Friday, 29 April 2016

The iLearn Showcase

Team Time’ is a time in each grade in the Primary School when the DLC is available specifically to a  team to facilitate collaborative and individualised (Hixon & Buckenmeyer, 2009) teacher-generated opportunities to learn from and with each other (Pickering, 2007). These shorter, smaller and more frequent meetings are the kinds where collaborative work is more effective than larger, infrequent meetings (Cordingley et al, 2005; Devereux, 2009).

Most weeks these are informal affairs, that provide a forum for collaboration; teachers are able to discuss technical and curriculum questions, classroom management issues and assessment practices, as well as how to use available technology, and share tips and short cuts they have learned with/from their students (Ciampa & Gallagher, 2013). One teacher’s efficacy (often a 'Tech Mentor'—a teacher designated as having a particular role in the development of ICT within the grade level or department—but not always) with a particular tool can quickly became ‘viral’ with two or three other teachers eager to learn from a colleague’s expertise, very much imitating the way they observe their own students learn from each other.

The problem in a school as large as ours is finding ways for these powerful practices to expand beyond the bounds of one grade, to impact teaching practice in other grades as well. And so it was the 'ICT Showcase' was born, although iLearn Showcase would probably be a better name.

Photographs courtesy of Dave Caleb, DLC - East Campus

The annual showcase effectively extends ‘Team Time’ from grade to school level, including subject specialist teachers. All teachers attend and share by ‘mingling’ in small informal groups about the ways they have been integrating digital technologies - opportunities for purposeful talk are plentiful, and focus on specific aspects of technology enhanced learning (TEL) and the specific types of digital tools that they feel have proved effective in realising this. Plans for further development, or repurposing of other team’s uses of ICT are facilitated by the teachers themselves, who are currently using these ICTs, importantly not the DLCs, who act purely as mediators to facilitate learning conversations around what can be possibly be achieved with ICTs, in other grades and contexts.

If you'd like to see some of these examples, please view the relevant videos below, each one is about 10 minutes in length, and gives a good indication of the ways technology is currently being used at that grade level. Bear in mind we still have more than one term to go before we end this year, you can be sure there will be many more excellent examples at each grade level by then; many of them as a direct result of this showcase.


Ciampa K and Gallagher T L (2013). Professional learning to support elementary teachers’ use of the iPod Touch in the classroom, Professional Development in Education, DOI:10.1080/19415257.2012.749802

Cordingley P, Bell M, Evans D and Firth A (2005). 'The impact of collaborative continuing professional development (CPD) on classroom teaching and learning. Review: How do collaborative and sustained CPD and sustained but not collaborative CPD affect teaching and learning?' Research Evidence in Education Library London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. 

Hixon E and Buckenmeyer J (2009). Revisiting technology integration in schools: Implications for professional development. Computers in the Schools, 26(2), 130-146.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

1:1 - Why?

1:1 via

Every now and then I come across an article that, while on the surface level seems fairly innocuous, causes me incredible consternation, articles like this,

"Kids Who Have to Share iPads Learn Better Than Kids Who Have Their Own".

The article is not a new one, but like many articles of its ilk, it has a habit of resurfacing periodically, as it did this week, finally motivating me to put fingers to keys.

There are so many things wrong with the assumptions made by the writer of this article, that it’s hard to know where to start. So in the absence of any better course of action, I’ll start at the beginning.

Firstly can we all just assume that, of course, sharing is a good thing, and so by implication is learning to share; but the truth is that it's the sharing that is beneficial not the object of the sharing. I see kids sharing and collaborating regularly, even when using their own screens; the extent to which this happens is all to do with the classroom culture carefully crafted by a caring teacher and nothing to do with the nature of the particular item.

Secondly, there is a problem with the evidence basis for the the findings of the research, starting with the assumption that performance in “a standardized literacy test at the end of the year compared to the beginning” is a valid measure.  Not to mention that an improvement of 28% v 24% in a study of 352 students really is not statistically significant, despite what the study's author says, another reason why it's never a good idea to rely on one source for anything of any real substance. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, the study extrapolated the results of a literacy test, to relate to their work with basic geometry?

