Wednesday, June 29, 2005

There's no place like home...

I note with interest the BBC's report of the launch of an online school. The main (only?) criticism in the report is that children will lose out on social interaction with their peers.

MSN Messenger picture. (c) MicrosoftI have a couple of questions about this report. Firstly, what do we mean by social interaction? It may be a different style of interaction than you would get in the playground, but there is still social interaction. For example, we were recently looking for a sanction to apply to daughter number 1 for some misdemeanour. We decided that banning her from MSN Messenger for the rest of the week might be appropriate. Her response to this was one of total outrage! She's a teenager, so that is pretty much the default reaction to anything her parents say, but she seemed genuinely upset on this occasion. From her point of view we had definitely slipped into the realm of "cruel and unusual punishment". She complained, "...but how am going to talk to my friends?" She uses MSN to keep in touch with friends she has made at orchestra camps, Summer Academy, etc, friends that live at some geographical distance that she doesn't see often/at all, as well as school and church friends she sees on a regular basis. As far as I can see, she is engaged in social interaction online that is just as important to her as the social interaction that takes place in the playground.

However, my second question is, what do we mean by school? A union rep quoted in the BBC's article says:
School is not just about academic learning, it is about learning to deal with life.
I'm not entirely sure what is meant by the second part of that sentence, but I agree wholeheartedly with the first part. It's about the intangible elements of schooling as well as the obvious academic elements. It's about the clubs and societies. It's about bumping into each other in the corridor (sometimes literally). It's about the school shows. It's about the charity days... It's about all these things and more. It's the coming together of a community of people (learners, teachers and others) and the physical location. It's like the difference between being at Glastonbury and just watching it on the telly. If you watch on the telly, you may have a better view of the bands, the sound quality may be better and you may be warm and dry, but you miss out on so much that you can only get by being there... Dysentery for example :-)

As you can see then, I'm in two minds. Part of me says, "Why not?" It is a different experience from physically attending school, but there could be many benefits. The other part of me says, "But what is lost?"

What do you think? What would be gained by attending an online school? What would be lost? Is it the best solution for a particular (minority?) group, for example children who are already not attending school or is it a solution that would work for most children?

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Friday, June 24, 2005

I've got no strings to hold me down...

Mauritius landscape
Mauritius landscape,
originally uploaded by anna-qu.
Came across two articles today about what Mauritius is doing with ICT. Firstly a BBC report on Cybercity in Mauritius sounded interesting. Using their "Cyber Caravan" to educate and train people in ICT parallels things that were done in Scotland some years ago when ICT was being pushed but was still relatively rare in schools.

This BBC report is a couple of years old now, so I'm not sure why I stumbled over it today. However, in my email to day was another Mauritius story... The second story describes something that might be even more ambitious: Mauritius deploys first country-wide Wi-Fi. It will be interesting to see what effect (if any) this ubiquitous Internet access has on schools. Partly the effect will depend on how it is used. For example, in theory, every school in Scotland has a broadband Internet connection but anytime, anywhere access by pupils in every classroom is still a long way off in most schools. And even when the pupils can get access, it is often restricted access (no chatrooms, no blogs, no search engines...) so that the value of the Internet access is severely diminished.

Puting the infrastructure in place is the easy bit, making good educational use of it is tricky! Does anyone out there have any good stories that could be used to illustrate this? I'd be interested to hear them.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Big Brother is watching you

Big Brother is watching youI was at a Departmental Meeting today and as usual we were being encouraged to be more serious about our research. The chap leading the session said that it might be useful to have a case study of how someone goes from initial idea to publication. He described the process of capturing the case study as "Like Big Brother for Academics". I immediately thought of blogs as being a good way to capture the process and reflect on what is going on.

I know I'm not good at keeping this blog up to date, but I thought I'd have a go at recording some of my own struggles to finish off an MEd that I have (in theory) been working on for the last three or four years. I'll try to keep going with general Educational Computing posts too, but I'll aim to do more short MEd posts as I go along. The topic of my MEd is about using online tools to support student learning, so it is not totally off topic.

I could say more just now, but I want to start as I mean to go on and make this short and to the point. Lets see how long it takes me to lapse into old bad habits of long posts made at infrequent intervals!

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone

A few weeks ago there was a real fuss in the media here about a failing school. Why did this one make such a big impact? It was because it was one of the new City Academies. If you are not from the UK this may not mean a lot to you, but City Academies were set up by the Labour government amidst great controversy.

However, the thing that struck me from the reports of this school was that it doesn't have a playground! (Would that be a schoolyard in the USA?) A school without a playground - it just seemed so bizarre. Who would have thought about building a school, but not a playground. It's like love and marriage, horse and and playground. Yet, here was a school that had cost millions to build and equip, but without a playground.

In Scotland, we don't have City Academies (yet!) but we do have Public Private Partnership (PPP) where a private company will finance and build a school and then lease it to a local authority. I heard a story recently about one of the first PPP primary schools that was built in Scotland. When the school was ready the private company that had financed the building explained what could and could not be done with the building. To the surprise of the teachers, they were told they were not allowed to put anything on the walls! Obviously it hadn't occurred to the private company that teachers would want to stick things on the walls and it hadn't occurred to the education people to say the wanted to do this when writing the specifications for the building!

originally uploaded by jarrodtrainque.
What obvious things should we ask for when specifying a new computer lab? I may return to this again in future posts, but the one I want to start with is space. In a computer lab, children don't just need computers, they need space away from the computers to think, to plan, to reflect. However, when designing computer labs, the main aim often seems to be to cram as many computers as possible into as small a space as possible. I'm fairly sure this is a bad thing.

So, my number one obvious thing we should ask for in a new computer lab is space to work away from the computers. What do you think? Would that be your number one request? What do you think is only recognised as obvious when you don't have it?

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