Forum theatre and digital education dilemmas: let’s improvise!

I ran a workshop yesterday at the Association for Learning Technology’s annual conference in Edinburgh. The title was the same as this post. I’ve copied below the abstract for the workshop. A number of people have expressed an interest in doing something similar in their institutions, so I am making my scripts and own workshop notes available for anyone to re-use and re-mix.

Forum Theatre Workshop Notes ALTC 2019

Forum Theatre Scripts Digital education dilemmas ALTC 2019

Let me know how you get on and if you want any help, please get in touch.

 

Session Description
This will be an interactive workshop where participants will be invited to join in with discussion, games and short improvisations.

There is an increasing need for informed debate about the unintended consequences of the use of digital technologies for teaching and learning. Learning analytics, artificial intelligence, algorithmic bias and platform surveillance are problems with which learning technologists and educators must wrestle (Williamson, 2015, 2017). Yet, what agency do educators and those who support them have over the technologies they choose to use? How can, for example, individuals act with integrity when institutions mandate the use of platforms which commodify student data (Morris & Stommel, 2017)? And for those who work in the open, how can they guard against disadvantaging those who may not have the same access or privileges? These issues inevitably have an impact on learners and learning.

Forum theatre was established by Boal (1985) as way to draw an audience into debates by using short plays as provocations. When audience members see a situation they think could be handled differently, they intervene and change the course of a story. This workshop will explore a series of brief scenarios where educators and learners are faced with problematic situations concerning the use of digital technology for teaching and learning. The purpose of the workshop is for participants to work together to explore alternative approaches.

Forum theatre has been used in contexts to stimulate debate about difficult situations, often focusing on power inequalities, oppression and the importance of dialogue. By directly intervening, participants can bring their own knowledge and experience to bear to the scene. Forum theatre is suitable for complex situations where there is no one solution and the ensuing discussion is often the most generative part of the session. No prior performing experience is necessary.

Teaching is often described as performance. Many performers within theatre would dispute that performance is an act of concealment, but more a process of self-revelation which is predicated on authenticity (Brook, 1996). We teach with our ‘whole selves’ and this workshop will introduce playful ways of exploring pressing issues around the use of digital technologies for teaching and learning. For one hour, participants will be invited to forget any preconceptions of what to expect from a conference workshop and co-create some serious play.

Session content
This will take the form of a theatre workshop involving warm-up exercises and games, script reading and improvisation. There are no requirements for any technology/BOYD but a room with a flexible open space is necessary e.g. it can be cleared of furniture to accommodate a performance area. Video recording may therefore be difficult, and may inhibit participants. Photography, however, would be fine.

References
Brook, P., (1996), The empty space: A book about the theatre: Deadly, holy, rough, immediate. Simon and Schuster.

Boal, A., (1985), Theatre of the Oppressed, trans. Charles A. and Maria-Odilia Leal McBride (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1979).

Morris, S. M., & Stommel, J., (2017), A Guide for Resisting EdTech: The Case Against Turnitin. Hybrid Pedagogy, 15. http://hybridpedagogy.org/resisting-edtech/

Williamson, B., (2015), Coding/learning: Software and digital data in education: A Report from the ESRC Code Acts in Education seminar series. Stirling. https://codeactsineducation.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/coding_learning_-_software_and_digital_data_in_education.pdf

Williamson, B., (2017), Learning in the ‘platform society’: Disassembling an educational data assemblage. Research in Education, 98(1), pp. 59–82 DOI: 10.1177/0034523717723389.

Building Learning Communities Through Building in a Virtual World (Minecraft)…and then breaking it

On Wednesday I ran two workshops for Edinburgh Napier staff on Minecraft. It was billed as a hands-on exploration with a view to thinking about how it could be used for learning and teaching. As it happened, it was an experience in how to manage vastly different skill levels where some participants jumped in confident in their ability to navigate a 3D world, while others struggled to orientate themselves. Feedback mentioned feeling quite uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. This was not accidental, as I was hoping for participants to experience what it is like as an inexpert learner in a wholly disorienting space. I was also hoping that they would collaborate in the world to do tasks together. I think I achieved the former, while the latter was less in evidence, although there was very lively conversations between participants in real life as they were sitting side-by-side in a computer lab.

