Tag Archives: ideas

Jigsaw programming

Blockly program to compute a factorial

A program to compute the factorial of a number using Blockly

I’m sure many of my readers will know what I mean, but just in case, I am talking about the visual programming languages for programming computers which use blocks that plug together like a jigsaw to express algorithms. Examples include StarLogo, App Inventor, Scratch and Blockly.

These are widely used to introduce programming for the following reasons:

  1. such languages tap in to a pre-literate capacity to help learners make sense of things without depending on technical reading and writing literacies;
  2. learners appreciate the tactile and kinaesthetic sensibilities involved in producing a visually pleasing artefact, the program, regardless of what it does;
  3. such languages clarify the logic of the program through the display of visual, diagrammatic shapes that make it easy to determine the relationship and scope of program elements;
  4. it is impossible to make syntax errors such as incorrect spelling, conjunction or punctuation;
  5. they provide a visual menu of programming elements so that opportunities for expression are clear and the learner’s memory is not overtaxed.

All this I can understand and I am very much a fan, but I am unclear why there is considered to be a desirable progression from these languages to the traditional text-based languages?

In some cases features are missing from the visual programming languages. For example Scratch doesn’t do functions and local variables.

It may be thought that a complex program would be visually unwieldy, but I find that true of any reasonably sized textual program.

Then there is the historical/cultural/custom-and-practice concerns of experienced programmers – I can hear them saying “surely there is something important, expressive and pure about traditional programming languages?”.

I maintain an open mind about this and can even imagine jigsaw programming becoming the method of choice for serious programming in the workplace. If I am right, there are some interesting challenges:

  1. What are the criteria for judging the effectiveness / efficiency / legibility of a program made using jigsaw programming?
  2. What are the examples of programming problems that cannot be solved using jigsaw programming?
  3. How do we benefit from the version control and sharing that matter for collaborative development?
  4. How do they effectively encapsulate and hide libraries of service functions and procedures?
  5. Can we add styling control so that we can tailor the visual appearance to suit the person and the task, or simply provide an alternative view?
  6. How can they reveal and make editable the variables and data they manipulate? (Scratch does this well with lists).
  7. How can they animate the program’s diagram to illustrate its execution, single step, interrupt and thus help us debug?

Some of these challenges may already be tackled – I’d be pleased to hear about where to find developments!

Learning Theory

Learning Theory concept map

I have been working for the HoTEL EU Support Action recently at Brunel University and I was asked to produced a report on learning theories – a struggle, since there seem to be so many ‘isms’ and often I come across what seems to be the same theory, but from a different disciplinary or professional context.

So, this A3 poster of Learning Theory was central to the outcome and I would welcome feedback, especially since I will use it as part of my theoretical and conceptual framework for my PhD by Retrospective Practice. There is also the live this CmapTools version with clickable links to Wikipedia and InfEd.

Here is an extract from the report:

“Learning theory has been a contested scientific field for most of its history, with conflicting contributions from many scientific disciplines, practice and policy positions. With the continuing and disruptive influence of technology on information, knowledge and practice in all sectors of society it is no wonder that innovators, drawn to the interactive potential that computers bring to learning, are challenged by the theoretical basis for their innovations.

Formal education is also a high stakes, culturally & institutionally conservative activity, which serves more than one societal purpose, including:

  • learner development and fulfilment;
  • child care;
  • preparation for citizenship, parenthood and retirement;
  • preparation for work;
  • selection for jobs.

Even in the higher, informal and professional sectors of education, complexity of education is matched by complexity of learning outcomes which may include:

  • skills development;
  • knowledge acquisition;
  • improvement in strategic, analytic and creative capacities;
  • attainment of competence;
  • establishment of attitudes and values.

Each of these societal purposes and these learning outcomes demand different approaches and understandings for the theorist and may develop at varying rates or found to be diverse in relation to context, location and culture.”

Thanks to all the Twitterati that responded so positively when I shared an earlier draft at the HEA TeachMeet: @mike_blamires  @stephenharlow  @lenatp  @LizaField  @fleapalmer  @laurapasquini @JuneinHE @ProfDcotton @RebeccaRadics @catherinecronin @oliverquinlan @STEMPedR @IaninSheffield @louisedrumm @valerielopes @marloft @ethinking @HEAEducation @suzibewell @DebbieHolley1 @cgirvan @suebecks

Old lobster almost boiled

Learning on the Beach 2011

The second annual Learning on the Beach unconference #lob11 has just scattered – I am blown away, boiled, invigorated and inundated – and that was just the weather. We were a self-select group of ‘old lobsters’ like me @richardmillwood and some fresh faces like @squiggle7 – the value of this mix in challenging the norms of indoor education was enormous.

