Monday, May 22, 2023

Turkish Delegation

Nice to meet and give Turkish Govt vocational delegation tour of City of Glasgow College and chat about the technologies we use to support learners. Technical chat too about SCQF and Articulation routes and what works and what still does not work in Scotland.

Turkey has just created a national qualifications and credit framework and now trying to get all institutions to implement this. 

Well done SQA for supporting this critical international work. I'm sure rest of programme will go well.

Among other things we visited College TV studio -  no sound ;-) 


Thursday, May 18, 2023

Summary of First Scottish #Canvas #Instructure Users Group. #SCUG

It was great to meet the growing user base of Canvas by Instructure at Stirling University Business Centre.  Fitting too as Stirling was 2nd institutional Canvas user in Scotland. Glasgow School of Art (GSA) being the first. 

There were attendees from both institutions and folks from 

  • Clyde College
  • Borders College 
  • City of Glasgow College 
  • Data Lab (Edinburgh University) 
  • Edinburgh Business School (Edinburgh University)
  • Heriot Watt University 
  • QM University 
The community is growing fast - really as Canvas gives us a robust and user-friendly platform with global reach. Mainly, between excellent sessions, it was an opportunity for the system admins and users to exchange some great tips and experiences of rolling out Canvas or simply running the system.

Some of the themes of day went beyond Canvas.

How for instance do we get staff and users to make the most of Artificial Intelligence that is already present in Word and PowerPoint and a range of tools. How we use AI ethically in assessment and how our assessment processes need to change. We've been thinking about that already at City of Glasgow College.

How Canvas data can potentially help shape learner pathways. The new skill sets needed by teaching staff and learners around AI prompts and lots of new tools that will support learning materials become more accessible from better automatic transcription of video, to automatically creating assessments around all kind of artefacts including video and building and creating learning materials. There was some discussion of tools that prompt you to keep on task if you have ADHD (note to self must find that one) 

Some of the talk much more hard-core Canvas 

  1. How you manage, roll out and maintain a sensible Canvas template or templates. We have one at City of Glasgow College some Universities have undergraduate and postgraduate even faculty templates. Not a path we will go down. You can catch a glimpse here. Canvas allows you to publish open courses and we will be doing more of this.
  2. Everyone is enjoying using the new Canvas Icon Maker (though important for accessibility always include an appropriate ALT tag).
  3. Some institutions like ours have clear update cycles to allow everyone to review content. Some only do this for programmes that are targeted on basis of a range of factors. 
  4.  Generally, learners love the consistency of Canvas and templates. The challenges lie in ensuring there is cross faculty adoption and that staff come to have an understanding of very basic learning design. A course should not simply be a collection of PDF documents or PowerPoints. 
  5. One way to solve some of these issues is to build in content review to a college or University quality process. In colleges that might include sampling the appropriate use of the College template in internal verification processes. 
  6. For all ensuring the accessibility of content is continuing issue. There are lots of great tools in Canvas that support this. Our centre uses Ally to take this further but ultimately staff need to take ownership and publish learning materials in an accessible format. 

We showcased how we are using Canvas Folio and how it can give a learner a portfolio for life and can be built into normal assessment processes. We talked around how we could use Canvas Credentials as open badges/ micro credentials. Canvas have made two great acquisitions in Portfolium and Badgr. 

We highlighted the opportunity that we have as Scottish Canvas users to make more use of Canvas Commons and specifically to work together and share content through a consortium on Canvas Commons. Its available if you look for it under admin consortiums. Called "Scottish Canvas Users Group" We should all be sharing content here and to the wider global community to align to UNESCO principles around Open Educational Resources. We will share our template and some of our Canvas courses here.

Also. covered our approach to ABC learning design and the range of tools our staff have access to, to embed in their Canvas courses.

Some suggestions we will take back. 

  1. Use blueprints very sparingly and only update once or twice a year. 
  2. Look at some additional links that might be useful embedded in template - so always in front of learners - how to install canvas app - where to find Canvas essential course for students. Stirling has this as a Stirling essentials course covering just about everything a learner needs to know. Would be interesting to get student feedback on this. 
  3. Perhaps have link to instructions on accessing the Canvas App on front page of template - but mainly ensure that Canvas home screen/dashboard has key links that students need.
  4. We will have a sharing session with our graphics lecturers and GSA staff. 
  5. We all agreed to sign up for an online community so we can stay in touch more regularly and we will try and have a face to face gathering every six months.



Monday, May 01, 2023

#oer23 #oer2023 #OpenScot Open Scotland Reflections on Pre-Conference Workshop and in Conference Plenary

To mark 10 years of the Open Scotland initiative we held two events as part of the OER23 Conference to bring together members of the education community in Scotland and some of the international delegates to reflect on how the open education landscape in Scotland has evolved over the last decade against the backdrop of global crisis and uncertainty (Campbell and Wilson 2021).

We held a pre-conference workshop and an in-conference plenary.

