Tag Archives: research

Manjaro Linux on a MacBook Pro⤴

from

This is how I set up Manjaro XFCE Linux, a lightweight but robust and stable version of Arch Linux, on an old (2009) MacBook Pro past its service life. The idea is to try living with it as a device for research, data capture and analysis and writing up of a PhD thesis (with a view to buying a better machine).

There is plenty of information on how to get Manjaro on to a USB stick and then onto your hardware, so I will not go into details of that. I will instead focus on how I got that basic system working with my writing workflow.

Software management

There are tools built in to Manjaro for managing, installing and maintaining a good range of software but not everything I like to use: fortunately, there is a large community of developers and supporters for Arch and Manjaro who work to bring a lot more software to your installation. This can be found at the Arch User Repository (AUR). To use it, the base-develop package is installed, as well as git:

sudo pacman -Sy --needed base-devel git

Whilst it is possible to install software all over your new system, I like to keep the source in one place, where I can find, update and remember it. Installation is simple enough from there, starting with Google Chrome (not Chromium, by the way, because I work across multiple platforms and require the sync of Google bookmarks, for example).

mkdir Software
cd Software/
git clone https://aur.archlinux.org/google-chrome.git
cd google-chrome/
makepkg -sri

The same method can be used to install other useful packages and tools like slack-desktop, rstudio-desktop-bin (be careful to get the right version of RStudio) and mendeleydesktop.

Mendeley

For my library and reference manager Mendeley, I like to use the watched folder feature of the desktop app, although this may not remain as Elsevier develop the Mendeley suite of applications. At the last Mendeley advisor’s meeting (4th May) we were told that there are no immediate plans to withdraw the desktop app, although it will eventually go. Create the folder and locate it in the app:

mkdir ../Desktop/Mendeley\ drop

Dropbox

I use Dropbox to keep copies of literature, bibtex and other cross-platform files. This will not install without setting up the gpg keys thus:

git clone https://aur.archlinux.org/dropbox.git
cd dropbox/
gpg --recv-keys 1C61A2656FB57B7E4DE0F4C1FC918B335044912E
makepkg -sri

Thanks to yan12125 on AUR for that particular tip. It’s worth, when installing from AUR, having a quick read through any comments in the repository to check how problematic, or indeed, well-maintained, it is.

Setting up workflow

Now we have some basic tools, we can pick up development workflow on the new machine. I created a working folder within Documents into which I can clone my repositories.

Jekyll

The first project I did any work on was the one you are reading: my technical blog, which is hosted on github and served by jekyll. That didn’t go too well, and I was temporarily stuck in a login loop, in which my password was accepted by Manjaro but the login prompt was continually re-presented. I found the cause of this to be a problem with bundler-exec. How I got there:

pamac build jekyll
jekyll s -d docs # threw error, unable to find bundler
pamac build bundler-exec
jekyll s -d docs # threw another error, missing gems
bundle update
nano Gemfile	# to add a suitable gem repository source
bundle install # to install missing gems
jekyll s -d docs

Rebooting overnight, I returned to the machine and couldn’t log in using the GUI. Thanks to weixin_39958100, I located the problem in the .xsession-errors log, by logging in to the terminal using ctrl-alt-fn-F2. It was easy then to remove the script throwing the error that was blocking the log in:

cat .xsession-errors
sudo rm /etc/profile.d/bundlerexec.sh 

How to do a literature review⤴

from

Getting an effective literature review down is important for several reasons, not least of which it will immerse you in the topic or field you are looking at and give you a decent grip on what is known about it, and what isn’t. This is enough justification for doing a literature review – to become an expert on a subject – but there are other motives, such as being able to convince others that you know what you’re talking about; that your proposed research or study is worth investing in; that you are serious and committed to a proposed project; that there are new frontiers yet to explore.

Purpose

For social sciences, literature reviews are often associated with new research to show how and where it fits in with what has been done before: they locate the research within a field of study, providing context, and identifying areas that need to be strengthened or filled.

How they work

To get started with your own literature review, find 4 to 6 literature reviews and look at what they look like. Deconstruct them to see how they work: a literature review should identify a research question that provides the central topic of interest; it should provide the “hook” that explains why the research is relevant, interesting, timely or important; it should cite important people who are writing in the field; as the author of the review establishes authority, they note the gaps in the literature that the proposed new research addresses. When writing about what the literature says, it’s not necessary to write everything that is known – a good literature review will keep tightly focused on the research question (and within the word count).

Getting started

A sketch or visual representation can help organise thinking and develop understanding when writing a literature review. Steps to this are:

  • find the literature (e.g. Google Scholar), noting how well cited they are
  • screen (scan) about 20 articles to check they are on the topic.
  • within those articles, look for themes – of agreement or disagreement, cultures, or contexts

Take a large piece of paper and draw what you have found – a hierarchy, spider diagram, or anything visual that helps you make connections, connect authors to themes – show gaps in a different shape. Now look for what’s missing in the chart – step back to do this, and use your common sense to see the overall shape, structure and connections in the literature as well as the gaps.

The written literature review is a description of the chart that will make way to introduce your research proposal. Beyond this initial review, going deeper will require more finding, and reading, of papers, books and articles.

A good literature search is systematic, starting with background reading: from the question, title or broad theme, do some background reading to get a good grasp of the theories and concepts in the topic. Use text books and encyclopaedia to get under way. From this, work up feasible draft titles and identify the search terms and their synonyms. For each key term, list alternative terms and related terms to help your search.

