Independence & Community (The Purpose of Education)

purposed-badgeSince contributing to the original #500words campaign, my thoughts about the purpose of education have become less cogent. I still want to “bust a hole in the wall”; wishing to place learner independence and preparedness for life long learning at the heart of the debate. However, as I have continued teaching, researching, discussing, debating, I have found that my advocacy for student centred learning is paralleled by a growing belief that schools should be placed at the centre of the community. At times it feels as if these ideas should contradict each other, but I believe that they actually compliment each other. Here, I offer a list of connected (and disconnected) assertions, ideas and questions that are currently resonating with me. I hope that in sharing them, I can begin to form a more coherent thesis.

  • Learning needs to be student centred. Education should offer choice and provide opportunity, not limit it.
  • Schools need to offer a personalised curriculum. One that is adaptive, malleable… designed by learners themselves.
  • There should be parity between subjects. But, should learning be structured in subjects?
  • All learning needs to be encouraged – gaming, exploration, trial & error (when did we decide that getting things wrong was no longer part of learning?). Moreover, I’m concerned that the school system appears to be geared up to remove play, creativity and individuality as learners get older.
  • Schools should be able to acknowledge and accredit all learning (formal and informal). Badges?
  • We need to better prepare young people for the models of learning they will be engaged in after school. This means encouraging learner autonomy as well as co-dependence. The era of ‘sage on the stage’ is dead. It’s time to establish ‘guide on the side’ in all classrooms.
  • We need to stop labelling students; and we need to stop allowing them to label themselves. A learners ability is not genetic; it is not pre-determined by us or anyone else.
  • Education is not about grades or league tables. They are a meaningless, extrinsic motivator; and are detrimental to fostering effective learning.
  • Learning is not linear. Learning is messy!
  • School is not a bubble. Boundaries between learners and the real world need to be removed
  • Libraries should be at the heart of schools and their respective communities. Libraries should be like this one. And in the 21st century, they are about much more than books.
  • Schools need to recognise that Online is ‘now’ NOT the future. Technology should be seamlessly integrated in to the learning experience. There needs to be overlap between physical and virtual spaces – opening up further opportunities for a personalised curriculum.
  • Education needs to be wrestled out of the hands of governments. Communities need to take ownership of learning… freeing education of the fads and whims of politicians. Learning needs to be open/democratised.
  • Schools should be charged by their communities to provide education that is relevant and creative.

This post is my contribution to #500words – Take 2; the latest Purpos/ed campaign, asking the question: What is the purpose of education. Check out purposed.org.uk to see how you can join the debate.

Clarifying where I stand on ‘Kony 2012’

I have posted and tweeted a lot about ‘Kony 2012’ today and felt that it would be pertinent to provide an overview of where I stand.

I am neither for or against ‘Kony 2012’. I am however, fascinated by the way the video has gone viral, turning into a living, breathing ‘Internet Meme’. I am currently teaching a unit in Postmodern Media to my A2 Media students; the video and evolving debate provides an excellent case study.

In discussing this with my students, I wanted to encourage them to approach the video with the same criticality that we apply regularly to media texts. From the outset it was clear that many of them were already doing that. I wanted to remind them that before they buy into something, it is important to verse themselves in the facts and as many opposing perspectives as possible. Then they can make ‘informed’ choices.

I am in no doubt that Joseph Kony is a bad person.

I am in no doubt that ‘Invisible Children’s’ intentions are sincere.

I do have some concerns about them though, most significantly how they use the money that is donated. And I am skeptical of the video they have produced. As a media artefact it is an excellent lesson in framing, editing and mediation; having been exceptionally well constructed. It is easy to see why so many people have been moved by it.

Ultimately, I think that ‘Kony 2012’ is an important reminder of the changed world we are living in. Social Networks and New Media Technologies are having a huge impact on society. As such, digital literacy (IMO) should be an integral part of the school curriculum.

