could-change-lives-for-kids-with-special-needs.html [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

Harpold, C. L. (2012) QR Codes as Assistive Technology. OT’s with Apps & Technology. 1 January. [Blog] Available: https://otswithapps.com/2012/01/01/qr-codes-as-assistive-technology [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

Jones, G. A. (2010) HOT QR Codes in the Classroom & Library. The Daring Librarian.  11 December. [Blog] Available: https://www.thedaringlibrarian.com/2010/12/hot-qr-codes-in-classroom-library.html?m=1 [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

Learning and Teaching Scotland (2010) Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/cfe-through-outdoor-learning.pdf [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

Morris, D., Uppal, G. and Ayres, D. (2015) Being Creative With Technology: Using ICT to Enhance the Teaching of Literacy and Numeracy. In: Younie, S., Leask, M. and Burden, K. (eds) Teaching and Learning with ICT in the Primary School. [Online] pp.39-53. Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

Scottish Government (2019a) Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/Technologies-es-os.pdf [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

Scottish Government (2019b) Curriculum for Excellence: Numeracy and Mathematics – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/numeracy-maths-eo.pdf [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

Scottish Government (2019c) Curriculum for Excellence: Health and Wellbeing – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/health-and-wellbeing-eo.pdf [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

Scottish Government (2019d) Curriculum for Excellence: Sciences – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/sciences-eo.pdf [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

Scottish Government (2019e) Curriculum for Excellence: Social Studies – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/social-studies-eo.pdf [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

The Chalkboard (2017) 10 Exciting QR Code Classroom Activity Ideas. [Online] Available: https://www.teachstarter.com/au/blog/10-exciting-qr-code-activity-ideas-for-classroom [Accessed: 1 April 2019].

Input 9: Games-based Learning

April 7, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

“Although many might question what game technology is doing to our children, a more pertinent question for you as an education practitioner might be ‘What are our children doing with all this technology and how can I use this as a way of helping them learn?’” (Crowe and Flynn, 2015, p.168)

The use of computer games in education was another area I was particularly looking forward to investigating. I was quite the avid gamer in my younger days but the idea of computer games being part of my primary school experience would have seemed fanciful to say the least. But that’s perhaps unsurprising given that computers themselves were still a rarity in the classroom.

Gaming is, of course, wildly popular with children and teenagers (Ofcom, 2017), so it would certainly seem to make sense to harness that enthusiasm. And even the primitive-by-today’s-standards games of my youth required a tremendous degree of skill, cunning and patience to master so I had some idea of the potential education value. But I needed to understand the real worth of games-based learning – if indeed there was any – beyond my own assumptions and preconceived notions.

It’s mining time!

Today’s input was based around Minecraft, the second-best selling computer game of all time (Thomas B, 2018). I had never played it before but I had seen what it was capable of thanks to a friend’s son who creates incredibly elaborate and beautiful virtual structures. When I initially saw the game, I must admit I dismissed its charmingly retro graphics and apparently simplistic gameplay without really understanding its potential as a creative tool.

The tutorial level was an ideal introduction to the blocky delights of Minecraft

My first hands-on Minecraft experience was incredibly enjoyable. The tutorial mode served as a useful introduction to the aims, controls and principles of the game. I was impressed by how well it was designed to guide you in with a carefully calibrated progression of skills and knowledge – not unlike an effective lesson plan. Such tutorials are a great way of encouraging learner autonomy by allowing them to become familiar with new games or concepts with minimal teacher assistance (Prensky, 2003 citied in Jones and Hafner, 2012). I barely scratched the game’s surface but I was already beginning to appreciate how satisfying it could be to solve a tricky puzzle or finally crack the crafting process (I could imagine my friend’s son rolling his eyes at how long it took me to figure out this basic function). 

After a brief opportunity to get acquainted with Minecraft – unnecessary for the many in the class young enough to have grown up playing it – we were asked to devise an educational activity incorporating the game. Working in the same groups as last time, we thought it would be interesting to approach it as an expressive arts task as this was perhaps a less obvious direction. Taking the construction aspect of the game rather literally, we settled on a “build your dream home” task for Second Level which linked to the CfE outcomes listed below:

To highlight a few key examples:

“EXA 2-05a: Inspired by a range of stimuli, I can express and communicate my ideas, thoughts and feelings through activities within art and design.” (Scottish Government, 2019a, p.4)

“EXA 2-06a: I can develop and communicate my ideas, demonstrating imagination and presenting at least one possible solution to a design problem.” (Scottish Government, 2019a, p.4)

“LIT 2-09a: When listening and talking with others for different purposes, I can: share information, experiences and opinions; explain processes and ideas; identify issues raised and summarise main points or findings; [and] clarify points by asking questions or by asking others to say more.” (Scottish Government, 2019b, p.6)

“TCH 2-10a: I can recognise basic properties and uses for a variety of materials and can discuss which ones are most suitable for a given task.” (Scottish Government, 2019c, p.7)

Our dream home activity was fine if somewhat broad and not especially focused. These weaknesses were brought into sharp relief when the other groups presented their ideas – they were, by and large, excellent. It struck me how the better ideas tended to come from the younger people in the class with the most in-depth knowledge of Minecraft. I learned, for example, that Minecraft features special crafting stations which enable the creation and combination of elements to creature new materials and substances which function accordingly in the game. So “adding water and sodium hypochlorite makes bleach, which a player can use to turn wool white” (Microsoft, 2018, n.p.). Obviously this offers endlessly exciting possibilities for science teaching.