As ever grateful to ALT and the University of the Highlands and Islands for this opportunity. The OER Conference took place in Scotland for the first time since 2016. A main theme of the conference was.

“Open Education in Scotland #OpenScot – celebrating 10 years of the Scottish Open Education Declaration."

I'm grateful as ever to Lorna M. Campbell my co-founder of Open Scotland and the many supporters we have found across the international and Scottish learning community. It's now been some weeks following the conference allowing me some reflection time (as well as time to do busy and full-on day job) We both juggle workplace commitments while championing open educational practice.

It’s ten years since we set off on what we thought would be a short journey to get Scottish Education to embrace Open Education and open practice. Please dig into the commentary on our slides. It's been more of an uphill journey than we ever anticipated.

It's taken us and the Open Scotland Declaration all around Europe, but it has not had the impact we need in Scottish Education in the round.

Thanks to Jim Groom reclaim hosting for Polaroid.

The workshop and plenary went well but at #OER23 we were talking to the converts. It is really apparent that other countries have embraced the UNESCO declaration and are moving ahead of Scotland at a rate of knots. 

The Scottish system seems - and to use a good Scottish word "thrawn" Everyone we've reached out to sees the Open Scotland Declaration as an achievable aim but equally College Principals, agency policy makers all think that it is someone else's responsibility to drive change across the system. 

Have a look at the output of the workshop and the plenary below. The will is there but the policy leavers and policy makers remain tantalisingly out of reach. 

The padlet is still open but as it has now been shared on the open web input is now subject to approval - but please chip in your ideas. 

The padlet - highlights what might be. The output from the Padlet will become a manifesto for change from #OpenScot.

As a footnote I asked ChaptGPT about Open Scotland. The text it created is below it shows we've been making all the right waves- how else could ChatGPT pick up themes like this. 

But Open Scotland is not yet a Scottish Government initiative - it shows how ChatGPT could create an alternative reality - it created a fantasy. 

We've still to make adoption of UNESCO declaration on Open Education a reality in Scotland.
I hope we don't have to wait another 10 years. 

Once again thanks to the community around the #oer conferences - you give us the strength, love and enthusiasm to keep pushing at the open door.  My last post I hope reflected all the great things happening around the world. 

Made with Padlet

"The Scottish Government has been a strong supporter of Open Education and Open Educational Resources (OER) in Scotland. In 2013, the Scottish Government launched the Open Scotland initiative to raise awareness of the benefits of Open Education and promote the development and use of OER in Scotland.

As part of this initiative, the Scottish Government has provided funding to support the development of OER and the implementation of Open Education practices in Scottish schools, colleges, and universities. For example, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has provided funding to support the creation of OER through its Open Educational Resources Programme, and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has developed a framework for the use of OER in the development of qualifications. Education Scotland and HMIE support a number of Open Education initiatives across the school and College system. 

In addition, the Scottish Government has endorsed the principles of the UNESCO Paris OER Declaration, which calls on governments and institutions around the world to support the development and use of OER. This endorsement demonstrates the Scottish Government's commitment to promoting the use of OER as a means of improving access to education and promoting social inclusion.

Overall, the Scottish Government's support for Open Education and OER has helped to raise awareness of the benefits of open education and has supported the development and implementation of Open Education practices in Scotland."

Would be nice if it was remotely true ... 

Monday, April 03, 2023

History of #OER in Scotland Ushare

ChatGPT-  knows more about U-Share than many Scottish teachers or College lecturers 

Ushare is an online platform provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) that allows teachers and lecturers in Scotland to share resources and materials related to teaching and learning. The platform is part of the SQA's wider commitment to promoting and supporting the use of open educational resources (OER) in Scotland's education system.

Through Ushare, teachers and lecturers can upload and share a wide range of resources, including lesson plans, worksheets, presentations, and multimedia materials. The platform also includes a range of tools to help teachers and lecturers find and discover resources that are relevant to their teaching needs, including search functions and browsing by subject or level.

One of the key benefits of Ushare is that it allows teachers and lecturers to access resources created by their colleagues across Scotland, helping to promote collaboration and sharing of good practice. The platform is also designed to be easy to use, with a simple interface and straightforward upload and sharing functions.

Overall, Ushare is an important resource for teachers and lecturers in Scotland, providing a way to access and share a wealth of teaching and learning materials. The platform is free to use and open to all teachers and lecturers working in Scotland's education system.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

#BETT23 , #BETT2023 What I will be up to.

I'll be around for another flying visit to Bett23 - I wonder how much Artificial Intelligence will be on display ? Is that a pun? 

I'll be around Thursday and Friday  

At moment I am visiting and/or meeting and presenting  
  • ThingLink
  • Genially 
  • Intel  ( presentation Thursday lunchtime)
  • Fujitsu
  • Click-View 
  • Microsoft Education 
  • Google Education 
  • Advantis Systems/Class VR
  • Instructure Canvas  
  • ALT Session ( Association of Learning Technology) 
I am looking for innovative partners and potential sponsors for our next year's Learning and Teaching Conference potentially March 2024 . A great way to bring innovative solutions to the Scottish College Sector as well as interesting partners and projects I can bring to a large and ambitious College.