Now you are ready to try your resources for finding literature: many universities have unified search tools such as DiscoverEd but you will need to find more specific sources relevant to your field. Your library will have a databases A-Z or listed by topic which will help you make a list of resources to search for literature.

You will need to develop a good technique for asking the search engine in a way that yields helpful results. Logical combination of terms (like AND, OR) and using wild cards are required, and will be determined by the search tool you are using. Read the help pages and learn how to work the tool properly before spending hours with it.

Finally, as you find papers and articles to read, try to organise them logically: identify and prioritise the important papers (e.g. those that everyone else cites); group them by sub-topic or theme; push peripheral papers aside until you need to draw them into your research or thesis. A good reference manager like Mendeley is invaluable for keeping track and organising what you find. It then makes the task citing and referencing extremely straightforward.

Reading and writing

Keep notes of the key points of the papers you are reading, and keep them organised. Try in your notes to capture “thesisable prose” that you can use easily in your essay or thesis. Keep in mind the structure of your review: is it time-based, or thematic? Organise your notes in the same way, making connections. Remember your drawing if it helps you sustain a vision of the structure and relationships.

When writing, try to avoid being descriptive: your authorial voice ought to be heard in the discussion as you build it, with a clear view of the evidence that has given you your stance. Also, prune out anything irrelevant or superfluous to your research question.

Summary

Keep your research question clearly in view when approaching and completing the literature review. Make a visual representation of relevant themes and their structure. Use that to structure the review and develop it as you read. Prune, check for your stance, and the evidence for it.

Sources

As well as drawing on my own experience in initial teacher education, and information from the IAD at the University of Edinburgh, I have also used the following in writing this post.

White, C. (2018). How to Conduct an Effective Literature Review. In SAGE Research Methods Video: Practical Research and Academic Skills. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781526442734

Faculty Librarians. (2012). Doing a literature search : a step by step guide. March, 1–21.

The Problem of Educational Theory⤴

from

This was an online seminar offered by my own Institute, presented by Stefan Siegel, a doctoral student from Augsberg. The seminar was introduced by Professor Gert Biesta from ETL and attended by delegates from Edinburgh and overseas.

Stefan began with a quick survey of delegates to get the feel of how we feel about educational theory: is it a distinct discipline in its own right, or is it interdisciplinary, and challenged us to name an educational theory. I feel that educational theory is clearly distinct from others, and not a sub-field of (say) psychology. He was able to immediately share the analysis of the audience responses. He went on to discuss his research and thesis before setting out the agenda.

Theorising education

Development of educational theory has proceeded differently in the Anglo-American context than “Continental”. In the former, it is viewed as interdisciplinary, whereas in the latter, it is more a field in its own right, referred to as Pädagogik, established in the 1920s in Germany. Its roots being in philosophy, it evolved to make use of more quantitative methods. Problems discussed focused initially on the certainty of definition in German educational theory. Stefan’s narrative went on to examine terms, including theory and education, and discussed the challenge of defining these things. Stefan made frequent reference to Biesta (2013) – other works, of course, but this popped up quite a lot.

The talk progressed towards a definition of educational theory and considered the strengths and shortcomings of defining educational theories according to how narrow these definitions are.

Discussion

A rich conversation developed in considering the questions that help to define a field theory or discipline. The consideration of the terms used on the continent was helpful for me, including terms that combine more than one, such as teaching and learning, in German Lehren und Lernen. Perhaps it is just a semantic point and there’s no difference other than hearing one term when two are said.

Reflections

The problem with language is that it doesn’t belong to anyone, so it can be used and abused by everyone with impunity. Within education, in my experience, this results in the hijacking of common terms for new purpose: the first time I came across this was in my probationary year when I had to endure a talk on enterprise education, which I argued at the time, had absolutely nothing to do with enterprise the way I understood it from over 20 years in commerce and industry. There are plenty of others: inclusion, for example, ultimately even education, teaching and learning. See Biesta (2005) for a discussion on the latter.

What is clearer to me now is the understanding that a theory is inextricably linked to the questions it attempts to answer. The terms of the question are where the focus and clarity are required in their definition in order to make sense of what the theory means.

References

Biesta, G. (2013) ‘Giving Teaching Back to Education: Responding to the Disappearance of the Teacher’, Phenomenology & Practice, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 35–49.

Biesta, G. (2005) ‘Against learning. Reclaiming a language for education in an age of learning.’, Nordic Studies in Education = Nordisk Pedagogik, Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA), vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 54–66 [Online]. DOI: 10.1177/00187267030568002.

Beginning the World Over Again⤴

from @ robin_macp

I was encouraged to write this by Jill Berry and Lena Carter, who both wrote excellent reflective blogs recently that show why they’re two of the most important voices in education, and are people that I respect greatly (links are at the end). It’s been far too long since I wrote something for my own website, but I’ve been able to contribute pieces to various other blogs and media outlets this year. If you’ve never taken up writing about education, but have always had an itch to do so, I strongly recommend it. The thought process that goes into blogging is, for me, the best and most therapeutic form of professional reflection. 

