The good, the bad and the ugly of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

Most schools have moved to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) structure where the student supplies the computing device for the education (or work environment).

The following points are taken from The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using BYOD In Schools. I’m just considering them in a boarder context of a secondary school environment where some of the pluses are need to be developed and some of the minuses need to be addressed to move forwards beyond the “Magical computer solving all our educational problems”. The cynical part of me looks at the way it pushes the cost of education onto the students, but

When I think of a BYO-Device it is usually a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Tech-savvy students are more likely to have a laptop where most will have a smartphone for easy of use and portability reasons.

Offers Comfort Of Using A Known Device.

A consideration of the student’s prior knowledge is needed here. Although it is a known device, how much do they really know? Web browsers, games, email? For a secondary environment we need to be explicit about what the device should be used for, how it could be misused, and what it is not capable of achieving.

For the 90% of cases where research, creating a document, presentation, tables of data, or graphs are needed then a simple device that can run Office Applications, or surf the web maybe all that is needed. However, how easy is it to use the device to complete that task? Are we training creators of content or just consumers?

It is unrealistic to expect a BYOD to be able to perform every computation task set it. For example; There are apps that can perform photo manipulation on all devices, however, it is not reasonable to have the teacher of image editing teach all that software at once. Then there is the consideration of training someone for industry where the expectation is to use industry standard software (ie. Adobe’s Photoshop).

Who is comfortable with the device? Regardless of the device the classroom teacher now becomes to first point of call for any technical problems, and they have to find software that is usable on all devices from desktops through to smartphones. This is likely to increase the workload on the teacher, until they become comfortable with multiple devices and operating systems.

Just because the student is comfortable with the device does not mean that everyone how may need to use it is. We also need to consider how the device is to be used in the classroom setting and how is can distract (see below). Then just because you are comfortable with something does not mean you know how to use it or how it works.

Leverages Students’ Love For Their Devices.

How do the student’s love the device? As a revolutionary piece of technology enhancing their lives, as a useful thing to connect to other people, or as  a toy?

A students love for their device does not tend to last that long, unless they have a passion for the field of Information Technology or Computing. For most students the technology becomes a ubiquitous thing that’s thrown into the bag with everything else.

We need to think how people choose to use the device. There have been studies that show how the different genders use the device. Males tend to use it as a toy to have fun with, where females tend to use it as a tool to achieve their goals. Once a basic level of competency has been reached device becomes secondary to what the student wants.

Do we want future artists or writers to become distracted by the devices that enable their art form instead of the art form itself. Ubiquitous computing in the form of BYOD should be an enabler of human endeavour not a distraction from it. Most of the time technology is the enabler once the thinking or planning is done.

A good example of this is when I start planning a brand new task or activity for students that I have never attempted before. It generally starts out as a rough idea of concept sketch before I write it up neatly. The rough working allows me to focus on the core idea without the distraction of anything except pencil and paper. The digital technology is brought in later to enable the neat formatting for a document, creating of the eLearning object, video or audio podcast.

Advanced Technology Makes Learning Easier.

Technology makes things easier by completing the computation of the task quicker than a person can do. The thinking of the task represented in the computations the technology does for us has already being done. The goal of any educator is to empower the student with the thinking to solve life’s problems and become a full member of society. This can be shown in how they handle the weekly shopping, communicate clearly, face complex situations, or deal with technology.

There is also the need for digital literacy, most people assume that the next generation is better adapted to use the current technology. However, more playtime with digital devices does not automatically lead to tech-savvy individuals. There is a fundamental need to educate everyone with some basic digital literacy. This is where ubiquitous technology inhibits the development of computational thinking.

Although BYOD can be used with virtual desktop software (VMware) or cloud computing services (gmail, google Docs, AdobeCC, tinkerCAD, etc) it can be foiled by network issues or Internet speeds. Virtual Desktops are not the same has having a powerful computer to run the application, especially when looking at topics like games programming, 3D Animation, or website development.

Then there is the issue of hardware or software failure. As soon as there is a technical issue the learning is stopped in it’s tracks while the problem is solved. So this creates the need to students to have some basic fault finding skills in addition to basic IT skills.

How To Reduce The Distraction?