Activities included:

  • a scene setter on flat-lining and free-learning from John Davitt
  • collaborative presentations by teams of participants on themes (and genre) as diverse as Irish History (sing-song), The Salt Marsh (tragedy) and Tides (rap)
  • a tour of the beach with Seán and Matthew to understand the nurturing approach to the ‘machair’ or sand dunes found on the west coast of Ireland and particularly in Mulranny, where we were staying
  • the Explainer Olympics – a chance to hone with a sharp stick in the sand our skills in capturing a concept
  • a Ceilidh to let it rip -thanks to Jim and Ann, @angedav @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @magsamond @johndavitt
  • Postcards from the Edge, scribed on the beach – to let us shout about our findings
  • thoughts to challenge suppliers – what do we need to support learning outdoors in the design of equipment and infrastructure? Peter at @westnet_ie made it possible for us to connect from the beaches around Mulranny so that we could benefit from our vast array of gadgetry to support our inquiry including TouchaTag an RFID technology, but there were many issues addressed regarding weatherproofing, robustness, daylight viewing and power supply that would enhance outdoor activity anywhere
  • hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold plunge and swimming pool – four facilities that were welcome 😉
  • the sharing of Guinness, Google, kindness, camera-derie, Twitter, time, humour and happiness ( to say nothing of black and white pudding, fresh air and fine rain)

There are not enough wild sea-horses to hold me back from attending #lob12  – I already miss the lobsters: @squiggle7 @magsamond @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @andyjb @dughall @VickiMcC @johnmayo @johndavitt @angedav @katherinedavitt @timrylands @sarahneild @susanbanister

Analysis of a single interaction

I revived this Analysis of a single interaction recently thanks to a PhD student who is working on user-centred design. It was first developed in 1988 based on Donald Norman’s work, applied to the kind of computer software we were designing then. The ‘concept keyboard’ mentioned was a programmable touch pad from that era which enjoyed considerable popularity as it allowed an interface based on the developer’s own visual layout, suitable for younger and special needs pupils – a precursor of the iPad!

Opting for innovation

Just read Paul Haigh’s blog on opting-out of Building Schools for the Future ICT , in which he speaks of the injustice for leading & innovating schools –

“The DCSF will say there is a fair procedure in place for schools who feel the way we do- they have 42 days to produce an Alternative Business Procurement Case that the business experts in their Local Authority will have had 18 months to work on (in our case 107 pages long).”

and he continues to say –

“This is a trick, there is no way any school can show economy of scale (even though I actually have the figures to prove we can- it won’t be accepted, it’s sacrilege to suggest it) or show ‘transference of risk’ (we don’t talk about transferring the risks of educating our children elsewhere, we talk about professionals taking responsibility in house- isn’t this a lesson from the credit crunch?)”

It’s hard not to sympathise, but I wonder: can schools like Paul’s club together across the UK and share the burden?

Isn’t this an excellent opportunity for open source procurement thinking?

Content is muck

muck

I have been reading  the report ‘On-line Innovation in Higher Education‘ submitted by Sir Ron Cooke to John Denham recently and I’m not impressed.

It seems to be but a variation on the ‘content is king’ theme and, by its own standards, seems to miss many points.

The title of this blog ‘Content is muck’ is intended to disparage this approach and at the same time recognise the importance of high quality, accessible content as a fertiliser for the growth of knowledge amongst learners.

Probably most critical is the following:

“2.5 The education and research sectors are not short of strategies but a visionary thrust across the UK is lacking.” p8

So where in this document is a vision outlined – where is it to come from? I (and many others) would be happy to offer one! But seriously, this is the moment and little here is visionary.

These further quotations from the document raised a range of issues:

“1.1 [..] We lag behind in generating and making available high quality modern learning and teaching
resources. [..]” p3

The difficulty I have with this is the way in which we go about catching up. We should be careful not to spend too much money on material which becomes out-of-date within a year, is specific to particular courses, contexts and levels or fails to enhance the creative rôle for the learner in developing their own knowledge.

“3.15 [..] diagram [..] showing areas where students are currently pushed beyond their comfort zones.[..]” p12

The diagram referred to shows some ICT tasks in a grid with four quadrants – the top left shows tasks which are ‘”Familiar” / “Not comfortable using”  and includes “Using social networks such as Facebook as a formal part of the course”, but the task “Using existing online social networks to discuss work” is shown in the bottom right quadrant “Unfamiliar” / “Comfortable with using” – how can this be, what do they mean? Sadly the document lets us down here, with no reference to a source, unlike the bulk of the work. A report of this significance needs to be of the highest quality of it is to be convincing.

