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


Students, Computers and Learning: we could do so much better, and here’s how

Blog Editor, IOE Digital17 September 2015

Rose Luckin
The 200 page report published this week by the OECD is packed with tables and figures that tell a story about the state of 15-year-olds’ educational attainment in maths, reading, science and digital skills in 2012 across the participating countries.
The negative message from this report has received considerable publicity: countries that have invested heavily in ICT for education do not show improved student achievements in reading, mathematics and science. Less use of the internet is linked to better reading performance and frequent use of technology in school is linked to lower performance. The UK did not participate in this study, but findings being presented to the British Educational Research Association today (Thursday) appear to back it up.
All this sounds very depressing, but it is not the key message we should take away from the report. Instead we should be (more…)

Decoding learning: the proof, promise and potential of digital education

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 November 2012

Rose Luckin and Richard Noss
Yesterday evening, Nesta launched its report: Decoding Learning: The Proof, Promise and Potential of Digital Education. The report was written for Nesta by researchers at the IOE’s London Knowledge Lab (LKL) and Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI) at Nottingham University and it pulls together evidence about the innovative use of technology to support learning and the impact this can have for students.
The report offers a wealth of examples of learning and teaching being supported by well-used technology and is organised around learning activities rather than by types of technology: this is technology answering real problems of education, not finding something to do with the technology. Yet this is the way so much evidence and innovation is classified: the authors argue that we need to move towards a focus on learning and what works for learners. Unless we do so, they argue, the questions we end up asking are at best unhelpful and at worst, meaningless. For example, the only answer to questions such as “Do games help learning?” is to say, “It depends.” And the same with iPads, mobile phones, the latest programming language or system and so on. We can make the questions meaningful by “thinking about the types of learning activities that we know to be effective, such as making and sharing, and then exploring the ways that technology can support and develop these effective learning activities in innovative ways”.
The report identifies trends and opportunities grounded in effective practice and sets out what the authors believe are some of the most compelling opportunities to improve learning through technology. However, understanding how technology can be employed to improve learning is only part of the equation. There are systemic challenges that need to be addressed if technology is to fulfill its potential to support learning and the millions of pounds invested are really to represent value for money.
Linking industry, research and practice to realise the potential of digital education
There is strong evidence of a disconnect between the key partners involved in developing educational technology. This situation makes little sense at a time when technology has become consumerised across society, and there is increasing evidence for the efficacy of technology as a learning tool in many contexts. Academic, and practitioner research particularly, is poorly connected and is typically conducted in isolation from the technology developers whose products grace our schools and homes. And yet, both researchers and the developers of educational technology need to know from the start whether, and how, their work enhances learning. Industry, researchers and practitioners need to work closely together to test ideas and evaluate potential innovations at a time when design changes can easily be implemented and products can be improved before they are taken to market. Such a process would benefit industry by providing clearer evidence of effectiveness to boost sales; and it would benefit practitioners who would have access to better products on the market.
Make better use of what we’ve got
We need to change the mindset amongst teachers and learners: from a “plug and play” approach where digital tools are used, often in isolation, for a single learning activity; to one of “think and link” where those tools are used in conjunction with other resources where appropriate, for a variety of learning activities. Teachers have always been highly creative, developing a wide range of resources for learners. As new technologies become increasingly prevalent, they will increasingly need to be able to digitally “stick and glue”. To achieve this, teachers will need to develop and share ways of using new technologies – either through informal collaboration or formal professional development. But they cannot be expected to do this alone. They need time and support from school leaders to explore the full potential of the technologies they have at their fingertips as tools for learning. School leaders can further assist teacher development by tapping into the expertise available in the wider community.
We need to know more about what is happening when technology is used effectively

We need better evidence about the contexts in which technology is being used effectively. Evidence about the impact of technology on teaching and learning is gathered from a huge variety of learning settings, and reported without adequate indexing of the contextual factors that influence the nature and scale of the impact recorded. This means that applying the findings of any research study to a fresh setting is severely hampered.
In sum, the report tries to assess the evidence, not just looking for proof of “effect” – but asking relevant questions that can indeed be answered, and which can provide grounds for planning intervention in the learning and teaching process.

