Wednesday, 23 September 2015

A Response to Recent News Articles on the OECD Report "Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection"

Many people have seen news articles about a new report from the OECD in recent days. A typical article and headline is this one from the BBC - Computers 'do not improve' pupil results, says OECD” This headline is followed by the opening line: “Investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils' performance, says a global study from the OECD.

Firstly, I would always advise caution when looking at news headlines. The purpose of a headline is by its nature to grab attention, not to necessarily give a balanced viewpoint. Counterpoint the BBC’s headline and opening line with the OECD’s from their own press release for the report:

New approach needed to deliver on technology’s potential in schools
Schools have yet to take advantage of the potential of technology in the classroom to tackle the digital divide and give every student the skills they need in today’s connected world, according to the first OECD PISA assessment of digital skills.

The full report - titled “Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection” can be found here.

Digging in to the BBC article and the report itself, shows very clearly that the intent of the OECD report is not to advocate that schools do not use computers with students, it is rather that educators need to get better at using computers to yield improvements.

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning  to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.” Quote from OECD press release

“....Mr Schleicher says the findings of the report should not be used as an "excuse" not to use technology, but as a spur to finding a more effective approach.” Quote from BBC article

This is a sentiment that the College very much subscribes to and one that we believe we are robustly implementing. The College, and more importantly our teachers, are very reflective in their use of technology to support teaching and learning and are constantly looking for uses that show real value add over traditional approaches.

Something that the article does not do is to question the method that the report uses to measure educational success. The measure of educational success used is the OECDs PISA tests. There are reasons why we might question this as a baseline.

The first one is the assumption that the purpose of using computers in schools is to improve academic results in traditional science, english and maths tests. Certainly at UWCSEA, we have never stated that the purpose of using technology to enrich teaching and learning is about improving test results. Rather the stated aims of the original iLearn initiative were to “ to improve learning and develop skills through:

  • Flexible Progression
  • Critical Thinking
  • Unhindered Innovation
  • Collaborative Learning”

For a complete overview of the original initiative please see here. Please note that these outcomes are now embedded into the UWCSEA Profile.

The PISA tests simply do not measure these skills and qualities, so they are not a valid measure for many of the desired outcomes that technology use can bring to teaching and learning. Nor do they test digital skills, which are in themselves a desirable outcome and for many a requirement for future preparedness in our students.

Further to this, there are many noted academics who question the value of the PISA tests even for their own stated aims. One of the most well known and a frequent guest speaker for the Singapore Ministry of Education, is the American Professor Yong Zhao; Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon.

"PISA, the OECD’s triennial international assessment of 15 year olds in math, reading, and science, has become one of the most destructive forces in education today. It creates illusory models of excellence, romanticizes misery, glorifies educational authoritarianism, and most serious, directs the world’s attention to the past instead of pointing to the future."

For more information you can read Zhao’s blogposts here.

So in summary, the College has found that much of the press coverage of the research has been misleading. We are fully supportive of the recommendations in the original report, although we feel they have limited relevance to our situation. For a full discussion of the report it is also necessary to question the use of the PISA tests as a measure of educational success, particularly as regards the success of “21st century pedagogies.”

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Typing Club - our touch typing tutor

Typing Club is an excellent touch-typing tutor. Since the introduction of student laptops, the ability to type accurately and quickly has become an important skill that sits alongside handwriting and other communication skills. The site is free so anyone can open and website and give it a try.

We suggest that our students work through the hundred lessons at their own pace and focus on the feedback that the typing tutor offers. Before each lesson a small animation is shown which highlights finger positioning and effective technique. Throughout the lesson the website records speed, accuracy and key strokes and provides a graphical summary at the end which provides useful feedback. Overtime we hope that our students feel comfortable typing and that is becomes and life-long skill.

As students complete lessons they receive points which reflect their typing accuracy and speed. Each tutor group in in a discreet online space so if they want to compare their progress to other students they can check out the class scoreboard. Other than some broad observations from the points collected, their will not be a direct assessment of the student progress by the individual tutors.

Handwriting or drawing are essential skills for our students. Therefore assessments are frequently in the written format and students are encouraged to take hand-written notes in many subjects.

