Monday, December 11, 2006

Free everything from Wikia

Wikipedia, actually Wikia (not-for-profit venture), announced in Paris that it is to offer “free software, free bandwidth, free storage, free computing power, free content over the internet.” It will run using MediaWiki and ALL ad revenue will go back to the bloggers and others who use the service.

On the money side Wales has recently raised several million from private sources and has struck some sort of deal with Amazon.

Don't you just love this stuff.

Limp Leitch

So Sandy Leitch (he who went out with Blunkett's amour - small world indeed) delivers his 'generation changing' report. What a yawn!

The BIG idea was that students should stay on at school until 18 unless they find a job with training. Interesting - but a pipedream.

As for the rest...

1. Employers disengage because they have to deal with too many agencies.
LEITCH: Create another agency (sorry commission).

2. ILAs (Individual Learner Accounts) collapsed in a swamp of fraud.
LEITCH: Revive Learner Accounts

This was a wasted opportunity, a chance to recommend some real institutinal change and a more radical approach to the problem. What we got was a little reorganisation and some old hat ideas.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

BECTA on the offensive

Pindar pokes profession
Strong stuff from the new BECTA chair. In a blistering analysis on the wasted spend in schools, the new Chair of BECTA, Andrew Pinder, blamed the teaching profession as being the block on progress.

Schools a cottage industry
Every other area of human endeavour seems to have been made more efficient and effective through technology, yet education and training seem to be fossilised. Few teachers and trainers are using technology usefully, most of them hobbiests and enthusiasts. The reason? According to Pinder, education doesn't see itself as an INDUSTRY. It has lots of technology but few who know how to apply sensible business models. The system is stuck in a mode where the teacher in a classroom of 30 students is the primary delivery method. Teaching, in this sense is still a cottage industry, and as a cottage inustry, with power in the hands of individuals, progress has been impossible.

Profession is the problem

In the outside world, where technology has forced institutional reorganisation above that of the individual, we have seen massive increases in productivity. In schools, where power and budget is in the hands of the teaching 'profession' we have seen little progress. He sees the 'profession' as the problem. Professionals want control as individuals, want to do their own thing, and often refuse to be organised, or reorganised.

Schools, in his opinion, are organised in the wrong way. They need institutional reform, not management by individuals. One must separate the institution from its staff. In education the workers are in control and run the system for their benefit. They can't go out of business, are massively funded and supported by the state and have therefore have no reason to reform themselves. Reform must come from the outside.

Irrelevant research
He was also scathing about 'irrelevant research'. He has a point, as we seem to have lost our way here, with almost all useful research is now stateside.

Whiteboards - trivial
On whiteboardsm his views are clear - a minor if not marginal initiative that just reinforced the old 'teacher in front of a class' model. It is, effectively, and expensive enhancement of the Victorian blackboard (introduced around 1870!).

This looks like a good appointment. This guy has seen it from both sides, as a private and public sector manager. He's full of bold ideas and not scared to go on the offensive when he encounters 'professional' hubris.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Harvard research damns diversity training

Harvard’s Frank Dobbin has conducted the first major, systematic study of diversity programmes across 708 private sector companies, using employment data and surveys on employment practices. His research concluded that, “Practices that target managerial bias through…diversity training, show virtually no effect.” In fact, “Research to date suggests that… training often generates a backlash.”

Many other studies show that diversity training has activated, rather than reduced diversity (Kidder et al 2004, Rynes and Rosen 1995, Sidanias et al 2001, Naff and Kellough 2003, Bnedict et al 1998, Nelson et al 1996). These are all referenced in the report.

The research is a very thorough piece of work, and well worth reading, which is why it will most likely be comprehensively ignored.

http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~dobbin/cv/working_papers/aapracticesFinalProof.pdf

Friday, November 10, 2006

Drinking champagne from shoes

A fun night at the e-learning age awards, especially as our table (LINE Communications) won the top award of the night - can't remember what it was called, but something along the lines of 'Fastest growing, leading, best e-learning company in the universe'....it was getting late and the cabernet was flowing like wine!

Awards nights have an odd effect on me. Held in hotels I'd never dream of staying in, stomachs popping out of tuxedos that have seen better days (as have their owners), strange dresses (taffita confections with well buttressed bosoms oozing out at the top) and food to die for (literally). There was the predictable 'terrine' easy to slice for the assembled hordes, chicken (makes a change from the salmon steak), then a surprisingly tasty lemon tart (better than the usual drum-shaped chocolate mousse with plastic-tasting chocolate shavings). Why do they give you a printed menu when there's never any choice?

There were some 'quotes' and 'anecdotes' told by the compere that were well past their retirement date. "You may be surprised (we weren't) to learn that, in 1947, the CEO of IBM predoicted that there would be a market for SIX computers" - cracked me up that did.

Led some of us to reflect on our greatest ever award ceremonies. My favourite was the ill-fated BIVA Awards (Biritsh Interactive Video Awards) held in the Brighton Metropole when Willy Rushton stood up, looked out across the room, and said "BIVA - the last person who had a view like this was Joan Collin's gynacologist". Some laughed but almost all of the women in the audience rightly booed and the night quickly descended into anarchy. The next year they changed their name to BIMA!

But my favourite tale of an awards ceremony, also held in the Brighton Metropole, was of a training manager from that sober company Alliance & Leicester, who won an award and treated her table and the production company (Convergent I think) to a bottle of brandy and a crate (yes crate) of champagne which they took to the producer's room. There they proceeded to drink the champagne from her shoes (always wanted to do this) and a night of debauchery ensued. The next morning DA (his initials) woke up to the sound of the housekeeper knocking on the door. He was still in his tuxedo, shoes on his feet, and looked around to see smashed lamps, broken bottles strewn across the floor, an overflowing bath and torn curtains. He apologised profusely to the housekeeper, who replied 'Don't worry, I've seen worse!'. Stephenie, the client, paid for the damages. Those were the days!

Internet access alone raises test scores

Up to two thirds of UK households now have internet access. But does simple internet access raise academic achievement in chldren?

HomeNetToo research by Linda Jackson, a psychology professor at Michigan State University, gave internet access to 10-16 year olds in low-income households that had no previous access. They were free to use it as they wanted and the average turned out to be around 30 minutes per day.

The findings were consistent across both genders – the more time the children spent on the web the higher their academic achievement as measured by standard test scores.

The study concluded that the increased reading and comprehension led to increased literacy, which in turn led to improvements across the board (except in maths). Literacy has long been recognised as a predictor in other subjects.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

NLP – training’s shameful, fraudulent cult

Know this guy? He was arrested for First Degree murder in 1988 and charged with the murder of his bookkeeper, who was also running a call-girl operation on the side. He had plunged headlong into cocaine addiction, and only he and his drug dealer (who was also the victim's boyfriend) were present in her house when the shooting took place. He's one of the founders of NLP - a crackpot of the first degree - Richard Bandler.

This self-fulfilling faith has propelled itself into the heart of the training world. NLP Neuro-Linguistic Programming has little to do with serious neuroscience and linguistics but it is certainly a programme. The practitioners have been ‘programmed’ to believe the ‘programme’, giving them the right to ‘programme’ others. That’s what cults do. Ever criticised NLP in front of a NLP practitioner? Like all fundamentalists they respond with the full force of the fanatic.

Science fiction
The NLP expert will tell you that it is science. Indeed, the whole brand (and it is almost nothing more than a brand) depends upon it appearing to be science. CAP, the regulatory body for UK advertising, has already slapped the wrists of those claiming that NLP is science. Yet, immune to the huge amount of scientific evidence showing that it is bogus, you will quickly hear them retreat to the idea that ‘science isn’t everything’ or that the techniques ‘cannot be verified through clinical trials’. They can’t have it both ways.

NLP is not a unified theory, it’s a hotch–potch of theories, all unverified. The founders and their disciples have been involved in incredibly bitter disputes about the so-called theory and ownership of the three letters. Gregory Bateson, a now forgotten new-age sociologist, along with his student, Richard Bandler (later drug addict and arrested for First degree murder in 88) and John Grinder produced a messy soup of new age thinking. It folded in hypnosis, psychotherapy and unconscious thinking (and to be frank any old rubbish that comes their way) into a suitably palatable omelette for the gullible. (Trainers love it as it has lots of little childish tricks for classroom courses.)