The fact I learned so much from my fellow students served as an important reminder that any group of educators will feature a range of skills and abilities and we should always seek to embrace and utilise diverse backgrounds and experiences.

You can even learn how to code in Minecraft – another incredibly useful component of this deceptively simple game.

Microsoft offers a wealth of free Minecraft activities covering a number of curricular areas. These activities – complete with lesson plans, printable resources and practical support for teachers – further demonstrate Minecraft’s flexibility in the classroom. Pupils could engage with classic literature through the Treasure Island activity, investigate alternative power sources with the Renewable Energy task, or even tinker with ancient engineering in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – the range is incredible.

It’s easy to be cynical about Microsoft’s motives here – they could, after all, be accused of trying to create a new generation of Minecraft fans – but the game has been a runaway success for almost a decade without an education edition. In fact, deliberately cultivating a link between a youth-orientated brand such as Minecraft and school – a potentially very uncool association – actually seems like a risky strategy to me.

The broader value of games-based learning

“On the surface, game players learn to do things – to fly airplanes, to drive fast cars, to be theme park operators, war fighters, civilisation builders, and veterinarians. But on deeper levels they learn infinitely more…” (Prensky, 2003 citied in Jones and Hafner, 2012, p.140)

Minecraft clearly offers great educational possibilities which, as demonstrated, link across the entire curriculum, but what about gaming more generally? Research indicates that appropriately selected games can develop the following skills:

  • “Strategic thinking and planning” (Kirriemuir and Macfarlane, 2004 citied in Beauchamp, 2012, p.10).
  • “Understand[ing] complex systems through experimentation” (Prensky, 2003 citied in Jones and Hafner, 2012, p.140).
  • “Collaborative problem solving, innovation and creativity” (Jones and Hafner, 2012).

And these broad categories barely begin to cover the full range of learning and teaching opportunities offered by games-based activities.

There’s also growing evidence that computer games can be particularly helpful for children who require additional support. One study found games can lead to:

  • better spatial, temporary and hand-view coordination ability.
  • better concentration, motivation, attention and reasoning capability.
  • better assurance in the learning process. Children can repeat a task until they dominate it.
  • better assimilation of strategies and consequences in determinate actions.
  • children [who] are happy playing and learning. This improves the social relationships with other children and the environment.

(González, Cabrera and Gutiérrez, 2007, pp.366-367)

Gamification

Gamification is an interesting concept that applies aspects of gaming – competition, point scoring, levels etc – to non-game situations as a way to encourage people to achieve specific goals or targets (Growth Engineering, 2019). It’s been used in industry for some time and is now, it seems, making inroads into the classroom. One early example is Classcraft, a World of Warcraft-style platform that enables teachers to reward good pupil behaviour by gifting their Classcraft characters with special powers and other benefits (Education Technology, 2017). This certainly appears to be a novel and fun take on the usual classroom reward system – reason enough, I’d say, to at least give its free version a try – but I was unable to find any reliable sources evaluating its success (or otherwise) when compared to more traditional behaviour management approaches.

Resources and access

The importance of appropriate funding to enable equitable access to technology has been covered several times in this blog, but this week’s tech focus brings a special consideration. The use of games-based learning may inadvertently highlight that some children have the latest gaming gear at home and some don’t. While this is true of almost all the technologies we’ve looked at, I would argue it is an especially sensitive issue given the significance of gaming in youth culture (Ofcom, 2017). Gaming activities should be introduced with thoughtfulness so as to not disadvantage or stigmatise children who do not have their own gaming systems.

Conclusion

I’m happy to have confirmed that gaming does indeed have proven educational value. I know when I was a primary pupil I would certainly have engaged with games-based learning and it’s encouraging that the evidence overwhelmingly suggests it’s a powerful and adaptable classroom activity. As with many of the technologies explored so far, if children are already enthusiastic about it, why not harness this interest to help deliver captivating lessons?

 

References

Beauchamp, G. (2012) ICT in the Primary School – From Pedagogy to Practice. [Online] Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 25 March  2019].

Crowe, N. and Flynn, S. (2015) Games and Learning: Using Multi-play Digital Games and Online Virtual Worlds. In: Younie, S., Leask, M. and Burden, K. (eds) Teaching and Learning with ICT in the Primary School. [Online] pp.164-170. Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 25 March 2019].

Education Technology (2017) How technology will shape the future of education. [Online] Available: https://edtechnology.co.uk/Blog/how-technology-will-shape-the-future-of-education [Accessed: 8 April 2019].

González, J.L., Cabrera, M.J. and Gutiérrez, F.L. (2007) Using Videogames in Special Education. In: Díaz, R. M., Pichler, F. and Arencibia, A. Q. (eds) Computer Aided Systems Theory – EUROCAST 2007. [Online] pp.366-367. Available: Springer Link. [Accessed: 25 March 2019].

Growth Engineering (2019) What is the Definition of Gamification? [Online] Available: https://www.growthengineering.co.uk/definition-of-gamification [Accessed: 8 April 2019].

