Friday, September 23, 2016

From Outside Looking in : Highland Council and Tablets #slf16

Thanks to Donald Clark for reminding me - that sometimes you need be vocal.

I forget sometimes that now as a freelance consultant rather than someone tied into the education establishment I can voice informed opinions about changes in the system.
On the surface an announcement like this week's one that Highland Council is to roll out
20,000 tablet computers to teachers and learners sounds great.

It is a long overdue development to see a whole education authority in Scotland move into this space , it closes the digital divide , gets a browser in to the hands of every learner and teacher and as importantly into their households too and I hope the programme enables enough wifi and bandwidth in their schools so that these tools can be used meaningfully and that other devices can some along too.

I hope the tablets are not mainly used for note taking. If they use the arrival of the technology to rethink learning and curriculum delivery and engage the learners in this redesign then they will move learning along at pace across the region.

The ambition of the local authority has to be applauded. I hope too someone is having a look at the lessons that should have been learned from wee places like Islay High School who were doing this more than 10 years ago and the numerous pilots with mobile devices that were done across Scotland five or so years ago. I heard unofficially at #SLF16 that some of the cohorts of learners that were involved in these mobile learning initiatives were now getting exceptional results in their school leaving certificates ( Nationals, Highers and Advanced Highers in Scotland) I am not sure that this is being tracked officially anywhere ? Where is Scottish Higher Education with the data and research ?

But here's the rub - tablets don't change practice as much as a laptop would. It's probably too late but if any other local authority is thinking about this , have a look at the global evidence before being seduced by a tablet.

Have a look at Donald's well structured critique from 2013 and have a look too at the commentary . 

I've got a tablet and I use it a lot and it gives me a great window on the world - but when I work and move out into the online world I use a keyboard and a laptop or today my trusty desktop - this lets me create things, a tablet can only consume. I love being a consumer but being a creator - that is way cooler and much more empowering.

My kids love tablets too - but they work on netbooks and laptops !

Update - sometimes it is worth having a rant - the BBC article was incorrect ( fancy that, I thought they were infallible ) In fact Highland Region are going to adopt Chrome Books to sit on top of the well developed Google for Education platform that has been adopted across the region.

I was not saying that Tablets , phones and other devices do not have  a place in learning. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

#ulab, #ulabscot #ulab2016 Discovering ULab

I did an interesting piece of consultancy work earlier in the year looking at the impact that Massive Open On-Line Courses have had to date on learners in Scotland from an institutional perspective. 

It is actually quite hard to build an evidence base for this as the big platforms Coursera, EdX and Futurelearn  usually supply IP addresses but not postcodes. However, in the course of my work  I discovered one outlier that had engaged hundreds  of learners in Scotland and I am now having a shot at this to see why ?

Have a look at #ulabscot if you want to explore this phenomenon with me

The natural cynic in me wonders if it will be as transformational as it promises but I am suspending my disbelief as everyone should when trying something for the first time. 

You can find out more about the Scottish community of learners doing U-Lab here 

I've now joined  a vibrant global field of entrepreneurship and change that has reached over 85,000 people from 183 countries – with more joining every moment. Your fellow participants come from many different backgrounds and life experiences. You'll have a chance to get to know each other very soon.

This is an action-learning course, which means you'll be invited to do much more than just watch videos. 

Here is my first bit of homework from the introductory course. This will give you a flavour of the U-Lab tasks 

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

#altc Association for Learning Technology Conference 2016

I composed this on the train on the way to this year's #altc at the University of Warwick and looking forward to the  luxury of having three days thinking and inspiration time which is what #altc is.

I think my first #altc was in 2000 and in 2001,  really through circumstance,  I found myself on the organising committee for the conference at Edinburgh University . Thereafter, I've tried to get along to either the full conference or at least one policy forum or special interest group event in any year. Though sometimes due to external commitments it has been a flying visit for a day. My timeline is reminding me that I missed the 2009 conference as my six year old daughter decided she needed her appendix out that week in September. 

I'm looking at the delegate list. There is still more scope for a much deeper engagement with learning technologists in both further education colleges and in the training provider sector. While Jisc supports infrastructure  and innovation across these sectors Alt has the networks of practitioners that give learning technologists the community of practice to support them in experimenting with new approaches confidently but also the practical support to run existing systems and gain professional recognition. 