James Furlong and Owain Bristow

There can be no doubt that 2020 was a year that brought many lows, but for me the loss of two colleagues far outweighs anything else that happened. When I was Head of History at Wellington College, James Furlong was in the same role at the Holt School in Wokingham. He was a lovely guy, with a sharp intellect and superb subject knowledge. I got to know him through professional learning events that we ran for history teachers, and he very kindly took on School Direct trainees from my department. They always came back full of praise for the wisdom and advice that he imparted. James was tragically killed in a senseless terrorist attack in Reading, and I can only imagine how that would have impacted on his school community – who, it must be said, gave wonderfully compassionate support to their staff and pupils. James was an active member of the LGBTQI+ community who went out of his way to help people; he was the very epitome of kindness. The Holt are raising money for a memorial garden in his memory, and you can make a donation here.

In August, our Head of Biology at Robert Gordon’s College, Owain Bristow, died in a tragic accident just after we had returned to school. Owain was a brilliant scientist, with a quirky sense of humour, and the tributes that poured in showed just how much he meant to everyone in our community. He loved the outdoors, and dedicated much of his spare time to volunteering with Aberdeen Young Walkers. He was also a top-level athlete, an enthusiastic pantomime performer, and a much-loved son, boyfriend and uncle. The book that we put together of all the letters, cards, pictures and messages we received shows just how many lives he changed for the better. 

Both men gave so much to their schools, but also to wider society. As teachers, we know what we do is important, but we perhaps underestimate just how much. The legacy left by James and Owain shows the true value of the teaching profession. They are greatly missed.

Life as a new headteacher

I started my first headship in August this year, and the phrase that I have heard many times is that I’ve had “a baptism of fire”. True, crisis management has been a consistent feature of my first few months, but ultimately you know what you sign up for when you become a head. It is undoubtedly hard, and it’s not for everyone, but the support you get is amazing. My advice is to try to build up a strong network around you; people who can advise you, provide a sympathetic ear, and also be a critical friend. The better your network, the more able you are to do your job. 

I wrote this blog a few years back about senior leadership, and reflecting on it now I think it holds up pretty well. The tweet by Amy Fast that inspired it is, still, excellent advice:

I did the Scottish MSc level qualification ‘Into Headship’ in 2019-20 at Stirling University, and I can very much recommend it. Everyone I know who has taken it has been full of praise, unlike many people I know who have done NPQH. The reading part is the most challenging for many, but I loved that aspect and picked up a few things along the way. The work on the Complexity Leadership Theory (CLT) by Uhl-Bien et al (2007), although not on the prescribed reading list, was perhaps the best thing I read so if you have time then try to delve into it. I think it’s the closest thing to my experience of senior leadership so far.

Lockdown and remote learning

I described the second lockdown in a message to parents this week as “the sequel that nobody wanted, to a movie that no one enjoyed.” However, it won’t last forever and it has at least forced us to find creative solutions to problems that we’ve never faced before. Another colleague made a great point to me this week, namely that the paradigm shift that we’ve experienced has done much to destroy the ‘aye beens’ culture that affects not just Scottish education, but global systems too. That is to say, that we do many things because that’s the way we’ve always done them, without questioning why. I’ve never bought into that; I think we should do things because we know it’s the best way to do them. That’s now throwing national assessment into sharp relief, and I’ve been involved with other leaders in Scottish education in trying to open this debate up since before lockdown, as you can read about in this TES piece. We might, at last, be getting some traction. 

I wrote a piece when we entered the first lockdown about remote learning, and I think much of it still holds true. However, things have moved on, so there is scope to update this based on what we’ve learned over the last few months. It’s been interesting to see this blog getting a lot more hits in the past fortnight, so if you have fresher thoughts about what makes for effective remote learning then please do share them.

Srebrenica – the 25th Anniversary

Two of the things that I’ve been very sad to see fall by the wayside due to COVID were events for Remembering Srebrenica Scotland. I was supposed to lead a delegation of Scottish educators to Bosnia last April, and we’ve had to put this on hold until we’re able to travel again. My colleagues at RSS, especially Marsaili Fraser and Robert McNeil, put a huge amount of effort into curating an exhibition at the Kelvingrove to mark the 25th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica. I hope that their efforts will be available to the public in due course. I did manage to record a podcast with Jasmine Miller (who I’ve been privileged to work with on many different educational projects), and her full Srebrenica Stories series is well worth listening to.

The point of what we do at RSS is not to vilify any groups of people, but to challenge toxic ideology. We’ve seen far too much of that in 2020, and the recent events on Capitol Hill show that misinformation and demagoguery holds the capacity to rip apart the fabric of civil society. We are in the midst of a struggle to establish the values that we want for the future, and I sincerely hope that the consequences of the death of George Floyd will lead to the better angels of humankind rising above our demons. If we are going to live in a world that is just and fair, we need to see diversity as strength, and build a culture that actively celebrates it, and doesn’t just acknowledge it. As one of my colleagues says, tolerance is a weak virtue. Let’s take allyship forward this year, and champion the causes that matter. 

Professional learning – a golden age?

One of the definite silver linings of the past year has been a flourishing of professional learning. I ran a series with Mark Healy called the Professional Learning Gaitherin’, which brought together some of the leading voices in Scottish education to give weekly talks and twitter chats each Saturday morning during the summer term. It developed a strong following and it’s been interesting to see people watching these long after the series came to an end. A key feature is that the PL Gaitherin’ was free, and the same applied to excellent collections produced by researchEd Home and the Teacher Development Trust, and new events like ScotEd 2020 (you can find me at the end, but you’re much better off starting at the beginning). Some have called this a ‘golden age’ of professional learning, which is correct in the sense of the opportunities out there, but perhaps less accurate in that teachers struggled to engage with anything beyond upskilling on technology. Still, the legacy is there and I hope 2021 allows people more opportunity to become research informed in their practice. 

