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.

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!

512px-Children_computing_by_David_ShankboneThe national curriculum states that children in primary school should learn how to write basic programs, to ‘debug’ (fix mistakes in programs to allow functionality); to use technology to store and organise content; and to understand how technology is used outside of the school setting. It is impossible to ignore the fact that computer literacy is now vital for many aspects of daily living, and children should be equipped with the skills they need as early in their lives as possible.

Information technology is based on logic: the idea is that you follow a set of steps in a particular order so that you can reach a desired outcome. Developing and enhancing the logic skills of children will not only benefit their capabilities with regards to computers and digital devices, it also helps to improve numeracy. Mathematics is also centred around logic, meaning children who have good IT skills will be better able to understand the subject’s problems and concepts.

The study of IT at primary school is also an important part of preparing for secondary school. When children enter secondary school, it is assumed that they will be proficient with and confident in using technology. Although most young people have frequent and regular access to IT at home, and use devices such as PCs, tablets and mobile phones, they might not necessarily understand how they work. Formal education in information technology allows children to start secondary school with the ability to use computers and other devices to organise their work, participate in activities, and engage fully with all aspects of the curriculum.

There is increasing hysteria over children accessing social media sites and apps. The temptation is for parents and teachers to ban all such activities in a bid to protect them. However, banning these sites and apps with no discussion or explanation only makes them more alluring for children. It also means that when they enter secondary school, they are ill prepared for the murky world that can accompany online interaction. Children who study IT at primary school can be better protected from online bullying or abuse by being informed and educated about what is acceptable behaviour, and how and when to get help if it is needed.

Studying IT at primary school can help to develop research skills from a young age. Children who learn how to access the material they need and what kinds of sources and content are most useful and relevant, will be better prepared for secondary and university study. Although books still have an important part to play in the study of many subjects, online research skills are vital to the education of young people in the 21st century.

G_2014-04-24_22-48It is my guess that lots of you reading this will have a Facebook or Twitter account. Maybe you have Tumblr, Blogspot, all of the above and more. In fact, as of January 2014, 74% of Internet using adults used social networking sites. What effect is using these sites having on our education?

In 2006, the FKII Josayeongu team described the characteristics of social media as “participation, openness, conversation, community and connectedness”. Many of these characteristics are vital to the learning process and many education programmes have tried to incorporate our increasing social media use into how we learn.

For example, blogging can be a great tool to encourage critical thought about a subject, as can forums like The Student Room. In distance learning, forums, blogs and other social medias can help create a classroom feel that might otherwise be missing. It’s also simply a much more fun and interesting way to engage with a subject that might otherwise seem abstract, and can facilitate a wider range of learning styles.

However, there’s no doubt that social media can also be a distraction and a great procrastination tool. Accounts like ‘Cats of Instagram’ are almost designed to steal hours of productivity away without you even noticing. Perhaps more serious than this is the thought that social media is decreasing our attention span and causing us to be able to retain less information – not helpful if you’re trying to revise! The immediacy of social media can make it hard to motivate ourselves to spend a long time researching and digging deeper into a topic, even though we all know that 140 characters won’t tell you the whole story.

On the flip side, the fact that we now have a wealth of information readily accessible at our fingertips is a huge success of social media, particularly when it comes to its impact on education. Stuck on a difficult question? You can be inundated with help and answers in a matter of minutes, and the diversity of opinion on a topic can help to expand your understanding. You may even be able to ask the experts on a subject for help, something that you definitely couldn’t have done in the past.

As long as you aren’t swapping the books for Twitter articles, using social media to aid your learning can serve to expand your resources and access to information. Remember that everything in moderation can be good, even Candy Crush Saga.

512px-USMC-120324-M-CX982-128Whether you’re studying for GCSEs, A Levels, or a course of higher education, you’ll find yourself having to do some research as part of your learning. Whether or not you have been instructed to do so by a tutor or teacher, it is always beneficial to read around your subject and increase your knowledge from several different sources. The internet and search engines such as Google have changed the way we research everything. However, while it’s great to have a world of information at your fingertips, it is important that you approach any details you find with a degree of caution; and that you choose your sources of reference very carefully. If you don’t take a measured approach to using the internet for research purposes, you are likely to impede your learning as a result of misleading or completely inaccurate facts or accounts of events.

The inexperienced researcher will often go to sites like Wikipedia to glean facts, definitions and accounts of events. However, it is possible for almost anyone to submit an entry to Wikipedia, and it should not be taken as read that all ‘facts’ are thoroughly checked for accuracy. If you type a particular topic into a Google search, you’ll be faced with lists of websites that contain your search terms. The fact is, no one has to have any proven experience or knowledge to set up a website. So, although you shouldn’t discount all the information available, you should use it in conjunction with sources that you know to be accurate.

