Saturday, 21 November 2015

Erosion of Pupils' Digital Skills

It was with interest that I read these articles over the last couple of days:

A report just published by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority found that the ICT literacy performance of students in both Years 6 and Years 10 decreased between 2011 - 2014. Their conclusions certainly caught my eye, and that of the press around the world:
"The decline does not appear to be a result of changes in the test content, in the way the test was administered or sample obtained. One of the possible interpretations of the decline in ICT literacy is that the increased use of mobile technology devices has resulted in less emphasis on skills associated with information management and processing but more emphasis on communication applications. It is also possible that there has been less emphasis placed in schools on the teaching of skills associated with ICT literacy, with the development of young people’s ICT literacy competencies increasingly being taken for granted. Such a shift in emphasis may have contributed to changes in ICT literacy achievement between 2011 and 2014. The reasons for the decrease in Year 6 and Year 10 students’ ICT literacy levels remain issues for further investigation." (National Assessment Program - ICT Literacy Years 6 & 10 Report 2014, Page xxvii, 2015)
Those of you who know me, or have read some of my tweets or previous posts about 'bright shiny things' will know of my concerns about the increasing use of the tablet technologies, especially in the primary classroom. As I have said often, the iPad (I say iPad because that is the mobile device overwhelmingly used by primary schools) is a fantastic device. But educators have to know how to get the most from it. What does it do better than any other piece of technology they might have, and what pupil ICT skills are being developed? As a head teacher said to me recently, when discussing iPad use in schools, "It's all a bit 'smoke and mirrors', it looks like there's a lot happening but are we just being deceived?" I often ask head teachers, ICT coordinators and teachers about how they are using their iPads. In the overwhelming majority of cases "research" is their answer, closely followed by apps that support numeracy or literacy, and probably book creator apps. When I ask them about what ICT skills are being developed things tend to get a little woolly, and very quiet when I mention data bases, graphing, spreadsheets, modelling and simulation. Therefore this report from Australia shouldn't really come as a surprise. From what I've observed, and from the open and honest conversations I've had with schools, I believe there has been a decline in basic ICT skills. The ICT scheme of work that I've recently developed is an attempt to refocus primary schools on a progressive range of basic ICT skills for creating and communicating, finding and analysing, digital citizenship, e-safety, along with some coding. In my opinion primary aged pupils should have a firm foundation in a range of ICT skills, in the same way that they are taught English and maths skills, which are then applied across the curriculum through the literacy and numeracy frameworks in Wales. There are a couple of iPad apps included, such as iMovie and Garageband that focus on video and audio editing skills, and Autodesk Tinkerplay to support 3d graphical modelling. The rest of the time the iPads (and other technologies) can be used to access cloud technologies such as Google Apps for Education / Office 365 / 2Simple PurpleMash / Just2Easy, using the built in tools to support word processing, desktop publishing, spreadsheets, graphing and databases, in an on-line collaborative environment. 
"In contrast, new cloud-based technologies allow students to collaborate in real time on word-processing, database and presentation software.While the ability to manipulate elements such as font and colour may add to the finished product, the real skill development occurs in the collaborative researching, delegation of team roles and negotiation of content that underpins such an activity." (ICT Is Failing In Schools - Here's Why)
The statement that young people's ICT literacy competencies are increasingly being taken for granted also chimes true. Just because a nursery age child is tapping and swiping a tablet device, or a young person is using their smartphone to communicate on multiple platforms to friends, doesn't necessarily mean they have a full range of digital competencies. As educators we can't assume that students are picking up necessary digital skills for the world of work and for life. We need to teach a range of progressive skills, and provide the opportunities to use these skills across the curriculum.
"It is tempting to assume that students who use computing devices and smartphones for social interactions (texting, for example) understand all aspects of ICT technology and its applications. As educators, when presented with results to the contrary, we are obliged to pause and reassess our assumptions. It appears that we cannot expect students to become proficient on important employability and life skills, just by using computing devices for games and social interaction. They also need to be taught the relevant knowledge, understanding and skills." (Professor Steven Schwartz, National Assessment Program - ICT Literacy Years 6 & 10 Report 2014, Page xi, 2015)

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Restoring The Balance

In my last post I talked about the balance between coding and digital literacy, and how it was refreshing to read a report from the ECDL saying that perhaps there has recently been too much of a focus on coding at the expense of digital skills.  It was with interest therefore that this morning I read this post - 'Coding and Digital Skills', from Miles Berry. In it, Miles reflects upon the first year since the introduction of the Computing curriculum in England. He talks about the move from ICT to Computing and about computational thinking, but it's his conclusions that I found most interesting, and in my opinion should be read by all those educators in Wales involved in developing the new curriculum and digital competence frameworks. Let's hope that we do learn from England's experience in changing their curriculum, and in restoring a healthy balance between coding and digital skills/competence. Here is Miles' conclusion in full:

I don’t want to give the impression that England has all this figured out. It’s been a hugely exciting few years, changing a nation’s curriculum in such a significant way and seeing the impact that this is already having on schools, teachers and pupils. We’ve something approaching an alpha release – a minimum viable product, but there’s plenty more development work still needed, and I suspect we’re never going to have a final, finished product, much more a perpetual cycle of beta versions. 
I worry at times that we’ve emphasised coding too much, sometimes at the expense of computational thinking, but also at the really, really useful e-skills that our learners still need – no one gets a job programming in Scratch, but plenty of folk are likely to have to word process reports, make presentations and develop online content. Some of what follows next for us might well be about restoring the balance to the curriculum as implemented – ensuring that the foundations, applications and implications of computing all get covered so that our pupils are prepared as well as they possibly can be for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of their later life.

