Results of the Digital Strategy Consultation

Back in November, we attended one of the face to face events for the Development of a Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland Consultation. The government was looking to canvass views on the need for a national digital strategy for education, and what should be included in such a strategy.

As well as a series of these face to face events, there was an online/written consultation, a consultation of older children via Young Scot, and a consultation of primary children aged 8-11, carried out under the auspices of the Children’s Parliament.

The results of the face to face and online consultations make for interesting reading. There is a clear feeling that investment in infrastructure is essential to ensure equity of opportunity for all learners, alongside appropriate professional learning opportunities and effective leadership. There was an identified need for a benchmark of digital competency for teachers, as at the moment many practitioners don’t know where to begin and what is expected of them as far as digital learning and teaching is concerned. This ties in to the feeling expressed by respondents that initial teacher education should outline clear expectations in this area, supporting student teachers to reach an acceptable standard, backed up with a change to the GTCS standard for full registration, making it clear that engaging with digital learning and teaching is not optional.

Of course, we agree with this wholeheartedly, but we do wonder how representative the consultation findings are of the views of the wider teaching community. Nationwide, there were 139 responses to the online/written consultation (76 groups and 63 individuals) which seems less than representative. There were 11 face to face events across the country, the Young Scot 2-part consultation gathered 358 responses in total, and the Children’s Parliament consultation only worked with 5 schools in 3 authorities. While it’s not a bad overall response, when it comes to the adults taking part we do wonder how much those who are less than engaged with digital learning and teaching would feel represented by the findings. There is the danger of an echo-chamber effect in Scottish education. The same people repeatedly talk to like-minded people and self-validate, coming to believe that what we feel must be right, because everyone around us agrees, perhaps not realising that this is because we are only engaging with others who are invested and interested in the topic in the same way we are. We don’t have a solution to the problem of how to engage those for whom this is not a main area of focus, but it does make us look on the results of consultations such as these with more than a pinch of salt. We worry that, when the strategy is published, those who weren’t involved might feel defensive, overlooked and overruled, hindering any attempts to make significant changes. We wonder if there might have been a missed opportunity somewhere to raise the profile of the consultation and gather a wider range of responses. After all, how many teachers and other practitioners even knew of the existence of the consultation?

If you haven’t read the consultation findings and would like to, you can find them here:

The proposed digital strategy itself is scheduled for release this summer, lining up nicely with the switchover from HGIOS 3 to the more digitally aligned HGIOS 4.

If the prospect of wading through a hefty document doesn’t appeal this fine Friday evening, we heartily recommend reading the responses of the 8-11 age group – you’ll especially enjoy the illustrations of the future classroom. We’ve reproduced one of our favourites below – nice to see teachers won’t be obsolete in the digital future!

teacher is human

We’ll return to the consultation responses next week, with a closer look at what the children had to say. 

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One to One Devices – A Route to the Digital Future?  

Encouraging news coming out of West Dunbartonshire this week, as the council have pledged £250,000 to fund Chromebooks for every P7 learner next session – over 950 devices. The Chromebook is a lovely, versatile and cheap device, and should bring real benefits for learning and teaching. Of course, any announcement of this sort throws up a raft of questions, some more cynical than others.

After all, this is the council that in recent months saw the first teacher strike in decades over proposed management restructuring in secondary schools, which was seen by many as stealth cuts. It may be that those striking teachers will look upon this outlay of cash as a statement that resources are worth more than teachers to those in charge.

Other questions, at least from those of us outside the council (one would hope those on the inside already have the answers) might be more concerned with the logistics. Do all the schools have wi-fi? Can the kids take the devices home? How much control do they have over what goes on them? What happens if they’re lost or stolen? What happens at the end of P7 – do the devices go with them to secondary school or do they get handed back, slightly scabby, for the next year’s P7? How do the teachers feel about managing their use?