I had designed the world with escape rooms where participants had to work together to

hello

Unexpected vandalism

break free to an area where they could do unstructured building. Education Edition Minecraft includes Scratch-like coding plug-ins and in the afternoon workshop, one enthusiastic participant managed to overwrite the escape rooms with huge letters made out of grass and earth spelling out ‘Hello’. It was chaotic and yet another lesson that I can’t always control what learning happens.

Yesterday I spoke about the workshops during our Learning and Teaching conference. Here  are the slides I used including responses from staff on some questions I posed about the conference.

Here is the blurb for my talk:

Drawing on the workshops during the research and teaching day, this session will explore how the ‘LEGO-like’ building functions of Minecraft can allow users to manipulate their environment, thereby developing skills in design and creativity. Doing so collaboratively necessitates communication and co-operation, enabling the building of social presence and relationships, an area notoriously difficult to achieve in distance and online learning. By working through tasks as novices, the workshop participants experienced what it is like to be a beginner learner and the dis-ease and emotional responses this can create in the individual. Mistakes are inevitable and wholly necessary to learn how to use the various tools in Minecraft. The 3D environment also prompts questions around accessibility and inaccessibility, including how some digital technologies can be disadvantageous for some while inclusive for others. Lessons from the workshops will be shared, including what it was like to learn, collaborate and ‘fail’ in an unfamiliar environment and how this could inform planning and design of learning for students. It will end with a short plenary discussing experiences, drawing on all the sessions during the day.

Key literature
Sharples, M., De Roock, R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi, C.-K., Mcandrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M. and Wong, L. H. (2016) Innovating Pedagogy 2016 Exploring new forms of teaching, learning and assessment, to guide educators and policy makers. doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.20677.04325.

‘Have cake days!’: The pragmatism, wisdom and humour of women

In January I was asked to speak at the University of the Highlands and Islands at a special event for their Women’s Network during the Digital Education week. As the nature of the institution is distributed geographically, the workshop participants were both face-to-face and online. You can view my presentation via the link at the end of this page. My approach was inspired by my involvement with the #femedtech network and the work of Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell, specifically a paper they presented at the Association for Learning Technology’s conference in September 2018 called ‘A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology‘. They encouraged women in education technology to share their personal stories and I contributed my experiences in this blog post. They invited contributions to a Google Doc with links to their blogs and answers to a lovely ‘think-pair-share’ activity. My presentation at UHI was a development of my blog post, and hopefully of relevance to women working in higher education generally.

We followed my presentation with a discussion, framed around the following four questions.

  • What are the top 3 things that have influenced your career?
  • What are the 3 values you bring to your work?
  • What things can we do to take care of ourselves?
  • What could we do to help others?

I used Mentimeter to gather the answers anonymously from both face-to-face and online participants. I think their thoughts are too good not to share in their entirety here. There’s pragmatism, wisdom and humour. And cake.

What are the top 3 things that have influenced your career?
Aiming to add value in what I do
Seeking interesting work
Expanding my knowledge
Finding the right place for my family
support from colleagues who believe in me, curiosity, moments of bravery (which overcome persistent fear!)
Passion for learning
Being a mother
Family location and commitment
Life experiences, happenstance, supportive managers focused on enhancing development
Job availability, luck, interest
Motherhood
Creative education
Networks
Having my son, having a supportive husband (and the privilege/pressure of me being the “main” earner, the affordability (or not) of educational goals
Financial responsibilities, identifying with the organisation, curiosity about everything
A talk that inspire me just after finishing my degree
Family, location, personal interest.
Enthusiasm for what I do and can do
Being encouraged by what others have done to progress their career
Drive
Encouraging teacher, volunteering, supportive manager
Opportunity
Hard work
Luck
Luck. Personal drive. Big picture vision of my own future
Family, learning opportunities, accidental events
Life purpose
My mother
Passion about equality
The people who support me
Relationships, having children, chance
Hard Work, Great employer who encourages CPD, Taking opportunities.
Nature and being outdoors
2nd answer- On reflection have fitted round my partner and his career A LOT
Integrity, respect and tenacity
Commitment and belief in myself
Parents, schools career advice or lack of it, work placement
Luck, encouragement, self belief
Desire to make a difference,then a bigger difference to people’s lives
Interest in people and what motivates them
can do and muck in, commitment, humour
Inspiring others
A TV programme I watched when I was 11 years old

