A Nostradamus moment – Predicting learning in the future

Top-5-Nostradamus-Predictions-That-Came-TrueLast year along with a colleague I looked into some of the key trends that were shaping the world of Professional Education. The result was the production of a Learning Strategy completed in December 2014. The document highlighted some of what we thought might impact our organisation in the future. Taking the technologies, attitudes and resources of today and guessing how they might change is certainly brave, possibly foolish, but reading what others think is always interesting.

Tomorrow I will be visiting the Digital Education show in Earls Court; guest speakers include Sugata Mitra, Richard Gerver and Sir Ken Robinson. The topics up for debate are current, wide reaching and of course equally prophetic.  Add to this the publication of the 2015 Horizon higher education report and you get an irresistible mix of views on the future, some of which I have highlighted below.

The measurement of learning will increase

Good teachers have always tracked student performance. It may have been in their head, summarised at the end of term in the form of a report but measuring student performance is certainly not new. The difference is now the results are more public, displayed in league tables showing winners and losers. In addition we have data not just on one student but thousands and once you have data, big data in fact, you analyse it, learning analytics is born. This allows you to make recommendations for improvement and predictions based on the observed trends and patterns. Given that new technologies make the gathering of data relatively easy, measuring student performance and the methods by which they learn will only increase.

All classroom courses will become a blend

The genie is out of the bottle, learning in a classroom complimented by the use of instructionally sound online resources offers so many benefits. It enables a more personalised learning experience, makes effective use of student time outside the classroom and is often mobile resulting in greater convenience.  It is hard to see why you would ever have just classroom only courses again. Yet not all courses are a blend or to be precise although they have online resources they are little more than a classroom course with some online PDF’s or links that are not used due to poor quality, relevance or support from the teacher, so we still have some way to go.

Informal learning will emerge from the shadows

So wrong!

So wrong!

Informal learning or as it sometimes called student/curiosity led learning has always existed but is now more easily recognised. Teachers and educators are also beginning to invest time into using it more effectively.  Once again technology is playing an important role by making knowledge more accessible and facilitating greater collaboration via online forums and social networks.

Video is an incredibly successful example of social learning, it’s hard to imagine but YouTube didn’t exist before 2005, that’s only 10 years ago. It now has 1 billion users, 300 hours’ of video are uploaded every minute and is available in 61 languages. A very practical example of learning with video can be found by clicking the banana – trust me you won’t be disappointed.

And that’s just three

I could equally have mentioned:

  • More money will be spent on personalisation and adaptive technologies
  • Greater acceptance of BYOD – your own devise that you take from home to class to work
  • Wearable learning technologies – think how wearable sports devices have expanded recently
  • Internet of things (IoT) – a network of connected objects that link the physical world with the world of information through the web could provide a wealth of new ways of learning

How did I do?

A similar blog from 2011

 

The Price is right? – Value for Money Education

The Price is RightThe idea behind the price is right was that you had to guess the price of an everyday object. Not a complicated game I admit but by game show standards a successful one, it ran from 1984 to 2007. But how do you know if something is the right price? What does “right price” even mean?

 

Easier in a market where there are many similar products all providing a similar service or experience, not so easy when assessing the value is subjective, comparability difficult  and getting it wrong  expensive. This is exactly the situation you might find when trying to choose a course provider, a college or university. How do you know if you’re getting value for money, if one provider is more expensive than another is it extra profit, inefficiency or a measure of quality and so value?

What do you want?

The first question to ask is, what do you want from the course provider and how will you measure success? On the face of it the answer may seem obvious – it’s to pass the exam or get as high a grade as possible. But learning is about so much more than the exam result, isn’t it?

What about the skills you develop and the knowledge you acquire, what about the people you will meet and the inspiration, motivation and direction you will receive? These are difficult to measure and are often ignored yet in the long run are probably far more valuable than the passing of an exam.  Also would you be happy with knowing just enough to pass and then afterwards forgetting everything, is that what you pay for, is that value for money?

