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LangOER policy recommendations: Enhancing Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Europe through OER

LangOER (2014 – 2016) was an European network focused on enhancing the linguistic and cultural components of OER (open educational resources) by offering OER in less used languages and by enhancing sustainability through OER reuse.

LangOER aimed to contribute to the promotion of learning and teaching of less used European languages by linking them to the global challenges of Open Education. This was supported by awareness raising and capacity building activities (including exchange of good practice, training, expert consultations, discussions and dissemination activities) for the two main target groups, policy makers and educators in less used languages in Europe.

The final conference of the LangOER’s project ‘Open Education: Promoting Diversity for European Languages’, co-organised with the Educational Repositories Network (EdReNe) in September 2016, initiated the final phase of the activities, bringing together experts in open education and digital content repositories with educational researchers and a variety of policy makers concerned with language learning and teaching, pedagogical use of ICT, and social integration and inclusion.

Main focus of the event was to discuss the project’s final policy recommendations and to present other findings regarding OER, which are still a relatively open challenge in Less Used Languages communities. The conference concluded with a call for future actions on OER and for involving researchers, experts and policy makers in further improvement of the recommendations.

Following the event, these key stakeholders were invited to keep contributing to the debate around the recommendations, by participating in the webinar Open Education: Promoting Diversity for European Languages – Consultation on policy recommendations and by joining the Facebook group LangOER – Policy consultation, which will be maintained as an open space for dialogue and engagement.

The final policy recommendations ‘Enhancing Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Europe through OER’ were released in November 2016.

“OERs and Open Educational Practices (OEP) are relevant for all sectors and levels of education in LUL, and especially in the case of endangered languages and regional and minority languages. For those languages, OER/OEP are particularly relevant, simply because these communities of speakers are relatively small in number, they typically lack financial resources and they often encounter a dearth of learning materials. […]
However, even as the number of policy proposals to support OER uptake have grown and the benefits are more widely recognised, thus far there have been only sporadic efforts to explicitly address the opportunities and challenges of OER policies aimed at European LUL communities.1

Considering this framework, the paper provides an overview of three top level policy recommendations, complemented by key actionable steps for different stakeholders involved:
• Developing a well-functioning OER lifecycle – “create-access-use-adapt”
• Providing professional development and support for teachers
• Supporting community and network building for quality learning outcomes

More information about the policy consultation process that led to these final document may be found here.

For more resources created during the project life span, for policy makers, experts and educators, you can also consult this Digital Showcase.

1. https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/OER_Policy_Registry

5 tips on how to make your information more accessible – and why it matters

Social inclusion and as a related issue accessibility of information appear to come up more often in the European but also national discourses as priorities to look at. Usually, people agree that both are important. Not always they see it as part of their work. And often, people do not know how what to do about it and how.

European Schoolnet contributed to the development of guidelines on accessible information, within the ICT4IAL project. We as project partners hope that they will help others working in the field of education to get started on making their information more accessible and becoming more inclusive.

One of the things we have learned during the project is that while becoming a 100% accessible organisation is still a long way to go for us and many others, there are numerous small steps that are fairly easy to implement. The following points can give you an idea:

  • Alternative versions: digital, transcript…
  • Check for accessibility: using built-in tools (PDF, word etc.)
  • Contrast colours
  • Electronic version: use built in tools, latest software
  • Sans serif fonts
  • Size: minimum font size

The guidelines give a more complete picture, also providing tips on more demanding tasks like making audio, video or online resources accessible. They are now available in 23 languages.

On 11 December 2015, the guidelines were presented and discussed during the international conference ‘Information accessibility for Learning. From Development to implementation of guidelines’, kindly hosted by the Polytechnic University of Milan. The conference participants highlighted numerous enablers necessary to make accessible information becoming the norm in the education sector: The involvement of a broad range of stakeholders is necessary, funding at different levels, and more teacher training is key.

While a lot still needs to happen on a structural level, we invite all teachers, teacher trainers, policy makers and others interested not to wait for others to make a start. The guidelines are an open educational resource. Have a look at them, try them out, adapt them to your needs and talk to your colleagues about it.