Kiss Goodbye to ICT (or KISS hello to Computer Science?)

Blog Editor, IOE Digital31 October 2012

Rose Luckin and Richard Noss
Ever since Eric Schmidt of Google expressed his shock at UK children not learning computer science, there has been a flurry of activity to introduce programming to children at an early age. This includes Education Secretary Michael Gove’s abolition of the existing ICT Programme of Study in favour of a more rigorous and challenging attempt to teach computer science, especially programming. It is an admirable point of view that we both strongly support. But before we all go overboard, there are a couple of essential questions:
1) Does the plan align with what research tells us about teaching children programming, why we are in favour of it, and what we might expect from it? 
There have been nearly 50 years of development and research dedicated to finding ways for non-programmers to program. In 1967, Seymour Papert and his colleagues at MIT invented Logo, a language that was good for kids – and this at a time when the only thing one could do with a computer was to program it.
But as Papert said, a language that is only good for kids is not good for kids! He meant that programming languages are powerful ways for people to build understanding, access to formal systems of thought (like mathematics), which are essential ways for people to express their ideas about the world, and to make sense of it. That’s why programming is important: not just to increase the supply of programmers (important) or to introduce to everyone what is under the bonnet of the systems that power our society (essential), but to introduce the power of computational thinking.
2) The DfE announcement of “around 50 scholarships worth £20,000 each is accompanied by the granting of permission to top universities and schools to provide new Computer Science teacher training courses from September 2013, tough requirements for Computer Science subject knowledge for new teachers, and training “around” 500 teachers in Computer Science through a new “Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence”.  BUT, does this new plan adhere to the design principle well loved in the computer science labs of our undergraduate days: KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid?
This useful little principle is a valuable reminder that most systems work best if they are kept simple and therefore simplicity is a key design principle. In order to keep things simple designers need to understand what problem their design is addressing. So are we clear about what is wrong with computer science and ICT in schools now and more importantly are we all clear about exactly what we want learners to be able to achieve as a result of studying computer science? Do we want to skill up the new workforce for the UK’s games industry, or encourage a new generation of engineers and computer scientists, or do we want to encourage young people to make rather than take their technology? This question should drive the way we train our teaching workforce and simplicity should be the watchword for the systems we design to deliver a solution.
A simple and useful truth is that the skills of computational thinking can be taught with or without computers, by exploring how processes work, looking for problems in everyday systems, examining patterns in data, and questioning evidence. With a computer, learners can put their computational thinking into action. A focus on computational thinking will better equip learners to use their understanding effectively and to learn how to apply a range of computing tools. Ensuring that all UK students develop good computational thinking would be a clear and simple answer to the question of what we want students to achieve.
There are no short cuts to a solution. The key to being able to design the necessarily simple system for training the teaching workforce is to fully understand that workforce, the context in which teachers teach and learners learn (both inside and outside the classroom or lecture hall), and the constraints under which they operate. The real power of KISS is the way that it highlights the need to think about how the system you are designing might break down, to identify the tools and processes that will be available to mend things when they do go wrong.
We must therefore ask: has there been enough input into this new system design from teachers and learners to ensure that the new measures are simple enough to be easily mended when inevitably things don’t work quite as they should?
To see how learners and teachers really want to “hack” the education to meet their needs come along to the Re-Designing our Education Education Hack Event on November 16-17. Or you can see the results at the London Festival of Education on Saturday, 17 November.