“3.19 [..] iv. where students tend to learn almost entirely at a distance (e.g. The Open University and the student base the UK e-university aimed for) high quality, purpose written, online materials and high quality online support services are essential;” p13

I agree in part, but what does “tend to learn almost entirely as a distance” mean? Is it not the case that  learning materials and support for face-to-face learning should be of similar standard? The unspoken assumption is that learning at a distance is solitary and thus the materials and support must compensate for the lack of ‘learning conversation’ – this is simply not the case in the modern social web.

We have had extensive experience over five years of fully online provision in the Ultraversity project where “purpose written, online materials” have been minimal. This has led to no lack of quality, as the guidance and support is generated through dialogue shared by a cohort of students – the online community of inquiry. Authoritative sources, journals and textbooks including key professional documents, are available widely on the internet and can be engaged with rigorously, critcially and comprehensively. This way of organising learning is most effective in that it also sets up the student for further lifelong learning.

“3.28 [..] The e-university was ahead of its time but the UK can learn from its mistakes and it is not too late to try again to address the demand for virtual, largely on-line education in the UK and
elsewhere. [..]”  p15

I think not – the e-university did not take a visionary nor innovative approach in my view and was not at all ahead of its time, but tried to take old approaches into new technology with minimal account of growing evidence of the efficacy of new models of online learning.

For the sake of my tax bill please lets not try again without considerably more care and wisdom!

Channel 4 Education Debate – Staying On?

Channel 4

“Will ‘staying on’ to 18 raise education standards and improve the employability and promote social mobility as the Government believe?”

This was one of the questions put to a panel and a small audience at the debate tonight at Channel 4. Some interesting debate, some intense and challenging moments, but best for me was the point at the end:

“We have spent all evening discussing the ‘engineering’ of a solution, but failing to look for clarity on the aims of education”.

A recurrent problem, well observed in my view, and begged my concern that we should not forget that education is fulfilment in itself, not simply preparation for life.

RSA Networks workshop

 RSA Networks

The objective of this workshop was to begin a new kind of RSA fellowship engagement ‘RSA networks’, and to discover what they might do and how they might work.

A stimulating ‘Open technology’ format was used to generate, discuss and refine over 70 ideas from the 260 fellows and staff present.

I proposed ‘What’s wrong with university” and “The University for Improvement” as ideas for debate and constructive thinking. The fellows who joined me were surprisingly gentle, compared to the RSA report “In from the cold- the rise of vocational education” written by Professor Sir Graham Hills in November 2004. Graham was project champion of the RSA’s Visions of a Capable Society programme in 2004, and he identified the following flaws in the qcademic ethos:

  • Fragmentation of knowledge
  • Internal referencing, peer review, cronyism and social corruption
  • Absence of context, flight from reality
  • Objectivity taken to extremes, dehumanisation of science
  • Authoritarian attitudes to knowledge and behaviour
  • Competition between knowledge bases leading to internal uniformity and external conformity

He continued to claim that the world of reality and technology, outside academia was:

  • Holistic, not reductionist
  • Context driven, not subject driven
  • Mission-oriented research, not blue skies
  • Teamwork, not individual scholar
  • Multi-authored publications, heteregeneous knowledge bases
  • Divergent not convergent thinking
  • Reflexive philosophy rather than objective statements
  • Decisive criterion: does it work?

Nevertheless I went away feeling that both business and academia (both well-represented in the session) were unhappy with the current state of affairs and the University for Improvement – an idea based on the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning  project (IDIBL) I am working on at the University of Bolton –  was well received.

As Graham Hill put it: “The best way to connect the world of industry to  academia is to people it with students” – something IDIBL will be striving to do.

RSA talkaoke

RSA talkaoke

A fascinating evening sitting in the Star Trek-like environment of Talkaoke at the RSA. Discussing the development of an online environment for the RSA Fellows. A wide-ranging discussion which homed in on the confrontation between the trust and shared intent of a closed society and the creativity and diversity of open thinking. A chance to present the IDIBL project and consider its place in RSA developments to become a dynamic force for change by offering a route for those keen to embrace civic innovation in a disciplined and rigorous manner and gain academic qualification at the same time.

Ideas that can change the world

Ideas that can change the world

Went with Patrick to this excellent meeting of young and old minds. We spoke to Cameron (8) who told us his ideas for a “mp3 and mp4” player so that he wouldn’t get bored when avoiding his younger brother! It reminded me that changing the world starts small, and visions of what’s important are close to home as well as global.