Friday, 16 October 2015

A Balance Between Coding and Digital Literacy

An article from caught my attention this afternoon. Titled, "Computing and digital literacy education needs a unified approach" and authored by the ECDL Foundation, the piece argues that
"education programmes promoting coding need to be balanced with basic technology skills, which are too often lacking - even amongst so-called 'digital natives'."
Also highlighting that there was a danger that
"this focus on coding risks diminishing the quality of other aspects or computing and digital literacy education."
It was quite refreshing to read this article as I thought that I might be the only one who was having some concerns, especially with the media focus on educational technology at the moment is seemingly fixated on coding in schools. In my post from June I wrote about what I saw as 'skewed reporting' of the digital competence framework, from the BBC. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the introduction of coding into school. But in my opinion, it does have to be balanced along with the basic technology skills (word processing, data handling, web browsing, etc.) and other important digital literacy or competence areas such as digital citizenship, e-safety, online communication and collaboration. It will be interesting to see the final digital competence framework that the digital pioneer schools produce. I'm sure some quarters would like to see and are maybe pushing to have coding built into this. However, from my reading of the Successful Futures report, it's clear that Prof. Donaldson believes that computer science sits outside of the digital competence framework. I wonder what the BBC will think of that??

E-Skills at School - Computing and digital literacy: call for holistic approach
E-Skills at School - Brochure

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Communication Breakdown?

The last couple of months have been an extremely busy time for my consultancy. My ICT scheme seems to have had a very good reception from schools. I have met with headteachers, ICT coordinators, run Inset training days, twilight meetings or courses for well over 100 primary schools from across Wales. The majority of them having the same concerns of what the Successful Futures report might mean for their school, and wanting to 'refocus' again on ICT. For many this means looking at the basic skills pupils need to successfully and efficiently create, store and organise files (word processing, DTP, handling data, video, audio, and graphics). Alongside these basic technology aspects we also look at the elements of online communication and collaboration (through O365 or Google Apps for Edu), and digital citizenship / esafety. If you look back at my previous posts on digital competence/literacy, you'll see that these are two areas which consistently appear in existing digital competence/literacy frameworks from around the world. It's also the two areas where the Welsh Government have invested heavily in over the last three years, contracting the South West Grid for Learning to produce a digital literacy curriculum for primary and secondary schools, and the Hwb platform containing Office365, Just2Easy and Hwb+. I think it's a pretty good guess that the new digital competence framework would have to include reference to these types of tools and services, as the Welsh Government has heavily invested in them?

However, what has been very clear on my travels, is an issue that should be of concern to the Welsh Government, and that is a lack of knowledge by the overwhelming majority of these schools of Hwb. I would say for every fifteen schools I visit, only one is doing something with Hwb+ or Hwb, and to be honest there is certainly a confusion around the difference between Hwb and Hwb+. When I mention Hwb, head teachers or coordinators start talking about Hwb+, because they may have gone on the training for this product in the past. There seems to be a real lack of understanding that Hwb is the gateway through which they can access a variety of tools which include Hwb+, alongside Microsoft Office 365, Just2Easy, Encyclopaedia Britannica, etc. So, Wales is three years into the Hwb project and there is still confusion at a school leadership level, never mind the general absence of knowledge about Hwb at the classroom teacher level. There appears to be a serious communication breakdown somewhere along the line.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Web Filtering Recommendations

Good to see the Welsh Government publish this document on web filtering standards for schools. Over the last couple of months I've been working with primary schools from around Wales and it still surprises me the number of local authorities who block access to websites they deem unsuitable. YouTube is still the 'big one' that seems to be blocked by many (along with other video streaming sites), and I'm currently having issues with certain LAs blocking access to Google Apps for Education. The frustration for myself and schools is the inconsistencies with blocking. One LA lets something through for their schools, and the neighbouring LA has it blocked. I wonder how long it'll take before we have consistency in LA filtering across the whole of Wales? It would actually be helpful if we had consistency in filtering across a Consortium!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Skewed BBC Reporting - Surely Not?