The main conference always runs in the early September window which utilises the university down time and gives university learning techs a quick inspiring burst of ideas before the new university term begins. Unfortunately this clashes too with period in Scotland when FE colleges start and learning techs are on boarding this year's cohort of learners.  

In terms of professional development and progression both membership of ALT and completion of CMalt certification  gives  learning technologists in FE an opportunity to access the breadth of understanding and knowledge or even mutual 'uncertainty' that can support continued professional development across the sectors, while CMalt offers appropriate professional recognition.  Even if you engage with alt community through special interest groups or regional forums you will get a lot back. The Scottish Special Interest Group now has around 150 members .

It would be good to see more learning techs from Colleges and training providers engaging directly with ALT , I think too there is increasingly a new group of learning technologists supporting the school sector that should be welcomed in too - there is a lot of learning around the system but still too may people and sectors re-inventing wheels or worse.

Josie Frazer just delivered a superb session on the issues around Trolling relevant for all sectors and I  am sure all the sessions and keynotes will be as relevant as this. 

If you are not here today follow the hashtag #altc and you will pick up something useful. If you are based in Scotland look out for the Scottish special interest group and their events. If you are a learning texhnologist in a Scottish college,  the college development network works closely with ALT and currently has a limited offer on access to CMalt certification.

Declaration of Interest
I've been a member of ALT since last century, served on number of committees over the years one year went from organiser to chairing the conference . I am co-chair of Scottish SIG with Professor Linda Creanor of GCU and an ALT UK ambassador.  I've made sure any organisation I have been involved with over the years has become an institutional member of ALT.
And no I didn't do it for the Lulz - I hope this is helpful !  I think the public education sector has been getting some constant Trolling from the press and political establishment.

noun: lulz; noun: luls
  1. fun, laughter, or amusement, especially that derived at another's expense.
    "the splinter group embarked on a spree of daring cyberattacks for the lulz"

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Preparing for the Apprenticeship Levy with @bobharrisonset @MartinLewarne @itslearningUK

 A week ago I had the opportunity to talk on a webinar about some of the changes coming in the Apprenticeship Space in England and how it might impact on Colleges and Training Providers . The clever people from ITSLearning  demonstrating great digital literacy - have now published the session as a  Youtube Video

Many thanks to @bobharrisonset @MartinLewarne @itslearningUK

Relevant too for  Scottish Training providers and Colleges.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Post 16 Skills Plan in England - Reflection from Scotland

Here are some of the main bullets from the Post 16 Skills Plan in England with some Scottish reflections. It would be good to see some innovative thinking in this space in Scotland. You can read both the Sainsbury Report and the Post 16 Skills Plan here  The Sainsbury Report is a big read but the significant follow up published on same day is the Post 16 Skills Plan.

This is not all happening next year - the system is to be fully in place by 2022.

I don't agree with all of this but I do agree with some of the reforms set out here.  This is an administration trying to shake things up and build a system that is  more effective for learners.
At the age of 16, students will have to choose between the “academic option” – comprising A-levels leading to an undergraduate degree – or the new “technical option”. This will signal the end of 16-18 students being able to opt for a mixture of academic and vocational qualifications, and is likely to lead to greater specialisation in individual providers and schools. For learners, however, there will be the option of switching between the two routes after completing A-levels or equivalent qualifications
Instinctively,  I don't like the notion of learners choosing either 'academic' or 'technical' but that might be hardwired into my psyche. But if the system allows learners to genuinely progress back into either higher technical or back into 'academic' learning and the system really works to break down that academic vocational divide, then it should be attractive to learners and their parents. With the caveat too that your decision is based on sound careers advice and not that the 'technical' route is the only one open to you.

I think this is saying too that if you choose this route you are probably leaving school to attend College or achieve this through a training provider rather than staying on at school and getting a taster of a vocational offer - though I do think schools in Scotland could offer full national certificates and other programmes, perhaps this will happen, but it might take a new generation of teachers with a broader view of learning and one that is not so focused on the academic routes. The current Developing Scotland's Young People policy is perhaps not as bold in its ambition as the Post 16 Skills Plan.
In the “technical option”, students will embark on one of 15 technical education routes: agriculture, environmental and animal care; business and administrative; catering and hospitality; childcare and education; construction; creative and design; digital; engineering and manufacturing; hair and beauty; health and science; legal, finance and accounting; protective services; sales, marketing and procurement*; social care*; transport* and logistics*.
This is always more complex that it looks - it will be hard to fit all the things that industry want in the way of skills into 15 technical education routes. Where for instance in the list are music and sports industry qualifications and what all needs to fit under the Creative Design route - in theory everything from graphics, journalism to furniture design.  But most Colleges in Scotland should recognize most of their current national certificate provision in this list - and progression and completion rates can be a challenge in FE provision in Scotland  - perhaps something to think about at SCQF level 4, 5 and 6 and maybe a good opportunity to look at what is in these courses along side what is in the modern apprenticeship and to have another look at progression pathways. There might be more than 15 routes but building a clearer relationship between national certificate and apprenticeships is clearly a good thing for learners.