However, these aren’t the questions that really need to be asked. What we want to know is how are they going to be used. What is the pedagogy underpinning the project? The article on the council website is unsurprisingly vague. We are told learners will “use the devices to present classwork and also for research and revision”. All very well, but do teachers, schools and the authority have a planned approach to ensure the best use of the powerful wee tools, or is this a knee-jerk reaction to HGIOS 4?  The success or failure of these schemes doesn’t really have anything to do with the device itself; rather, it has everything to do with the learning and teaching. Do the teachers feel supported? Will the learners have direction and focus or, even better, opportunities for exploration and creation in a safe and gently guided environment? We really hope so.

The more successful schemes of this type we see with whole authority (or – dare we hope? – nationwide) backing and support, the weaker the arguments against incorporating technology into everyday learning and teaching become. To slightly paraphrase Madonna, we are living in a digital world, and we should we doing all we can to ensure that our children are growing up as digital girls (and boys!).

 

Digital Empowerers

Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at what Digital Literacies are, and the role both learners and teachers have to play in ensuring every young person has the tools they need to operate in a digital world. This week we look at the people who perhaps hold the key to letting teachers and learners make the most of the opportunities out there – the Digital Empowerers. These are the leaders, the managers and the decision makers who have so much influence over what teachers and learners can achieve.

Yes, ’empowerers’ is a clumsy word (there might be some debate about whether it’s a word at all) but we feel it sums up the role these individuals and institutions have. The alternative was Digital Enablers, which, while it’s a real word, has its own negative connotations (after all, digital literacies are hardly a bad habit.) So empowerers it is, and we’ll just ignore the wiggly red line telling us it’s not really a word as we type this.

We’ve discussed how learners need freedom to explore and create in digital contexts. We’ve examined how teachers need to become guides for their students, learning alongside them, taking calculated risks and instilling an adventurous mindset when dealing with digital learning. But this all assumes that schools have adequate resourcing and, just as importantly, that the attitude from leaders at all levels gives permission for experimentation and considered risk-taking.

Let’s take how schools use devices to start with.  Obviously this varies between schools and authorities but most learners have access to a range of tech, either via school-owned PCs, tablets, and laptops or by having a pupil ‘bring your own device’ policy (BYOD). Often iPads are purchased as they are a recognised brand but Android and Windows tablets are usually cheaper, as useful, and often have access to a wider range of apps. We are aware of many examples where schools have iPads or tablets which are woefully underused, through no fault of the teachers. In many cases, due to a lack of Wi-Fi in schools, staff have to take the device home to put apps on it (which can go against school policy on removing such equipment from the building or using personal accounts on them) and then the apps can vary from device to device depending on what was downloaded. From a teacher’s point of view this is challenging, as how can a class teacher make good use of an app if not all devices have it installed? And how do schools know which apps are good to use? Authorities should be collecting information like this and sharing with all establishments.

no-cellphones-35121_640.pngAt the moment, lots of schools are fighting the battle against mobile use. Many schools have posters on walls banning pupils from having their phones out during class time and actively discouraging pupils from bringing their phones to school at all. However, some forward thinking establishments are working with pupils’ attachment to mobile phones rather than against it. The BYOD idea appreciates that a mobile is more than a phone: it is a computer, and a powerful one at that. Harnessing that untapped potential removes the need for schools to buy in so many devices themselves and also helps educate pupils on the applications and uses of their own phones. Regarding the use of pupils’ own devices, many authorities already have policies on this that have been shared with parents, such as a policy in some East Lothian schools that phones can be on the desk at the start of the class but they can’t be turned over until the teacher says so, giving the teacher control of their use in a well-defined and mutually understood context. Inequity of access does still exist of course – many children have tablets and smartphones, but many do not.  Although it would be overly simplistic to assume that every child can bring a working, appropriate device to school every day, we must accept that allowing the use of personal devices is a positive step along the way to really effective tech use in schools. There can be creative solutions where a child is not able to bring a device for any reason. For example, one authority we are aware of has reworked their policy on musical instrument loans and applied the same logic to ‘loaning’ out devices.

