01 Jan

Have you tried a MOOC?

When studying Education Technology a few years back MOOCS were just becoming commonplace – and like everything in the edu-tech space was being hailed by some as the technology that would transform education. (See various articles here).

If you haven’t heard MOOCS are Massive Online Open Courses – courses led by Universities (or similar), open to all for no cost and wholly online. There were notable courses that got the ball rolling – Medical courses from Harvard and a large scale artificial intelligence course at Stanford that attracted over 150,000 students back in 2009. Nowadays you can look at MOOCS in almost all areas of study – and for teachers it is rich pickings for CPD and subject specific courses.

The discussion rumbles on of course – we cannnot say that MOOCS have had the impact on education that we thought they might do – and there is no doubt big differences in the courses with quality, dropout rate and student satisfaction. The judgement of MOOCS also remains somewhat controversial. A course that attracts over 100,000 people from across the world will mean different things to different people and we cannot judge their success on drop out rates alone.

However there is something to be said for trying some of these courses for yourself. Take part in a short MOOC and you will be expected to take part in weekly activities (watching and commenting on a video say) – quizzes – peer feedback on comments and ‘essays’. You may be expected to watch interviews via video and then answer questions, or complete tasks using apps and upload results.

In the last few years I have taken part in three MOOCS – I studied coding for a school specific thing, a course with Newcastle Uni about Hadrian’s Wall (when I moved to it!) and more recently a brilliant one at Stansted about the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism. I heartily recommend trying them. The best MOOCS have some things in common of course –  and a good MOOC will have:

  • Weekly targets – expect some kind of interaction each week. Most MOOCS won’t be very long, and will expect a few hours of your time at least.
  • Interaction amongst those taking part and wih some of the course tutors (or facilitators) via a forum.
  • A mixture of media – interviews as well as video clips, graphics and text. Taking full advantage of the technology available.
  • Finishing certificate. I am a sucker for a ‘finish’ – and whether it is via percentage attendance, judging your writing via peer feedback or completion of quizzes the best MOOCS have worked out how to give you data driven feedback for your work.
  • They are ‘live’ – that is to say that they are not ‘at your own place’ but ongoing with deadlines.

If you’re looking for something a bit different for the new year – give one a go – I’ve already signed up for an astronomy course about habitable moons…

And, if you have tried one, let me know in the comments!

Further Reading:

What is a successful MOOC? -The Atlantic

List of MOOCS for teachers at Future Learn.

Moocs will Transform Higher Education – But Not How We Think – TImes Higher Ed

07 Jan

Could Alexa work for you?

Second blog for #WeeklyBlogChallenge17

Like many great ideas this blog was born of a comment on twitter by @pepsmccrea

I have a fascination with AI – albeit the kind of HAL AI – but still… Having yet to try Alexa at home, but surrounded by Bluetooth enabled devices and the internet I can’t wait to give it a go. In the meantime I’ve given myself some time to consider uses for this tech in schools.

It is worth mentioning first of all, that there will always be issues of privacy with an always on internet device in schools. This is something that will need to be seriously thought about, I’ve looked into it and I am unclear as to what exactly happens with the voice commands that are sent to the cloud. But – let’s imagine right now that the device is on or off – that it learns, but doesn’t save all recordings for years… (the ethic of this could be another post!) Also, learning from other voices would need to be in there.

Instantly you can see how children merely asking questions and receiving answers, facts and things may not be such a good idea… Alexa would need to have a kind of Socratic approach to answering. It cannnot be simply a high powered calculator. Ask Alexa should not just be the last thing on our ‘if you are stuck…’ list. No, Alexa will need to be a bit smarter – to learn to respond with pointers, hints and other ideas that the children could try first. Saying that however, there is much to be said for an oral account of eye-witness accounts from history, or a different explanation of fractions and decimals. Children will need to learn to listen carefully, and of course, to formualate their questions appropriately.

Some of the above issues could be solved by textbook/curricula providers having Alexa linked modules. This would mean that the children could actually say, ‘Alexa I’m stuck with Chapter two’ or ‘Alexa what does so and so mean in Question 3’. Linked with a smart board (or projector) and it could show videos or other resources. I’m imagining a virtual science experiment whereby videos from a service such as the BBC Schools, or Expresso might be genuinely useful. Google classroom links are obvious here – as this could also lead to children identifying themselves by username and getting personalised content. Again, I realise the technology is not quite there yet – but it is within reach.

