Annotation may be old-fashioned, but it is effective for learning and can be supported with technology

5510a4270443ecab4f9b41f11c9e8152When I was at school and university I spent a lot of time taking notes. These notes were sometimes much better than others, but they were always invaluable for revision – even if only to identify the gaps in my knowledge.

I still take notes, in meetings and at talks, for example. Increasingly these notes are technology based and much more structured than those of my youth. In fact, part of the reason I blog is to help myself remember key findings and issues as well as to flag them up for others. Another of the 19 learning acts that I have been discussing is:

Annotation. This can be described as an interaction with existing knowledge material (particularly text) such that the learner is able to construct a personal elaboration of that material. This might take the form of elaborative commentary closely attached to the original (“marginal notes”) or it might be a form of personal précis or reflection (“summarising” etc.). Knowledge is thereby elaborated or personalised.

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This practice suits situations where a body of well-formed material is available for study. Its cognitive benefit arises from the effort of actively re-casting material and selectively linking it with existing knowledge. Clearly annotation is something that can be done more or less skilfully and demands practice and support.

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Technology can structure annotation as well as providing an infrastructure for composition and storage. There are many tools for writing and filing the results of annotation and a whole range of practices for organisation.

OECD Report – Students, Computers and Learning: 3 ways we can do so much better

The 200 page report published yesterday by the OECD is packed with tables and figures that tell a story about the state of 15-year-olds’ educational attainment in maths, reading, science and digital skills in 2012 across the participating countries.

CO7Qte2WUAI_FpkThe negative message from this report has received considerable publicity: countries that have invested heavily in ICT for education do not show improved student achievements in reading, mathematics and science. Less use of the internet is linked to better reading performance and frequent use of technology in school is linked to lower performance. The UK did not participate in this study, but findings being presented to the British Educational Research Association today (Thursday) appear to back it up.

All this sounds very depressing, but it is not the key message we should take away from the report. Instead we should be asking why technology use is not linked to improved attainment and what we should be doing about it.

Andreas Schleichler, OECD director for education and skills, says we must provide teachers with environments that support 21st Century teaching and learning and students with 21st century skills. He states that “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge” and that’s a very important message to take away.

This link between technology and 21st Century teaching and learning is also reflected in another report published earlier this year by the World Economic Forum (WEF): New Vision for Education, Unlocking the Potential of Technology. This report found that technology was an important factor in successful project-based, experiential and inquiry-based learning.

This finding is also reflected in the OECD data. For example, students reported that their teachers used computers to a greater extent in teaching for real-world problems, particularly related to maths and that these teachers were also more inclined and better prepared for student-oriented teaching practices, such as group work, individualised learning and project work and more likely to use digital resources.

There is strong evidence to support the effectiveness of these learning activities and of technology’s important role. For example WEF found that education technology was key to the successful teaching of 21st-century skills such as communication, creativity, persistence and collaboration. So why are the overall PISA findings still negative about technology and attainment?

Three things we can do

I suggest that at least part of the reason for the negative link between computer use and attainment can be found when we explore what students most commonly do with computers. Unsurprisingly it is not project-based, experiential learning. Students’ use of computers at school is dominated by browsing the internet, with 42% of students doing this once a week or more. The activity performed the least frequently was using simulations (11%). When students did schoolwork at home, once again browsing was the most popular activity. It’s good for students to do a certain amount of unguided browsing, but more importantly they need to be provided with principles and structures to help them perform more strategic searches.

  1. The first thing that we can do, therefore, is to raise the game for students and ensure that their time with technology is spent more productively.

It’s clear that what students do with computers makes a difference to their learning. But what students do is also related to their socio-economic background. In 2012 96% of 15-year-old students in OECD countries reported having a computer at home, so almost everyone has access to technology.

That’s not to say that the hardware divide has been completely eradicated; lower socio-economic groups are likely to have less sophisticated technology. However these older technologies are perfectly capable of supporting learning if the student knows how to use it effectively. The OECD report illustrates that what people do with media is more important than the technologies and connectivity available to them – and also more resistant to change. In their free time disadvantaged students tend to prefer online chat over e-mail, and playing video games rather than reading the news or obtaining practical information.

  1. The second thing that we can do is to focus attention on helping disadvantaged learners to use the technology available to them more effectively.

Finally, let me return to Andreas Schleichler, who states that countries need to “invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”

I would go one stage further. Researchers who work with educational technology, and for whom this blog post will hold no surprises, need to be better at communicating what their research can say both to the teachers who use the technology and the developers who build the technology. Unfortunately, (as I have observed before) research is typically conducted in isolation from technology developers. This makes little sense at a time when technology has become consumerised, even for the poorest families, and there is increasing evidence about how to make it effective as a learning tool.

  1. The third thing we can do is to create better communication channels between teachers, technology developers and researchers. Achieving this would be a ‘win win’: Improved learning, better teaching, better research.

PELARS

HackEd15 computer science in the raw

Unconstrained by any exam syllabi or the curriculum our young hackers from Greig City Academy got to grips with electronics, design, programming, group work, communication and presentation in a very, very short space of time. They went from novice to accomplished in less than 48 hours. This 2 minute video summarizes their activity.

The students worked in three groups, each of which worked on solving a real world problem. One group developed a robotic guide dog called DogBot that would help blind people find their way around the world. Another built a prototype for a sensortive glove with the strap line – ‘it’s all in the hand’. The glove aimed to enable people to complete everyday activities like switching on the lights with a flick of the wrist without being near the light switch. The students had to work out how the different sensors, such as the gyroscope, worked and then write the code to interpret the data sensed into actions. The third group developed a prototype for a coin sorting device that would collect the coins dropped in the playground. Students needed to build a physical coin sorter and link it to the arduino device and sensors that detected the presence of metal.

To find out more, you can check out the tweets as compiled into a storify at: sfy.co/p0AVQ and we will be populating the HackEd15 website with more details about the event and these very short videos explain what each of the groups did.

Come Hack with us

Once again we are working with a group of teenagers to help them to instantiate their ideas using technology. This time our theme is the Internet of Things and smart cities.

PELARS

 

The applications the students develop will be exploring the use and purpose of sensor-based applications.  The hardware and software we will be using to help with rapid prototyping and experimenting with the students’ ideas will be the arduino and sketches which are a C/C++ language (http://arduino.cc ).

 

The students have already been thinking about their ideas, which include

  • Connecting to being mobile:
    • From transport to life style stages e.g. waiting for the bus or walking home
  • Interacting with your environment
    • Helping the environment to be more intelligent e.g. when crossing the road – staying green for longer
  • Reading on the go:
    • Making everyday objects interactive screens
  • Smart furniture
    • Smart bicycle parks
    • Safe place detectors
    • Event alerts from water sprays, moving objects to sensing objects activities

These will be developed through the Hack event into prototype designs. The students will present their work on the main stage at the London Festival of Education.