A lot of discussion in the area still focuses on the why? Obvious arguments are the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities from 2006, signed by 147 countries including all EU countries, impressive figures on the numbers of people with disabilities around the world and an ageing population which means more old people also benefiting from accessible information. All that is true beyond doubt but perhaps one new year’s resolution could be to spend less time on discussing the why and more time on finding concrete steps to make accessible information a reality not only, but also in European classrooms.

There is a lot of excellent initiatives in the field of social inclusion that already show us how to make some change. One of them is the Orchestra Sinfonica EsagramDSCI0820ma, a Social Cooperative based in Milan. Licia Sbatella, Associate Professor at the Polytechnic University of Milan and Scientific Director of Esagramma, invited the
ICT4IAL partners to a participative performance of the orchestra. The orchestra is composed of children with special needs and professional musicians – and for that performance also the ICT4IAL partners. It already performed in front of the Vatican and the European Parliament and is always open to new invitations.

For me personally, it was a great experience to make music together with a diverse group of people as part of such a special orchestra. It really showed me DSCI0822how a professional and dedicated team can bring people together. Without any prior knowledge or musical talent, I was able to contribute to a common learning experience. It is initiatives like this who in 2016 and beyond will continue to contribute to making a reality of promises upheld in conventions and political discourses, and encourage other stakeholders to tackle some of the barriers to making accessible information widely available in education.

What makes a great MOOC? Lessons from the EUN Academy

Over the past year, European Schoolnet has been embarking on the production of MOOCs for teachers under the umbrella of the European Schoolnet Academy (www.eunacademy.eu). Given that teachers are usually very busy and have little flexibility on the organization of their workdays, MOOCs lend themselves especially well as a professional development tool for teachers. But while the results of the Academy vindicate this statement (see here), we quickly learned that producing a high quality course is no easy feat and easily underestimated. I would therefore like to share with you in this post some key lessons I have learned from our MOOC production about what makes a great MOOC and what are the key challenges.

I should add that this post does not delve into the discussion about which type of MOOC (cMOOC or xMOOC) is better or truly deserves the MOOC label. Rather, this post offers some practical insights which should be helpful for any kind of open online course involving large numbers of participants.

A great MOOC is first and foremost a learning experience that displays the same characteristics as any well-constructed course. It features good pedagogical practices such as clear learning objectives, clarity of progression for students, engaging teachers, as well as meaningful content and assessment practices. However, due to the nature of MOOCs, there are some elements which are more specific to designing a great MOOC compared to simply designing a great course. The following three points, very briefly, identify three key elements that make a great MOOC:

Instructor presence: Due to the large numbers of participants and conversely opinions, ideas, and comments presented on a MOOC, participants can easily get lost and feel isolated from the discussion. It is therefore essential that the instructor(s) is visible with a clear presence on the course, not just via the videos. A great MOOC will include an active instructor (teacher or assistants) on the forums and social media, ensuring that content as well as organisational questions are answered. Furthermore, the instructor(s) should recognise and identify students’ contributions, either in the forum, in course emails, blog posts, or video summaries, thereby providing less confident students some guidance and structure to understand the discussions as well as motivating students to participate.[1] While instructor presence is essential, it should not dominate course discussions, leaving participants sufficient space to develop their own ideas and answers.

Effective use of video: Most MOOCs rely heavily on the use of video to communicate course content. Video can be a powerful medium to communicate ideas, concepts and theories, if used correctly. A great MOOC will use short videos (less than 6 minutes) and a diversity of formats (animations, interviews, observations, case studies, etc.), both which can substantially increase participant engagement.[2] While of relevance in all teaching contexts, the enthusiasm and engagement of the speaker is even more paramount in a MOOC, given that participants can easily stop the speaker and move on at any time. The above points do not mean a great MOOC requires professional video production, rather, it requires personality and diversity in style.

Acknowledging & utilising diversity: One of the key challenges of MOOCs is how to address the diversity of its participants. A great MOOC not only acknowledges diversity through its course design, it also utilizes it as a key learning mechanism. For example, if a MOOC offers its participants different learning paths, depending on their experience, background and aims, including differentiated forms of support, it can increase the sense of purpose for students and thereby have a positive impact on engagement, participation and retention.[3] Furthermore, if a MOOC utilises the diversity of backgrounds in its activities and assignments, for example by asking students to report about the situation in their country/profession/etc., it turns this diversity into an asset that can contribute to the learning of the participants.

