Tag Archives: student

Exemplar Me vs Me

In consider the topic of digital citizenship, and refecting on their own identity and participation in online platforms, I ask my students to create a piece of design work called Me vs. Me. Most students follow my lead and use raster editing software (such as Acorn) to combine photos and digital avatars of themselves. Recently, however, we have had a Year 13 student leading an Digital Art activity (with accompanying Free Learning unit), and so we now have a growing number of students who are learning to use digital drawing tablets.

I was really excited to see a couple of girls in one of my classes taking the initiative with their Me vs Me, and apply their newly learned skills to express themselves through digital drawing. What I was not expecting was work of such high artistic value, nor work that was quite so insightful as that submitted by Della (click for full size):

In reflecting on her work, Della said “The online side is more about when you are online you are kind of care free and can express you self and what you like and also you could post or say things that make people think of you in a different way then you actually are. The home me is more about the reality of life and how its stressful and how you have things to do but then just end up procrastinating and then getting more stressed”.

Such deep thinking is not commonly expressed through student work (although I don’t doubt it goes on regularly) and sits perfectly with the art work. In following up, I commented: “Della, well done on an excellent piece of work here. You have taken the elements discussed in class, and seen in the exemplar work, and presented them in a style of your own, showing creativity and technical skill. Digital drawing is tough, and you seem to be making some real progress. In terms of the ideas of identity and participation that we have discussed in class, I love the honest look into the real you, and how it compares to the much more polished online you. Why are people unwilling to sometimes show the real “them” online? I do also like the privacy-protecting use of your name as “Dekka” in the online you. clever! I am going to take the “losing my mind” bit with a pinch of salt. However, if you do feel you are struggling with something, then it is best to talk to a trusted adult, as seeking guidance makes almost all problems better. This is definitely the best work I have ever seen from you. Well done : )”.

On further reflection, and given Della’s input on procrastination and stress, I will recommend her to look at a Free Learning unit called Digital Organisation, and a second one (when it is published) on Focus.

As a teacher it is not every lesson that students really open up to us, but carefully designed work, which engages student interest, can definitely help. What is really pleasing here, from an ICT teacher point of view, is that whilst teenagers are often portrayed as helpless, hapless victims of circumstance, Della has shown that she has a strong grasp on some of the existential difficulties of being an adolescent in 2017. This is a great point from which to make good decisions and change one’s situation.

Epic Wallpapers 2

This is a second collection of wonderful Epic Wallpapers produced by my year 7 students. The design were chosen for the strength of their designs, attention to detail, Creative Commons licensing and overall appeal. Well done to the students for creating such lovely work. Feel free to download the designs, which are all at 1680 x1050 pixels, and should fill most screens.

Why Traditional Assessment Sucks

ExamI spend a lot of time thinking about assessment, not just because I hate marking (which I really do), but because it determines so much of what I do as a teacher. As a less experienced educator I actually dropped content that students loved from my course just because I did not know how to assess it in a way that would make my school happy. This was obviously crazy, but I just did not know how to fight the machine in a convincing way, so I had to bend. This content has since come back in, and I am now simply not assessing it, a position I can happily defend.

Part of the problem with assessment is that it seeks to take the most beautiful, creative act: building knowledge, and stamp it into something simple, objective and comparable. We are told to turn complex, awesome human beings into a number, and then to stack them up so we know who is good and who is bad. Is it any wonder that students hate school, suffer from anxiety and don’t want to become life long learners?

Over the past two years I have been experimenting with a range of assessment approaches, trying to find something better. Working through ideas such as mass assessment, visual self assessment and slang assessment (giving grades from WTF to FTW or LOL to OMG) has led me to a new tool for this year: the Visual Assessment Guide. And whilst this isn’t final, I think it is a real improvement, a step in the right direction.

As I lay in bed tonight fighting off jet lag, it suddenly became clear to me why traditional assessment is so terrible, and what it is that I have been trying to achieve in fighting the status quo. The thoughts looked something like this Venn diagram:
Assessment Venn DiagramIn this model, the three circles mean the following :

  • Meaning: the assessment is authentic, relates to students’ lives and captures something important about the student themselves.
  • Ease-Of-Use: students and teachers find the process of assessment tolerable and it’s benefits outweigh its costs.
  • Objectivity: the results are comparable and consistent, they tie tightly to levels and descriptors.