So, where do you find good quality information that is based on facts? The broadsheet newspapers, such as The Telegraph, and The Guardian, as well as the BBC and government and charity-run sites, are all excellent points of reference on a huge variety of topics. However, even when you’re using sites like this for your coursework, you should never rely on just one. Read and take notes of different accounts, ‘facts’, and perspectives; evaluate all this to develop your own opinions and thoughts. This kind of approach can spark greater interest in your subject and can also dramatically accelerate the rate at which you learn.

Using Google or other search engines can be a great starting point for anyone wanting to extend their knowledge of the subject they are studying, but the results of these searches must be approached with caution. In addition, libraries remain fantastic places to find reliable information under the guidance of an expert, so don’t underestimate the power of moving away from your laptop and onto books!

Diverse StudentsIf one of your New Year’s Resolutions was to be on top of your studying this year, then a revision app might be just the thing to get you on the right track. After all, it’s 2015, books are out (no, not really!), technology is in and you may well have an iPhone 6 or equivalent app-appropriate gadget. With these things in mind, here is my pick of the five best revision apps out there.

1. Self Control for Mac

This first app is not strictly speaking a ‘revision app’ but it’s completely essential to a productive revision session. Create a blacklist of websites you want to prevent yourself from visiting (Facebook, for example), set a time limit and this app will block those sites under any circumstances. Even if you delete the app in a procrastination rage, the sites remain blocked until the time limit is up. PC versions are also available.

2. The Ultimate Revision Tool

Anything with ‘ultimate’ in the title has got to be good. This app loves telling people that it’s made by teachers and claims to improve grades by 20%. As well as flashcards, revision notes and videos, you can join study groups with friends to share notes and progress. However, this app requires iOS 7.0 or later and seems to be temperamental on some devices.

3. CGP Series

CGP, makers of the widely popular GCSE and A level revision guides, have a range of apps organised by subject. Sample them for free or pay the small fee of £1.49 for Q&A test cards, revision games, progress tracking and more.

4. SQA’s My Study Plan

This app will help you customise and organise your revision timetable, including prioritising what you revise. This is a good one to keep you on track, especially if you have things like work, kids or anything else that might need to be factored in to your revision time.

5. Gojimo

If you’re at the stage in your revision when you just need to commit the things that you’ve learnt to memory, then Gojimo is worth a download. It’s a quiz app containing over 100,000 thousand quiz questions for a variety of levels of study. It also contains comprehensive explanations of the answers so that you can’t do what I did for my driving theory test and just memorise the answers.

Any help with revision is valuable, so if any of these sound interesting to you, it’ll certainly be worthwhile.

Caribbean_skies_(6980006312)It’s summer, and perhaps we shall see some blue skies overhead. A nice sight, certainly, but is it anything more?

Blue-Sky means having the pleasant appearance of a blue sky. A completely blue sky has no opaque objects, in other words no clouds. Similarly, Blue-Sky Thinking was considered to be empty thinking (i.e. a blue sky without clouds) and in this case without the tarnish of any ideas at all. More specifically, Blue-Sky Thinking means fanciful thinking, hypothetical, not practicable or profitable in the current state of knowledge or technical development. The use of Blue-Sky goes back to 1906, when it was used in the context of Blue-Sky securities, which are worthless securities. Those people trading in worthless securities, something that would later be referred to as junk bonds, were said to be selling “Blue-Sky and hot air” and so were called “Blue-Sky merchants.” In 1948, Blue-Sky securities indicated a bad investment or a fraud.

Blue-Sky was used in a different way in the 1920’s, in a work called Raymond Robins’ Own Story, by W.Hard, which refers to Lenin and Trotsky never giving any Blue-Sky talk. In other words, they never promised anything without the power and the will to deliver. Later, in 1956, the phrase Blue-Sky book came into being in the U.S. This type of book is a literary work which lacks any expert knowledge or specific technique. Similarly, there is a quote in the Times in 1977 regarding Blue-Sky technologies, which are those where there are no real world applications immediately apparent. So Blue-Sky carries a theme where there is nothing useful, nothing concrete or practicable. Ref: English Oxford Dictionary.

Blue-Sky Thinking is currently considered to be thinking that is not based or connected with the realities in the present moment. It allows for creative ideas where there is no restriction or limitation placed on them from current thinking or beliefs.

