Selective Attention as a Metaphor for the Research Process

Watch.. (if you’re still under your Internet-proof rock and have somehow managed to miss it…)

As I see it, there are two ways of missing the gorilla in the research process.

The intentional

First, the intentional. You throw your Harry Potter invisibility cloak over the big monkey and choose to ignore it. 

This could be entirely your fault. Because a certain strand of evidence doesn’t back your theory,  or you dislike the work of another author so don’t read it, or just don’t bother to do your searching very well.

Or, it could be the fault of your environment. Maybe your institution doesn’t have access to the right materials, or you don’t have the funding to purchase them. Or, you just don’t have the time to give it the attention it deserves.

The unintentional

The cape is on the ape before you knew there was going to be an ape.

It might be the thing you hadn’t considered. Much like one of those choose your own adventure books, your research could take you down a particular route and you entirely miss other options. How many pages down the Google search do you go?

Or, it could be about the technology. Whether it’s the search algorithm prioritising results above others or your organisation/ISP/government filtering certain content from you.

An argument for high quality research

All of which clearly points towards planning the research method being just as important as choosing the topic when it comes to my upcoming dissertation. Time to open that textbook

Whole school markbooks

It’s a fairly open secret that one of our current build projects is an online markbook (or gradebook if you’re that way inclined). We’ve been working closely with a group of partner schools on the design, and as we head towards the next phase of testing we’ve started discussions about roll out.

I wanted to share a few of the common requests I’ve seen that we think may be a mistake if you are also planning to roll out any centralised marking of this style.

Mistake 1: Do everyone at once

A central markbook is quite a shift from the individual books/Excel documents you have now, but moving the whole school in one hit is a big change. You want to trial it with a small group first, make them your champions, the evangelists that can help you deploy at larger scale.

They’ll also help you figure out any technical issues in a nice low profile way before hundreds/thousands are let loose on it…

Mistake 2: Do everything at once

Yes, you could force your staff to enter every single mark they ever give in to your shiny new central markbook. But, do you really need it all? It might help you keep tabs on who is doing what, but is there really a lot to be gained?

Why not start smaller- add the data you can really learn something from? Is there really any value to students in making your teaching staff enter every single homework grade?

Give me a reason to enter the data. Whole school assessments, levelled pieces of work- these have a useful analysis reason to be centralised.

There’s a great (unattributed) quote about not fattening a pig by weighing it. You should look that up for data discussions.

Mistake 3: Do everywhere at once

With all this now online, you could share it with students and parents and broadcast general trends to the world but you don’t need to immediately. Give your staff a chance to get used to it before adding the public pressure.

You may even find your wider stakeholders aren’t interested in the same things you are. For example, in one conversation I discovered that a majority of parents were not interested in how their child compared to the average of their year group in any measure. Just because you like the pretty graphs doesn’t mean everybody does. Ask questions.

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It’s a consistent message from us, but one people keep asking us about. The best way to manage any major change you think your institution needs to undertake  is to start small, ground

up. It’s not as easy as broadcasting the orders from the front, but it’s the right way.

What your new MIS actually needs

I’ve been involved recently with the early stages of a large MIS procurement exercise. They asked for feedback from the group, here’s mine.

The process has started beautifully – by asking actual users in actual schools what they want. Going to software providers with a list of requirements rather than tailoring the way we work to what the software already does makes me really very happy.

Unsurprisingly, what we’ve discovered is that what we want doesn’t actually exist.

Here is where this group have a chance to do something a little bit groundbreaking. If I had to get one single requirement on to the tender for this project it would be as follows…

A forward thinking group wouldn’t worry about the tool not doing everything right now. What they would be doing is making it a requirement that the tool has an API available so others can work with it.

Need your MIS to integrate with some other piece of software? No problem – that second company could talk to it using the API.

Some new amazing analysis tool appears in a years time after you’ve already committed long-term to the MIS? Great – it can use the API to get at your data.

Got an organisation who won’t use the same tool but you need their data? That’s fine too – the two can talk using the API.

Get this in to the tender spec and we’re on to a good thing. Fingers crossed.

MDM as a force for good

Mobile device management seems to be the hot topic amongst organisations we work with. But, every conversation begins along the lines of ‘X can stop users from doing Y’.

