How Technology is advancing in Learning environments

Education is constantly evolving. Billed as one of the fastest growing tech markets in the UK,  our schools collectively spend more than £900 million a year on education technology, or edtech as it’s commonly dubbed. Neither does the sector show any sign of slowing down.

Curriculums change through the years, and with them the means of presenting their educational content to school pupils. We’ve already seen chalkboards exchanged for interactive whiteboards and projectors, and textbooks largely swapped out for laptops and computers. We’re all familiar with these developments, but ground-breaking progress continues to be made.

On October 16th, 2018, the BBC published a report on a parliamentary meeting that served as a landmark event for technology in education. Based at Middlesex University, a robot named Pepper sat down with MP’s to discuss the impact that robotics and artificial intelligence have had on education, and how things could move forward in the future. While all the questions and answers were predetermined, the main thrust of the conversation with Pepper was to encourage a blend of technology and human oversight, rather than replacing one with the other.

This merger focuses on viewing technology as something that is of service to teachers and pupils rather than something to be subservient to. An LSE study has already proven that banning smartphones in schools significantly improved results, but the question worth asking is; can technology be repurposed for education’s sake?

Though robotics and AI are being introduced to the learning environment, for now they largely handle the more administrative tasks in the schooling arena. For example, they’ll record test results or manage student data. That said, the robot Pepper facilitated duties in front line learning too, such as aiding special needs children with their numeracy development. Clearly, this edtech is all of enormous help to teachers, who have been notoriously overworked for years, resigning and even falling ill from the stress of their exploited roles.

An App called Kahoot! has also made waves amongst school pupils both in the UK and the US. It allows teachers to create their own digital games that their pupils can access through the app, enhancing their learning through a fun use of technology. The app had a recorded 50 million monthly users in June 2017, which shows just how quickly edtech can gain traction in popularity. Under teacher supervision, apps enable the learning experience to become exciting and interactive in a way that textbooks, unfortunately, can’t be.

To some degree, edtech allows children to have a more prominent hand in their education. It gives them greater agency in terms of not only what they learn, but how they learn it. Technology is something that young people are very familiar with, and that same familiarity can spur their engagement in the classroom. Edtech use means that learning becomes a less passive experience; pupils can now get involved using their screens, instead of listening to teachers monologue in ways they can’t fully comprehend.

In 2018 the BBC reported that over the last three years the number of children who are being homeschooled in the UK has risen by around 40%. It’s not hard to see why; for parents, ensuring their child’s schooling is top quality is vital, and home schooling is definitely worth consideration as the new school year starts. Whether you’re considering homeschooling for your little ones or terrible teens, choosing to self-teach offers the perfect method for many parents who seek a more hands-on approach in their children’s education. In the UK, as a parent you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, moving through Key Stages 1-3 and on to GCSE and potentially A-Level education.

So is homeschooling right for you? Whatever the age or abilities of your child(ren), learning from home presents many benefits. Let’s look at a few of these advantages, which may help you decide.

Avoid classroom distractions

Two of the main reasons influencing UK parents’ decision to choose homeschooling include protecting their children’s mental health and the ability to avoid exclusion. Being in a large classroom environment can present a number of challenges for children, including exposure to bullies, feelings of inadequacy from being around superior-performing peers and being singled out for being ‘different’ from other children. Many children may feel as if they simply don’t ‘fit in’. Home schooling offers a solution to avoid these situations and protect your children’s mental health and wellbeing.

One-to-one time

The chance to learn one-to-one rather than one-to-many offers many children the chance to feel fully involved and immersed in their own learning. This increases their chances of remaining engaged and interested in their studies. This also allows you, as a parent, to build a stronger bond with your child; to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work with them on these. It is attention that they may not get in a large classroom environment.

Go at their pace

Homeschooling allows your child to proceed through their education at their own pace rather than that of scheduled class. Every child is unique, with their own abilities, and these abilities may vary from subject to subject. If your child needs more help with Mathematics and less so with English, you can adjust their learning schedule accordingly.