Coming out of the curve

There will be a post-COVID world in which there will be incredible opportunities. I’m trying to use any spare energy and time to plan for that world, because it will be a unique moment in time in which we can capitalise on the gains that we have undoubtedly made. I’m genuinely excited by that, and what I’ve written above shows, I hope, that it has never been more important to be involved in education. As Tom Paine said, “we have it in our power to begin the world over again”. Let’s get it right this time.

Further reflective reading

Nurture 20/21 – Jill Berry

Pride After A Fall – Lena Carter

Introduction to Mendeley Advisors Webinar⤴

from @ @cullaloe | Tech, tales and imagery

This webinar was run for the benefit of Mendeley advisors. I thought I might run a session on citation and referencing for students and so went to this webinar for a refresher on the advisor programme.

The webinar was presented by Dr Rob Moore, an AP at Old Dominion University, USA, and Rachel Brennesholtz, Head of Mendeley advisors programme at Elsevier in Amsterdam, who gave an introduction.

Why Mendeley, and how to introduce it

Rob cited the principal advantage of Mendeley over Zotero as the ability to annotated the pdfs within the app. He talked about some of the “gotchas” in Mendeley, specifically, getting the title right on import of a citation, and the inconsistency with author names.

He then discussed his demonstration approach when showing Mendeley to new users, which starts with input of several citations, showing the immediate build of the bibliography files. He then moved to demonstration of annotation of pdfs on an iPad.

The advisor community

Rachel told us about the world-wide community of advisors and users, and shared some statistics on its reach - 22,000 students were introduced to it in about 300 events in 2019. She shared a links to the advisor community1 and advised us to email community-@-mendeley.com2 if the advisor badge doesn’t show on your profile.

Benefits of the programme include expanded network storage (7.5 GB) and exclusive product updates and webinars. There’s merchandise, too (t-shirts, pens and stickers, etc). You have to register an event to get these, which can be online or in person. The Mendeley event can be part of other events (such as sessions on citation and referencing for example). Allow 4 weeks to get your stuff from Amsterdam.

Resources

Rachel winged it a bit as her slides froze, but then got on to showing the PowerPoint slides and other materials available to support training sessions put on by advisors.

Next steps

I’ve been prompted by a colleague today to make a video on note-taking using Cornell and sketch noting, both of which I use and teach as part of my work at Moray House. My colleague also shared this YouTube video of someone doing this, without actually understanding how the Cornell system works: like a lot of YouTube channel stars, that presenter knows about the product without understanding the process, which is the important part. I think I might also make a separate video or session on citing with Mendeley for academic writing.

Notes and references

  1. The advisors portal is here

  2. Remove the hyphens for the correct address. 

Let’s talk about race: a provocation for teachers⤴

from @ robin_macp

Let’s be brave. Let’s talk about race.

I’ll begin by showing my hand. I am white, male, middle-aged, protestant, heterosexual and read history at Oxford University. I have the exact same profile as many of the people who led us to this moment in time. It is now past the time for a paradigm shift in race relations, and education is how we will do this.

I am also married to an Asian muslim (who spent her early childood in a war zone and her teenage years as a refugee). We will let our daughters decide which, if any, religion to follow. I’m a board member of the charity Remembering Srebrenica Scotland and our aim is to tackle prejudice and intolerance in society. I’ve been a teacher for close to two decades and am currently a school leader. I hope, if you are profiling me now, it looks a little different.

The fires of protest are burning brightly just now; there is no doubt that millions of people are angry. I hope this cycle will be broken; that action will follow this tragedy which will change direction and give hope. If schools are going to be in the vanguard of this change, we need to take positive steps. Here are some thoughts on how to do this.

Step 1: Reinvent Protest

I subscribe to the view that teaching is a subversive activity. I am idealistic, but not ideological, and it is vital to teach pupils how to think for themselves without teaching them what to think. This is a fine line and I know I get it wrong when I teach topics like slavery – I don’t want pupil to think it is ok. I am happy with the dissonance in my head on this. I do want pupils to be active, or even activists, in shaping their world. I have adapted Edmund Burke’s maxim that all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing (I dropped the gender specific part of that quotation). I totally support the right to protest, but in the midst of a pandemic I am concerned that the people who will pay a price are the NHS frontline staff, and the BAME community who suffer disproportionately from COVID. Can we reinvent ways to protest? The picture at the head of this blog is one I designed myself (hence the totally amateur nature of it), and it speaks to the idea of all colours in one heart. My call is for people to use their homes as a protest tool until they can safely get back on the streets. Put this heart up next to your rainbow, and add #blacklivesmatter or any other slogan you think expresses your feelings. Let’s keep them up until we have broken the cycle. Our pupils can start this today if we encourage them.

Step 2: Recruitment

I heard Prof Rowena Arshad speak several times this year on race, at researchED, at the Into Headship conference, and at EduMod. Her work on research in race in Scottish education is groundbreaking. There is definitely a perception gap around appointment and promotion in education between white and non-white. Why is this? Having an equal opportunities policy does not mean ‘job done’. What are your stats about numbers of non-white applications, appointments and promotions? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most employers don’t track this. At the Into Headship conference I was in a room with about 300 fellow trainee headteachers, and it was a very white room. The most important thing for career progression is to have someone who is a mentor/sponsor. Hashi Mohammed has written brilliantly about this, so what can we do to put this kind of support in place? 

