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Reflective Practice and Teacher Development

November 9, 2010

Test post from ipod

November 7, 2010

This is a test post from my iPod touch, please ignore

Speak To Me (Speech Recognition and the Computer)

October 25, 2010
Dragon NaturallySpeaking
Image via Wikipedia

talking to your computer may sound like a strange thing to do, though many of us at times may have resorted to swearing at the devices every now and again.

What I am talking about however is speech recognition. This involves getting the computer to recognise human speech and turn it into text on the screen or commands for the computer to perform.

You may have seen adverts for NaturallySpeaking on the TV or in the press and, like me, being intrigued. I will admit that I first tried speech recognition many years ago and found it to be, how shall I say, quite a pain. Back in those days the software and hardware were both quite crude and unreliable and, quite frankly, speech recognition simply did not work.

I’ve been tempted however to give speech recognition another go. I have always felt that there would be a place for speech recognition not just in business but also in education, particularly special education. So I wanted to see if the advances in hardware and software has helped to make speech recognition much more usable nowadays.

Let’s start by saying that you still need patience, and a lot of patience, to set up speech recognition on your computer. Setting up NaturallySpeaking on my desktop computer took the best part of a whole day. This is because the software is always in the large takes a long time to simply install. Once you have installed it is a need to do some training, by which I mean, train your computer. Thankfully, however, there is no need to change your computer and the extent of a few years ago, NaturallySpeaking has a large vocabulary of words it already recognises.

This is a vast improvement over my experiences of a few years ago, though you still have to train it to recognise your accent and pronounciation.This is made a little easier in that it seems to be able to scan your documents and emails to learn common phrases you use.

So far, apart from the time spent installing the program, the biggest hurdle seems to be that over just a short time, the microphone, or the software, loses sensitivity. This means that, after an initially promising start, the software starts making mistakes or is constantly prompting you to ‘say that again’. I don’t know why this seems to happen but it really is a bit of a pain.

Interactive Whiteboards in Education

October 24, 2010

Video edition on SmartboardIt seems that Interactive Whiteboards (IWB) have recently been causing some controversy. Some people seem to be dead set against them. Surprisingly, it is not the anti-technologists or the technophobes who are against them, this time it seems to be some of the leading lights of technology who are decrying their use.

The root of the issue seems to be that some advocates of technology appear to believe that IWBs have somehow set back the development of technology in education. To them, it seems, the way that IWBs are used is a cry back to the old days of ‘chalk and talk’. They see the boards being used like old blackboards with the teacher standing in front of the class teaching direct to the pupils. These teachers seem to feel that they are using technology but, in fact, the technolgy sems to have made very little change or impact upon their teaching. As such, the critics say, people and schools claim that they are making more use of technology in the classroom but, in essence, the change has been very little. The use of IWBs in this way has not brought about any change or transformation in teaching.

I’m really not sure about these critics. Did they really believe that IWBs would bring about a ‘transformation’ in teaching? If they did, then I think they must have been very short-sighted.

I tend to perceive things a little differently. The use of IWBs in classrooms has , it appears to me, extended the use of technology in education. It has enabled ICT to be used in new ways to support a wider range of teaching and learning styles. IWBs have made technology accessible to more teachers because they can now see the possibilities and potential for its use in their teaching.

Above all, IWBs have enabled ICT to be used to whole class and group teaching; this has possibly been the biggest development in educational ICT in the last 5 years. Previously, ICT had been a very individual teaching system. That is to say, each computer could be used to aide the learning of 1 or 2 pupils at a time. To reach a whole class, would entail the use of an ICT suite or require each pupil to have their own laptop PC. Now, there is always a place for ICT suites, but it would not be feasible to have one in every class or teaching area (it would also be very expensive). Each pupil having their own laptop is also very worthwhile but it would be very difficult for a teacher to monitor what each pupil accesses on their screen during a lesson or, indeed, to present the same material to each pupil at the same time. I know that all this is technologically possible but is perhaps beyond the technological capability of your average classroom teacher.