No school run

This means more healthy sleeping patterns and time to study – you have the time to flex your child’s learning timetable around your lifestyle and circumstances. You can take holidays when you want, too. A definite win-win.

Homeschooling offers many benefits over more traditional school classroom study. It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of both options before making a decision to homeschool of course, and there are plenty of resources to do this, including the UK Government’s website, which can provide further advice.

I am a complete book worm. I love reading, delving into new worlds, learning new things and improving my vocabulary. In my opinion, you should too! Here are some reasons why…

In my first years of studying I took an English course to improve my language skills. It was a nice surprise then, when I found out two of the books we had to read were already on my own ‘to read’ list! I thought this was wonderful because not only was I able to study and understand the language of these books, but got to enjoy the course in many more ways. It didn’t feel like work, which is always the dream!

So, what are the benefits of reading, and can I convince more of you to do it?

  • Reading reduces stress

I have a rule that every night I do my best to read a few chapters before going to bed. Since doing so I have had much longer and deeper sleep and find I am more productive throughout the day.  Reading helps you forget your worries as you focus on the story. After a few chapters, things will seem much less stressful than they did before. The article linked below adds more to the case.

 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html

  • You will learn new things

I have just finished reading Deborah Harkness’ vampire trilogy and could not believe how many facts and so much history one author packed into such them! It’s amazing what you can discover when you pick up a book and start reading. You could even find an interest in something you’d never heard of before.

  • Your memory will improve

One of the best things about reading is it can improve your memory no matter what your age. It has also been linked to longevity, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s and just keeping your memory sharper than it would be without. So why wouldn’t you want to read? The link below has more about this.

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/how-reduce-your-risk-dementia 

  • It can fuel your creativity

Sometimes you can feel like you’ve hit a brick wall with a particular essay. This may mean you need a break, but rather than watching some TV, I find that picking up a book unrelated to your course can give your mind a better chance to relax and think more clearly. It’s a great way to press pause and will often help us to go back and break that wall.

  • You’ll find your focus improving

Ever been sat on the sofa or propped up in bed with a good book, glanced over at the clock and realised a few hours have passed since you sat down? Well that is a sure sign your focus is working and a great indication that you’re relaxing too. When reading you are focusing on all the words, the story, turning pages and thinking ahead, which is a lot of multitasking, meaning your focus is automatically improved!

The next time you’re undecided whether to pick something off the shelf to read, then, I recommend you don’t hesitate!

 

 

Many of you who are doing exams this year will be revising or starting to think about revising. As a tutor, I am often asked, “What should I revise?” The answer is, unfortunately, everything that you have covered in the course. No one except the exam writers know what is going to be in the exams in any single year, so always make sure that you cover everything.

Barnaby Lenon, an ex-headmaster at Harrow, has recently written in a blog that GCSE students should revise their course at least three times. The same applies for A level students, but officially there is no magic number given as to how many times you should do so. Usually, however, it will be more than once. Some lucky people, the exceptions, can read something once and it will “go in”, but more will have to go through the course over and over again for it to sink it. We are all different, and this is the main point with revising – what works for one person will not work for another.

With all this in mind, there are some tips below. Remember, some will work for you, some won’t.

• Find a good place to work. Some of you will like quiet, others will like some noise. We all work best in certain places. Some students may like to work in a library, others in their room, others in a coffee shop. Find a place that works well for you and stick to it.

• What time works best for you? Some people work better early in the morning, others in the afternoon, others late at night. Again, stick to what works for you. If you are a night owl, it’s pointless to try and force yourself to get up early and study – it just won’t work as well. Use your strengths and find the best time to suit you.

• Avoid distractions. There are so many distractions today: mobile phones, television, emails and so on. It can make it hard to study. If you are reading this now but also looking at your social media feed on your phone, for example, it’s doubtful all you are reading will go in. So avoid such distractions if you can. Turn off your phone. Turn off your emails. If you find it hard to do this, give yourself a time limit, “I will revise for one hour, then spend five minutes looking at my phone.”