I could accept basing the efficacy of a study on a standardised test if the focus of the study was specifically related to the test, eg working on improving spelling for example, but in this case, as in most of the cases of this kind, they make no effort whatsoever to relate the standardised test to the actual nature of the use of the devices. Which tells you a great deal about the study, that they didn't feel it worthwhile to actually describe what they are using the iPads for, which would seem to be glorified textbooks, which would explain why they felt standardised test would be a valid measure. All they are concerned about is to measure the extent to which students have absorbed specific surface content, without any consideration about deeper conceptual development or creativity and all those other soft skills that really do matter much more.

So, why 1:1?

Whenever I encounter someone who is under the impression that providing students with their own device is a little, well, excessive, I strongly suspect two things:

1. They don't have to share the digital device/s (more likely 2 or 3) they rely on, and they take the obvious benefits of this for granted.

2. They are making some profoundly dubious assumptions about the way we encourage students to use these devices.

You can be sure that any advocate for shared devices never shares their own device 50:50. Can you imagine how far you would get in your daily work if you had to share your laptop 50:50 with a colleague in the office? You can be sure that the same person so gleefully anticipating a social nirvana where all of these students happily share their devices is suffering from a profound case of media bias, or device disorder. I’m sure the same person would never countenance asking the same students to share a pencil, or a paintbrush. How about an exercise book? You start from the front, and I’ll start from the back... These devices are all tools, very few of which were purpose built for a classroom, but all of which can be very successfully repurposed for an educational context by skilled teachers. I find teachers that are blasé about the need for students to have their own devices tells me more about the lack of importance they associate with the device than it does about the use of it.

The way you use these devices has profound implications for the desirable ratio of devices to students; a classroom where all the iPads are used for is glorified textbooks, or for educational "games" and skill drill, then sharing one iPad between five, or ten or even twenty really is not a problem. But a classroom where the teacher expects kids to actually create artefacts that are meaningful over time, is a classroom that benefits from the lowest possible ratio of student to device.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that a 1:1 context is a prerequisite for successful learning, many teachers all over the world, do amazing things everyday with limited resources, but that doesn’t mean that this paucity of resources is something they find preferable. Anyone who thinks so, clearly has never attempted to use these devices themselves.

Allow me to illustrate with an analogy.

Cycling is good for you, it’s also much less harmful for the environment than an aeroplane. So next time you want to travel between, say London and Singapore, don’t fly, cycle. ...

This logic only makes sense if you never had to actually travel between London and Singapore yourself (and if you’re not in hurry). There is something to be said as well for determination, I have a good friend who shares his laptop with the 24 kids in his class, on a rota basis. Do they benefit? Yes. Is the sharing beneficial for them? Maybe. Is this his preferred arrangement? Of course not.

Back to the bicycle.

Would I ever countenance the idea of cycling from London to Singapore? No ... unless that was the only way I was ever going to visit Asia, (and I had plenty of time, and a very good bicycle). Consciousness of the desirability of the goal has a direct bearing on one's determination to persevere despite the obstacles that may be present. Would it be good for me? Yes. So am I going to do it? No. I am not. Well, maybe. For many years, teachers who are profoundly aware of the value of designing experiences for their students to enhance their learning with digital tools have persevered despite many obstacles to make this a reality for their students, but would they prefer 1:1? Of course they do. How do I know? I was one, more than once. UWCSEA is the first school I've ever had the pleasure to work at, that has such a phenomenal level of resourcing, resourcing that is 'normal' here would be considered extraordinary in many, if not most other schools in the world. In my previous schools, scavenging abandoned computers, salvaging parts, and spending hours beyond number to build a rudimentary ‘lab’ for my students was a frequent experience. Why? I knew it was a tool that would considerably benefit their learning, and my teaching. I was wrestling to enhance the learning of my students in the early days at the turn of the century when ‘TEL’ still was yet to become a ‘thing’.

1:1 works better - shall I count the ways?

When my school announced five years ago, that we were embarking on a tech enhanced learning (TEL) initiative, it was assumed then that the 1:1 ratio only applied for older students, middle school and up. While the ratio of devices in the Primary School was going to be significantly increased, from about 5:1 to more like 2:1, the intention was never to provide 1:1 in the primary school as well. So what changed that situation? I did.