Some people reading this might remember a previous aborted attempt to introduce GSVQs in a fixed number of routes - this looks bolder building a link on into the apprenticeship.

Colleges might be alarmed to see Social Care along with the other starred routes  listed above as a route that will mostly be delivered through an apprenticeship rather than solely a college based route, but when you reflect on this it does make sense. NC Social Care should be about clients and not mainly based in a College.
Within each route, learners can – following a transition year or traineeship for those “not ready to access a technical education route at age 16” – choose between a two-year, college-based programme (including compulsory work experience), or an employment-based programme, such as an apprenticeship (including at least 20 per cent college-based provision). Older learners will also be entitled to take these programmes.
This is really how national certificates in Scotland and apprenticeships could link together . The terms traineeship and transition year  is I think a better pre-apprenticeship term that the foundation term currently used in Scotland. In effect there is a traineeship then either a two year College programme or entry on to an apprenticeship -given there being a close relationship between the College programme and an apprenticeship programme.
 Each college programme will include a “common core” of English, maths and digital skills, as well as “specialisation towards a skilled occupation or set of occupations”.
This is almost  how many national certificate programmes in Scotland currently operate. They do though cover a broader range of core skills , essential skills , skills for learning life and work .
But, would a greater focus on numeracy and communication along with digital literacy improve the progression rates for Scottish FE learners as a common core in NC provision ? I have blogged in the past about the demise of IT as an essential skill replaced by Digital Literacy in Wales. Here is that transition happening in England . Digital literacy already has to be a component of the new apprenticeships in England.
After this, the pathways lead on to either level 4 or 5 higher technical education programmes, degree apprenticeships or higher apprenticeships. There will also be the option in some cases of taking “bridging provision”, leading to an undergraduate degree.
As learners in England are paying up to £9 thousand pounds a year to choose the degree route - so not really £9K think £27K before other learning and living expenses  . Employers including many of the professions like accounting now offer apprenticeship routes to full professional status so that canny learners can earn while they learn and avoid student debt .This has led to a growth in the number of what are called advanced apprenticeships.

The bridging provision exists through HN to degree in Scotland more effectively than in England but  there needs to be clearer links in Scotland between VQ level 3, 4 and 5 and HND and Degree provision. Colleges and Universities in Scotland are not good at recognising achievement through the apprenticeship route- even where this provision is now SCQF credit and levelled.
The new Institute for Apprenticeships will see its remit expanded to encompass “all of technical education at levels 2 to 5”. It will be responsible for bringing together expert groups to set the content and standards for each of the 15 routes and become the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education
This makes sense, it has been a bit of a shambles in England with lots of competition creating an unhelpful maze of qualifications for learners and centres. Though there is probably exaggeration where the  reports talk of 160 awarding organisations and thousands of different qualifications. These awarding bodies and qualifications do not all exist in the College space in England.

 Effectively SQA really awards or accredits across this space already in Scotland but attention needs paid to these developments. I am sure if the expert groups create 15 robust routes there will be some expectation that these are adopted by organisations that operate across the UK . I am sure SQA will be watching this carefully. It also looks like the New Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will have oversight of this rather than Ofqual ,so the Institute becomes a new strategic partner for SQA.
The report calls on the institute to review all existing apprenticeship standards “at the earliest opportunity” to ensure there is “no substantial overlap”.
I think this is highlighting the very mixed bag of fragmented standards and assessment strategies that were produced by the 'trailblazer' organisations,  who did not call on the experience of sector skills councils, awarding bodies, colleges and training providers in creating the new standards and assessment strategies and this  gives the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education the opportunity to tidy these up as they come to have this oversight.
Each qualification at levels 2 and 3 will be awarded by a single awarding body or consortium “following an open competition”, rather than the current market, which sees awarding bodies competing with one another. There will be one qualification for each occupation (or cluster of related occupations).
I highlighted earlier that this may be more of a challenge than it seems in terms of one qualification for a cluster of occupations.