• With the above point also in mind, some students find it hard to sit down and study for long periods. Others prefer it. Again, you should do what suits you best. If you do find it hard to sit for long periods, give yourself a reward. One student I worked with played volleyball at national level. He found it very hard to sit down for long periods and study. Consequently he was doing hardly any revision. We came up with a plan. He would revise for 50 minutes, then go outside and play with a ball or go for a jog for ten minutes. Then he would revise for 50 minutes again and so on. This worked well for him. You may find a similar reward works for you, looking at your phone, going for a walk, making a cup of tea, watching TV, phoning a friend and so on. Decide on your time limit and give yourself a reward.

• Aim to study for no more than two and a half hours without taking a break. You are probably not revising as well as you would if you carry on revising after that time.

• Making and reading notes and using flashcards can all work well for some students. Others can make recordings of their notes and listen back to them when they are going for a walk or even when they are sleeping at night – Mind maps and memory palaces can also be useful when revising. Again, find a method that works well for you and stick to it.

• If you are reading something and it isn’t sinking in or you don’t understand it. Try a few of the following techniques…
o Read it out loud. When you do this, sometimes it seems to make more sense.
o Try and explain it to someone else – You may find that you know far more than you think you do when you explain it to another person.
o Read it in another way. There are a lot of resources online today, so if you don’t understand your notes or textbook, look online and find another explanation.

• Making a revision timetable for when you intend to revise your subject is also useful. You may be revising for more than one subject, so work out when you are going to study and make a plan for each subject.

• Practice exam papers and old TMAs under “exam conditions.”

• Try to take off a day a week. You decide which day. Take some time off from all that studying.

• Try to start revising as soon as you can. The earlier you start to revise, the more revision you will do.

Remember, you have revised before. You know what has worked well for you and what didn’t. So if you have a good way of revising, stick to it. But if your way hasn’t worked so well, why not try another option from those listed above? There is also of course a lot of advice out there online and in books. The best way to revise is the way that works for YOU! So find your best method and stick to it.

Finally, though success in them is all about your hard work and revision, I am still going to wish you this – Good luck with your exams!

Gide, Flaubert, Racine, Sartre, Beauvoir, Villon. For many people these names are remote, or even entirely unknown. They might make you think vaguely of obscure French poets and philosophers, long dead and consigned to musty libraries, but they are not likely to frequent your modern life.

For me, these writers represent the four years of my life that I spent studying French literature at university: hours upon hours reading, translating, attempting to understand their works, in lectures, in seminars, in tutorials, in the library, on the bus, in my bedroom at 2 am in the morning; hours of frantic revision, even tears in the bathroom between examinations. They were four long years of toil. And yet, what have I really gained from those four years? I’m not an academic and I’ll probably never need to know or talk about these people. They rarely crop up in conversation. I’ve never been asked about them in any job interview. What was the point?

Despite this, I do feel that, in some small way, I am better equipped to understand the world and cope with it. Studying each author, you realise that each one has a slightly different take on the world; each one perceives and represents reality differently, according to their environment and their own individual psyche. One author perceives the inherent comedy in the human condition, another chooses to depict its tragedy. When you’re faced with so many different visions of reality, which is the ‘correct’ one? Studying multiple authors makes you confront the truth that there is no one absolute reality, only personal interpretations of it. Whereas before I perhaps held much more dogmatic views about the world, I now have a much more nuanced view of things and a willingness to consider other viewpoints. I’m much less likely to dismiss them as ‘wrong’.

