Driverless cars: technology trumps experience - again

If you want an excellent example of the triumph of hope over experience, look no further than the generally rapturous welcome given to the news that Google has produced a driverless car with no brakes and no steering wheel.
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How computers decrease efficiency

Burglar Bill at largeNot everything that is good, is good. Take this as an example. If I were to give my neighbour’s children some private tuition in return for a modest fee, I could go out and spend the money, thereby contributing to the local and national economy. Everyone benefits.

On the other hand, if I were to go on a really prolific one-man burglary spree, they would have to employ extra police or pay the existing police force more overtime, local residents would invest in updated security systems and the local economy would benefit even more from all this spending.

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Internet safety report

two young girls laughing behind another girls backConcentrating purely on web filtering to keep kids safe online is a bit like looking for your keys under a lamp post because, although you lost them somewhere else, it’s lighter there. A third of children in Europe access the internet from a mobile device, according a new report:

33 % of 9 to 16 year-olds who go online say they do so using a mobile phone or other handheld device.

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5 ways to develop critical thinking in ICT

detectiveHow do you encourage pupils and students to think critically in the context of educational technology? Although we can devote a lot of time and energy to setting up the "right environment", I can't help thinking that really it all comes down to some pretty simple questions, and very straightforward approaches.

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Digital literacy and Computer Science

2146Computer studies and its main component, programming, could be an exciting new addition to the curriculum. However, we must not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s, when the subject was, at least in my experience and in my opinion, insular, highly technical, and rightly perceived by some (especially girls) as “geeky”.
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Analysis of a poster

dlr posterActually, the title is a bit of a misnomer because I don’t intend to analyse this poster! I thought it might be something to discuss with students from an ICT point of view. I saw it whilst travelling on a Docklands Light Rail train recently. Your literacy colleagues may be interested too – can they spot the grammatical error?!

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Online predation and cyberbullying

This was originally published as a news item in July 2006, but I think the principles still apply.

Well, the US House of Representatives has ratified the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), which was originally passed in May, and which bans access by minors to any website which involves creating a profile.

In other words, the Act is so broadly crafted as to, in effect, ban almost any useful website, blog, or collaborative  learning and social web spaces from schools. So how's that as a way of dealing with online predator issues?

There's no point in rehearsing all the arguments here, but one thing I would say is that we in the UK need to watch developments closely. It has long been the case that what America does today, the UK does tomorrow. "Tomorrow" used to be around 20 years' time, but these days the time lag is much shorter. Moreover, it used to be the case that this process happened naturally. Unfortunately, the "special relationship" now seems to entail us constantly looking at what the Americans are doing in education in order to see if we could adopt it here.

I don't wish to come across as xenophobic against the USA -- I have friends, family and colleagues there, and I travel there at every available opportunity -- but I do think we need to be somewhat more discriminating than we sometimes are in adopting American ideas. I am concerned that some bright spark in the DfES, fresh out of university (Oxbridge, of course), with no clue as to how the real world works, will decide that banning everything that might attract perverts is a great idea.

In fact, this head-burying approach could, if anything, lead to more and worse cases of online predation, if it leads schools into a false sense of security and makes them pay even less attention to these issues than they do now. Specifically, I am referring to the responsibility of children themselves, and parents. I am constantly amazed that, despite everything you hear, every so often another teenaged girl goes missing after meeting a man 3 times her age whom she met on the internet.

In the long term, the only real defence against online predation in my opinion is to make it compulsory for schools to address online safety issues in the following ways:

  • Teach students how to be safe online, but not as part of technology lessons, but as part of the general citizenship or student welfare curriculum.
  • Appoint child safety officers and make online safety issues their responsibility, rather than the responsibility of the Technology Co-ordinator.
  • Issue guidance to parents: after all, if your child locks himself in their room for 8 hours every day, shouldn't you be wondering what they're doing? And how come the computer is in their room anyway, as opposed to the family lounge?
  • Make classes available to parents on how to deal with these issues, both in terms of what they say and do, and understanding the technology, their ineptitude in which is usually offered by way of an excuse for allowing their kids to completely fool them. I'm sorry, but I don't go for all this digital natives and immigrants stuff when it comes to this: I don't know anything about the internal combustion engine, but I know it's pretty dangerous to wander about on the road, so I've learnt to handle myself safely when I need to get from one side of the road to the other.