Heap of crap
The Principal Clinical Psychologist for Sheffield Health Authority, Dr Heap, looked at 70 papers on NLP, to examine its theoretical underpinning - Primary Representational System (PRS). This is the claim that we think in a specific mode: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory or gustatory (first three being the most common). This stinks – NLP tutors would now diagnose me as olifactory, as keywords (predicates) are central to the theory, along with eye movements. The claim is that rapport can be enhanced using these techniques, therefore fooling people into doing what you want; working harder, buying your product etc.

Fine, but surely we can tell, from simple scientific trails whether this is all true or not? Heap did exactly this. He looked at the scientific literature and found that PRS is not serious science. He found that 'keywords' are not indicators in the way NLP practioners claim and ‘eye movement’ theories are, in particular, widely rejected.

OK, so what about establishing rapport? Again Heap found that there was no scientfic evidence for the claim that these techniques improve rapport. In one now famous study, Cody found that NLP therapists, using language matching, were actually rated as untrustworthy and ineffective. Heap concludes that NLP is “found to be lacking” and that “there is not, and never has been, any substance to the conjecture that people represent their world internally in a preferred mode which may be inferred from their choice of predicates and from their eye movements”.

Completely bogus
David Platt, drawing from the excellent German NLP research website (http://www.nlp.de/) found that the science found:

1. No bona fide evidence to support the use of representational systems and concluded that they did not appear to play any significant role in communication.

2. Use of predicates had little to no influence in building or enhancing rapport.

3. Eye-accessing cues appeared to have no significant positive or negative impact when utilised in personal interactions.

Serious linguists will have nothing to do with the theory as its linguistic components were debunked long ago.

Corballis cuts to the quick "NLP is a thoroughly fake title, designed to give the impression of scientific respectability. NLP has little to do with neurology, linguistics, or even the respectable subdiscipline of neurolinguistics".

Others, such as Beyerstein, go further accusing NLP of being a total con, new-age fakery to be classed alongside scientology and astrology and many serious management thinkers decry its presence in management theory.

Last year, Sanghera, in the FT, described NLP as ‘pop-psychology’, ‘pseudosciene’ and ‘banal’. It has been called training’s ‘astrology’. ‘Psychobabble’ is another commonly used term.

So how come a theory with no credible academic basis in psychology, linguistics and neuroscience is still being delivered as serious training? It would seem that the training world is happy peddling pseudoscience. The actual scientific basis of NLP is of no real interest to trainers who are happy doing parlour tricks in classrooms.

References

Heap, M. (1988). Neuro-linguistic programming, In M. Heap (Ed.) Hypnosis: Current Clinical, Experimental and Forensic Practices. London: Croom Helm, pp 268-280.

Heap, M. (1989). Neuro-linguistic programming: What is the evidence? In D Waxman D. Pederson. I.

Krugman, Kirsch, Wickless, Milling, Golicz, & Toth (1985). Neuro-linguistic programming treatment for anxiety: Magic or myth? Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology. Vol 53(4), 526-530.

Corballis, M. in Sala (ed) (1999) Mind Myths. Exploring Popular Assumptions About the Mind and Brain Author: Sergio Della Sala Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons ISBN 0-471-98303-9 p.41

Beyerstein.B.L (1990). "Brainscams: Neuromythologies of the New Age.". International Journal of Mental Health 19(3): 27-36,27.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Carl Rogers and institutionalised emotional control

Heard of Carl Rogers? Believe me, he has a lot to answer for in education and training. This is the guy who promoted 'client-centred' therapy and modern counselling. It is he who is largely responsible for the flood of therapy-oriented methods that have become widely adopted in education and training through appraisals, coaching, mentoring and the flood of emotional control training. Roger’s influence (unfortunatley) can be felt everywhere in modern learning.

This started way back in 1951 when Rogers had looked at 'student-centred teaching' in Client-Centered Therapy (1951: 384-429). There he claimed that teaching is really facilitation and that we must allow the learner to relax to learn and feel free from any form of threat. Fine, but this was to turn into a monstrously distorted idea in the later Freedom to Learn (1969:83: 93) which takes counselling principles and applies them to education in schools.

Here’s a short history of how emotional control became institutionalised:

Therapy mad - Out of an earlier psychoanalytic tradition the US became a ‘therapeutic state’ in 60s – and we imported it - big time

Pseudo-psychological language - We managed to redefine personal difficulties as a sort of pathology – so that the everyday language of managers now includes terms like; self-esteem, in-denial, codependency, stress and so on (note that these terms only began to be used in 80s and 90s – see Furedi (2004)).

Professional intervention - The formalisation of relationships between people within organisations became increasingly codified as we institutionalised therapeutic practices appraisals, counselling and so on. A whole new HR priesthood became the supposed guardians of our emotional welfare.

Institutionalised therapeutic training – Therapy culture became codified as training courses e.g. emotional intelligence, stress management and now a tsunami of compliance and regulatory courses around diversity, age etc.

We now need ‘experts’, ‘processes’ or ‘training’ to manage what was the rough and tumble of everyday relationships with other people. On top of this there’s a whole ‘trauma’ industry where sensible legislation is used to push through often fatuous claims.

Of course, in most cases in this ‘counselling game’, both sides pretend that it’s a real dialogue. What used to be called honest discussion between adults now takes place behind closed doors in appraisals and counselling sessions, or even worse, official mentoring. We must all pray at the holy altar of endless open questions and the most banal forms of gossipy soul searching.

What seems like a sensible approach to human interaction, namely facilitation through authenticity in the facilitator of learning, has turned into its opposite - a sort of conformity of emotional control, where every sphere of life has become subject to a new emotional culture with therapeutic cures. Everyone is ill until proven healthy.

Learning is not a cure to an illness
Rogers's influence on therapy, counselling and education is enormous. The general tone of learning through facilitation was set by him and continues to this day in a sort of counsellor/teacher role. This has been positive on the one side, but also has negative consequences. Facilitated learning may benefit more from the honest dissolution of misconceptions rather than an abundance of empathy. Unfortunately, the therapy-oriented techniques aimed at troubled minds do not always apply to people who simply want to learn. Not knowing something is not an illness to be cured by therapy.

Socratic method gone mad
In a previous post I had a go at the naïve use of the term ‘Socratic method’. The therapy culture is the ‘Socratic method’ gone mad. In counselling, the idea that the client knows more than the counsellor became the prevalent model. Unfortunately, this extreme form of the Socratic method is difficult in learning, where, by definition, the learner doesn’t have the knowledge or skill to start with.

Rogers, C. and Freiberg, H. J. (1993) Freedom to Learn (3rd edn.), New York: Merrill.

Furedi, F. (2004) Therapy Culture Routledge.

Kirschenbaum, H. (1979) On Becoming Carl Rogers, New York: Delacorte Press.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Vygotsky - the Lysenko of learning

Why have learning academics been so keen to resurrect an old Marxist theorist, dress up half-baked sociology and pretend it’s psychology? I’m talking about the oft-quoted, seldom read Vygotsky.

Not content with fossilising 50 year old theory from Bloom, Gagne and Kirkpatrick, the learning world digs even deeper into the past to bring back to life a guy who died in 1934!

Having worked my way through 'Thought and Language' and 'Mind in Society' along with several other Vygotsky texts, I'll be damned if I can see what all the fuss is about. He is to the psychology of learning what Lysenko was to genetics. Indeed the parallel with Lysenko is quite apposite. Forgoing the idea of genetics he sees interventionist, social mediation as the sole source of cognitive development. Vygotsky is a sort of ‘tabla rasa’ Lamarkian learning theorist.

Vygotsky’s psychology is clearly rooted in the dialectical historicism of Hegel and Marx. We know this because he repeatedly tell us. His focus on the role of language, and the way it shapes our learning and thought, defines his social psychology and learning theory. Behaviour is shaped by the context of a culture, and schools reflect that culture. He goes further, driving social influence right down to the level of interpersonal interactions. These interpersonal interactions, he thinks, mediate the development of children’s higher mental functions, such as thinking, reasoning, problem solving, memory, and language. He took larger dialectical themes and applied them to interpersonal communication and learning. This is in direct contradiction to almost everything we now know about the mind and its modular structure.

For him, psychology becomes sociology as all psychological phenomena are seen as social constructs. In this respect he reverses Piaget’s position that development comes first and learning second. Vygotsky puts learning before development - asort of social behaviourist. He's simply wrong.