Can we work with shared devices? Yes. Can we work better when we have our own device? Yes. Interestingly the main pressure to go 1:1 came from our teachers, even when we expanded to a 2:1 ratio, the more effective they became at utilising digital tech, the more ridiculous expecting the kids to share devices became.

The truth is that the benefits of 1:1 have really surprised me, I was kind of oblivious of how powerful that really is, just from a logistical standpoint. With shared devices it is all too common for students to accidentally delete each other's work which is quite soul destroying, and especially with video editing in the junior school attempting to work on a project over several weeks is impossible with a shared machine. This means that any creating on the device (the most important use) has to be confined to short simple activities that can be started and completed within one lesson, this really does diminish the power of those tools.

This means that the main reason for going 1:1 is not really about two kids needing to use the device at the same time, although that is a factor, it's about valuing and protecting the importance of the artefacts created by each individual child. The biggest advantage I found by going 1:1 is to do with the fact that the work on that device cannot be accidentally tampered or deleted by a well-meaning (or maybe not so well-meaning) friend. If all the kids use the device for is shallow tasks like skill and drill apps, taking tests, and passively consuming media, then clearly sharing them is less of an issue. However, I think this is actually highlights a bigger problem! If we are encouraging our kids to do meaningful creative work on these devices then they will have media saved on the device that they would be upset about if it was accidentally deleted by a classmate.

Not to mention the issue of 'ownership', a child who is responsible for their own device, apart from the obvious personal social merits of having to take that responsibility, is also a child who feels like the work on there is work that is all theirs. This aspect became quickly apparent, kids really do benefit from their "ownership" of one device, including in ways we hadn’t anticipated, such as: customising it so that it operates the way they want it to; using a picture of their face for the wallpaper; being able to actually choose to share content on their iPads with their parents directly, this is the kind of thing that a one-to-one environment would make very straightforward but that they shared environment would be quite difficult. This even extends to the physical device itself—sharing ‘their’ device with their parents at parent teacher conference means there is something quite empowering about that kind of "ownership" even at such a young age. This aspect encourages a sense of responsibility that is powerful in terms of 'digital citizenship'; such as the fact that the teacher can expect the student for example to curate and manage their camera roll with their media responsibly; there is no way the student can evade responsibility by blaming other students who also use the iPad—a common issue with shared devices.

To summarise, 1:1 matters because:

  • access to device whenever needed
  • opportunity to do extended tasks
  • simpler logistics, no more loan systems to manage
  • organisation - curation and management of the device
  • ownership - personalise the device to work they you like it
  • responsibility - no abdication, your battery, your files, your work, your way
  • security - the fruits of your labours, safe from prying eyes and fingers

So when I encounter people who are under the impression that 1:1 is excessive (the implication in the article) I know there is an assumption behind these ideas that the digital tools are used so infrequently and so ineffectively (ie skill drill, and games) that expecting kids to share them is no big deal, but in classrooms where these tools are effectively integrated and used to record, reflect and create, they are actually very difficult to share, not because of a lack of willingness to do so, but because both kids actually need to use the device at the same time, and really value the content they are curating and collecting on their own device.  You can be sure the journalist who wrote the article wasn’t using a machine she was sharing; why?

She uses it to create

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Typing vs Writing

Have you ever sat in the proximity of someone writing who can touch-type? They sit nonchalantly in front of the screen, their fingers dancing over the keys; meanwhile I sit hunched over the keyboard like Gollum, forehead facing the screen instead of, well, my face. Hunting for keys and pecking at the keyboard, before eventually, and with great trepidation, looking up at the screen only to be presented with a mangled representation of the thoughts I so diligently delivered with my not so deft strokes—littered with the red lines demanding that I attempt again to wrestle the meaning from the scrambled melange of words, words that barely resemble the ideas I am attempting to represent, even now fading from my short term memory…

I worked with some colleagues to write an article on this very topic for the college magazine, Dunia, an exercise that required us to read a wide range of research on the topic, the outcome of which I have summed up at the bottom of this post if you're interested. All of this reading led me to the point I am now, namely a great deal more aware of the tensions, and especially the misconceptions that surround this issue...