Actually, the same goes for teachers: if you're not a technology co-ordinator, that does not mean you are not responsible for observing what the students coin your class are up to.

(You would not believe the number of times I have to say to school administrators, "That is a child protection issue, not an educational technology issue.")

In fact, there is probably a case for arguing that, had the US House of Representatives had more confidence in schools' parents' and students' ability and willingness to address online safety issues in practical ways, perhaps they would not have felt the need to pass this legislation.

Further information.

On this subject, the Department for Education & Skills in England has just issued guidance about cyberbullying. You can find that here:

It also includes a couple of videos. The "don't suffer in silence" video is quite powerful in its own way, but both it and the other one, which is basically a poem, needs to form part of a controlled discussion activity to be truly effective.

Recent research in the UK suggests that over 20% of children have experienced cyberbullying. Now, this is interesting:

"Phone calls, text messaging and emailing were the most common forms of cyber bullying both inside and outside of school, while chat-room bullying was the least common. The prevalence of cyber bullying was greater outside school than in school."

If that is also true in the USA, then DOPA is doubly dangerous because it will make people think these issues have been dealt with when they have been hardly touched. A bit like arresting the wrong person for a series of murders, leaving everyone in the area with a false sense of security because the actual murderer is still on the loose.

I haven't yet read the report in its entirety, but from what I've seen it is worth looking at and discussing with colleagues.

See here for the full report:

and here for the summary:

'Digital literacy' is a red herring

There was an article in my newspapaer recently which reported that Professor Alan Smithers told a conference that the new Diploma would not be acceptable as an entry qualification to university. Nothing remarkable in that, you might say, except that unless I happened to enter a parallel universe I was at the same conference, and had a completely different impression of what was said.

The conference, organised by the Westminster Education Forum, was concerned with 14-19 education, specifically Diplomas and Apprenticeships. Eight people gave a talk about the Diploma, and all of these, with the exception of Professor Smithers, were extremely positive. One even said, in contradiction to the impression given by the newspaper report, that 85% of UK Higher Education Institutes are accepting the Diploma as an entry qualification (other things being equal, as is always the case anyway).

So was Professor Smithers unduly negative? Well actually, no. All he said was that before schools recommend that their students take the Diploma, they should make sure that it would be acceptable as an entry into their chosen career or higher education path, as he feared that 'A' levels, being derived directly from university entrance examinations, would be more likely to be acceptable.

What this indicates to me is that to some extent the current emphasis on teaching students to be digitally literate misses the point. We need to teach them to be media literate, and to have good research skills.

We also need to teach them that even 'factual' reports are subject to bias brought about by what the reporter actually sees and hears, and how they interpret and internalise that information. And if the report is for, or funded by, a third party, there is that party's bias to throw into the mix as well.

As is often the case, there is nothing new in any of this. There is a Sufi saying which says:

When a pickpocket sees a Holy Man, he sees only his pockets.

There is also the ages old story of the blind men trying to determine what an elephant is. And there is the famous optical illusion in which a picture shows either a witch or a beautiful woman, depending on how you look at it. (At the end of this post I've included a video update of this, with a nice twist at the end.)

Just as cyber-bullying and e-safety are actually subsets of a bigger picture, so is digital literacy. Given that many adults, including teachers, take it for granted that young people are born digitally literate there is a real danger that we will take younsters' word for it when they tell us they know all about internet literacy. It seems to me that, to do the best job we can, we need to get back to basics and even go so far as to leave anything digital out of the picture entirely until students understand these principles in a general sense first.