I think I have figured out way to bring AR/VR to the College in a cost effective way but always open to opinions and solutions.

I don't need new MIS, VLE, Assessment , Proctoring or Video capture systems etc 

My diary is almost full - if you want a meeting reach out to me on twitter @joecar

I look forward to meeting friends old and new.

Reflections last few years BETT

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Looking Back and Forwards - It's that time of year again - Part Two

Janus cc Wikipedis
anus Janus image created by AI by Image Creator in Bing
Janus Image Created by AI 

Perhaps I don't need to write articles any more I can just use artificial intelligence   and I can add my own images created by Bing Image Creator. 

Perhaps, I could just automate whole process. Scarily how the copy for lots of commercial blogs and internet postings are now created. It is what bots are doing in the background automatically producing content for other bots to produce and flood social media channels with including repetition of any errors. 

I asked for current trends in Educational Technology.

"Here are some current trends in educational technology:
  1. The increasing use of online and digital resources in education, including the use of learning management systems, virtual classrooms, and digital textbooks.
  2. The use of adaptive learning technologies, which can personalize the learning experience for each student based on their needs and abilities.
  3. The growing use of educational technology to facilitate collaborative and project-based learning.
  4. The use of virtual and augmented reality in the classroom.
  5. The use of artificial intelligence in education, including the development of personalized learning programs and the use of chatbots and other AI-powered tools to support student learning.
  6. The increasing integration of technology in teacher professional development programs.
  7. The growing use of educational technology to support blended and hybrid learning models, which combine online and in-person learning.
It is worth noting that the use of educational technology can raise important questions and challenges related to issues such as equity, accessibility, and data privacy. These issues are being addressed by educators, policymakers, and researchers in various ways. "

Or Perhaps Chat AI knows more about Open Scotland than many in the Scottish Educational establishment 

"Open Scotland is a group or organization that promotes open education and open educational resources (OER) in Scotland. Open education refers to the practice of making educational resources and materials available online for free, and OER refers to these resources and materials. Open Scotland may work to raise awareness about the benefits of open education and OER, as well as support the development and use of open educational resources in Scotland. "


I've just scratched the surface but echoes some of my commentary from a year or so ago with educational obsession with plagiarism

Some useful links to learn about what AI can and cannot do.
With thanks to @brmorris10 and @JonesLearnUK on twitter.

AI In Learning and Teaching @brmorris10
What is Chat GPI and what do Educators need to know about it @JonesLearnUK

and a link to paper on wider implications. 
Future of AI some Cautionary Notes.

Thoughts - I think campaign to make any learner know about Chat GPI is the responsible path. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Looking Back and Forwards - It's that time of year again - Part One


AI Generated Janus Image via Bing Image CreatorJanus Image from Wikipedia

It's that time of year again for some quick reflections on 2022 and a look forward to 2023.

On the learning technology front it's been an incredibly busy and rewarding year.
  • The focus has been around delivering a whole College move from a self hosted version of Moodle to Canvas by Instructure.  It was really gratifying to get student feedback from Class reps in November on a complete sea change on learners feedback on our virtual learning environment.  You can get a tiny glimpse in at the first window we opened for learners pre-induction. Prior to procurement we polled and held focus groups around what learners wanted in an ideal learning environment. - Learner feedback is that we have met all of their requirements.
  • Along with Canvas we've enabled Blackboard Ally to support greater accessibility across the platform and later than planned added Panopto to our internal tool set to make it easier for teachers to embed recorded teaching content in their blended learning materials. 
With a big internal focus on the technical roll out and the associated internal communications, I've had less space for outward looking activities and blogging. My quietest year ever. No Awards this year ;-) barring nice Fujitsu Ambassador Award for the College in April.

A big shout out to the learning technology, and IT teams , the faculty canvas champions and all of the staff at City of Glasgow College for overcoming the daunting challenge of moving our materials and refreshing the look and feel of blended learning at City of Glasgow College.  

We are just on first chapter now of what will become a rewarding journey for staff and students. 

Other highlights of year 

  • Attending #BETT22 great to be out and among people and ideas again.
  • On going co-chairing of ALT Special interest group in Scotland and sharing challenges. Here is our "three stars and a wish" summary from December.
  • Chairing 'I Was Gonnae' charity and watching team grow business
  • Chairing Old Hall Scout Group and almost completing the hall refurbishment. 
  • Watching my daughter thrive at first City of Glasgow College and now Dundee Art School and son enjoying his schooling and rugby.  

