Day 1 #Bett2016: The reconciliatory @VEO_app and the confrontational philistine

One of the most intriguing and relatively unknown new ventures this year at Bett was a lesson recording app called VEO (@VEO_app). Developed by a teacher with initial support from Newcastle University, it is designed to tag and collect useful information; or the Rt Hon. Nicky Morgan’s (more about her later) word of the day, data; whilst recording a lesson or observation. In addition to tagging positive and less positive moments with prescribed or customisable label, the observer can track how long the teacher is talking, the amount of group work or individual work taking place and even how engaged the class are. The app can summarise this with visually useful pie charts or line graphs.

The tags act as chapter makers. The observer can go straight to the successful bits of the lesson and share successes. It can also go straight to the things that did not work out where focussed feedback can be given. Notes can also be recorded within the app and the web-portal.

The benefits in using this app for lesson observations are immediately apparent. Judgements of the quality of teaching and learning can be monitored and reviewed. It collects evidence that allows feedback to truly become a two way conversation. The teacher being observed can either relate to the feedback/ constructive advice being given to the video footage or offer their potentially differing opinion using the footage to back-up their points. True reflection of performance where the teacher’s opinion actually matters.

I believed when I was in class, and I still do now I work more outside of the classroom, that observations are learning opportunities for teachers. However, many teachers find them confrontational. VEO would help overcome this confrontational feel of observations. VEO, I feel, could facilitate a two-way discussion about the observation and feedback, rather than sit opposite your ‘assessor’ and listen meekly to their findings. VEO can give the teacher ownership of their observed lesson. They can respond, relate and more easily reflect on the feedback given, also giving their interpretation to the recorded lesson. The app could easily start the process of forming a tailored teacher-training program that puts the teacher and trainer at the front of the journey; not one being made to follow the other. True leadership.

Effective leadership requires, amongst other qualities, regular open discussion with and empathy and support for each member of the team. A leader makes best decisions when open to other opinions, especially the ones that counter their own principles. Leaders are followed by the whole team when they make it blindingly obvious that they consult and reflect upon a wide range of principles.

Upon listening to the Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan today, there seemed a clear misalignment with the conflicting principles of Sugata Mitra, whose talk to the auditorium preceded. She abundantly praised teachers  practising in Britain and the high quality efforts that they put in. Sound-bites were initially plentiful. However, a quick sharp turn occurred. The legendary Sugata Mitra’s (@Sugatam) opened today’s exhibition. He argued that today’s old-fashioned method of assessment was holding back the change today’s educational offering needs to be relevant and useful in today’s, let alone tomorrow’s, world. The TED prize winner’s, who has published numerous articles of his learning experiments over many years, teaching and learning philosophies (which I passionately agree with) seem to be discredited by Morgan.

Mitra has a simple premise of learning today. Knowledge is obsolete. He advocates that, with the mass information-sharing capabilities of the internet, that basics facts, calculations et al can be instantly found or made using the internet or devices. He advocates that teaching and learning should change where skills come to the fore. Teachers should facilitate talk and encourage children to dip into their own intrigue, take risks. This results in pupils learning independently, using facts (knowledge previously acquired by others and shared) to formulate their own arguments or to answer questions that they want answered. Analysing and synthesising.

According to Bloom, quite high order thinking; according to Morgan quite basic. Learning is not just finding answers from the internet according to the Secretary of State for Education. I think Mitra would agree. I wonder if he would agree that her speech’s sentiment failed to realise the true potential the internet could impact on learning? Morgan continued telling us that the power of the  internet could be harnessed to acquire data, share data, use data and do anything with data that she feels data could be used for. If her ideas, advised by a group of other worryingly think-tank ‘Big Brothers’, were not about uniformed data (reading between the lines – a potential shift back to levels?); they were about tracking. Not just tracking data but humans. Apparently the internet could be used to track truant learners, locating them and maybe impounding them!

Has anybody in her clan ever wondered why these children might not want to be in school? Mitra probably has and has a well-thought-out reason why.

I wonder why the Secretary of States for Education, who tell us what we need to do and increasingly how to do it, with no knowledge of how children learn or what they think regularly seem to miss the point and the true potential of the internet?

I urge them to take a leaf out the potential VEO has to offer. Make the engagement and discussion with the like of Mitra, Robinson, Gerver, Rylands et al obvious so that the UK’s teachers feel effectively led.


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