Tag Archives: TED

The Tablets Must Be Crazy!

Click on the image to go to OLPC Flickr photo stream

Anyone remember The God’s Must Be Crazy? It was a fabulous film which started almost as a travelogue, describing urban Johannesburg and then juxtaposing that against the tribesman of the Kalahari desert. One tribesman receives an empty Coca Cola bottle that falls at his feet, as if given by the gods, in fact it was chucked out of a plane. The film describes how he and his tribe try to work out what to do with it,  but so divisive is this new toy that the tribesman decides the gods must be crazy and so he goes on a journey to the edge of the world to return the offending bottle – not so with tablet computers!

In a recent experiment the organisation One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), decided to do precisely that (well not chuck tablet computers out of a plane) but take them, leave them and come back later to see what the children had done with them

“I thought the kids would play with the boxes.” (Hell, what parent hasn’t watched their small child discard the expensive toy and gather hours of entertainment out of the box.)  “Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day.” so said Nicholas Negraponte founder of OLPC.  Not only did they start using the tablets, they started to recite the alphabet (these tablets were programmed in English, which does beg the question of technological imperialism – but that’s another blog) anyway the users got round the camera blocking lock and hacked Android – nice!

“The meteoric rise of modern instructionism, including the misguided belief that there is a perfect way to teach something, is alarming because of the unlimited support it is getting from Bill Gates, Google, and my own institution, MIT. “ Nicholas Negraponte in his own article on this process.

That phrase “the meteoric rise of modern instruction, including the misguided that there is a perfect way to teach something” must have resonance with every teacher in this country who has ever been inspected. The constant contortionist revisions conducted by teachers attempting to adapt their style in the classroom to the latest fad from Ofsted, or senior management, is an attempt to fit into this idea that there is a perfect way to teach. The problem is, that in our effort to pursue this pseudo perfection we may very well find ourselves out of a job.

On the one hand the vision of OLPC which I have always admired, combined with the vision of organisations such as the Khan Academy even the elite iTunes U (see this blog for more – onlinelearninginsights) suggest a new world of learning cheaply,  resources readliy accessible to all without, as Negraponte puts it, the industrialisation of teaching that has confined it to measuring progress and target setting that measures the teacher rather than the creativity, imagination and curiosity of the pupils. Un-programmed learning, he states is similar to the process of creating software, the trial and error mechanism is the way children learn, pretty much from the moment they are born and the tablet and computer are compatible with that process. This then is the way of the future, bye bye teacher hello tablet, Skype and an archive of online tutorials updated by a shrinking number of experts.

“Ah but what about personal contact?” Thus says the old fashioned complacent teacher, book in hand, powerpoint just about replacing chalk and talk, still wielding the red pen and the paper mark book. “Students will always need personal contact.” Yep that’s what the music business said about vinyl and now the album compilation barely exists!

Of course when print on demand became a real prospect people said that this would be the death of the book and in some ways it has been – just check the remainders shops, but in other ways reading has never been more popular. I don’t think J K Rowling, (Harry Potter) Stephanie Meyer (Twlight) or Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) are suffering to much from the death of the book, or for that matter Ian Rankin (Rebus). Book publishing has gone through a massive change, the author can get access to the reader directly, but books still exist.

There is still a need for the real, the communal and the personal: in music, stadium rock and gigging are still a massive part of the industry; why else do people go to the cinema in droves, to watch a movie they could see at home in greater comfort? So yes there is still room for personal contact, but how much do they really need? In music, books and journalism a lot more is being done for  a lot less. Journalists barely get paid any more, musicians gig for peanuts, authors publish and be damned or at least they don’t get paid, some get famous via the wire, the rest do it for the joy of it, most of them didn’t see it coming and teachers may well be on the cusp of the same fate – if the industry of teaching breaks down, how many will be left and how many will do it for the joy of it?

Flipping Heck!

Recently I have been so busy in the classroom that I have missed out a bit on the latest discussions on online education, which apparently is flipping. When I say the latest, in fact, Salman Khan (Khan Academy) gave a lecture in March 2011 at TED

That seemed to kick something off, but hey I was busy marking coursework by hand, but TED wasn’t and they have set up TED-Ed which will facilitate and share your lesson, so that you can flip out! They will take your plan and probably your voice, add a bit of nifty animation so that you can run a video and a task, put your feet up, pull your hat down over your eyes and go to sleep like Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher. Well no, no of course not: for a start you will have worked hard on producing a lesson that works and then you will be supervising and marking the work that students do individually as they do it – go differentiation!

