134 posts categorized "Communication Tools"

March 23, 2011

If you want to truly engage students, give up the reins

Jen Macaulay's classroom
This is a summary of the talk I delivered at the Norfolk ICT 2011 Conference, expanding on my TES editorial back in January.

During the final half of 2010, I asked more than 1,500 teachers around the globe two questions: what are your happiest memories from learning at school, and what are your least happy experiences?

When I do the "reveal" of what I think their answers will be, every workshop has a "but how did he know?" reaction. It's more akin to an audience's response to illusionist Derren Brown than to the beginning of a day of professional development.

For teachers' answers are always the same. At the top is "making stuff", then school trips, "feeling I'm making a contribution" and "following my own ideas". Their least happy experiences are "a frustration at not understanding things", "not having any help on hand" and "being bored", mostly by "dull presentations". "Not seeing why we had to do certain tasks" appeared in every continent.
Most of these educators agreed that the positive experiences they loved about school were too few, and were outnumbered by the "important but dull" parts of today's schooling: delivering content, preparing for and doing exams.

But while a third of teachers generally remember "making stuff" as their most memorable and happy experience at school, we see few curricula where "making stuff" and letting students "follow their own ideas" makes up at least a third of the planned activity.

Design Thinking: the creative industries' framework for relentless creativity

Coined by design superstars IDEO, "Design Thinking" in a simple form is a four-part process of thinking and acting that I see replicated in every successful creative company in film, television, web startups or marketing with whom I work. I see it in some of our most creative classrooms, too.

It all starts with a genuine realworld problem that needs solving, not a pseudo-problem of the variety we see in textbooks. For example:

  • What is the carbon footprint of the nation's shopping basket?
  • Who is the biggest polluter in our region?
  • How can we make the journey to school safer?
  • How can we better use the school budget we have?

We then follow these four stages of problem-solving:


Immersion is not just unleashing youngsters with a sketchbook, or sending them off to Google to find out everything they can on a topic. It's about students working hard to gain empathy with those affected by the problem they've encountered. It's about putting oneself in the shoes of another and capturing all the emotions, feelings, facts, viewpoints possible. This can be done in a huge number of ways, but capturing these insights we must: on digital photographs, cell phone audio recordings or videos, post-it notes, documents...

The most important part is for students not to try to solve the problem, but merely delve into it, and understand it from as many perspectives as possible. It is also vital that the problem comes from the students, as much as possible. Note in this short clip how the 'obvious' learning point of activities around sand is replaced by what the three and four year olds are interested in: the truck that delivers the sand:


Every idea that has been captured needs to be brought together, preferably in a project space, a project corner, so that teams of students can work to find

  • combinations
  • opposites
  • information that needs further splitting down
  • low-hanging fruit
  • outlier ideas that, at first, don't seem to belong elsewhere

Look at the IDEO team in action, one week over two minutes, in this clip, and you'll see how a ton of messy, asbtract information comes together into organised thoughts ready for turning into ideas:

The teacher's role in this stage, as in immersion, is critical, but not as deliverer of knowledge. The teacher's role is that of key questioner. Good questioning technique is the most important skill to master to pull this creative process off, and there are some structures you can use to help. The G.R.O.W model and similar coaching models are such frameworks to help frame questions at each level of the project's thinking (short, medium and long-term):

Mhairi Stratton, formerly at Humbie Primary School in East Lothian, Scotland, introduced me to this way of thinking, and she has seen other benefits coming from this way of 'coaching' students to success:

'The whole school is benefitting because the pupils are involving the other class and sharing their learning with them.

‘Pupils are now identifying what resources they need, and why, and then working out how to source these.

‘This is also having a very positive effect on parental involvement as the pupils are also discussing their learning more at home and often asking them to provide the resources!’


Actually coming up with solutions to a problem comes quite late on in the process. In schools, most of the time, though, the problem has been defined by a teacher or a textbook and most learners are thrust into the creative process at this point, at the point when the process is nearly over!

Ideation can be simple brainstorming, or it can rely on a greater box of mental tools to stimulate better, more unexpected, more sustainable ideas. For example:

  • best and worst ideas
  • everyone's a consultant, where each individual adds to everyone else's idea with a...
  • "yes, and..." statement - ban "no but"; it's anti-creative, and what didn't work last year might work now. Things change.
  • 100 ideas now - set your students a challenge to take the available synthesised information and come up with 100 ideas in just one session.
  • FedEx days, where you invite learners (and colleagues) to deliver an idea within 24 hours.