Jones, R. H. and Hafner, C. A. (2012) Understanding Digital Literacies. Oxon: Routledge.

Microsoft (2018) New Minecraft tools and items will teach students about chemistry. [Online] Available: https://news.microsoft.com/en-gb/2018/01/23/new-minecraft-tools-and-items-will-teach-kids-about-chemistry/ [Accessed: 25 March 2019].

Ofcom (2017) Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report. [Online] Available: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/108182/children-parents-media-use-attitudes-2017.pdf [Accessed: 7 April 2019].

Scottish Government (2019a) Curriculum for Excellence: Expressive Arts – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/expressive-arts-eo.pdf [Accessed: 25 March 2019].

Scottish Government (2019b) Curriculum for Excellence: Literacy – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/literacy-across-learning-eo.pdf [Accessed: 25 March 2019].

Scottish Government (2019c) Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/Technologies-es-os.pdf [Accessed: 25 March 2019].

Thomas B (2018) Top 10 Best-Selling Video Games Of All Time. exp.gg [Online] 25 June, non-paginated. Available: https://exp.gg/en/exp-original-en/49297 [Accessed: 25 March 2019].

Input 8: Animation II

April 6, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

Digital technologies and Additional Support for Learning

Following last week’s acknowledgement that this blog hadn’t adequately covered the use of digital technologies in enhancing the learning of children with additional support needs – and in the process, neglecting one of the core benefits of digital technology – I think it’s worth reflecting on how and why I inadvertently missed this crucial aspect.

I suspect it is largely due to my own experience of primary school in the eighties. While hardly the dark ages, I think it would be fair to say the education system had a different approach to inclusivity, and children requiring additional support were far less likely to attend mainstream schools. So despite spending time in more inclusive present-day schools, thanks to both voluntary work and my university placement, I still have a tendency to think back to my own school days when evaluating each week’s technology. I am, therefore, thinking about a bygone era that doesn’t reflect contemporary, more diverse classrooms. In other words, I’ve been unconsciously guilty of thinking about technology only from the perspective of pupils without additional support needs. I will be mindful of this moving forward – that I need to consider the perspectives of all pupils – and not only in regard to technology, but when evaluating all activities and learning opportunities.

E-inclusion

“The opportunities lie in the way technology can […] be used to ameliorate the effects of what would otherwise create a barrier to learning or participation in an interactive activity.” (Florian, 2004 citied in Beauchamp, 2017, p.77)

Researching the use of technology in ASL education, it appears to deliver three broad benefits:

  1. It can be used as a communication aid. Perhaps the most obvious benefit. It can help pupils with vision or hearing challenges engage with lessons, or empower pupils to express themselves through speech synthesis, speech recognition, transcription etc (Beauchamp, 2017).
  2. It can be used as a tool. Evidence indicates the use of handheld devices can reduce anxiety for young people by, for example, providing instant access to timetables or support as needed (Beauchamp, 2017).
  3. It can be used as a tutor for tailored lesson delivery (Kuegel, 2015).

I have certainly seen how the first benefit can meaningfully aid pupils with sensory impairments to engage with otherwise inaccessible lessons. The second benefit seems like a vague catch-all term – surely all technology is a tool? But I have seen this label and description used in multiple sources and, in fairness, I do broadly understand the point and recognise its merits, even if I do think a more specific term would be helpful.

I’m less sure of the third benefit. Using technology as a tutor surely requires a skilled teacher to devise appropriate and engaging lessons in the first place, which perhaps rather defeats the point. And is there a danger that lessons become so individualised as to inadvertently promote an exclusive approach? On the other hand, I do see clear benefits of a system that enables pupils to complete activities at their own pace, or one which offers communication options that may be more suitable or engaging (pictorial rather than text instructions, for example).

Digging further into the three categories, I found a range of software and devices that address specific challenges young learners may face. I was particularly intrigued by apps such as QuickCues which offers social interaction support for young people on the autism spectrum (Kuegel, 2015). It’s one of many examples of tech solutions I had no idea existed simply because of my limited perspective and experience.

Looking back…

As I reconsider the assessment tasks we’ve completed so far, I can see how the range of technologies and activities could be of particular benefit to pupils with additional support needs by:

  • offering a variety of ways to interact with the software and hardware through a multitude of sensory inputs and outputs.
  • exploring alternative ways of thinking and processing information.
  • developing interpersonal and collaborative skills.

Newer technologies such as augmented reality and (finally affordable) virtual reality could again see game-changing educational opportunities for learners. Imagine pupils being able to explore the Colosseum at the height of the Roman Empire or take a stroll around the International Space Station… after designing and building their very own virtual shuttle to get there. These technologies will deliver inspirational learning possibiltles for all children but, used well, could be particularly meaningful for those with additional support needs. There are exciting days ahead.

Why buy a VR headset when you can make your own out of cardboard? Sort of. Nintendo Labo is an affordable “line of interactive make, play and discover experiences designed to inspire creative minds and playful hearts alike” (Nintendo, 2019, n.p.)

Resources and training

We have, of course, to consider the recurring matter of resources and funding. As this blog has explored, technology often elevates what would already be engaging, effective lessons. The tech can be a nice bonus but is sometimes not essential – after all, great teaching is great teaching. But technology has a far more fundamental function for those pupils who would simply be unable to engage with lessons without it, and it’s therefore crucial the appropriate resources are available.

