‘You may not know this word’, commented one of the Danish teachers visiting our centre and a local partner school as part of BETT week,’ but we love Lark Hall Primary School because it is very hygge.’
On her first visit to London, the teacher hadn’t seen the stacks of ‘how to do hygge’ and ‘live Danishly’ books that filled our shops over Christmas. We assured her that we were familiar with hygge and agreed with her evaluation of the school’s ethos, environment and approach to learning. Lark Hall’ s digital leaders, our guides for the day, had been as proud of their garden, chickens and school values as of their class blogs, games designs and emotion robots.
BETT week proved to be a North European bonding experience for London Connected Learning Centre’s team. During the week we presented to 6 groups of teachers and advisers from Denmark and the Netherlands. We ran workshops on computational thinking at the Dutch ITEM 2017 conference, hosted 150 Danish and Dutch teachers at our centre and worked with Swedish, Dutch and Danish colleagues on our Erasmus + computer science project bid.
Presenting the work of the CLC and learning with technologies in English schools, didn’t give us as much time as we’d have liked to learn about practice in our guests’ countries, but our conversations gave us some insights into similarities and differences between our education systems and edtech approaches.
A lot of what we are doing with digital technologies across Europe is similar – games design with Scratch, 3D printing, hackathons, digital making, getting started with VR, programming robots and ubiquitous iPads. A drive for more computer science in the curriculum, for a digitally competent workforce and engaged citizens who can critically evaluate information, characterises most European education systems. We talked about how this is driven by economic and social needs. I quoted Miles Berry’s talk at the European Parliament in 2015 where he made the argument for computer science and computational thinking to be part of a liberal education alongside the arts and humanities; “…a truly rounded education for the third millennium really ought to include some introduction to the ideas that lie at the heart of these things – an appreciation of code is no less important today than an appreciation of art, of music, of poetry…”
Many of the teachers had opportunities to see classroom practice; learning with and about digital technologies through visits to some of our partner schools St Gabriel’s College, Cranmer Primary, Hitherfield Primary, Hill Mead Primary, Lark Hall Primary, Crown Lane Primary. Back at our centre we showcased the work of London schools using blogs , digital portfolios, open/digital badges and Google Suite as ways for students to publish their learning, achievements, and reflections. Some of the teachers had concerns about privacy and data. The use of blogs was not common in the Netherlands. Some schools are using Google Classroom successfully but several Dutch teachers were skeptical about the use of Google products in relation to regulations about data and the push to feed the next generation of Google users. Bill Fitzgerald questions here how children’s data are handled in Google Suite for education. In our conversation, we concluded that teachers in the UK could do with being a lot more informed about protecting their students’ interests, but that there’s also a lot to learn from Anglo-Saxon creative education practice and participatory learning using digital spaces.
Freedom and control was a theme we discussed with all the groups. The accountability culture and testing regime in England appears repressive/confusing to other European educators. In contrast, despite their freedoms and the professional trust placed in them, many Dutch and Danish teachers seem more bound by the power of publishing companies and a tendency to work through textbooks from cover to cover than teachers in England and the UK. We had some interesting discussions about the balance between choice, entitlement and teacher autonomy in computing. For example, in the Netherlands even though programming isn’t a compulsory part of the curriculum it is being taught by many teachers . Most European countries stress the importance of integrating digital competencies across curriculum subjects. This includes computer science skills and knowledge. One of the Danish teachers mentioned that the quality of computer science can be variable in their context and that they could see the value of clear content in having a distinct computing curriculum.
Our week also included a day working with colleagues from Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark on our Erasmus application for a project to explore and exchange practice in approaches to computational thinking. Our partners include municipalities, schools and a digital education centre which is part of a school board. Our encounters hosting Danish and Dutch educators gave the London CLC team a few impressions about ways these education systems are developing digitally literate young people, but with our two year Erasmus + project we look forward to exploring these approaches and contexts in detail. Working alongside other teachers in Finnish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch classrooms, being involved in professional development together and running simultaneous, linked up pupil hackathons, maker days and games design challenges, will give us a real understanding of how cultures, education systems and digital learning approaches interact and develop children’s learning.