Personalised Learning
This is the area that really makes me think we could see a game changer. I already find iPad apps and google classroom brilliant for SEN. An AI enabled device would be able to offer more resources and more ideas for children as mentioned above. Recording the initial teacher input, or reading aloud chapter from books. But also the formulating of questions, the dictation of ideas and the organising of their thoughts could be vitally supported by an AI enabled device. ‘Alexa record this…’ ‘Alexa read back what I just said’ A device which connected to a visualiser could, maybe, learn to read handwriting or support the child in editing. Or upload the images to google classroom and ping the teacher – link to an iPad and you have the pupil recording their words and then sharing with other apps. Again specific apps and providers could link with Alexa.

This is the most obvious area where teachers could be supported. Send to printer command; take the register; share school messages; share school calendar; check emails; read aloud lunch menus… If you use an electronic assistant at home you will realise how it could support your classroom. This is where most privacy issues will come in – you couldn’t really ask it to read aloud school emails if it then saves all the information on a server. Your school calendar probably shouldn’t be that detailed. But then… emails are similarly saved, and many schools already use google calendar or a similar device. One to think about definitely…


Again, I know there are many hurdles to this, I know that the internet connection will need to be faster than most schools currently access. There will be privacy issues, and parental worries. We will need to ensure strong, unbreakable firewalls. Other educational companies will need to get on board to make it genuinely useful…

But I think this is worth investigating – and if anyone wants to donate a few so I can get started….


CNet Review

Donald Clark Blog – ideas and more link

04 Dec

Are our classrooms more digital?

A few years ago my interest in educational technology was ignited with an article in the TES arguing that technology made absolutely no difference to schools whatsosever. At the time, a teacher just starting out, I was outraged that all of the ways in which tech made school life easier was just glossed over. Look at the accountancy side? The sharing of information, the access to to resources, the collaboration- then, in my eyes, getting bogged down in individual games or apps – or resources – was not the way to do it.

This debate is still rumbling on, and I still stand by my opinion. It was interesting then to read the recent debates about minecraft, about coding and, more recently, the article in the TES arguing that classrooms are becoming more ‘digital’.

Take this site, for example, some content on here is three, even four, years old. Yet the top hit pages remain consistently about iPads, tablets and reading. Google is beginning to gain ground, but it feels like we have leapt forwards only to then stand stock still where we landed.

My question then is this, are you using technology more than you used to? Does your classroom increasingly feel digital? Are you forced to use tech that you feel adds no value to your teaching?

I’m working on an article about my school, and it’s use of tech – in the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts.

10 Oct

Can education technology ‘close the gap?’

There is a huge emphasis currently on ‘closing the gap’ for our pupils – that is to say ensuring that achievement is possible regardless of a background or deprivation.

Historically technology has been seen as an equaliser – a way to, for example, give the housewife time to work (washing machines, vacuum cleaners) or, more recently, a way to instantly share information, free of charge. Neil Postman, writing in 1996:

C.P Snow made what he regarded as a definitive answer to technology pessimists. He remarked that the industrial revolution made by possible advanced technology, was the only hope for the poor. Their lives were rescued from centuries old degradation by technology. Can anyone deny it?’

In fact, I wrote an essay on this very subject – which you can find here, if interested.

Download (PDF, 125KB)

However, the modern teacher has many, many problems with this – as many of you will know if you attempt to set homework via an online task. Or if you have been given a class set of laptops and then been asked to show impact, or bought iPads with Pupil Premium money… The fact is that some schools have huge expectations from technology yet  children (and families) have huge differences in what technology they actually access. And, to add to the confusion there are many different definitions of what ‘the gap’ is and what exactly the end result should be…

The question we should be asking, is what gap are we actually trying to close? What can teachers actually do?
Schools making good use of technology in education can:
  • offer cultural experiences that some children may miss out on via skype or virtual tours
  • connect children with other children that they may otherwise never meet, sharing experiences they may never hear (blogging / email / skype)
  • offer support for parents who may not know where to go, or may find it too difficult to access in person (websites / internet)
  • connect teachers who really are not sure where to go next… or whose school may be isoalted (social media / inernet)
  • offer specific support for pupils with SEND – supporting their education achievement (targeted apps / access programs / online resources)
  • offer cheaper and easier access to pupils and their families via school support and devices (kindles / internet access)

These are just some practical ideas that the use of technology can help with – it will help ‘close a gap’ – perhaps information, cultural or digital literacy – but it may not close the achievement gap. Here we are talking of cultural, digital, isolation and confidence. All of which are vital if we want our pupils to achieve.