This is a big one as BYOD can provide solutions to many problems with the easy creation of content with automated website creation websites like weebly, but if that is the intent of the learning is it worthwhile? or will it distract from the goal of the lesson, task, or activity.

If we are training people who can apply their mind to solve everyday problems, then we want the best opportunity to reach a solution. With so many distractions happening all around them, how can the learn to filter out the useless data and focus on the important stuff. Although the link is not explicit there has been a trend towards mindfulness in education, and this can been seen as a reaction to the technological overload.

As teachers BYOD forces us to focus on the real learning that can be done when using these devices. We need to be very explicit and clear about focus of the lesson and what is to be achieved by the end of the lesson, unit, term or semester.

Security: A Major Issue.

Point one above mentioned the comfort of using a known device, but this can also lead to complacency with the device. So that works against this point of security. Some schools manage this with curated devices while others leave it to the students, both of these options dis-empower the students. However, if you take the third option the technology is then driving the curriculum, which is a double edged sword. Students need digital literacy, but the technology is evolving so quickly that the curriculum needs to be updated almost every year.

What are the benefits of BYOD?

So after spending most of this post looking at the flaws of BYOD. It’s only fair to examine the benefits. In some cases having a personal device enhances the individual’s learning by allowing them ready access to the digital tools that allow them to create digital resources, gain access to remote resources, or to communicate across the world. These are huge benefits that educators have not had easy access to before. each with it’s own pitfall

What are the solutions to avoid problems with BYOD?

As with computer there are many solutions to the one problem with each having to be considered on it’s merits and flaws, and it’s suitability to the school environment.

One solution is a collection of curated devices that the students lease. A Standard Operating Environment (SOE) provides a uniform array of software on the device, that allow technicians to easily maintain the hardware and software. With a SOE it allows teachers to easily access the software they need to teach their subject. Technicians and teachers can be trained in the use of the software. The is an easier solution from an administration perspective. There can be other concerns around ownership of the hardware and the respectful treating of the device.

Another is best described as open season, where anyone can bring any device. This knocks out the supports that trained technicians can provide to the device, and that teachers can rely on to educate with. However, it does empower students with the control of their own device and with the right IT training that can become proficient users.

A variant of the open season BYOD is to use a virtual desktop to simulate a SOE or Desktop environment, but this tends to suffer from lag from network issues. These can be overcome with a robust network, however, as any computer gamer knows lag equals death. And the same is true with virtual desktops, as students are unwilling to wait when interacting with a virtual environment. A joke back in the ’90s was, What does www stand for?… World Wide Wait. Which highlights the issue of lag, and web designers now look to limit the average load time for a page to fractions of a second to avoid web browsers moving on.

In the virtual desktop environment, there is also the difficulty of how you interact with the device. Most virtual desktops are Windows-based and are optimised for a keyboard and mouse use, while the tablets (iPad, etc) or smart phones are touch orientated with limited screen real estate.

Sadly most of the positives of BYOD programs are temporary fads of a technological fix to educational problems and are unlikely to create lasting change in the desired way. There is an underlying assumption of the way we educate that needs to be addressed. The flipped classroom is a step in the right direction.

Also the devices we use are having a lasting effect on the way we thinking and interact with the world. Social media now plays a huge part of must students (& peoples) lives and concepts like the netiquette, appropriate behaviour, and where the data goes are all important. Which leads to poor impulse control as we choose not to defer our gratification and act out. The easy access of lots of information requires more skeptical or media savvy view of the content we consume. There is now a greater need to critically select and evaluate our information sources.

So if they are used properly BYOD can enhance the learning environment but there are a few things to note. They have limited use, because of the you have to pick stuff that will work with the weakest device and it is difficult to find Apps that work on all devices. This means that the device will be able to view websites, use email, create documents with an Office application, and watch videos. More complex tasks like image manipulation, audio/video editing are still the domain of the specialist, as there is not one app to rule them all. Although this is changing with cross platform development.

Mapping activities to the Australian Curriculum

I’ve being working on mapping the various activities, tasks and assessments to the Australian Curriculum. Below is the mapping document I use to make sure that I have the right content in mind then planning the activity. Please take it and use as you wish.