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a pattern emerging in the reporting of digital competence and anything else schools ICT related by the BBC over the last year or so? I've just read this report by the BBC to yesterday's announcement from the Welsh Government of a digital competency framework for schools in Wales. Did you spot the focus? Here are some quotes:
"So-called "digital competency" involves being able to code and programme computers and skills need to go beyond IT lessons."
"An independent review of IT in schools had earlier said computer science lessons needed to be made more relevant to now and the future."
What is it with BBC's fixation on coding? Did they actually read the Donaldson review? Did they notice that computer science is certainly included, but under a new area of learning and experience called Science and Technology, which was not mentioned by Huw Lewis yesterday? As I've outlined in several of my last posts digital competence or digital literacy encapsulates a wide variety of skills, knowledge and attitudes that are needed by pupils to successfully navigate through an increasingly digitally connected world - not just coding. You could swear the BBC are trying to skew the news to their own agenda - surely not?! The Micro Bit - Can It Make Us Digital?

Digital Competence Framework - September 2016 Announcement

Yesterday the education minister, Huw Lewis, announced that a new digital competence framework for schools in Wales would be available from September 2016. This announcement comes off the back of the Prof. Donaldson report, Successful Futures, and although he hasn't formally responded to the recommendations in the report, the Welsh Government obviously feel that this is a priority and would like to have it implemented as soon as possible. Traditionally the Welsh Government have implemented curriculum changes or frameworks, 'top down'. That is, subject experts writing the new document, then having it piloted by schools, before being pushed out to all schools. However, the development of this new digital competence framework will be developed locally, as suggested in the Donaldson report.
“I will therefore be asking our regional consortia to identify a small group of those schools and practitioners already leading the way on the digital agenda so they can help us to design and develop our new Digital Competence Framework, both by drawing on their own experiences and on international best practice. 
Through partnership working we have a real opportunity to build a world class approach to digital competence here in Wales and I will be asking these Digital Pioneer schools to work alongside businesses and educational leaders, including our National Digital Learning Council and employers such Microsoft.“
It will be very interesting to see over the next 12 months how this is going to work in practice as it's certainly a new way of working for the Welsh Government. Also intrigued by the reference to Microsoft, I'm sure the Welsh Government wouldn't have mentioned Microsoft in their announcement without a good idea of what they want from them. Perhaps it's something to do with their Digital Literacy curriculum?? The Microsoft resource is just one of many resources and frameworks that are available for the Digital Pioneer schools to make reference to when creating the framework. I don't believe we have to reinvent the wheel in Wales, there is good 'stuff' out there. Here's a list of existing frameworks and resources that I'd certainly be referencing if I was creating a digital competence framework:

These frameworks in my opinion, should help to guide the Digital Pioneer schools into the appropriate areas. Lots of commonalties across them i.e. communication and collaboration, creativity, problem solving, e-safety / digital citizenship, basic ICT skills.

It's good to see that the Welsh Government also recognises the challenges to a successful implementation of the framework:
“Our new Digital Competence Framework will be very exciting but it will require us to think carefully about how we support our professionals to deliver in the classroom."
In my opinion support will certainly be needed for professionals if they are to successfully deliver a new framework in the classroom. I feel that there could be several areas of any new framework where teachers will need a lot of CPD. It maybe helpful if there was also a digital competence framework aimed specifically at them. Have a look at the work done in Leicester on a framework to support secondary school staff. It could be argued that this is equally as important as a digital competence framework for pupils. Can a teacher support the development of the pupils' competences if they are not skilled or confident in using technologies themselves? When the literacy and numeracy frameworks were introduced in Wales we could probably guarantee that teachers were literate and numerate enough to successfully deliver it. Can the same be said with them all being digitally competent?

The other area that needs thinking about, if this is to be delivered successfully in the classroom, are the digital technologies available to the teacher. As it says in the NAACE ICT self review framework are the "ICT resources sufficient in quality,quantity, range, suitability, curriculum choices and are readily available to support learning within and beyond the school." If a secondary school history teacher can only get access to ICT equipment for their classes a couple of times term; or a primary school teacher gets the laptop trolley once a week; or it takes a class 20 minutes to get all the pupils logged onto their devices; or the WiFi connection is unreliable; or the LA is blocking access to certain resources;  are the teachers going to be able to successfully deliver the framework?  Lots for everyone to think about over the next 12 months. 

I'm really looking forward to seeing what's produced.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

"They're Not Making the Case"

This post from Maryland caught my attention this morning. It is a report on a council who are wanting to increase the property tax in their area to fund education improvements. It appears that the majority of the local residents are against the 15% tax increase. One of the County Councilmen commenting that:
“My district was number one in terms of housing foreclosures for Prince George’s County,” Patterson said, referring to the 2008 housing market crash. “Residents are saying, ‘We are just barely getting our heads above water and now you want to hit us with a tax increase?’”
Among those improvements that would be brought by the 15% tax increase would be more competitive teacher pay, pre-kindergarten expansion, and digital literacy. Now, the report doesn't elaborate on what it means by digital literacy, it seems to be a 'catch all' term at the moment, but another Councilwoman does say this:
"(T)he school system has not provided information as to how the money will be spent to improve graduation rates. For example, she cited the proposal’s digital literacy efforts to provide students with iPads and ChromeBooks.
“That’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that. But how does that relate to the high school graduation rate?” Lehman said. “They’re not making the case, in my mind and I think in a lot of people’s minds, as to the connection.”
I can't disagree with her argument. If local residents are being asked to fork out more of their money on tax increases, the minimum a council can do in this instance, is to demonstrate the relationship between these technologies (iPads / Chromebooks) and an improvement in graduation rates. But that's the problem, it is extremely difficult to make that connection, and to "make the case". I seem to remember Becta in about 2009, struggling to prove the use of technology and improvements in learning, "The relationship is not a simple one". The Sutton Trust in 'The Teaching and Learning Toolkit (2012)', also commenting that ICT provides moderate improvements to learning at high costs. Therefore, the Councilwoman is right to be concerned, throwing new technologies at students and teachers and then hoping that their graduation rates improve is extremely risky, or perhaps foolhardy. I would certainly hope that within the proposals, there is at the very least, some money set aside for teacher training on how to use these resources effectively within their own teaching practice.
"The evidence suggests that schools rarely take into account or budget for the additional training and support costs which are likely to make the difference on how well the technology is used."
The Teaching and Learning Toolkit, 2012

