Monday, December 7, 2015

Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms



Ken Robinson is a wonderful speaker, but I think tends to generalize.

"Every country on earth at the moment is reforming public education." - Simply not true, since not all the countries in the world have public education.

"The problem is that the current system of education was designed and conceived and structured for a different age. It was conceived in the intellectual, culture of the enlightenment. And in the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution." - In my opinion, the current system of Western education goes back to Plato's The Republic

"And my view is that this model has caused chaos in many people's lives; it's been great for some, there have been people who have benefitted wonderfully from it. But most people have not. Instead they suffer this; this is the modern epidemic and it's as misplaced and as it’s fictitious. This is the plague of ADHD." - so, in essence, what is being say here is that non-academic people are being diagnosed as ADHD. I totally get what he is saying, but ADHD is a real and serious condition and it may be overdiagnosed in children, but may well be underdiagnosed in adults (Ginsberg, Quintero, Anand, Casillas, Upadhyaya, 2014). It could be genetic, it could be dopamine, allergies to junk being put into food, but it's definitely something more than being artistic.

"These kids are being medicated as routinely as we had our tonsils taken out. And on the same whimsical basis and for the same reason - medical fashion" - that is a crazy statement, it's not "whimsical", it's what the majority of doctors believe to be true. This is how science works, you work with what you know, and work on a hypothesis based on the evidence, and when new evidence comes along, you modify your hypothesis. Medicine doesn't know it all, nor does it pretend to; it does what it can with the best information it has, it's not whimsical, it's how all science works (read Kuhn or Lakatos).

"Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth." - I utterly disagree with this, for example, children who lived during the Hundred Years' War (from 1337 to 1453) would have found that way more stimulating, or if you lived in 1887 in China near the Yellow River you would be highly stimulated.

"It seems to me it's not a coincidence totally that the incidence of ADHD has risen in parallel with the growth of standardised testing. " - !!!

"And aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you're present in the current moment, when you're resonating with the excitement of this thing that you're experiencing, when you're fully alive." - that sounds exactly what should be happening in a good classrooms -- no one is trying to stop children experience this, other than very bad teachers.

"Well I know kids who are much better than other kids at the same age in different disciplines, or at different times of the day, or better in smaller groups than in large groups, or sometimes they want to be on their own." -- easy to say, impossible to implement at the moment. Give a real practical alternative, or even the first steps to change the system.

"There was a great study done recently of divergent thinking" -  "Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today" by George Land and Beth Jarman was published in 1998 (so it's not that recent), it's a singe study...it's a very good study, that asks interesting questions, but that's it. The divergent thinking issue needs multiple studies in multiple countries done by multiple researchers, to eliminate the fact that it might be an issue with with country's schooling system, or it might be cultural, or it might be something to do with the methodology being used.

"Divergent thinking isn't the same thing as creativity" - it's definitely not, it's not even 50% of creative thinking. If this argument is true, that schools are killing creativity, it would be reasonable to predict that since the implementation of this schooling system in the 1890s, the level of creativity has declined sharply, is that the case? Samuel Beckett was a product of that system, as was Haruki Murakami, as was Kingsley Amis, Gertrude Stein, Thomas Mann, Pablo Picasso, Tim Berners-Lee, Rosalind Franklin, Stephen Hawking, etc.

"And don't copy because that's cheating. Outside school that's called collaboration no but inside schools... " - come on, that's completely misleading, outside of school if you have a idea, and I steal it, that's intellectual property theft.

"Second, you have to recognise that most great learning happens in groups" - I don't agree, some people learn very well in groups, others learn better alone. using MBTI numbers, it might be 50/50.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Universal Design for Learning: Top Ten Tips (advanced)

Following on from the Top Ten UDL Tips for beginners, and Top Ten UDL Tips for intermediates, in this posting we'll look at the Top Ten Universal Design for Learning tips for advanced teachers, remembering that the ultimate goal is to ensure multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement:

Universal Design for Learning: Top Ten Intermediate Tips (Advanced)

1. Communicate high expectations to all students in your class. If you have accommodated all students, everyone should have an equal chance at success.