The notion of one awarding body per subject is to control the  market in England which has been out of control for probably the last 20 years - this model was mooted by Mr Gove to control GCSE and A level inflation and was then abandoned. This could be the end of many of the small awarding bodies in England. I am assuming that City and Guilds, Pearson Learning , OCR and a number of the larger awarding bodies will carve this market up if this goes ahead. But, I am assuming that having been granted a monopoly the government will set the prices for qualifications and assessment. It is often overlooked that in Scotland,   SQA could be seen as almost a monopolist provider on the awarding side of the organisation but the Scottish government agrees the price tariff in Scotland not the SQA.

 I think it would be good if one agency had control of the standard and the model of assessment - but allow awarding bodies to continue to compete around innovative on-line delivery and assessment delivery .The innovation needs to be close to the learners.

 If only one awarding body has all the computing or accounting expertise  ..what happens when the qualification comes up for re-tender in 3-5 years ?  or what happens if there is a significant system failure with the one awarding body.

This is not currently a problem in Scotland but if a large employer decides they want to use these English awards, history shows that they will probably get funding for them in Scotland.

There will be a single set of “exit requirements” of minimum standards in maths and English for both college and work-based provision. Each college student will be required to complete a “high-quality, structured work placement”, and complete a logbook to demonstrate what tasks they have undertaken and what they have learned.

This is not yet really embedded in Scottish system every National Certificate learner would benefit from a structured work placement , some more focus on numeracy and communications and digital literacy and an on-line logbook or e-Portfolio that they can use for progression - this would sit well with employability and enterprise and the aims of Developing Young People.

There is currently a useful survey on the  Scottish Government Response to Employer Levy  on what employers think we should spend the Employer Levy on in Scotland.  If it goes ahead in April 2017 the treasury will raise £3billion pounds across the UK and around £250 million should be available in Scotland. It is probably time to do something more fundamental in this space . But , and say it quietly, Scotland does not have a great track record in innovation here,  SVQ's were copied from NVQ's , Core Skills from English Key Skills in earlier reforms.

Perhaps,  we should be doing a bit more thinking about the system being funded rather than just what we will do with the money that comes from the Employer levy ?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Digital Literacy, A New Essential Skill ; Food for Thought from Welsh Experience

Digital Literacy the Welsh Experience
A Think Piece
In Wales, based on recommendations from E-Skills the then Sector Skills Council and Jisc work (including a review of all the digital competencies frameworks globally) , and on advice of Graham Donaldson in his Report to the Welsh Government , a new essential skills framework has been developed to support work based and lifelong learning.
This fits with the requirement for Trail Blazers in England to consider the embedding of digital skills in the new apprenticeship frameworks.
You'll probably know the name Essential Skills in Northern Ireland, but in England you'll likely recognise them as 'Functional Skills', or 'Core Skills' in Scotland. In Scotland things have become particularly confused with Skills for Learning Life and Work being pushed in Schools , Essential Skills in Colleges,  while in apprenticeship frameworks Core Skills is still the brand that is used for the underpinning generic skill set. Though the superset in Schools and College are related to the core skills framework.

There is probably a separate blog post needed in figuring out why this drift apart has happened in Scotland and what should be done to fix this. I hope some thinking hats are going on - digital literacy is a sensible broadening of the narrower core skill of IT.
The Welsh government realised that IT alone was not going to equip learners to gain the dynamic digital skills they would need to support them in adapting with evolving digital technologies at home and in the workplace.

The decision was taken that from September 2015 digital literacy would replace IT as an essential skill along with employability skills, communication and application of number. Essential Skills is a compulsory element for anyone studying towards an apprenticeship or foundation learning programme in Wales.