From my own experience in primary schools, I have witnessed what happens when teachers are well intentioned but perhaps lack the resources to use a proven technology solution. To give an example: a pupil found it challenging to express their thoughts in an organised manner on paper so they were given an iPad to use the speech recognition and Notes app as a transcription tool. Unfortunately, neither Notes (as its name indicates, it’s a basic note-taking app) nor the iPad’s not-always-reliable speech recognition was suitable for the task which led to a lot of frustration. There are specialised apps for this purpose but, for whatever reason, they were not used. And this isn’t a criticism of the teacher – they are to be applauded for trying to improvise a workable solution – but instead highlights the importance of making sure the appropriate tools are available and educators are fully trained in their use.

The matter of resource availability connects in an interesting way with this week’s assessment task. During the last session, as we experimented with various forms of animation, the supplied iPads kept crashing, likely because they were old models with limited memory. This was very frustrating and made the already lengthy animation process much longer – and also a lot less fun. For the assessment, our team used one of our own devices – a new iPhone – which resulted in a far slicker and more enjoyable experience. This minor example shows how those with personal access to technology have an advantage over those who don’t, further emphasising the importance of equitable resourcing in schools, particularly as we strive to close the attainment gap.

Assessment task

As introduced last week, our latest assessment task was to work in a group to create an animation which either depicts a historical event or real-life scenario, represents a geographical process, or explains a mathematical principle.

Our group decided to tackle the maths challenge because it seemed like the most, well, challenging. To be honest, I wouldn’t normally be inclined towards a maths task as I don’t consider it to be a particular strength, but one of the benefits of working in a group is occasionally being pushed out of your comfort zone – generally a good thing – thanks to collective decision making.

Following a lengthy discussion about possible approaches, we settled on a fairly-tale themed animation looking at fractions, to be accomplished with a mix of cut-out characters and Lego (to save time – or so we thought). As with the movie assessment, we began by dividing tasks among team members. Indeed, it quickly became clear this activity shared many of the same learning opportunities as movie making, particularly in terms of developing communication, collaboration and organisational skills (specific links to the CfE were covered in last week’s blog).

 

We almost immediately realised we had underestimated the time it would take to record our entire planned story. Despite recognising the time-consuming nature of stop-motion during last week’s dabbling, our intended animation for this week would have still taken several hours more than our schedule allowed. This is a particularly important consideration when planning an animation activity and I understood why so many of the examples of pupils’ stop-motion work on YouTube are collaborative efforts by whole classes.

(Canning Street, 2017)

Breaking a project down into smaller pieces for groups to work on also introduces further opportunities to learn about collaboration, coordination and planning. Indeed, our overly ambitious plans accidentally brought up the value of being able to improvise and adapt when something doesn’t quite go as expected.

Animation can also offer particular benefits for pupils with additional support needs. For example, the tactile and visual nature of stop-motion and cut-out means they can be effective at introducing new concepts to children with learning disabilities (HueHD, 2011), while a study by Holmgaard, Pedersen and Abbot (2013) suggests that animation-based activities can help children with autism understand how to interpret emotions and moods, as well as encouraging greater autonomy and reducing anxiety.

An inspiring 2009 Guardian article looked at the benefits of film and animation in ASL education with a report on the opening of a dedicated media department at the Frank Wise school in Oxfordshire. It emphasises how film and animation can promote understanding, diversity and inclusion across all ability levels and circumstances (Drabble, 2009).

Our finished – if slightly abridged! – project:

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, creating animations shares many of the same educational benefits as movie making, with considerable overlap in the technical and personal skills being developed.  Animation, however, does have one crucial difference in the amount of time it takes to produce useable footage, and this would need to be factored in if animation activities were planned.

In my view, this is an entirely reasonable trade-off considering animation offers so many potential learning opportunities. It’s extraordinarily flexible, as indicated by the range of potential assessment options. And, of course, the form already appeals to most children so why not embrace it? Unlike movie making, which many children would likely have experience of from playing around with phones and tablets, I would guess that most pupils would not have previously tried to create animation so there’s a novelty element to further drive engagement. There’s also something undeniably magical about a process which creates movement from inanimate objects – and it’s no bad thing to have a little magic in the classroom.

 

References

Beauchamp, G. (2017) Computing and ICT in the Primary School – From Pedagogy to Practice. [Online] Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 19 March 2019].

Canning Street (2017) The Story of Vaylan by Year 4. [Online] Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBJdmXpTrUY [Accessed: 23 March 2019].

Drabble, E. (2009) Meet the bloggers of Banbury. The Guardian. [Online] 19 May, non-paginated. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2009/may/19/special-needs-online-connections-blogging [Accessed: 23 March 2019].

Holmgaard, A. Pedersen, H. and Abbot, C. (2013) Animation: children, autism and new possibilities for learning. Journal of Assistive Technologies. [Online] Vol 7(1), pp.57-62. Available: https://doi.org/10.1108/17549451311313228 [Accessed: 23 March 2019].

HueHD (2011) How does animation help children with special needs? [Online] Available: https://huehd.com/animation-children-special-needs [Accessed: 23 March 2019].