[embeddoc url=”http://www.digital-ether.info/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Mappping-to-AusCurr-Technology-Activity-Planning1.xlsx” download=”all” viewer=”microsoft”]

All I did to create it was to take the scope and sequence from the part of the Australian Curriculum that I was concerned with. In this case Design & Digital Technologies. I cut & Pasted it down the left side and placed space up the top for Notes about the activity. I’ve also formatted the page for a landscape A3 view to make it easier when writing all over them.

Then during a planning session we wrote all the sheets, setting down how the topics within a subject map to the Australian curriculum. This helps to make sure we where on the right track. Another pass ensured that particular topics or activities has clear links to the curriculum.

PauseFest 2015

Recently these two videos appeared in my inbox and it reminded me of the experience. Back in February I was lucky enough to receive some free tickets to PauseFest. The event was an excellent melting pot of ideas from many different areas of life, looking at the ways innovation, technology, and business collide to create new forms of doing things.

The festival ran for the week from Monday the 9th until Sunday 15th of Feb, but I was only able to make the weekend. Although this still meant a very busy time looking at things like the effect of Australian copyright laws on innovation, a deconstruction of a 2D animation pipeline, how IoT (Internet of Things) is reshaping the world, why hackathons are good, and creating innovation cultures.

All of this is important because the core focus of as an educator is to bring a window of the world into the lives of those you educate. Each session highlighted the many directions that our world is rapidly changing and the unconventional paths that people follow to achieve their dreams.

Pause Fest is Australia’s premier digital event, aimed at supporting and showcasing the best in creative and tech from Australia and all over the world.

Each Pause festival tells a story through a unique theme. In 2015, the theme is Pure.

Seminar: Inclusion and education in Scandinavia

Run by The Victoria Institute at Victoria University on the 27th of November 2014, this seminar consisted of four talks by researchers from Denmark and Finland. The main focus was on inclusive practices within these education systems. I have reversed the order of the talks because it makes more sense to me to move from national to local.

The case of Denmark: Inclusive efforts at a crossroads – Susan Tetler

This talk gave an excellent overview of the reforms for the Danish education system. She showed the background of the shift in the numbers of students that have been moved from the regular school system in to the special schools from 2000 where it was 2% until 2012 where it had become 5.6%. These special schools received approximately 30% of all the schools funding in 2012. This reform appears to part of a larger movement to increase teacher’s contact hours and work load

The policy framework, now in it’s third year of implementation aim for 2015 is for only 4% of students been moved into special schools. Each municipality has been given autonomy to implement this in different ways, with a range from token effort to active teacher support.

How do teachers experience counselling as an inclusive tool – Charlotte Riis Jensen

This talk was more practice focuses for the teachers implementing Denmark’s Inclusive schools policy (See the talk by Susan Tetlet, below). The following cartoon was included in the talk and frames the starting point for some of the teachers, who at the start of the change were considering their profession. It also reminds me of an Albert Einstein quote, ‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’

 

To aid the reintegration of student back into the regular school system some of the teachers were provided with facilitation counsellors to assist teachers with this process. While many teachers expected a magic wand to solve their problems the discussion process provided other ways of perceiving the situation and they now have tools to deal with these situations. So teacher job satisfaction has improved.

Student engagement of 1230 Danish 7th grade students – Hilde Ulvseth

This talk looked that the link between the characteristics of engagement and the teacher-student relationship. Which seams obvious as a classroom teacher, however, it’s good to see some statistics on this. These was taken from the Student Engagement Instrument developed by James J. Appleton, Sandra L. Christenson, Dongjin Kim, Amy L. Reschly. Further reading;

Encounters over the counter – Sanna Aaltonen

Even though Finland achieved top results in the PISA tests for OECD countries there are still underlying problems for the socialist state. There is social anxiety over the high rates of young unemployment, school drop-outs and the social exclusion of young people. Finland has the Youth Guarantee, which is part of a larger EU program. Finland’s Youth Assistance rate (of all people on benefits) is around 22% in 2014 having increased from 20% in 2009.