Note from SMc (another DLC)

If you have not been set up to use the college account (grades 4-7), fret not, you can use the public site (not the college link) here: (Public link - paid with advertising) (Private UWC link, needs student GMail log in)

Another great free option, especially for Primary kids is on the BBC site: 

or Ratatype

And these sites are great motivator for kids to increase their WPM through 'gamification':, and

How long does it take to learn to touch type?

"Practising 'little and often' (15 -30 minutes a day) works much better than an hour or more once a week. If you practise regularly and don't give up, you should be able to learn to touch type fluently in 2-3 months, maybe even less. A total of 10 – 15 hours of practice should get you touch typing slowly:

What soon can kids start learning touch typing?

Developmental appropriateness is key here, obviously they need to be able to write sentences, and they need to have hands/fingers long enough to reach from the home keys to the other keys, eg from the 'f' to the r, t, g, c, v—and still be able to tap the spacebar with a thumb... Bear in mind they will almost certainly be learning this on a keyboard designed for adult hands, and no they can't learn how to touch type on a touch screen like an iPad.

The general consensus seems to be from Grade 3/age 8:
" it’s generally believed that they may not have the motor coordination or finger span to truly touch type until about seven or 8 years of age." 
"kids gain the finger span and motor coordination to touch type around 7 and 8 years old."
"They can start this as early as the first grade, but their hand span and the length of their fingers can cover the entire keyboard area comfortably only by the time they are 7 or 8 years old. By this age, they can start building their typing test wpm speed."

When are you going to teach touch typing to all students at school?

It's time to accept that typing is now effectively writing, so for a school to purport to be teaching their students elementary skills like writing, it is fair to ask why would anyone emphasise the teaching of handwriting over the skill of typing? Surely the aim with both is fluidity; essentially we want our students to be able to write 'at the speed of thought' or as close to that as possible, regardless of the medium.

WPM (Words per minute)

The fact is that the speed of (legible) handwriting (with or without cursive) is much slower with touch-typing. Over to Wikipedia for the breakdown of relative speeds:

The average human being hand-writes at 31 words per minute for memorised text and 22 words per minute while copying (Brown CM, 1988).

Whereas an average professional typist types usually in speeds of 50 to 80 wpm, some advanced typists work at speeds above 120 wpm. "Hunt and peck" typists, commonly reach sustained speeds of about 37 wpm for memorised text and 27 wpm when copying text.

Go on, try it yourself, I used typeracer, and scored 35 wpm, first try, them timed myself writing the same text (so a slight advantage) as fast as I could by hand, focusing on speed over beauty, but still maintaining legibility, and scored ... 17 wpm. Pathetic, I know.

So to summarise: that's handwriting at 22 wpm, hunt & peck at 27 wpm (about the same) and between 50-120 wpm for touch-typists. So if we don't teach our students how to touch-type they are in theory at least no worse off than they would have been if we asked them to write it all by hand. But the gains in terms of speed with touch-typing hovering in the range of double to triple the speed are clearly something we'd be crazy to ignore. Even with my own rudimentary experiment I was twice the speed with my tedious 'hunt and peck' technique than I was with handwriting... And of course digital text is capable of so much more than handwritten—it's situated, accessible, mutable...

Ok, I'm convinced, so how? When?

Touch typing is really the kind of thing best done at home, due to the need for it to be extended, diligent, and regular. We just don't have the time in school to dedicate to this, and to be honest, it's not a great use of a teacher's time, as they wouldn't be actually teaching, they'd just be invigilating silent drilling. This really is one of those things best done at home with a dedicated parent, I often suggest this a good holiday target, with a reward for the kids who learn it.

Really the only way I can see touch typing becoming a school focus is if it replaced the teaching of handwriting/cursive, which is exactly what they're doing in Finland. Something tells me that would not go down well with most parents though!

Brown CM (1988). Human-computer interface design guidelines. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Is Cloud Confusion Driving you Crazy?

Ridiculous name, revolutionary technology.

With the exponential increase in 'cloud' capacity, it is becoming increasingly critical to rely on this powerful technology to ensure that all of our essential data is safe, and accessible, from, well, any screen with an internet connection. With the multiplicity of devices in our lives, this functionality is pretty much essential.

This is more of a blessing than a curse, BUT.

There's always a but.