What are the 3 values you bring to your work?
Supporting others, Adding value, Being true to myself
honesty, curiosity, patience
Passion and commitment for what I do
Positive work ethic
Integrity, work ethic, honesty
Integrity, openness, flexibility
Commitment, integrity, respect
Passion, criticality, accountability
Knowledge and experience, tenacity, attention to detail
Integrity, drive for social justice, empathy
Integrity, honesty and respect
Using what I have learned to guide me, being ethical, doing my best
Respect, equality and integrity
integrity. professionalism. respect
Honesty, fairness, openness
Honesty,humanity and kindness
Respect, Passion, Positivity
Kindness, Creativity and Commitment
Honesty, Curiosity, Enthusiasm

What things can we do to take care of ourselves?
Take time out; Self-Awareness; Nurture ourselves and our friendships and ; openness to others;
Slow down! Set aside time to plan, think, and digest.
Focus upon positive mental health. Be kind to ourselves. Have confidence in what we do.
Find a balance between work and life, share with others if struggling for whatever reason, develop a supportive network
Rest, fight our own corner, seek help from colleagues
Self belief, ask for help/take it, be kind to ourselves
Pause the effort to “have it all” sometimes, to take a moment to enjoy the things you’ve accomplished so far, or the things you’ve neglected in the process.
Be true to our values
Dance it out! 😉
Get enough sleep, don’t assume responsibility for things that are not your responsibility, be open and share how you feel.
Work/life balance
Being organised, looking after physical health, having a work life balance
Say ‘no’
Remember that it is just a job
Speak out
learn to say no. compartmentalise the important/less important things. make the most of nourishing opportunities!
Listen, self-awareness and sleep
Be authentic
Make time for yourself
Learn how to say no
Always make time to see the people that support you
Ensure we do things that align with our values
Don’t accept a situation we wouldn’t expect others to accept.
Communicate better
Remind ourselves our work is only one part of our lives and possibly not the most important.
be at one with yourself
Nurture our health and well-being to enable us to work and live as best we can.

What could we do to help others?
Share our personal stories
Be more confident that change can be achieved
Give time to them – to listen, to support their ideas.
Listen to and understand them. Provide the support they need either personally or through direction to other resources
Be honest about the challenges. Don’t try and look perfect. Open up channels of communication and support
Recognise we are human! Be kind, listen, give space, give others a voice
Offer support
Listen. Support. Don’t patronise
Listen carefully, be kind, make time for them.
Listen, make time, empathise
Listen with fascination
Offer support
Don’t judge
respect their views even if we disagree. be pragmatic. be up to date on important changes
Listen, be kind and be supportive
Dare to be our authentic selves in workplace
Be supportive
Encourage others
Listen to what others have to say
Listen
Offer Help
Encourage
Listen
Lead by example
Bring joy to the table
Be encouraging, recognise good work
Make the most of their talents, be encouraging and find ways to reduce their concerns
Acknowledge life events have impact on people’s work at times eg grief,caring for others
Mentoring
Share our own vulnerabilities
Have empathy
Have cake days!

Personal stories: presentation by Louise Drumm at UHI Women’s Network 22nd January 2019

Theatre, feminism and learning technology – a personal story

Theatre is a collaborative, experiential space where we share and create stories, mapping the personal onto the political and vice versa. It is a transformation of individuals into an assemblage of audience, actors, space and, mostly but not always, text.