While the above points outline some key elements of a great MOOC, I would argue that there is not one correct way of creating a great MOOC, rather, the style, approach and organisation of a great MOOC depends significantly on the content, instructor and context of delivery of the MOOC.

[1]See https://class.coursera.org/atc21s-001 for an example

[2]Guo P., Kim J., Rubin R., (2014). How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos. Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning @ scale conference, pgs 41-50, New York, accessible at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2556325.2566239

[3]See https://iversity.org/my/courses/mathe-mooc-mathematisch-denken–2/lesson_units for an example

Coding – an emerging reality for students and teachers in Europe

by Anja Balanskat Senior Analyst and Project Manager Creative Classrooms Lab

As a follow up of our desk research investigating computing and coding initiatives in schools, we now have a more coherent picture about priorities, school curricula and initiatives across Europe.

Altogether 20 Ministries of Education participated in the EUN survey on coding and computer programming in schools. Here are some of the main findings:

Picture1

Computerprogramming and coding is already part of the curriculum in 12 countries: Bulgaria,
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and the UK (England) (see graphic: Yes). 7 countries plan to integrate it in the future (see graphic: it is planned). There is no information available from 10 countries (see graphic: ???).

 

 

Does this mean that coding/or compute programming is the only main priority for Ministries of Education when it comes to ICT competence development? Fortunately it is not, 16 Ministries of Education still prioritize Digital Competence Development, developing ICT as a tool for learning and ICT user skills in line with policy initiatives that have been developed in this area for many years.

Picture2But what is the main rationale for integrating coding and programming in national or regional school curricula? The majority of countries participating in the survey, which have integrated computing in the curricula or plan to do so, aim to develop core educational skills such as logical thinking skills, coding skills or core competencies e.g. problem solving skills. Only 10 countries introduce it to respond to the needs of the job market and to foster employability or to attract students to study computer science.

As regards curriculum integration:

  • Computer/Programming/coding is integrated by most countries (10) at upper secondary school level in general education and vocational education.
  • Three countries (Estonia, Greece,United Kingdom (England) integrate it in primary education.
  • Only Estonia and Greece integrate coding and programming at all levels of school education.
  • In 7 countries (BG, CZ, CY,EL, PL, PT, UK (England)) it is compulsory for specific levels of education and mainly part of a computer course.

Given this higher profile of coding in the curriculum in these countries, are teachers prepared to teach this as part of the ICT subject, which is the most common subject, in which coding is taught?

  • 9 countries (BG, CZ, CY, EE, IE, IT, LT, PT and the UK (England)) make training provision (in in-service or pre-service training) to support teachers in teaching computer programming/coding.
  • Ireland offers a variety of activities to teachers as part of initial teacher education (ITE) mainly for the Post Primary ITE sector. In the Primary ITE sector, coding is not included as a mandatory element but some electives maybe offered.

Developing students coding skills can be approached in various ways, in school, within and outside official school hours, and benefitting from a variety of offers from other stakeholders in the field, e.g. by taking part in competitions or coding clubs. 12 countries have reported on their collaboration with industry, sector organisations, computer society clubs, teachers and subject associations, or universities.

First lessons of successful integration will be hopefully learnt in the near future from countries that are today forerunners in this area such Estonia, Greece, Ireland, UK (England). Certainly other interesting initiatives are going on in countries that did not respond to the survey. We will be keeping an eye on the subject. Check details in the report,” Computing our future” which also contains a case study on the introduction of coding in the English curriculum.

If you already feel like starting to learn how to code in one day and create your own app check out the one of the recent initiatives offered by the Sunday Times: http://thesundaytimes.co.uk/learntocode

It just requires a mixture of concentration and creativity to learn the new literacy of the 21st century: //Create play function play() {

How mainstream can inclusion and accessibility become in 2015 and beyond?

blackboard with random drawings by children

Pelgulinna Gymnasium in Tallinn

The start of a new year is always also a good moment to look back at what happened the last year and which new things one learned. For me, it was the conclusion that while the topic inclusion has been high on the agenda of many European countries the last few years and many students with special needs moved from special schools to mainstream schools, the topic is still not mainstream enough to be a concern for all educators. Below I share the most interesting facts around inclusion and accessibility issues I came across during SENnet  workshops and Peer Learning visits in Portugal and Estonia in 2014.