Lowlights of year 
  • On going uncertainties around national awarding , SQA and Education Scotland - no longer directly in my ambit but so awful to see press and general idiotic feeding frenzy. I hope in the end it's a good news story for Scottish Education - but I still see little sign of progressive thinking and all the signs that the system is seriously destabilised. I think many of my initial concerns are still live and no sign of any progressive solutions
  • I usually just blog about education. I worked internationally for years - I am a great believer in education as a force for good.  Thoroughly sickened by Russian imperial aggression in Ukraine.  I still remember a senior Russian civil servant telling me that there should have been no plebiscite in Scotland, apparently in Russia they would just have sent the tanks in to deal with the separatists. As my jaw dropped a Polish Civil servant quietly explained I had just met the Russian bear.  Peacefully I will do all I can to support Ukraine.  
  • The state of public finances will have a long and sustained impact on education at all levels.  
Next post looking ahead - 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Towards a New Improved Scottish Learning Festival ?

I am a fan of the idea of the Scottish Learning Festival and have chipped in many times over the years on how it might be improved.

I looked at the advice and like me it has aged - but some of the principles are still just as valid and have not really ever been picked up.  I guess just the changing guard in the Education Department and Education Scotland and tight budgets keep it sticking to one formula or another.

If you follow my blog you will know I've been attending since the last century and before  there was SLF,  there were more modest gatherings of Learning Techs at the Scottish Council for Educational Technology. 

I think this years regional and blended approach was a great idea. Will be interested to see if it converted into true national participation. 

  1. To truly be a Scottish Learning Festival it has to include pathways for more than schools. So let's see Colleges , Work based learning providers , Universities , Community and Adult learning in the programme. For our economy to work we need life long learning. 
  2. It has to be accessible to grass roots educators - my original proposals were around having workshops and events on Saturday morning.  BETT does this in London and teachers and pupils ( pupils mainly London based ) travel in for sessions. But now this should include on-line sessions that teachers and learners can engage in all across Scotland - perhaps the new blended sessions achieved this ? 
  3. Support dissenting and grassroots voices - help Teachmeet and teachmeeters - Was there a blended equivalent of teachmeet and if not why not ?
  4. If you are going to use any central venue-  have workshops and use the space around the SEC - 
  5. Unpopular in some quarters but have an exhibition area - either real of virtual.  It is important that there is a platform for Scottish education to talk to those who wish to sell things to education.  Better and easier for all if it's in the one place once a year. I'm not sure that bit was managed correctly this year.  I attended SECC and was embarrassed for the vendors who had supported  
Main thing that was missing from proceedings - though it may have been there and I missed it. Was an overview of digital learning initiatives across Scotland.  How 1-1 device roll outs are moving and being sustained in these tough economic times and what is on the horizon for learner and teaching staff digital literacy. 

You can access recordings of all of the proceedings. Key sessions to look out for are around  'The National Discussion'  this was launched at this year’s Scottish Learning Festival. The discussion around the future of qualifications and assessment in Scotland. You’ll be able to watch the launch recordings on the SLF online portal if you register at

Monday, April 04, 2022

Fujitsu Scottish College Ambassadors Gathering

Last week in the splendid surroundings of the  Glass House Hotel in Edinburgh I outlined what we had intended to do and what we will actually do with our new Fujitsu learning Hub. 

It's a none technical presentation and does not cover the systems we use in learning technology nor our current journey to Canvas by Instructure.  You can find these in more detail on the Learning and Teaching Academy site.

It was great to meet my fellow ambassadors and hear about developments across the Scottish College sector.  I am looking forward to the next chapter as we deepen our relationship with Fujitsu and industry partners. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

#BETT22 , #BETT2022 What I will be up to.


I'll be around for another flying visit to Bett22 . I think there will be lots of good things to share and I am sure the educational community will be excited to be back together again.

I'll be around Thursday and Friday - as usual heading home as #Teachmeet Bett stars 

At moment I am visiting and/or meeting 
  • ThingLink
  • Intel 
  • Fujitsu
  • Click-View 
  • Microsoft Education 
  • Google Education 
  • Advantis Systems/Class VR
  • Instructure Canvas  
I am looking for innovative partners and potential sponsors for our annual Learning and Teaching Conference scheduled for Tuesday 28th June 2022. A great way to bring innovative solutions to the Scottish College Sector.

My focus on hybrid learning and how best to support a large ambitious metropolitan College with 30,000 student population and broad curriculum. 

My diary is almost full - if you want a meeting reach out to me on twitter @joecar

I look forward to meeting friends old and new.

Reflections last few years BETT

Friday, March 04, 2022

We interrupt this Service #Ukraine No to War #FightForUkraine #FreeUkraine

I've been doing all the normal work and family routines this week and increasingly being upset and angered by events in the Ukraine and generally feeling helpless. 

Here is a simple mode of resistance and civil disobedience. It's not my idea it is one doing the rounds on social media - but it is easy to do. 

Search google maps for cafes and restaurants in large Russian cities with large numbers of reviews. Use google translate to post a pro-Ukraine message directly on to their website. I suggest the one below but you may prefer a more subtle message. 

Encourage Russians to be opposed to Putin's illegal war and to demonstrate.

