Monday, October 07, 2013

Armando Pisani: the pioneer who holds the key to immediate increases in school attainment?

Want immediate improvements in student attainment in schools, especially in maths? Listen to this guy. He’s a pioneer. Armando Pisani is unique. Why? He is a high school teacher who teaches 14-18 year olds in maths and physics and is unique in that he records all of his lessons on video for later use by students. He is also unique in that his academic background is in data analysis, so he has gathered a great deal of useful data on his work in his school. If his data is correct, and I think it is, he could be the catalyst for a huge increase in productivity in schools across Europe. The following is the result of a structured interview I did with Armando in Trieste.

What are the advantages of recording lessons?
To learn efficiently and deeply, students need to be able to “review, not miss things through inattention, being distracted, illness, student absence, teacher absence or  language difficulties – some students have other languages as their mother tongue”. The lack of “supply teacher availability is also a problem”. Recorded lessons give the students the ability to “catch-up and cover work not covered in a teacher’s absence”.

What data did you gather?
The survey data is outstanding, with evidence on how much was watched, when it is watched, how it is watched and the resulting rise in attainment. Another fascinating side to the data is the acceptance of the method by parents.

First the results...

Black no lectures  Red watched lectures

What percentage of students use recorded lectures?

 Do you think the lectures give you good help and support?

How much time do you spend watching the lectures?

Do you watch lectures in your normal study time or spare time?

Would you recommend the use of lectures to other students and friends?

What device do you use to watch the lectures?

Would you suggest that parents watch the lectures online?

Parents - have you seen the online lectures?

Parents - are you in favour of online lectures?

Parents - do you think online lectures help your child to study?

What are your views on homework?
He is appalled that some teachers and schools consider dropping homework. “Spain’s plans to drop homework nationally is crazy”. The “Italian word for homework is ‘Compiti’ with its root in the idea that you’re closing a gap in your knowledge”. Homework, he thinks, is an essential part of the learning process, the place where one gets reflection, gap-closing, deeper understanding and practice.

Has recording lessons affected student behaviour?
Students appreciate the effort you make to record your lessons and moderate their behaviour” he claims. “As every teacher knows students get bored and often do ask to go to bathroom. When I’m recording, they never ask to go out of the bathroom.” Other changes in behaviour include, “less disruption, more questions asked by students, staying afterwards to ask questions”. After recording 182 lessons, he “can’t think of one incident where a student disturbed the lesson”. In some cases, “they are keen to know about the content of the next lecture”.

What about parent behaviour?
In Italy there is a strong family tradition and education “must involve family – school is part of that family”. That is reflected in parent involvement in schooling, with four meetings a year, “the first to meet and get to know the teachers and vice-versa, especially in the first year but also to show parents the school’s plans and activities. Subsequent meetings are for progress and to solve problems and misunderstandings”.

More than this Armando sees parents as a key driver in the use of his recorded lessons. Parents “like to see what students do during lessons” and some parents “loved the subjects when they were at school”. “I had assumed parents like it (recorded lessons) less than students but the opposite is true”. He thinks this is because parents they tend to think of it as “learning, students as  a task or work”.

What is the technical set-up?
I have given lectures at the highly innovative International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste (they built the 800 euro hardware) for three years and this is one of the best presentations I’ve seen there. He uses ICTPs EyA system at a total, all-in cost of 800 Euros. “I do this on my own, with no help – it’s easy”. With no more than a 5 minute set-up he can record his lessons, including questions from students, although they are left out of shot for privacy reasons.

Having been involved in technology based learning for 30 years I am not easily impressed but Armando impressed me greatly. First, he is obviously a great teacher but more than this he wants, and this is his great strength, to turn his students into more independent learners. He really does understand the idea that teaching is really about motivating learners and giving them repeated access to good content.

A fuller version of the study is to be found here in the European Journal of Open, Distance and E-learning. Armando is well aware of the limitations of the study in terms of sample size, especially when comparing students who don't use the lectures with those that do. However, he is convinced that the poorer students tend to get more out of his lectures, He is keen to move on to the next stage of his research. It would be great if this were done in the UK.

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