Step 3: Tackle Micro-Aggression

The overt, blatant aggression that exists on the far right is a huge problem, but the micro-aggressions that exist everywhere are just as challenging and we can do something about them. An example is not calling on a child in the class because you don’t know how to pronounce their name. Learn their name: it is vital to showing them respect. Again Rowena Arshad is very good on this. Talk about race with colleagues and pupils to find out what micro-aggressions they face on a daily basis. Most of them come from subconscious behaviour. What can be done to eradicate them? 

Step 4: Professional Learning

Most teachers are scared to talk about race because they are not confident enough to do so. They fear saying something wrong, something that will get them in trouble. All teachers need to be able to talk about race. What professional learning have you done to enhance your confidence and understanding on this? There is no shortage of organisations willing to help and support. Connect Futures is a good starting place, and I’ve already mentioned Remembering Srebrenica which has organisations in all UK countries. At EduMod at the Fringe (an event that I run with Louise Hunter of Summerhouse Media) we had a session with members of the Scottish Youth Parliament, one of whom challenged her headteacher on the school’s LGBTQ+ track record. The solution? She gave a talk at INSET to her teachers on how to speak to gay pupils like herself. Impressive.

Step 5: Decolonizing the Curriculum

Last summer Pran Patel gave a TED talk on this subject, and he spoke at EduMod. We need, at both a national level and school level, to ask searching questions about the curriculum. In each area of the curriculum, what proportion of key individuals being taught about are non-white? Are the examples of artists, authors, leaders, scientists and musicians representative of the whole world? Is the southern hemisphere just as prominent as the northern?  

On the back of this, what are you going to do about it? Something? Nothing? Why? How can you create the conditions for curriculum reform that will challenge the structural racism that exists in society? The curriculum is perhaps the most powerful weapon that we have to change society. Recalibrate it for this purpose.

Step 6: Be A Voice

This blog by Daniel Stone makes a brilliant point to white people:

“Be our voice when we’re not there: Structural inequalities and underrepresentation mean that often minorities are not in the room when discriminatory decisions have been taken. We need individuals and allies who are able to stand for justice in whatever sphere of life they find themselves in. People who are able to use their platforms and positions of influence to ensure justice for those who can’t be seen, who can’t speak and who can’t breathe.”

Please put that into practice.

Step 7: Read, Think, Act

My thanks to Connect Futures for this reading list. Order these titles and more and get them up in a display in your school library. Have conversations around them. It’s ok to disagree. The only thing that’s not ok is staying silent.

  1. Black and British: A Forgotten History. David Olusoga
  2. Back to black: Black radicalism for the 21st century. Kehinde Andrews
  3. People like Us. Hashi Mohamed
  4. Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World. Layla F Saad
  5. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging. Afua Hirsch
  6. The Good Immigrant. Nikesh Shukla
  7. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Reni Eddo-Lodge
  8. I am not your baby mother. Candice Braithwaite
  9. So You Want to Talk About Race. Ijeoma Oluo
  10. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Peggy McIntosh
  11. Natives, Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire, Akala
  12. A tale of three cities: Public officials and senior representation in the NHS, University, Police and Local Authority. Zubeda Limbada
  13. Decolonise the curriculum. The Teacherist
  14. Wellness for All: Anti-racism in the early years
  15. Hostile Environment. Maya Goodfellow

And finally… 

I titled this blog a provocation, because I want to provoke thought, discussion and action. What you do matters. This is the slogan of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and I use it frequently in talks and lessons. I absolutely believe it is true. What you do to make things better matters. What you fail to do is critical. There are no more excuses.

Teaching in the Time of COVID⤴

from @ robin_macp

It’s not so much a case of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ but ‘Teaching in the Time of COVID’. Schools around the world have been moving to online learning and this has been a massive culture shock. Faced with the likelihood of having to teach entirely online, I put out a tweet asking for teachers who have already started this process for their advice, and the response from the edutwitter cavalry was impressive. Rather than write a piece giving advice when I haven’t yet moved to online learning (I start next week), I thought it would be best to share a collection of very useful blogs and resources that can help, wherever you are.

A good place to start is always something by @teacherhead Tom Sherrington, and his blog ‘Setting Work for a Long-Haul Shutdown’ is based on his experience of two previous shutdowns. It contains a lot of excellent advice on what is achievable, and what to be wary of. I also thought that this article by Sam Phillips (teaching in China) via @GovernorHub on primary teaching was particularly useful because that poses a very different set of challenges compared to secondary or tertiary teaching. Indeed, the problems faced and the need for low-tech approaches are emphasised in this blog by Solomon Kingsnorth (@solomon_teach).

When my school started discussions about a continuity policy, this document proved incredibly helpful. It was written by Head of Dubai College Mike Lambert, @DCol_head, and was based on a similar policy by Kellett School in Hong Kong. The Principal at Kellett is @independenthead Mark Steed, and he contributed to this really useful page by the ISC working group for digital strategy during the shutdown. I also really liked this blog ‘Planning for the Gathering Storm’ by @Southgloshead for its clear approach to developing a whole-school strategy.