Kuegel, C. (2015) Special Educational Needs and Technology. In: Younie, S., Leask, M and Burden, K. (eds) Teaching and Learning with ICT in the Primary School. [Online] pp.156-163. Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 19 March 2019].

Nintendo (2019) Home. [Online] Available: https://store.nintendo.co.uk/nintendo-labo.list [Accessed: 23 March 2019].

Input 7: Animation I

April 5, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

Animation used to be a fairly serious hobby of mine. In my early to mid-teens, I spent countless hours dabbling with 2D animations on my trusty Amiga 500 (a beloved but long-extinct computer) and then progressed to rudimentary 3D graphics on a PC. The technology – or at least the affordable technology – was pretty limited back then. My 2D work could only ever have a meagre number of frames because of my Amiga’s tiny-by-today’s-standards memory (512k – all of half a megabyte), while the 3D projects would take hours, even days to render because of the processing power required. Happily, as consumer tech has evolved, so has the opportunity for more people to access slick graphics functionality which once would have only been available to production facilities or dedicated amateurs.

Software from another century – the venerable Deluxe Paint III. Powerful, flexible, but incredibly user-friendly, it was my first taste of graphic editing and animation

Imagine 3D, circa 1994 – baffling but fun

When I found out animation was a component of the Digital Technologies module I was keen to understand its educational value. I knew it fun, or at least I found it fun, but I was less sure of what it could bring in terms of teaching and learning possibilities. There certainly weren’t any animation-based lessons at my primary so I also wasn’t sure if it would hold much appeal for young people who weren’t already into computer graphics. I did have a few friends who liked animation but it never seemed to be a pastime that captivated a lot of people. Looking back with a more informed perspective, I realise just how fortunate I was to have both an animation-capable computer and a parent who helped me understand how to use it – perhaps a not-too-common combination back then. Maybe more people would have been interested if they had access to the same technology and support. Of course, equitable access to digital resources is still very much a concern today, particularly as we look to technology as a key factor in closing the attainment gap (Scottish Government, 2016).

The apps

We tried out two iPad apps, each focusing on different styles of animation and different methods of creation. The first, Puppet Pals, is more akin to putting on a digital puppet show than a traditional form of animation. 2D backgrounds and characters are selected from a pre-installed selection or can be created from scratch. The characters are then “animated” – in this case, moved, flipped, and scaled – against the backgrounds while audio elements such as characters’ voices and sound effects are recorded live.

Additional characters and backgrounds can be purchased directly in the app

It’s a different approach to what would normally be considered animation – i.e. creating a series of images with small, incremental changes which generate the illusion of movement (Moving Image Education, 2019) – and I found the “recording live” aspect of the app a little tricky. I didn’t ever seem to have enough hands to make my characters move in the way I wanted. And trying to manoeuvre the characters while also trying to think about what they should say was far more hectic than the genteel animation I was used to. The precise, intricate nature of the process is what appealed to me when I was younger. It was relaxing. In other words, not at all like the wild and freewheeling Puppet Pals approach.

The too-anarchic-for-me recoding process!

And then I realised I was, of course, missing the point. Puppet Pals is a deliberately rough-and-ready way to create animations quickly. I imagine it would work best – like making videos last week – as a group exercise, with lots of little fingers propelling the characters around the screen. The coordination and planning would be a great opportunity to develop collaborative and communication skills.

The second app, iStopMotion, employs, as its name suggests, stop-motion animation, a more traditional form albeit one I had never tried before. There’s an instantly noticeable difference in the pacing of using this app as compared to Puppet Pals. Stop-motion is very time consuming and requires a lot of patience to see any results – a few seconds of footage can take hours to produce. But it is incredibly satisfying when you achieve even a basic level of character movement and the results can be remarkably effective. I also found iStopMotion, despite it being a more laborious process, simpler to use than Puppet Pals, but again that may be because I enjoy working in a more controlled, thought-out manner.

I do, however, believe that a more thought-out approach might be more appropriate in a classroom. Puppet Pals is spontaneous and fun but tends to produce fairly brief results. While there would be a place for such a method, particularly with Early or First Level learners, I think iStopMotion has greater potential for more prolonged and meaningful engagement. It’s also more adaptable: younger pupils might, for example, start with cut-out animation which can produce impressive results such as this US grade school’s project about Rosa Parks:

(aem306, 2018)

Pupils can then progress to using Lego figures, plasticine characters, or bring life to normally inanimate objects found in and around the school – they can even even animate themselves!

As with Puppet Pals, an iStopMotion activity would likely be most effective as a group project. But unlike Puppet Pals, iStopMotion fosters a more relaxed atmosphere. That said, could it perhaps be too relaxed? As already touched upon, stop-motion is an incredibly lengthy process, and I wonder how long it could hold pupils’ attention. I’ll be noting my own level of interest when we embark on a longer-form project for next week’s assessment task (details below).

My own rudimentary attempt at stop-motion – satisfying but incredibly time consuming.