304px-Wi-Fi_Logo.svgOnce we have considered the issue of hardware, we must logically move on to the problem of Wi-Fi  access. We talk about wanting to raise attainment, to give all children a fair start in education, but while Wi-Fi continues to be viewed as an option rather than a necessity then we are penalising pupils. Already in secondary schools, where the large majority of pupils have access to mobile phones, the discrepancies are visible not in the type or brand of phone the pupils have, but in the amount of data they have as part of their contracts. Pupils are being limited as their data is limited. Wi-fi for all would level the field for the young people and also be a step towards bringing schools closer to the real world. Some authorities provide Wi-Fi to all of their schools, and have carefully managed policies to allow learners to connect their own devices to filtered internet access, removing the problem of data poverty.  Some other authorities allow schools to ‘buy-in’ to Wi-fi but this throws up another issue as it relies on schools deeming it an important enough expense to spend their already stretched budgets on. It is then down to luck whether or not your head teacher prioritises it. Wi-Fi for all isn’t a magical solution to all of our digital needs but it seems like an obvious resource that authorities should be providing or insisting schools spend part of their budget on.

Then there are the training opportunities needed to ensure that teachers are a quality resource as well. To upskill staff, improve their confidence in their own digital literacy and empower them to guide our learners effectively, authorities need to provide quality training  and support time for staff. For those who know where to look for this, there are already supports available through Glow. In addition, there are countless free online courses, communities and training resources, but all staff need to be made clear about where they can find this information, and also have a clear steer on the importance of fostering digital literacy – until authority, school and departmental improvement planning recognises this as a vital area for development, there will always be other priorities.

Even if a school has a forward thinking staff and supportive head teacher, barriers can often appear at local authority level. If yours isn’t one of the authorities forging ahead with Wi-Fi and BYOD, it might feel like wading through treacle trying to get any significant changes made in council policy. Often those managing IT infrastructure are not from an educational background. This can have benefits – it’s a crucial role that requires a read head for business and strategic thinking. However, there is often a tendency to try to impose the same kinds of strictures on teachers that might be found in a corporate  environment. Yes, in most offices you don’t want staff messing about, installing programmes, making changes to browser settings, updating software and so on – but teachers aren’t office staff. When we have to jump through ever more complex hoops to make the most basic of changes, can we be blamed for eventually giving up? When it takes three layers of management and several phone calls to have a single website unblocked, how often are you going to request it? When Education Scotland add a new service to Glow but it’s blocked by default and most classroom teachers have no idea who to contact to remedy the situation, are you going to look at it again?

2adThere are so many needless barriers placed in the way of the enterprising teacher in the name of security and risk management. There is so little desire from the centre to change, to renew, to upgrade, even when the latest browser on the school network image is already obsolete by the time it’s installed. Change means cost, and more importantly risk. Each change made at the centre can have knock-on unforeseen consequences, and the thought of having to deal with these is enough to stop progress in its tracks – for those making these decisions, the possible repercussions must be pretty scary, but that doesn’t mean we can just stand still, or move at the glacial pace that’s been the norm with educational technology for so many years in so many places. IT managers must work with and be guided by educationalists, and listen to the needs of the teachers at the frontline. Risk must be part of what we do – not something to be avoided, but something to be managed. If we never take risks, we’ll never move forward, and those authorities who do make the leap into the unknown will be providing opportunities for learners that teachers in other authorities can only look upon with longing.

Until the support of digital literacy, through both pedagogy and infrastructure, becomes something that local authorities insist upon and monitor, progress is guaranteed to be limited. Teachers are massively pushed for time as it is, and money is immensely tight. There’s only so much individual teachers can do without the support of leaders at school, local authority and national level. HGIOS 4, with its explicit focus on digital competencies, is a step in the right direction, but this needs to be backed up with changes to the curriculum (in the form of an acknowledgement in the Curriculum for Excellence documentation that Digital Literacy is the responsibility of all practitioners), the publication of the new national Digital Strategy for Education, and a concerted effort from the Scottish Government to support this in the form of investment and clear guidance and expectations. We’re embarking on our journey down this road, but at the moment the route is full of potholes and shoogly bridges, with a few oases of excellent practice shining in the distance. Our Digital Empowers, those leaders who determine the direction of Scotland’s education system, need to smooth the path for all of us and pave the way for Scotland’s digital future.