A lot of teachers are rapidly up-skilling in ed tech right now, so my go-to person on this is @ICTEvangelist Mark Anderson. He wrote an excellent two-part blog for the website Independent Thinking on effective T&L:

https://www.independentthinking.co.uk/blog/posts/2020/march/learning-in-quarantine/

https://www.independentthinking.co.uk/blog/posts/2020/march/learning-in-quarantine-part-two/ 

One of the most useful things I received was a great image which was created by Alison Yang of KIS International School in Bangkok. It sets things out very clearly so all teachers, pupils and parents can understand the school’s policy.

KIS

I was also sent a large number of useful videos, websites, links to apps and other suggested material that look good, but too many to condense down here. If you go through the full thread and subsequent RTs on my timeline you will find them all. The good news is that many apps are currently being offered for free (a selection can be found here), so this is a good opportunity to take them for a test drive. My thanks to everyone who shared their ideas and resources – I really appreciate this, and so will teachers all around the world.

And finally, if you’re wondering why I used a picture of the iconic ZX Spectrum for this blog, it’s because it’s useful to remember that ed tech is not a new thing. There is no such thing as a digital native. If you suddenly need to teach using it when you have never really engaged, shed your fear. It’s not as tough, or as bad, as you might think. 

So keep going, keep sharing, and keep your head up. School might be closed, but learning never stops. 

Teaching in the Time of COVID⤴

from @ robin_macp

It’s not so much a case of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ but ‘Teaching in the Time of COVID’. Schools around the world have been moving to online learning and this has been a massive culture shock. Faced with the likelihood of having to teach entirely online, I put out a tweet asking for teachers who have already started this process for their advice, and the response from the edutwitter cavalry was impressive. Rather than write a piece giving advice when I haven’t yet moved to online learning (I start next week), I thought it would be best to share a collection of very useful blogs and resources that can help, wherever you are.

A good place to start is always something by @teacherhead Tom Sherrington, and his blog ‘Setting Work for a Long-Haul Shutdown’ is based on his experience of two previous shutdowns. It contains a lot of excellent advice on what is achievable, and what to be wary of. I also thought that this article by Sam Phillips (teaching in China) via @GovernorHub on primary teaching was particularly useful because that poses a very different set of challenges compared to secondary or tertiary teaching. Indeed, the problems faced and the need for low-tech approaches are emphasised in this blog by Solomon Kingsnorth (@solomon_teach).

When my school started discussions about a continuity policy, this document proved incredibly helpful. It was written by Head of Dubai College Mike Lambert, @DCol_head, and was based on a similar policy by Kellett School in Hong Kong. The Principal at Kellett is @independenthead Mark Steed, and he contributed to this really useful page by the ISC working group for digital strategy during the shutdown. I also really liked this blog ‘Planning for the Gathering Storm’ by @Southgloshead for it’s clear approach to developing a whole-school strategy.

A lot of teachers are rapidly up-skilling in ed tech right now, so my go-to person on this is @ICTEvangelist Mark Anderson. He wrote an excellent two-part blog for the website Independent Thinking on effective T&L:

https://www.independentthinking.co.uk/blog/posts/2020/march/learning-in-quarantine/

https://www.independentthinking.co.uk/blog/posts/2020/march/learning-in-quarantine-part-two/ 

One of the most useful things I received was a great image which was created by Alison Yang of KIS International School in Bangkok. It sets things out very clearly so all teachers, pupils and parents can understand the school’s policy.

KIS

I was also sent a large number of useful videos, websites, links to apps and other suggested material that look good, but too many to condense down here. If you go through the full thread and subsequent RTs on my timeline you will find them all. The good news is that many apps are currently being offered for free (a selection can be found here), so this is a good opportunity to take them for a test drive. My thanks to everyone who shared their ideas and resources – I really appreciate this, and so will teachers all around the world.

And finally, if you’re wondering why I used a picture of the iconic ZX Spectrum for this blog, it’s because it’s useful to remember that ed tech is not a new thing. There is no such thing as a digital native. If you suddenly need to teach using it when you have never really engaged, shed your fear. It’s not as tough, or as bad, as you might think. 

So keep going, keep sharing, and keep your head up. School might be closed, but learning never stops. 

Brains, Computers and CogSci: the Quiet Revolution in Learning⤴

from @ robin_macp

This blog was written for the Voices in Education Series and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Odgers Berndtson.

This Spring Term the Schools Practice at Odgers Berndtson is pleased to present the second series of articles for its Voices in Education initiative. These articles are written by a number of leading voices across the schools sector. They have been written to start conversations about important challenges, opportunities and ideas within the schools sector today. In this article, Robin Macpherson, Assistant Rector at Dollar Academy, writes about the importance of understanding memory as teachers.

“Memory is the residue of thought”

Daniel T. Willingham

“The aim of all instruction is to alter long-term memory. If nothing has changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.”

Sweller, Clark and Kirschner

I’m a teacher, not a psychologist. If you work in a school it’s unlikely that you know much about psychology either. It’s doubtful that you did any cognitive psychology in your training to be a teacher, as this is largely left off the curriculum. So why then should we all be spending a lot more time looking at cognitive psychology if we want to be better teachers?

