Is this for real?


Originally uploaded by mistersnappy

My daughter (7) was watching the latest episode the The Apprentice this morning, and the candidates had to come up with a marketing strategy and a video advert for some product or other (I think it was some wine or other).

Having watched the filming of the adverts she turned to me and asked “So is this advert going to be a real one, shown on TV?”. When I said no, she asked “Then what is it for?”.

The answer, of course, is that it’s for Sir Alan. It’s an arbitrary, made-up task to appease a powerful overlord who has the ability to wield power over the contestants. A slightly dramatic take, but stick with it.

Many of you will see where I’m going… My Y11s this year made a website that Y6 pupils and parents could use for the transition to secondary school. The sites, of course, will never see the light of day. They’re an arbitrary and made-up task to appease a powerful overlord who has the ability to wield power over the contestants. In this case, Sir Alan is played by the examiner / moderator / exam board / DfE, and the contestants are pupils (who are, indeed, in a contest for their grades).

Now I can complain about the situation, highlight the problem and try to exert a small influence, but there’s not really a lot I can do from the chalkface to fix it.

What I *can* do, however, is make sure that I use the freedom I have at KS3 to make sure that *I’m* not the powerful overlord. My Y8s have been instructed to build websites for someone, some club or some group that they know – with the aim that they might actually be able to use it. I have told them repeatedly that *I* am not the audience. It hasn’t quite sunk in with them yet, but it’s a long-learned practice to try and shift.

My Y13s build interactive multimedia products. I quickly learned that letting them choose their own imaginary clients (Lamborghini, Ferrari, the local football club) was a weak strategy, and so they now have to find a member of staff who wants a learning resource. Real client, real feedback, and some of them are now coming up through the school using those products and knowing that they’ll be able to make their own in a year or so.

Motivation is significantly improved, as is the quality of the work. So where I can, I’ll be avoiding arbitrary and made-up tasks with my students and looking for opportunities to make use of their work.

After all, I don’t want to end up like Alan Sugar. Next I’ll be making all the kids call me Sir…


2 thoughts on “Is this for real?

  1. I agree that “made up projects” are a bit pointless – no one is fooled into thinking that they will actually get used, so the motivation to do a good job is pretty low. However, for A2 projects (both ICT and Computing) with OCR, you need to create a system with a real “end user”, exactly as you describe. For the students who actually do bother to properly involve their end user, it can be a great experience to be making something that may actually be used, and we do have some previous projects actually in use in the school. However, I have found that some end users get over excited about the fact that they have a free programming slave, and ask for all sorts of things that make the scope of the project rather large. Given that less than a quarter of the marks for the coursework are actually for the coded system, this presents a problem because the student gets way too bogged down in completing an elaborate system and not enough time on writing it up. (Yes, I agree that the assessment is flawed, but that’s a whole other can of worms.) I know it’s the job of the developer to rein in the user’s expectations and develop a sensible set of requirements, but often the student does not have a good idea (through lack of experience) of how long a feature will take to build – I remember clients from when I was working saying “oh can you just add this button”, forgetting that the code that made the button WORK would take hours! I also think it is quite hard for a student to say “no” to a request on the basis that they cannot complete the feature because it will take too long, especially if the request is from a teacher or a real company. So, all in all, real end users are a double edged sword!

    • Very fair points. I generally find that it’s the student who has the ideas that go too far beyond the scope of what is reasonable, but forcing them to have meetings with their project supervisor (me) as well as their clients during the project definition stage offers an opportunity to look at contingency planning and tackling potentially unreasonable expectations.

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