What is Digital Literacy?

Without a crystal ball or tarot cards to assist us, we can only take an educated guess at the skills that today’s children will need in the future to ensure they are equipped to meet the challenges that might come their way in the 21st century. However, even without any mystical assistance, it seems clear that the need for digital literacy is vital and part of our role as teachers is to help the young people meet that need.

So what is Digital Literacy? Searching for a definition on Google (‘What is digital literacy?’) brings back a mightily impressive search response of around 16,100,000 results. Yikes! Just a few then! A crystal ball would come in pretty handy around now…

But the truth is, we cannot have a simple and single definition. As the definition of literacy continues to evolve then our definition of digital literacy also needs to be flexible enough to respond to an ever changing world. Indeed, we may find in the future that, as the online and offline worlds become more and more closely intertwined, we no longer need a separate identifier for ‘digital’ literacy – the skills needed to access, critically understand and build upon information in any format may no longer need to be separated simply because one ‘text’ is a paper book and the other is an online environment.

As Doug Belshaw points out in The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, 2014, Iiteracy is a spectrum – we cannot easily define the moment when someone becomes literate  but we can recognise when one learner is more literate than another. Does the same hold true for digital literacy? Of course it does. Just as the child who is read to from when they were a baby, exposed to a rich range texts at home, and provided with opportunities to hear and take part in rich language dialogues, is likely to develop a high level of literacy, the child who is exposed to and familiar with a range of online tools and environments (and the appropriate behaviours and expectations associated with them) will develop the skills and abilities needed to operate effectively in the digital sphere.

However, it’s pretty difficult to try to teach a set of skills if we can’t come up with some coherent definition that’s at least useful for now. Helpfully, HGIOS 4 includes just such a definition in the appendix:

“Digital literacy encompasses the capabilities required for living, learning and working in a digital society. It includes the skills, knowledge, capabilities and attributes around the use of digital technology which enable individuals to develop to their full potential in relation to learning, life and work. It encompasses the skills to use technology to engage in learning through managing information, communicating and collaborating, problem-solving and being creative, and the appropriate and responsible use of technology.” 

 – How Good Is Our School 4, Appendix 2, Education Scotland, September 2015 

This definition can be interpreted in many ways by the teacher trying to make sure she is addressing the theme of Digital Literacy with her class. It would be tempting to focus on the area of digital skills – these are perhaps more quantifiable and ‘trackable’ than some of the other areas of the definition. It’s easy enough to say “Yes, this child can log into a PC, load up a presentation programme, source images online, and present their work using a projector to their peers.” Box ticked, job done? Well, no. What if the child wants to use a different means to present their information? A video? A poster? A website? Were the images the child found online copyright cleared? In fact, do the children know about copyright and how it works online? If the child wants to publish their work online to a wider audience, can they do that, and do they know how to keep safe while doing so?

Teaching only the ability to go through the motions of utilising digital technology is all but useless – in one, five, ten, twenty years these programmes may no longer be in use, the hardware may look nothing like today’s, and the legal landscape online may have vastly changed. What we need to do is prepare learners to be safe, inquisitive, responsible, creative, risk aware but fearless in the online world, and that’s a bit more complex than showing a child how to open a PowerPoint and paste in an image.

The difference between digital skills and wider digital literacies is explored very clearly in this useful article by Maha Bali on the International Literacy Association’s site (thanks to Rosslyn Lee for linking to it on her North Ayrshire Glow Development site).  One example that Maha Bali gives to illustrate the difference looks at educational use of Twitter:

Digital skills would focus on which tool to use (e.g., Twitter) and how to use it (e.g., how to tweet, retweet, use TweetDeck), while digital literacy would include in-depth questions: When would you use Twitter instead of a more private forum? Why would you use it for advocacy? Who puts themselves at risk when they do so?”

