Reading University

I had the great privilege of talking to this year’s PGCE graduates at Reading University today, sharing my thoughts on education and ICT. I was invited to talk by the head of Education, Leslie Honour, who had read my CV and thought that I had something to offer.

I talked for just over an hour as a keynote speaker, covering a number of different aspects to education and ICT. Central points I touched on included my background as a teacher, and experience with computers (remember that first time with a mouse…?) plus a brief tour of what I am doing these days with Cleveratom. From there I went through the Digital Creativity work where I showed some of the stellar pieces we have had from children over the years, the use of online spaces for learning (lingering over Notschool, somewhat, as well as the power of virtual learning environments), the technology we could use as well as a brief thought about where the future might go.

As ever the focus is on the students and what we are doing/could be doing to provide better opportunities for learning. A common cry from any audience is “That’s all very well, Hal, but how do I do this as well as fit in everything else?” Of course, the answer isn’t to try to cram ever more things into the school day, but to use the technology wisely to replace things you normally do, working smarter with it all. How does this fit with the national initiatives? I think I could reasonably easily show how this kind of clever use of technology incorporates  the key skills demanded, and I’m pretty confident that I can offer greater opportunities to students through the use of ICT than without it.

One comment from today went along the lines of the extensive reliance on ICT to provide communities and social groups for learning would inevitably lead to the destruction of social groups as more and more people receed to an online existence. This is a pretty bleak picture, of course, but perfectly valid as a point, and achallenge to all of us to ensure there is an appropriate blend of activities, not all based on ICT.

In fact, it is important to remember that from time to time ICT should NOT be used – particularly when there is no real benefit.

And all of this needs to be in the context of the changes in society, the different needs of the learners coming through the system and the expectations of what they will do when they leave school and take their place in work. Additionally, the global context increasingly shows the shift in emphasis from the UK being the centre of the universe, to a far bigger distribution elsewhere on the planet. Did you know, for example, that China has well over 1 million schools (England and Wales has 24,000), and that by any measure the number of gifted and talented pupils in China exceeds the number of children we have got in schools in total? What are the implications of this for the future, do you think?

And if the average teenager spends around 6.5 hours out of school in media based activities (YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Television) what are we doing to capture the learning that is happening and how would we begin to assess it if we could? Should assessment criteria begin to expect a child to run a group in Facebook, or upload content into YouTube and have it critiqued by an audience?

Or do we do what we have always done, and accept that we will end up with what we have always had… which quite frankly is not going to move us up the world rankings given the shifts happening!

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein

2 thoughts on “Reading University

  • 30 January, 2008 at 7:29 pm


    Many thanks for the session you did for us yesterday. After 20+ years in the IT industry, personally I wasn’t expecting anything profound… however, I was wrong! On the science PGCE despite the tutors having a strong IT background there have been some negative conclusions along the lines of “what is the point of all this expense if it is used for transmission only, one may as well spend the money on something else and use a WB”.

    However, I really liked the idea of using a wiki or similar for group collaborative work with AFL type input. In secondary science there is a tradition of doing “experiment writeups”, based upon my observations, these are focused on for ever from year 7 to 11 and are often poor quality and are often tedious for everyone involved despite it being important. There is also the need to incorporate “literacy for learning” type activities into science.

    I can envisage a Wikispace with a blank “writeup” writing frame for each group. The group are encouraged to collaborate on the write up and I could feed in AFL type comments. Each group can look at the work of the other groups, (maybe they’d just copy??) and hopefully the end result may evolve into something better than the usual write up. Once conclusions are reached one could reference out to materials on the web etc.

    Thanks again

    Sean Moore (Physics PGCE Reading)

  • 1 February, 2008 at 8:21 am

    Hi Sean, thanks for that – you are so very right. Yes, there may be some copying going on, and getting the ethos right is essential there. However, the Wiki history should help you greatly to determine what is what, and if the requirement on each child is more of an analysis AND synthesis (instead of title, method, results, conclusion) then the need to copy is diminished as we start to ask each child to CRITIQUE the information instead of simply repeat it.

    The biggest issue we all face is that assessment drives the learning – more correctly, assessment drives what children are taught – what they are presented with. No-one in their right mind is going to ignore the SATs requirements, for example, but over time these will become more and more irrelevant. Simply retaining information to regurgitate it later is a very low order skill compared to the synthesis and evaluative skills we need children to develop.

    Ultimately, there will be a blend of these things, and this will take time to get to. However you manage to enliven the debate on this in school, the important thing to remember is that it needs raising, over and over again. As a profession we seem largely intent on maintaining the status quo wherever we can, and you’ll no doubt receive some very patronising input from colleagues who are more long in the tooth as they studiously fail to see the bigger picture (not all, of course, but there are definitely some still out there…).

    Think of this kind of change a little like an action inquiry – we need to question the underlying, or governing variables! And like I said on Tuesday – I’ve not yet met a single child that I taught who has ever thanked me for handing them a worksheet… on the other hand, giving them opportunities to really think, work collaboratively and find an answer that way has certainly changed some lives. AFL is a must, too.

    Good luck for September – please do keep in touch!

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