This kind of pupil-led learning creates entrepreneurial, confident individuals. Professor Sugata Mitra's work shows that children in Indian slums are able to teach themselves and each other when provided with a computer kiosk on a street corner and access to the internet.

Within six weeks of starting my teaching career in the UK in 2002, I was fortunate to take up a spot on a small delegation to New Brunswick, Canada. There, since the 1970s, pupils have been achieving stellar results through experiential, project-based learning in which they have the lion's share of control over what is learnt, with whom and using what resources. And they have done it in a language that is not their mother tongue.

Yet the thought of allowing 30 assorted children at a time - or 90 at a time in the supersize classes I saw in New Brunswick - "free rein" upsets even the most innovative of educators. Far better to set a project theme for them; at least we know we will cover what we need to cover.


On the other side of the world in New Zealand, at Auckland's Albany Senior High School, deputy head Mark Osborne gives his pupils free rein every Wednesday through impact projects. "It can take weeks of discussion, reading and searching, but once you have struck their passion, their eyes light up and you can't stop them," he says.

Pupils have built a VW "Herbie" car, a rocket and a content delivery platform for the school's plasma screen system, inadvertently undercutting the commercial outfit pitching to the local university by NZ$280,000 (£137,682).

As US academic Professor Roger Schank puts it: "There is really only one way to learn how to do something, and that is to do it."

Over in California stands High Tech High, set up in San Diego in 2000 as a charter school. It was created with support from local businesses as an environment that would help fill the skills and attitudes gaps faced by the area's technology industries. Principal Larry Rosenstock believes that until teachers identify their own passions they cannot hope to facilitate the experience for pupils.

Further up the coast in San Francisco, Gever Tulley is developing his Tinkering School, an educational experiment with big ambitions currently acting as a one-week summer school.

Pupils learn by building bridges from dumped plastic bags, roller coasters from old crates or villages on stilts designed to provide secret niches for reading. The ideas come wholly from the seven-year-old collaborators and staff work tirelessly to spot and reinforce the learning opportunities inherent in the build. Elements of physics, mathematics, design, art, music and language are all wrapped in the vital skills of the 21st century for which there is, thankfully, no subject: ingenuity, collaboration, experimentation, failure and storytelling.

Don't think. Try.

Harnessing entirely pupil-led, project-based learning in this way isn't easy. But all of this frames learning in more meaningful contexts than the pseudocontexts of your average school textbook or contrived lesson plan, which might cover an area of the curriculum but leave the pupil none the wiser as to how it applies in the real world.

There is a line that haunted me last year: while pupil-led, project-based learning is noble and clearly more engaging than what we do now, there is no time for it in the current system. The implication is that it leads to poorer attainment than the status quo. But attainment at High Tech High, in terms of college admissions, is the same as or better than private schools in the same area.

The assumption that pupil-led, project-based learning offers less success in exams is a false but persistent one. John Hunter was the anatomist who defined modern medicine because, frankly, no one else had. He had a saying that has since become the mantra of the modern surgeon: "Don't think. Try the experiment."

Innovations in education that engage young people and have the most profound impact will not occur because someone told teachers what to do and how they should do it. They won't come by tinkering with the curriculum or seeking the perfect balance of assessment. The most important changes in learning this decade will come around because someone, a teacher, maybe you, thought that things weren't what they could be and that something new was worth a try. They will get together with colleagues and make time to talk through the possible and seemingly impossible. And then they will go and try it out.

Don't think (too hard). Try.

February 15, 2011

Teachers and Facebook: Please, Miss, Can I Friend You On Facebook?

Good use of social networking and other social media in schools doesn't change that much with the changes in tools and platforms, but it's still useful to have a reminder of what works, and what doesn't.

Scotland's Bryan Kerr asks a great question tonight about whether a teacher should friend a student on Facebook, especially when his school district has banned teachers from being on Facebook:

Facebook when you're a teacher

First things first: should teaching staff be on Facebook in the first place?

Answer: Yes.

No employer has the right to tell a member of staff that they cannot interact on social networks or publish their work and thoughts freely on the web - this is the right to express oneself, a fundamental if ever there was one. For any school district to claim that a member of staff is bringing their employer into disrepute simply by sharing online through a particular platform, Facebook or otherwise, would result in the kind of court case that wouldn't make it past the corporate lawyer's intray.