(1)    Who is a student with special needs and who is not depends on the definition used. The term is, according to the OECD, not well defined internationally. For the Estonian government, for example, also very gifted students are students with special needs.

(2)    Devices like tablets can enable students with special needs to make independent choices and communicate who could not do so otherwise. (see SENnet Austrian Case Study video)

(3)    At the Pelgulinna Gymnasium in Tallinn, students with special needs are particularly interested and active in coding and robotics classes.

(4)    Teaching students with special needs and teaching with ICT are the areas in which teachers need professional development the most. (TALIS, 2013)

(5)    One cannot assume that parents of students with special needs can always provide all necessary support. The UK Teacher of the Deaf Darryl Bedford shared at the SENnet workshop on 21 October that most of this students are not even able to communicate at home, as their family does not learn sign language .

(6)    Providing continuity in external support provided to schools is vital, as teachers will only cooperate with services they know and trust.

(7)    Including students with special needs in mainstream schools is a benefit to all students, as all students learn important skills for life while learning and cooperating together.

(8)    Making texts/ audio/ video etc. accessible benefits in most cases all readers, not only those with special needs.

(9)    Especially having in mind today’s ageing population, also people with no disability at present might develop a special need later in their lives. Having that in mind, any step towards more accessibility/ inclusion is in any of our best interests.

Further reading:

http://sennet.eun.org/studies-and-evidence-wp2

http://www.ict4ial.eu/ 

Katja Engelhardt has joined the European Schoolnet Observatory Team in 2012. She mainly works on the Creative Classrooms Lab project and the SENnet project. 

Computer programming and coding in schools— a hype in education or an emerging trend?

by Anja Balanskat Senior Analyst and Project Manager Creative Classrooms Lab

There are a growing number of countries in Europe and internationally, which refocus their ICT curricula on developing students’ computer programming and coding skills and introduce this topic in national, regional or school curricula. …And this for very young learners starting already in the last year of kindergarten or in primary schools and in many cases as a requirement.

European Schoolnet, which is also supporting  the organisation of the Microsoft coding competition for schools, the Kodu Kup Europe, will in the coming months feature recent developments in this area and currently gathers further information from its Ministries of Education to obtain a more detailed picture of how coding or programming is or will be integrated in school curricula across Europe. We will also look into how teacher training and educational resources are provided in line with such new requirements. On 25 June, European Schoolnet already organised a workshop on how to connect and upscale coding. In this first blog entry I give a short overview of what we already know about this topic from the country reports of ICT in education published yearly by European Schoolnet and information published in some recent news articles.

Which countries explicitly have integrated or will integrate coding or programming in school curricula?

The UK is an exemplary case as it is one of the first European countries to mandate computer programming in its primary and secondary schools from September 2014 onwards. Students will start learning to write code when they enter school at 5 years old until they finish at the age of 16. For example, by the end of key stage one (age 7) students will be able to create and debug simple programs, understand algorithms and how they are implemented as programs on digital devices and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions.

Already in 2012 Estonia launched ProgeTiiger (a division of the Tiger Leap foundation), which is a pilot program to teach programming to all students, from grades 1 until 12. ProgeTiiger is funded by the government and volunteer teachers that are interested in learning coding receive training and then teach the programming skills they learned. Children from 6 years onwards will have coding/programming as part of the curriculum and 60 teachers have been trained so far to teach the first four year groups.

Finland will require all primary school students to learn programming, starting in the fall of 2016. 1st and 2nd grade students will learn the basics of giving simple commands, while 3rd through 6th graders will learn visual programming and 7th through 9th graders will be taught a programming language.

In France the Minister of National Education, Benoît Hamon, said in a recent interview with Le Journal du Dimanche that programming courses will be offered to primary school students starting this fall 2014. The courses, which will be optional and offered during extracurricular time, will teach students programming basics and how to create simple applications. Hamon also expressed a desire for programming to be offered at the secondary school level. The goal, he said, is to give French students the keys to thrive in a connected world and to encourage them go into technical vocations.