It is a form of expression and Dublin Youth Theatre embodies this, upholding artistic excellence in performance while giving young people a voice, bringing together people from every part of society. I was lucky to join DYT as a 16 year old and it challenged my (middle-class) assumptions about the purpose of the arts, who could make it and who it was for. While still at school, criticality and inclusion were instilled and role-modeled to me by a number of amazing theatre professionals who volunteered as leaders in DYT. I knew I was never going to be an actor, but I started to write plays and direct them. I did an arts degree in English Literature, while keeping up my extracurricular work in theatre (my grades may have suffer admittedly). In university I was introduced to (very dry) critical, feminist and postcolonial theory, while my other life was seeking creative expressions of authenticity and empowerment. I think the rest of my life has been a slow entanglement of these two things. I started to see the inequalities surrounding and controlling me. As another DYT member casually remarked in conversation, “What hope have we got when this state doesn’t recognise rape within marriage?” It felt like there was not just one, but whole range of mountains to climb to overcome inequality in both Irish legislation and societal perceptions. I joined campaigns. I went on marches. Some school friends stopped talking to me.

After university I worked as a theatre technician for a number of years – stage management, lighting and sound technician. As you can imagine, there were times when people passed comments on a perceived dissonance between my role and my gender, but not often. Flash forward a few years and I was directing plays and running my own theatre company. Again, the people I worked directly with, the actors, the designers, the technicians, had no difficulty in working under me as the creative authority. Then I hit a glass ceiling and my career shattered. I had been appointed as a staff director at the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre – basically the biggest gig in the country for a young director. I was the first woman to hold the position and I was told that was why they were interested in appointing me at my ‘interview’. For 18 months I was put on the shelf and consistently overlooked for directing jobs within the theatre, even though I was spawning projects on contemporary European plays and overhauling the audition system. I directed readings, but the head of the theatre never came to one of them. Through I casual conversation with a male colleague in the same role I discovered that I was paid £7,000 less than him. I went to the (then named) Equality Authority and the theatre agreed to give me a lump sum, but no shows to direct and no extension of my contract. I had effectively ended my very hard-won career by calling them out. A few years ago I revisited this all again during the #wakingthefeminists uprising where women in Irish theatre started to share stories of their experience of discrimination and sexism. I was shocked to realise that much has not changed, but their tireless campaigning is hopefully putting an end to this. During #wakingthefeminists, many people I worked with sent me lovely messages and I know that there are many actors, many women in theatre now, to whom I gave a ‘leg up’ when I had the power to do so. I no longer blame myself for what happened. This was an important lesson for me. I know I was an excellent director.

After the Abbey Theatre, I left my country and career behind and indulged my interest in computing with an MSc in the University of Glasgow. This led, by way of revisiting my Old and Middle English Literature roots, to elearning. Much like theatre, working in learning technology requires a mixture of creativity, technical understanding and, above all, collaboration with a range of people. It was a good fit for me. After working on a very successful project in one university, we needed to extend our team and recruited another learning technologist from within the university. It turns out that this other (male) learning technologist was being paid £5,000 more than I was, so I got a raise. I’m not sure it ever occurred to me to ask for back pay.

As time passed, I could see that my knowledge and expertise in both pedagogy and technology were not being recognised and used. Decisions were being made about university policies and systems and I was never asked to be at the table, yet I had to work with the outcomes. So, to extend myself beyond my comfort zone, and in an effort to ‘legitimise’ my knowledge, I started looking for a PhD. And I found one. It was a brilliant experience and a studentship meant I could focus on just that for a few years: a real luxury.

In parallel with my careers, there is the backdrop of a political narrative, particularly in relation to Ireland. As an undergraduate I campaigned for ‘legalisation of homosexual acts’ (we still had British Victorian laws on the statute books) and the repeal of prohibition of abortion. It is with great joy that I celebrated the decisive referendum results to reverse the eight amendment this year and the introduction of marriage equality in 2015. The country in which I grew-up is very different now. When I stood up about these things when I was an undergraduate, some people stopped speaking to me. I know that wouldn’t be the case now. Ireland has re-found the power of personal stories to move people to a more progressive, open outlook. Above all, I have benefited personally and professionally from those who share their experiences.

How else otherwise would we know that we are not alone?