A high quality provider will teach content and explain concepts so that you not only retain knowledge but develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

So it’s all about passing?

You may want to pass but what method of study will give you the best chance of passing? How much contact time do you The price of everythingexpect? Are you sufficiently self motivated that you need little or no help, do you want the convenience of studying online or the discipline of having to go to lectures? You may be aware of the method you prefer but many students aren’t. The better provider will know enough about you as an individual, and if they don’t they will ask before making any recommendations as to what method of study is best.

Risk and cost of failure

How important to you is passing, or passing as soon as possible? It could be a false economy to go with the provider who suggests the course can be covered in 10 weeks at a cost of £1,000 when another suggests 15 weeks at £1,500. The longer course with the higher price could well be good value for money if you pass first time. Equally when the stakes are high you don’t want to make a mistake,  consider something like eye surgery, would you go to the cheapest provider where the risk of getting it wrong could be life changing.  Of course expensive does not always mean value for money. You will need to do some homework first. Below is some advice as to what to look for when choosing a provider before you part with any money.

What to look for in a course provider

Fundamentally it’s about trust and confidence in the provider. Education is not a commodity, it’s not homogenous, it’s personal and too important to get wrong

Here are a few things to look out for and questions to ask.

  • Experience and quality of the Teachers/Lecturers – having a stable and experienced lecture team is an indication of quality. Ask how the college ensures their staff are up to date, do they have a formal training scheme? What research credentials do they have?
  • Long term player – How long has the organisation been in existence, ask them what their long term strategy is for learning or at least what they think the future might hold.
  • Where do they rank in league tables – maybe they have industry awards or accreditation by external bodies.
  • Investment in the future and level of innovation – what do the premises look like, are they well maintained? What technologies have they introduced recently?
  • What are the range of different study options (length of course/F2F contact time etc) and levels of personalisation – for you to have the best course the provider should be able to offer some degree of personalised learning.
  • Ask if you can try before you buy – What have you got to lose they can only say no. Oh and ask them how easy it is to transfer to other courses and get your money back if you’re not happy.
  • And finally one of the most useful ways in making any decision is to ask friends/colleagues what they think or experiences have been, and don’t forget to check them out on the social media sites.

Conclusion

There is a lot more to this debate and the topic is certainly worthy of another blog. Value for money is a big question in education. I have not for example even mentioned the cost of education in the context of employability and student debt. Nor which subjects have the highest employability statistics etc.

The purpose of this blog was to highlight the complexity of choosing a provider and to give some advice as to what to look for.

In summary, clarify exactly what you want from your course provider before you start looking, ask some of the questions above and dependant on the answers you get make your decision. And if all goes to plan you will you end up with the right provider, at the right price and so great value for money.

PS Happy New Year everyone – I think as far as learning and exams are concerned 2015 is going to be as interesting and as uncertain as 2014. I am looking forward to it.

 

And the cow said – MOOOOCS

MOOOOCIn October I decided I would find out first hand exactly what it was like to study online so I joined a MOOC. For those that don’t know what these are, a Massive Open Online Course is a free or at least normally free online course that has the capacity to have thousands of students in the same virtual classroom.

In fact only last month the British Council launched its first MOOC on English language attracting over 100,000 students. In essence a MOOC provides “education” at scale, accessible globally for free, and what could be wrong with that? Well in essence nothing, having a well educated society not only helps with social mobility but as has been well documented adds significant economic value.

Problems with MOOCS

But as you can imagine not everyone is happy, most of the concerns centre around quality.

If MOOCS are so good why is it that despite the large numbers of students enrolling there are very few, around 8% who actually complete the course.

Is this the result of poor instructional design, the fact that some MOOCS have very little student/ teacher engagement and are simply a series of videos linked together with reference to materials available elsewhere on the web. Is it because no one person is accountable for the students, there is no “teacher” to motivate the student if they fall behind. And due to the scale, feedback has to be automated or assessed by peers who are clearly not experts.