In Greece, under the “Digital School Strategy” framework, a number of special actions/projects are in progress in order to obtain better integration of the most recent ICT developments in the curriculum. The new curriculum for the course of Computer Science and Information Technology (ICT) in compulsory education aims to develop the necessary digital competences (i.e. knowledge, skills and attitudes related to ICT) in order to enhance students’ learning capabilities, continuous and lifelong development and ultimately their participation in the society. For this purpose, the new curriculum is divided into four interdependent components:

  1. ICT as a scientific and technological tool.
  2. ICT as a learning-cognitive tool.
  3. ICT as a problem solving methodology.
  4. ICT as a social phenomenon.

In lower secondary education, ICT has been introduced as a subject that is taught once a week by a specialist IT teacher. During the first two years of lower secondary education pupils get to know the basic operations of a computer, its peripheral devices and the operating system. At the same time, they develop their skills and abilities as regards software programs covering graphics, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and databases. In the third year (grade 9), pupils are introduced to programming through the use of the LOGO language and they work on team projects, using the Office software package productivity tools they were taught in the previous years.

In Switzerland, Prof Juraj Hromkovic from the federal polytechnic university of Zürich offers a course on coding in primary schools which is already adopted in around 40 schools in the German speaking cantons. The introduction of the new curriculum “Lehrplan 21” for the German speaking Cantons in 2013 was widely discussed by expert groups. In a previous version of the plan, it was up to the teachers if and how they integrate ICT, which was strongly criticised by ICT related interest groups, which asked for a separate ICT subject. In a compromise the plan now foresees to teach ICT and media education in 3 modules thereby fixing the number of hours to be taught and the learning objectives. From grade 3 onwards children in primary education will have one hour of ICT and media education and two hours in secondary education. The plan covers 3 areas to be tackled:

  • ICT: basics of programming
  • Media education: use of mass and new media
  • ICT user competencies (e.g. knowledge of word, excel, ..)

Internationally, Australia has been in the process of reworking its national curriculum to require children to learn programming concepts beginning in kindergarten and how to write computer code beginning in year 3. Whether coding or programming can be actually considered as a new trend in school curricula and is taught in more than the 6 European countries mentioned above, we will only know after an analysis of the results of our survey with ministries. In other European countries such as Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany (Bavaria), France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania and Spain ICT or computer science is taught as a separate subject …and therefore potentially coding and programming is part of the programme likewise.

The survey results will be highlighted on the observatory blog in October 2014. Meanwhile, in another blog entry I will focus on the question why students should actually learn coding or programming, e.g. the educational benefits it can bring about and look at some interesting examples of practice already happening in schools.

Further reading: 

Country reports on ICT in education, EUN, 2013

UK 

Teaching our children to code: a quiet revolution, 4 November 2013, The Telegraph              

Coding in schools: A is for algorithm, 26 November 2014, The Economist

Estonia

AAAS Serves: The Proge Tiiger initiative, 25 March 2013, AAAS MemberCentral                         

How Estonia became E-stonia, 16 May 2013, BBC News

Switzerland

Erziehungsdirektoren präsentieren Lehrplan 21, 28 June 2013, Tages Anzeiger

Education: sus à l’analphabétisme informatique!, 22 August 2013, L’Hebdo

Germany 

Das digitale Einmaleins, 11 January 2013, Zeit Online

France

France to offer programming in elementary school, 16 July 2014, IT world

Professional development: how much is enough?

In England the annual survey of teachers’ workload always prompts interesting discussions, particularly as the instrument used to collect data is a diary kept by teachers. The 2014 edition was recently published by the Department of Education.

While most reactions have been about the dedication to work (or demands of the job?) shown by teachers (59 hours a week for primary school teachers, more than secondary school teachers’ 55 hours) and the fact that only 1/3 of the time was spent teaching, it was the proportion of time spent on professional development that caught my eye.

One blogger, David Weston, noted:

For each hour of teaching time, primary teachers spend 2.5 minutes on Continuing Professional Development, while secondary teachers spend just over 1 minute. To put it another way, secondary teachers spend around 47 hours a year on CPD, while primary teachers spend 85.8 hours.