From the data they identified three distinct groups of unemployed Troubled, Worker/Citizens in the making and Victims of the recession. The Troubled group has the characteristics of No Job, not engaged in education and ambivalent engagement with society. The second group, Worker/Citizens in the making, has no jobs, but were still engaged in education. And the final groups, Victims of the recession, had lost their job.

The program aims at re-engaging passive young people with the Finnish society through the use of Experience experts. Where young people with knowledge of the system support others in similar situations.

A number of common problems were brought up;

The deficiency model of an external society must fix the young person, which is unlike to go down well with a disengaged individual. the forcing of the identify of being a broken young person shapes how the individual sees themselves

Another graphic showed the scarcity of time to help young people (ie They need help now, but have to wait.), which lead to the idea of affordance (borrowed from environmental psychology, see The Theory of Affordances Gibson, 1977. or An Outline of a Theory of Affordances).

What do I walk away with?

It was interesting exploring the overlap between education (ie schools) and society from the young person’s point of view as they move into the wider world. There are some questions, puzzles, and a few answers I have….

Are there measurements for wellbeing? A lot of self-help books give definitions, and neuro-science has provided some answers, but short of scanner every child, how can you know? What should you be looking for? [More research required]

Homework (Assistance) Cafes! Looks like an after school program, and given the increase in contact hours for the students within Denmark education system this appears likely. Adding a few Chai-Lattes may make the kids not notice.

Examining the link between student-teacher relationships and the student’s engagement with school. I found there is not enough detail from the attitudes to school survey used in Victoria. I would like to know how individual student-teacher relationships effect that student’s engagement for the teacher’s subject, how do other factors like gender and background effect the results. I found there was not enough detail to provide useful answers. [Again more research required]

The talk of helping young people is great, especially the idea of youth experience experts, but it would have to be handled with care to avoid a rebellious backlash.

And finally I was reminded of a quote by Voltaire, “Work banishes those three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty.”

Resources about New Pedagogies for Deep Learning

I’ve just wandered into this by chance, and it feels like a good piece of serendipity. The global project New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) is just starting here in Victoria. So as part of my research journey I’m collecting together in one place resources I find;

The blog post NPDL – An opportunity for 80 Victorian Schools gives some useful links, but the Expression of Interest closed in March. A this time DEECD has eight resources on FUSE, New Pedagogies for Deep Learning Australian cluster resources.

Looking further a field, on newpedagoy.info I’ve found;

 

 

Book: Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons

This book provides an excellent background on the reforms that have brought Finland from the middle ranks to near the top of the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) ranks (See the Wikipedia Page for PISA). At the time of writing Finland was at or near the top of the charts, but now appears to have slipped back a few places with the top spots being held by Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau, & Japan.

You can check out the book notes by Jane Sigford which give a good outline of the book, or this look at Foreword & Chapter 1. For me, the interesting points made by Finnish Lessons concern things like the low anxiety rates among students and teachers, high levels of respect for teachers and other educational professionals and the focus on literacy early on in the educational adventure of students.

Many of Finland’s policies work in conjunction to create a teaching profession and an educational system that is used as a way of reinforcing the Finnish culture and maintaining their identity.

The book outlines three paradoxes.  On the surface the first paradox – Teach Less, Learn More – does not make sense.  However, because of the high level of competition to enter teaching and the fact it is a respected profession, the question should be how would a dedicated educational professional spend their time? I see it thus, enhancing their skills to create the most up to date curriculum possible, creating stronger links with and between communities, and helping those students who need the extra support.

There is also a side-effect of this: a lower level of anxiety and stress among teachers which should lead to higher staff retention rates. It is worth noting that in business terms the cost of high employee turnover can be up to 2 years worth of salary. (See Employee Retention – The Real Cost of Losing an Employee and Cost of Employee turnover). This would likely translate as a lower quality of educational outcomes as the new teachers develop the skills. If this is systemic across the entire educational system, then the overall outcomes would suffer.