Well it might be all of the above and the course completion rate is clearly of concern yet some would argue that having a less teacher centric course is exactly what you need for students to develop a much deeper understanding. This is something *George Siemem’s argues.

Making sense of the chaos is what learning is all about, if teachers plot the route it reduces the value of what is being or could be learned.”

 “The great thing about MOOCS is that the learning does not end when the course ends, because the students have built their own communities, the learning becomes life long.”

M+O+O+C+S

People talk about MOOCs in so many different ways, in fact the name itself can be confusing when trying to understand exactly what a MOOC is.

  • Massive – A MOOC works on a platform that enables thousands of students to see and hear the same thing at the same time. The technology behind this is impressive and using one tutor to deliver the course enables the most to be made of the expertise.
  • Open – its open to anyone, there are no prior learning requirements. It is also open in the context of being free, and the learning not being restricted to the views of one person, the community are also teachers.
  • Online – it is online but is not what some would class as an online course. An online course unlike a MOOC would be instructionally designed to ensure the learning is consistent with the learning outcomes and incorporates the latest developments from the field of learning science.
  • Course – It has a cohort, a subject matter and a beginning, middle and end. But as outlined above, at its simplest it could be little more than linked video with no overall instruction and some would argue this is not a course.

A MOOC on one level is the next generation text book

Listen to Anant Agarwas on TED 

Providers

It is important to say that as MOOCs are so new, the first ones established around 2011, it is hard to pin them down as they are constantly changing. But if you are interested here is a note of the key providers.

  • Future Learn – owned by Britain’s Open University Offers MOOCs from many UK Universities. The newest of the MOOCs with approximately 750,000 plus users.
  • Coursera has around 10 million users and is by far the biggest, a for-profit founded by two Stanford University Professors.
  • edX  have around 3 million users, a not for profit MOOC founded by MIT and Harvard University.
  • Udacity have around 1.6 million users.  A for -profit backed by Sebastian Thun (co founder) and two Venture capitalist. It is currently repositioning its offering to be more vocational, targeted at professionals. Listen to Peter Norvig early observations in 2012 on TED. Peter taught one of the first classes with Sebastian Thun on artificial intelligence with over 100,000 online.

My MOOC – conclusions

edX

My edX course with MIT

The course I chose was with one of the leading provider’s edX and is called Design and Development of Educational Technology. Okay not for everyone but so far I have found it very impressive.

The course was delivered over 6 weeks. It consisted of video lectures with a designated tutor Professor Eric Kloper introducing many of them himself.

There were links to further reading and sessions requiring a hands on approach, in some instances “playing” with software to find out how it works. In addition there were tasks and projects to complete, all recognised by the awarding of a certificate at the end. And yes it was free. Like my students however I have already fallen behind, but I do plan to complete the programme as so far I have found it both engaging and rewarding.

But what of the future – What we can say is that some MOOCS have responded to the criticisms and are now delivering first class courses to thousands of students, online and for free. But MOOCS are still evolving; blending MOOCs with traditional face to face courses is gaining in popularity for example.

There is however still the big question as to how they are funded, and for me this is about quality. Anyone can put information that is already freely available online in a thoughtless way and leave it for the students to curate. But a well thought through MOOC takes considerable time and skill to design and deliver. This is of course no different to an online or classroom course. A good course needs good people and they cost money. But I see no reason why MOOCs can’t charge, I would gladly have paid for mine. The cost would be low given the volumes, say £1 – £500 but the reach would still be global. And the monies would enable the providers to continually invest in order to deliver the best courses possible.

Bill Gates talks about MOOCS well worth watching, its only 4 minutes “the information has been in the textbook for hundreds of years….online does not enhance knowledge…” 

Ps I promise no more animal pictures next month.

*Author of Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

 

Are exams fit for purpose? (part one)

take-the-same-testI have written in the past about what passing an exam proves but have never questioned if exams achieve what they were originally designed to do, are they fit for purpose?