Considering that research suggests that it takes around 50 hours on a single CPD topic to make a sustainable change in practice but that teachers have to use this limited time for lots of CPD topics, there is really no surprise that research suggests that teachers barely improve their teaching after the first three years on the job – everything becomes habitual and automated and these habits are impossible to shift without concentrated time and effort.

Unfortunately there is no reference to the evidence for the ’50 hours to make sustainable change’ assertion but it raises the question: How much CPD is needed to bring about major change in classrooms? It also begs the quality question: not so much the amount of hours on CPD but the activities taking place in that time and where they take place (in-school is more effective than off-site for example). The Survey of Schools: ICT in Education found that 74% of students at grade 8 were in schools where teachers learnt about ICT in their own time (final report, p. 75), in what could be called self-directed spontaneous CPD, possibly because of inadequacies or non-existence of formal training opportunities.

DSCF1820

The results from the diaries, if they can be compared, indicate that English teachers, with six (secondary) and more than ten days a year (primary), are relatively fortunate in the amount of CPD they undergo. According to the Survey of Schools, 61% of grade 8 students were in schools where teachers spent more than six days in the preceding two years on professional development activities (report, p. 98), with teachers in Spain, Portugal and Poland leading the way. Almost one in five students at grade 4 are in schools where teachers have had less than one day’s CPD or none at all in the past two years – by any measure this is insufficient to shift engrained practices.

Slide1

The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher said unequivocally last week that successful countries invest heavily in CPD for their staff, citing Singapore where each teacher has 100 hrs of CPD a year, that’s about 12 days! If education, and innovative approaches to teaching and learning, really matter, then surely it’s time to invest more in teachers’ professional development. The cost of not doing so is high: David Blunkett was education minister in the 1990s; last night he reflected: “We spent £1bn on technology, what we did wrong was we didn’t teach the teachers. We thought they would share best practice.”

Technology can make it cost-effective and less disruptive, as seen in the popularity of social media, peer networking and the growth of free online CPD – including courses on science and the future classroom starting this month at the new European Schoolnet Academy.

Roger Blamire, Senior Adviser and Project Manager, European Schoolnet

Is controlling the classroom compatible with encouraging students to develop team work and interpersonal skills?

By Caroline Kearney, Education Analyst & Project Manager

Newly published report calling for the English curriculum to adopt competence based learning

Personally, I find that the English Secretary of State’s insistence upon discipline in the classroom sits a little uncomfortably with the recommendations put forward by the Making Education Work report, published this week. An independent advisory group of prominent business leaders, chaired by Professor Sir Roy Anderson, published the report, following their review of England’s education system. The importance of adopting a key competence approach in order to align the school curriculum to the future needs of the economy is one of the main recommendations of the report and reflects the objectives of KeyCoNet – the European Policy Network on Key Competences in School Education, managed by European Schoolnet. The report advises England to adopt a formal framework for key competences, making reference to the existing European framework, to include team working, interpersonal skills, and higher level reasoning skills, which are predicted to become increasingly important in the job market. Some of the report’s recommendations especially resonate with the work of KeyCoNet as well as other projects managed by European Schoolnet, as I explain briefly below.

Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State of Education in England, stated in his recent speech that: ‘’For many years commentators have lamented poor discipline, low standards, entrenched illiteracy, widespread innumeracy, the flight from rigour, and the embrace of soft subjects’’. For this reason since his administration came to power it has relentlessly put an emphasis on a ‘back to basics’ approach and a policy of no tolerance for bad behaviour. This strong focus on discipline in the classroom, with the aim of diminishing disruptive behaviour, seems somewhat at odds with the type of pedagogy necessary for competence based learning. While it is clear that a certain level of discipline is needed in the classroom to ensure that learning takes place, creating a classroom culture where any type of disruption is considered negative could prevent students from developing the very key competences, such as communication and interpersonal skills, much needed in today’s job market.