With the second paradox –Test Less, Learn More – I remember a quote from somewhere “you don’t fatten pigs by weighing them”. In this context, I’m talking about standardised tests used to benchmark students and schools against one another, and not assessment of student understanding. The former tends to be low level (See Blooms), while the latter can be high level. As an activity testing will draw the students attention away from enjoyable things like learning to sitting in a room recalling facts. This is likely to cause levels of anxiety and stress for students, which will lead to lower results. In Neuro-biological terms, stress stimulates cortisol production, and long term, an overload of cortisol can have many negative health effects (you can look at these two unverified sources. Stress Effects from the American Institute of Stress or Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes from help guide. Or you can look that up yourself)

The third paradox – More equity through growing diversity – points more towards the policies used to maintain the equity across the system as the country’s population becomes more culturally diverse.

Finnish teachers require a research-based masters degree, which means that they are highly trained in educational theory, pedagogical content,and subject specifics. Once in a school they are given a teaching load to allow more time for professional development, community engagement, and pedagogical reflection. Schools are  given autonomy to implement educational objectives as they see fit. The school hierarchy is governed by those with an education degree to ensure that the focus remains on providing the best outcomes for the students.

Teachers at all levels of schooling expect that they are given the full range of professional autonomy to practice what they have been educated to do: to plan, teach, diagnose, execute, and evaluate. [Pg 76]

Contrast this with the educational reform movements of the world where the teaching & l;earning are becoming standardized, the curriculum is more prescriptive with a heavy focus on literacy and numeracy, which is enforced with test-based accountability. All of which scream that there is only one way of thinking and achieving, which is the death-knell of creativity and innovation for teachers, students and the education system.

Schools are being more scrutinised with organisational and motivational ideas borrowed from business practises (see RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, and the corresponding TED talk – Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation for why this is wrong.)

Looking beyond the book

Since Pasi keep looking at the PISA data, I thought it was worth including the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) comments for 2012 (taken from http://gpseducation.oecd.org/), for a complete overview see the report [pdf].

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) focuses on young people’s ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. This orientation reflects a change in the goals and objectives of curricula themselves, which are increasingly concerned with what students can do with what they learn at school and not merely with whether they have mastered specific curricular content. Since the year 2000, every three years, fifteen-year-old students from randomly selected schools worldwide take tests in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science, with a focus on one subject in each year of assessment.
The latest set of results from the 2012 data collection (PISA 2012) focuses on mathematics and compares the competencies of students in 65 countries and economies.
Around 510 000 students between the ages of 15 years 3 months and 16 years 2 months participated in PISA 2012 representing about 28 million 15-year-olds globally.

  • In 2012, Asian countries as Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei, Japan and Korea have the highest scores in mathematics, reading and science. The only exception is Finland, which also is among the top five performers in science.
  • Some countries, such as Mexico, Turkey and Germany, improved both their mathematics performance and their levels of equity in education between PISA 2003 and PISA 2012.
  • PISA reveals that in most countries and economies, far too many students do not make the most of the learning opportunities available to them because they are not engaged with school and learning.
  • Stratification in school systems, which is the result of policies like grade repetition and selecting students at a young age for different “tracks” or types of schools, is negatively related to equity; and students in highly stratified systems tend to be less motivated than those in less-stratified systems.
  • PISA also shows that the impact of socio-economic status on problem-solving performance is weaker than it is on performance in mathematics, reading or science.

This latest set of PISA testing shows that various Asian countries have taken the lead in their responses to the tests. However, Asian is looking at western countries to see how we foster creativity and we are looking back to see how they foster dedication.

Where to get it

Fishpond => Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

NICTA’s Industry-research collaborations

NICTA’s Perfect Match event spotlighted Research Excellence in ICT, and the research sector-Industry partnerships that have formed. The four industry-research collaborations highlighted current research in the use of big data, the importance of good communication skills in collaborating, and the board interesting and unique solutions that can come from these partnerships.

Talk #1

Ben Spincer (Director of Technology Strategy and Innovation, Telstra) and Professor Chris Leckie (Deputy Lab Director, NICTA Victoria and Professor, Department of Computing & Information Systems, The University of Melbourne). Talked generally about their partnership and the important elements they discovered in the process.

The different in time-frames for reporting where a business will need regular timely reports each week to know the current state of the business. Research needs a longer time frame, so that the time can be spend on the exploration of problem, the design of possible solutions, the development of prototypes (either software or hardware), and the evaluation of the solutions. All of which is the Problem Solving Methodology applied to the real world.