Firstly let me define what I mean by an exam. A written test administered to assess someone’s level of understanding, knowledge or skill that results in a qualification if successful. This is in contrast to a test which is a method of assessing someone’s level of understanding, knowledge or skill often as part of a course in order to provide feedback. A test does not have to be written. Although exams don’t have to be written either, many are and initially at least I would like to keep the definition as narrow as possible.

In order to answer the question, are exams fit for purpose we must first take a step back and look at how we got to where we are now.

 

A brief history of examinations

The first standardised test is believed to have been introduced by the Chinese in 606 AD to help select candidates for specific governmental positions. However most examinations around this time would have been oral, requiring the candidate to recite a dissertation or answer questions. Although there is evidence of written exams being used as early as 1560*, it was not until the 1820’s that many Universities began to adopt the practice. From 1850 onwards the written exam became the norm in most UK Universities. In 1854 under the Gladstone government selection of Civil servants was based on their ability to pass an exam, this time however it was written.

Bureaucracy – In 1917 to help bring some order to what had been described as chaotic the Certificate and the Higher School Certificate were introduced. Then in 1951 we had the General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations, more commonly known as Ordinary ‘O’ level and Advanced ‘A’ level , these were normally taken at 16 and 18.

In the 1960’s the CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) was born, opening up qualifications for all, not just those that went to Grammar school. However this two tier system was thought divisive and so in 1988 under the guidance of the then Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph both sets of examinations were replaced by the GCSE. The GCSE was graded and contained credit for course work.  In 1991 the General National Vocational Qualifications, (GNVQS) were established intended to incorporate both academic and vocational elements, by 1995 these were accepted as ‘equivalent’ to GCSE.

In 2014 we find change again, gone is the course work and written examinations once again become the main method of assessment, although there will be grading, 1 to 9 with 9 being the higher mark. The exams will still be called GCSE’s, although officially they are known as GCSE (England). This is to avoid confusion with Wales and Northern Ireland, who are not changing.

Yes they are

Historically at least it would appear the purpose of the exam was to provide a recognised and transferable measure of competency in a given subject or discipline. The lack of transparency and consistency of the oral exam resulted in them being replaced with written ones and a more formal bureaucratic structure was developed to administer the process.

And in many ways there is very little wrong with this.

The problem is not with the exam itself, but with what is being examined. If as a society we value “thinking and creativity” for example, then should we not be examining these rather than subjects that require the candidate to do little more than rote learn facts.  Perhaps we should explore different methods of assessment, the written exam has its uses but hand written papers are looking increasingly outdated in a world that communicates electronically not only in short texts and tweets but with video and photos . In addition the way exam results are used in league tables to show winners and losers is divisive. It looks like a measure but has in fact become a target that schools and teachers must hit or be considered failures.

Please watch this it’s very funny…..and thought provoking

Not on the test

 

 

 

 

 

In the second blog about exams I want to look more closely at some of these points, in particular what other ways we can assess what people know.

*Assessment around this time was through debate between a number of learned people all at the same time and lasting for two hours or more.

Teaching to the test – Interesting research but the fat lady is still in good voice

Fat lady still singingThis week researchers from the University of East Anglia released some very interesting findings that resulted from testing 594 bio-science students in their first week of term at five universities.

The students selected would be considered by many more than competent in their subject, almost all had a grade A*, A or B in biology at A-level. Yet when they were given 50 minutes to answer 38 multiple choice questions on cells, genetics, biochemistry and physiology from their A level core syllabus, they only got 40% correct. The period of time between the students sitting their A levels and the test was three months.

Lead researcher for the study, Dr Harriet Jones, said: “What our research shows is that students are arriving at university with fantastic A-level grades, but having forgotten much of what they actually learned for their exams.”  She went on to say that the trend to teach to the test, to ensure good results for schools’ reputations, was the problem.

The schools are to blame then

The facts of the research are clear, students who had successfully passed a test, were unable to pass a similar test three months later. The conclusion reached is that the students did not understand (see my blog on understanding) their subject well enough and passed their A levels probably using little more than memory. And who is to blame, the schools of course, for teaching to the test. Why the school do this is worthy of further debate, but government pressure and the impact of league tables will certainly be in the mix.