The literature reviews and case studies resulting from KeyCoNet’s work in the area provide clear evidence that developing students’ key competences requires a social, active and constructivist conception of learning. Key competence friendly approaches require a radical transformation of pedagogical practice aimed at being more innovative, collaborative, cross-curricular, project-based, ICT-enhanced, motivational and student-centred. Moreover, we know from research that transforming the physical learning environment into flexible spaces enabling diversified learning, as well as modifying the timetable, structure and organization of lessons can facilitate a key competence based approach in schools. It is however perhaps difficult to see how such a flexible environment could realistically be implemented in a school context in England where the pressing issue seems to be obtaining control of the classroom. Giving teachers and senior school management more power to punish students and enforce an authoritarian culture of discipline and fear, seems to go very much in the opposite direction. Whether one agrees that this is needed or not, it surely does not create the conditions conducive to foster the approach supported by the Anderson report. Michael Gove’s speech highlights the new freedoms given to teachers and head teachers to impose discipline in their schools. Surely empowering teachers however should not be at the cost of students’ empowerment. After all, we want students to take control of their own learning. The problem is, it is difficult to see how teachers and school management will buy into this new approach, if their primary concern is getting students to behave in a decent enough way  to allow for any type of learning in the first place.

Encouragingly however, the Anderson report while acknowledging the importance of strengthening basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic, argues for a more explicit focus on the teaching and assessment of ‘softer’ non-cognitive skills, including what many states in the US refer to as ‘the 4Cs’ (critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity). The report also recommends the establishment of an independent body, representing all key stakeholders and enjoying a cross party consensus, to help plan strategically for the long term needs of the English economy. This recommendation is very much supported by KeyCoNet which will also put forward its recommendations at the end of this year, including the need to address the lack of continuity caused by short-term education policies across successive governments. KeyCoNet therefore welcomes the new report, and hopes the English education system embraces its advice.

 

 

 

 

 

How can we accelerate the adoption of what works in education?

by Anja Balanskat Senior Analyst and Project Manager Creative Classrooms Lab

Intrigued by finding “new” answers to this ongoing question and to connect to well- known thinkers in this area, I took part in a round table debate in the prestigious House of Lords in London, known for its heated debates.

The debate was open, straight forward and most of all, not driven by technology issues itself (be it as a tool used in the debate or as the focus of the discussion), a truly professional dialogue enriching each other’s mind with views and evidence about the impact of technology on pedagogy, 1:1 learning, the role of national policy, teachers continuous professional development and access issues.

Valerie Thompson, director of the e-learning foundation in the UK, and partner in the Creative Classroom’s Lab project of European Schoolnet organized this global conversation chaired by Lord Knight: 21st century learning, education reform and the impact of learning technologies with Education leaders, policy makers, educators and representatives from industry from the U.S., UK, Canada and Europe. The One-to One institute in the USA was represented with a high number of delegates as it shares common missions and goals with the e-learning foundation in providing advocacy for 1:1 teaching and learning programmes.

The group agreed that we can see already a number of transformed schools, where teachers are no longer ”sage on the stage” and students are engaged in self-directed, independent and active learning, they collaborate with teachers and peers and where classroom time is spent productively discussing concepts, presenting ideas and sharing information. However, what is needed to get more schools on the train to transformation? A number of key messages derived from the discussion:

Tackling fundamental questions

Educational objectives and pedagogy have to determine the choice of devices. Schools have to define these first and then decide which devices can support their objectives. One device is probably not enough and BYOD or “Bring your own Browser” is more of a probable future scenario. School leaders look into technology investments that have most impact on students learning and makes their school an outstanding school. A focus on the impact on the processes as well as on the outcomes is needed, when driving decisions about changes in schools.

Neil McLean from the UK, Head of Education at e-skills UK , argued that changes in schools require teachers not only to rethink how they do things but who they are? What is their main role as an educator?

The offer of CPD also has to be rethought considering cultural, human and societal developments. Some interesting approaches were brought up from Ron Canuel, President of the Canadian Education Association, where teacher leaders develop professional development programmes, rather than outsourcing programmes. Or, as put by Professor Diana Laurillard, (London Knowledge Lab): “We do not need to teach teachers how to use technology, but teach them how to learn using technology.”

A mix of top down and bottom up interventions

Practitioners are crucial in the process of transformation. Therefore we have to hand back the profession to the professionals and let them lead the process of transformation. In the UK via the TES teaching resource website around 1 Million teachers already downloaded lesson plans and 800 000 uploaded user generated resources. In Shanghai, according to the OECD, teachers are evaluated by their ability to share teaching resources and their level of influence.