Very specifically he prescribes a method of instruction that keeps the learner in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This is the difference between what can be known on one’s own and what can potentially be known. To progress, one must interact with peers who are ahead of the game through social interaction, a dialectical process between learner and peer. This is not theory, it’s a trite observation.

The rarely read Vygotsky appeals to those who see teaching and instruction as a necessary condition for learning – it is NOT. It also appeals to sociologists who see culture as a the determinant factor in all learning – it is NOT . As a pre-Chomskian linguist, his theories of language are dated and still rooted in now discredited dialectical materialism.
Sorry - gone on a bit here - but soviet sociology is not psychology.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Kolb - anyone know his first name?

Don’t get me wrong, the lack of focus on experiential learning is often catastrophic. Too much classroom instruction and emphasis on factual knowledge so often squeezes the life and learning out of a subject.

Kolb (Can anyone remember his first name?) and his magic cycle, is usually pulled in when ‘experiential’ learning is being considered (rarely of course). In fact, there was a long line of theory well before this, with John Locke in his Talk to Teachers and Dewey’s Experience and Education. Other influences include Lewin and Piaget.

Experiential learning





David A.Kolb (withRoger Fry) came up with the now famous four stage learning cycle.

Looks pretty good – yeah. Well the idea that such a clean cycle exists in reality or is even desirable was put to the test by Jarvis (1987, 1995) and shown to be wanting. Things are usually more complex that these simplistic instructional models suggest. The cycle doesn’t really happen and learning is causally more complex and messy than Kolb suggested.

Kolb saw us entering this cycle at any point and improving by looping round and round, putting your ideas to the test of real application, then, with relevant feedback, improving. Of course, experience, in the form of observed learning, shows that stages can be skipped or performed in parallel. The theory also ignores the important role of efficient memorisation.

We won’t mention his Learning Style Inventory, as that really was a crock of ….

If you’re interested in the books and Jarvis’s critique, here’s the reading list – or perhaps you’d like to rely on pure experience.

Kolb, D. A. (1984) Experiential Learning, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall.

Kolb, D. A. (1976) The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual, Boston, Ma.: McBer.

Kolb, D. A. (with J. Osland and I. Rubin) (1995a) Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach to Human Behavior in Organizations 6e, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. (1975) 'Toward an applied theory of experiential learning;, in C. Cooper (ed.) Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.

Jarvis, P. (1987) Adult Learning in the Social Context, London: Croom Helm. 220 pages.

Jarvis P. (1995) Adult and Continuing Education. Theory and practice 2e, London: Routledge.

By the way – his first name was David.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Spiteful Socrates

I’ve had a go at Bloom, Gagne and Kirkpatrick, so why not an earlier target?

The ‘Socratic method’ is often hailed as some sort of untouchable principle in education and training. It is hauled out whenever one is in need of a quick dose of politically correct ‘pedagogy’. Yet how many who claim to know this edict have actually read Socrates? Very few. In fact, he never wrote a word. We know him largely through Plato and Xenophon.

I am a huge admirer of the Socrates Dialogues but squirm when I hear his name heroically mentioned in educational discussions. Why?

The method is often summed up as the teacher being the ‘midwife to the learner’s thoughts’, teasing out self-generated conclusions from the learner. In practice, Socrates was a brutal bully, described by one pupil as a ‘predator which numbs its victims with an electric charge before darting in for the kill’.

Woodbridge described him as using, ‘Flattery, cajolery, insinuation, innuendo, sarcasm, feigned humility, personal idiosyncrasies, browbeating, insolence, anger, changing the subject when in difficulties, faulty analogies, telling stories which make one forget what the subject of the discussion was. His great joy was simply pulling people and ideas to pieces’.

So, before we utter those sacred words ‘Socratic method’ let’s remind ourselves of the real Socrates – the prolific pederast, spiteful, setting out to destroy rather than enlighten his pupils.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Texting improves literacy - lol

Is texting responsible for all of this poor spelling and literacy? NO. In a study by Coventry University, Mrs Beverly Plester and Dr Clare Wood took 11 year olds and asked them to translate from text to English and vice versa, then put them through standards tests in spelling, reading and writing. The concluded that, “the use of text message abbreviations is linked positively with literacy achievements”.

Regular texters strong in literacy
The results showed that far from impairing spelling, reading and writing; texting correlates well with strong performance in the use of the English language. In fact, regular texters were strong readers and writers.

Increased awareness of phonetics?
It is thought that texting may increase their awareness of phonetics, which leads to better spelling, reading and writing. This is in line with the research that shows phonics as being far more effective in teaching literacy.

http://www.coventry.ac.uk/latestnewsandevents/a/2341

Saturday, September 30, 2006

New-Age training

We live in the ‘New-Age of compliance’. Apparently, we have an unbounded tendency to disciminate against those who are younger or older than ourselves (that's everyone born before and after you, namely everyone). As we are all guilty until proven innocent, we will ALL be subjected to the mass, collective punishment of tortuous ager-compliance training.

This is likely to be a curious mixture of over-detailed descriptions of the legislation, (The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 - SI No 2006/1031), crude scenarios that are never likely to happen in real life, mnemonics such as CRAP (Consider Recruitment on Age Prisonable) and questions such as,

Gillian calls Donald a “filthy, old, baldy, Scottish four-eyes”. Donald replies, “fair cop”! Is she contravening the:

a. Sex Discrimination Act, 1975

b. Race Relations Act, 1976

c. Disability Discrimination Act, 1995

d. Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006

e. All of the above

Employers, frightened by the new legislation, will spend untold sums of money hiring consultants, being audited, discussing, worrying, changing websites, reprinting documentation, altering recruitment procedures and, of course, delivering dull training around the New-Age legislation.

Of course, training itself becomes suspect.

Any training programme with ‘age-sensitive’ content becomes dangerous. I can think of dozens of examples where profiles of fictional people in scenarios, not only mention age, but are explicit about age-related issues. Curiously, in an attempt to be sympathetic to either youth or experience, they are often explicit about age, inadvertently breaking the law.

Your recruitment training (online and offline) is likely to have age-sensitive references and recommendations – they need to be changed.

Graduate training schemes are now suspect. They can be seen as discriminating on the grounds of age.

Coaching and mentoring training can no longer mention the advantages of being coached by someone older.

Profiles with ages mentioned on online discussion software needs to be amended.

Blended learning favouring a different approach for younger or older learners will not be tolerated. In IT training, age will be no defence. You will deliver the same training in the same way without fear or favour to anyone.

Above all, we’re likely to have another huge batch of dull training (classroom and e-learning) which will produce a soporific in learners, turning them off learning and painting the training department into a boring ghetto of compliance.

Literacy legacy

Government research has turned up woeful standards of literacy, huge sums of money have flooded into the system producing marginal effects, parents tear their hair out at the lack of progress their kids make in school and millions are spent on remedial adult literacy in a desperate attempt to solve the problem. It's been mayhem. Literacy education has been a disaster for several decades.

Phonics versus whole-word and whole-language' teaching
We now know why. Unambigiously, it was badly taught. The drift into lazy, 'whole-word' and 'whole-language' teaching ruined literacy education and has led to a legacy that is costing hundreds of millions to re-teach adults in the workforce.

This was a classic case of faddish, non-empirical theory ignoring the science. We know lots about how children learn to read and write, yet this was blissfully ignored by institutions and government departments, keen to implement non-scientific, unsubstantiated, progressive ideas.

Groupthink
It was classic 'groupthink' as teachers were taught in a relatively small number of institutions, led by a small number of advisors, in a top-down system that prescribed , as it turns out, the wrong method. These methods also allowed 'lazy' teaching - 'phonics' needs skills and programmes of clear instruction, whereas 'whole word' and 'whole-language' teaching put more effort on the child. It was a disaster of unimaginable proportions and has caused untold damage in schools, as literacy is a basic skill that is a good predictor of success in other areas of education.

Thankfully, it's being reversed, but all too slowly. The whole sorry tale is told with frightening clarity in this Scientific American article.

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf/pspi/reading.pdf

(Thanks to Seb Schmoller for this URL.)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Games and learning

At last some games software that has been designed for learning from a fantastic UK company called Caspian Learning.