I’m also much more aware of how language is a powerful tool in its own right, something which has a role in shaping rather than just reflecting reality. Certain beliefs and norms are inscribed in our language and imposed by it; one of the most obvious examples of this is how the default pronoun in English and French is ‘he’, reflecting society’s assumption of male dominance. Women and other minority groups, it can be argued, are disadvantaged by the fact that language does not represent them equally: it is much more difficult to assert your power when the very language you speak also speaks of your marginalisation. Exploring topics like these has given me a better understanding of political issues surrounding language, whether it’s the controversy around the correct terminology for trans-people, disabled people or people of certain ethnic groups. I’ve become more sensitive about using the correct term since I realised it’s not as petty as I once thought it was; words are power, and they do make a difference.

There is also the knowledge that however bad I might sometimes feel, sometime, somewhere, someone has felt the same as me and they have written about it. A knowledge of literature gives you countless examples of humans getting to grips with living in an imperfect universe. If I hear a friend complaining about their boyfriend’s relationship with his overbearing mother, I think of how Racine depicted the Emperor Nero’s struggle for psychological independence from his mother Agrippine in his 1669 play Brittanicus. Victor Hugo laments the death of his beloved daughter; Césaire wrestles with the legacy of colonialism; Sarraute muses over the fickleness of memory; Annie Ernaux grapples with gender and class. There is something for everyone. Perhaps this is the most important thing that literature has taught me – whatever your problems, you are not alone.

Spanish_language_(main)

Languages like Spanish can open up whole continents to the traveller (Latin America’s Argentina and Mexico are highlighted here).

Whether you are 18 or 80, or somewhere in between, deciding to learn a new language could literally be life changing.

It’s great to be able to go on holiday and converse with the locals. However, this is far from the only advantage of language learning. Here is a list of reasons for booking onto that language course today!

1. Learning a language can be a fantastic tool in defeating stress, anxiety or depression. If you’ve ever felt that things were getting on top of you, or felt overwhelmed by negative thoughts and feelings, you’ll appreciate how difficult it is to pick yourself up and keep going. Spending some of your spare time learning a language can be a welcome distraction from your worries, as it forces your brain to focus on the task at hand. You can also use language learning as a means of reaching out to others in your local community, perhaps meeting others learning the same language.

2. It can actually make your brain bigger!
Yes, you did read that correctly! The Guardian recently reported on the results of a Swedish MRI study on language learning, with Alison Mackey reporting that the ‘MRI scans showed specific parts of the brains of the language students developed in size whereas the brain structures of the control group remained unchanged’. This suggests that the benefits of language learning on physical and mental health are drastically underestimated.

3. It can help to keep you sharp in your old age!
Many studies have suggested that those who learn languages and keep their brains as active as possible will experience a much slower decline in thinking skills as they age. Some reports have even suggested that language learning can slow or alter the onset of dementia.

4. Learning a language can help to advance your career.
Whatever industry you are working in, learning a language can help you to reach out to clients or customers on a much wider basis. In addition, if you can add good knowledge of a second language to your CV, employers will be able to see that you are self-motivated, intelligent and have a strong work ethic. Even if you are not using the language directly in your work, every employer wants their staff to have those attributes!

5. It can equip you with better life skills.
Finally, as a more general advantage, the methodical approach that is taken to learning can be applied to your home life and career. Making lists, setting goals, and researching and reading are all skills that can benefit you for the rest of your life.

800px-Library-shelves-bibliographies-GrazTo obtain the best grade when writing a project, report, or dissertation, a student should make sure they read as many related books, articles, and periodicals as possible.

In order to show your tutor the resources you have used to gain an understanding of your subject, all the documents you’ve read should be listed at the end of your work in the form of a bibliography.

So that you don’t forget which sources you have read once you get to the end of your study, it is a good idea to jot down the details of each item you’ve read as you go. You will need to make sure that you have details of the work’s full title, the author, place of publication, publisher, and the date of publication.

A bibliography should be written in alphabetical order and split into sections, beginning with books, then periodicals, and finally online resources (check with your tutor to make sure he or she prefers this standard format or if they like to have online resources listed first).

Below are some examples of how to reference different types of study material.