Now I know Benjen Stark said "You know, my brother once told me that nothing someone says before the word "but" really counts… (GoT)


The fact is that despite it's magnificence, the 'cloud' can cause a huge amount of confusion, so let's just break this down a bit.

What's the cloud?

Essentially, the 'cloud' is a rather dubious name for describing any of your data which is not just stored on your actual device, instead it's stored on a remote server (very much on the ground) that pulls and pushes your content to your devices over the internet. 

How many clouds?

Well, as it turns out there are quite a few forms of cloud technology, but the ones of most interest to us at UWCSEA, are Apple's 'iCloud' and, well pretty much everything even vaguely Google related from 'Drive' to Google Photos et cetera.

Cloud confusion...

The confusion stems from the fact that we all need to separate our home and work life, not to mention that the school's user agreement clearly lays out expectations that there should be clear boundaries between personal and professional use of UWCSEA devices. Anyway, no one really wants to see those pictures of me in a bikini on a beach in Magaluf, allegedly. So whether you realise this or not, you have cloud accounts associated with every Google account, and they are completely separate, as it should be, the same is true for any Apple ID you use (more below on that).

In our hyperconnected world, digital objects have inherited the property of stickiness. Photos end up everywhere and it takes not only the knowledge of how all of the synchronisation works to understand where, but also a determined approach to 'e-Cleaning' to make sure that they are not in places you didn’t expect.

If you're confused, don't feel bad, this stuff is CONFUSING for everyone, why? Two reasons: 

The first is that people don’t know, or understand, what happens to their digital property when they tick the “backup everything to iCloud/Google” check boxes. 

The second is that Apple, and Google (and other cloud providers, eg DropBox, SkyDrive et al), in their eagerness to make the process as simple as possible, do a really bad job of explaining what is going on, and importantly, what can happen if things go wrong. It just 'works' apart from when it 'just works' in a way that you don't want it to work... 

Go wrong? What do you mean 'go wrong'!?

Well if you mix up your accounts with your devices you can end up accidentally having the 'cloud' hoover up all of your photos and videos that you're taking on your phone/tablet/laptop/desktop and adding them to your online collection, if you share that collection with other people (they are private by default) then that audience can see everything, you might be surprised at the kind of content your device has helpfully uploaded in the background for you... 

Don't Panic!

This problem really only relates to your 'rich' media, specifically photos and videos; you can happily access work/home email without any conflict, although I'd still use separate apps to minimise confusion, see below.


You can only have ONE cloud account associated with a mobile device*, you can sign in and out, but this just gets more confusing, so as a general rule, pick one and stick with that. So are the photos/videos on your phone more work or home related? If so, use the home cloud account, but don't use that device for taking videos/photos for work use, unless it is temporary, ie email/transfer them to a device dedicated to work use, and delete them afterwards.  Is your Pad more work related? Well sign into a work cloud account—which is most likely the UWC Gapps account, but then don't capture media for home use on that device, unless it is temporary, ie email/transfer them to a device dedicated to home use, and delete them afterwards.

Isolate with Apps

By dedicating specific apps to work/home you can mitigate the confusion, eg (assuming an iOS device here) Use the Mail app for your home account, use the Gmail App for work, use the Safari app for home browsing, use the Chrome app for school browsing...  This separation breaks down with rich media though, as the apps generally link to your device camera roll, which is shared across the entire device, regardless of the account an app is associated with.

Kids/Hubbie's/Wife's content mixed up with yours? 

Welcome to Apple ID vs App Store

Many of you want to use the same Apple ID on multiple family devices, so that if you purchase something from the App store you can install it on any device in the family without paying twice, that's fine, but don't confuse this with sharing the same iCloud account. 

WHAT? They're different?
Well, yes... and.. no.
You can use the same Apple ID for iCloud AND for purchasing things from Apple, especially the App Store. But these don't have to be the same, and if you want family members to be able to download stuff you've purchased you will need to separate their Apple ID (iCloud) from your Apple ID (App Store).
See? I told you it was/is confusing.
So in my case, scenario, all of the devices in my house can use MY Apple ID in the App Store to download things I've purchased for myself, or for them. BUT 

(and it's another big but)
Everyone in your family should use their OWN Apple ID on their own device, these can (and should be) be separate, that way everyone in your family keeps their 'stuff' separate from yours, but you can all download content from the same App Store account.