The key here is that I believe we can never actually get to Area 1: this is the promised land, but it is just not possible. Of the three outcomes, two will always preclude the third. As an incomplete proof, consider that we can find some of the following examples of such assessments in the real world:

  • Area 2 (Ease-Of-Use + Objectivity) – quizzes, standardised tests, external examinations and other traditional forms of assessment.
  • Area 3 (Meaning + Objectivity) – complex rubrics such as APP (which students and teachers generally struggle to understand and apply).
  • Area 4 (Meaning + Ease-Of-Use) – verbal assessment, peer assessment and the kind of visual assessment mentioned above (https://rossparker.org/visual-assessment-guide/).

But where are the examples of Area 1? Personally, I have yet to see anything which comes close, but this is not a surprise if you agree with the axiom that it is impossible.

So, this leaves us educators with a stark and clear choice: what is more important to us, ranking and labelling students like livestock, or giving assessments that students can learn from and grow through. To me there is no choice, and my assessments this year will follow from this conclusion. There will be a mix of approaches, styles and methods, but in the end, meaning and ease-of-use will always trump objectivity. For, ultimately, no number or score can ever tell you anything really useful about any of my students, such as how happy, confident or personable they are.

Note: I know this is just one more step in the larger transition to a post-industrial model of education, and currently falls short of meeting the very industrial needs of higher education entry. Obviously this means it is incomplete for education as a whole, but for my own classroom, I am happy to proceed. I wonder, though, how it might scale?

Credit: Final Exam image from Wikipedia, shared under PD.

Canned Response: Impolite Student

Rude BehaviourIn my dual role as ICT Coordinator and Teacher of ICT, I receive a lot of emails from students, invariably asking for help with some aspect of their computing environment. Whilst the majority of these responses are polite and well written, a there are those that are so informal they border on rude. In the past I have written an individual response to such students asking them to rewrite their message with the application of some manners.

I feel that this is the least I can do in the pursuit of raising students who are polite and able to interact positively with others. After several years of this, I have finally gotten around to creating a canned response for dealing with such cases. Hopefully students will get both the message, and the humour intended. So, at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man:

Dear Esteemed Student,

Thank you for your recent email, in which you very concisely requested my help in relation to your educational and/or computing needs. Whilst your email has many redeeming features, such as its small on-screen footprint and low storage requirements, it lacked one especially critical element: manners.

In my experience there are certain social conventions to which one should adhere when asking for help with something. This is especially vital in cases where you actually hope for the person being asked (me, in this case) to agree to the act being requested (helping you).

To start with, it is best to begin your message with a polite greeting (Dear Mr. Parker). Having opened in this polite fashion, you may wish to pursue a little small talk (How are you, my esteemed teacher and guide? I do hope your cat Mr. Evil has recovered from his nasty turn and subsequent operation). Whilst small talk is strictly optional, some people find it to be a suitable social lubricant, aiding us all in the business of getting things done.

After stating your request in a polite manner it is best to end with an expression of gratitude (Thank you in advance for your kind help), before finally signing off (Regards, A. Student).

Seeing as most of your teachers were born prior to the invention of the World Wide Web (1991), and the subsequent downfall of polite social intercourse, you may also wish to consider using appropriate capitalisation and punctuation, whilst simultaneously restricting your use of TLAs (that’s Three Letter Acronyms BTW. OMG IRL I PWN TLAs N00B, LOL!!!).

If you are serious about receiving my help, please take just a little time to rewrite your original email with the aim of bringing it into line with these traditional norms of polite human interaction. I am sure that, with such a request in hand, I will gladly undertake to help you with your every ICT need.

Kind regards,

Mr. Parker

Image Credit: Rude Behaviour image by cisc1970 on Flickr, shared under CC BY-NC.

ICT In Schools

iPod OpenerOver the last few years I have noticed a dispiriting trend in schools: less and less discreet ICT being taught in fewer and fewer schools. This seems odd in the face of the massive increase in and reliance on ICT in the very same schools. Whilst, yes, I am an ICT teacher, I can’t shake the feeling that there is something very wrong with this picture. Our entire history and survival as a species has been facilitated and extended by the application and development of technology, and ICT is the most disruptive and powerful technology of our time. Surely now is the time to teach students to really understand, respect, master and, ultimately, tame ICT. How else can we prepare our students to be happy, balanced and productive individuals?