Monday, 30 March 2015

Bamzooki - Creators Not Consumers

I spent some time over the weekend playing around with one of my favourite pieces of software - Bamzooki. Originally created for the CBBC TV programme of the same name, the Bamzooki software allows a user to create 'Zooks'. These are digital 3D creatures that are built using a variety of blocks which can be modelled to your specification and then tested for speed, strength and agile in a variety of simulations. In my opinion an excellent tool for supporting the area of the ICT curriculum focussed on modelling and simulation. So many opportunities for a teacher to ask the "What if...?" questions, changing of variables in the model, and challenging pupils to solve problems. For instance, several years ago when I ran the "Bamzooki Challenge" across the local authority, the challenge for the pupils involved was to create a 'Zook' with certain constraints  - mustn't be heavier than this, have more parts than this, etc. The pupils then created their model which was then placed in a 'battle' against another to see which one was the best. A sort of virtual 'Robot Wars'.

I've started looking at Bamzooki again as I'm interested in seeing how primary schools could be addressing the area of modelling and simulation in the classroom. We know from Estyn (school inspectorate), that many primary schools are not covering the area of 'Finding and Analysing' adequately, with teachers having difficulty in confidently teaching data bases, data handling, and modelling and simulation. With the current focus in Wales on what it means for a pupils to be "digitally competent" or "digitally literate", it is important that the weakness in these area is addressed. Exciting, engaging and challenging tools such as Bamzooki could be one way to help to address this.

In about 2011 I stopped doing much with it as the software didn't seem to work on the version of the Windows operating system that the majority of our schools were using. Over the weekend however I downloaded the software and have successfully installed it on Windows 7. I've even tried it out on Windows 8 and it seems to be working without a problem. Interestingly the software has seemed to have had an update to its interface since the last time I've used too.

Bamzooki very much fits into the current drive for pupils to be creators, not consumers. The user has to design, build and test their 'Zook', which is challenging, but very engaging. As I said in a previous post, I class this product as "struggleware", nothing is really given on a plate to the user. They have to work out what they should do and solve the problems and challenges that may arise. Bamzooki is not all shiny and glossy; it does not work on your iPad. Yes it's been around for nearly ten years, but if you really want to challenge your pupils, get them thinking and problem solving in a 3D modelling environment, in my opinion you still can't go far wrong with trying this out with your pupils.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Defining Digital Competence

In a couple of previous posts I looked at what was meant by the term digital literacy and what this could mean in the Welsh education context. These were written in response to a recommendation from the ICT Steering Group report, proposing a new statutory Digital Literacy Framework for schools. I attempted to define what digital literacy meant using definitions from groups such as The Royal Society, Becta, Futurelab, Jisc and Common Sense Media. It was very difficult to pin down exactly what it meant but there were certainly commonalities between all of them. This week however, Prof. Graham Donaldson published his report on the curriculum and assessment in Wales, "Successful Futures", and in it referred not to digital literacy, but to digital competence (which is a term I'm far happier using).  I therefore feel it's important for me to try in this post to understand what is meant by this term, look at some definitions and find out if there are any differences to digital literacy.

Creative Commons Image

Definition of Digital Competence
As I did previously, before looking at how some groups have defined digital competence, I'm going to look at each word separately to help me get a clearer idea of meaning:

Digital - one of the definitions of which is “involving or relating to the use of computer technology” or “characterized by widespread use of computers”. I think most of us would be happy with that simple definition in this particular context.

Hence, my own definition based purely on my understanding of each word would be: 
"The knowledge and skills to enable a person to use computer technology successfully or efficiently, in a wide variety of situations."
European Union (EU)
In 2006 the EU made a European Recommendation on Key Competences, of which digital competence was acknowledged as one of the eight key competences for lifelong learning. My understanding is that the Information Society Unit at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) spent almost 2 years on a project that among other things aimed to:
- identify the key components of digital competence in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be digital competent
- propose a roadmap for the possible use and revision of a digital competence framework and descriptors of digital competences for all levels of learners.