But do employers not accuse Universities of delivering up similar ill prepared students. The test is different but from the employers perspective the result is the same. A University student who professes to know something but when tested “in the real world” doesn’t.

Does this mean that Universities are also teaching to the test!

It’s about the test etc

The problem is not in teaching to the test; the problem is with the test, the pass mark and possibly the marking. If the test was more Testing but for what!aligned to what the student needs to know/do at a fundamental level, the pass mark sufficiently high and the marker having some degree of autonomy to form judgements, then the results would probably be different. It could of course be that the exams are easier – Exam chief: ‘you don’t have to teach a lot’ for our tests.

The big criticism of teaching to the test is, it results in a narrowness of understanding, little in the way of depth and does not push students to think in abstract and creative ways. But if the test, which incidentally does not have to be in the exam hall or on paper/PC was able to “test” for these qualities then teaching towards it would perhaps be more acceptable.

Bottom line

Teaching to the test is unlikely to change, in fact given the popularity of league tables  in education just now it may well increase, but with more effective testing the results might be better students, happy Universities and even happier employers.

 

 

50 Shades Darker – How much to test

How much to test

In August last year I wrote how Professional accountancy bodies believe that competency can be measured by a candidate scoring 50% and failure if scoring 49%. This all or nothing approach seems neither fair nor useful; hence the idea that grades of competence could be introduced e.g. 50% pass, 65% commendation, 75% distinction etc.

But the mark a student gets in an exam is only part of the story when it comes to measuring competence. Can a student be considered competent if the exam they pass only includes questions from say 75% of the syllabus? Yes the whole syllabus might be covered in an 18 month period but in any one exam 25% is not tested. Equally the 75% is often considered core and so examined every sitting, this means that a student need only focus on the 75%. Admittedly if the pass mark is 50% they need to score 50% out of 75% (67%) but with practice this is possible. One final observation, it is unlikely the student will score 0% on the non-core part of the syllabus. They may get say 5% or even 10% out of 25%. Not a great score but the 67% pass mark now becomes 58%. This logic sits at the heart of the exam driven approach.

Objective testing might be the answer?

Objective tests (OT) – test that are relatively short and can be unambiguously marked, are considered by some to be a weaker form of assessment, they are part of the dumbing down of examinations. The beauty of an OT question is that the marking is completely accurate, no marking bias at all. This is often ignored in traditional exams and not seen as a problem largely because it’s not that visible. But the OT does not solve the “how much to test” problem, in fact it makes it worse. If you are asking for less then you are examining less. So if the only benefit is the avoidance of marker bias why are more examining bodies using OT style exams, is it just about saving money…….?

An example

Imagine that you have 4,500 OT style questions that cover every aspect of the syllabus, let’s also assume that the student only has to answer 50. The 50 questions are randomly picked from the 4,500 in the question bank. Is it fair that a student is considered competent if they are only being tested on 1% of what they need to know?

I think the answer is Yes, because in order to be sufficiently prepared to answer 50 questions from a bank of 4,500 when there are no core topics you have to have be capable of getting all 50 correct (assuming a 100% pass mark) and because you don’t know which 50 are coming up this effectively means you have to be able to get all 4,500 correct. The examining body can of course control  the effectiveness and level of difficulty by changing the pass mark.

All OTs would be OTT

This is not an argument to suggest that all examinations should be assessed using OT type questions, they should not. For example they are not Less-is-Morevery effective at measuring a student’s ability to communicate or evaluate complex and ambiguous situations, but they should be considered part of the tool kit that examining bodies have in assessing competence.

So on the face of it OT’s may look like a soft option, anyone can tick a box but they are certainly not easy to get right. Maybe less is actually more…..

