Thursday, 23 January 2014

Government is considering using MOOCs in classrooms, says Gove (Wired UK)


Credit: Flickr/educationgovuk

Massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, could soon be used to augment the depth and variety of the curriculum taught in British schools, said education secretary Michael Gove speaking at the BETT conferencein London today.

The key to introducing new opportunities provided by developments in technology and the free, open courses now offered by universities around the world into the classroom will be to leave schools in charge of deciding how they will respond to the changes, Gove said.
"Precisely the wrong way to react to the transformative opportunities offered by educational technology would be for government to try to dictate, from the centre, every last detail of how schools should respond," the education secretary acknowledged.
The government is currently looking at responses to aconsultation on the new accountability arrangements designed for 16- to 19-year olds, in which it has asked about the possibility of using MOOCs to support the education of students within this age bracket.
A partnership between exam board OCR, Cambridge University Press and the Raspberry Pi Foundation has already resulted in the creation of a MOOC specifically designed to build upon OCR's GCSE Computing curriculum. It can be used by students in their own time, or by teachers to augment the experience in the classroom -- or, for that matter, by anyone else who's interested.
As part of the Rutherford Physics Partnership, the government is also providing funding for Cambridge University to develop a MOOC that will support the transition between A Level physics and undergraduate physics, engineering and maths. This should please lecturers who frequently complain that A Levels do not provide rigorous enough preparation to study these subjects at university level.
"These courses are an unparalleled opportunity for the brightest and best education institutions to open their classrooms and their content to more people than ever before -- democratising education for the 21st century," said Gove.
Incorporating MOOCs into mainstream classrooms would allow students to access a broader syllabus than could possibly be offered by the staff of a single school, and would mean that teachers could facilitate and support the learning of small groups of students with specialist interests.
"Teachers will be in the vanguard of this change -- not just equipping young people with crucial computing skills and knowledge, but inspiring them with the incredible possibilities opened up by science and technology," said Gove.
The government is investing heavily in making sure teachers are equipped with the requisite expertise to teach children advanced computing skills as well though, he was keen to emphasise. He pointed to improvements in teacher training schemes and professional development for existing teachers, along with the government's intention to recruit 400 "master teachers" who are right at the top of their fields in computer science.
Gove was also keen to point to the increased use of 3D printers in schools. "Over the last few years, they have developed from an expensive, experimental toy to a tried and tested technology," he said.
"Our new design and technology curriculum -- backed by world-famous British inventor Sir James Dyson -- has been redesigned to enable students to master the skills needed to create new products with 3D printers alongside other advanced technological skills and techniques, including robotics."
Unsurprisingly he neglected to mention that the first draft of the new D&T curriculum, which was published in February 2013, was widely criticised by industry experts and was reported by Matt White, assistant director of the DfE's national curriculum review, to have been drawn up bureaucrats with no outside consultation.
Fortunately that wrong has now been righted, and Gove seems to be fully on board with the idea that the UK curriculum cannot be designed in Whitehall, or based purely on thoughts from his own head. He pointed out that like the D&T curriculum, the new computing curriculum has been "drawn up not by bureaucrats but by teachers and other sector experts, led by the British Computer Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, with input from industry leaders like Microsoft, Google and leaders in the computer games industry."
Bringing in education and industry experts who will be educating and one day employing British schoolchildren is obviously the right and proper thing to do, but it would also be encouraging to see the government examining its own procedures for dealing with the rapidity of the changes we are currently seeing in the technology.
"Government regulation cannot keep pace with the scale of change technology brings," said the education secretary, in what -- no doubt unintentionally -- sounded like he was washing his hands of the responsibility.
Unfortunately Gove's words reveal a universal truth, and not just one applicable to education policy. The government is proud of the education system it has designed, but perhaps its next task could be to apply what it has learned while drawing the curriculum to itself, so that it too in future could operate based on a system that is "open, creative and adaptive -- which is open to innovation, which can use technology creatively to advance learning and which is structured flexibly to adapt to change."

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