Therefore this seems to be a helpful place to begin looking for possible definitions of digital competence.
"Digital Competence involves the confident and critical use of Information Society Technology (IST) for work, leisure and communication. It is underpinned by basic skills in ICT: the use of computers to retrieve, assess, store, produce, present and exchange information, and to communicate and participate in collaborative networks via the Internet." (European Parliament and the Council, 2006). 
In 2012 a report was produced called, 'Digital Competence in Practice: An Analysis of Frameworks'. The report looked at 15 different frameworks, with one of the aims of identifying the key components of digital competency in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be digitally competent. The following definition was an encompassing definition of digital competence, based on the many definitions found in the different frameworks in the study:
"Digital Competence is the set of knowledge, skills, attitudes (thus including abilities, strategies, values and awareness) that are required when using ICT and digital media to perform tasks; solve problems; communicate; manage information; collaborate; create and share content; and build knowledge effectively, efficiently, appropriately, critically, 4 creatively, autonomously, flexibly, ethically, reflectively for work, leisure, participation, learning, socialising, consuming, and empowerment." (Pg. 3-4)
Finally in 2014, "Measuring Digital Skills Across the EU: EU wide indicators of Digital Competence", added that, "digital competence is a broad concept, including much more than basic/operational skills in the use of ICT – though these are fundamental to it."

So, according to these definitions, digital competence is not only knowledge and skills, but incorporates attitudes such as being confident and critical. It is about being competent to use technology in different situations (eg. work, leisure) and for different purposes (eg. learning, communicating, solving problems, online collaboration, building knowledge, creating and sharing). All fundamentally underpinned by basic ICT skills.

I'm quite drawn to this diagram taken from the paper "Online Consultation on Experts' Views of Digital Competence" (pg. 16, 2012):

These 12 competencies, that make up the 'digitally competent person', were developed from the feedback from 54 experts from across Europe, the US, Israel and Australia.

I will look in more detail at the actual competencies finally suggested by the EU in another post.

Digital Competence v Digital Literacy?
As I said at the beginning, the ICT Steering Group Report recommended that a digital literacy framework should be implemented in schools. However the Successful Futures report uses the term digital competency. So, is there any practical difference between the two terms? On Pg.24 of the Successful Futures report, Prof. Donaldson seems to move seamlessly from digital literacy to digital competence, "the recommendation in the ICT Steering Group’s report to the Welsh Government that digital literacy, or digital competence, is as important in the twenty-first century as literacy and numeracy." He therefore seems to believe that the two terms are synonymous with one another.

In the paper "DIGCOMP: A Framework for Developing and Understanding Digital Competence in Europe" (2014), the authors state that:
"In the European Commission working paper (European Commission, 2008) digital literacy was defined as “the skills required to achieve digital competence. It is underpinned by basic skills in ICT and the use of computers to retrieve, assess, store, produce, present and exchange information, and to communicate and participate in collaborative networks via the Internet”. The definition indicates that digital literacy comprises of basic ICT skills, which lead to digital competence. However, in the academic field, digital literacy is used as a synonym for digital competence."
It therefore appears from these two brief examples that the terms are being used synonymously. In fact, I don't know if you noticed, but the definition of digital literacy from the EU (2008) above, is virtually identical to one of the previous definitions of digital competency. I'm certain that there are for more intelligent and better read people out there who will tell me that there are differences between two. In my next post I intend to look at the actual framework competencies that the EU report suggested, and I think we'll certainly find overlaps between many of the areas of digital literacy and EU digital competence frameworks.
"The concept of Digital Competence is a multi-faceted moving target, covering many areas and literacies and rapidly evolving as new technologies appear. Digital Competence is at the convergence of multiple fields. Being digitally competent today implies the ability to understand media (as most media have been/are being digitalized), to search for information and be critical about what is retrieved (given the wide uptake of the Internet) and to be able to communicate with others using a variety of digital tools and applications (mobile, internet). All these abilities belong to different disciplines: media studies, information sciences, and communication theories. Analysing the repertoire of competences related to digital literacy requires an understanding of all these underlying conceptualisations." (Pg. 3)
Thoughts / Questions
- If digital competency is a 'multi-faceted moving target' then wouldn't the framework need regular updates and revisions to remain relevant?
"as time passes, the substance of the term changes: being digitally competent meant something different ten years ago than it means now, as new technologies develop and so do the competences needed to use them. This is perhaps the most poignant complication in understanding the concept of digital competence: technological innovations as well as their appropriation by users are hard to predict and even to the extent that future developments can be predicted it is often hard to see exactly how they will affect the way we live." (Online Consultation on Experts' Views of Digital Competence, 2012, Pg.9)
- I find it interesting that recent press reports on the launch of Successful Futures seemed to focus only on coding elements within a digital competence framework.
"Digital would equip pupils with the ability to programme and code computers. Teachers would have to think of ways of weaving that, along with literacy and numeracy, into every lesson." (
Really? Teachers would have to think of ways of building coding into every lesson?? Where did the BBC get this idea from as I can't see this actually written anywhere in Donaldson's report, unless I've missed it. As you can see from the definitions above, in my opinion being a digitally competent person involves having a wide range of digital skills, knowledge and attitudes, not just being able to code.  