Animation and the CfE

Creating animations offers several clear links to CfE Es & Os. From Literacy and English:

(Scottish Government, 2019a, p.12)

Also from Literacy and English:

(Scottish Government, 2019a, p.6)

And from Technologies:

(Scottish Government, 2019b, p.7)

But listing these Es & Os doesn’t really do justice to the scope of animation. Similar to making videos, animation is almost infinitely adaptable and could be used to explore virtually any curricular area. This, in fact, is illustrated by our assessment task for which we have to create a stop-motion animation which does one of the following:

  • recreates a historical event (a great example being the Rosa Parks video above)
  • represents a geographical process
  • recreates a real-life scenario, e.g. going to the dentist or shopping
  • explains a mathematical principle

These are very different challenges but all can be accomplished through animation. Of course, they could also be explored through other means, but “animations are a way to ‘hook’ the students” (Vargo, 2017, n.p.) so why not embrace a form already popular with many young people?

Unlike previous inputs, this one was split over two weeks. The assessment task, therefore, will be completed next week and followed with a full blog report.

To be continued…

As we discussed the usefulness of animation in the primary classroom, it was highlighted that animation, and digital technologies more broadly, can be especially helpful in supporting pupils with additional needs. I immediately realised I had, somehow, neglected that particular consideration in this blog. I briefly considered rewriting earlier blogs to better respect this angle but I decided it would be more appropriate to acknowledge this oversight and instead address it moving forward, beginning with next week’s entry.

 

References

aem306 (2018) Rosa Parks Stop Motion Animation by 3-307. [Online] Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgmJ2ebVmPY [Accessed: 14 March 2019].

Moving Image Education. (2019) Animation. [Online] Available: https://movingimageeducation.org/create-films/animation [Accessed: 7 March 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:document/?inline=true [Accessed: 14 March 2019].

Scottish Government (2019a) Curriculum for Excellence: Literacy and English – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/literacy-english-eo.pdf [Accessed: 16 March 2019].

Scottish Government (2019b) Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/Technologies-es-os.pdf [Accessed: 16 March 2019].

Vargo, J. (2017) 10 Reasons to Use Animation in the Classroom. ASCD Inservice. [Online] Available: http://inservice.ascd.org/10-reasons-to-use-animation-in-the-classroom [Accessed: 16 March 2019].

Input 6: Movie Making

April 5, 2019 by Nicholas Meiklejohn | 0 comments

“One in three British children age 6 to 17 told pollsters last year that they wanted to become a full-time YouTuber. That’s three times as many as those who wanted to become a doctor or a nurse.”

(Stokel-Walker, 2018, n.p.)

Before I started volunteering in a local primary, I had no idea so many children wanted to be YouTube stars. But I would hear “YouTuber” mentioned as a possible career path alongside more conventional, and some not so conventional, options with surprising frequency. Given that YouTube is now the main source of video content for children in the UK (BBC, 2018) – a stat I found fascinating and a little concerning for reasons I’ll return to – perhaps it shouldn’t be unexpected that so many young people want to follow in the footsteps of their favourite stars. I imagine if you’re under a certain age it does look like a life of endless fun, fame and fortune.

This interest in creating video content – the subject of today’s Digital Technologies input – presents an opportunity to bring the skills and techniques of filmmaking into the classroom. Video production was never part of my primary school experience because cameras were prohibitively expensive back then, but it did later become a hobby of mine – the blend of artistry and technology was and is very appealing to me. So while I already had a reasonable understanding of the equipment and techniques and knew how much fun making videos could be, I had much less appreciation of how the process could compliment cross-curricular learning and, crucially, link to CfE outcomes. I was looking forward to finding out.

Assessment task

For this week’s assessment we were to work in small groups and write, shoot and edit a short film for children which explored the issue of internet safety and security.

It was suggested we be particularly mindful of the learning that would be taking place if pupils were completing the same task. In other words, we were to embrace the principle that the best way for a teacher to grasp the educational value of an activity is for the teacher themselves to do it first. I really liked this advice – it was simple, practical and intuitive.

Before deciding on the content of our video, our group had to read up on current official guidance on internet safety. I think it’s fair to say we all had a reasonable appreciation of how to stay safe online but, of course, our approach almost certainly wouldn’t be right for younger people living very different digital lives and facing very different potential risks. We became familiar with online resources such as the ThinkUKnow (2019) and UK Safer Internet Centre (2019) sites that are comprehensive and well-designed, with the information intended for children delivered in a way I think would appeal to its young target audience. I say think because I don’t actually know if the guidance and the way it’s presented would be seen as authentic and meaningful to primary-aged children. As Beauchamp (2012) suggests, well-intentioned advice based upon government policy may be rather disconnected from the actual online experiences of young people. As educators we need to be aware that even the snazziest sites with the most up-to-date expert guidelines may not be fully preparing young people for the ever-changing nature of 21st Century digital life. It is, therefore, crucial we are constantly updating our own digital skills and knowledge as best we can.

Our team was very, very lucky to have such willing (and patient) onscreen talent!

Grantus Maximus’s grand debut being edited in iMovie

Our group chose to present an overview of internet safety tips compiled from the aforementioned sites and a few other reputable sources. We knew a stuffy information video would hold limited appeal for young viewers so we agreed upon a playful style based around a fictional YouTube star who has supposedly had private photos leaked online.