In the U.S. teacher contracts as part of long term 1:1 implementations are reviewed and changed to allow teachers more flexibility and creativity as highlighted by Leslie Wilson, chief executive officer of the One-to-One institute in the U.S.  If government interventions stop e.g. because of changes in policy, the organization steps in to support schools by forging alliances with industry and providing services to schools as in the State of Michigan.

However, there needs to be clear statements from the policy level likewise as argued by Gary Kynaston, Headteachers of Hammersmith Academy, a newly built school that successfully deploys 1:1 teaching and learning strategies to support students with all abilities from year 7 to year 13.

At the level of financing it was pointed out by Lord Puttnam that costs savings should not be made where it can have dramatic consequences e.g. opting for a cheaper deal when providing technology for schools, but one, which does not include training for teachers any more. Moreover, it is only education that can fund our health and pension systems, and everybody should be more creative in raising funds for it.

The role of research and innovation

If research is to inform decision making long lasting scientific experiments will not be the most efficient tool to do so, but evaluations based on rigorous data and teaching practices, as claimed by Professor Diana Laurillard. Teachers should record their transformation on a small scale and the research community should engage in a rigorous collection of data of practices with built in crowed source analysis. Technology can help us to build in a scientific community in this area. The main problem with innovation is that there is no common matrix, definition, or methodology as pointed out by Ron Canuel. This has to be addressed by the research community. The group mainly agreed that pilots are needed, but they are hard to replicate. What is crucial to know is that not the “early”, but “mid” adopters, have the power to convince. Reaching the critical mass of innovators is also a main objective for European Schoolnet which implements a number of large and smaller scale projects to experiment the innovative use of ICT in schools (see the Future Classroom Lab projects). Policy makers and educators should engage in the sharing of best practices internationally.

Mind the gap- digital access issues

The elearning foundation pointed to 3 existing  divides, which, if coming together, could fully exclude learners from access to  learning technology.

  • The divide between rich and poor families:  8% of students in the UK do not have online access at home and those are from the poorest families,
  • The divide between primary and secondary schools: Primary schools are the smallest schools compared to secondary schools with over 1000 students. Secondary schools because of their size usually have an infrastructure in place with support staff, which primary schools often can not afford.
  • ICT Schools and NON ICT schools, where ICT is not a priority or non existent. There are still schools in the UK and these can be well performing or “outstanding” schools according to OFSTED (UK official schools inspectorate.

Further Reading:

Mind the Gap campaign in the UK

Jaron Lanier (2013), Who owns the Future?

Innovation vs Circulasticity, Why the status quo keeps bouncing back 

Project Red: A Global Toolkit for Education Transformation 

 

Finnish education minister inspires EMINENT conference

Helsinki

European Schoolnet’s annual EMINENT conference took place 4-5 December in cold Helsinki, but the atmosphere was warm. The tone was set by the Finnish minster of education, Krista Kiuri, speaking without notes the day after the OCED PISA results were published, so she had been very busy with the media, explaining why Finland was no longer ‘top dog’ in the rankings.

At EMINENT Krista Kiuri was concerned about boys’ under-achievement,  pointedly asking: “What are we going to do about the boys?” implying that schools as they are are more girl-friendly than boy-friendly and raising the question of what a male-friendly pedagogy might look like. She also memorably talked about too many classrooms being like aeroplanes – where all electronic devices have to be turned off in flight. One of the key answers (there are ‘no simple answers’) to how to raise performance levels is to trust teachers. “Money doesn’t fix today’s problems,” she said, “society does.” She also argued that fewer hours in school can be better; even now children don’t start school until they are seven in Finland and they spend fewer hours in school than almost all other countries.

Interestingly she said that when she was young (not so long ago: she is 39), ‘school was my social media’, but that in some ways ‘school has now lost credibility’ because young people don’t have to be in the same place to keep in touch thanks to social media and being ‘always on’, but even so, she reminded us, social mobility happens only through school; without good schools many children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds never have a chance to fulfil their potential.

Ms Kiuri was among the most interesting and challenging ministers of education I’ve heard. And a testimony to the excellence of the education system of which she is a product.

More: http://www.eun.org/about/eminent.

Roger Blamire, ex-teacher and currently senior adviser at European Schoolnet.