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Successful Futures

I woke up this morning to the news that there is to be a "radical national curriculum overhaul proposed for Wales". Professor Graham Donaldson today published his report titled 'Successful Futures', the result of almost a year long review into the curriculum and assessment in Wales.

A lot of radical and exciting changes recommended, with much for educators in Wales to mull over and discuss in the coming months during a period being called, 'the great debate'. I've only really just scanned over the 124 page document, but here are some of the headlines I've picked out:

- Six new areas of learning and experience from 3 to 16:
Expressive Arts
Health and Well Being
Languages, Literacy and Communication
Mathematics and Numeracy
Science and Technology

- The current separation of the curriculum into phases and key stages should be removed. Statutory schooling should be seen as a coherent and progressive whole, including the move between primary and secondary sectors.

- Progression Steps should be identified within each Area of Learning and Experience at three-yearly intervals over the period of statutory education.

-  Literacy, numeracy and digital competence should be the responsibility of all teachers. These are so fundamental to thinking, learning and life that they should be developed and reinforced across the curriculum as a whole.

Digital Competency Framework
Interestingly yesterday's blog finished with the question of whether Prof. Donaldson would take on board the findings of the ICT Steering Group Report or do something slightly different? The clear answer is that he has agreed with the recommendations in the report, in fact the main headlines on the news reports I've seen this morning have mainly mentioned how digital competency should be equally as important literacy and numeracy. I'm particularly happy that the Professor is using the term 'digital competency' and not 'digital literacy'. As I mentioned at the end of this blog post from last year, "Digital Literacy: the context for Wales and definitions", I particularly like the term digital competence as digital literacy, in my opinion, is a slightly ambiguous term.

So, let's pull out some key phrases from the report that refer to digital competency:
"Digital competence is increasingly fundamental to learning and life and that it should have similar status within the curriculum to that of literacy and numeracy." (pg. 40)
"The Review therefore recommends that literacy, numeracy and digital competence should be Cross-curriculum Responsibilities for all teachers and people who work with children and young people." (pg. 40)
"The ability to use digital technology skills creatively is an increasingly common feature of the modern workplace, for example for developing simulated models that test out ideas safely and inexpensively or when using complex medical equipment that needs to be reprogrammed to match the patient’s individual needs." (Pg. 41)
"A digital competence progression framework and an accompanying ‘Routes to Learning Digital Competence’ would need to be developed, taking account of the recommendations of the ICT report. Different aspects would be included and highlighted within the most relevant Areas of Learning and Experience, for example within Languages, literacy and communication for aspects relating to language and communication, and Science and technology for scientific interfacing, data handling and process design." (Pg. 41)
The actual recommendations are:
6. Children and young people should have their learning developed across the curriculum through three Cross-curriculum Responsibilities that should be the responsibility of all teachers: literacy; numeracy; and digital competence
7. A digital competence framework and an accompanying ‘Routes to Learning Digital Competence’ should be developed and be included as a Cross-curriculum Responsibility. 

Computer Science
Interestingly I can't see a reference to the word Computing being used instead of ICT, which was one of the recommendations of the ICT Steering Group. Under the new Area of Learning and Experience called 'Science and Technology' we are introduced to 'computer science' only:
"(T)he introduction of computer science – spanning, for example, the kinds of thinking skills used in computation (including analysis, use of algorithms and problem solving), design and modelling, and developing, implementing and testing digital solutions." (Pg. 51)
"The Science and technology Area of Learning and Experience will draw on physics, chemistry and biology, engineering, design technology (food, textiles, resistant materials), craft, design, graphics and, importantly, computer science.." (Pg. 51)
So distilling the information from above into something my brain can handle, here's my simple basic interpretation:
- a new Digital Competency Framework that should be the cross curriculum responsibility of all teachers, and have similar status within the curriculum to that of literacy and numeracy
- computer science would sit in the new Area of Learning and Experience called Science and Technology.

Initial Thoughts and Comments
I'm going to need far more time to read thoroughly through this report to get to grips with everything Prof. Donaldson has proposed, but there are some initial questions and thoughts that come to mind:

- This is certainly a far reaching report and if fully accepted, in my opinion would fundamentally change education in Wales for the better, especially in the use of digital technologies.
- Teacher CPD will need to be addressed. The Digital Competency Framework will now place emphasis on all teachers applying digital skills across all curriculum areas. For example, databases, spreadsheets, modelling and simulation have long been problem areas, as reported by Estyn. Something will need to be done to improve skills and confidence in these areas (and others), and also by providing help in spotting the appropriate opportunities to apply the skills in the curriculum. 
- Teacher CPD to support computer science. England brought in computer science elements into their new Computing PoS in September 2014 and there have been several reports saying that many of the schools are not confident in effectively teaching this aspect.
- Are there enough available digital technologies in some schools to support the Digital Competency Framework? For instance, if a primary school of about 220 pupils has a set of 15 laptops and a small number of slate/tablet devices, can they effectively support the framework if teachers only have access to them for possibly half a day a week? 
- Where do the digital skills get taught? This is possibly more an issue in the secondary phase. Is there a digital skills session that teaches a particular skill and then applied via the framework in a subject area? Or is the subject area ie. history, expected to teach that ICT skill (every teacher being a teacher of Digital Competency, Literacy and Numeracy)? Back to my first comment about teacher CPD needs. 
- What are those digital competency knowledge, skills and attributes that we want to develop? Basic functional skills; effective searching; online collaboration and sharing; finding and analysing data; creating and communicating information; safe, responsible and respectful use of the internet technologies? A lot to 'unpack' there.