Reflection/Goals/Planning……Inspiration and bravery

2013_time100_yousafzaiIt’s nearly the start of a New Year 2014, traditionally a time for both reflection, taking stock of what went well/not so well and looking forward to what the future might hold. On the whole this is a healthy process, looking back gives you chance to put things into perspective and hopefully learn a few lessons, whilst looking forward gets you thinking about what you might like to happen and set goals to make those events more likely.

Looking back on 2013, one event that stood out for me was the nomination of Malala Yousufzai for the Nobel peace prize in November 2013*. It is not the nomination that is important but the fact it provided a reason to revisit the incredible story of one little girls determination to have an education, something that many of us are fortunate enough to be given for free or at least freeish!

Reflection – The story in brief

By 1997, the year in which Malala was born her father Ziauddin Yousufzai had been running a private girls school for several years in the Swat

A classroom in Swat valley

A classroom in Swat valley

district of Pakistan. This was before the Taliban took over. At the end of 2008 the local Taliban leader, Mullah Fazlullah, issued a warning, all female education had to cease within a month, or schools would suffer consequences. Malala was 11 and supported by her father started an anonymous blog for the BBC Diary of a Pakistan school girl.”  The blog stopped after only 10 weeks as Malala had to leave Swat. Although clearly influenced and inspired by her father Malala had a voice of her own and one that was now being heard outside Pakistan, she was passionate about education, especially for women. A documentary by the New York Times bought the story to a wider audience.

 All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one. 

But on the 9th of October 2012 when Malala was just 15 two men boarded her school bus and asked “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all” The other girls looked at Malala, innocently identifying her; she was shot in the head and neck and left for dead. She was initially flown to a military hospital in Peshawar and then onto the Birmingham Queen Elizabeth hospital in the UK where she had further operations and continued her recovery.

They cannot stop me. I will get my education, if it is in (the) home, school or any place. 

On 12 July, nine months after the shooting, came a major milestone. Malala stood up at the UN headquarters in New York and addressed a specially convened youth assembly. It was her 16th birthday and her speech was broadcast around the world.

Goals and Planning

Malala wanted to be a Doctor, but wanting to be a Doctor is not an effective goal, it’s a wish or desire, it was outside her control. What was within her control was to work hard, motivate herself and fight for the education she deserved.

Malala wanted to be a Doctor but events changed all that, a bullet intended to kill her sent her down a different path. Now she wants to be a politician, not a goal but a wish, driven perhaps by a deep routed desire to help people less fortunate than herself. Yet those same goals of hard work, motivation and learning will equally help turn this wish into a reality.

Let us make our future now, and let us make our dreams tomorrow’s reality.

And so to 2014

When thinking back on 2013, learn from your mistakes, maybe the exams (life in general) didn’t go as well as you might have hoped. But don’t Happy New Yearask why, ask what have I learned and so need to do differently in 2014. Remember when setting those goals make sure they are within your control and take inspiration from the story of a brave little girl who worked hard, motivated herself and most of all believed in the importance of education.

  Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world. 

Ps

Malala is now working hard for her GCSE’s incidentally at the same school as my daughter.

Well worth watching – BBC – Shot for going to school.

And the *Nobel Peace Prize 2013 was awarded to Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.

Intelligence and IQ – does it matter?

Yesterday Boris Johnson delivered the annual Margaret Thatcher lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies in London, in it he said:

Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130.”

Mr Johnson (Boris) uses the measure of IQ to make the point that if we don’t have equality in intelligence then economic equality is not possible. Effectively he is saying we should accept that some animals are more equal than others, apologies for the Animal Farm digression…..

What is Intelligence?

Yet a large part of Boris’s argument hinges on the term intelligence and that it has some meaning or value, but what is intelligence? The word itself is derived from the Latin verb intelligere, to comprehend or perceive. A good start, but that’s all it is a start, here are a few more definitions:

  • Judgment, otherwise called “good sense,” “practical sense,” “initiative,” the faculty of adapting one’s self to circumstances  (Alfred Binet the creator of the IQ)
  • The ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations (Merriam-Webster dictionary)
  • To my mind, a human intellectual competence must entail a set of skills of problem solving, enabling the individual to resolve genuine problems or difficulties that he or she encounters. (Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligence Theory)

The last of these is my personal favourite as it gives purpose to having intelligence, to solve problems. The bottom line, there is no one single definition and experts disagree on how it should be tested/measured. Interestingly the IQ (intelligent quotient) developed by Alfred Binet was only ever intended to be used to identify intellectual disability not to form the basis of an elitist club or for Boris to hijack for his Margaret Thatcher lecture.