Debunking Pseudo Theories

During my PhD research* on how lecturers rationalise their digital teaching, one of the strong themes that emerged from data of lecturers talking about their teaching was their use of folk pedagogies and pseudo theories. I extended Olson and Bruner’s (1996) definition of folk pedagogies to include, not just theory of mind about how others learn, but also how educators have experienced learning themselves and the cultural norms about teaching with which they are surrounded (e.g. disciplinary pedagogies). Intersecting with these are pseudo theories like the neuromyths (Newton 2015) of learning styles or technology truisms like ‘digital natives’. (If you need a refresher on why these ideas are problematic, you’ll find a selection of references critiquing learning styles and digital nativism at the end of this post.)

addition black and white black and white chalk

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

Now drawing the line between what constitutes a valid way for an educator to conceptualise their teaching, and what is a lazy, damaging yet persistent idea is tricky. On one hand, I trust educators as experts in what they do, even though they may not be experts at talking about what they do. However they want to present their ideas about teaching and learning, especially if they are thinking about and owning their teaching, I think is fine. And yet, if they choose to use the idea of learning styles as justification for distributing digital content in lots of different formats to their students, is that a problem? Taking into account that they may be retro-fitting a pseudo theory onto a teaching practice which was originally an experiment to ‘see what would happen if…’, what should be done when these ideas get passed around in rooms where teaching is being discussed?

I have been in such a room where one unfortunate lecturer spoke about their disconnection from their younger students because they were ‘digital natives’ and there was practically a stampede to sound the Klaxons and ‘correct’ his thinking. But just because an idea has been found to be potentially limiting to the ways of thinking about students, it doesn’t mean that this lecturer’s framing of his experience of reality is ‘wrong’. I’ve also witnessed teaching which presented learning styles as a supposedly valid learning theory, only to wait and see if the learners (themselves university lecturers) would uncover the body of literature critiquing learning styles and revise their opinions. To me, this feels a bit unethical, as they are being ‘caught out’ for assuming something is ‘valid’, when some (but not all) of the literature says it is not. It also represents knowledge in this area as a right/wrong binary.

Of course, there is a further problem that if you start splitting hairs, there are roots of valid theory in some interpretations of learning styles (which is actually a very wide area once you get into it). Cognitivism is concerned with the individual’s cognitive structure and how it accommodates new knowledge, so if we accept this, we must also accept that people have different cognitive structures so learning happens differs from person to person. So far, so understandable. This is happens during a face-to-face lecture, everyone hears and processes what is said differently. The problem arises when generalisations of ‘personalised’ learning are used to classify people, and frankly, guess what they might need. (In my data not one of the I lecturers who talked about personalised learning or learning styles also gathered information on what individual students needed or whether these interventions were successful, so was this truly ‘personalisation’?) When we talk about learning styles or personalised learning, or even digital natives, we often mean different things.

These pseudo theories are immensely powerful. They must be to be so persistent. They can be easily absorbed and used as short-cuts so that there is no need for further discussion or analysis of what is actually happening. Many educators absorb them into their own folk pedagogies. It is my belief that rather rolling our eyes and ranting on Twitter when we hear someone talking about teaching using a pseudo theory, that it is an opportunity to engage with how educators think about their teaching. Pseudo theories and folk pedagogies have tremendous meaning for individuals, so rather than confront them and try to change their conceptions, there should be scope for lecturers to shape and change the meaning of the pseudo theory for themselves. This should not be in prescribed ways i.e. changing it from ‘wrong’ to ‘right’. If pseudo theories are being used, it is because of a failure of ‘valid’ theories to be meaningful to educators about their teaching, not a failure of those educators.

Perhaps I am being naïve and even contradicting myself, but I think there must be a way to turn pseudo theories into productive conversations, where educators retain agency over their choices and conceptualisations of teaching. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has ideas or experience on how to move discussions on from pseudo theories.

* Yes, before you ask, I am trying to get work from my thesis published and you will be the first to know when I am successful.

Bulfin, S., Henderson, M. and Johnson, N. 2013. Examining the use of theory within educational technology and media research. Learning, Media and Technology, 38(3), pp.337–344.

Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E. and Ecclestone, K. 2004. Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning. A systematic and critical review. London.