There is a similar usage, which is the phrase, “Thinking Outside The Box”, which means thinking creatively, freely, without restriction or conventional constraint. The origin of this is from the U.S. in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. There is an early example in the Aviation Week & Space Technology Magazine, in July 1975, which says, “We must step back and see if the solutions to our problems lie outside the box.”
The ‘box’ represents rigid and unimaginative thinking, so out of the box is a distinct contrast. Thinking outside the box and Blue-Sky thinking essentially mean the same thing, the latter phrase being the older of the two.
These phrases described above relate to the work of Edward De Bono, a psychologist and inventor, who gave encouragement in the U.K. to find solutions from outside our normal thinking behaviour. He also coined the phrase Lateral Thinking, in 1967, and went on to develop it as a method of structured creativity.

All this given to the world of business and beyond, from a simple, pleasant sight of nature and environment.






Getting back into the swing of studying, especially after the Christmas break, can be hard for everybody – students, teachers and parents alike! It’s something to do with the anti-climax of real life after the magic of Christmas – the darkness after the fairy lights – and the realisation that the sparkling New Year is going to require some of the same-old same-old work…

But the arrival of the new year can be used as a force for good. We all know our own weaknesses, both in terms of our subject knowledge and in terms of our studying routine, but during the busyness of normal life we tend not to admit to them, much less act to change them. Now, however, is the perfect time of year to do just that – to act on these flaws and make sure we remove them. In this way, New Year’s Resolutions can be a very useful educational tool.

The trick is to be very specific regarding what you want to change. Simply stating that you will work ‘harder’ or ‘more’, or that your essays will be ‘better’, isn’t going to be much good. To make a New Year’s Resolution that will really have a positive impact on your studying, you need to know exactly what it is you want to change. This requires a bit of honesty on your part, and probably some trawling through of old TMAs to find all the targets that your tutor has written for you – especially useful if you find the same target cropping up again and again!

If you’re studying for an examination this summer, this is the perfect opportunity to get organised. The first step is to sit down with a calendar and your study file (and, if you’re a stationery kind of person, with a few highlighters and pens of different colours). Work out how many TMAs you have left to get through, and the date by which you should be finished (This might not be the same as your exam date! Talk to your tutor – they might want you to finish 4-6 weeks before the exam in order to get some serious revision done). Also, schedule a chat with your tutor and find out if there are any areas that they think would be worth revisiting before the examination. Armed with all this knowledge, you’ll be able to plan your studying timetable effectively. You’ll know exactly how many weeks you can dedicate to each module / TMA and you’ll feel completely in control of your own studying. If that’s not a good feeling to start the New Year with, I don’t know what is.

Information technology (IT or ICT) has a big role to play in home schooling. If you are learning at home, there is no doubt that IT skills will enable you to access a much richer educaitonal experience.

But that is just one aspect of IT’s importance in the modern world and children of every age need to develop their IT skills if they are going to enhance their life-chances.   Fortunately, most kids enjoy using computers and this gives them a natural aptitude for learning new IT skills.

For that reason, many home-schoolers will find that they race through Oxford Home Schooling’s new IT Key Stage 3 course. The course starts from first principles but many of the youngsters who take the course will already have a wide variety of experience of using information technology. That experience may be unstructured and play-oriented but it provides a big head start.

Perhaps the most important challenge when IT becomes a subject of formal study is to introduce and clarify the language of computing. There are hundreds of new terms to learn at various stages of the learning process and adults tend to forget how few of these terms are “obvious” to the newcomer. Each must be introduced carefully and preferably in the right sequence.

Most home learners will start with the Key Stage 3 Year 7 IT course. Although it is targeted at 11-12 year olds in Year 7, it is suitable for children of other ages who are ready to begin formal study and extend their use of computers.

There are, of course, dangers lurking in the world of computing – dodgy websites, viruses, inappropriate contacts, etc, so it is important to establish safe, supervised practices at the outset, in order to minimise the significance of any of these risks.  An important aspect of the Oxford Home Schooling IT course, is the help it gives parents to support their child’s studies and monitor progress effectively. There is an important three-way relationship between student, parent and tutor, designed to ensure steady, safe progress for each child.   OHS encourages parents to be actively involved at every point.

As well as the language of computing and safe practices, it is important to learn how to use the common tools of computing. The second half of the Year 7 course is devoted to those skills – word-processing, presentations, spreadsheets, databases, etc. These skills are gradually developed in the Year 8 and Year 9 IT courses,  so that by the time the student is ready to embark on GCSE studies (not simply IT GCSE), he or she has a full range of tools and techniques at their disposal.  Nor is it necessary to purchase expensive software – all the tools you need are available for free, notably in the excellent Open Office software.

The Oxford Home Schooling Year 7 course is designed to form part of a well-rounded educational experience for 11-year olds, sitting alongside well-established courses for English, Maths, Science, History, etc. The opportunities have never been better for home education in this age-group.

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