The first thing to make clear is that this isn’t a new thing. It may be a recent addition to pedagogy in school classrooms but as a discipline it’s well over a hundred years old. Ebbinghaus produced seminal work on the ‘forgetting curve’ in the 1880s and 1890s, which showed that memory traces have a half-life, and in order to be strengthened we need to retrieve the memory to refresh and strengthen it. In 1967, Ulric Neisser wrote one of the most important books in education history, simply called ‘Cognitive Psychology’. In academic circles it pushed the science of learning more towards internal mental processes and away from behaviourism, which sought to explain learning through responses to external stimuli. Essentially, it means people in universities knew – more than half a century ago – that it was possible to measure brain processes in order to advance our knowledge of how we learn.

What accelerated this was the development of computer technology. It’s often said that our brains are like computers, but in fact it is more accurate to state that computers are like our brain. Cognitive psychology is about the architecture of memory: we process information through our working memory (which is very limited) and store it in our long term memory (which is potentially limitless). We can bring back information from storage into the working memory in order to use it. Computers process things (measured in RAM) but store things on a hard drive which is much bigger in scope. The analogy seems to work, even if it breaks down when you explore the mechanics, but there is no doubt that as we started to build artificial brains (computers) we developed a better understanding of our own minds.

Incredibly, it has only been in the past decade that scientific findings in the field of cognitive psychology have begun to shape classroom practice on a wider scale. This has much to do with the disconnect between the research that is produced in academia and the professional knowledge and practice of teachers. Thankfully, we’re getting much better at this.

The breakthrough can be attributed to a number of books but I think a key text is ‘Make it Stick’ by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel. In 2002, Henry Roediger was appointed to head up a team of eleven psychologists (including Mark McDaniel) by the James S McDonnell Foundation in St Louis, Missouri. Their task was to lead a study in applying cognitive psychology to educational practice. A decade later, their work was ready. However, unlike previous studies, this one made its way into mainstream education in schools. Roediger and McDaniel teamed up with journalist Peter Brown and wrote ‘Make It Stick’, and finally there was a volume that took high end, rigorous scientific research and made it accessible to teachers. It was a watershed moment.

There are many other books that we could point to here: Daniel Willingham’s ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ (2010) is arguably the true pioneer, and Benedict Carey’s ‘How We Learn’ (2014) is also wonderfully accessible. However, the overall point is clear: in the past decade the science of learning has infiltrated the classroom and this quiet revolution is to be embraced. If you are a teacher reading this and are thinking “I know nothing about cognitive psychology” then the good news is that you can get up to speed very quickly. You don’t need to be a scientist, you just need to open your mind and read one of these books. Another, more recent, classic is ‘Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide’ by Weinstein, Sumeracki and Caviglioli, who are members of the excellent Learning Scientists collaborative. Get on their website as soon as you have finished this blog.

So what does this actually mean for classroom practice? Crucially, it means structuring learning around the architecture of memory. Awareness of the limitations of working memory is vital. Current thinking is that we can hold at best 4 pieces of information in our working memory at a time, and to try to cram more into this will overload your pupils’ capacities – no matter how bright they are. When I started teaching less able pupils were described as those who had problems with working memory. Newsflash – we all do. None of us has a great working memory. This is why Dylan Wiliam described Sweller’s cognitive load theory as being the most important thing any teacher can know. I think about 95% of the PowerPoints I see teachers produce – and the way they deliver them – violate this key principle. There’s a brilliant blog entitled ‘Clean up your mess’ by Robert Macmillan (@robfmac on Twitter) based on his talks at researchED Scotland if you want to see how to do presentations properly.

RobfMac

Further evidence is provided in a key paper by Dunlosky et al in Scientific American Mind called ‘What works, what doesn’t’ (2013). This explores the methods used by students to revise for assessments and how effective they are. How often have you had a pupil bemoan a poor test score, pleading that they worked really hard? No doubt they did, but they used ineffective techniques. Using highlighters and rereading notes – beloved of many – are an almost total waste of time. Retrieval practice – known as the testing effect – is extremely effective. Teachers who make use of this in everyday lessons build highly effective long term memory and can achieve outstanding results with pupils of all ability ranges. This is important – it can be an absolute game-changer. If you want to know more, read Kate Jones’ excellent recent book ‘Retrieval Practice: Resources and Research for Every Classroom’ (2020).

So, what we’re faced with now are the massive opportunities afforded by over a century of scientific research, all of which is very actionable in the classroom. As I mentioned before, most universities completely ignore it in their teacher training programmes. I am hugely in favour of connecting research about education to the practice of teachers, and things are moving in this direction. However, it is a slow burn process and if you’re a school leader you will need to think carefully about how to embed this in the culture of learning in your unique context. A whole school approach works much better than individuals ploughing lonely furrows. My advice is to get reading, share with colleagues, and see the benefits for yourself. Teaching, in truth, is not a fully research-informed profession. Cognitive psychology shows us what might be possible if we can connect schools and universities in a genuine partnership about the science of learning.

Robin Macpherson is currently Assistant Rector at Dollar Academy, and from August 2020 will be Head of College at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen. He is the co-author of ‘What does this look like in the classroom? Bridging the gap between research and practice’ (2017) with Carl Hendrick and speaks and blogs about educational issues. His Twitter handle is @robin_macp

Are you research informed?⤴

from @ Becoming Educated

Theres been a groundswell in the past decade of teachers becoming more research informed. This has been evident in the creation of organisations such as pedagoo and researchEd. Pedagoo is a large community of teachers which aims to support and encourage teachers working collaboratively to improve teaching and learning. They have organised grassroots events called TeachMeets where teachers can go along in their own time and share best practice in the form of learner conversations where they discuss pedagogical approaches and what works for them in their context. It has grown from a simple idea to connect Teachers to what it is today. If you are on twitter I would highly recommend reading through and perhaps sharing your own #pedagoofriday, which was created for teachers to share their highlights. It is a great read on a Friday evening.