Should a teacher take care about what they publish on their social network, or other sharing space on the web?

Answer: Yes.

Teachers, priests and doctors, for example, are the kinds of groups we trust to vouch for one's identity on a passport application. They are thought of differently than any other profession, and rightly so. They deal in the highly personal, and therefore the room for indiscretion offline or online for a teacher is much more constrained than those working in other professions. If a teacher was ever in any doubt as to what is accpetable, simply read the existing guidance in your jurisdiction for the acceptable attitudes and practices for educators in general, and make sure you keep to that code online, regardless of whether you're sharing and 'socialising' on school time or not.

Should a teacher accept a friend request from a current student on their personal profile?

Answer: No.

Facebook is primarily a space where we find personal profiles. No matter what your personal rules are for engaging people as 'friends' on Facebook (mine involves in depth work or conversation offline, and invariably a pint) you cannot guarantee that your students' habits are as thought-through. Private, personal, almost public and public are four different gradients of privacy that are hard enough for adults to comprehend, let alone a teen acting, probably, on impulse as (s)he befriends you.

Facebook and other communities have provided ample opportunity to create a more public space where the people you invite on board might not be classified as 'friends' in the more traditional sense of the word. Facebook Pages are a great way to create a purely professional profile, whereby you can invite and approve selected or self-selected members to join your Facebook 'community' on that page, without becoming personal friends and seeing what you get up to on a Friday night - or vice versa.

This way, when students want to talk about 'work'-related issues, or learning, they can do so through that page, knowing that everyone there will get the messages appearing on their wall, but their personal messages will not appear on the group wall.

Can we not just say that Facebook is personal, and not a place where learning should be discussed? Full Stop?

Answer: Are you serious?

It's not just today's young people that are hanging out on Facebook for 200+ minutes a day. The largest group on Facebook is over-35s, and in Britain the fastest growing group is the over 75s. If you want to remind students about great resources to help them with their homework, when they've fallen off-task or are seeking help, then Facebook is the only window that you know will always be open on their browser. Likewise, if you want parents to have a wider appreciation of what learning is actually going on, they're on Facebook downstairs in the living room at the same time your students are online upstairs.

This sounds like extra work - working in the evening when I should be marking/preparing/having a life.

Answer: It's a bit extra. But it's worth it.

Train hard, fight easy. That's what the SAS say. In teaching it might be "get to help your students when they really need it, in the place where they need it, and in-class is going to be easier, more effective and more personable."

Where do we go to dive into detail?

Juliette Heppell as a page of great advice on the dos and don'ts of using Facebook for learning. It's worth updating that, since the beginning of this week, you needn't worry about creating a second 'you' for working with students. Instead, new Facebook pages allow you to allocate 'friend requests' to a particular page or list, thus rendering your Friday night shenanigans invisible to Johnny, Jamie, Kelly-anne and Kaylee.

If you've followed the development of education blogging platform eduBuzz, you'll know I'm passionate about social media's promise for connecting learning and parents. Facebook is great for that, too, so consider setting up class pages which parents join. See how one school has done it for its six-year-old First Graders.

For a host of other resources on Facebook, in general, follow up on my library of Facebook links.

February 05, 2011

The United Kingdom: Explained

This is a great video, and hundreds of thousands have watched it to gain an understanding that England is not the United Kingdom which is not Great Britain (alone) and where on earth Canada, Australia and a plethora of small islands fit into the grand scheme of all things Crown and Her Majesty.

My question: why has it just been created when this is the stuff school students the Commonwealth over have studied at some point over the past nearly six YouTubed years. Because an essay whose writing felt like having teeth pulled was somehow better, more educationally sound, showed his or her understanding so much more? I don't think so.

If we're going to assess children on what they know, wouldn't it be more educationally worthwhile to also assess children on their skill at sharing what they know in a compelling fashion? And if we're looking to help children understand how to share effectively this means we have to use the same tools as their audience - the rest of the world - rather than confining their creativity to a class group on a Learning Environment or private, closed down blog that only a relativel handful can see.

And on an assessment note, this video would get some great marks from me. What would it take to get full marks, to improve next time?