Does it matter?

People often have a personal view of their own intelligence, this can sometimes be empowering when you find out “You’re a god Dammed Genius” or limiting if “you discover your IQ is only 75.” Just for the record, 91-110 is average, 80-90 is dull normal, 66-79 borderline and 65 and below, defective.

The very fact that you believe you are intelligent can be motivational, resulting in you putting in more effort. The self belief that you can solve any problem will often result in you solving most of them, and of course proving you are not only intelligent but a genius!

I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.

Socrates

Contrast that with the behaviour of someone who believes they are not intelligent or maybe not as intelligent as others. Faced with a problem they will give up, believing the solution is beyond them, and of course proving that they were also right and not a genius.

But Does Boris have a point?

Boris uses IQ (The measure of intelligence) to illustrate the point that we are all different, something that most people would readily accept. What I find uncomfortable is the deterministic nature of his proposition, it implies having a high IQ predicts success and by the exclusion of the many other factors that contribute to success, suggests is the only thing that matters. The Telegraph headline made this point very strongly.

Boris Johnson: some people are too stupid to get on in life

Natural differences between human beings will always mean that some will succeed and others will fail, the Mayor of London says in a speech

Yet on the basis that there is little agreement as to what Intelligence is, the testing and what should be tested is subjective, it would appear a poor basis on which to hang his argument.

Lessons for learning

What I do agree with is that we are all different and that some of this is the function of genetics. (Research indicates that 60% of intelligence is genetic) yet on the basis that you can do very little about this, does it matter?

It is always better to work on what you can change rather than what you can’t. I am sure many of us know people who seem to grasp principles, concepts’ etc and solve problems pretty quick. If you compare yourself to them it’s easy to conclude that they are better and you will always be second rate, so stop trying. The simple answer is don’t compare yourself with them, compare only with yourself, are you getting better and if you are then your improving, and that’s a result.

So forget about measuring intelligence and whether your better than someone else and get on with trying hard and being the best you can.

More on intelligence

Human intelligence, BBC Horizon. An interesting programme that evaluates the intelligence of different high performers.

And the smartest man in the world is…...click here

50 shades of Grade…..Measuring students worth

I don’t often write specifically about the market that I am most closely involved, that of accountancy training and education. But there does seem to be an anomaly in the way the accountancy world measure success that isn’t the case in many other professions and examinations.

To become a qualified accountant in the UK (ACCA, ICAEW,CIMA etc,  yes there are more) you have to pass a number of demanding examinations and submit evidence of practical experience. The exams are taken over 3 years and everything rests on a number of exams of 100 marks each, of which you need to get 50%. The pass rate for accountancy students varies from paper to paper but is around 60% In training and education terms these exams are often referred to as High stake exams. For some failure is not simply a setback in terms of time, it could result in a lost job.

50% good – 49% bad

The purpose of such exams (including the practical experience) is of course to ensure that those that pass are competent. But how competent….?  It seems that you are either competent or not, if you get 49% you are not competent, if you get 50% then you are. This makes the margin for error very high, many a career has taken a dramatic turn based on 1 mark. Now of course in any exam there has to be a point where someone succeeds and another fails but does competence not have many shades to it, is it not a continuous process rather than a discreet one.

Shades of Grade

You may be one of thousands of students (>300,000 actually) who have just had your A level results. But of course you don’t just pass or fail, in fact this has not been the case since 1963, even before then there was an indication of the mark. You are given a grade from A through to E and all are considered a pass, 98.1% passed their A levels this year.

