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John Simkin

E-Learning Credits

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Andy just about sums it up:

Curriculum online appears to be about propping up private "e-learning" companies who in the past have complained about the BBC's competitive advantage.

Free teacher produced websites are infinitely more useful than anything the private sector has yet produced or is ever likely to.

Schools have been given huge amounts of dosh to spend on officially accredited stuff which in many cases is seen as relatively poor.

The politics of this process leaves me cold, but the wasted public money leaves me very angry indeed.

I would add: It also is becoming increasingly obvious that online learning is not what it is cracked up to be.

The waste of public money - my money and your money - on the Curriculum Online initiative is a scandal. I have written to my constituency MP complaining about it.

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The politics of this process leaves me cold, but the wasted public money leaves me very angry indeed.

Governments get away with this kind of scandal because people are not interested in the politics of the situation. However, the only way this can bring it to an end (or more importantly to prevent it happening again) is by exposing it in any public forum we have access to. This one is particularly important to fight as the government has compromised a national newspaper that gives the impression that it concerned about the quality of education in this country. In normal circumstances the education community would expect this newspaper to expose this scandal (instead they have special supplements promoting the scheme – no doubt partly funded by the Department of Education). This is the way New Labour works.

If exposing this scandal means writing in long sentences and making postings of over 1000 words, than that is what we will have to do. Those who are unable to read substantial passages of text will have to remain ignorant of what is taking place. Hopefully, there are enough teachers who can cope with this difficult skill and will go on to make their feelings known about this scandal.

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The politics of this process leaves me cold, but the wasted public money leaves me very angry indeed.

Governments get away with this kind of scandal because people are not interested in the politics of the situation. However, the only way this can bring it to an end (or more importantly to prevent it happening again) is by exposing it in any public forum we have access to. This one is particularly important to fight as the government has compromised a national newspaper that gives the impression that it concerned about the quality of education in this country. In normal circumstances the education community would expect this newspaper to expose this scandal (instead they have special supplements promoting the scheme – no doubt partly funded by the Department of Education). This is the way New Labour works.

If exposing this scandal means writing in long sentences and making postings of over 1000 words, than that is what we will have to do. Those who are unable to read substantial passages of text will have to remain ignorant of what is taking place. Hopefully, there are enough teachers who can cope with this difficult skill and will go on to make their feelings known about this scandal.

Quite right John on most points and I take the implied criticism that I should be more interested ;)

A problem we have however, and you perhaps especially, is that as educational web page providers criticisms we make of COL can appear to outsiders as "sour grapes" or some sort of internal squabble.

All the more to reason to make your case clearly and in terms non specialists can understand and maintain an interest in. If the "scandal" and waste is on the scale you imply then this is very important.... not always the best idea to insult your target audience either :unsure:

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I can understand Brinn’s frustration with this discussion. In common with most other teachers he needs to know first and foremost how much money he has to spend on software and online services. But teachers at grass roots level also need to understand what is going on behind the scenes, and if they don’t like it they should complain about it.

My major criticism of Curriculum Online is the way in which the government is controlling the eLC funding process by setting up a complex labour-intensive scheme whereby suppliers and retailers have to register their products, thereby supposedly ensuring quality control. This is blatantly dishonest. There is little quality control, and the agencies chosen to ensure the quality control of the products listed at the Curriculum Online website are (a) not disinterested parties and (:unsure: charge exorbitant fees for their services, thereby cutting out small independent software developers and suppliers. Furthermore, the maintenance of the Curriculum Online website is costing a bomb – money which could be better spent on things that teachers really need. Why doesn’t the government just hand over the money to the schools and let them decide for themselves what they want to spend it on?

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A problem we have however, and you perhaps especially, is that as educational web page providers criticisms we make of COL can appear to outsiders as "sour grapes" or some sort of internal squabble.

I have not attempted to register with Curriculum Online. Nor have I made any attempts to charge my visitors any money for the services I provide. Nor do I ask schools for providing me with money for my labour.

My main concern over this issue is that money should be given to teachers to spend as they think best. It is wrong to undermine the professional judgement of teachers by providing funding in this way. It also punishes innovation while rewarding incompetence and encouraging corruption.