Beyond doubt there is a place and role for class or group learning in our modern educational system. Even in the age of personalised learning, there is an important role for class and group teaching. IWBs have enabled technology to be used for teaching classes and groups. We would be better to take advantage of this and promote its effective use in this role rather than decry its use.

There is, though, one area of IWB use in which I would agree with the critics. The I part of IWB is often ignored or overlooked. That is to say, there is often little Interactivity and the whiteboard is used simply as a projection screen or, worse, as a whiteboard with staff writing on it with marker pens.
It would agree, we need to encourage more Interactivity with IWBs, we also need to demonstrate that the Interactivity is not just between teacher and board but also between pupil(s) and board. Above all, there needs to develop interactivity between whiteboard and other software or peripherals under the control of the teacher or pupil.

There is also one aspect of IWBs with which I feel a certain amount of unease. I’m thinking now about the projector. It really amazes me how this lump of 1960s technology has seen a ressurgence because of the spread of IWBs. Also, the projector seems to fit in with the commercial ‘ethos’ so prevalent in our current society as also evidenced by printers and razors whereby the main piece of equipment (projector, printer, razor) has a reasonable cost that seems to fall in time but the necessary important parts(bulb, ink cartridge, razor blade) seems to cost a fortune and rise inexplicably in price.
I am pleased to see that the technology to manufacture large plasma screens with inbuilt touch sensitive screens is now being exploited, it’s just that the size and cost of such devices still seem initially limiting.

Displaying Pupils' Digital Work

October 17, 2010
A teacher writing on a blackboard.
Image via Wikipedia

This post has been prompted by Terry Freedman’s article on his website about wall displays and it starts with a comment I posted there.

Traditionally a teacher would festoon the classroom and other areas with displays of the pupils’ work, particularly artwork, written work and photographs of events. These might be used to reward pupils for producing exceptional work, to demonstrate work produced by the pupils, or they might be used to encourage and provide exemplars, above all, they would be used to support pupil learning.

Nowadays, pupils produce more and more work in digital formats and the question is raised as to what is the best way to display such work.  Or are we to lose the benefit of wall displays simply because digital work cannot be easily displayed? Some of the work can be printed out and displayed in a traditional way but somehow, unless it’s a product designed to be printed, that would seem to almost defeat the object.

I have seen some schools use large monitor screens for display purposes, generally though they seem to be used to display promotional clips of the school and seem aimed at visitors. Rarely do they seem to be used to display pupils’ work and far more rarely do they seem to be used in pupil areas. The cost of such systems probably act against their widespread use in schools. Also, unlike simple display boards, such electronic display systems are rarely simple to use and are often outside the ‘domain’ of the class teacher.

Nevertheless, I do feel that flat panels could be a way (perhaps an expensive way) of displaying pupils’ digital creations.The technology should be becoming cheaper and many flat televisions can display images from a memory card. Even simple electronic photo frames could be used, some of these can display video too, though as the size still tends to be on the small size, they could hardly be considered classroom displays.

Not all digital creations are visual, though, and I’ve yet to think of a way of effectively displaying pupils’ audio creations; though I’d guess that IP radio systems might be a way of distributing pupils’ podcasts around a school.

I’d be interested to hear/see how schools have tried to tackle this issue.

But then, perhaps I’m falling into the trap of thinking about classrooms in the traditional sense? Maybe we can display pupils digital work in a digital environment such as a virtual classroom or a VLE. It may not have the same impact as a physical display in a classroom but it should be simple to add links to other pupils’ digital content for a learner to access, or maybe ‘advert’ like banners to encourage the learner to explore other pupils’ work or even simply to embed digital content within a pupil’s space.

Links to various Electronic Display suppliers

I’d be very interested to hear or see how schools have addressed this area.

The Best and Most Rewarding Job?

October 13, 2010
"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...
Image via Wikipedia

You’d think that working with children and young people, helping them learn, grow and develop would be one of the best and most rewarding of jobs. Yet often it isn’t. Just ask any teacher about the stress, the long hours, the pressures of working in a school and you’ll begin to wonder if there isn’t someting wrong with our education system.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll uncover more of the story. Teachers will tell you that it isn’t working with the pupils that’s the problem; it’s all the extra bits! By which they usually mean the paper work, the long hours spent in school and at home on preparation or marking. This has long been the case in education but has it got any worse over the years and what role does technology play in this?