Cuevas, J. 2015. Is learning styles-based instruction effective? A comprehensive analysis of recent research on learning styles. Theory and Research in Education, 13(3), pp.308–333.

Kirschner, P. and van Merriënboer, J.J.G. 2013. Do learners really know best? Urban legends in education. Educational Psychologist, 48(3), pp.169–183.

Kirschner, P.A. 2016. Stop propagating the learning styles myth. Computers & Education.

Nasah, A., DaCosta, B., Kinsell, C. and Seok, S. 2010. The digital literacy debate: an investigation of digital propensity and information and communication technology. Educational Technology Research and Development, 58(5), pp.531–555.

Newton, P.M. 2015. The learning styles myth is thriving in higher education. Frontiers in Psychology, 6(1908), pp.1–5.

Olson, D.R. and Bruner, J.S. 1996. Folk Psychology and Folk Pedagogy. IN: D. R. Olson and N. Torrance (eds.) The handbook of education and human development: New models of learning teaching and schooling. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 9–27.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D. and Bjork, R. 2008. Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), pp.105–119.

A seminar on roadblocks to using technology-enhanced learning

Photo of sign saying 'Road closed'

Road closed for Edinburgh playing out

I attended a really interesting presentation this morning by Joel Smith on research he conducted with Laruen Herckis on the ‘Complex Barriers to Instructional Innovation with Technology’ at Carnegie Mellon University in the US. The seminar did two things which made me very glad I attended. Firstly, the research findings aligned closely to my own research, even though their disciplinary approaches (philosophy and anthropology) are different, which is always encouraging. Secondly, it reinforced to me the importance of educators having space and support to talk about, and develop, their understandings of teaching, before conversations about specific methods or technologies are discussed. I want to facilitate these very conversations and this is the reason I did a PhD in this area, and why I want to do more teaching. It’s nice when a seminar validates your life choices.

Their final report is yet to be published, but you can read about it briefly here. They identified four ‘roadblocks’ to educators at their institution using technology for teaching and learning.

1. Collaborations often failed because of miscommunication around priorities. This can be avoided if there is someone, a ‘champion’, to co-ordinate and clarify communication.

I recognise a lot of my previous work as a learning technologist in this point; I often found myself doing the ‘chasing up’ emails with academic staff, detailing actions to be taken and expected time-frames. Without that, things often fell apart.

2. Institutional structures and processes are out of sync with individuals careers, institutional support for teaching, technology infrastructure and global changes in technology.

Yes, there is never really the time to take a step back and dig deeper into teaching. In previous roles I’ve had, there have been years when there was never a good time to take annual leave, as all non-teaching time was spent developing online teaching content or staff development. Joel spoke about how achieving tenure was a priority for educators in his institution and, until that point, they could not afford examine their own teaching. There is also a slow/fast mismatch between higher education and technology (there is a really interesting examination of this by Land and Bayne 2008), although I think anyone working at a HEI these days is most likely reconciled to the inevitability of restructuring, change, etc. The slowness of higher education can mean wide-scale adoption of technology is a deliberate act, so perhaps hasty mistakes are avoided. On the other hand, the look-and-feel of many VLEs can give the sense of being in a time-machine. I don’t really believe that universities need to be on top of all the new technologies, but I do think they have a responsibility to be ahead on the big issues like data use, ethics and ways technology and human behaviour are enmeshed and changing each other.

3. Concepts of ‘good teaching’ held by educators are extremely strong and difficult to displace, even in the face of evidence-based alternatives. 

I think it is even more than this – we can hold two contradictory ideas of ‘good teaching’ as simultaneously true. As humans we tend to compartmentalise, and I have seen educators who put teaching in their discipline in one box, and put teaching in all other disciplines in another box and never the twain pedagogies shall meet. Examples include remarks about discussion boards, MCQs, reflective writing ‘not working in my subject’. Also, changing (or really expanding) these mental models of ‘good teaching, takes time. Again, the extended support, or indeed provocations, from colleagues to help this happen need to be planned for and resourced.

4. The academics who took part in this research had strong identities as teachers and their actions were strongly influenced by student satisfaction. This led to a reluctance to change their teaching or adopt new methods for fear of alienating their students.