These are the types of questions teachers and learners should be exploring when using digital technologies. Not ‘how do I make this work?’ (although that is important) but why should I use this tool and not another? What do I need to consider to make sure I use this tool safely, responsibly and legally? Can I use this in combination with another tool? If not, why not? Can I make them work together?

This may seem like a daunting prospect to a teacher who is not yet confident in the use of digital technology and who worries about his or her own suitability to teach even the basics, but with the right guidance and support, those worries could be vanquished. Curriculum for Excellence is designed to foster creativity and enquiry in all areas of learning – we already design our learning activities to allow for this, and to offer personalisation and choice. In the online world, the opportunities for creativity, exploration and innovation are infinite, and if we ensure the young people understand how to stay safe and responsible while using technology, then there is no better arena for nurturing these attributes.

Over the next few posts, we’re going to be looking more deeply at the theme of Digital Literacy from HGIOS 4. It’s a big area, as we’ve certainly realised over the course of this week when trying to narrow down an aspect to write about! Our plan is to break it down into three posts, each looking at a different set of stakeholders:

  1. Digital Explorers – What does Digital Literacy mean for Scottish learners in 2016?
  1. Digital Guides – what do teachers need to know and do in order to ensure digital literacy for themselves and their learners?
  1. Digital Empowerers – How can school and local authority leaders support the process of improving digital literacy in staff and learners?

 

Buckle In

September 2015 saw the publication of How Good Is Our School 4 – the latest incarnation of Scotland’s school inspectorate’s quality framework.  The evolution of the HGIOS series has moved from looking at ways for school leaders to quantify and monitor effective learning and teaching, through the self-evaluative model of HGIOS 3, and now to the all-inclusive, collaborative and reflective framework of HGIOS 4.

The number of quality indicators has been halved since HGIOS 3 – down to 15 from 30 – with only three sections: Leadership and Management, Learning Provision, and Successes and Achievements. The order is deliberate – effective leadership allows for and supports effective learning provision, which leads to success and achievement for the learners.

Yet, despite its streamlined appearance, HGIOS 4 is arguably the most significant version of the framework we’ve seen. As well as tightening up the format, condensing the best of what has come before into a clearer, more manageable structure, the document introduces and highlights areas that have been missing or merely nodded to in the past.

One of these areas is the one these bloggers are most interested in – Digital Competencies.

Outcome 3.3 in HGIOS 4 – Increasing Creativity and Employability –  includes the themes of Digital Innovation and Digital Literacy. It would be useful here to look at the Level 5 Illustrations for each of these themes, to make it clear what ‘very good’ practice might look like:

Digital Innovation: Children and young people work individually and in teams creating both digital and non-digital solutions. As their digital literacy becomes more sophisticated they embed computation to solve problems. Increasingly they apply the core principles underpinning digital technologies to develop their own ideas. Their skills are up-to-date with technological advances informed by a range of sources including the expertise of the young people themselves. 

Digital Literacy: Children and young people are innovative, confident and responsible in the use of technologies and staying safe online. They critically examine and make informed choices about the use of digital technology to enhance and personalise learning in school and where appropriate, beyond the school day. They anticipate and respond to new opportunities and threats caused by developments now and in the future. 

HGIOS 4, 2015

While these illustrations are not meant to be exactly replicated, they give a good example of the standard of digital engagement that will now be expected, should a school hope to achieve a ‘very good’ rating in this quality indicator. And many schools, reading this for the first time, will experience a creeping sense of panic, wondering “How are we going to approach this?”

Obviously, this is not the case for all schools. There is excellent practice going on within some schools and local authorities, such as Falkirk (who have been very forward thinking in their encouragement of schools to develop digital literacy), and East Lothian (who have historically been ahead of the game where digital learning is concerned). However, the onus is now on everyone to ensure that that Digital Literacy is given an important seat at the table with all staff being made responsible for this. This is either terrifying or exhilarating depending on the way you look at it, and to get uncertain staff on the digital roller-coaster, especially those who feel their own digital competencies are lacking, schools need to be able to offer them supports so that they climb on feeling suitably ‘buckled in’ for the ride.