MDM is about much more than this. Do it right and it’s an enabler. Users will choose to install profiles on their devices rather than figure out ways to get round it.

1) The gift of content

Got a great app you’d like your students to use? Push it out to their devices. This is the constructive opposite of the usual ‘can I stop them playing Angry Birds?’ question. Ditto useful bookmarks, etc. Make your content interesting and you won’t have to block the distractions.

2) Stop remembering settings

Use MDM to deploy specific settings to your users. They won’t have to remember your weird VPN config, you can push updates if you need to. How many tech support tasks would you save if users didn’t need help connecting?

3) Use the data

You can learn from the information in your MDM software. Which apps are popular? How is the battery life looking? Where are the devices being used & is the wireless there good enough? And so on.

4) Go beyond your gates

From a an IT support perspective you can be outside the gate managing devices. Or, send the devices off-site and you could easily deploy different profiles for feeder schools when they borrow them.

Beyond school owned devices, make a useful enough profile and your users might even choose to install it. MDM can be used to block Angry Birds on your school set of tablets or make every student look at the same PowerPoint, or it could be a tool to extend the good work you’re doing inside the classroom to the mobile world.

Designing the perfect 1-1 device scheme

We’ve been discussing this for a while, and now a fair few of the closest schools to us have moved in that direction too I thought it was probably time to share.

I’m very pleased 1-1 schemes are being adopted, but I’m concerned about the way we are doing it.

Limited exposure

We did some trials using Open Office in KS3 last year. The thing that stuck out most was some students struggled to achieve certain tasks because the buttons and menus were not in the same place. 

Watch users trying to move between MacOS/Windows and you see similar. Interestingly, staff find it far harder than students than to switch OS. A good sign that the more you get used to one way of working the harder it is to change.

“Technology is neither a devil nor an angel. But neither is it simply a tool, a neutral extension of some rock-solid human nature”

I’m slightly over-obsessed with Cousin at the moment. The technology shouldn’t shape the pedagogy is something of a catchphrase round here, but that needs to go hand in hand with an awareness that it still does have an impact.

What I think this tells us is we should be teaching more generic concepts for students to adapt and apply in other environments. I know this isn’t news to ICT teachers, but it doesn’t seem to be having the impact in our 1-1 decisions. Tie me to a single OS or form factor for my whole school career and it won’t be as helpful later on.

5 years is a long time

I’m writing this on a 5 year old laptop. It works fine for what I need to do and it’s in pretty good condition. The main reason for this is because what I do hasn’t changed a whole lot in that period. Actually, my needs are probably less demanding now.

This doesn’t apply to our students.

Give a year 7 a reasonable spec laptop this year – how is it going to stand up to the job of completing their coursework in 5 years time?

Give a year 7 a tablet this year –  if they decide media and photography are the courses for them in KS4 I bet they’re going to wish they had a laptop with the Adobe suite on.

Give a year 7 the absolute best of breed device this year – how do we know it will be the case in 5 years? By then an entirely new category may have emerged.

We need to be more flexible with our 1-1 offering.

We’re being sold to, remember that

Of course it is going to be a better deal to buy 2000 of X device from Y brand than a more random selection of various tools from different places. Bulk buying may save us cash, but is that a good educational reason?

In the last year at SSAT & BETT I encountered a number of headteachers who do all of their ICT purchasing from manufacturers that are at that show. If it’s not there they don’t buy. That genuinely scares me.

Financial decisions shouldn’t take priority over teaching and learning. I know it’s a difficult time to be adopting this position, but it’s the right thing to do.

Personalise

This is the most important.

While we’re still debating the value of ways we categorise learning styles, what we do know for sure is we all learn in different ways. And, how we learn best changes throughout the day.

Sometimes I like a computer in front of me, sometimes I’m happier with a big piece of paper and a pen. Sometimes the laptop works best, other times a tablet is more appropriate.

As far as I can see in every other aspect of our curriculum design our goal is to personalise. How does this stack up against requiring every member of our school community to learn using the exact same device?

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In short- I don’t feel that 1-1 is impossible right now, I am just worried that current 1-1 offerings all require commitment to one specific device for far too long.

What we should be doing is building a 1-1 programme that is device agnostic, and allows students flexibility to switch their device based on how they want to learn at that moment.

I’ll get back to you once we’ve figured out if this is actually the right thing to do and if it’s even possible…