The inevitable progress of mobile devices in education

I have just downloaded a  new publication from the excellent Edutopia organisation. The publication is called “Mobile Devices for Learning: What You Need to Know“.

The guide shows just how little has been done in American schools to allow students to bring in devices such as cell phones and iPads that are very much a part of their everyday life out of school.

They give some excellent links to some brilliant Apps and sites for students of all ages.These just go to show how potentially  powerful the access to these sites can be for students.

It is interesting to note that “many schools don’t allow cell phones and the like. New York City schools, for example, have prohibited students from bringing cell phones, or electronic devices in general, to class. According to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, “Turning on Mobile Learning in North America” (, “only Illinois and New Hampshire have implemented state-level initiatives that focus on mobile learning.”

But they are all fighting against a tide that will eventually overwhelm them! To try and ignore the devices is ridiculous to many of us. I am only too aware about the interest of allowing mobile phones into school due to the fact that my most popular post ever has been the following:

10 reasons we should allow mobile phones into schools « Malcolm…/10reasonsweshouldallowmobilephonesinShare

27 Aug 2010 – They are powerful tools 2. They are easy to use 3. The children do not need to be trained in their use they know it already…. they can show you!

You’ve visited this page 2 times. Last visit: 19/05/12
This is the number 1 on the Google search on “reasons to allow mobile phones into schools”.
I would strongly recommend that you download the Edutopia publication. If you haven’t yet looked at their site then it is well worth a look at as a guide to 21st century education in general. They are particularly strong on Project Based Learning.
If you have the time why not give my “10 Reasons” a read. I would welcome any comments on that post or this.


The importance of data visualisation

For the last four weeks I have been taking an online course on “Sustainability”. I have looked at a number of issues like population growth and climate change.

I have noticed that a key part of the information that I have been looking at is a vast array of data. This is often presented as various forms of graph presented in different ways. Most of the information is presented in a manner that I have been used to throughout my life… bar charts, line graphs using the traditional X and Y axis.

I have though come across a really interesting presentation of data that uses advances in technology to allow for an interactive approach to data presentation. This approach is called “data visualisation” and basically allows you to take information presented in a pictorial form and play around with it.

This approach has been pioneered by people such as Hans Rosling, who, in some brilliant TED Talks, has been able to use visualisation to show just how changes in population, health and education have effected the world in the last fifty years and how it might play out in the future. To get a really good idea of his use of these visualisation techniques see his excellent website “Gapminder“.

In order to play around with some visualisation for yourself I would recommend that you look at Google’s tool “Public Data Explorer” and look at this video given by Hans Rosling’s son Ola:


Another powerful site that will show you the possibility of interactive data inquiry is “The Civil War“. In this site you can play around with a timeline to look at a period of the war and also look at a map to locate where certain battles took part. You can look at data about battles throughout the war and ask yourself pertinent questions that arise from what you find out.

One thing I noticed was a huge Confederate defeat in May/ June 1863 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This was to be the making of the reputation of the commander of the Union Forces, Ulysses S. Grant. This was a battle I knew nothing about and I was able to find out about it by looking at a graph of Union/Confederate casualties that showed an obvious difference between the two competing forces as I ran my mouse across and came to the battle of Vicksburg.

This interactivity with data is surely the way that we must get our students to play around with data  and form questions and  hypotheses. It is yet another way that new technology is challenging the old ideas.We cannot just give our students the information that we want them to look at…we must leave them free to explore the ever-increasing data that they can interact with so powerfully.

Coursera: opening doors

As some of my regular readers will know, I have recently started a course on “Sustainability” which is one of the many free quality higher education courses available through “Coursera“.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of this course. I have learnt a lot about the problems relating to the world’s growing population and the effects of a growing human population on climate. I have examined seen some really good lectures and some excellent videos and most importantly, have joined in a discussion every week with fellow students of all ages from all walks of life throughout the world.

I have been fortunate in my life because I went to a University and then was able to do an M.A. by distance study from the remarkable Open University.

Many people though  have not had access to some of the best thinkers and lecturers in the world from some of the best institutions of higher education. They were precluded because of poverty or war or many other situations that barred them from the chance to study at a higher level and also to contribute their ideas.

Coursera has been a godsend to so many of these people. Today I read a really moving personal testimony by a Coursera student, Laura Cushing. It was called “Coursera  The Key to Higher Education“. Laura tells us of how she was misdiagnosed as being emotionally disturbed and that this stopped her from following a higher education. She was eventually diagnosed as having mild Asperger’s Syndrome and she also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by her problems of being treated by her family and others as “disturbed”.

Her discovery of Coursera was purely by chance and she has gone on to do a brilliant online Coursera course in Sociology from Princeton University. She explains how she was able to enjoy the online lectures and participate in the discussions, which she says would have been difficult for her in a conventional University setting.

She found herself immersed in the excitement and joy of learning. Her last line says it all:

“I found the key to higher education after a lifetime of closed doors”.

As one of her many thousands of fellow students I am delighted that organisations such as Coursera are giving people like Laura the chance to prove what they can do and the chance to be a part of the intellectual discussion that they were excluded from in the past. This shows the power of the new free online higher education movement people like Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller (the founders and joint CEO’s of Coursera) had the vision to launch.

There are many thousands of people who will not only benefit themselves by these opportunities, but will ultimately add to our store of knowledge and contribute to providing the answers to many of the pressing problems that our world is faced with.

A Test for testers, politicians and journalists

This test is to be taken in a stuffy room in the height of summer at a desk with an invigilator walking around you and sending you nervous vibes.The clock will be ticking away at what seems like an ever increasing pace and that sound that you hear is your heart beating rather faster than usual.