All questions and thoughts (and I'm sure there will be an awful lot more) to throw into 'the great debate'. I can't wait, exciting times ahead :-) 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Alignment of Reports

Last Tuesday (17th February) a House of Lords Digital Skills Committee produced their report titled "Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future". The report is a call for action to the new incoming Government in May 2015 in the following areas:

  • The economy - millions of jobs are at risk of automation
  • Skills - the UK population needs to learn the right skills for the future
  • Schools - make digital literacy a third core subject
  • Inclusion - realise the benefits of universal digital access
  • Women - realise the economic potential of more women in digital careers

I haven't been through all the 144 pages of the full report yet, but I have had a chance to go through the summary of conclusions and recommendations of the committee, and it does provide plenty of food for thought for those involved in education and for the whole of society.

The thrust of the report is that digital technologies permeate all areas of our lives and that the "UK cannot afford to miss the opportunity or shirk the challenges it presents." Digital skills are often referred to and are described as the "life skills" that are "needed to interact with digital technologies." The statement that caught my attention however was this:
"We must aspire for the vast majority of the population to achieve the level of digital literacy needed to fully participate in society.
In my opinion, a significant aspiration, and one that schools will obviously play a leading role in supporting. So, what does it say that schools should be doing to help to realise this aspiration?  The report lays out a UK Digital Agenda, which they would like to new incoming Government to comment on and to commit to designing its own. Objective 4 relates directly to schools and teachers.
55. Objective 4: No child leaves the the education system without basic numeracy, literacy and digital literacy.
56. As part of this:
a. digital literacy is taught as a core subject alongside numeracy and literacy, embedded across all subjects and throughout the curriculum;
b. more focus is placed on building links with employers (including somebody from industry on the governing body of every school); and
c. delivery of the new computing curriculum is seen as a priority. In particular more investment in training new teachers and speed and urgency to train existing teachers involving the third sector and industry.
Reflecting on this from a Welsh education perspective, this all seems to agree very much with the recommendations found in ICT Steering Group Report, which reported towards the end of 2013. In it recommendation 3 called for the statutory implementation of a digital literacy framework that would work alongside the current literacy and numeracy frameworks. Concerning links with employers, recommendation 7 called for the engagement and collaboration between education and industry that should be an integral part of the curriculum to embed current practices and skills. Finally, with regards to a new Computing curriculum, the ICT Steering Group Report recommended a new subject called Computing being created to replace ICT, disaggregated into the two areas of Computer Science and Information Technology (recommendation 1). Alongside this, recommendation 9 suggested a programme of training and professional development to enable the new Computing curriculum being accessible to new and existing teachers. Therefore it is clear that there is a very strong alignment between the two reports in their proposals for education.

It'll be interesting to see what Professor Graham Donaldson says in his comprehensive review of the curriculum and assessment in Wales, which is due to be published shortly. Will he take on board what has been recommended by the ICT Steering Group, and now by the House of Lords Committee, or will Wales be travelling in a different direction?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Ah, I Remember What I Liked About BETT!

Blogging is a strange thing. If you know me, then you'll know I do tend to say things as I see them. My blogs are often a reflection of how I feel about something and tend to 'ramble' somewhat as I commit these to the screen. Therefore writing these things down and publishing them to the public, does sometimes leave me feeling a little exposed. In my last blog, I mentioned how I personally felt that the BETT show, since moving to Excel had become very 'corporate' and that it didn't have the noise, hustle and bustle and dare I say the heart, that was so very much part of BETT when it was at Olympia. Was this just me, or did anyone else feel the same? Unless someone comments on a blog post I don't really know how people are reacting to what I've have written. Are they indifferent, whole heartedly agree or really upset with the things I write? Interestingly that last post did generate some feedback from people who read it. They generally seemed to agree with the problems around trying to get teachers from Wales to visit or with the corporate nature of this education event. It's nice to now that I'm not the only one who was feeling this way.