Уважаемые россияне, ваши СМИ подвергаются цензуре. Кремль лжет. Тысячи ваших солдат и украинских братьев гибнут на Украине. Узнайте правду в бесплатном Интернете и в приложении Telegram. Время свергнуть диктатора Путина! любовь из Шотландии

Dear Russians, your media is being censored. The Kremlin is lying. Thousands of your soldiers and Ukrainian brothers are dying in Ukraine. Find out the truth on the free web and on the Telegram app. Time to overthrow dictator Putin! Love from Scotland.

Messages are easy to generate just go to and ask for your politer appeal to be translated into Russian. You may prefer the threat of No more Scottish single malts ! Больше никаких шотландских односолодовых виски! if you are uncomfortable with the blunter over throw of Putin. 

You could also let the Russians know what is happening in #Ukraine by sending a random Russian a text message via  

We need to tear down the wall of Russian propaganda and censorship! and let them know the truth. Let them know the eyes of the world are upon them and that we support them even in these terrible times. 

This is the best way to communicate with the people of Russia, as Twitter , Facebook , LinkedIn  and other social media platforms are blocked in Russia.  The Telegram app is their equivalent of Twitter or more accurately WhatsApp. 

If you are not sure how to do this here is a simple set of instructions.
You could move on from restaurants to reviewing hotels - they all have websites with visitor and comments books.  Remember to put your chosen comment onto their website and not as a Google review. I am guessing that Google maps may soon be blocked in Russia too. 

If you are not sure how to do this get one of your family or friends to show you how and donate too to one of the many charities raising funds for Ukraine. 

Russians can't do this for themselves as they would get 15 years in jail for saying that Russia has invaded Ukraine. 

#FightForUkraine #FreeUkraine

Friday, December 31, 2021

Reflections on 2021 #oerxdomains , #phygital , #Fujitsu , #openscot , #Bett22

The end of another strange year - this year without the lockdown beard. 

It's all been a great team effort. This year topped and tailed by two College Development Network Awards both reflecting well on the work of the Learning and Teaching Academy

Amazing really as the team have battled the frustrations and heartbreaks  of  CoVid like everyone else.



  • Continued staff support for webinar training and development .
  • Chairing #OER21 
  • Launching College Fujitsu Hub.
  • Sourcing speakers , open badges and chairing sessions at  #Phygital conference
  • Staff and Student input to business case that led to procurement of Canvas.
  • On going cross College work on transition to Canvas. 
  • Trying to figure out what hybrid learning and teaching actually means.
  • On going sanity checks from colleagues in College  and  from ALT and many others across the sector ( you know who you are) and patience, kindness, consideration and teamwork.
On personal level - I am still frustrated by the Scottish systems ongoing disregard of Unesco's guidance on Open Educational Resources - startling really in year of COP26. I will keep doing my bit at institutional level and through Open Scotland

We once again missed our French fix on the Ile De Re and had none of our usual foreign jaunts and as CoVid restrictions are back in place in Scotland there will be no #Bett22 for me this year. 

We did manage two great escapes to Isle of Raasay and to Isle of Lewis. We also juggled cases of household CoVid - we still are, currently spending Christmas and New Year in splendid isolation.  

I know 2022 will bring more challenges.  I think the main message in these strange and disrupted times is not to be distracted, keep your eye on the horizon and show compassion for all those around you. 

And just noticed this marks 21 years of blogging ;-). Open reflection and blogging will eventually catch on. 

Happy New Year to one and all when it comes !  Slainte ! 

Monday, November 08, 2021

#COP26 Week One Glasgow

As a Glaswegian it’s been great to welcome #cop26 to Glasgow. I am sure our visitors are picking up friendliness of city. The friendliest city in the world. There were some cracking placards on Saturday reflecting humour of crowd. I am posting this as I was asked twice today in external meetings about what's it like to be in Glasgow at moment. 

I’ve been working remotely most days but in the city and College on Tuesday, and on Friday in College as duty manager. The city campus has a great range of Cop26 events on and the Riverside Campus is hosting the large International Cop26 Maritime Hub. Both building and libraries are open for students and there is a full programme of events for learners and the community.

My commute from south side into City centre has been pretty much as normal and if anything the city is much quieter than I expected it to be. I’ve not experienced the disruption and road closures around the UN Blue Zone north of the river. But was very aware of the increased police presence across the city centre. Particularly on my walk back to central station on Tuesday evening I was suddenly in a phalanx of armed police but I think Leonardo DiCaprio was doing some shopping nearby. 

I thought there would be more going on and a more visible presence of all the visitors. I do hope they are getting out and about and enjoying the city. The autumnal rain has been torrential this week

I was kindly invited to participate and contribute to a Herald and Epson sponsored event on education and #cop26 on Tuesday morning. Thanks to Doug Belshaw for line and it was a 'white manel' but the audience was diverse and included school pupils.
There was some pessimism about role education can play in whole carbon neutral agenda 80% of school buildings today will still be with us in 2040 and they are hard to heat and insulate. Consensus seems to be that without gas boilers best way to heat schools is by biomass boilers.