My second concern has arisen from the debate that has taken place. It is a problem that I have noted with students and young teachers. That they have difficulty reading extended passages of text. This of course undermines their ability to gather information and poses a threat to their ability to act as fully functioning citizens. The situation has got so bad that people who are having this difficulty are blaming people for writing long passages of text for their problem. I am afraid not all information can be produced in sound-bites, although our politicians wished they could.

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John writes:

My second concern has arisen from the debate that has taken place. It is a problem that I have noted with students and young teachers. That they have difficulty reading extended passages of text.

There is growing evidence that the “sound-bites” culture is associated with an unwillingness to read continuous text – and increased illiteracy among young people.

People read around 25% more slowly from the computer screen than from the printed page. They also tend to skim-read. There is also some evidence that people do not retain text read from the screen as well as text read from the printed page. There has been a good deal of research to confirm this. See especially Jakob Nielsen’s website: http://www.useit.com

One of the texts I posted recently looks “long” on the screen, but I did a word count and it amounted to just under 400 words. My reading speed from the printed page is around 500-600 words per minute, which is above the average. Most university-educated people read at around 250–350 words per minute. Reading a text of 400 words is therefore no great imposition.

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John writes:

I have not attempted to register with Curriculum Online. Nor have I made any attempts to charge my visitors any money for the services I provide. Nor do I ask schools for providing me with money for my labour.

Would that I could afford that luxury! When the COL initiative was launched I wanted nothing to do with it, as I could see that it was corrupt and would place unacceptable demands on my time. However, my two business partners (my wife and daughter) depend on income from our educational software development and retailing business, and I was forced to register with COL so that schools could buy our “approved” products. Ignoring COL almost forced our business into bankruptcy as schools simply stopped buying from us.

Many of the products that we retail are still not registered, however. We specialise in MFL software, a good deal of which (not surprisingly) comes from abroad, and most foreign companies would not even understand what COL is all about, let alone registering their products with the arcane “tagging tool” that has been provided for that purpose. So much for freedom of choice for MFL teachers!

Teachers in England please note: COL only applies to state schools in England. Your Celtic colleagues and colleagues in independent schools are treated differently...

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Andy writes:

Free teacher produced websites are infinitely more useful than anything the private sector has yet produced or is ever likely to.

Not in my subject area - Modern Foreign Languages (MFL). There are, however, a few good teacher-produced sites around, some of which I list on my "Favourite Websites" page:

http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/websites.htm

Most teacher-produced sites for MFL, however, consist of unexciting materials in downloadable PowerPoint or Word format - i.e. the sort of materials that someone with a bit of knowledge of ICT and the relevant applications can knock up in an afternoon - see my training materials at:

http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/lspinset.htm

The above materials describe the process of producing a simple PowerPoint or Word prsentation for MFL.

Some of the teacher-produced materials that I have seen on the Web are in blatant breach of copyright, including large chunks of text lifted directly from coursebooks and photographs that I recognise from a variety of sources.

Developing good quality, interactive MFL materials requires a level of expertise that the average MFL teacher does not have. For example, you need to be able to write 100% accurate texts in the foreign language or have access (particularly at the higher levels) to copyright-free authentic texts. In addition, you have to be capable of producing high-quality sound recordings using native speakers’ voices. I worked on German Steps for the BBC, and I know just how much effort went into producing this introductory course of 25 lessons. The sound recording quality is excellent, and the course materials are enhanced with sequenced still photographs shot on location in Berlin – language teachers often require authentic pictures of life in the target language country or, even better, video clips. The BBC ducked out of producing video clips for German Steps, mainly because they do not work well in a Web environment, where most of the users are accessing the materials via a 56K modem - the BBC's target audience is mainly home users. I think the German Steps course looks good. If you want a taster course in German, try it! It's at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/german/lj

Web materials for MFL have one important drawback. It is difficult to produce interactive materials in a Web environment that include listen / respond / playback activities. These are vital for language learners so that they can hear what they sound like. Since the 1960s, when the Audio Active Comparative (AAC) tape recorder was invented, language teachers have been using these types of exercises, e.g. for pronunciation practice, role-plays etc. Even the BBC could not produce such exercises in a Web environment, with the result that in German Steps the learner is invited to talk to the screen without making a recording and playing it back. Exercises of the listen / respond / playback variety are commonplace in CD-ROM-based and DVD-ROM-based materials, e.g. those produced by Eurotalk, Auralog and many other commercial companies. The Web is therefore not the panacea for learners of foreign languages.

I am posting this in the MFL section too.

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