How I plan to improve Revision Access

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We launched the Revision Access system later in the term than I would have liked, but now that it’s up and running there is finally some user data to start garnering insights from.

It’s certainly working; the log shows students revising through the half term, some of them with considerable diligence. However, I see some problems that I want to address.

Give everyone access

First and foremost, by making it a separate product we denied access to a lot of students who would have liked to use it. It may surprise you to know that there’s a major thread on the students’ forum demanding more quizzes, so we know there is an unfulfilled demand.

So from September, Revision will be a standard feature of Yacapaca, available through your existing subscription – even through free subscriptions. We will put it on the same meter as regular quizzes, with appropriate teacher controls to ensure you use up only the credits you choose to assign.

Better topic management

With Revision, students are supposed to indicate which topics they have completed, and then retain those topics in their lists. Yacapaca will automatically construct a spaced-practice review schedule, using Ebbinghaus’ principle. What I’m seeing in the usage logs is that many students don’t understand this. They are adding topics that are not useful to them, e.g. I see the same student adding both A-level and KS3 topics.

The solution will be to constrain what students can revise to only the syllabi of their student set. Technically, that is quite easy. I’m also wondering if we can parse from the quizzes they do which topics have been covered, so they can’t run on and try to revise topics that have not been covered in class. I suspect making that work reliably would require a fair bit of artificial intelligence.

At the same time as adding topics not yet covered, some students are clicking off the topic once they feel they have revised it. Without reinforcement, they are going to have forgotten it again by the time they get into the exam. We will have to move the ability to remove topics from the list back to teachers. I’m a little hesitant about that because it undermines the ‘student in charge’ philosophy, but I see no option if we are going to support students to revise as effectively as possible.

More motivation

Revision already uses the points and avatars that motivate students to do quizzes. I want to add teams as well. You may know that I’m wary of individual leaderboards, because for every winner, you create a loser. It’s at best net-neutral. Teams are different. Properly selected and maintained, they give even the weakest student in the class a taste of what it’s like to be a winner – and once they get the taste, they’ll want more of it.

Teacher feedback

Currently, Revision offers no built-in tracking tools of the kind you have in the rest of Yacapaca. The data is all there; the reporting pages are simply not built yet. I’m still trying to work out just what’s needed; but there certainly should be something in place next term. Once it’s there, we can refine it with your feedback.

Don’t flip the classroom – flip the whole school!

The idea behind ‘flipping the classroom’ is to video your didactic presentations and have the students watch them at home via YouTube or similar. It’s a great idea: research has shown that video leads to greater recall because students can pause, rewind, etc over bits they did not get the first time.

What can be flipped?

Here is my list of things students can now do at home, including the traditional ones

* didactic presentations
* demonstrations
* practice exercises
* essays
* tests and low-stakes assessments
* educational computer games
* and probably much more

In tertiary education, these are now routinely getting packaged up into MOOCs – Massively Open Online Courses that have been shown to be highly effective and highly engaging. Because they have many game-like aspects, they should work even better with secondary-aged students.

So what’s left?

With the students doing all this at home, you can now knock out a lot of teacher activities that are no longer necessary

* patrol and control
* taking the register
* handing out/taking in worksheets, books, etc
Now the difficult question for someone whose mortgage is paid through teaching. What’s left? Sitting in the staffroom drinking Maxwell House?

A better use of resources.

Actually, I am quite convinced that this is the wrong question. Instead, let’s ask “What else?”  Freed from the drudgery of classroom routine, how can you apply yourself to developing the young minds in your charge beyond what could have been done in the past?

What would a flipped school look like?

What I’m going to propose is a variation on the Oxbridge tutorial system. Oxbridge separate teaching into “lectures” (that can now be flipped) and “tutoring” (Oxford) or “supervision” (Cambridge). Tutoring is done in small groups of 2-3 students with one tutor, and has the key aim of developing the students’ ability to think. The tutor’s role is to challenge and to guide the discussion, whilst the students work out the answers collectively.

Organising this with just your own class is difficult: if you are tutoring 6 students, what do the other 24 do? It works best if organised on a whole-school basis. Let’s do the sums.

  • Teacher:student ratio 1:20. Including support staff this goes up to 1:15 or higher; I’ll take 1:18 to make tidier sums.
  • Tutor:student ratio required 1:3
  • If out of every 18 students 3 are in a tutor group, 15 will not be. Each student therefore spends 1/6 of his or her time in a tutor group, and 5/6 “flipped”.

Wow, that’s an hour a day of small-group tutoring. What’s that going to do for your GCSE results?

Doing this requires a complete reorganisation of the school, and that is precisely what I am calling for. Create open learning spaces where students can study individually as they would at home – or extend the ‘study leave’ idea and allow them to study at home if that if that works for them. Chop classrooms up into tutoring spaces organised for discussion, not presentation. Give staff intensive un-learning of redundant didactic habits so they can develop their tutoring skills. And, as a by-product, watch job satisfaction soar.

So what are you waiting for. It’s still three weeks to the start of term in England. Get your sledge hammer, and go start remodelling classrooms!

New York’s School of One: good or evil?

I met Christina Jenkins at a Futurelab event last week, and she pointed me to the School of One pilot project:



School of One encapsulates a lot of the stuff I’ve been ranting about for years – freeing teachers up to actually teach, breaking out of the class-of-30 mindset, using computers to do what they are good at. So thumbs up, right?

Well, mabye not. Christina, who is certainly no Luddite, strongly disagrees with the programme. She told me

The trouble I have with [School of One] is that it seems to me to be an extremely efficient way of delivering math worksheets. It doesn’t have much in common with authentic problem solving, mathematical thinking, etc; I don’t know that it possibly can, given the algorithm’s need for very precise, measurable indicators of understanding. I did a program called Kumon when I was growing up because my parents wanted me to have a more solid foundation in math; I can now multiply very quickly, but I’m not sure that it did anything else for me.

I think the So1 is great for certain things (perhaps multiplying quickly, or converting fractions to decimals), but I think it places the computer/algorithm at the center of a student’s learning, and in so doing 1) limits his/her possibilities (what if he/she wants/needs to go further than the program allows?) and 2) kind of ‘solidifies’ this idea that math instruction should look like worksheets instead of building/making things, as I think students in all subjects ought to be doing.

It seems that Christina and So1’s progentinors are starting from different formulations of the issue. Is our aim to to have a society in which a high level of numeracy (and other core skills) can be taken for granted, or one in which we maximise the number of creative problem-solvers?

Would you welcome School of One in your school?

Justin Bieber brings elearing into your classroom, even if you don’t have computers

Three years ago, I predicted that the iPhone, and phones like it, would soon become everyday educational tools. Where are we up to with that? Having spotted this on the Orange website, I’d say we are now only a year away.

If Justin Bieber is endorsing a phone, then it must be cheap enough to appeal to the teenage demographic. Where this gets interesting is that this phone has a nice big touch screen and runs the iPhone’s open-source cousin, Android.

From September, then, you can expect an increasing proportion of your students to be carrying these powerful, permanently-connected computers in their pockets.

How will you respond?

  • Will you feel threatened and try to suppress their use?
  • Or will you see a great way to get around the resource limitation of not enough computers in the school, and embrace the possibilities?