I really like this stuff. It's not some games engine that's been shoe-horned into the learning space or an RPG peppered with multiple choice questions. It is genuinely useful, much easier to use than any similar software, and the output is stunning. At last we have a fexible, reskinnable agmes environment we can take and apply to a huge range of education and training tasks.

The argument is simple, these games are strong on motivation, strong on visuals, strong on participation, strong on engagement and strong on reinforcement. They do everything that the duller side of e-learning does badly.

Games are not the answer to all training problems but they are massively underused, as the tools are complex and expensive - until now. This authoring software is a joy to use as it's built around designed learning encounters that pay attention to the relevant act of learning. It's called'ThinkingWorlds' and it is superb. Check 'em out on:

http://www.caspianlearning.co.uk

Bloom goes boom!

OK, let's have a look at another 50 year old theory! Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives published in 1956, set in train 50 years of dull ‘taxonomy’ with his three domains:

Cognitive (knowledge)
Psychomotor (skills)
Affective (attitude)



OK, it was a start. Unfortunately, this is about as far as most people get. They rarely dig deeper into his further six levels in the cognitive, six different aspects of psychomotor skills and his rather useless three types of affective.

Sliced and diced
Since then we've had dozens of taxonomies which sliced and diced in all sorts of ways. We've had Biggs, Wills, Bateson, Belbin and dozens more. The problem with taxonomies is their attempt to pin down the complexity of cognition in a list of simple categories. In practice, learning doesn’t fall into these neat divisions. It’s a much more complex and messier set of cognitive processes.

Another danger is that crazy instructionalists, like Gagne, take these taxonomies and attempt to design learning that matches these categories, destroying much of the more useful approaches which an understanding of brain science brings; such as cognitive overload, working memory limitations, top-down processing and so on.

Thankfully, brain science has moved on and we have solid theory, especially on memory, which has put everything on a more empirical and scientific basis. Using Bloom is barely more useful than phrenology when actually designing useful learning.

I am now putting on my headguard and body armour.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Students who fall asleep score better

Quick naps improve memory. Mathew Tucker at The City University of New York has shown that nightime sleep, as well as daytime naps, improve retention (Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, vol 86, p 241).

Learners were asked to learn pairs of words and were tested immediately, then 6 hours later with a nap in-between. The ‘nappers’ scored 15% higher than the ‘non-nappers’ on the factual test.

There’s something quite interesting emerging in these empirical studies of memory. It would seem that significant increases in retention, perhaps the most fundamental aspect of learning, can come through simple adjustments and additional techniques. With a simple understanding of how knowledge and skills are acquired, stored, rehearsed and recalled, we could make significant advances in productivity.

It is clear that daytime napping is good for the retention of knowledge so I look forward to compulsory naps at school and after training courses. In my experience, in most classroom courses, this happens without much prompting!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Pocket Podcast Studio

I don't often post about gadgets but this is lovely. Belkin's TuneTalk is a microphone that snaps on to the top of your iPod. You can record podcasts straight to the iPOD. It even records in stereo, using sound from two mics, tilted slightly away from each other to create stereo effect. It then stores these files in a dedicated directory on the 5G iPod, the 5.5G iPod, or the latest iPod Nano.

At $69 it's fantastic value.

Donald talks bollocks

That’s Donald Kirkpatrick! The Kirkpatrick model, another piece of dreary and hopelessly over-engineered theory, is over 40 years old, and is in need of an overhaul (and not by Philips adding another Level). Even better, abandon it altogether.

Thh training world adopted this over-engineered rod for its own back. Senior managers don't want all of this superflous data, they want more convincing business arguments. It's the trainers that tell senior management that they need Kirkpatrick, not the other way round.

All the evidence points towards Levels three and four being rarely attempted as all of the resource focuses on Levels 1 and 2. It is not necessary to do all four levels. Given the time and resources needed in evaluation better to go straight to Level four.


Level 1 - keep 'em happy
Favourable reactions on happy sheets do not guarantee that the learners have learnt anything, so one has to be careful with these results. This data merely measures opinion. Learners can express satisfaction with a learning experience yet might still have failed to learn. For example, they may have enjoyed the experience just because the trainer told good jokes and kept them amused. Conversely, learning can occur and job performance improve, even though the participants thought the training was a waste of time! Learners often learn under duress or through experiences which although difficult at the time, prove to be useful later. This is especially true of learning through mistakes and failure.

Too often applied after the damage has been done. The data is gathered but by that time the cost has been incurred. More focus on evaluation prior to delivery, during analysis and design, is more likely to eliminate inefficiencies in learning.

I went to lots of brilliant comedy shows in the Edinburgh Festival this year, and was as happy as I've been allyear, but can't remember a single, damn joke.

Level 2 - Testing, testing

Recommends measuring difference between pre- and post-test results but pre-tests are often absent. End-point testing is often crude, often testing the learner’s short-term memory. With no adequate reinforcement and push into long-term memory, most of the knowledge will be forgotten, even if the learner did pass the post-test.

Level 3 - behave yourself
At this level the transfer of learning to actual performance is measured. This is complicated, time consuming and expensive and often requires the buy-in of line managers with no training background, as well as their time and effort.

Many people can speak languages and perform tasks without being able to articulate the rules they follow. Conversely, many people can articulate a set of rules well, but perform poorly at putting them into practice. This suggests that ultimately, Level three data should take precedence over Level two data.

Level 4 - does the business Fewer shortcomings. The ultimate justification for spending money on training should be its impact on the business. Measuring training in relation to business outcomes is exceedingly difficult. However, the difficulty of the task should not discourage efforts in this direction.

What to do? Should you evaluate at all? Of course, it is one thing to critique the Kirkpatrick model, another to come up with a credible alternative. I’d say apply Occam’s Razor - minimise the number of entities you need to reach your goal. Put the over-engineered, four-level, Kirkpatrick model to one side as it is costly, disruptive and statistically weak. Focus on one final quantitative and qualitative analysis.

I liked Stephen Kerr’s view, the CLO at GE, then Goldman Sachs - Kirkpatrick asks all the wrong questions, the task is to create the motivation and context for good learning and knowledge sharing, not to treat learning as an auditable commodity. He would literally like to see Kirkpatrick consigned to the bin.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gagne's Nine Dull Commandments

50 year old theory
It’s over 50 years since Gagne, a closet behaviourist, published The Conditions of Learning (1965). In 1968 we got his article Learning Hierarchies, then Domains of Learning in 1972. Gagne’s theory has five categories of learning;
Intellectual Skills, Cognitive strategies, Verbal information, Motor skills and Attitudes.

OK, I quite like these – better than the oft-quoted Bloom trilogy (1956). Then something horrible happened.

Nine Commandments
He claimed to have found the Nine Commandments of learning. A single method of instruction that applies to all five categories of learning, the secret code for divine instructional design. Follow the recipe and learning will surely follow.

1 Gaining attention
2 Stating the objective
3 Stimulating recall of prior learning
4 Presenting the stimulus
5 Providing learning guidance
6 Eliciting performance
7 Providing feedback
8 Assessing performance
9 Enhancing retention and transfer to other contexts

Instructional designers often quote Gagne, and these nine steps in proposals for e-learning and other training courses, but let me present an alternative version of this list:

1 Gaining attention
Normally an overlong Flash animation or coporate intro, rarely an engaging interactive event.
2 Stating the objective
Now bore the learner stupid with a list of learning objectives (really trainerspeak). Give the plot away and remind them of how really boring this course is going to be.
3 Stimulating recall of prior learning
Can you think of the last time you sexually harassed someone?
4 Presenting the stimulus
Is this a behaviourist I see before me?
5 Providing learning guidance
We’ve finally got to some content.
6 Eliciting performance
Multiple-choice questions each with at least one really stupid option.
7 Providing feedback
Yes/no, right/wrong, correct/incorrect…try again.
8 Assessing performance
Use your short-term memory to choose options in the multiple-choice quiz.
9 Enhancing retention and transfer to other contexts
Never happens! The course ends here, you’re on your own mate….

Banal and dull
First, much of this is banal – get their attention, elicit performance, give feedback, assess. It’s also an instructional ladder that leads straight to Dullsville, a straightjacket that strips away any sense of build and wonder, almost guaranteed to bore more than enlighten. What other form of presentation would give the game away at the start. Would you go to the cinema and expect to hear the objectives of the film before you start? It’s time we moved on from this old and now dated theory using what we’ve learnt about the brain and the clever use of media.