To build a good working relationship both organisations need Open Communications, Similar Interests and objectives. Even from a common ground the message is not always communicated clearly. So a process to back & forth emerges where each side articulates what the project is about. However, people can’t always describe what they want, but can describe what they don’t., until after a number of cycles they agree on the true objective (ie what they really want)

With Big Data there is the challenge of privacy vs the possibility of what you can do with it. The randomisation of personal data

Product Development from an IT failures perspective

Product Development from an IT failures perspective

Talk #2

Ruby O’Rourke (CEO, HubCare) and Colin Griffith (Strategic Adviser, Broadband and the Digital Economy, NICTA) Are developing a game changer, in terms of integrating multiple government services (Health, Welfare, Community support, Social Services) to allow the connecting of government with it’s citizens and vice-versa.

They did raise some point that I’ve mentioned above, and here are some of the other points;

  • The maintaining of privacy for all citizens while continuing to provide needed services.
  • The use of specialist teams across multiple locations.
  • Applying research opportunities to the front line of society.

Talk #3

Brian Sloan (ANZLIC Secretariat, Spatial Policy Brand, Department of Communications) and Peter Leihn (Director, Security and Environment, NICTA). They outlined an open source software project that collects the Victorian government open data and displays it on a ‘spinning globe’. From the stand point of there is an economic benefit from open data, but they needed to build a vision of it. Similar projects have been build in collaboration with Google for three other states (QLD, WA, & NSW), but the open source solution was cheaper and free from potential problems with Google.

Government wanted a 12 month feasibility study for of giving the go ahead, but they avoided that by working with NICTA and completed a working prototype for proof of concept with 3 months. The next objective is to incorporate the other states and all three tiers of government, then to move onto data analytics.

Check out National Map Project, which takes data from data.vic.gov.au

Tallk #4

Larissa Andriske (Occupational Therapist, Barwon Health) and Associate Professor Pubudu Pathirana (Deakin University) the final talk was about 5 projects design to assist rerehabilitation and self management with technology. these included virtual, remote physiotherapy and a project that concentrates on motion system analysis that analyses gait (walking).

Here the challenge was to make the designers and developers of the technology understand the needs of the therapists and the patents. So the therapies became a technical problems for the researchers.

Questions & Answers

Concerning Time-frames on projects. Agile Software Development is being applied to research to make it more responsive. Universities tend to have long lead times for their projects.

About Geospacial Data in time. There is or will be a slider for historical datasets as part of the process to enable predictive analytics (ie future projections). They used a super computer that processed data on tapes that would normal take 8 years in 2 – 3 days. (wow!)

NICTA have note been involved in any partnerships with the Manufacturing sector, but they did mention META, the Manufacturing Excellence Taskforce of Australia.

Concerning Start-ups and new companies. how do they connect with researchers. NICTA has done a little thinking in this direction, and they have few rules to allow adaptability. There is also the state startup scheme, however, a search of Business Victoria and Grants Victoria provided no extra information. Although Grant Finder (Business.gov.au), AustralianGovernmentGrants.org, and this article from 2012, 10 top government grants for start-ups may provide some useful information or promising leads.

Overall

What is true for business is also true for student collaborations. So for ICT education it means that;

  • Collaboration is built on effective communication skills. The client’s true desires or objective are not always present in the design brief or case study. This helps in building a clear vision
  • Both sides of the partnership need to be aware of the needs and requirements of the other. For example reporting time frames.
  • Unexpected result can emerge from partnerships. So it’s not worth starting to a predefined plan in hand.
  • The applications of Big Data are wide and varied, but concerns such as privacy must be addressed.
  • These examples provide insight into business collabroation and can be used for student case studies

Is multitasking effective?

There has been something about multitasking that I never felt was right, and it’s been difficult to explain. Multitasking has been seen as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I’ve had reservations about it. Part of this problem has been because of my background in computers & engineering, where multitasking requires additional processor time to handle organising the multiple tasks. Another part, is that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the creator of the term Flow, describes that to get into the zone of best work efficiency the task undertaken must match closely to the skills that you have. (NB: For some background of Flow, look at his TED talk, Flow, the secret to happiness).

