Category Archives: Education

Better data? We’re all in it together

As someone relatively new to this sector and keen to check I’m going about things the most effective way, I was greatly interested in this new report from the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group, as it claims to “have developed recommendations to eliminate unnecessary workload in the recording, inputting, monitoring, and analysing of data”.

Data Management Review Group report: Eliminating unnecessary workload associated with data management
This report from the Data Management Review Group sets out principles and recommendations to reduce the workload burden on teachers. It calls on all parties in the education system to reduce the unnecessary burdens of data management by ensuring that every data collection has a clear purpose, and that the process is as efficient as possible.

Whilst the report does suggest some sound principles for effective data management — be clear on the purpose, identify the most efficient process, ensure the data is valid — I was disappointed there weren’t more recommendations that I could really get my teeth into and run with.

It was certainly interesting to read their suggestions for the DfE, including a call to “bring forward the release of both validated and unvalidated data to as early as possible in the cycle so it is available when decisions are taken to prevent unnecessary duplication by schools” and a recommendation that they should “reduce the number of different log-ins schools need to use simply to access and share information”. (All to be accepted, apparently.)

I felt, though, there was little I could directly take on board, as most of it was either just common sense and already taking place, or outside my sphere of influence.

But perhaps that was their point; for us to make any headway in increasing data management efficiency, we have to accept we’re all in this together, from the DfE and Ofsted, to local authorities and governing boards, not just data managers and teachers.

A fascinating look into what it’s like reading with dyslexia

This is very clever, a great use of Javascript.

Dsxyliea
A friend who has dyslexia described to me how she experiences reading. She can read, but it takes a lot of concentration, and the letters seems to “jump around”. I remembered reading about typoglycemia. Wouldn’t it be possible to do it interactively on a website with Javascript? Sure it would.

Much obliged to Christopher Hallas, over on Linked In, who pointed me in the direction of this pdf from the British Dyslexia Association, full of great advice for clear, accessible documents production.

Dyslexia Style Guide (pdf)
The aim is to ensure that written material takes into account the visual stress experienced by some dyslexic people, and to facilitate ease of reading. Adopting best practice for dyslexic readers has the advantage of making documents easier on the eye for everyone.

Couldn’t agree more. And here’s another take on recreating the exasperation​​ ​of reading with dyslexia.​​

This font shows you what it feels like to be dyslexic
“What this typeface does is break down the reading time of a non-dyslexic down to the speed of a dyslexic. I wanted to make non-dyslexic people understand what it is like to read with the condition and to recreate the frustration and embarrassment of reading everyday text and then in turn to create a better understanding of the condition”.​​

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get

I think it’s time for a backlash against inane, obvious productivity advice, and this article from the Guardian feels like a good start.

Overwhelmed? 10 ways to feel less busy​
#8 ​​​Slow down, however wrong that feels​
The last thing you want to hear, when you’re drowning in to-dos, is that cultivating patience might be part of the solution. But our urgency-addicted culture is at the core of the busyness problem, according to the addiction researcher Stephanie Brown. We’re convinced that with just a bit more speed we could stay in control – and so we grow unwilling to tolerate the discomfort of slowing down. When you’re already on this urgency treadmill, it can feel excruciating to attempt to slow down – but you may end up getting more done if you try. Experiment with doing nothing at all for 10 minutes between tasks: the harder that feels, the more you may need it.

RM gives SharePoint a helping hand

What looks to be a nice tool from RM for setting up school intranet pages using SharePoint​​ and Office 365.​

RM Site Creator helps your school get the most out of Microsoft Office 365
In a few minutes you can design an impressive looking school intranet with corresponding areas for all your different subjects, year groups, clubs and interest groups, as well as areas for Staff CPD and for Student Voice. RM Site Creator also offers default site structures, designed with input from teachers, which you can then customise to meet your individual school’s need.​

Data, data, everywhere – any of it helping?

Data and education. Educating ourselves with data? On data? Improving education by improving data?

We might have the data, but have we got the answers?
Regarding what he calls ‘technical validity’, are we measuring what we are supposed to be measuring? Then, in what he describes as ‘normative validity’, are we measuring what we value, or are we valuing what we measure? Two important questions for us all to ask about the data that our systems are awash with.

Some great points here, refreshingly honest, about the state of data and information in schools. And here’s a response of sorts, albeit from a higher education perspective:

Taking the data conversation to a new level
The publication of this report is a significant moment in our journey to build a better data infrastructure for UK higher education because it is coming from a very different place. The members of the Higher Education Commission are senior, experienced leaders, strategists and Politicians and previous Commission inquiries have addressed topics like the regulation and the financial sustainability of HE. These are not people whose natural habitat is the world of petabytes, XML and FUNDCOMP; they are perhaps the most un-nerd bunch you could ever assemble. Yet their decision to base this inquiry on data in HE is in itself a recognition of the fundamental transformations that data technology is enabling.

Meanwhile, though:

Students hit by University of Greenwich data breach
Students’ names, addresses, dates of birth, mobile phone numbers and signatures were all uploaded to the university’s website. They were posted alongside minutes from the university’s Faculty Research Degrees Committee, which oversees the registrations and progress of its research students. In some cases, mental health and other medical problems were referenced to explain why students had fallen behind with their work.

EU et UK HE

It’s let’s-have-a-heated-debate time again, this time about whether or not we should stay in the European Union.​​ Here are a few articles on the higher education angle to all this.

Contemplating a Brexit for UK HE
I’ve left the strongest argument that the HE sector can muster till last: the student trade. 6% of all students in UK universities are from elsewhere in the EU. That’s a lot of fee income. And, over the decades after their graduation, it’s a lot of soft power. Of course it’s more than that too. It’s an example of our open society. It changes us to meet, argue, learn from, befriend and fall in love with people from other parts of Europe.

What has the European Union ever done for us?
The EU is both a catalyst and an enabler of collaboration. It breaks down barriers to collaboration and makes working across borders easier by reducing the level of bureaucracy which researchers face when putting together complex multi-national bids.

Both authors think we should stay in the EU and that the UK higher education sector, and society as a whole, benefits from our continued membership, but both seem to worry that their arguments are quite weak and can be easily rebutted.

I can’t imagine for a moment though that many people are giving the academy much thought in this debate. Unfortunately.

Reading without words

​A novel, visual way of reading books.

Punctuation in novels
Here is a comparison of some other books — notice how large a break A Farewell To Arms was from the past. There almost no commas, just sentences, dialogue. How refreshing and wild that must have been! Look at how spartan Blood Meridian is compared to everything. Pay attention to the semicolons which seem to have disappeared from writing.​

Weightlifting for the brain

Something for 21 February, International Mother Language Day.

Being bilingual changes the architecture of your brain
Plus, making a decision with every word you say may actually be like weightlifting for the brain. Every time I choose “washing machine” over “lavadora,” or vice versa, my brain gets a little stronger. Kroll thinks this constant cognitive challenge that bilinguals face may be responsible for an observed improvement in what’s called executive function, or the ability to filter out unnecessary information and make decisions.​

Reshaping or shrinking the curriculum?

EBac: ‘With what authority is it being argued that art, social sciences, D&T, and the rest, are not “stretching”?’
The idea of core academic subjects is an example of lazy thinking. It seems unconnected to the conversations being had in other educationally high-performing countries about what it is to be educated today. In England, we need high-quality options that are broad, rich and deep for all children, not the five restricting pillars that we are being offered.​

Should we not be keeping our options — and the options of the students that come through our schools — as open as possible?​