ResearchEd is another growing grassroots organisation. It was created by chance in 2013 by Tom Bennett and is now growing to have events worldwide. Their mission to explore work works and raise research literacy through bringing people together has been a key to the event growing. I have just purchased my ticket for their event held in Glasgow in February 2020, I can’t wait to hear some excellent people speak about their research and how this will then translate into my own classroom.

For a while now I have been wondering how much of what I do in my teaching practice is because someone somewhere said it would be good to try and how much of what I do is backed by meaningful research so I have engaged with organisations like Pedagoo & ResearchEd to help get some answers to my question. Is what I do day to day what actually works for improving the outcomes for young people? So I have sought to become research informed but what does this mean to be a research informed practitioner?

As Mark Enser wrote in 2017, teachers should engage with research to tackle through all the misinformation that we are given, but what is the misinformation and how do we know? An example of this is that of Learning Styles, this was used for a number of years to help differentiate in classrooms for Audio, Visual & Kinaesthetic learners but this has since been debunked by research. Do you still use learning styles? it is maybe worth looking at the research to see for yourself, after all in a profession like Teaching shouldn’t we be at the cutting edge of research if we really want to be efficient, effective and high performing in our classrooms.

How do we become research informed practitioners? our time is precious and also limited with workload being a key feature of almost every discussion in education. Earlier this year the OECD published ‘Education at a Glance’ and they highlighted that teachers in Scotland have the biggest teacher contact time with young people in the developed world. So time really is an issue for most and with so many priorities (marking, meetings, SQA deadlines, coursework, reporting) it is difficult to find the right amount of time to sift through research, so are there easy ways to engage with research that are quick, easily digestible and can translate into making an effective change in my practice.

A quick and easy way to engage with research is by joining twitter. The online community of teachers sharing their practice, offering up research, practitioner enquiry and simply asking challenging questions of one another is growing daily. If you join twitter I can offer up some useful tips that can get you started.

  • Use your own name or a professional name depending on whether you want to make your profile private or not
  • Choose education as a topic to follow
  • Follow as much people as you’d like (you can always unfollow them). I would recommend the following to start with: @teachertoolkit, @teacherhead, @researched, @UKedreschat, @AceThatTest, @DavidDidau & @ImpactWales
  • You can follow hashtags (#) to join in or just follow along with a conversation: I would recommend the following to get started with: #pedagoofriday, #LrnSciChat, #2ndaryrocks, #PrimaryRocks, #NQTChat, #ScotEdChat & #UkEdChat

There is also an excellent guide by Erin Miller to getting started with twitter here.

Another way to become more research informed is by reading books. I love to read and have really built a good habit of reading. I set a target of 10 pages a day minimum for an education book to help me master my craft. If you like to read there are a plethora of excellent books out there that can make an impact on your teaching practice. So much so that it is worth a blog post on its own. However to get started I would recommend the following books.

  • The Learning Rainforest by Tom Sherrington
  • Just Great Teaching by @TeacherToolkit, Ross Morrison McGill
  • Teach Like Nobody is Watching by Mark Enser
  • Oops! Helping Children Accidentally Learn by Hywel Roberts

If you want to go further with books and book recommendations I would encourage you to read this blog by @87History Kate Jones on her Love to Teach blog.

There are a range of websites out there that are run by educational researchers. These sites are filled with strategies and research that are proven to work in classrooms. The best websites for me are the following.

A final recommendation to becoming research informed is to engage with your own action research. This can be as big or as small as you would like. Some local authorities in Scotland offer practitioner enquire courses which helps you focus on one or two things to investigate and improve in your classroom. It is important with any research you do that you prioritise the impact on young people. A basic structure to conducting action research in your classrooms can be found here in a blog post by @TeacherToolkit. He breaks it down simply for the reader and things of action research in as four point.

  1. Ask – what do you want to investigate? What types of evidence can you gather?
  2. Investigate – What types of evidence are available? How do we best investigate our practice without impacting too much on workload
  3. Innovate – What tentative claims can you make once you have tried new ideas and gathered evidence? What is working and what isn’t? Is the evidence reliable?
  4. Reflect – What did you learn about your practice? What do yo now know? What can you celebrate and share with your colleagues.

Ross articulates it much better than I do in his own blog. I would recommend you read that if you are interested in action research.

Becoming a research informed teacher isn’t as time consuming as you think and starting with as little as 15-30 minutes a day will build your knowledge quickly. Whatever you read or see it is important to consider whether it will work in your context and if you would be willing to put the time into investigating whether it works for you. Collaborating with colleagues is an excellent way to do this and some schools have some excellent examples of working groups and book clubs. I have recently been reading ‘Research-Informed Practice’ by Jennifer Ludgate and it would be an excellent addition to your own and your schools CPD Library.

I hope you do engage with research as I believe that in doing so we can only become more effective and efficient teachers who become masters of our craft, which will improve outcomes for our young people as the better we become as teachers the better it will be for the students in our classes.