Learning Taxonomies: Why ‘creating’ is a cognitive skill

This post is a response to Doug Belshaw’s post: Learning Taxonomies: Why ‘creating’ is not a cognitive skill.

While I do agree that ‘creating’ does not belong above evaluation and that there is room for some revsion of Bloom’s Taxonomy, I do believe that ‘creating’ is a cognitive skill. In fact, I believe that it should be an integral part of all learning taxonomies; that you can’t be fully literate until you have created something.

You can’t create something without some prior knowledge. It is from this knowledge that you can make decisions and by it’s very nature ‘decision making’ is a cognitive skill. Moreover, all creation is a result of our experiences. Arguably, there is no originality in creation any way (Strinati, 1997). When we create we make both conscious decisions and unconscious decisions, based on our learned experiences.

To take Doug’s son creating his first piece of art as an example: Yes he can paint a picture without having learned to analyse, synthesise (consciously) or evaluate. However, his behaviour is not ‘original’, it is learned and is born out of memory, therefore he is replicating learned behaviour. The way he holds the brush, the choice of colours and so on, all represent decisions, some more conscious than others, but decisions none the less and therefore show a cognitive process in action.

I think that the SOLO Taxonomy that Doug referenced actually comes close to acknowledging ‘creating’ in its more rightful place. In this taxonomy the phrase ‘Do simple procedures’ is used right near the beginning and I would argue that ‘simple procedures’ can be interpreted as ‘creating’. If I were to adapt Bloom’s Taxonomy to incorporate creation, I would suggest something like this.

As you can see I also partly agree with Doug about the placement of Synthesis being wrong although I would see it as equal to evaluation. As cognitive processes the two directly effect each other. Your ability to synthesise something is often based on your judgement but your judgement can be altered as you synthesise something.

My initial involvement in this debate arose after Doug tweeted this:


Rather than this one that started the debate in the first place:

I include this as I think that it reveals a key feature of my thinking in this debate. I don’t believe that Media Literacy is neither ‘passive’ nor is it ‘consumption driven’. To be ‘Media-literate’ you need to have created your own Media.

I have had many conversations in my time with colleagues about the merits and drawbacks of coursework in the Media Studies syllabus. I always come back to this: Can students truly understand the Media if they don’t create it for themselves? They already do in their daily lives but I want them to create texts more critically. I want them to unpack that process of creation. This undoubtedly improves their skills of analysis and their ability to evaluate.

After all, you wouldn’t teach Maths by having students read the sums and then the answers; you make them work through the problems, learning how to solve them for themselves. You wouldn’t teach students to play football by doing nothing more than watching Manchester United on the TV. Without the doing (the ‘creating’) the learning is meaningless.

So perhaps Blooms should look  more like this with creation featuring alongside every stage of the taxonomy, after knowledge. As ‘creating’ as a cognitive skills is imperative on the path to becoming literate.

My thesis: You can’t be literate if you have never created. To be fully literate you need to create throughout your learning journey, only then will you be able to make meaningful judgements based upon fully informed analysis. Creation can help you piece it all together, what’s more cognitive than that?

Busting a hole in the wall (the purpose of education)

purposed-badgeWhen Sugata Mitra put a computer inside a hole in the wall of the NIIT building in New Delhi, he took the first step in proving beyond a shadow of a doubt, that education was a universal connector craved by people the world over; and that the traditional notion of classroom education was by no means the only way to do it. Now, more than ten years on from the beginning of the HITW experiment, the lessons remain unheeded by many of the people involved in mainstream education. In fact, concepts such as ‘self-directed learning’ and ‘the student voice’ are still scoffed at as Dawn Hallybone was reminded this past week, attending a debate on the National Curriculum review.

Are there still that many people connected to education that truly believe, we, the adults know what’s best for the next generation and the one after that? Nick Dennis spoke of the need for us to focus on principals in this debate and at first I disagreed, as principals like ‘purposes’ are rarely universally shared. However, I now see where he was going, and while I appreciated Doug’s question about whose “better” was Nick referring to, I think Nick’s conviction was what was most important. He asked the big questions about what we want education to be and what we are doing for each other as a community, not as definable roles but as human beings.