From a computer’s perspective multitasking is less effective than doing one thing well. A computer is able to get away with it because of the speed at which it processes the numbers- although some of its speed is consumed with handling (or remembering) the multiple tasks and switching between them so rapidly that the users does not notice the delay in the computer.

However, people are not computers. Maybe the human brain is better equipped to deal with multiple tasks, however, current neural research supports the idea that multitasking is not everything we want it to be. Dr. Travis B points out in, The Real Harm in Multitasking, that the cost of multitasking is a loss of attention and more error prone work. A Stanford study shows that media multitaskers pay a mental price: it may impair your cognitive control, because according to Professor Clifford Nass, “They’re suckers for irrelevancy,” and “Everything distracts them.”. This potentially leads to greater difficultly in focusing on a single task, which is something Daniel Goleman discusses at length in his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.

And the devil is in the detail with multitasking. Cognitive tasks require focus, and time for the mind to adjust to the problem-space (ie to gain an understanding of the problem), before embarking on finding a solution. But mindless tasks, such as unlocking a door, that don’t require conscientious effort, can be multi-tasked. For example; walking and talking on the phone.

Research may support a slight gender bias for females to multi-task, and males to mono-task, but the influences could be more cultural than genetic. Allan & Barbara Pease’s book, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps: How We’re Different and What to Do About It, does explore the cultural & genetic influences on people’s development, but does not draw any definite conclusions in either direction. These gender biases can only be described as tendencies and more importance must be placed on the skills of the individual.

One of the interesting things is the comments from The Real Harm in Multitasking, of people who demonstrate a preference from a particular style of working, either mono-tasking, or multitasking. And there is more of a case for individuals to have natural predispositions in the way they prefer to work, the type of task undertaken, and the individual habits formed. According to the study Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brainthe developmental trajectories of males and females separate at a young age, demonstrate wide differences during adolescence and adulthood.

If there is a preference for multi or mono tasking, then it is likely to be formed during the middle years (years 5-8 or ages 9 to 13) regardless of wither it is nature or nurture.

In an education context, a solitary focus on multitasking is a mistake, because the primary goal of education is to develop thinking or to place some thought between emotion and action. This requires the full attention of the brain, and can not be done with a distracted mind. Once the lesson is learned it can be shifted to the automatic neural systems. However, it is worth noting that experts like Olympic athletes, concert musicians and such, keep this neural processing in the conscious part of this mind to further develop their skill. Which points to the deeper question of why are you developing the skill in the first place? This is one of the fundamental questions of student engagement.

Returning to the question of Multitasking, it is a question of the reason behind the activity. Does it aim to improve the cognition around a task (ie learning), to reason out a solution to a complex problem (thinking), or is it completing work where the thinking has been completed (doing).

Creating Interactive Stories

Interactive Stories in their simplest form are Text Adventures, but how can you easily enable students to create these adventures for themselves?

Creating interactive stories from J Le Rossignol

A simple sample task for use in the classroom, with the handouts for Keynote or PowerPoint.

Choose your own adventure story (Task) from J Le Rossignol

Should Teachers be Software Engineers?

A recent article on TechCrunch, Why We Should Treat Teachers Like Software Engineers, highlighted some of the problems in the US education system (and indeed the UK & Australian systems) when compared to the Japanese & Korean education systems. Pointing out that better pay will get better teachers, and only briefly talking about working conditions (teaching time vs preparation), resourcing of schools, and respect for the profession. For me the very interesting part was the comments and discussion that followed on from the article.

Some of the comments pointed out that the working conditions of software engineers a dramatically different with non-performing engineers let go, which varies from educators. That Engineers produce products for consumption, while teachers educate people for the future. Unlike engineering, where most things can be quantified, measured and analysed. The enabling of a mind for thinking is a qualitative process with many and varied possibilities. It required consideration of the individual’s predispositions and the surrounding culture’s dominating influences. To layer analysis over the top of so many variables would require an astronomical level of computing power and individual monitoring as to make it impossible at this time.

The useful thing I did get from this TechCrunch discussion was a book, Finnish Lessons, which looks at the history of the Finnish education system and will hopefully provide some ideas on how they have achieved on of the highest education rankings in the world.