This may come as a surprise to many, but typing faster is not the primary objective of learning to touch-type; rather it is a desired side effect. Once you are able to type with all ten fingers without needing to look down at the keyboard, your overall productivity when using a computer will improve dramatically. When typing with two fingers (hunt and peck), "the visual and frontal cortices of the brain are forced to focus on where individual keys are located. Keyboarding removes this burden, enabling students to work on things like sentence structure and grammar while they type." (Typing Club Handbook)

The danger with this issue is that it quickly devolves into an 'us vs them' argument, this is not a an argument we need to have, and not one I intend to get drawn into here, besides others far more eloquent than I have already done this far better than I could, such as this article from The New York Times.

I think it helps if we stop and consider what it is what we are really talking about, it's not about typing or writing, typing is writing, what do we mean when we talk about writing?

Writing Defined

In the interests of clarity it's important to establish from the outset that there are at least four different ways of coding meaning using the symbols we call 'letters' that equate to sounds that we in turn translate into words, in other words—writing. Some of these are easily confused, this confusion can easily led to 'much ado about nothing', for example no matter the enthusiasm for touch-typing, no one is considering abandoning the teaching of handwriting, cursive maybe, but handwriting? No.

Wikipedia to the rescue:


Touch typing (also called touch type or touch method or touch and type method) is typing without using the sense of sight to find the keys. Specifically, a touch typist will know their location on the keyboard through muscle memory.

Hunt and peck/two finger typing/keyboarding

"Hunt and peck (two-fingered typing) is a common form of typing, in which the typist presses each key individually. Instead of relying on the memorized position of keys, the typist must find each key by sight. Use of this method may also prevent the typist from being able to see what has been typed without glancing away from the keys. Although good accuracy may be achieved, any typing errors that are made may not be noticed immediately, if at all." (Wikipedia)


Handwriting refers to a person's writing created with a writing utensil such as a pen or pencil. The term encompasses both printing and cursive styles and is separate from formal calligraphy or typeface. It is, in essence, a visible form of a person's voice, including pitch and tone.


Cursive, also known as longhand, script, handwriting, joined-up writing et cetera, is any style of penmanship in which the symbols of the language are written in a conjoined and/or flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing faster. Formal cursive is generally joined, but casual cursive is a combination of joins and pen lifts.

Print-script or Block-letters

Print-script uses block letters, in which the letters of a word are unconnected rather than joined-up script. Block-letters (known as print-script, manuscript, or print writing) are a style of writing in which the letters are individual glyphs, with no joining. In English-speaking countries, children are often first taught to write in block-letters, and later may advance to cursive (joined-up writing).

Handwriting vs Touch-Typing: The Research 

There are a plethora of articles bouncing around the web, more or less like this one, purporting in tones of moral crisis that the worst thing we could possibly entertain is a world with a generation who can no longer write in looping flowing cursive... These articles usually attempt to bolster their argument by making appeals to supposed brain research that evidences a higher level of brain function when putting pen/pencil to paper as opposed to tapping keys...

The problem with these arguments, as is often the case with attempts to leverage research within a field that most 'lay people' have absolutely no grasp of, is it's easy to completely misinterpret the data, usually in favour of a particular argument. We should all be very wary of the claims and 'The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience'; over the past decade, neuroscience has become overprivileged as a method of examining the mind. That's not to say that it is meaningless, far from it, new research into how our brains work "offers educators an unparalleled opportunity for building a scientific foundation for educational practice which will allow us to make more informed decisions". It's just that we should be cautious when extravagant claims are founded on area of learning that is as best currently relatively nascent, "it is important to realize that neuroimaging is just one of many tools used in neuroscience. Equally important is the fact that neuroscience is widely viewed as rudimentary in its current state".