Our domestic gas boiler went on blink to this week so I had a chance to talk to a british gas engineer. Old houses will never be able to take all the insulation needed for ground or air source heat pumps.  Hydrogen is apparently the answer. We'll see I hope boiler has a few years left of life. 

I am really fortunate to work in a new build and an institution that has thought through its own contribution towards the zero carbon agenda and as a skills based organisation leading out changes to other sectors of the economy. 

There has been lots of progress around getting a green curriculum into schools in most subject areas. This is easy to understate and some in the audience felt that special new green subjects should be shoehorned into the curriculum.

My bigger reflection;  the schools and media do need to end their fixation on SQA  changing its name is not going to change culture. One of the panel even suggested that everything can change, but attaining 5 highers will still be the gold standard,  that’s not really change at all. The debate strayed for a while onto global warming is really all SQA's fault.

We really need to get away from a knowledge based curriculum and move to a competency based system. What you know is good , what you can do is much better.

On Saturday I did my own bit and went out and enjoyed the #COP26 demo. I think there was around 150,000 people out on the streets and met many international folks and protesters from across the UK. Not tens of thousands as the BBC reported - pretty shocking really. The rain was torrential. 
I hope next week brings some sensible and workable actions from #COP26 .

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Towards A new Curriculum and Assessment Agency in Scotland Part Two


image of exam hall in school gym

© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

I did promise a follow up to my first post upon hearing the news that SQA and Education Scotland were to be re-engineered. Having taken part in some of the initial consultations.  It was good to hear that the reform will be phased and planned. But I am no clearer on where the destination will be. I am not sure publication of OECD senior phase report this week makes the destination any clearer.

There will be the same impasse around both what the content is in any national qualifications and how it should be assessed. I'll leave that to the end. 

I am going to jump to other side of challenge. There are some parts of the Scottish system that need fixed and these suggested changes would support any future system. 

If we stay fixed on the contentious parts of the challenge,  as I covered in my last post the real and present danger that by making the reforms all about schools then lots of other useful parts of the system could be lost  and we may not make the headway required. 

So here is a list of things that simply need fixed for any system to operate more effectively for all.

  • Data : As a system, the Scottish system small as it is , is very poor at capturing and sharing data on what is actually happening across the learning system. To future proof the system we need to acknowledge that everything is now data and we need to set up a new awarding system that is more effective at providing learners , teachers , centres, employers and the broader community access to reliable information.
    • It should start by making everything digital by default. Start by designing a system that is future proof.
    • This could be as simple as making proper use of the Scottish Candidate Number (SCN),  it has been used  for decades but it is not used  across education and/or consistently by Higher Education Institutions. If you really wish to track attainment gaps being closed and the impact of FE, HE and work based learning this needs to be addressed. It is there already don't invent something new,  just ensure no one gets any public money unless they use it to report on learners' progress.    
    • More ambitiously and much more productively would be to publish any outcomes or eventual curriculum in a machine readable way. Yes , other countries do this already ! . Then if a PDF document is the  output you need, you can have it , but by creating data in this way,  the assets can be easily reused across the system. No more collective keying of unit descriptors , experiences and outcomes etc into lots of spreadsheets and databases.
  • Certification :There is a quick easy win to make all certification digital and online. SQA were almost there, but lacked political support to push this across the line.  A new agency should start by making sure no learner ever needs to worry about a lost certificate again. The system should be set up to allow learner to share a secure view of their certification on any job application etc. Smoothing recruitment processes for all. It would also be cost effective way to deliver richer information to learners. This probably is about data again but needs a heading of its own. 
  • Subject Communities Who owns and decides what is in the assessable certifiable bits of learning in the Scottish system ?.  It should be transparent and clear to all learners , parents , teachers. For teachers and learners there should be clear ways for them to suggest and shape the content of awards. There have always been subject panels - you do still need experts - but make the process more open. Qualifications could be maintained by an iterative yearly online process to keep them current. This with clear stakeholder engagement. Solves relevancy issues with computing and some sciences subjects. It needs to be clear that what arrives in a qualification is actually informed by national occupational standards when this is relevant. 
  • Learner Communities for learners sitting national assessments the national system should have figured out a way by now to give learners some safe secure spaces to allow learners to access to peer support. If the system is not brave enough to tackle this, it should be brave enough with caveats to highlight services like The Students Room. that have been around for years - but the system should be able to do better. We don't encourage our learners to see that there is a national education system. We should be encouraging national and international engagement. 
  • Courses and Assessment  Direct to Learners If most learners now have laptops. The new agency  should work towards having a clearer offer direct to learners. In partnership with relevant agencies Education Scotland, SDS and College Development Network and others. It can be piloted, it does not have to be a big bang. Any learner should have access to any national subject anywhere in Scotland and the opportunity to be assessed and certificated in that subject. This is something that any new agency should be able to coordinate - Colleges ,local authorities, Scholar and other partners can deliver. Perhaps precipitated by more of a focus on open learning. 
  • Open Learning Materials  If you follow my blog you will see a lot about this. If the learning content is created by lecturer , teacher and or funded by public money whether through an institution , agency or local authority . The learning material should be made open and available under an appropriate open licence Non Commercial Share Alike to allow teachers and learners to remix and use.  Simply aligned to UNESCO global standards in this area. This does not replace a teacher or trainer but gives learners and teachers access to better learning resources. Initially this does not need massive investment in any national system it simply needs positive policy messaging and support so that all actors in the system adopt the UNESCO guidelines. 
  • Staff Development  The new agency should be seen to be lowering the administrative burden on teachers and College staff while not diminishing their responsibility to understand any national standards – There should be pilots around roll on and off secure assessment ( Solar mkt 2) The system  can collectively maintain standards while lessening the assessment burden on teachers and learners.
    • Validation process In Colleges and work based learning, the centres actually have to have teaching staff and resources in place to deliver new courses . This includes ensuring that staff have adequate training to deliver new courses.  This may be bridge too far but in many subject areas staff do need annual development. Perhaps having some better validation processes in school sector would raise standards. 
    • Verification processes:  it still has not really been picked up but teaching staff do feel insecure on their decision making. Make sure that there is robust internal, regional and national mechanisms to support teacher decision making. Make sure everyone knows that standards they are working to. In an interconnected world this should not be a logistical challenge. Learners need this exemplification too. Imagine you are learning in a school or centre that can't show you what an "A" looks like. In learning it is not mythical - teachers and learners should be clear about competencies and levels they are working towards. 