You can use a shared account for App Store, & an individual account/s for iCloud

Family Sharing

After years of using the above method to stay sane, Apple finally conceded that there is an issue and rolled out Family Sharing' last year, this should hopefully simplify things, unless you like me use more than one App Store account (I have one in Singapore and one in the UK), as Family Sharing is restricted on onto App Store, ie if you set it up using the Singapore store, all accounts have to be in the Singapore store, even if you leave and move overseas... Which means you need to have an active credit card account for that store. ...

Which is why I don't use it. However it could be JUST what you need, in which case click here, to follow Apple's guidelines to setting this up for your family. Also note, if you use Apple's Family Sharing method to set up Apple IDs for your kids (under 13), they will have to use an iCloud email account, not their school account, this is fine, but you may need to explain this to them...

Smarter iCloud Settings

If you're one of these teachers who is fortunate enough to have had an iPad provided for you by the college, for lots of reasons, including:
  • trickledown learning—becoming familiar with device by just using it—you use it for personal reasons, like making a home video, but this skills you up, so you can use the new found skills with those apps with your students with greater confidence
  • enabling you to easily explore and learn how to use apps you want to use with your students, and new apps
  • to allow you to more easily capture evidence of learning (or the opposite) for your own planning and prepping purposes
  • to more easily facilitate recording and assessment, without the many limitations posed by paper based systems, using apps like Numbers, Notability, iDoceo et al.
The problem is this means you will have a load of content (if not all of it) in your camera roll which is student/college related, if you use the same device on holiday, well, all of your snaps will get mixed up with your school content - not ideal. if you connect this device to your iCloud account all of your personal media on other connected devices will also all stream into the same camera roll all 'polluting' the stream. 

You could easily solve this by just not connecting your iPad to your iCloud account, the problem with this is being connected to the iCloud is really useful, being able to sync all your Apple content from other apps like Notes, Pages, Safari bookmarks et cetera can be really useful, not to mention all the content on iTunes you might have purchased. So how can you have your school iPad connected to your iCloud account and avoid this? Easy, just go into your iCloud settings and switch off Photos, done. Everything in your camera roll is now only content you captured with this device, you can still transfer it to other devices using email, Airdrop, apps like Send it Anywhere. If you install the Google Photos app, it will sync all your camera roll content to your college GApps account, so it's all easily accessible from your laptop—winwin! In fact using the suite of Google Apps (Google Drive, GMail...) is another easy way to keep your work/home life separate on the same device. 

Settings - iCloud

You can turn any/all of these off

Final Advice...

I hate to break it to you, but we have really reached a point where trying to manage the entire scope of your digital life on one laptop is increasingly untenable. My advice? Get a dedicated device for home, and keep that content completely separate for the device you use for work. Simple. If you are a family with loads of video/photos, and media being captured and shared by everyone (our home as 2 adults, 2 kids, one helper, and 5 laptops, 5 iPhones, 5 tablets, and one desktop) then I'd advise you to purchase a dedicated desktop computer (I like the iMac, surprise, surprise) with the BIGGEST hard drive available. That is where all family media is stored, all other devices are dedicated to that individual's content only; so any 'family' content is temporarily on their device, and is transferred to the BIG MAC ASAP.  That's it.

*On a laptop/desktop, you can have more than one cloud account, but they would need to be associated with different user accounts on that machine, you probably need to see IT Support, or a DLC to help with this... 

Emergency Medical Details & your iPhone

Have you got emergency contact details? Have you got a medical history? Have you got an iPhone?

Well then it makes sense to combine them. 

That way if someone finds your iPhone lying around we have some chance of getting it back to you (the emergency details are available from the lock screen) and if we stumble on your listless frame, we have some hope of working out who you are if you have your phone on you, which you probably will...

This is also a good idea for you to encourage your students to do likewise, well those with iPhones anyway.

For more on the how, see the advice from the experts I've linked to below:

Health App—Medical ID

Within the health app, you can personalize the Medical ID to keep your important health information in case of emergency, from a lost phone emergency to a lost consciousness emergency.

Apple Insider guide.

Apple's more detailed breakdown on the whole app, not just the emergency contact element.