Key ideas leap out of the HGIOS 4 message of digital innovation and digital literacy, encouraging creative thinking and collaboration and offering a level of challenge to both staff and pupils. Schools, who by now have had years to embed Literacy, Numeracy and Health and Wellbeing as responsibilities of all, are faced with a new challenge that will arguably be one of the most critical in keeping schools relevant in the future. Our ability to prepare young people for life beyond the classroom depends on our ability to foster and embed these essential skills for life, learning and work while nurturing creative thinking and resourcefulness.

Of course, the need to be digitally competent in the workforce is not new, with the majority of jobs in the UK today requiring the confident use of digital technologies. However, until this point, schools have been able to gloss over this much needed skillset, confident that their teaching was meeting pupil needs in all the ways that mattered, at least as far as HMIe were concerned.  In many cases, pupils’ digital competencies were left to develop by themselves. After all, isn’t it a common (if not strictly true) adage that today’s learners are digital natives, while their teachers hold only digital immigrant status? Don’t we all know that the kids know way more about ‘ICT’ than their teachers anyway? So what could we possibly teach them? But even ‘natives’ require support and guidance. We cannot assume that all pupils have encountered the same digital learning experiences out of school, that they will have been exposed to the same technologies at home, or that they will have an awareness of digital safety, etiquette and applications. We need to facilitate their learning, providing a space where pupils can safely challenge and be challenged. In order to do this, our profession needs to look inwards and be prepared to move beyond the traditional teacher role of ‘expert knowledge transmitter’. The role of the teacher is evolving and HGIOS 4 is clear indicator of this change. We are as much learners as the pupils (or at least, we should be) and we need to be willing to take on the challenge and move out of our comfort zones.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the digital themes in HGIOS 4, and examine what the changes might really mean for learners and teachers in this Digital Nation.

The Presentation that Wasn’t

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 21.16.26In October 2015, West Hartfortd Connecticut saw the first Digital Citizenship Summit. Co-founded by Marialice B.F.X. Curran & David Ryan Polgar, the summit’s aim was to bring  together “all stakeholders involved in SAFE, SAVVY, and ETHICAL social media and tech use”.  The event was attended by over 220 delegates from all walks of digital life, and made an impact on the Twitter world, becoming the top trending topic in the US on that day.

After talks with William Jenkins of EdTech_Stories, a plan was made to bring DigCitSummit to the UK. We became involved as the initial idea was to host the event in Scotland. However, for various reasons, the event ended up taking place today, at the University of Bournemouth.

We were asked to present a virtual seminar, and decided on the joint topic of Glow and the possible impact of HGIOS 4. We huddled around a laptop, and were lucky to catch a great presentation from Barclays about their Digital Eagles enterprise, and to chat to a few of the delegates, but unfortunately the day wasn’t running to time, and we ended up not being able to present. We’ve put the slides up on SlideShare anyway, in case anyone is interested in having a wee look – we’d be happy to answer any questions! We hope the rest of the day went well – you can look back at the day’s tweets on the #DigCitSummitUK tag. We’re hoping for  a Scotland based summit at some point in the not too distant future.

Reaching the Summit

We’re presenting tomorrow at the first UK Digital Citizenship summit, and we’re getting very excited! We won’t be flying down to Bournemouth, more’s the pity, but joining virtually from the comfort of home.

Our talk is called “The Future is Glowing” – we’ll stick a link to the presentation up here after the event. As you might have guessed, we’re talking about the impact of Glow and other online tools, and the possibilities and challenges posed by How Good Is Our School 4, especially Quality Indicator 3.3.

Follow the hashtag  to find out ways to join in with the event, and maybe even watch our talk – 11:30 AM GMT Saturday 23rd January.