One subjects of this study was quote on their desire not to embarrass themselves in front of students. In my research, a number of lecturers stated similar concerns, often with technology eliciting strongly negative emotions. The point about teacher identity and perceived threats from technology were also present in my research, although some were more comfortable embracing external influences on their teacher identity.

Their recommendations for addressing these roadblocks were that polices and practices needed to facilitate conversations to uncover educators’ mental models. At the end I asked Joel a question on how to have those important conversations about conceptions of teaching at an earlier stage of the process (i.e. before decisions are being made about technology). His answer was that university administrators have understand this and put in place procedures to enable this happen. I couldn’t agree more. We are fortunate in countries like Ireland and the UK that universities provide

professional development and qualifications in teaching, particularly to new staff. However, I can see that in the 10 years since I obtained my PgCert in teaching, educational research and thinking has moved on. It would be good to see policies put in place to sustain and develop these conversations about conceptions of teaching throughout an educators’ career.

The tale of Ada Lovelace, a 7 year old boy and a Tweet

I tweeted this last week and it went proverbially viral.
Vincent_tweet_May2018
At the time of writing it is heading towards 90,000 impressions on Twitter. It feels a bit odd that it’s got so much traction, but as a wise friend commented, people like a nice story. So here is a little more about it. I tweeted it because it brings together a number of things I’m think are important and I wanted to show the impact institutions, practices and tools can have on one child. I’m not an advocate for universal coding education, as I discuss here, but here’s what happened in the instance of this little boy.

When my twin sons were 6 we got them books on inventions and computers and coding. When we read through the inventions book together, I’ll admit, I editorialised a bit on why so many inventors seemed to be men. One of my sons took a lot of interest in binary code, unicode and algorithms. Underneath one of the lift-the-flaps in the computing book, was Ada Lovelace.

Later that year I attended a fantastic Ada Lovelace day at the University of Edinburgh and when I got home I showed my photos of the Lego Ada set to my children. This peaked their interest and they began to join the dots in the information they had. Meanwhile they were getting amazing support in learning to read at school and had been benefiting from the Scottish Book Trust’s Bookbug bags with free CDs and books since they were babies. Without reading skills as a foundation, none of this would have happened. To encourage my son who appeared to have interest in code, we got him a Raspberry Pi for Christmas. Our local library in Newington provided a supply of books on Scratch, drawn from libraries across Edinburgh and he worked his way through them. They have no overdue fines for children’s books, thankfully.

Then after Easter he was assigned a project at school to give a short Powerpoint presentation on someone who inspires him. He, quite logically, worked out that as he loves to code and coding exists because of Ada Lovelace, therefore she should be his person. He searched for some images and read up on her some more. He included screenshots (see image below) of Scratch, to demonstrate to his classmates how an algorithm works. scratchcode_2He practised, standing tall with a clear voice – something he would never have been able to do a few years ago. I have to credit the school with this as he has consistently been given support to develop his confidence in public, even when this was difficult for him.

Afterwards he was happy with how it went and his classmates wanted to know more about Scratch. A day later when he came out of school, he whispered to me that at school assembly he’d been made ‘star of the week’. On further probing I discovered he had been asked to get up and speak more about his presentation and to explain what Twitter is – that Tweet had been around the world a few ten-thousand times by stage. The school has asked him to participate in the school fair showing other children how to use Scratch. He is learning that what started as a solitary pursuit is something he can share and even teach. For someone who has times where he struggles with the emotional ups and downs of life, this is a massive boost. It doesn’t solve everything, but it is something that is all his.

His twin brother has different pursuits and aptitudes, equally interesting and inspiring. Just different. He might explore coding more at another time, or maybe not. Interestingly, they get on better with each other the more they carve out their own niches. They are privileged to have access to the skills, support and tools so they can pursue these interests. While are still young enough to pay attention to me, I try to point this out to them and the responsibilities that go with that privilege. Just as one demonstrated that it is perfectly normal for a boy to have a role model who happens to be female, the other insisted his piano teacher edited a piece of music thus, to “make it fair”:
oznor

They continue to surprise me.