Friday, August 19, 2005

Research Blog: I've got this friend...

"It's not me... but I've got this friend who agrees that, 'It is disturbing to think my pupils may know more about ICT than I do,' and he said..."
I mentioned in It's good to talk that I was hoping to get some examples where teachers have found that pupils knew more about ICT than they did. I did a second interview on Monday and got two examples that I think are interesting. Again, both students were very positive about using ICT in the classroom. One gave me a good example on learning something from the pupils while the other student didn't have a problem herself, but had a friend...

originally uploaded by KelvinM.
The positive example involved pupils creating presentations in class on the topic they had been studying. The student was impressed by one pupil who had incorporated music into the presentation and she asked him how he had done it. She said she was delighted to be shown how to download music from the Internet (I didn't ask if it was legal or not!) and then shown how to use it in Powerpoint - a skill the student could then use in her own presentations. The pupil was pleased to be able to demonstrate his expertise, the student was able to learn a new skill and future classes could benefit from improved presentations - a win for everyone involved.

The "I've got this friend..." example was a teacher trying to use of a software package that was a necessary part of the subject's curriculum. The teacher got stuck and refused help from the pupils in the class. Instead a pupil was sent to fetch the student teacher so she could sort out the problem. Red-face for teacher and frustration for the pupils in the class.

Do these two examples help explain why there is a split in students response to this question? In the first example, the student's subject knowledge was not being challenged, she was already a fairly competent ICT user and she was happy to learn something new from the pupil. It sounds like the scenario Ewan described in his comment on my earlier post - teachers and pupils working together to develop skills and understanding. In the second example, perhaps the teacher felt this was an area in which she was expected to have expertise and therefore felt vulnerable because her subject expertise might be challenged by a more knowledgeable pupil? Ewan (yes him again!) describes how German teachers feel a bit vulnerable due to reforms of German grammar and spelling in Jah, aber neh, aber jah..., but are German teachers likely to meet a pupil with more knowledge? I think not. It may be that pupils are not that ICT savvy either, but the fear that they might be is very prevalent.

The last time I looked at this question (about three years ago) I suspected that older teachers and those with lower personal ICT skills would tend to be more worried about this issue. Certainly the students I have talked to so far, think that is the case. They are not worried because:
  1. they are young;
  2. they are ICT competent.
Unfortunately, when I last analysed the data in 2002 I found no statistically significant correlation between either age or previous experience, and the answer to this question. Scunner! As soon as I get the time to work out how to do it again (it was something to do with chi squared I think!) I'll check if there is any correlation in this year's data. I didn't check last time, but I wonder if the subject taught makes a difference?

I would still be interested in any specific examples where pupils knew more about ICT than the teacher and how you or a colleague reacted.

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P.S. I should point out that the "I've got this friend..." bit was introduced in a futile attempt at injecting some humour into this post. It is only fair to say that I have no reason to doubt the student that told me the story. I believe she is not worried herself and that she really was describing what someone else did.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Human Computer Interface: a four-year-old child could understand it...

Rufus T. Firefly: Clear? Huh. Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. [to Bob Roland] Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can't make head or tail of it.
Duck Soup (1933)
originally uploaded by Claudecf.
I got a new mobile phone (that's "cell phone" in American English). I didn't want a new phone. I was quite happy with the one I had. I could make and receive calls, I could switch it off when I didn't want calls and I could play Snake on it. What more could you want from a phone? Well, my wife wanted a cameraphone. She accused me of being a Luddite when I said I couldn't see the point as I already had a phone and a good digital camera! Me! A Luddite! In case I haven't already made this clear: My name is David Muir and I am a geek.

Anyway, to cut a long story short (too late) we went to buy her a new cameraphone. We were offered a fantastic deal, but it meant changing network. Since it costs much more to phone between two different networks this would have meant that it would have cost a lot more for us to phone each other. In fact, assuming we phoned each other at least twice a week (probably an underestimate) it would only take a year and a half of phone calls to have cost us the price of me getting a new phone too. ...So we both got new phones.
So I now have a phone that takes pictures, can browse the Internet (on a tiny wee screen that makes the experience... interesting), but I can't play snake.

This device is trying to do loads of different things and you only have a limited set of control buttons and a tiny screen to control it, so perhaps it is not surprising that the Human Computer Interface (HCI) is a bit difficult to use in places. It may not be surprising, but does it have to be that way? Not necessarily. There are examples of complex tasks being made easier by good HCI design. One example is the iPod which is generally acknowledged as having a very simple but effective interface. Another favourite example of mine is Automated Teller Machines (ATMs). Why do some of them insist that you hit enter after typing a four digit PIN? As far as I know there are always exactly four digits in a PIN, so why can't the machines work out for themselves when you have entered all four numbers? However I like the Clydesdale Bank's system because you have the shortcut buttons down the side of the screen for common amounts and the £50 shortcut (which is the most common amount withdrawn) is beside the button you just pressed to get to the withdrawal screen - nice! Even nicer is the way that they display an entry box in the middle of the withdrawal screen so you can type an amount that doesn't have a shortcut instead of having to hit "Other" and go to a different screen. It's things like that, which you may not even notice if they are done well, which makes the difference between a good and a bad user experience.