I believe that technology is both an aid and a culprit when we look into teacher stress. Let me give you an example, take lesson planning; lesson planning takes time, it takes time to identify the aims, objectives and outcomes of a lesson, to identify and plan the use of resources, to set evaluation and success criteria, to identify differentiation etc.. Using a computer may make it easier to draw up lesson plans in a common format or template, printing a lesson plan may well be easier than writing it out by hand but does this mean it takes less time to create a lesson plan? Not really, it is the thinking and the planning that goes into a good lesson plan that takes time rather than the writing, so typing and printing saves only a small amount of time compared to writing by hand.

So why, then, do we expect teachers to write more detailed lesson plans? By using computers, we are often asking teachers to spend longer doing lesson plans than they used to. Ironic isn’t it?

Some people, and I am not one of them, believe that the purpose of ICT in schools is to make admin tasks quicker and easier for teachers so that they can devote more time to teaching and learning. This may sound good but what is happening is that teachers are being asked to do more and more admin tasks that take them away from teaching and learning.

Few teachers come into the profession, if it can still be called a profession, to do paper work. Teachers are not office workers and should not be regarded as such. The professional teacher is concerned with pupil learning, getting the best out of their pupils. Professional teachers welcome technology into the classroom where it has a clear benefit for learning and that, I feel, should be the focus of using technology in schools.

I’m sure that if we focused our efforts in using technology in support of learning rather than emphasising its role in school administration, we could once again see a happy workforce of teachers and also see learners benefiting from working with happy school staff.

The Real Purpose of ICT in Schools

October 11, 2010

School ICT suite

I don’t think anyone could deny that ICT or Educational Technology is a very versatile tool for schools.

If I were to ask you to list all the ways in which technology is used in your school, you’d come up with a list as long as your arm. Perhaps, I should rephrase that to read ‘the ways in which technology could be used in your school’ because I think it’s almost certain that few of us use the technology to its full capability.

Among the uses that you might mention, could be;

  • Writing reports,
  • preparing lesson plans,
  • monitoring attendance,
  • collecting data on pupils,
  • measuring progress
  • assessing pupils’ ability
  • writing letters to parents
  • creating policy documents, schemes of work etc.

all of which are very valid roles and tasks for the computer but they are not what the technology was originally put into schools for

When we first started putting computers into schools, we did not put them in to help teachers create reports and plans, we did not put them in to monitor and assess pupil progress, they were not even put in for teachers to use!

Computers were first put into schools to help pupils learn and, I would argue, this remains the prime reason for having computers in schools.

Yet, we seem to be in danger of forgetting this.

Too often, we see eduction technology discussed on an institutional level with its network infrastructures or as an administrative tool with its bloat of office software and services or as a ‘teachers’ tool with its aids for preparation, planning and lesson delivery. All of these have their place in schools but they do not always serve the prime role of schools, which is to educate pupils. Why is it that we feel it is right for every teacher in a school to have a laptop but not every pupil?

Even at times when we discuss how technology can help learning, it turns into a debate into how teachers can use the technology rather than the learners.

I hear people criticise schools because they have not used ICT to help save money. Yet saving money has never been the purpose behind putting ICT into schools. By all means criticise schools if they fail to utilise the technology for learning; that, learning, is the main purpose of a school. Criticise schools where money may not have been spent wsisely or correctly but please don’t criticise schools for not using ICT to save money when that was never the purpose of it.

At this time, schools, like everyone else (perhaps more than anyone else), are feeling the brunt of government cutbacks in spending and there is obviously concern as to how money, what money there may be, can be spent wisely. At such times as this, I feel schools need to refocus their attention on their core business; which is the education of learners. No matter what economic climate we live in, people expect schools to provide learning and that will be the criterion by which schools will be judged rather than their ability to maintain overblown network and administrative infrastructures.