And don’t get me started on Mager or Kirkpatrick!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Teachers' TV is a turn off

Viewing figures suggest TTV is a turn off. So says article in The Guardian today. Well, well, what a surprise. The independent MORI poll shows that it's "failing to reach the majority of its target audience...".


Not the old 'don't have the time' defence
"Many don't have time to watch it" is one line of defence. What? Inset days galore, 16 weeks of holidays, a working day that stops earlier than everyone else. I'm sure they have time to watch real television, it's just not Teachers' TV.

Teachers can't use digital television
A problem, it seems, is that "the channel is difficult to reach". The channel is somewhat down the channel listings (it's hardly going to be next to the prime time options) and teachers don't know how to get to it! In other words they don't know how to use multi-channel television. Coming soon - a one day INSET course on 'How to use your remote control' from the Teachers Training Agency.

Dull, dull, dull
Andy Schofield, an excellent headmaster who knows more than most about the use of technology in schools, hit the nail on the head, "even when our own kids are on it I can't be bothered to watch it". It's dull, dull, dull. The image top left is typical - lots of really dull discussion - most of it feels like the cheap TV it is, or a bad school lesson.

Ill-fated choice
This initiative was an easy option for the DfES, a home for lost souls from the BBC. Poorly researched, it should have been piloted like a real comedy programme (that's closer to the mark than you think). This was a rushed policy decision, backed up by old-fashioned views on media that has wasted millions and has failed to reach its intended audience. At £20 million a year the cost per unique viewer is astronomical.

Interestingly, the internet downloads, available at all times have been the one success story, which begs the question, why use linear TV when the internet gives this so-called busy audience 24/7 access. You're working in the wrong medium guys. Haven't you noticed that even the BBC are scurrying to reshape themselves as an online provider? Ditch the channel and put the whole lot on YouTube or Google Video.

Friday, September 15, 2006

SME – Subject Matter Egomaniacs

I was recently asked to help find a subject matter expert for a major technical training programme. My response was that the subject was covered in excellent detail in at least five major textbooks written by world-class experts (the real SMEs). Of course, the company in question now insist on using their own SME, who is third rate, and is now regurgitating stuff from the world-class authors. Led to me to reflect…..

SMEs rarely the best
SMEs are often unnecessary, as they’re rarely the ‘best’, usually just the closest or best in that organisation. What most organisations need in an injection of expertise from the outside, beyond what they already know.

SMEs can be egomaniacs
SMEs often come with huge egos – this often gets in the way of good learning. They want to impress rather than contribute.

SMEs are poor on delivery
They’ll pontificate, read your stuff and rubbish its accuracy, but they often fail to deliver good written content and often miss their deadlines – especially when they have a fulltime job being an expert.

SMEs don’t get learning
University lecturers, especially the esteemed Professors, often fail to understand the basic principles of learning, providing too much detail, resulting in cognitive overload. They assume they’re experts in learning and they’re not.

SMEs don’t get design
They want to control the design process as they regard themselves as experts on interactivity, media mix and video production etc.

Good SMEs are recent learners
Try using some recent learners as SMEs, they’re cheaper, better understand the learning problems (they’ve just been through them) that surround the content, have less of an ego, are cheaper and deliver because they have less responsibilities in the organisation. Carol Twig found this in her huge research project in HE – post-grads were often better teachers than the full-time staff.

Good SME is often a book
Real SMEs have usually crystallised their knowledge in books, articles etc. The best SME is therefore often a book, web content etc

If you have to use them - make it contractual!
Limit their sphere of activity by egtting them to sign a strict schedule, along with agreements on delivery, format for comments, what they have to do and what they don’t do (learning and interactive design).

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Experts or crackpots?

The Daily Telegraph no less
A group of 110 experts (sic) have, via that most progressive of newspapers - The Telegraph, sent a letter to the government. In an astounding act of arrogance the opening paragraph blames US and our elected representatives for destroying our children's lives “largely due to a lack of understanding, on the part of both politicians and the general public”. They, of course, are blameless. There are no substantive arguments or data offered in the letter therefore its worth comes down to the credentials of the signatories as 'experts'.

So who are these experts?
The lead signatory is the reactionary Sue Palmer who turns out to be the author of 'Toxic Childhood', basically an ex-teacher, luddite rant against computers and modernism. Palmer would love us to crawl back into some golden age of Enid Blyton and Narnia. What she fails to reveal is that she’s also been involved in the design of educational software to which she gets royalties!

Then there’s the hordes of teacher and psychotherapist signatories. Since when does merely being a teacher or psychotherapist make you an expert? Psychotherapy is famously awash with unregulated experts. In the rant for 'real food (as opposed to processed “junk”) the teachers and educational experts should remember that it wasn’t the expert headmasters, teachers, educational academics, LEAs, DfES or NUT that brought this issue to the fore, but a young TV cook using the very 'screen-based media' they hate.

Writers or hypocrites?
As for the children’s writers, I’m sure they’d like everyone to spend their days reading their books, not watching TV, movies and these pesky computer games. Get real, or better still, state that you will not allow any of your works to be used in "sedentary, screen-based entertainment” (their term) i.e. TV, movies and games. Or how about donating those millions to charities?

Crackpots like Jacqueline Wilson then have a go at kids being forced "to act and dress like mini-adults". Have you read her books? They’re packed with this stuff. Her titles include Bad Girls, Girls in Love, Girls in Tears. Give us a break Jacqueline, you’ve made millions from this teenage angst stuff. And what about the 7 TV series and films you’ve made? What a hypocrite.

Philip Pullman has also signed a mega-deal on films of His Dark Materials books. Some of the signatories make money from their web sites and lots have been involved in ‘screen-based’ content – when it means bucks in their own pockets.

Then there are the oddball academics – a Dr Richard House, senior lecturer at the Research Centre for Therapeutic Education (aaaagh) at Roehampton University. How many of you have heard of this esteemed centre of educational excellence?

Loads of educational consultants, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, play therapists etc, none, of course, who take any responsibility for the dire state of literacy teaching in our schools over the last couple of decades.

Joke professionals
Some sound like joke professionals:

Virginia Ironside Author (You must read her bestseller - Goodbye, Dear Friend: Coming to terms with the death of a Pet - I kid ye not!)

David Brazier Author, abbot (actually a Zen Therapist)

Hilary Wilce, Play Therapist (oh dear)

Sylvie Hétu, International trainer for International Association of Infant Massage (Infant Massage?)

Virginia Beardshaw CEO, I CAN (not the same I CAN who have teamed up with BT to use screen-based technology for communications and producer of websites!)

Dr Christopher Houghton Budd Economic historian (expert on auditing and Banking!)

Pie Corbett Author and literacy consultant (own up Pie - you've also had a slice of the computer games Pie)

Helen Freeman Director of Publications, Scholastic Magazines (have alook at the dozens of computer games and videos they sell on their web-site)

Diana Goodey Educational author (not the same Diane that makes all that money from CD-ROMs!)

Haya Oakley Hon Sec of The College of Psychoanalysts (one of the many institutions that are banned from using the 'ac' in their web address)

Denis Postle Psychotherapist and author of The Mind Gymnasium (that's an expensive CD-ROM!)

Pippa Smith and Miranda Suit Co-founders of Media March UK (odd consortium of right-wing and religious nutcases)

Nick Totton Editor, Psychotherapy and Politics journal (readeship of 110 - all signatories to this letter)

Who's really to blame?
No fewer than 3 ex-education secretaries and numerous luminaries from the educational establishment are also on the list. Despite having received billions in funding they’ve managed and maintained a system that is the very straightjacket they rant and rail against.

There is a serious debate beneath this oddball crowing and the serious minds with serious academic pedigrees in the list should have jettisoned the hypocrites and weirdos.

I’m with the kids – they’re a lot smarter than the professionals who profess to know what’s good for them.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/09/12/njunk112.xml

Friday, September 08, 2006

Weird day at DTI

Looked forward to fresh ideas from DTI e-learning delegates fresh from a mission to the US. What I got was a corporate plug for the BBC and a sort of anti-American bunfest.