Geek is chic, but engineers are awesome

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 July 2012

Rose Luckin
I went to a fascinating roundtable event hosted today by The Guardian. It was designed to fly the flag for ICT and computer science and to ensure that young people enjoy the benefits of excellent teaching and the improved job prospects that come with being tech savvy and able to create and produce digital content and applications as well as consume them. There will be a piece in  Educational Guardian about our discussions on 10 July, so I don’t want to jump the gun on that, but I do want to talk about an issue that intrigued me: the poor popularity ratings of engineers.
There has been a shift in society towards recognising the benefits brought by being able to tinker with technology and make things work. To build things and to make technology do what you want it to do rather than just what a manufacturer wants you to do with it. As Ian Livingstone, author of Nesta NextGen report, heralded by Education Secretary Michael Gove, put it, it is now “chic to be a geek”.
This is great for those of us who would like to see more students and teachers able to think computationally and to produce digital technology and content, from web pages to phone application, games and beyond. Students who want to pursue these activities need no longer hide their ambition, but can be proud of it: they are now cool. However, the same is not true for engineers, so we were told. Engineering does not being such kudos. Who can name famous engineers? Who knows what creative things engineers really do? Apparently not many of us?
When I think about engineers I think about my own school days and people like Isambard Kingdom Brunel who designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the tunnels, bridges and viaducts of the Great Western Railway. Engineers are the people who built the infrastructure that revolutionised transport and communications in the 19th century. They are also the people who revolutionised our current 21st century digital infrastructure.
Without the creative enterprise, scientific approach and technical skill of engineers the infrastructure upon which we all rely would not exist and the clever software and computing technology that helps us book a restaurant table, buy our weekly shopping or find out the time of the next train would not be at our finger tips.  So let’s not just embrace computer science and ICT, let’s also recognise the engineering element of hacking, tinkering and mashing up. We need all these disciplines to work in harmony, along with industry and schools to develop an effective education for our young people, so let’s not leave engineers out in the cold.
Go on… Hug an engineer today

How teachers can open up the promise of the digital playground

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 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.

A computing revolution? We'd all love to see the plan

Blog Editor, IOE Digital28 May 2012

Rose Luckin
The press has been buzzing with features and commentary on the challenges and opportunities of computing in schools. John Naughton in the Observer outlined a manifesto for teaching computer science in the 21st century, and Janet Murray in the Guardian celebrated the enthusiasm of a new generation of coders in schools.
So what has started this surge in interest? Education Secretary Michael Gove was partly responsible when he sent England’s “rusty” ICT curriculum to the scrapheap in his speech at the British Education and Training Technology (Bett) show, but he was fanning a flame that was already burning. Gove described ICT in schools as a “mess” and called for a new approach in which ICT would remain a compulsory subject at every stage of the curriculum, but without the existing Programme of Study.
Bill Gates turned up the juice to when he when he said it was more important for children to understand computer programming now than it had been in his youth. And Google chairman Eric Schmidt suggested that England had allowed its education system to ignore its “great heritage” and that we were now “paying the price for it”.
A range of influential reports also raise concerns about computing in school, for example: the Royal Society report ‘Computing in Schools: Shut down or restart?’; the Next Gen report by Livingston and Hope for Nesta; the Naace report entitled “The Importance of Technology”; and the Ofsted report on ICT in schools. There is clearly a consensus that some sort of change is needed, and an energy and enthusiasm to drive the necessary changes.
That however is where it gets complicated. Are we clear and agreed about exactly what is wrong with computer science and ICT in schools today? It is not all doom and gloom, and even Mr Gove recognises that “some ICT teaching in schools is already excellent”. What do we want learners to be able to achieve? Do we want to prepare students to take up a career in a computer related industry or to be able to use their technology in an intelligent manner and adapt it to meet their needs?
Right now a lot of attention is focused on making sure young people take part in computer programming. But It is the understanding and development of computational thinking that is fundamental to how we equip young people to mould their technology according to their own desires, rather than being moulded through their technology by the desires of others.
Computational thinking can revolutionise the way we think and the way we express what we think. The skills of computational thinking can be taught with or without computers, by exploring how processes work, looking for problems in everyday systems, examining patterns in data, and questioning evidence. The computer is what enables children to put their computational thinking into action.