  • Digital Portfolio We should aim to give every learner a digital profile a portfolio of their learning.  They build it and they can decide who and or which components of this they wish to share. This more than an online CV and could include link to their digital certification from a range of sources. There are lots of ways this could be achieved freely and within GDPR regulations. 
The list above I hope is non contentious and looks beyond the battle around what should or should not be included in school programmes ( this is actually not about assessment at all) 

If the reform is because the current system is no longer fit for purpose. Then I really would expect to see the end of paper based examinations - I promised not to be contentious. 

I would go further and re-look at the subject silos - perhaps looking again at the experiences and outcomes and stretching these to end of formal schooling. But that is probably a bridge too far.  The suggestions above will support a new landscape whether we are assessing latin , maths, english, astrophysics, languages , welding , music , digital literacies,  meta-skills  or tap-dancing. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Towards A new Curriculum and Assessment Agency in Scotland

Image of desks laid out in an exam hall

Less than a year ago I watched political machinations around national awarding in Scotland and made some observations based on the extended experience of both working for SQA  and around the vocational system in Scotland , the rest of the UK and internationally. In the end, events pretty much turned out as I predicted, even to point of there being local academics engaged in the review.  

Then, this June, 2021,  in the middle of awarding season, the government announced that the SQA is to disappear and be replaced by a new Curriculum and Assessment Agency.  This in response to a critical OECD Report. The implications of which are far wider than national assessment. 

So what next, I don't expect any of the provisional grades for candidates to change between now and August and I fully anticipate another record breaking set of candidate results. 
It will be the same picture across the rest of the UK, with the exception that England , Wales and Northern Ireland haven't decided to dismantle their national awarding and accreditation infrastructure in the midst of a pandemic. So, at least in Scotland, we have a ready made scapegoat come August. 

It is time to reflect on : what we need from a national awarding body, what we expect of support agencies, funding bodies, audit and inspection organisations.

They are all, in one way or another, part of the mix.

What is missing is any real form of national discussion around what the future of schools assessment and certification should be. The Scottish government response to the OECD report is big on headlines but thin on detail. The press, including the educational press, tend to stick to the shallow end of any debate on national assessment systems.

BBC Radio Four ran an excellent series simply around thinking aloud about Re-Thinking Education with one programme dedicated to looking at alternatives to the current school exam system in England. I am not a big Lord Kenneth Baker fan but his opinions on ending any form of national assessment for 16 year olds is worth exploring. his thoughts on an academic vocational split at age 14 are abhorrent. 

I am concerned on two fronts. The populist decision to abolish the SQA does seem to ignore the fact that one way or another a new agency(s) will simply rise from the ashes. The timing  is appalling given the stresses and strains on the system, but it is perhaps that simple political expediency that heralds many education reforms, give them the big news just before schools and parliament go into summer recess. 

Lost in this and the only bit that has ever been in anyway exportable is the vocational education system founded in early 1980s by SCOTVEC and buried in the merger with the Scottish Examination Board on the creation of SQA.

In the worst scenario, asset strippers in the form of private sector awarding or the 'not for profit' awarding bodies in England will gladly hoover up SQA's commercial and overseas business and the receipts they brought to support national awarding in Scotland. I wouldn't even be surprised to see elements of Universities Scotland hovering around this area. 

Watch too as the Scottish government struggles with regulatory and other awarding requirements, when potentially the only alternative is the open market.