Wrong keynote
First, it was the wrong keynote. Nigel Paine (BBC) has done a fantastic and innovative job within the BBC (he has now left the BBC) but the BBC is an idiosyncratic, over-funded entity which distorts rather than aids the market. Look at the appalling BBC Jam content (reviewed in this blog) and you’ll see what I mean.

US bashing
Then the returning delegates sounded as though they’d just been on a bad package holiday where there had been nothing to see or do, with quotes along these lines:

“We suffered Death by PowerPoint”
“We’re ahead of them on quality”
“Almost everything we saw was crap”

If you visit a load of corporates, such as IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Adobe, Accenture and Sun you will get dull PowerPoint presentations. You will also get lied to. (Speak to some veterans of this game such as Julian Wakely – he was in the audience). Does anyone really believe that these organisations are the sources of innovation on e-learning or the web? Dinosaurs don’t give birth to gazelles.

On more than a few occasions it descended into unnecessary US bashing. I was sitting next to an American (one of the most innovative people in the room) and we were cringing. Even the questions from the floor were jingoistic. The quality of our content is much better, our TV drama is second to none and so on - oh yeah!

Gurus travel by bandwagon, but...
OK their gurus Masie, Brandon and Bersin travel everywhere by bandwagon, and most of their large corporates talk relentless nonsense, but it’s a big place and if you look hard you’ll find plenty of innovation. I’ve been going to the US and reporting back for years (three times in the last year alone). I saw the best example of compliance e-learning I’ve seen (Michael Allen for Apple), some astounding MMOG military training (Forterra), met a great range of bloggers such as Jay Cross, wonderful stuff from Curtis Bonk in academia, the astounding success of the University of Phoenix, Wikipedia, LeapFrog in educational publishing and stuff so inspiring from Google that it made me want to cry with joy. I could go on.

By the end Iwas thinking about heading back - I wanted to watch The Sopranos.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Holidays - forget it!

Harris Cooper, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, researched how much children forget over the long summer break. The long summer break, along with other holiday patterns are largely hangovers from an agricultural age when harvests had to be gathered.

We know enough about memory to predict that a long period in which there is no reinforcement will lead to decay in what is known. Now we have some research that quantifies that decay.

1 to 3 months lost!
The results were staggering. Children typically forgot between 1 and 3 months of schooling during the summer break. The two areas that suffered most were numeracy and spelling, two primary educational targets. This massive drop in productivity shows that we should spread learning more evenly across the year. More terms with more, but shorter, holidays is the clear solution to poor standards in these areas. It would also help parents get better holiday deals. Unfortunately, any attempt to modernise the timetable is met with predictable and stiff resistance from teacher unions.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hizbollah, games and mobiles

Just back from the Middle East. Spoke to loads of people en route (actually loads of men and just one woman) in cafes and internet cafes. The take up of new technology is astonishing - here's a few examples:

Hizbollah Computer Game
We were in Jordan during the Israel-Lebanon war and it was interesting to see how the arab world sees this conflict. In effect, they see a different war. The news footage is full of Hizbollah, as well as Israeli, attacks. I seem to remember only seeing Israeli shot satellite images. Hizbollah means Party of God and have distanced themselves from Al Qaida. Indeed they despise Osama Bin Laden. Nasrallah is much more moderate than we in the west are led to believe. He denounced the 9/11 attacks as well as attacks on tourists in Egypt.

This is a sophisticated organisation who have even produced their own computer game - Special Force. This is based on Hizbollah's 20 year battle with Israel and is produced in Arabic, French and Farsi. They did this to counter the effects of US inspired military games that show the arab world as cannon fodder for US forces.

Special Force simulates operations on Israeli soldiers. You are a Hizbollah fighter and have to cope with the weather, mines and different numbers of Israeli troops. You can practise your sniping skills on Israeli political and military figures including the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The game resists the Israeli occupation through the mediaand sold thousands of copies in Lebanon in the first two weeks after its release and has gone on to sell at least 10,000 more since in other countries.

Internet Cafes
These were everywhere, even in the smallest of towns, and were very busy. Walking around observing I saw lots of guys playing games but also lots of veiled women on online dating or social websites. I can't read arabic, but the lurid graphics - large red hearts etc - were a sure sign. It would seem that the internet is one way to escape the strict rules about social appearance and contact.

Camel driver and blackberry
In the Wadi Rum, a wonderful and huge desert reserve (famously featured in the film Lawrence of Arabia) I witnessed a camel driver with a Blackberry.

Bedouin and satellite TV
The bedioun are a wonderful sight in their low slung goat-hair tents (expand in summer to create holes for airflow, contract in winter to keep in heat) and always a herd of goats, sheep and sometimes camels. I saw one with a satellite dish!. The guide explained that they run this from their truck battery and watch TV in the tent. He also explained that nomadic people often have mobiles as it is especially useful for keeping in touch with their other nomadic relatives and getting news on merkets etc.

Mobiles
everyone seemed to have a mobile. There's an interesting description in the book Muhajabebabes by Allegra Stratton (highly recommended) describing how gay men in Kuwait use mobiles and bluetooth to 'gezz' (crude) and make contact in their black tinted jeeps. Homosexuality is illegal in the Middle East although, as one can imagine, not uncommon. I had a copy of the Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom with me. It gives some idea of how common this was among both the Turkish and Arab troops.

More worrying was the political use of mobiles. the networks are often owned by relatives of the ruling powers. For example, Syriatel is owned by Assad's cousin and has been used to send everyone text messages inviting them to attend pro-Assad political rallies.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Virtual Summer Jobs

Just saw an excellent 3 minute short on Channel 4 about Alayne Wartell who makes $1,000 a week designing and selling virtual shoes, jewellery and flowers in Second Life. Other residents pay virtual money for Alayne's products, so that their characters can then wear them within Second Life. Her products are so popular she earns a vast amount of Linden Dollars (the currency of Second Life) that she then exchanges for real money at the end of every week.She argues that people pay for things that don't 'exist' all the time – from downloading MP3s to watching a film, people are already used to exchanging money for something that cannot be held.Alayne also met her husband Chris in the virtual world – they were next-door neighbours, despite living in Philadelphia and Harrogate respectively. Things moved quickly and six months later Alayne moved to the UK to marry Chris.

My kids have signed up and are making much smaller amounts by doing short tasks and jobs in this virtual world. It beats Macdonalds for a summer job!

Friday, July 28, 2006

The World is Flat - Elliot says so!

The Church of Masie (term invented by Clive Shepherd on his excellent e-learning blog) has emailed me with their programme for November 2006 – it looks woeful.

Main theme ‘Learning in a Flatter World”. I assume this is a reference to Thomas Friedman’s book on globalisation. (Always ready to jump on a bandwagon after it's passed by.) If this is so, then the fact that every named speaker in the email is American also seems to have passed them by.


Stephen Covey – remember The 7 Habits of Highly…..well vaguely. Also crazy fundamentalist.
Marshall Goldsmith – sort of new age Buddhist coach!
Ken Blanchard – yawn.
Wal-Mart is to receive an award – presumably for low pay and becoming one of the most hated brands in the world.
BBC also up for award – say no more – see previous post.

A host of other stars including Micky Mouse, Goofy …… yip every year.

There is some good news - the excellent Jay Cross will also be there.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

BBC Bitesize: Warning – may damage your child’s mind!

End of the year and my kids are doing some homework – in this case the BBC KS3 (11-14) bitesize science tests in biology, chemistry and physics. Three sets of short tests and they’re howling with laughter. “This is just a load of crappola, dad” says Callum, then called me over every time he hit a howler, and that was pretty often.


JUST PLAIN WRONG

Let’s start with the stuff that’s simply WRONG.

Q The products of photosynthesis are:

carbon dioxide and water (right according to Beeb!)
glucose and oxygen
light and dark

Initially Callum thought he had learnt this the wrong way round, but no, the Beeb clearly have no idea what the ‘products’ of photosynthesis are – right answer is ‘glucose and oxygen’. OK, to err is human, we all make mistakes, but it doesn’t get much better in chemistry.

Q A liquid has a pH of 1 – what does this mean?

it must be sodium hydroxide solution
it is strongly acidic
it is weakly acidic (right according to Beeb!)


Wrong again, the right answer is that ‘it is strongly acidic’.

Q Which state is shown in this diagram?

Diagram shows particles all touching each other in a beaker.

solid
liquid (right according to Beeb!)
gas


Completely wrong, ‘solid’ should be the right answer. The particles are tightly packed and all touching each other.