August 26, 2010

Do you *really* care about student voice? Live webchat

Mouth taped over

***Live webchat today/tonight - check your timezone for details***

Many moons ago I wrote a post that struck a chord with of this blog's august community: Do schools really value pupils' views? This Tuesday, I'm giving over 40 minutes of my GETinsight live webchat to get in depth on that issue. I'd love you to join me.

There's a blog post up on the GETinsight site already, showing some amazing examples of where student voice has not just been heard, but listened to, too, in the UK and in New Zealand. Student voice for deciding how schools operate is just one aspect. I'm most keen to hear stories and debate out how and whether students should have a 100% say on their learning journeys: the what, how and when of their learning:

[Learner voice] is quickly becoming edu-jargon, with its actual meaning for day-to-day learning becoming less clear to those teaching young people and, vitally, to young people themselves. Learner voice has all too often been reduced to making choices on what the lunch menu will be.

What do you think? Please join me for a live audio chat on your timezone this Tuesday/Wednesday. Details here.


Pic from GreenPeanut

August 17, 2010

Some ideas from Google on mobile developments

"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." Roy Amara.

It was a long time ago in tech terms, but last year I sat down with Robert Swerling who looks after mobile startups for Google UK. We're now in an age where Google App Creator (above video) will encourage ever younger developers (i.e. schoolkids) to make mobile applications, as well as an inevitable tipping point coming soon in those buying Android phones that run Google products and those kids' apps.

Here's some of Rob's stats that give me this confidence in believing we need children to be aware of how to create, as well as consume, the apps around them:

  • 91% of Americans keep a mobile phone within 1 metre for 365 days a year
  • 63% will not share their phone with anyone else
  • Mobile is the 7th mass medium
  • The prevalence of iPhone apps as an alternative medium to consume and share now generates 50x more search queries than pre-iPhone.
  • 60% of time on the mobile phone is now spent on non-calls activity
  • The average person downloads 40 applications, or apps
  • The Japanese spend 2 hours per day on the mobile web
  • There are 9m new subscribers each month in India
  • In Kenya paying by text message is fast superceding credit cards as a means of payment
  • Mobile video fingerprinting will soon create a translation magnifying glass when you're abroad
  • 5 of the top 10 novels in Japan were written on the mobile phone

These might be read in conjunction with the last stat dump I did in 2008 on the state of Mobile in Asia.

So, if you're going to get students making mobile apps, what would Robert advise the pros,  and how might these affect some higher order planning and thinking in your students?

  1. Velocity
    Give customers what they want as fast as possible. Stop putting up so many barriers such as checkout: experience is the same in Prada, fish and chip shop...
    If you give people what they want and get them away from your site as quickly as possible, then they'll come back.

    This is about students learning how to make less mean more. What is the core of what you're trying to say, write or achieve with a project? What elements can you do without? What elements will you save for later when you're upgrading the app for users? What will you leave out to keep the jar half full?
  2. Visibility
    Don't surprise customers. In a good bar the price is on the beer, you know whether it's available, you know how quickly you can get it. This affects choice.

    This got me thinking about how visible (or not) learning is when the learner is not driving its direction, its content, its timing and its pace. Teacher-driven planning of learning leaves too much invisibility. If it doesn't work in the marketplace, how on earth can it work for learning in the classroom?
  3. Value
    Understand the medium and deliver. Online is cheaper, offers depth, reviews, suggestions, interacting with others.

    A basic learning in doing your research - too many student-driven projects are let loose before the students have done their research. The result is painful for everyone involved. Building apps like this forces you to research in depth and from the perspective of a potential customer, so empathy is trained and honed here.
  4. Variation
    Never come out of beta. You can constantly experiment using your feedback and stats.

    Lifelong learning anyone? This is the core skill of the app builder, and the core skill of any successful learner. It's just that this has a context some learners might grasp a little more.

I like Robert. He works for a company known for its constant agenda of change, change in itself and making change in the world. But I like Robert for the realism that he betrays now and then. As he put it:

"A great wind is blowing and that gives you either imagination or a headache."

Quite. Which one have you got?

May 13, 2010

[Book Review]: Yes We Did, Rahaf Harfoush

Yes-We-Did-Rahaf-Harfoush Rahaf Harfoush's "front row seat" on the Obama campaign's social media tactics and strategy, along with skills honed in the researching of Tapscott's Wikinomics, make her timeline of digital prowess and must-read for anyone in the marketing, comms, community-building or campaigning line of work. For the rest, it's a fascinating look into the actual role of technology in the famous election campaign, and how "tech toys" were really about inspiring offline community-building and fundraising.