And the grades refer to the marks e.g. E is 40%, a D is 50%, a C is 60%, a B is 70% and an A is 80%. A similar grading exists for Degrees, 2.1, 2.2 etc and for Law exams, Pass, Commendation, Distinction.

No pressure for excellence

So why is this not the case in accountancy? To be honest I am not sure. But by introducing grades above a pass you not only provide employers with a better indication of competency, you encourage colleges to teach to a higher and deeper level, motivated by the students who want to learn more. And that for me is the most important point; you create an incentive for students to try harder. At the moment if you are scoring 55% then why put in more work, a pass is a pass, but a distinction well that will make you stand out from the crowd.

Of course the market will adjust its perception of what a pass means, for example employers may only want students with a distinction rather than a simple pass, but they have always looked and will continue to look for differentiation, at least this is a meaningful one.

What it does not do is fix the 49% you fail problem, and careers will still hinge on 1 mark, but that unfortunately is the way with exams and the reason exam technique is so important.

So to all the accountancy examining bodies why not introduce grades – grey is good and isn’t it an accountants favourite colour?

Tipping the exam is bad….right?

No TippingFor me holidays are not a treat, they are an essential way of  recharging your batteries and provide an opportunity to re think ideas and put things into perspective. I am writing this particular blog whilst visiting Washington DC for a few days before moving onto the real America, Disneyland!

 
 
 

Exam tipping
Now whether its because I was having to get my head around the whole US tipping culture I don’t know, but I found my mind wondered to a conversation I had just before I came away as to the merits of predicting topics that will be on the next exam, so called tipping. This is a fascinating question, and one that is at the heart of the exam focused approach. The logic of the exam focused approach is simple (see  earlier blog for more detail) if the main objective is to pass the exam then the best preparation is to practice The questions that will be on that exam. But on the basis we don’t have The actual exam, then the next best preparation is to practice questions that “you think” will be in that exam, hence the tip.
In many other training environments this approach is common and well accepted. My daughter was taken on the routes most used by the driving test examiner. Although on the day she didn’t know exactly which route it was going to be. As a result of the training and familiarity she felt well prepared, more relaxed which in turn built her confidence, and I am sure this improved her performance on the day.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that if taken to an extreme, teachers might only teach what they think will be on that particular exam, the so called “teaching to the test”. This results in students not receiving a sufficiently broad or in-depth coverage of the subject and exposing them and their chances of passing to risk, heads you pass, tails you fail.
Application – Focus – Prioritisation 
However exam questions are great tools for application, focus and prioritisation. If a student is taught something and then set a question on that topic, they very quickly appreciate its relevance and value. It certainly helps with concentration, focus and  putting topics in order of importance. The, you can’t learn everything so stop worrying and get on with this question approach…..
Its all about time
If students have sufficient time they should of course learn everything. Although if you think about it you can’t learn “everything”, so there is always some degree of prioritisation.  But in the professional education sector, they don’t. Many hold down demanding jobs by day and study is part time. They look to the educator to give them some degree of priority in what to learn. This comes into sharp focus in the last few days before the exam, and that’s why they will ask for what is most likely to be on the exam, the tip.
So should the teacher tip
It’s all about degrees, at one end of the spectrum, it is very risky and narrows a students learning, at the other it gives focus and application in the last few days before the exam. Personally I would like to see  research on this area some solid evidence to focus the debate. There may be something out there but I have not read anything on this specific question.
But in the absence of such research my view is not to be too dismissive of tipping, it is very easy to completely write it off, leaving the choice of what to focus on just before the exam to the student, when the teacher is probably in a better position to give advice.
and if your interested – How to predict exam questions

 

And finally my  Holiday books 
I have just started Sal Khans The one world school house – very easy to read summary of how Salman Khan got to become “Bill Gates favourite teacher” and the logic behind what the Khan Academy does.
Thinking fast and slow and The chimp paradox are still as yet to be read.

 

Now where’s that bill or is it cheque….20% tip!