Online education has arrived and if teachers think they can ignore it any longer, they do so at their peril! I have only been a teacher for ten years, before that I was a media a hack and I was then and still am, a writer. My first book was written by hand, typed out submitted, copy edited, typed out again, cut up and literally pasted up and typed out again. That bought me my first computer in 1984 (or thereabouts) an Apricot that worked on MSDos and floppies, but by 1990 I was submitting work, copy ready on much shorter deadlines on disk – more work for less money. By the mid 1990s the music industry were burying their heads in the sand and by 2001 Apple was running ads in the Super Bowl reproaching the industry for prosecuting grannies and launching iTunes but in teaching…..I joined teaching in 2001 and it was literally like going back to school. This electronic invention which had revolutionised my work practice and my husband’s career in  magazines and newspapers appeared to have passed the teaching profession by.

There was much talk of the personal touch, of PowerPoint being nothing more than chalk and talk. There was no substitute, they said, for sitting in front of a classroom with a good book and fantastic subject knowledge – and on that note – they were right, you can’t teach if you don’t know, and there never will be a substitute for individual attention. But does it have to be delivered in a cold room, full of disengaged students by a teacher handing out bad quality photocopies? Even now, when there is the possibility of sharing resources, people will say, “Oh just print it out, it’s easier.”  Well it might be easier for you but it’s not f**kin’ easier for me! It requires a trip to the printer, more than likely a rush downstairs to get ink or paper and, more to the point: paper gets lost; paper gets handed out; paper needs filing in a physical space and paper is trees. A simple email, filed in a virtual folder and maybe one hard copy in a dusty, never-opened folder for safe-keeping and we’re done – easy to use, easy to revise and easy to share! Flipping heck! How hard is that?

Which brings me round to flipping.

“Flipping” it seems, is a process by which you share and adapt resources. In good old Media Studies we might call this “pseudo individualisation”, the process by which the same media text is reinvented with slight differences, so the Beatles become Oasis, Marilyn Monroe turns into Lady GaGa and Charles Bronson becomes Liam Neeson and Robert Vaughn …. well he’s just Robert Vaughn. That seems,to some extent, to be what “flipping” is about: someone creates a great lesson, submits it to TED Ed who marry it up with an animator and Hey Presto! An interesting lesson, that can be downloaded, shared and adapted for the specific lessons or needs anywhere in the world. No worries about copyright, the images are created for the purpose and shared accordingly. But that’s just part of the philosophy, a philosophy, which after all builds on the sharing community that is teaching – the other side of flipping is more radical.

Salman Khan of the said academy talks of flipping the classroom, the idea being that the use of technology in the classroom frees up the teacher to provide individual attention all the time. Combine that with Khan Academy’s ability to provide facilities to track every student and their progress, means that every student can learn at their own pace and every teacher can offer differentiation – result!


Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m going to have a go, embrace it, use the videos and offer a lesson, I’ll let you know if I get accepted. If you want to have a go the link is here, go for it and good luck – but I do spy one or two problems for the current educator.

One problem is infrastructure. Public sector education, in this country has limited resources, becoming even more limited by the day. My institution is not unusual in that it has not prioritised appropriate technological infrastructure over the past decades. There is a lack of up to date software, Wifi and decent broadband, a lack of computers for every child, not to mention the fact that we are not a 4G country. In addition, my institution restricts access to the net, most specifically YouTube, teachers can use it in the classroom, but it is not available elsewhere on campus. YouTube videos cannot be set for homework, because although most students have access to computers and broadband at home, not all do and we immediately disenfranchise them if we set tasks that involve computers that cannot be supported on site. However, this literally should no longer be a problem, gone are the days when teachers could justify standing by the photocopier or chalking up exercises to be written by hand, as the only method of teaching available. Every other industry has had to climb on board the digital revolution, David Hockney paints on the iPad, there may be implications for our move to the cloud, but as a day to day tool, it seems to be here to stay.

There are other implications of course, and that is that whilst it might well be an exciting possibility for a teacher to flip a lesson (infrastructure permitting) increasingly the classroom can be decentralised or/and enlarged. Quite what our currently Secretary of State for Education thinks of all this I really don’t know, and I mean I really don’t know! There is much less talk of technology in the UK coalition’s education policy although there is talk of traditional values, 1950s education. Salman Khan seemed to demonstrate quite effectively the success rates of flipping the classroom, and that will attract our Mr Gove, but the idea of teachers not standing up in front of the classroom, commanding respect as opposed to offering targeted comments,  will hot appeal unless it’s cheaper! And well it might be, once the infrastructure is in place, if lessons go online line, how many teachers will we actually need in the classroom? Which is one good reason to get stuck in and participate.

Flipping is the future!

Here’s on of their lessons to view if you’re interested.