It is make or break time for humanity and we have a responsibility to draw a line in the sand, admit our mistakes and create a system of education that can begin to undo the harm that we have done to the world. For all the talk over the last twenty years of the ‘global village’, it has not stopped us continuing to destroy our planet, to wage wars and to continue to ignore the inequalities in society. What is the purpose of education? Surely, it is to create unity by helping future generation to recognise the values that humanity share.

Fred Garnett grapsed this when he argued that new (social) media can foster “collaborative, discursive learning, the kind of learning that creates a healthy, open and participative society.” Is this the extension of Mitra’s experiment? Is social media the natural evolution bringing learners to the stream rather than the well? Some of us embrace change, recognising the merits of experimentation and creativity; others fear it, seeing new as dangerous. I’m not suggesting that we should plunge head first into wildly unstructured models of learning but if it were not for people who dared to be creative, who dared to experiment, we would not be able to stare into the vast ocean that is our solar system, or be able to listen to Mozart on a device, so small, it can fit into the palms of our hands.

When Mitra began his experiment he was giving education back to the people and his observations of the children showed happy, creative, collaborative learnings, the sort of learning Tom Barrett hopes his son will continue to experience. I’d intended to say that education is about more than opening doors; it’s about what you do once the door is open. Now I’m asking who needs doors? Why not work together and bust a hole in the wall instead?

Ceci n’est pas une pipe and the death of Media Studies

The Treachery of Images

Literally moments before I left work on Friday, ready to begin the half-term break, I was sat talking to my friend and colleague Greg Hodgson about literacy. I’ve just put a project together for gifted and talented Year 11 students where they will blog for ten weeks developing their writing skills. The project will encompass in-class and online workshops; seminars; tutorials and support from a professional editor and professional copy-writer. Greg and I discussed the merits of getting all students at our school blogging and how it could impact on improving literacy. What occurred to me during our conversation was that neither of us differentiate between what many refer to as traditional literacy and digital literacy. I don’t like the term digital literacy, never have, as it immediately suggests that understanding digital or media based texts is somehow different to understanding non-digital (analog) texts. The problem is that I don’t believe that. So, here’s an idea: Let’s stop talking about digital literacy and just discuss literacy after all the two are synonymous are they not?

Digital Literacy?

Films, Advertising, Websites, Blogs and Video Games all have narratives and codes that need to be understood; they all offer various meanings and representations ready to be interpreted; and they are all part of a person’s life narrative, so why on should they not be valued in the same way that Literature and Art are valued. And why are we not making sure that our children approach all texts (digital or analog) with an equal level of respect and criticism?

It’s time to ditch the prejudices; it’s time to stop talking about digital literacy as if it is something different to literacy. We shouldn’t spend time debating what digital literacy is, we should be asking why teach literacy at all? Teaching literacy is not only about getting kids to read books, it’s about teaching our children to read signs, to decipher meaning out of symbols. When those symbols and signs are communicated by road signs we value their purpose encouraging them to get driving lessons and pass their driving test. When those symbols and signs are communicated through a YouTube video or a Video Game we do not seem to value them at all. Surely, if our children are going to be able to survive in this ‘uncertain future’ that lies before them they need to be literate. And not just literate in that they can read words but that they can decipher all texts placed in front of them, analog or digital. The age of the social network, of online collaboration, of information at your finger tips is not some distant notion, it is the state in which we live now and future generations are being born into. The army is using Video Game technology to train its soldiers. Why are we all not using this technology to help prepare our children for their futures? We have a responsibility to make sure that they are literate; with the skills to understand the messages and values that are sewn up in the plethora of texts that they consume on a daily basis.

Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

We only have to look to René Magritte’s painting ‘The Treachery of Images‘ [1928-29] to see that this argument has existed for 40 years, before video games grabbed our attention and 60 years before Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. Magritte illustrates the duality that all texts, whether made up of words or images, pose for us. In his painting Magritte is commenting on the process of signification; the basis of communication in that all images have more than a single layer of meaning by their very nature; that all texts offer representations and therefore are open to interpretation. This (IMO) is the fundamental reason that literacy should be at the heart of any school curriculum and is the basis for my belief that separating literacies into “analog” and “digital” is actually a banality that should be avoided. It does not matter what the text is, what matters is that we have the skills to be able to understand it.

Understanding the mirror

We can look to more recent theorists to see that the purpose and need for literacy is only increasing. As our world has become more and more saturated by modern media, only expedited by the rapid development of the World Wide Web, theorists have been warning of a need to be more literate no matter what form the text takes.

Dominic Strinati in ‘An Introduction to the theories of popular culture‘ [1995], states: “The mass media…were once thought of as holding up a mirror to, and thereby reflecting, a wider social reality. Now that reality is only definable in terms of surface reflection of the mirror.” Strinati is suggesting that the way in which we understand our world is through the media that we consume. This raises an important consideration, particularly for teachers. If as Strinati suggests that reality is born out of the mirror then we surely have a responsibility to help our students understand the mirror, whether it’s a magazine article, TV news segment or web page.

Jean Baudrillard, ten years earlier, in is his book ‘Simulacra and Simulation‘ [1985], sets out an even deeper fundamental reason that we should teach young people to be critical and question their perceived reality. Baudrillard suggests that modern culture/society is made up from both simulations (copies of real places and things) that become real through perception and simulacra (copies without an original).

For example, the film Jurassic Park, presents through CGI and animatronics a highly convincing simulation of dinosaurs which we as the audience accept even though we have never seen a real live dinosaur. We accept the copy (simulacra) as reality although there is no original for it to have been copied from.

If simulated Media form our reality then we must ensure that young people are equipped to recognise this and question the texts from which they are forming their understanding. What if dinosaurs bore no resemblance to their CGI counterparts? For many the film will have become a key source in their understanding of the dinosaur, yet it is a lie, a false creation, a guess?

Is it acceptable to allow prejudice to continue? Literature and Art are valued and therefore worthy of study and criticism. Should films and websites not be valued in the same way and come under the same level of scrutiny?

The death of Media Studies?

The problem is that we often accept the notion that there is a difference between literacy and digital literacy. Perhaps the development of Media Studies as a discreet subject is partly to blame for this? Much of the discussion about digital literacy is confused with concepts such as ‘media literacy’. The problem here being that there seems to be a deeply held belief that being “media literate” means being able to create and edit video, be eSafe and use a computer effectively (isn’t that ICT?). This need to categorise literacy, chunking it, ignores the messages that Magritte, Baudrillard and Strinati have been trying to draw our attention to. Being literate is about reading, about perception, about being critical. These skills are necessary in any and all subjects

What’s more, all forms of media require us to read, perceive and be critical and we can encounter them at any time and within any subject. Just as it should not fall to ‘English teachers’ to be the soul authority when it comes to reading Shakespeare and writing stories why should it be that ‘Media Studies teachers’ are expected to be the soul authorities when it comes to understanding Films, Video Games and the World Wide Web? If the answer to this means the death of Media Studies as a distinct subject then so be it as the study of “the Media” ought not be separate from the study of Literature, Science, History, Religion or Philosophy, as the texts that make up a Media Studies curriculum all have a place in any and all of the other subjects found within the school curriculum.

A 21st century definition of Literate

Media literacy, eLiteracy, digital literacy are terms that I believe do nothing more than cause confusion. There should be only literacy. Plain and simple. Most dictionaries state that to be ‘literate’ is to be able to “read and write“. I think that this is out dated, I believe that a more fitting definition is as follows:

Literate: to have the ability to understand, criticise, and (re)create any text, analog or digital.