You will need to read the questions carefully and remember that you need to pace yourself so as not to leave too little time at the end of the test.

On the basis of this test lies your future, the pride of your family but don’t worry, if you pass with flying colours you can bring in that bribe that you were promised!

Remember to put your hand up if you wish to go to the toilet. Don’t cheat or the wrath of all time will descend upon you like a fiery dragon from clear skies. (Try not to use flowery language this is a test not a free writing exercise!).

The test has the following questions.

(1) What is the value of tests?

(2) What do they tell us about your abilities and talents?

(3) Do you think that there can be another way to show what you can do?

(4) Will they laugh at the idea of this test (or any other)  in the future?

Please note legible handwriting (no word processors allowed) untidy but brilliant presentation will be penalised.

The examinations farce

Today I have reached a personal milestone.This is my 500th post! As I look back on the many subjects that I have covered in these posts I see that the best thing that can be said is “plus ca change c’est la meme chose”.

This is particularly marked in regard to a subject that I have referred to on many occasions, examinations and testing. The basic premise that I have is that they are unfair and do not tell us anything about the student.

This is particularly marked in regard to the current controversy about the recent decision by the Government’s examinations and testing watchdog “Ofqual” to demand that examination boards raise the pass mark for certain grades in English.

This only serves to prove what I and many  other critics of examinations and testing have always said, they are arbitrary and can be changed at the behest of the examination writers or other agencies such as the Government. We are all aware of the controversy that has been running for a number of years about the “downgrading” of examinations. It seems that a  pass of a GCE O Level in the 1960’s (when I took mine) might well get you an A Level or even higher these days!

What then does this tell us about the validity of examinations to tell us about a student? They have so many variables other than those that were mentioned above in respect of grading and pass marks.They take place at times when some students may be ill. They test a certain narrow array of facts, they are often about a teacher’s hunch as to what questions are likely to come up, if they include assessed work there are questions about plagiarism or indeed just who actually did the work! Most importantly they do not tell us anything about the student’s real understanding or interest in the subject. How many of us have sat through a mathematics GCE or GCSE  and mechanically done questions in order to gain a narrow “Pass” grade so as we will never have to do any of it again?

The grades awarded  are used to honour some schools and to shame others. They can spell the end of some teachers’ careers and be the making of others. It is a lottery and a treadmill which even the Chinese with their infamous Gaokao are now believing can be dysfunctional in a world that has moved on beyond the narrow testing of facts learnt in a rote manner.

But here we are, my 500th post and a subject that I have been writing about throughout the life of my blog is still here and still terrorising unfortunate students, some of whom will kill themselves due to the pressure that it exerts. Will my 1000th post be about the iniquity of an outdated system?  I wouldn’t bet against it!

Fishing in the sea of knowledge

I am into week 3 now of my Coursera online course on sustainability. This week we are looking at “The Tragedy of the Commons” which is about the fact that individuals follow self-interest and not the greater good which inevitably means the depletion of the Earth’s resources.

The depletion of the world’s fishing grounds was looked at. I was given a link to something called “Catch Shares“that was presented in a video as one answer to the fair fishing of the oceans that would prevent huge over-fishing in the future because it encouraged everyone to preserve stocks so as they could grow and they would then get a greater and greater “share” of the growing stock of fish.

This sounded like a great idea to me so I decided to do some research into the subject. I started where most people might start with a “Google” Search. I looked particularly (as I do these days) at a video search and found the first named link was this one:

The Problem with Catch Shares – YouTube

youtube.comNEW4 days ago – 5 min – Uploaded by GoodFoodnH2O
At a fishermen’s rally in March 2012, Food & Water Watch spoke to several fishermen in the industry about a 

I then watched this video and found a completely different take on the subject of “Catch Shares” from the one that my original link had presented me with.

I followed the video link on “YouTube” to an organisation called Food and Water Watch. This led me to look at a whole raft of environmental issues from the perspective of this particular group.

This whole experience made me realise the importance of learning to  to “navigate” the huge over-populated oceans of knowledge that we now have in our world. This is one particular ocean that cannot be over-fished but is adding stock in gigantic amounts on a daily basis. Indeed this stock is increasing exponentially…. imagine what that would mean if applied to our depleting fish stocks in our polluted oceans!

The world of getting knowledge has certainly changed. My online course has been as much about learning to “fish” for relevant and important knowledge in the increasingly murky and densely populated waters of the ocean of knowledge. We need to be getting our students to become proficient in this because the old ways are now dead and gone and if they cannot learn to navigate they will surely be at a huge disadvantage to those who can.

Why girls education is crucial


I have been studying a free online course from Coursera on “Sustainability“. It has been a brilliant experience so far and I have learnt a lot about important developments in the world’s population.

We have to put together a project for the course and I have decided to look at a significant subject that affects how many children are born into poverty, how some nations will avoid famine in the future and how our world can tap into the potential of a fantastic resource that, throughout human history, has remained largely untapped…namely the 50% of us who are born female.

Girls who receive an education tend to marry later, have far fewer children who they make sure get an education like they did. The education allows these girls to have skills that fit them for lives far higher in the economic pyramid than currently exists for the 750 million children in the world who are currently of school age and do not receive any form of education (two thirds of whom are female!).

I came across a brilliant film that superbly shows how two girls, born on the same day, in the same country, have very different lives due to one of them receiving an education and the other one remaining uneducated and illiterate. I feel that the campaign for girls to get an education in developing countries is a very significant one and intend to make it the subject of my post for Blog Action Day  as well as the focus for my project for the online course.

Please take time to watch the video below. I really feel that it uses the media so well to get across the central message.