Some would say the book is too simplistic, but I think it's just simple: describing social media tactics for what they are, as simple, reflective and responsive actions rather than a grand strategy only gurus can prepare. If the book reads itself quickly, it's thanks to a clear, consistent design (from Scott Thomas, Obama's design lead, talking here about that experience at Behance's 99%) and a writing style that breaks everything down to its simplest components. This makes it great for those not running large marketing, comms or media budgets, but for those of us who seek to make small iterative steps in the longer term.

She takes us through

  • how simple thoughts on branding, and providing branding elements for fans to use, was a solid grounding from which to build online services;
  • how social networking elements went to existing groups and networks rather than trying to recreate everything from scratch;
  • the power of email, potentially the central tool in the campaign;
  • the emerging potential of text messaging to influence and cajole;
  • how blogs were used to give a voice to many people in the campaign, not just to broadcast about me, me, me...
  • some of the techniques to make the most of video (i.e. produce lots of it, regularly);
  • how analytics proved a vital element in understanding how to communicate with the audience.

Harfoush spoke last week at Lift in Geneva on the power of social networking in the campaign (I spoke there two years ago on the power of social networking for learning communities) but, as Kevin Anderson points out in the first comment on Stephanie Booth's liveblog of the talk, it wasn't the newer, more social technologies that wielded the greatest impact on the political journey - it was email. Once again, it is the lowest common denominator technology that makes the biggest impact, something both Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody and Esther Dyson have picked up on, the latter putting it as:

sometimes we call intuitive what is really just familiar.

You can follow Rahaf on Twitter, see her speak at Alan November's BLC2010 conference this summer, or buy her book at the Store.

March 21, 2010

This Wednesday: Join me for a chat on the phone about adopting technology

Ewan McIntosh conversation
Ever wish you could discuss how a blog post might actually be applicable in your own school? Now's the chance, with an opportunity to join a phone chat with me and other educators from around the world this Wednesday.

Earlier this month I published my thoughts to date on what works best for school leaders (or anyone, given a word-change or two) wanting to bring their staff on board for behavioural, procedural or technological change. It's the first of a series of thought pieces with practical next steps for Cisco's GETideas platform.

My GETinsights 'Office Hours' chats

This Wednesday, at 9:00 AM PST/12:00 PM EST/4:00 PM GMT, you can join me and fellow educators for a discussion of the points raised there on the telephone and/or on the computer, by registering for the 45-minute Q&A session beforehand.

My "Office Hours" session is designed to take the wide brushstrokes of the blog post and talk about how it might apply itself in your own setting - the idea is that we can all learn from each other's stories, barriers, and opportunties. It's also a chance to challenge or pick up on points that need expanding from the blog post.

I hope you can join us. If you're West Coast US, it's the beginning of your day, East coasters can join at their lunch break and European teachers can pop in at the end of the school day. Those in the Far East can think of it as their bedtime story ;-) Any questions, just leave a comment here.

Picture Credit: Ewan McIntosh photography workshop, Shanghai 2008 from Brian Lockwood

March 07, 2010

Clarifications: Glow, VLEs, School filtering

Whether through over-zealous editing, poor transferal of interview material from me, over compression of complex arguments or the fact that newspapers feel they can only put online what little will fit in the paper edition (and in the case of the TESS, put even less online than in the paper edition), After being misquoted in a national education newspaper, for which the journalist has apologised (thanks), I feel moved to clarify some of the remarks attributed to me.

I also feel obliged to point out the boon that Glow, the national schools intranet, offers, something that will not make as sexy a story as the journos might want but which, frankly, matters a damn site more than their headlines.

1. Is "Glow the modern equivalent of a worksheet"? Absolutely not.

The original quote was lifted and, I believe, altered for Friday's Times Education piece, originally from an interview which coasted onto the subject of Glow and its Virtual Learning Environment. Glow does have a traditional VLE element, but VLEs and Glow as a whole are different. Becta, the UK technology in education agency, has its own take on what VLEs can offer and it is largely based around the administrative advantages:

VLE can help teaching and support staff manage and deliver a variety of daily tasks, including:

  • general class administration and organisation
  • the creation of lesson plans using existing resources
  • assessment and monitoring of students
  • allocation and marking of on-line assignments
  • discussion and support with students on line.