This article being a case in point; the author leaps to the assumption that the data must mean that handwriting is superior to typing, when the issue is not actually the mode of codifying meaning, it's the processing. So people taking notes who can touch-type have a tendency to transcribe, just because they can, rather than processing the information, ie summarizing, summing up, rephrasing. Touch-typists who do the latter rather than the former will be engaged in the same kinds of cognitive function as those handwriting. So the answer is not to demonise those who can touch-type, but rather to educate them.
"The thing is, that transcription process doesn’t require any critical thinking." 
“transcrib[ing] lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”
Of course all of this makes the extremely dubious assumption that lecturing and the accompanying practice of expecting the attendant students to sit their and passively take notes is a medium of teaching that we need to desperately go to all sorts of lengths to support and enable. This couldn't be further from the truth, as acclaimed Harvard Professor, Eric Mazur realised years ago, when he discovered that the notion that the clear, polished lectures and demonstrations he was delivering to lecture halls populated mainly by premed and engineering students was successful “was a complete illusion, a house of cards.” Now his focus has moved away from the lectern and toward the physical and imaginative activity of each student in class. Now his focus on "interactive pedagogy turns passive, note-taking students into active, de facto teachers who explain their ideas to each other and contend for their points of view. Thousands of research studies on learning indicate that “active learning is really at a premium." It’s the most effective thing. Not note taking, and certainly not lecturing.

Yes, I realise that not all of us are as fortunate as the students of Professor Mazur, so what do we do if we are confronted with the reality that some teachers still cling to this inefficient, unsuccessful practice? Simple, don't transcribe, process and reframe (and get a better a teacher if you possibly can).

Note taking really has nothing to do with handwriting or touch-typing. The people I feel for when these debates erupt, are our students who, due to 'special needs' have to type because they don't have the fine motor skills to write, do we really want them to feel like the modes that they have to use are actually inferior?

Stop taking notes and listen!

Personally I like the best of both, but as a general practice, I avoid taking notes at all, and I'm not the only one... This way I can concentrate on the content being communicated, if there is the odd fascinating fact/finding/phenomenon that I absolutely have to record, I take notes by hand, mainly because I find using the temptations proffered by a digital device (know thyself!) quite distracting. After all, all note taking really is is yet another form of the rightly demonised 'multi-tasking' which just results in another 'lose-lose' scenario...  So I minimise note-taking, and later on dictate my core recollections into screen text, (I can't touch-type—yet) which usually involves still more of that all important processing. Also in this day and age, I think we should expect the presenter to provide notes online.

Having trawled the literature I can honestly say that the findings do many things, but criticise the need to learn the skill of touch-typing they do not. The arguments they do make are moot points, as their findings are at best tangential to the questions that surround the considerations that related to touch-typing:

There is also plenty of research that compares touch typing favourably to handwriting:

The computer vs. The pen: a comparative study of word processing... 

"students in the Computer group, on the whole, wrote better than those in a Pen group. According to the Jacobs et al. (1981) Composition Profile, all aspects of writing except Content and Organization showed highly significant differences, with the Computer group exhibiting superior performance".

The need for handwriting to aid letter recognition in the early years

The influence of writing practice on letter recognition in preschool children: A comparison between handwriting and typing. "The results showed that in the older children, the handwriting training gave rise to a better letter recognition than the typing training."

Teaching elementary age children touch-typing as an aid to Language Arts instruction

Typed writing has been shown to improve students reading, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and creative writing abilities.

The word processing approach to language experience

The word processor not only makes LEA easier for teacher and student, it enhances the value of the approach as well.

Looking at the keyboard or the monitor: relationship with text production processes

"In this paper we explored text production differences in an expository text production task between writers who looked mainly at the keyboard and writers who looked mainly at the monitor. Eye-tracking technology and keystroke-logging were combined to systematically describe and define these two groups in respect of the complex interplay between text production and the reading of one’s own emerging text. Findings showed that monitor gazers typed significantly faster and were more productive writers. They also read their own text more, and they frequently read in parallel with writing."

Writing the natural way: on a computer

A model of computer writing skill is presented that consists of four stages of development‐‐(1) Writing Easier, (2) Writing More, (3) Writing Differently, (4) Writing Better‐‐representing the evolution of a natural computer‐based writing approach under favorable conditions. The relevant conditions comprise the starting state of the user and a range of constraints on computer use.

Image: Bruce Almighty, via


The speed of (legible) handwriting (with or without cursive) is much slower with touch-typing. Over to Wikipedia for the breakdown of relative speeds:

The average human being hand-writes at 31 words per minute (WPM) for memorised text and 22 words per minute while copying (Brown CM, 1988).