If the focus is just on schools then a new agency or vehicle needs established to look after vocational awarding in Scotland. It needs to be new and separate from agencies like SDS or SFC who fund the qualifications. Perhaps this is the new quality assurance agency for Universities and Colleges mooted in the SFC review papers and lauded here by Ewart Keep at least SFC talks about the tertiary education system and working with SQA and successor bodies in their Coherence and Sustainability Review.

Clarity here is needed quickly, vocational awards are at the heart of any economic recovery strategy. 

The loss of the SQA brand will damage awarding and accreditation business across the UK and the rest of the world. There will be live business and business in the pipeline at SQA that will all be contractually under threat currently due to uncertainties here. I am guessing not much consideration will have been given to this. 

While this uncertainty remains, I expect to see an exodus of specialist staff and general system stasis. A new national curriculum and assessment agency is not a quick build even if built from the building blocks that become available from a reconstituted Education Scotland and components of the SQA. 

But what about school assessment and certification ? Will removing SQA, rather than reforming the assessment system, solve the issues ?

In my view incessant power struggles over school curriculum and assessment held the whole Scottish system back. They certainly held SQA back from 2003 - 2015 while I was there and they were delaying things like HN reforms when I worked in the College sector immediately prior to that. I am guessing now there will be further delays around the HN Next Gen work which the College sector badly needs. We need reforms too around qualifications in the work based learning sector.

If the new curriculum and assessment body has a sole focus on schools, you then lose a lot of the economies of scale around things like on-line assessment and digital certification and data management and the technologies that are needed at the heart of reforms and organisations of this kind. 

I'll post separately on where the opportunities lie for a new sort of awarding agency for the public good.

Where will consensus on school assessment and certification come from ?

The school assessment system with its narrow subject and exam focus was not really about SQA but an image of what teachers and governments wanted.  To have a more flexible system it starts with the teachers and schools knowing and applying national standards, no matter what subject area, this could be in any domain or discipline, you can then have flexible assessment policies , it could all naturally flow through from the experiences and outcomes.

The awards that currently exist are shaped by subject panels from across the Scottish schools system to design rules approved by the CfE Management Board.

Having worked through the development of Curriculum for Excellence . The OECD Report is spot on in highlighting the disconnect between experiences and outcomes and assessment system.

 I think there was a confidence failure across the system in tackling this - there were some deeper challenges too in the creation and management of the experiences and outcomes and how learners transitioned from broad general education into the senior phase. Heads should have been together on this in Education Scotland , SQA and the sponsoring Education Department. I would put this outcome down to the failure of the CfE Board of Management over an extended number of years. 

The default position for school teachers does appear to be a written national exam at end of year. 

The tech and systems have been in place for years to support more innovative forms of assessment and certification but the school system has fought , resisted  and won battles to keep the exam system and year long courses, while maintaining glacial speed too on any curriculum changes. 

While the civil service and local authorities continued to embrace systems that only recognised achievement in exam based subjects. Universities like this too. I hope there is now a confidence in the system to tackle this.  It needs to be tackled system wide.  There will be a real drive in many quarters to ignore any learning from the last two years and get back to business as usual

I fear further insularism - the awarding system in schools needs to place learners more at centre , subject choice should not be determined by which school and where it is located , assessment should take a variety of forms and be ready when the candidate is ready - not annually and teachers should as matter of course be able to make accurate estimates on grading, and certification should be digital by default. 

It is where we have been heading for last two years but without properly having a system in place. Some of the disconnect between costs , expectation and delivery are long standing and need to be addressed, if any reform is to be a sustainable one. 

"The SQA levy to local authorities and entry fees charged to independent schools and colleges for the certification of national qualifications have remained unchanged since 2012-13. These fees contribute to the cost of awarding. The costs of awarding National Qualifications are greater than the contribution made by local authorities, independent schools and colleges."

"Scottish government funding in the financial year 2019-20 to the SQA was £41.4 million but, in 2020-21, that figure almost halved to £21 million"


As they shuffle the deckchairs, I think the focus will be lost on the national vocational system. I hope, given we have now had two years without national exams, the school system can now flex. 

By the end of the review process we should no longer have an exam hall, paper based, national diet of examinations for S4-S6 learners,  we owe them more and we should not have  lost our vocational awarding system. It is a challenging balance.   

Watch out too for the purveyors of state-wide assessment systems , GCSE Awards, T-Levels , A-Levels , International Baccalaureates of one form or another,  door stepping , carpet bagging,  the review , the new agency , local authorities, schools and probably Colleges too.  There are lots of commercial interests and political interests that swirl around this area globally. I expect some Scottish schools will drift towards A Levels as the saga unfolds. 

I wonder too if any of the OECD Report writers can highlight a country that has achieved the vision within their report. It is a strong and achievable vision if the system can finally all pull together. 

Ken Muir has a challenging year(s) ahead.  My thoughts are with my former colleagues continuing to deliver for Scotland's learners within the SQA. 

Further Reading Background: