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IOE Blog


Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Dear Mr Gove: Technology is the key to the heart of your vision

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 29 June 2012

Richard Noss

An open letter to the Secretary of State for Education

I am writing to support your ambition to introduce more rigour into the teaching and learning of our young people. As we move further into the 21st century it is growing ever clearer that technology can play a crucial role in raising standards.
Our new report, System Upgrade: Realising the Vision for UK Education, draws together the findings of the five-year £12m Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme. It argues that learning can be radically transformed for the better by the careful design and deployment of technologies and draws on hard empirical evidence to show how.
Increasingly, children use technology in their out of school lives, not just to socialise but to learn. The same technologies enable us to gain insights into what actually helps them learn. Researchers now “data mine” the records of thousands of students’ interactions with technology-enhanced learning systems. Data-mining is revealing which curriculum components pull their weight in terms of learning outcomes, very difficult information to collect in traditional ways. An educational game such as Zombie Division doesn’t just help children improve their maths skills. It also logs their performance in order to provide teachers with valuable information about what division problems a particular child finds difficult or easy.
We know that we can build software that exploits the power of personal devices, that catches the wave of social networks to share ideas and foster teamwork – a skill that is not only demanded by industry but that will be assessed in the next PISA exercise.
We can use technology to understand better how people learn; to assess what matters rather than what is easy to assess; to help pupils bring their learning of, say, mathematics into the real world and apply it – another work place-friendly skill. We can use the latest techniques of artificial intelligence to help children with special needs and we can enhance teachers’ productivity by doing more for less – both time and money.
How to achieve this? Well, investment would help. But above all, we believe our findings are essential to the debate, to help raise the level of discussion beyond “pro” and “anti” technology lobbies. Our aims are the same as yours: to make learning more rigorous and, thanks to technology, more accessible to all.
Finally, few would take issue with your desire for young children to learn a language. But the discussion seems limited to whether it should be French, Spanish or Mandarin. What about the language of computers? The advent of a new wave of cheap tools (Raspberry Pi, Arduino) means children can explore the building blocks of technology from an early age. It is possible that a generation of UK children could become fluent in coding – the language that increasingly underlies our world?
Professor Richard Noss
Director: Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme
London Knowledge Lab
Emerald Street London WCIN

How teachers can open up the promise of the digital playground

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 15 June 2012

Rose Luckin
While the debate raged this week around the draft primary national curriculum Programmes of Study for English, maths and science, another part of the government’s plans attracted less notice. Ministers have decided to disapply the duty on maintained schools to teach the existing information and communication technology (ICT) Programmes of Study and associated Attainment Targets and assessment arrangements.
There is good news here: First, teachers will have the flexibility to decide what is best for their pupils in ICT and computer science, and to demonstrate what works. Second, ICT is now acknowledged to be an important subject that should be taught to all pupils and that will be part of the national curriculum.
Admittedly this good news has the potential for a bitter aftertaste if the experience of the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum Review is anything to go by. But one has to hope that the new statutory Programmes of Study to be introduced from September 2014 will reflect the views of the industry experts, IT organisations and the teaching profession with whom the government has pledged to work closely.
Ian Livingstone, who co-authored the Next Gen report that Mr Gove showered with praise when he announced his dream of a new approach to ICT in schools back in January, has welcomed the government’s announcement and stated that “the Government should set out a vision for Computer Science so that every child learns the concepts and principles of Information Technology and Computer Science from primary school age onwards…”
Initially however we will have to build a vision for computer science where every teacher learns the concepts and principles of computational thinking, so that they can open up the promise of the digital playground to those they teach. Emphasis has been placed upon making sure that ICT and computer science teachers have the specialist skills and knowledge to teach their subject, and this is an important first step.
There is however, more, much more, that can be done if we really empower all teachers with clear computational thinking skills. These skills will give them the confidence and expertise to help their students to get the best from their increasingly sophisticated digital infrastructure. More importantly, it will give teachers and learners the ability to appropriate the power of technology and precipitate the revolution in our education system that is long overdue.