If you are interested in this, the essay I wrote is at the top of this post!

Other resources of interest:

A recent report by Stanford into ‘closing the technology gap’ 

2014 look at how closing the technology gap can open a world of opportunities form Microsoft.. 



27 Oct

Why we are teaching our pupils to code…

This question is asked with increasing frequency as more and more schools begin to get to grips with the new curriculum. The emphasis on understanding algorithms, creating and then debugging these creations, has opened up a whole new conversation about why we are asking all children to understand these concepts.


What is coding?

Communciation. Through an app, a programme and with a variety of devices.

This debate will rumble on – the catch all term ‘coding’ has definitely ruffled a few feathers – from a secondary (and therefore arguably more specialised) computer science perspective as well as those who work in the industry. However in it’s simplest form ‘coding’ lets you create a story using a language your device, programme and computer will understand. It’s about communicating ideas and manipulating language to create.

Why are we teaching our pupils to code?

There is a recognition that children will need to understand more fully the digital devices that they are growing up with. They will need to recognise that it is not some sort of ‘magic’ but a programmable device that people manipulate to get what they want.

However, when our pupils will leave school they will not be using the devices that we give them in primary school. The chances are they will never have to manipulate a dinosaur across a field using only directions, or come against a visual language such as Scratch – it is not about a specific language or a specific programme. It is about logic, about creativity and about problem solving. There is a place for some languages to be used so they can be recognised e.g. Java or Python, however the aim is for children to be resilient about searching for the answer and finding a way to manipulate the programme put in front of them.


Computer Science or Digital Literacy?

Digital literacy skills are still fundamental – these include the ability to find information; sift, sort and select what is useful; be safe online and to understand how the internet works.

They also include using and manipulating digital technology to create and store information e.g. Presentations, spreadsheets and cloud computing. These skills would be more about the old ‘ICT’ curriculum and, barring the odd area such as online safety, will be done through other areas of the curriculum. The key here is choice – can pupils choose what programmes to use? Can they choose how best to find information? Are they making good choices when communicating online?

Schools can do this because we can give our pupils a safe email address, we can give them cloud saving and give them responsibility over their work. We can show them how nothing is ever really deleted, so that silly comment you wrote from home can be shared with your teacher and parents. It’s probably the only chance they will get to make these mistakes and it be safe.

And the future?

The aims must be simple:

  • confident children who understand logic and approach problem solving in a logical fashion.
  • It must not be about specific devices, or specific programmes.
  • Schools need to take lead and give pupils choice, independence and the chance to make mistakes with a safe digital environment.

Further reading:

Made With Code




11 Apr

How much computer is needed in Computer Supported Collaborative Learning?

You may know that I am currently working on my MA research – which will examine the role of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning in our primary classrooms. Specifically mobile technology. My initial thoughts are here.

In planning this research, the role of the ‘computer supported' aspect intrigues me, and as I am currently planning the study I need to come up with an activity for the pupils that is sufficiently 'computer supported.' Many studies discuss the 'distance' aspect of collaborative learning; contributing to a joint wiki, or taking part in group presentations. Less so are the studies which examine these situations within the classroom itself.

Stahl, et al discusses the nature of computer supported:

Computer support for such collaboration is central to a CSCL approach to e-learning. Stimulating and sustaining productive student interaction is difficult to achieve, requiring skillful planning, coordination and implementation of curriculum, pedagogy and technology.

The nature of the pedagogy, the learning intention and the support provided by the computer environment all need careful consideration. Does the computer need to prompt every step of the learning? What is the role of the teacher whilst the activites are taking place? Should I look at an activity which can be carried out on a desktop PC as well? (Some extra comparison?)

I have several ideas – and would welcome the thoughts of those reading this!

  1. Defining roles within the collaboration is often seen as an important part of the process, would a scientific experiment, either virtual or real, then reported using an iPad be a sufficient use of 'computer supported'?
  2. Mathematical learning fits the bill for a collaborative experience, again using an App – such as Pearson's Talk Maths (which requires pairs) – or giving the pupils problem to solve and asking them to present their findings.
  3. A specific task, such as Google Blockly, which will take place completely on the iPad. These may be more restrictive in the behaviours that I observe however…

These activities need to be planned in the same way as any learning activity, and the roles which the learners have will need to be defined, even if the pupils pick their own.


I would welcome readers sharing their examples of activities which could be deemed computer supported collaborative learning!