When deciding how we would each contribute to the project, we instantly realised that of our four-person team, three were reluctant to appear on screen. Fortunately, however, the remaining team member was a natural screen presence with a performance background. And at this early stage in the process, one of the most significant learning aspects of this activity became clear: recognising the value of collaboration. We each brought our own strengths. One person helped distill the advice into manageable soundbites, another kept the whole effort organised and the team focused, while I handled a lot of the techie stuff. It was a fun and practical way of discovering the importance of teamwork – an incredibly effective learning opportunity.

As our project progressed, we noted a broad range of personal skills being fostered: communication, negotiation, compromise, patience, and an underscoring of the need to respect other people’s opinions and suggestions.

And the learning potential extended much further: making videos typically requires a degree of planning so organisation and time management skills are crucial; numeracy could be integrated if pupils were, for example, set a modest budget to work with; and, of course, there’s a plethora of technical and creative skills to be mastered.

The finished video:

Video production also specifically compliments a considerable number of CfE Es & Os. To give a few examples from Literacy and English:

(Scottish Government, 2019a, p.3)

And from the Finding and Using Information organiser:

(Scottish Government, 2019a, p.4)

Then, of course, from the Technologies Es & Os:

(Scottish Government, 2019b, p.4)

And the Expressive Arts Es & Os:

(Scottish Government, 2019c, p.8)

There are countless other examples. This is an endlessly adaptable activity which, with minor modifications, could enhance the learning in practically any curricular area – and does so using technology many pupils already find engaging!

The technology

Resource availability, as always, is a significant consideration, but an entire video project can be planned, shot and edited on an iPad – and all using pre-installed or free-to-install apps. Schools with enough iPads wouldn’t require any additional or specialist tech. But as with all technology-focused learning – as previously covered in this blog  there really is no workaround for schools without adequate resources. The stark, unsatisfactory reality is pupils would simply not be able to access this learning opportunity.

In terms of user-friendliness, recording videos on an iPad is simple and intuitive. Pupils without such devices at home would be able to quickly gets to grips with the process – a good example of a technology activity which doesn’t necessarily favour those from more afluent backgrounds who may already be familiar with the devices being used.

Editing app iMovie does have a learning curve but even young children would be able to master it with the right level of support. It’s the sort of app best explored through trial and error – ideal for the classroom.

It should be noted we took advantage of a new free Apple app – Clips – to allow us to place Grantus Maximus against the various colourful backdrops. This particular feature is only available on the latest iPhones which underlines just how resourcing can impact lessons (and why it’s important educators are up to date with new technology tools). Incidentally, I think Clips may have great potential for the classroom. The ability for children to make videos as if from any location, both real and imagined, offers incredible possibilities. And it seems Apple agrees: I learned during this input the tech giant is running workshops specifically about using Clips in education.

Critical and information literacy

One of the benefits of filmmaking as a teaching tool is how it functions as a link between technology and literacy. It explores what is unquestionably the current dominant global text form – the moving image (Moving Image Education, 2019)  – and can therefore provoke a discussion of what I believe to be a crucial skill in today’s data-saturated age: critical literacy.

I became interested in critical literacy as I started to understand the degree to which children’s opinions are shaped by YouTubers and other unaccountable online presences. As Wray (2004) indicates, both adults and children continually encounter sources which try to influence their views, and only those with suitably developed critical literacy skills are empowered to resist these efforts. Making videos is an ideal opportunity to introduce this concept to children and then apply it to, for example, their favourite YouTube stars’ product endorsements or subtly imparted political views.

(Scottish Government, 2019a, p.11) Critical literacy in the CfE

Check your privacy settings (or: The part where I get on my soapbox)

“The digital environment provides a unique opportunity to empower people of all ages to manipulate, combine and distribute their self-expressions as living stories that can be sent into the world and through time.” (Porter, 2004, p.35)

This is an interesting quote. It assumes that sending “self-expressions” out into the world is an inherently good thing. Personally, I’m not so sure. With so many people – adults and children – happily sharing vast amounts of personal information online, it’s reasonable to consider what this means for the concept of privacy. More concerning is the fact that a significant section of the public don’t even see this as an issue worthy of consideration (Preston, 2014). But perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising given that for well over a decade social media companies have been steadily chipping away at the very notion of privacy. Privacy is bad for business models which rely on selling user profiles to advertisers, and sharing on social media has become a normal – indeed, an expected – part of everyday life. It’s an odd and unprecedented shift in society, and it’s almost entirely unquestioned, which is where I would expect the education system to step in.

I was surprised to find the Scottish government doesn’t include specific privacy education in the CfE. I presumed I would see it in the Technologies or Health and Wellbeing Es & Os. Online safety is included in the Technologies Es & Os but it’s not the same thing. The privacy aspect of online safety is about making sure you aren’t accidentally sharing inappropriate information or details which risk your personal security, but I would argue the more philosophical aspect of privacy is being neglected. Certainly, this would be a more challenging topic to cover in a classroom – it’s far easier to list a number of online dos and don’ts – but that surely can’t be an excuse for its absence.

And, in fact, schools are arguably part of the problem. Many have Twitter feeds featuring daily updates on classroom activities with accompanying photos of pupils. Setting aside questions about a child’s capacity to consent to such coverage, the school itself is reinforcing the idea that your life should be shared online – that sharing is the norm. I have no doubt that if a child, or more likely a child’s guardian, objected to their inclusion, this would be respected, but that’s not really the point. Instead, we should consider why public institutions are normalising certain attitudes and behaviours without considering the consequences for people and society or the financial motives of the corporations relentlessly promoting those attitudes and behaviours. Where’s the critical thinking here?

