Making things in ICT at Roehampton

Feb 03, 2013

Miles Berry

So many of the conversations I’ve had with really interesting people at and around BETT have focussed on learning through making, ie Papert’s constructionism:

constructivism’s connotation of learning as “building knowledge structures” … happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity[1]{#fnref:1.footnote}

This figured prominently in my own presentations at BETT, so some observer bias might be involved here. I spoke on Stone’s stand as part of Tony Parkin’s skilfully curated programme about the craft of ICT teaching, right alongside a brilliant ‘hackspace’ that Stone provided aimed at getting teachers working alongside coders. I returned to the theme in my [Learn Live seminar ‘Agile Pedagogy’, on Thursday (recording online), and these ideas surfaced again in the now inevitable conversations around teachers’ CPD for the move to far more computer science in far more schools than at present. Out beyond schools, hackdays and their like have captured the enthusiasm of many a coder, and I’m so impressed by the work of folk like Genevieve Smith-Nunes and Alan O’Donohoe who’ve taken this idea and made it work for the pupils in their schools.

Learning through making is a big part of the Roehampton ICT education modules. I’ve developed a bespoke blogging / e-portfolio platform for our trainees, and this is the focus of the e-learning side of our modules: rather than the usual Moodle thing of resources and activities, the home page for our courses is the shared blog of trainees practical work, their reflections on this and the associated readings or recordings; the actual lecture content is hidden off to the side in the menu tree, appearing in the blog stream alongside the trainees’ own posts.

The practical component of our modules is hugely important, both for lectures and assessment. When I say ‘lectures’, I really mean workshops as these all have a practical component: ranging from making interactive whiteboard resources and presentations, through online surveys via Google Forms and educational games in 2DIY or Scratch to video editing and coding up websites.

We do a fair bit of collaborative work too, combining Roehampton’s default social constructivism with Papert’s constuctionism to arrive at a ‘social constuctionism’ that’ll be familiar to any who have edited Wikipedia, used Google Docs (which we like greatly), contributed to open source, joined a hackday or indeed sat around a table and made a poster together back in their primary school days.

We now have things set up so there’s a large practical component to our assessment. Year 1 submit SMART Notebooks (or equivalent) about their language history and edited, narrated videos of their teaching out on placement. Our Year 1 specialists produce intricate, multi-screen games based on a children’s books (some lovely Gruffalo and Hungry Caterpillar games in previous years) and Year 2 some media-rich and pedagogically sound online VLE courses; the finalists don’t have quite so much fun developing outline schemes of work, but many find this too a medium in which creativity can find expression. The big final year assignment has trainees creating a summative, critical reflection in the digital medium of their choice, on an essay title picked from a list of seven.

It really has been a pleasure to mark some great, and academically rigorous, video essays, animations, narrated slide casts and websites: many of my finalists are of a generation that could be described as ‘digital natives’, and confidence, competence and creativity with digital technology is very evident in so much of the work I’ve been marking. Trainees like these lead me to agree with the Secretary of State (aargh, what am I saying?), that (at least as far as ICT education is concerned), this generation of new teachers is the best ever.