Books

Author’s surname, Initial, Title, (City of publication, Publisher, Date).
E.g., Kane, J., Another Cup of Coffee, (Cardiff, Accent Press, 2013)

Periodicals and Magazines

Author’s surname, Initial, ‘Article Title,’ Name of magazine. Volume number if applicable, (Date) page numbers.
E.g., Bellamy, J., ‘The Coterel Gang: An Anatomy of a Band of Fourteenth Century Crime’, English Historical Review Vol. 79, (1964), pp.1-39

Encyclopaedia

Encyclopaedia Title, Edition Date. Volume Number, “Article Title,” page numbers.
E.g., The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1997. Vol 7, ‘Gorillas’, pp.50-51

Blog via the Internet

Author of blog, (Date). Subject of message. Electronic conference or bulletin board (Online). Available e-mail address if given.
E.g., Jenny Kane, (September 22, 2014). The Story Behind Another Cup of Coffee, http://jennykane.co.uk/blog/the-story-behind-another-cup-of-coffee/

WWW: Author, Web Address
E.g., Oxford Open Learning, http://www.ool.co.uk/

00303_Europäische_Tag_der_Sprachen_in_Sanok

Here, Norwegian is being celebrated in Germany

Since 2001, at the initiative of the Council of Europe and the European Union, the European Day of Languages has been successfully celebrated every 26 of September across 47 member states. http://edl.ecml.at/ The three main aims of such an event are stressing the importance of language, learning in order to develop intercultural understanding; promoting the vast linguistic and cultural diversity in Europe, and encouraging lifelong language learning.

There are 24 official languages, 5 semi-official, 39 minority and 27 sign languages in the European Union (European Commission, 2006). English is the most widely spoken language and, according to The Guardian (2014), the UK is in the top five countries where people are least likely to be able to speak any foreign language.

In order to mark this event, thousands of activities took place in schools across the EU. For instance, at Bridgwater College, a tertiary college in the UK, an international lunch was held. Students and staff have been able to taste a veritable European menu from its restaurant, including Italian meatballs with penne, Greek gyro, boulangere potatoes, Danish braised cabbage and Belgian waffles. The Spanish students created posters to highlight the importance of learning languages and also gave away copies of the booklet 1000 palabras en español, which was created by them last October in order to support the 1000 foreign words challenge which urges the UK population to learn at least 1000 words in another language ( http://www.bridgwater.ac.uk/news-article.php?year=2013&id=1608 ).

References:
• European languages day official website: http://edl.ecml.at/

• European and their languages, European Commission, 2006. http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_243_en.pdf

• Most Europeans can speak multiple languages. UK and Ireland not so much, The Guardian (published on Friday, 26 September 2014). http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/sep/26/europeans-multiple-languages-uk-ireland

• Students take part in 1000 words in Spanish project (published on Friday 8 November 2013) http://www.bridgwater.ac.uk/news-article.php?year=2013&id=1608

• Vocab Express Competition 2014 https://www.vocabexpress.com/championships/

 

By Itziar Simo Arroyo

Itziar is a Spanish tutor with Oxford Home Schooling

Batille Day is often marked by fireworks.

Bastille Day is often celebrated with a display of fireworks.

The storming of the Bastille (which means fortification) took place on 14 July 1789, and marked the beginning of The French Revolution. To the people of Paris, the Bastille prison was a symbol that represented all that was wrong and corrupt with the rule of the French monarchy and King Louis XVI in particular. Although it only held seven prisoners at the time of its capture, the overturning of the Bastille was a victory for the fight against oppression for all French citizens. Like the Tricolor flag, it symbolised the burgeoning Republic’s three ideals: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for all.

There were numerous causes and grievances that had led to the violent rebellion that became known as The French Revolution. The most important were connected with parliament wanting the king to share his absolute power with them; and the monarch’s subsequent unwavering refusal to change the balance of power. The middle classes also wanted the opportunity to vote, the nobility wanted a share of the monarch’s power, and the lower classes were tired of being oppressed with extreme taxation and the suppression of land and feudal rights.