And therein lies the problem. For most teachers, the experience of using a computer is frustrating and difficult because computers don't do what the teachers want or act in a way they find comprehensible. I talked in a previous post about how many of our students are concerned that pupils may know more about ICT than they do. If ICT was easier to use (like an iPod) perhaps fewer students would be concerned.

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Research Blog: It's good to talk

I've handed over my laptop to the tender care of the technicians to have the hard disk flattened and everything re-installed from scratch.
Sad face
...But first I managed to rescue the data!
I was quite pleased with myself on that one. A friend put me in touch with a small computer shop his pal runs in Bridgeton. The guys in the shop recommended a do-hickey that would let me use the hard disk from my laptop as an external hard disk on another machine. I am pleased to say it worked brilliantly and I got all my data copied off the laptop before I handed it over to be re-built.

While waiting to get it back I did the first of my follow up interviews on Friday. I was hoping to interview a group of three, but unfortunately one had to call off at the last minute. However the interview with the remaining two seemed to go well. Both students were very positive about ICT in general and our FirstClass system in particular.

originally uploaded by gustavospud.
I've got the interview recorded and it will take a bit more work to analyse what they are saying, but I was pleased to hear that their views weren't too dissimilar from the students I interviewed in 2002. I've another interview lined up for Monday and a few people that I will interview on the phone. Ideally I'd like at least one or two more interviews but with term starting next week that will be tricky to arrange.

One of the questions I wanted to follow up in the interview was, "It is disturbing to think my pupils may know more about ICT than I do." This question has always produced a mixed reaction from the students, but the two students on Friday were quite relaxed about this possibility. If the next group are just as relaxed I think I will need to email more students to try and get some divergent views. I may send out an email anyway because although they were quite relaxed about the possibility, they couldn't give me an example where it actually happened. I wonder if specific examples would frighten or reassure people who are already nervous?

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Research blog: It's worse than that. It's dead Jim!

I took my laptop on holiday! I'd like to say that it was so I could do holiday things like edit digital pictures and research family holiday outings etc. I did do a bit of that, but mostly I took it so that I could do some analysis of the data I've collected on the use of our electronic conferencing system and our students' attitudes to ICT.

originally uploaded by grraniml.
I had hoped I could do some basic analysis of the entrance questionnaire which I have used every year since session 2000/01. I thought I would also be able to look at the exit questionnaire which I have only used twice: sessions 2001/02 and 2004/05. I find the statistics stuff a bit painful, but thought I'd at least be able to make a start to get a feel for the data and that I'd be able to ask for help if necessary with any more complex analysis once I'd worked out what was worth analysing. I don't know if mice are into statistics, but you know what is said about their best laid plans? What happened was I spent the whole week just trying to tidy up the data! I transferred it from the database (Filemaker) to the statistics package (SPSS), fiddled about with the data types (ordinal, nominal or who cares?), got rid of duplicate entries and incomplete records, accidentally overwriting the 2001/02 data with the 2000/01 data (I hope I've got the backup in my office)... By the end of the week I was more or less ready to start the stuff I hoped I'd have finished!

Arriving home I turned on the laptop intending to transfer the stuff I'd done to continue working on it. No prizes are available for those of you have already guessed why I said "intended" in the last sentence. That's right, my laptop failed to start up. It got all the way through the startup process and got as far as displaying the desktop wallpaper and then it hung! It reacts to the Vulcan nerve pinch (ctrl-alt-del) so you can shut it down properly, but it wont actually start. Unfortunately, after fiddling with it for an hour or two, the techie types at the university pronounced it extremely unwell and said all they could do was flatten the hard disk, losing a weeks worth of work and some holiday pictures, and re-install everything from scratch. You can imagine how pleased I was to hear that!
Sad face
So, another couple of weeks have gone by and I am as far away as ever from completing my research. Bah!

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

I've been on holiday and although I was sad enough to take my laptop on with me (more about this in a later post) I was rarely near the Internet. I made a couple of quick comments when I was plugged into cyberspace, but this is the first time I've had the chance to sit down and think about a full blog entry.

Before the next tale of woe about the state of my research (and "state" is the operative word), I was pleased to notice that I have had more than a thousand visits to my blog. It's sad I know to watch the numbers like that, but there it is... "My name is David and I am a geek". I suspect a good few of the recent visits have been because of the guide I put together and that the numbers visiting have already dropped back to their normal low levels... but it was good to break the thousand.

...Now, hopefully there is time for a quick blog entry on my research before I start painting the house again.