Q Which ammeter will have the biggest reading

Series circuit showing: ammeter – bulb - bulb – ammeter.

ammeter 1
ammeter 2 (right according to Beeb!)
they will read the same


To quote the Beeb’s own words in the revision section, “It doesn't matter whether you connect the ammeter on the left or right of the lamp, it will still give the same reading".

Q The diagram shows the waveform of two notes played on a musical instrument.
Which sound is louder, A or B?

Two waves (A & B) are shown. A has a higher amplitude but same frequency as B.

A
B (right according to Beeb!)


WRONG – it is A.


TWO RIGHT ANSWERS

Then there’s the questions with two possible right answers.

Q What natural process breaks large rocks into smaller ones?

erosion
sedimentation
metamorphosis
crystallisation
weathering (right according to Beeb!)


Erosion involves movement, and often results in the breaking down of large rocks into smaller ones, e.g. in river beds, cliff erosion etc.

Q Which of the following is NOT an effect of burning fossil fuels?

global warning
ozone depletion
acid rain
smog
fog (right according to Beeb!)


Ozone depletion is also correct as the result of CFCs which are completely artificial (they did not exist in nature prior to synthesis by humans). They were used in air conditioning/cooling units, as aersol spray propellants prior to the 1980s, and in the cleaning processes of delicate electronic equipment. They are not the result of burning fossil fuels.

Q What needs to be done to this circuit so that the lamp lights up?

Series circuit shown open switch and a bulb.

close the switch
add another lamp
add a cell (right according to Beeb!)


Again the first answer is also correct, and as it appears first, many choose it before reading on.


SPELLING, CAPITALISATION and MISSING WORDS

Q Which part of the skelton protects the lungs? Skelton?

Q What is the main reason why need protein in our diet?
Missing word.

Q influenza, flu, is caused by?
No capital at start of sentence.

Q Which of the following is not a use of artificial satellites??
Double punctuation.

Q Click the diagram that shows correctly how light beams and is reflected by a convex mirror. Sentence doesn’t make sense.


STUPID OPTIONS

This one is annoying as it makes the already awful tests invalid by giving the learner stupid and obviously wrong options.

Q Which of the following is not a fossil fuel?

velociraptor (STUPID OPTION)
coal
oil


Q What is magma?

a chocolate ice cream (STUPID OPTION)
molten rock
bubbles of gas

Q What can happen to a plant growing in soil without minerals?

it grows really well
it grows poorly, if at all
it leaves to find somewhere else to grow (STUPID OPTION)

Q What are the tiny air sacs in the lungs called?

ravioli (STUPID OPTION)
bronchioles
alveoli

Then there’s one that is so stupid you can’t get it wrong.

Q What does the hazard symbol mean?

Sign with word ‘CORROSIVE’ on it!

corrosive (IMPOSSIBLE TO GET WRONG)
irritant
harmful



TOO ADVANCED OR JUST CONFUSING

To give KS3 kids questions that are too advanced or plain confusing is another all-too-common fault. Then there’s the downright confusing.

Q Which of the following is not a way that we can reduce the use of fossil fuels?

leaving the TV on standby all night
walking instead of going in a car
turning the lights off when we leave a room


This becomes an exercise in logic for the learner with its double negative in the question and, in option 3, a triple negative!

Q Which of these hormones is responsible for ovulation?

oestrogen
FSH
LH *

The graph provided is unhelpful, indeed misleading, as the learner assumes it contains a clue to the answer – namely a spike in FSH. The correct answer is LH which is too advanced for KS3 and is not included in the revision material.

Q What does the heat energy supplied to an ice cube dowhen the ice is melting?

it warms it up
it makes the ice particles expand
it breaks some of the bonds in the ice *


The first option is arguably correct, it does warm it up, and as it is the first option, many go for it.

Q Which contains more heat energy, 100 grams of water at 0 degrees C or 100 grams of ice at the same temperature?

Strange question – absolutely designed to confuse at this level. They claim the water but a curious learner may question whether water can be water at 0 degrees C.

Can it get any worse? Yes it does. This question is actually impossible to answer:

Q What is the value of the clockwise moment on the wooden bar in N/cm, if each coin

As half the question is missing, it is impossible! I kid you not.

I could go on, as there’s lots of other errors, but I’ve already shown that the content is full of wrong answers, confusing (at times impossible) questions and poor English. The writers show a lack of basic science, as well as a lack of assessment design skills. Should these people be allowed near our children? You can go through the BBC learning content and find this slapdash approach in almost everything they do. Forget the idea that BBC=QUALITY. As a licence payer it makes me mildly annoyed, as an educator it makes me furious.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Future memory and learning

Future memories
Been researching memory theory (the real psychological key to learning) and came across a strange but massively relevant concept for learning – prospective memory – where you remember to do something in the future. It is tempting to see memory wholly in terms of the past, but we all have to remember to do things in the future. Learning works when it is applied.

We all have to remember to attend meetings, watch a TV programme or take a pill at times in the future. To do this our brains need cues to remind us. This is terribly important in the application of learning, where what we have learnt has to be applied in the real world.

Pop-in effect
The curious thing about such ‘memories’ is that they seem to just ‘pop’ into your mind. One school of thought (attention is necessary) claims that we need to be attentive, constantly monitoring to recall the intention. Another school (multiprocess) claims that attention and monitoring is not necessary. Whatever the mechanism, an understanding of what we need to do to encourage prospective memory is important in learning. We need to know how to store learning experiences so that prospective memory is used to best effect. It would seem that deliberately designed ‘representations’ to aide prospective memory really do work and that these need to be part of the learning process.

So don't forget to remember this idea next time you’re learning, teaching or training.

Winograd, E. (1988). Some observations on prospective remembering. In M. M. Gruneberg, P. E. Morris & R. N. Sykes (Eds.), Practical Aspects of Memory: Current Research and Issues (Vol. 2, pp. 348-353). Chichester: Wiley.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Dozy learners

Scientific American has published a paper in which learning was tested comparing those who learn then 'sleep on it' overnight, compared to normal '9-5' daytime learners.

Sleepers 76%, others 32%
They forced subjects in two groups to learn a new set of word pairs 12 minutes prior to testing--the well-rested radically outperformed those who had not slept; 76 percent of sleepers accurately recalled the initial pair compared to just 32 percent of their peers who had gone without shut-eye. "Memories after sleep are resilient to disruption," the researchers conclude in the paper outlining the finding published yesterday in Current Biology.

Sleep on it
This would suggest that the timimg of most education and training is not optimal. Evening homework for school kids, evening library study for students and late night reading seem to lead to much higher levels of retention.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Stop press - extortionist hits e-learning company!

Strange events down in Brighton's e-learning community......read on.....

Futuremedia Announces Legal Actions Against Attempted Extortion

BRIGHTON, England/PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Futuremedia plc(Nasdaq: FMDAY), a leading European learning communications provider, today announced that it has taken legal actions against Mr. Maas van Dusschoten. Mr. van Dusschoten, an individual residing in the Netherlands, has attempted since February 2005 to extort cash and shares from the Company and has distributed inaccurate and defamatory information about the Company and its past and present management and directors. Futuremedia is taking these actions on behalf of the Company and its shareholders. Mr. van Dusschoten's activities have been reported to the National Association of Securities Dealers ("NASD"), the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC"), and the appropriate authorities in the Netherlands. In addition, the Company has instituted civil actions against Mr. van Dusschoten in theNetherlands where he resides.

Leonard M. Fertig, CEO of Futuremedia stated, "Mr. van Dusschoten has deliberately misled shareholders in attempting to achieve his own criminal purposes, and the Company feels it is important to make shareholders aware of these activities and the resolute efforts of the Company to put an end to them. We have ignored this individual's extortion demands for payment but need to protect the reputation of Futuremedia from these malicious falsehoods." Mr. van Dusschoten posts on the Yahoo! Finance message board under several pseudonyms, including "dickie_dickk", "Dick_I_Dick" and "fmday victims", and has posted bogus press releases and impersonated the Company's CEO, Leonard M. Fertig. He has attempted such extortion by demanding cash and shares from the Company in faxes, letters and e-mails to Futuremedia management in return for ceasing his activities, which have included misleading, incorrect, defamatory and untrue statements about the Company through posts on the Yahoo! Finance message board. Mr. Van Dusschoten has stated in his correspondence and threats that he has deliberately and intentionally caused the share price of the Company todecline through his efforts. The Company has consistently refused to succumb to these attempts at extortion.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Wasted youth - it's official!