Whereas an average professional typist types usually in speeds of 50 to 80 wpm, some advanced typists work at speeds above 120 wpm. "Hunt and peck" typists, commonly reach sustained speeds of about 37 wpm for memorised text and 27 WPM when copying text.

Go on, try it yourself, I used typeracer, and scored 35 WPM, first try, then timed myself writing the same text (so a slight advantage) as fast as I could by hand, focusing on speed over beauty, but still maintaining legibility, and scored ... 17 WPM. Pathetic, I know.

So to summarise: that's handwriting at 22 WPM, hunt & peck at 27 WPM (about the same) and between 50-120 WPM for touch-typists. So, if we don't teach our students how to touch-type they are in theory, after ten years of 'hunt and pecking' at least no worse off than they would have been if we'd asked them to write it all by hand. Although research on cognition in relation to writing gives us some pause for thought when they politely highlight the fact that the 'hunting and pecking' process effectively makes the cognitive process of writing far less efficient, as the resources which should be dedicated to composition are instead being dedicated to hunting for letters to peck... 

In other words, when you can touch-type, the cognitive load of writing and thinking at the same time are lessened and free up working memory for thinking—a bit like cycling a bicycle—once the effort required for remaining balanced, and changing gears et cetera are automatic, you can spend more time noticing/enjoying where you are going.  The same idea applies to things like decoding in reading via ‘sight words’, this frees thinking space for understanding instead of decoding.  The absence of effort in one frees cognitive space for the other…

So, the gains with touch-typing frees up cognitive space, and increases speed, with typing hovering in the range of double to triple the speed of handwriting. And of course none of this even considers arguably the most important element; digital text is capable of so much more than handwritten text.

Distinctive features of word processing that support creativity 

"We think that there are distinctive features of ICT that can support creativity and they can be described as follows: 'provisionality', 'interactivity', 'capacity', 'range', 'speed', 'accuracy', 'quality', 'automation', 'multi-modality', 'neutrality' and 'social credibility'."

Loveless A (2002) Literature Review in Creativity, New Technologies and Learning

"The provisionality of ICT enables users to make changes, try out alternatives and keep a 'trace' of the development of ideas. Interactivity engages users at a number of levels, through immediate and dynamic feedback. ICT demonstrates capacity and range in the ways in which it affords access to vast amounts of information locally and globally in different time zones and geographical places. The speed and automation ICT allows tasks of storing, transforming and displaying information to be carried out by the technologies, enabling users to read, observe, interrogate, interpret, analyse and synthesise information at higher levels. Quality can be recognised in the potential to present and publish work to a high standard of appearance and reproduction. Multimodality is reflected in the interaction between modes of text, image, sound, hyper textuality and non-familiarity..." p 94

Loveless, A., & Wegerif, R. (2004). Unlocking creativity with ICT. Unlocking Creativity: A Teacher's Guide to Creativity Across the Curriculum, 92.

Typing is Writing

Confession. I have believed for years that touch-typing is clearly useful, but not essential, why?

• a stubborn reluctance to commit to the discipline that learning this skill requires

• a possibly naïve expectation that keyboards will be go the way of the Walkman soon,

• the recent exponential improvement in the accessibility, reliability and accuracy of speech recognition tools like Apple Dictation.

However, I now realise...

• there are few, if any, life skills that can be learned in less than 3 months based on a commitment of 10-15 minutes a day that would literally reap benefits almost every day, for the rest of our lives, furthermore, with the plethora of online touch-typing tutorial tools it’s never been easier.

• keyboards (or similar) aren’t becoming obsolete any day soon, aside from the profound difficulties people face when thinking and speaking, as opposed thinking and typing, short of wearing a menacing helmet with sensors that allow the computer to recognise my thoughts (and who would really want that?), we are always going to require some sort of physical interface that we can interact with to be able to transmit our ideas into words.

• voice recognition tools lose their efficacy in a shared space, which as a teacher, and certainly for our students, is more than the case than not.

This is not an argument against handwriting, typing is also writing. Our choice, much like the difference between handwriting using print script or flowing cursive, is whether to become adept at typing or to resign ourselves to the mind numbing frustration of ‘hunting and pecking’. The keyboard is here to stay; our choice is to either master it, or to spend the rest of our lives wrestling with it.