Based around digital capabilities
The Welsh government has created a new framework of learner qualifications that incorporates all the key aspects of digital literacy models. It offers six themes across six levels, from Entry 1 to Level 3, including:
  • Digital responsibility
  • Digital information literacy
  • Digital productivity
  • Digital collaboration
  • Digital creativity
  • Digital learning
You can see the framework and the suggested models of learning and assessment in the context of the whole new Essential Skills Framework here
I will focus only on the Digital Literacy components here.
The components can easily be adapted to a checklist, a think list approach for Trailblazers in the development of their new standards.  
For  awarding and accreditation bodies across the UK many of whom have not yet looked at digital literacies as a core component of their skills offering this is a useful place to start thinking about how digital literacies should be embedded in learning and in the workplace to improve both the learner’s skill base and workplace productivity.
If you were a Trail Blazer or regulator thinking about digital literacy and skills this would be a good place to start.
Digital Responsibility
Be able to access a range of digital devices  
Know how to stay safe in a digital world and demonstrate how to interact safely in the digital world
Be able to access and use transaction based on-line services
Know what is meant by a digital footprint and know the protocols for you as an individual and within an organisation in its maintenance and demonstrate maintenance of a digital footprint.
Be able to work safely and securely in a range of digital environments
Be able to apply a range of protocols for digital responsibility and digital security in a wide range of digital communities and environments
Digital Information Literacy
Be able to select, identify and verify the source of digital information
Understand how to critically analyse and the review techniques to gather digital information
Be able to retrieve and use digital information to complete a task or solve a problem
Be able to evaluate and use digital information to complete complex tasks or solve complex problems.
Digital Productivity
Be able to open a file and use a range of input devices
Be able to present information in a digital format
Be able to open and respond appropriately to personal and business  messages
Be able to identify, maintain, resolve common digital issues   and use basic hardware.
Be able to organise, store, share, permission and protect digital information
Digital Collaboration
Be able to select and use appropriate digital tools to collaborate with others
Be able to plan, organise and apply effective and efficient collaborative working practices
Understand and demonstrate how collaboration can enhance personal professional and organisational practice
Digital Creativity
Be able to create, edit and enhance a digital resource including multimedia resources.
Be able to use a wide range of digital creative tools and techniques to complete a complex task.
Understand how to critically review, analyse and evaluate creative digital solutions.
Understand how a digital creative solution has the potential to develop opportunities for entrepreneurship and enterprise.
Digital Learning
Understand how digital technologies, tools and techniques enhance and extend learning opportunities.

Friday, May 20, 2016

#Jisc E-Assessment Survey

This report is worth a look at , if only to reflect on the depressingly slow pace of e-assessment across the public education system in the UK .  I think when I was involved in setting up the UK E-Assessment Association in the early noughties we hoped things would move much faster.

What are the challenges

I know I am lumping schools , colleges , universities and some work-based learning all together here and that some systems particularly in workplace are going a lot faster !

1. It is hard to get system and teachers to move away from pencil and paper even for high stakes summative assessment and even where there is a strong evidence base that on-line makes the assessments both more accessible and more cost effective.  Education leaders are afraid of making decision and changing procedures too. There still appears to be a big digital literacy deficit among teachers and educational leaders.

2. Centres are still not geared up for e-assessment . Even though much of this can now be done across wifi and even on candidates own devices .  You don't always need to invest in a bespoke on-line test centre.

3. The awarding bodies - either have their own bespoke systems or are too tied in to systems and processes that require paper.  Much of the e-enablement has focused on embedding the current system. Scanning of candidates scripts for electronic marking rather than any attempt to move the whole assessment and verification systems on-line. Any candidate evidence should be on-line and remotely accessible by now . That includes evidence at centre level internal validation should be through images of candidates work.

4. An unwillingness to open up the question banks that do exist . There should be rafts of on-line apps and systems that allow learners lots of ways to develop their skills through formative assessments on-line,  based on items from the awarding bodies past papers. I am still looking for a free platform that can do maths , numeracy , digital literacy , communications - call it what you will core skills , functional skills , essential skills-  diagnostic testing .  Staff should not have to create lots of assessment instruments and items they should be available for  re-purposing.

5. A lack of flexibility and a belief that exam halls are always the answer.  In terms of assessment in the round there is a push back to high stakes testing and away from e-portfolios and continuous assessment - which is in my opinion pedagogically unsound . This a feature principally in English system.

Over the last 14 years the system has had lots of advice but still learners are more likely to encounter an on-line assessment in situations out with formal education than through an educational establishment. Even at level of institutions preparing learners for the real world , this is wrong.

If folks looked at some of the platforms that are already available and open  for example they would see that there are already very reliable ways to automatically mark even short answer questions. I've raised this example before . I think in Scotland we need someone to make an instance of this available on an open basis to support adoption of on-line learning and assessment across life long learning and out in to our communities.