Interesting article on home schooling in The Sunday Times this week. One paragraph really did knock me off my chair. Imagine a study in any walk of business or life that shows people simply waiting for 50-60% of their time for something to happen. That’s exactly what two researchers have found in both the US and UK. American anthropologist Philip Jackson, showed that children in school spent 50% of their time waiting. When Roland Meighan took a stopwatch into a primary school to conduct the same research with his students, he found they spent as much as 60% of their time waiting for something to happen.

I recently went into a school for a morning and saw how true this was. This was an advanced school that had eliminated unnecessary movements by hundreds of kids between classes by having only 3 periods a day. But even here it was obvious that most of the time, most of the kids were simply waiting to go into school, waiting or wandering about in corridors, sitting waiting on lessons to start, waiting on the teacher to check their work or waiting as they had finished their work. And why does the entire population of kids have to stand up ate the end of every hour and move classroom? What a massive waste of productive time, as well as providing ideal opportunities for bullying. Why don’t the relatively tiny number of teachers move?

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2099-2240330.html

Diversity training - More harm than good?

Further to my post on hopeless compliance training, I was told that a major financial company, with revenues of $14 billion worldwide, did some interesting diversity training in their London office earlier this month – they took the budget and invited people along to watch the England V Trinidad & Tobago match, with some spicy chicken thrown in! They, like many others, treat much of this stuff as a waste of time, and who can blame them.

At a recent conference on the subject, there was a long list of (I kid you not) Heads of Cohesion & Faith as well as Heads of Diversity, Heads of Inclusion and Heads of Equality. Few would argue that the laws; Equal Pay Act, Sex Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act, Disiability Discrimination Act, Part Time Workers regulations and more recent Employment Equality legislation on sexual orientation, race, religious belief or age, are sensible, but there is a sensible debate to be had about the crude training that attempts to effect behavioural change.

Louise Pendry of Exeter University claims that there’s no evaluative evidence showing that these programmes work. Even worse, many may do more harm than good. Tracie Stewart, a professor at Georgia University, has identified "backlash" or "victim blame", after some courses, where the learners, harbour resentment against other minority groups for the way they are made to feel. Rather than bringing people together, it may be reinforcing differences. Ethnic minorities may become over-sensitive, and doing as the Americans have done, policing it through legal cases, is hardly sensible. The social case may be strong but the business case is weak.

Munira Mirza investigated diversity training for the BBC and uncovered some awful training, including the popular Jane Elliot’s ‘blue eyes/brown eyes’ classroom courses. What was interesting were the comments posted after the broadcast:

When I was about 12 we had a policeman come in to school to talk about racism. He showed us a photo of a white man in police uniform running after a black man in jeans. He asked us what we thought was going on. Everyone- including a black child that he pointedly asked -said that it was a criminal being chased by a policeman. We were then told that we had made a "racist assumption" as actually the black bloke was a plain-clothes police officer. No-one raised the point that we would have probably said the exact same thing if the plain clothes officer had been white and a load of 12 year olds were told that they were racist. How helpful was that?
Hannah, Peterborough

'Diversity training' will lead to resentment, simply because grown men and women don't like being told how to behave. The whole business is superfluous. I suggest a straightforward mandatory clause attached to every employment contract in the country, reading 'You will treat all colleagues fairly and kindly'
al, UK

You cannot over-estimate the damage to race relations that "diversity awareness" training is causing in this country. It's having the opposite effect to that intended, causing divisions, resentment, and an increase in judgements based on race, where previously such things were actually quite rare. How do I know this? I was involved in putting together a diversity "toolkit" for a government department, and saw first-hand the effect it had as it was rammed down the throats of the staff.
Michael, Brighton UK

This is an example of companies trying to see if two wrongs really do make a right. I don't doubt that some people are racist in the workplace, but punishing many because of the actions of a few is ludicrous.
Andy Thorley, Crewe, Cheshire

Friday, June 30, 2006

Viral videos


You Tube, along with Google Video, iTunes , iFilm and others, are really shaping up. It’s this combination of easy to use tools (uploading, searching etc) with global distribution that make the web sing. You Tube was started in 2005 by three ex-paypal guys and roared to success on the back of cult clips such as Lazy Sunday. It uses Flash to play movie clips and moderates content – but it’s the sheer volume of uploads that’s amazed everyone. Google Video is similar but with a payment method, like iTunes. Tens of thousands of clips are uploaded every month with millions of views and global epidemics of viral behaviour.

Viral videos (Stewart’s Crossfire, Lazy Sunday, the Star Wars Kid, askaninja) have fuelled the video sharing market. This is the stuff that kids talk about, using word of mouth/ mouse. Camera phones, free editing software, camcorders and blogging (You Tube allows you to link clips to your blog) have made the whole thing a sort of medium in itself.

Let’s learn from this. I had to give a session on 'How We Learn' this week at a major bank and had to teach them to juggle (hackneyed I know) – You Tube had dozens of excellent coaching clips on how to juggle. Got to learn something? Go to these sites and get some free stuff. Teachers and trainers should be using it in their organisations to deliver videocasts . The mess is the message.

http://www.youtube.com/
http://video.google.com/

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What's a podcast? Askaninja!

Check this video clip out. It says everything about the way video should be used with this new generation of learners – low production quality, highly creative, quick cuts, surreal script, oblique, funny…. watch it and learn!


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEmss2lg-ug&search=askaninja

Now take an hour to browse through You Tube, Google Video.

Microsoft GEARS up learning

Bob Mosher is one of Microsoft’s evangelists – fun guy, full of bright ideas, which he loves to share. We used Net Meeting to get his talk up and running at the Moving Learning conference. This is perhaps the best conference I've been to when it comes to moving the debate about formal/informal learning forward. As Chair, Bob's talk was a challenge, as the link went down mid-presentation.

80% of what we learn is NOT through courses and , according to Kim Cameron of the University of Michigan, we remember:

Lecture 5%
Reading 10%
Audio-visual 20%
Demonstration 30%
Discussion 50%
Doing 75%
Teaching 90%

Given this data, why rely on fixed, largely classroom based, up-front courses? He recommends Microsoft's new GEAR blend.

G - Gather
E - Expand
A - Apply
R - Receive

Gather people physically or virtually to explain the new approach and what we all want to achieve. Expand their knowledge through resources and content. Apply this knowledge in the workplace in real projects. Receive feedback on performance. This bridging knowledge into the workplace using a blend.

Sources, sharpeners and sidekicks

Chaired the Moving Learning conference last week which took a long hard look at informal learning. I liked Alison Rossett's on performance support (planners and sidekicks). This is my own spin on her ideas. As learning become more fluid so must the tools. Courses are, in most cases, too crude. It means using SOURCES, SHARPENERS and SIDEKICKS.

Take the example of going somewhere by car:

SOURCE (Atlas)
Look up a fixed source, work out your route, note down the road numbers and perhaps add up rough estimates of each legs to work out the ditance, then do a little arithemetic to work out how long it wil take you.



SHARPENERS (Route plan website)
Look up a route planner website, type in start point and destination, out pops your personal list of directions with details of every leg and a total calculated time. Print it out and have it alongside you in your car.

SIDEKICKS (Satellite navigation)
Satellite navigation gives you realtime feedback and directions (turn right/left) and helps you get back on track when you’re lost. They also give you relevant GPS information on petrol stations, restaurants and hotels.

This is how learning can be delivered, not to simply mimic courses, but playing to the strengths of online technology:

SOURCE
Knowledge bases, repositories of learning content.

SHARPENERS
Personalised learning environments, email, reminders, feeds, wikis, blogs.

SIDEKICKS
Performance support software and mobile learning.

Interestingly, to get to Microsoft, in Reading, I would, in ancient times, have a source such as a rail timetable or gone to a source station to plan my rail route and times. Now I have my sharpener website where can get my personalised rail times, including details of changes. I sharpened up even more , as I looked to the Microsoft site and found out that there's a free bus straight to their door every ten minutes. When I got to Reading I used my mobile to tell the conference organiser that I was running late - she gave me the exact building to go to to save time when I arrived - my mobile sidekick.