Nick Dennis' Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: QR Codes

How not to ‘whitewash’

The #RhodesMustFall campaign has been interesting because the main goal to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, imperialist and benefactor, has failed. Equally interesting has been the opposition, which has centred around the seemingly simple argument that one should not ‘whitewash’ history (an interesting choice of words considering the reasoning behind the campaign).

This argument in particular assumes that the history behind monuments and buildings is apparent to everyone. It is not. I have no doubt that many people had no idea who Cecil Rhodes was and what he did when they walked past Oriel College. Without context, the statue presented a limited narrative. The campaigners have called for Oxford to ‘acknowledge and confront its role in the ongoing physical and ideological violence of empire’, and there is a simple way to do this.

Making the complex history of statues/monuments/street names available to all can be done through the technology of iBeacons or QR codes that direct the public to a mobile website/app that offers two interpretations in audio or text format. These can be written by professional historians or by using the network of history teachers across the country. After engaging in the content, listeners/readers can then offer their own interpretation as oral testimony. Rather than ‘whitewashing’ history, it allows people to interact with the past and add their own voices.

Imagine what places like Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Liverpool and London would be like where the history of buildings, streets, monuments and public art speak to you as you walk around. What horrors of the Slave Trade would be revealed? What celebrated achievements would they boast of? What tales of fundamental British values would they make complex? The overlapping and intertwining stories would, for the first time, be available to all as they stood in the physical space. Education, something we seem to agree on as a progressive force in society, would be available to all and at the point of interest.

The costs of such a project would be minimal and it could be done quickly. The public benefit would be enormous and it would allow our society to confront, in a very real way, our history. So rather than threatening to withdraw donations, belittling the students for raising questions and prioritising a single story, let us be open to the voices/spectres of the past and confront the issues. If we don’t, we will simply create a safe space for dissatisfaction and anger.

Interested in the above proposal or think it is unworkable? Get in touch (especially if you are in the heritage sector or Oriel College).

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Apple RTC Reflections

The end of term is almost upon me and the theoretical ‘free time’ I should gain by losing my examination classes has been filled with other important bits of school work. This is usually a critical time for me as I start to plan ahead in detail and the need for ‘thinking time’ as part of the process is vital. I was provided an opportunity to think very carefully about plans for the next year by attending the Apple Regional Training Centre (RTC) conference in Manchester last week.

This was my first RTC conference and it brought home how wide and diverse the RTC programme is for Apple covering schools, City Learning Centres (CLCs) and other educational organisations. The theme for the conference was mobility and we were taken through some astounding numbers in terms of mobile device adoption in relation to other kinds of technology. One thing was made clear in relation to the adoption of mobile technology; content, provided by the teacher/web/company, was a key driver for use. After the introductory sessions by Apple staffers, delegates and Apple Distinguished Educators took the floor. I was particularly drawn to what Gillian Penny, a Headteacher from a primary school in Scotland, had to say about ICT. She made it clear that the learning has to come first in the use of technology. Abdul Chohan, Director of IT at Essa Academy, echoed this but I fear the message may have been lost on the conference by the sheer scale of the project at his school. Essa made the news last year when it gave an iPod Touch to every student. Whilst the media focussed on this aspect and the cost, Abdul in his presentation touched upon the change of ethos that governed the use of the iPods; All Will Succeed. This belief has led the Academy to reshape its curriculum and its teaching methods and the interim results look impressive.

On the technical side of things, there were two highlights to the conference. The first was Steve Beard’s ‘Making an iPhone app’ session using Xcode and Freeway, which he did in about 10 minutes. The second was Chris Jinks’ talk about the deployment and configuration of devices using Snow Leopard Server and the free iPhone configuration utility which allows you to manage the use of the device (you can disable the camera or remove the ability to browse the web for example). My colleague, the Head of Classics felt this was a great feature and would help allay fears surrounding behaviour management issues.

I was also reintroduced to a technology I had first heard about in 2006 from Doug Belshaw. I have also been looking at it again in relation to discussions with folk on Ed Tech Round Up and Johannes Ahrenfelt (especially in relation to Augmented Reality). Richard Clark’s talk about the work at Leicester CLC and QR Codes has reinforced my desire to look at this technology again more seriously. He and his team have used QR codes in primary schools to embed links to video on worksheets to model the learning so the pupils could complete the tasks. The potential for this technology is huge and all I really need for this to be work within my classroom is an iPod Touch with a camera…

Overall, I found the conference to be an enjoyable experience – I learned some new things but the key aspect for me was speaking to other RTCs about what they are doing. It also left me with some questions about the emphasis placed on the technology and missing  the context that gives rise to the use of it in the first place. For example, Joe Moretti gave a workshop on Stanza and Calibre for producing Ebooks. It was useful to be reminded of the tool, but as a teacher, I was particularly interested in the way it was used to help literacy.  I could not get to grips with how the technology would allow me to do something beyond what I could replicate in the classroom with a computer or with a piece of paper. I suppose the reason why I was so concerned is because this is something I constantly struggle with/ask myself about; does the technology helping the learning process or not? Is there enough pedagogical thought behind it to make it a genuinely useful tool which allows you to do something more quickly or even beyond your current set of tools? I don’t think this is a particularly innovative thought; this is something I am asked by many people I meet and to be frank, this keeps me, and my work, honest.  Thanks to the Apple Education team and the Cornerhouse in Manchester for hosting us and for giving me the time and space to reflect. The next RTC conference is in November and I, alongside some of the other members of the mobile research team at Felsted, may present our project there.

The learning journey continues over the next month or two as I am heading to Cramlington Learning Village on the 25th June for their conference on teaching and learning.  The following week sees me heading to the national Schools History Project conference in Leeds to present some work on technology and History teaching and chairing the TeachMeet session there. I’m really looking forward to the sessions on Change and Continuity by Christine Counsell, Diana Laffin’s presentation on A Level History teaching and Ian Luff’s workshop on active learning.  After the conference, I am going on a grand tour of Teaching and Learning. First on my list is  Neal Watkin‘s classes to see how John Hattie’s work on visible learning has affected the progress of students in the History classroom. I am then off to Essa Academy to learn about their framework for the use of technology and finally, I plan to see Dawn Hallybone’s school in action.  I am also hoping to teach some History lessons at the local primary school (Flitch Green, also an Apple RTC) in the last week of their term.  If you have any other ideas about what I should see, let me know. I will document each visit here on the blog.

Finally, a word about the mobile learning project. I’ve had a few requests for information about it and once we have ‘sharpened the saw’ on a few of the research issues, it will be publicised on the school website and on this blog. It is taking a little longer than expected but we want to make it as good as we can before the end of our term. I’m really excited by what the team here have come up with and we can’t wait to share it with you and our students.

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