The first official Bastille Day was declared on 6 July 1880, on the recommendation of the politician Benjamin Raspail, to mark the moment when the new French Republic was born and the absolute rule of the monarchy finally wiped away.

Today, Bastille Day is celebrated with a variety of public events, the most famous of which is the Bastille Day Military Parade. This parade runs down the Champs-Elysee from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde, and takes place on the morning of July 14th in Paris, just as it did on the very first Bastille Day in 1880.
Other popular events include large picnics, musical performances, dances, firework shows, and the first of the domestic stages in the annual cycle race, The Tour de France.

320px-Richard_Huish_College_Exam_HallThe UK exam system is set to change quite a bit over the next three or four years. Both the A-level and GCSE systems are going through significant changes, starting with A-levels. What does this mean for current and prospective students?

As long as you take all your examinations by June 2016, you are unlikely to be affected by the changes. So, for instance, you might aim to do your exams in June 2015 and then defer to June 2016 without noticing any significant change – you will be following the same specification, doing the same style of exams, etc.

It is only if you are planning to study through to June 2017  ( or beyond ) that you need to find out the timescale for changes and work out how these will affect you. Indeed, if you want to take GCSEs only, those exams will still be the same in 2017 and it is only in the June 2018 exam series that the changes to specifications will bite.

The A-level situation is more complex because of the nature of the exams (currently in two parts, AS and A2) and because the specifications are not all changing at the same time.

The most important change is that although there will still be AS exams, these will NOT count towards the full A-level qualification. They will be separate stand-alone qualifications.  At the moment, you can carry foward your AS results as half your A-level. In future, students will have to do the whole A-level at the end of the two-year study period. The first of the new AS exams will be held in June 2016 but the old-style AS specifications / exams will also be held for the last time in most subjects at the same date.

A good summary of the timeline of changes is on the AQA website at http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/admin/library/AQA-W-REFORM-TIMELINE-ALEVEL.PDF.

Looking at that, you will see that those “old”-style AS results cannot be carried across to the A2s in 2017 (in Phase 1 subjects). To get the full A-level in 2017, you would effectively have to start again, with the specification that has not yet been released. So, unless you are clear that you want an AS qualification ONLY, we should strongly advise against aiming to defer AS studies to June 2016 (in Phase 1 subjects) – unless you’re doing A2 at the same time and/or you are clear that it is the last chance for the A2 as well.

The list of Phase I subjects includes most of the subjects taught by OOL and OHS. The only subjects (Phase 2) where we all have an extra year are Maths and languages (e.g. French and Spanish). There may be fewer centres hosting old-style AS exams in June 2016, of course.

Right now, our general advice to all prospective A-level students would be to make sure you finish your AS studies in June 2015. Then you will have a choice between stopping (having passed your AS exams) or carrying your marks forward to the full A-level in 2016. Then make sure you finish the  full programme in 2016 or you may find that the specification has changed radically.

The situation is not quite so complicated for GCSE candidates. The main change to the GCSE system will be that (for most purposes) you will only have ONE chance to sit your GCSE exams. You won’t be able to do GCSEs a module at a time. Instead you will have to sit the entire GCSE in one exam-sitting. It is likely that there will also be rather less coursework in a number of subjects, with more stress placed on exam-performance, but the final details of this have not yet been confirmed.  Teaching to the new GCSE specifications will begin (in schools) in June 2016 for first examination in June 2018, so the old specifications still have quite a bit of shelf-life.

Even if the new GCSE arrangements do not suit distance learners, there will still be ample opportunity to sit the IGCSE (or Certificate) alternatives to GCSE. The IGCSE / Certificate specifications are not planned to change at all and they will continue to have the same value as GCSEs and they will remain a more practical option for many distance learners in the years to come.

Good luck in making the right study choices!

 

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