2. Upload your videos onto YouTube, and and caption them.

3. When developing learning materials, in terms of the range of learners sensory preferences use the V-A-R-K Learning Styles model to create different types of learning materials and activities, e.g. PowerPoint, Podcasts, Pdfs, and Playdough

4. Learn more about the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

5. Pre-teach all symbols and unfamiliar vocabulary in an early class, and create a glossary booklet (with both text and visual descriptions) that you hand out at the start of the semester.

6. Consider the physical tasks that the students are required to do in class, find ways that you can provide alternatives in the requirements for speed, strength, timing, and range of these activities.

7. Create assessments so that the criteria to achieve a passing grade, a good grade, a very good grade, and an excellent grade are clearly articulated. Is it possible to provide alternative criteria for each level also?

8. Involve students as much as possible in setting their own learning goals.

9. When developing learning materials, in terms of the range of learners cognitive preferences use Keirsey Temperament Sorter to  to create different types of learning materials and activities, e.g. create activities that include aspects of problem solving, planning, personal growth, and proficiency.

10. Create a series of supporting documents to increase students' independent learning skills and discipline-specific skills that they can access at their own rate.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Universal Design for Learning: Top Ten Tips (intermediate)

Following on from the Top Ten UDL Tips for beginners, here are ten more tips once you are comfortable with the first ten to help in Universal Design for Learning, remembering that the ultimate goal is to ensure multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement:


Universal Design for Learning: Top Ten Intermediate Tips (intermediate)

1. Start each lesson stating a set of learning outcomes you want the students to achieve in this class (and link these outcomes to material they have already covered in previous lessons where possible).

2. Provide sample assessments with solutions, and annotate these solutions with advice on answering questions and study tips.

3. If you are using videos and audio files, include a transcript. If it's a pre-existing video normally if you goggle a distinctive phrase from the video/audio, there's usually a transcript of it somewhere on the web.

4. Consider checking your materials using an accessibly tool where applicable.

5. Consider incorporating a peer reviewing element into your assessments, but make sure you teach students to be supportive and respectful of each other and their work.

6. Once a semester do an activity that gives the students some choice in the activity (it could be for example in terms of doing the activity individually or in groups; on-line or paper-based; in the classroom or as fieldwork; or some combination of these).

7. Instead of having a single large assessment, consider breaking it down into a few parts, and provide some quick feedback after each part to help the students understand what you are looking for in your assessments.

8. Give your students marks for participation in class (this is very easy to do on-line with discussion boards).

9. Create an anonymous comments box for students, you can do this on-line using SurveyMonkey

10. Give assessment instructions both orally and in written format, and remind students frequently of deadlines and delivery dates (Consider creating a class calendar also).

Friday, November 27, 2015

Universal Design for Learning: Top Ten Tips (beginners)

A colleague recently asked me for my top ten tips to introduce people easily to Universal Design for Learning, now we know that the ultimate goal is to ensure multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement, but we have to start somewhere, and here it is:


Universal Design for Learning: Top Ten Tips to Begin With

1. Use a minimum of 14pt font size where possible in all documents

2. Colour the document backgrounds with off-white/cream (for PowerPoints and other documents)

3. Try to break sentences into short readable units

4. Explain new terms when you first use them (consider creating a glossary)

5. Use bullet points, or better yet numbers, rather than long passages of prose

6. Include Pictures and Graphics to support text (e.g. flowcharts) and get students as an activity to create their own graphics/visuals for your topic

7. Make sure all handouts and notes are available well in advance of class

8. Try to break large documents (PowerPoints, Word docs, pdf, etc.) into multiple smaller documents, or at least create clear section breaks

9. Avoid Idioms, colloquialisms, and figurative language; also avoid examples that are too culturally specific, or gender biased

10. Consider using a font kind to people with dyslexia, like OpenDyslexic and Dyslexieotherwise stick with sans serif fonts such as Arial, Comic Sans, Verdana or Sassoon

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Does the SAMR model privilege the technology-enhanced classroom?

The SAMR model was popularized by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, it proposes a four-stage model of technology-enhanced teaching. The four stages are presented below:

  • SUBSTITUTION: Technology directly substitutes for existing practice.
  • AUGMENTATION: Technology substitutes and augments practice.
  • MODIFICATION: Technology allows for significant task redesign.
  • REDEFINITION: Technology allows for creation of new tasks.


