Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Art History

It isn't often that I come across an online learning resource that really impresses but does. It's a lovely collection of discussions around some key pieces of art from history. The scope is huge covering classical art to modern. In total the website has 157 artworks and a slightly smaller number of podcasts where the works are discussed. These discussions are what I think teachers will find most useful. Although the language is often sophisticated, the two editors Beth Harris and Steven Zucker do make an effort to explain terms like 'neo-platonic' for example. The great strength of these podcasts is that teachers will be able to play them again and again and offer their own support and commentary alongside.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Becta Review 2008

Another report from Becta worthy of consideration by all those who work with schools on ICT development. Accessible here
The figures on teachers attitudes and skills with ICT on the face of it look very good.
77% of teachers either very confident or quite confident in using ICT to deliver the school curriculum. Most teachers enthusiastic in 51% of schools.
Bear in mind that the first of these figures represents the views of an ICT Coordinators. It worries me that only a minority of teachers seem enthusiastic about ICT in 49% of schools. In the work we do with schools teacher attitude is as important if not more important than their skills in determining the outcome of an ICT related project.
The research also asked teachers how effective they thought they were in using ICT to support teaching and learning in the classroom. 77% said they were either quite or very effective. Interestingly there was a strong correlation between years of experience and effectiveness. This result somewhat undermines a common assumption that it is the newer members of the teaching profession who are best at using ICT in schools.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Becta Report on Web 2.0 in Schools

Lots of reports actually, all visible here

The summary document contains the following sobering finding for all those Web 2.0 utopians:
"Overall, although most learners use the internet for learning, there is only limited use of Web 2.0, and only a few embryonic signs of criticality, self-management and meta-cognitive reflection."
"Relatively few learners are engaging in more sophisticated Web 2.0 activities such as producing and publishing their own content for wider consumption."
In other words most of our school children are passive users of social websites and Web 2.0 sites in general. The teacher has a significant role:
"Lack of significant sophisticated activity by learners that involves more than consumption and social networking suggests that there is a role for teachers in supporting effective learning using Web 2.0. This role may be to ensure that learners have the technical skills to use the tools effectively and the metacognitive, synthesis and critical reflection skills to use Web 2.0 applications to support learning wherever they are."
I'd suggest these are probably fairly fundamental skills for lifelong learners in most media, traditional and new.
The following is perceptive and matches with my experiences in this area:
"...perhaps the greater challenge is that, at present, school students do not often create – they too often copy and learn. Often, teachers are unable to easily engage in formative assessment procedures with their students. Traditionally, they do not mix media – the standard output from school work remains paper-based. Traditionally, it has been difficult to blur boundaries between school work and homework. Traditionally, authority has had to appear too singularly invested in the teacher or the textbook.
Web 2.0 approaches seem to challenge each of these structures, and replace them with open-ended learning environments and assessment procedures, with mixed-media outcomes that are created and evaluated in new authority and ownership structures. It is hardly surprising if teachers are only exploring these spaces tentatively and cautiously. "

Sanctions and Rewards

The NAO has recently published research examining the use of rewards and sanctions in government. ( The document considers how effective these are in driving improvements in public sector delivery. Education is mentioned. The report is not impressed by the use of threshold based sanctions such as the present 30% used with schools.
'“threshold” schemes, which target absolute levels of performance and do not take past performance into account, may not reward Agents who improve the most as result of starting from a lower base.' (Page 27)
The material on unintended consequences of reward and sanction regimes should be required reading for anyone working within the public sector.
Of course the question does arise - if the NAO are saying that threshold schemes aren't a good idea - why isn't the government listening. (As if I didn't know).
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