So, what could be causing this disparity between need and reality? The sections below explore some of the factors.


It is not a surprise that most students are more tech savvy than their teachers, and that this pattern is most notable (in general) amongst older teachers. In particular, it seems, that this gulf is widest between school leaders/administrators and those they are making decisions for. The result of this a perception amongst teachers that students are already prepared for the ICT-enabled world, and that curriculum time is better spent elsewhere. This view is most extreme in those who subscribe to the theory of digital natives. However, if you really look closely at student ability, you see a patchy set of skills, underscored by need, not holistic understanding and context. It seems that this illusion of broad competence and understanding is extremely harmful in making sure students really are ready for what the future holds.


In a lot of schools, especially in the IB world, ICT teaching has been rolled into, or subsumed by, other subjects. As a result, there may be the presence of ICT outcomes, but they are not being delivered by specialist ICT teachers. As anyone who has studied and worked in ICT can tell you, ICT is so broad and complex, that just lighting up the map of its constituent parts takes years. Leaving the sharing of such knowledge to non-specialists seems a big ask, no matter how well designed the curriculum, or how noble the intentions.

Edit: of course, ICT does need to be integrated across the curriculum as well, as it can enhance almost any area of study. However, I believe without dedicated, discreet, specialist instruction, other ICT use will certainly not be as powerful as it could. Thanks to @danfbridge for helping me to clarify this.

Users, Not Makers

Following from the sections above, and owing to a lack of specialist teachers, it seems that where ICT is covered it often focuses on students merely applying existing technology. As a result the majority of students leave school without any idea of how ICT technologies are built, and with zero hands on experience tinkering with hardware, software and networks. There is little doubt that the future will belong to those who control information and information systems (yes, this is the way it has always been, but the game is changing in terms of the tools used). Why then, are we focused on producing users, when what we really need is students with the knowledge and skills to build, assess, improve and overthrow technologies?

Not Sexy

I have heard it said that “ICT is not sexy”, and so it is a hard sell. Whilst I disagree with this axiom, even if it were true, so what? Maths and English are far from sexy, but their importance as key literacies are recognised and appropriately reflected is school design. It is hard to argue that mastery of ICT is not  a key literacy in the emerging, information-driven economy. As to the original axiom: given our fascination with shiny little gadgets, ICT sure seems sexy to me…too sexy in fact, which is a perspectives students definitely need a place to consider.

Gender Difference

Whilst ICT engagement initially seems gender neutral, it is clear that older girls are, at some point, being turned off studying ICT. Whilst I have yet to identify why this is happening amongst my own students, it is something that I will be researching this year, and that I hope to start tackling in the near future. The sad truth is that an ICT sector powered only by men is one that is much diminished and terminally misguided for a lack of women. Equally, it is sad to see so many young girls move away from pursuits and careers which can be so fulfilling. Ultimately, as an ICT teacher, it is clear that to drive uptake and penetration of ICT is schools, we need to keep girls engaged.

Whilst I have these points clear in my mind, what I currently lack is the means to interest more schools in the teaching and learning of ICT. What I am certain of, however, is that this is an area that needs serious attention as we shape the future of education.

Summer Projects

Summer holidays are great, but sometimes all that time off can be a little boring. To alleviate the boredom, students and teachers might want to consider a tech-based summer project. Such a project can be a fun, independent way to learn some new skills, as well as to give something back to the community. Some ideas are presented below. I’ve shared these ideas with my students, and around half a dozen have shown interested in trying one out. Your ability to complete the task may depend on how easy it is to buy second hand equipment where you live (very easy in Hong Kong), or whether you have the money/interest to buy new components.

  • Buy and prep a secondhand laptop to donate on holiday (lots of people around the world don’t have access to computers)
  • Build a Hackintosh computer out of cheap, second hand components.
  • Root a old Android phone.
  • Learn to program for the web.
  • Work at a charity fixing old computers.
  • Build a website (online shop? Minecraft cheat site?)
  • Give computer lessons to those less skilled/fortunate than yourselves.
  • Contribute to an open source project.
  • Make a movie

On the non-tech side, those of you who want to help others whilst on overseas holiday might want to look at this site: http://www.stuffyourrucksack.com.

Let me know if you are a students or teacher interested in doing such a project, and I’ll try and help you get started.

Credits: thumbnail image by Nick-K (Nikos Koutoulas) on Flickr