Some researchers have criticised the SAMR model as it does not appear to have been documented in peer-review literature. Other researchers mention a lack of clarity of the the meaning of the phases (thus making it difficult to evaluate), particularly the middle two phases, and propose the more effective RATL model.

An open letter to Dr, Ruben Puentedura reiterates the lack of peer-reviewed material concerning SAMR, as well as suggesting it is an over-simplistic model. The problem of the hierarchy of SAMR is discussed, and a claim that it is hyperbolic is made.

There are some peer-reviewed materials on SAMR (in the last few years):

For me, a useful comparison to make is with Moule's eLearning model (2007).


Moule's model sees the integration of technology into teaching as a means of changing the type of teaching practice, moving from an Instructivist to a Constructivist model. In contrast SAMR seems to see the integration of technology as an end unto itself. Its focus on the technology as the key driver within the process seems to privilege technology as paramount in teaching. And suggests that it would be possible to create previously "inconceivable" tasks with SAMR. Should this be "impractical" as opposed to "inconceivable"?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Ada Lovelace Day: Grace Murray Hopper and Computer Programming



Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to blog about female computer scientists we admire. Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) is credited with authoring the first computer algorithm (which concerned a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers) in 1843 for use on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine.



This year I'm going to write a posting on Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) aka "Amazing Grace", whose contributions to Computer Science are innumerable, the true successor to Ada Lovelace, she was one of the first programmers of an electronic computer, starting in 1944, SHE INVENTED THE FIRST COMPILER (for the A-0 programming language), and was instrumental in the development of machine-independent programming languages which led to the development of COBOL. She is credited with popularizing the term "debugging" for fixing computer glitches (in one instance, removing a moth from a computer).

A natural hacker, at the age of seven she decided to determine how an alarm clock worked, and dismantled seven alarm clocks before her mother realized what she was doing. She graduated from Vassar in 1928 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics, and earned her master's degree at Yale University in 1930. In 1934, she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale under the direction of Øystein Ore. Her dissertation, New Types of Irreducibility Criteria, was published that same year. Hopper began teaching mathematics at Vassar in 1931, and was promoted to associate professor in 1941.

During World War II, she obtained a leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn into the United States Navy Reserve, She served on the Mark I computer programming staff headed by Howard Aiken. Hopper and Aiken co-authored three papers on the Mark I, also known as the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator. She continued to serve in the Navy Reserve, and remained at the Harvard Computation Lab until 1949, turning down a full professorship at Vassar in favour of working as a research fellow under a Navy contract at Harvard.

In the 1970s, Hopper advocated for the Defence Department to replace large, centralized systems with networks of small, distributed computers. Any user on any computer node could access common databases located on the network. She developed the implementation of standards for testing computer systems and components, most significantly for early programming languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL.

Thank you Grace Hopper.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Stanford Prison Experiment wasn't really an experiment


What is the difference between a scientific and an unscientific experiment? My own view is that the Stanford experiment was an unscientific experiment for the following reasons;

(1) The principal investigator, Philip Zimbardo, participated in the experiment as the prison warden. In a good controlled experiment the investigator should not participate in the experiment, there is too much potential for bias.

(2) The initial objective of the experiment will to look at how prisoners become conditioned to the prison system, and the guards were not being monitored as closely as the prisoners, so any conclusions about abuse of power are dubious.

(3) Volunteers were paid for their participation, and some of them really needed the money, this can be a significant source of bias.

(4) There may have been a selection bias problem since the initial advertisement mentioned the experiment was about "prison life", subsequent studies have shown that this phrase may have attracted volunteers with a tendency towards abusive behaviour.

(5) In Zimbardo's book "The Lucifer Effect" he mentions that one of the instructions he gave to the guards at the start was to be like the guards in "Cool Hand Luke" who were sadistic and brutal, this suggests that the guards behaviour was as a result of the Milgram Experiment effect.

(6) A participant asked to leave the experiment; he should have been let go immediately, instead Zimbardo got him to stay, and this action led the prisoners to think that they couldn't exit the experiment -- a fundamental principle of informed consent is that participants cannot be forced continue in an experiment.