Governments around the world are finally cracking down on the big tech firm’s lax attitude to user privacy but these measures are irrelevant if people dutifully continue to offer up their lives in often excruciating detail. And there are serious consequences when privacy is devalued. Social media’s negative effect on, for example, teenage mental health is by now well documented (Papadopoulos, 2017). There is also a broader concern for society as personal privacy is inextricably linked to freedoms of thought and expression; it underpins the principals of liberal democracy (Cohen, 2012). It matters. And its decline should concern us as both educators and citizens.

Conclusion

Before this input, I had never considered video production as a classroom activity. Somehow I was still stuck in the mindset that the process was too tricky and too expensive, even though I was well aware that it could all be achieved with relative ease on a single device. It was a pleasure discovering the broad range of teaching and learning opportunities – and I’m sure we only scratched the surface of potential activities and curricular connections. And considering many learners will already be excited about making videos, it really is a gift for educators. And it’s a particular gift for me as a future educator with a passion for video production. I couldn’t have imagined its usefulness and flexibility in the classroom.

 

References

BBC (2018) BBC Annual Plan 2018/19. (Chair Sir David Clementi). [Online] Available: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/howwework/reports/pdf/bbc_annual_plan_2018.pdf [Accessed: 15 February 2019].

Beauchamp, G. (2012) ICT in the Primary School – From Pedagogy to Practice. [Online] Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 20 February 2019].

Cohen, J. E. (2012) What Privacy Is For. Harvard Law Review. [Online] Vol.126(2013), n.p. Available: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2175406##.

Moving Image Education (2018) Background. [Online] Available: https://movingimageeducation.org/getting-started/background [Accessed: 3 March 2019].

Papadopoulos, L. (2017) How does social media impact the mental health of young people? [Online] Available: https://www.internetmatters.org/hub/expert-opinion/social-media-impact-mental-health-young-people/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwg73kBRDVARIsAF-kEH81gPRt6MSbkSmjZ3Rlq1X7lncXPLmuRzzMXSNNVz7BHH3Il1MMANIaAiDaEALw_wcB. [Accessed: 10 March 2019].

Porter, B. (2004) Digi Tales: The Art of Telling Digital Stories. Sedalia: Bernajean Porter Consulting.

Preston, A. (2014) The Death of Privacy. The Guardian. [Online] 3 August, non-paginated. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/03/internet-death-privacy-google-facebook-alex-preston [Accessed: 21 February 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: 21 February, 2019].

Scottish Government (2019a) Curriculum for Excellence: Literacy and English – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/literacy-english-eo.pdf [Accessed: 21 February 2019].

Scottish Government (2019b) Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/Technologies-es-os.pdf [Accessed: 21 February 2019].

Scottish Government (2019c) Curriculum for Excellence: Expressive Arts – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/expressive-arts-eo.pdf [Accessed: 21 February 2019].

Stokel-Walker, C. (2018) ‘Success’ on YouTube Still Means a Life of Poverty. Bloomberg. [Online] 27 February, non-paginated. Available: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-27/-success-on-youtube-still-means-a-life-of-poverty [Accessed: 18 February 2019].

Thinkuknow (2019) Welcome to Thinkuknow. [Online] Available: https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk [Accessed: 10 March 2019].

UK Safer Internet Centre (2019) About. [Online] Available: https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/about [Accessed: 10 March 2019].

Wray, D. (2004) Critical Literacy. Reading: The University of Reading.

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 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 provided 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 one educator’s personal experience. Andrews (2012) details four broad benefits: user-friendliness, e-book 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 was 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 school apps requiring Flash really should have been migrated away from the platform 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 the iPad and completely compatible with their desktop/laptop counterparts. In terms of hardware, I do personally prefer typing with a real keyboard 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 can be an issue 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 can cause 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 irresponsible 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. 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 a formal task – something I will bear in mind for future classroom practice.

My partner and I were struck by how many CfE Experiences and Outcomes could 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 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 graphic 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 additional support needs – 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 hold 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 results of the initiative remain 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 such principles 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 program continues regardless of the user’s response. Even if the user doesn’t answer or gives the wrong answer, the program 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 program 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 experimentation (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 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, indicating 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 many of 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 technologies new to me – specifically created for use in the classroom. The programmable toys input presented the first such opportunity in the form of a cheerful little robot bee.

I had never heard of Bee-Bot and hadn’t seen it used while on placement. Upon first glance I was, truth be told, 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 as a class discussion revealed obvious enthusiasm for the device from those who had used it professionally or observed its use while on placement, I was convinced to consider its potential.

Furthermore, as I checked YouTube,  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 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 children can gain the necessary experience and knowledge in a fun, practical way using programmables like Bee-Bot because, in part, 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 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 a lesson or 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 Early and First 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 Early and First 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 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 input. 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 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 recent 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 summon me (considerably older than either of them) the instant 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, almost 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 many 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 future 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. Perhaps more significantly, 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 observed some very good uses on placement – but I want to strive for much 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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