So, what about BETT 2015 itself? Well, I arrived on Friday afternoon at the Excel, on what is traditionally the busiest day of the event. I met up with a good friend and we began our expedition around the hall. A generalisation but this is what I saw; lots of shiny new things from people telling us that they are much better than the shiny things you bought last year, many companies selling you pupil tracking and assessment platforms, and companies offering infrastructure solutions. Both Microsoft and Google had very busy stands, with lots of good demonstrations from teachers. Apple, always conspicuous by their absence, the company that just made an historic £11.8bn profit in the last quarter. I seem to remember that several years ago Apple made the world-wide decision not to attend any trade shows. Nothing like engaging with the the education community, who are spending a small fortune on your products, at Europe's biggest educational tech show then!  ;-)

I liked a couple of things. Firstly the Blue-Bot from TTS. I've always had a soft soft for the Bee-Bot and Pro-Bot in the primary school. Basically the Blue-Bot is a Bee-Bot that can be controlled via Bluetooth from an iPad app (Android coming shortly). Create a sequence on the app, send it to the Blue-Bot, debug the sequence if required and resend. Much like the Raspberry Pi, the Blue-Bot has a clear shell so that pupils can see the workings inside. Unlike the Bee-Bot the Blue-Bot can also perform 45 degree turns. Great stuff.

I was also really happy to see that Google Play for Education has finally been released in the UK. Schools with managed Android tablets and Chromebooks now have a very easy way to select and deploy apps to individual students, a whole class or the whole school. In my opinion it's taken far too long for Google to sort this out, but now that it has it could very well be a game changer for schools in the UK.

I was also quite taken with the ongoing developments in 2Simple's Purple Mash 2Code product. I believe that subscribers should shortly be able to have access to detailed lesson plans to go alongside a lot of other teacher support materials already available. Finally ZU3D tickled my fancy. A very simple but effective stop frame animation tool that can be used on a Mac, PC or iPad. Great opportunities to use technology to support literacy.

Reflecting on things, I now realise what it was I really enjoyed and found valuable about BETT, it was actually the seminar program (which you notice I haven't mentioned once in this post). For the last couple of years I'm sorry to say haven't been into one session due to lack of time, or perhaps focus. Several years ago our team would visit for at least two or three days. This gave me time to look around but also to get into seminars to listen to what's going on in schools. In the past I have picked up some great ideas and approaches. It's a shame that most teachers would not have the time to be able to do this. Therefore my resolution for next year is this - a two day visit built around the seminar program. In between these sessions I shall stroll around this corporate gathering, viewing stands with newer super improved shiny things, and drinking lots of coffee :-)

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A Place To Stay 'Fresh'

Another year, another BETT Show begins and I'm going to be travelling up to Excel London tomorrow (Friday) to attend. I first visited as a classroom teacher and ICT coordinator in about 1999. An early morning Friday start, on a coach arranged by the local authority, full of excited teachers, happy to have escaped their school for the day. A four hour trip (if we were lucky and there were no hold ups) down the M4 to Olympia, London. Since then I think I've attended every single BETT event, first at Olympia and more recently at its new home at the Excel in London's Docklands. In about 2009 I even gave a presentation at BETT on the use of the CBBC Bamzooki software in classroom to support ICT modelling. However, I've noticed that over the last couple of years I don't get the same sense of excitement about attending. During the last couple of days I've been thinking about why I feel like this. I am actually looking forward to meeting some colleagues that I work with there, and I have a couple of other meetings with friends, but not necessarily about seeing the event itself. To me, since the move to the Excel it's become 'corporate'. Corporate is the only word I can think of to describe it. The Excel is certainly a modern, purpose built facility for this type of exhibition, one can even find a chair to sit down and eat at the many and varied food outlets! But to me, it just doesn't have the same 'buzz' that Olympia had. I also think that the move to Excel has put off many teachers from my part of the UK attending. Travelling in a coach across London is probably going to add at least another 45 mins onto the journey, likewise my journey on the underground and DLR from London Paddington. It can be a long, tiring day of travelling. Perhaps it's the travelling I'm not looking forward to?

So, what is point am I trying to make here? Well if you ignore my whinge about it being 'corporate' ("Get over it Gareth and move with the times!"), I am concerned about the number of classroom teachers and more so the strategic leads for ICT in a school who get to visit. Those first couple of years that I attended, really helped to enthuse me in my subject and provided me with lots of ideas about where I wanted to take ICT in my school. But all around Wales those LA teams who may have organised buses for teachers have gone. I personally believe that going to an exhibition like BETT helps to keep you 'fresh' as the lead person for technology in your school. It's an excellent place to see first hand many of the latest technologies for learning and teaching, and also going into seminars and listening to what practitioners from around the country are doing in their classes. If you are looking to develop your 'vision' for how technologies are going to be used across your school over the next couple of years, it's an excellent place to begin to shape your thoughts.........even if it is all a bit too 'corporate' ;-)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Downloading YouTube Videos

I haven't blogged for a while but I've just seen something I thought was really neat and I thought I should share it. At one time I used to do a lot of work with schools on using film trailers. One activity we used to do with classes was using a recent trailer in iMovie, strip off the audio track and get the children to rebuild the trailer using original music they've created from Garageband, adding sound effects, and a new narration track. Some great opportunities for literacy work and the creative use of audio. I used to use Zamzar to help me download the video, however several years ago this feature was removed. However, I've just seen a very useful tweet that showed me how to download Youtube videos very easily. Basically between the www. and the just add ss - eg. You then get taken to a page where you can download the video to your computer. Simples!
REMEMBER - Think about copyright and don't be tempted to post these videos on your school websites. Use these as practice examples and get the children to create their own original trailers.