The various interactive tools of VLEs can also support learners with both class work and homework, and can cater for individual learning styles. For example, students can:

  • submit and track their assignments on line via a personal home page
  • contribute to and participate in discussions with classmates and other schools via the various conferencing tools
  • work at their own pace within and out of school – this is particularly beneficial to learners with special educational needs, such as students in hospital or children unable to attend regular classes for health reasons.

In this respect, I feel that most VLEs on the market today are like virtual filing cabinets, places where one can store virtual worksheets, PowerPoints with which to kill even more learners and summative assessment tools to finish off a few more.

Glow offers a VLE, with the summative assessment element hugely stripped back, reflecting Scotland's world renowned work in Assessment for Learning, but it packs in a heck of a lot more.

Most of Glow's impressiveness comes from its participation tools. Take, for example, GlowMeet. It is a game-changer, technologically to some degree but more through the imagination of teachers, Local Authorities and the central education agency managing the project, Learning and Teaching Scotland. In the past few months we have seen conferences between over 600 students and a world-famous author (though virtual book-signing still hasn't caught on), 1000 pupils learning about the Scottish puffin, a circus virtually attending school, and a master printmaker sharing his skill with the next generation.

It is a game-changer in that video conferencing with, say, Skype is a relatively one-to-one experience between classes. Glow encourages one-to-many and many-to-many experiences within a context, and as a result it helps spawn new connections between participating schools with a shared vision, shared outcomes and share culture that would take, relatively speaking, ions on the open, social web.

Case in point: when I was developing 22 international connections a year through blogs, wikis and podcasts at Musselburgh Grammar School I thought I was living the dream. It was just a shame that while we courted enthusiasm and links with schools on six continents, we failed to convince the teachers down the corridor that sharing materials and ideas and conversations online was a worthwhile exercise. Making international connections between learners is actually quite easy. Finding those connections within your own country can be a lot harder.

2. Do people who use VLEs change their pedagogy for the worse? Can VLEs "de-skill" teachers and students?

It can happen - and there's research to support this. The research is from the Higher Education world, but much of the VLE instructivist stuctures of HE VLEs like Blackboard are shared by one of the UK school system's most popular VLE platforms, the Open Source Moodle. The main risk comes from people using the VLE as their only technological tool, mistaking it for a learning tool rather than an organisational one, and not a) being aware of other potentially better tools for certain jobs out on the open web and/or b) not having access to them because of web filtering policies in individual schools or school districts.

This risk of pedagogical down-skilling is therefore very real in any environment where heavy blocking or filtering of communication and learning tools online (e.g. Web 2.0 technologies) prevents their use or prevents students and teachers experimenting to see what their potential uses might be.

Even if web access is opened, there is then a requirement to provide ample training opportunities in the pedagogical changes one might make in the light of these ever-changing toolsets on offer, especially for those who are less comfortable online. Without this, the likelihood, says the research, is that teachers will fall back to the lower, organisational baseline of technology on offer through the VLE.

Again, in Glow, things are a bit different. There is a toolset that is a) already far more than simply organisational, b) opens up both experienced and less experienced web users in the teaching population to learning opportunities afforded by video conference, shared whiteboards and asynchronous discussion through forums, for example, c) actually designed for learning and collaboration, not organisation, and d) constantly developing (since autumn 2009, at least) to offer tools more akin ot those available on the wider web, but with the added value of a Scottish education community (through authentication) with shared values, goals and outcomes.

3. We're missing the real story: internet filtering is our biggest challenge

Glow will gain more power to its elbow, however, when the abilities of teachers and students to incorporate more of the freely available, but currently blocked, content to their learning journeys.

This is not a Glow issue, though, and it's a mistake to blend the issue of filtering with the use of a VLE or communications and learning platform like Glow.

However, Glow's infrastructure offers an enviable world first in terms of reach and depth: not only is there a technical infrastructure, but there is a human one, one that can help set up those lessons of how to navigate the big, wide, wild web out there. To do it, though, we need the courage of Local Authorities to open up their access more and more, and empower this glowing network of trainers, students, teachers and enthusiasts to take the lessons we all must learn on web literacy and pass them on.

The way things are going, though, it looks like Scotland will be the envy of the world for its national intranet and the ugly duckling for its 20th Century approach to modern literacy. While England and Wales take the issue of opening up networks from blocked to managed to student/teacher-managed web access, Scotland's policy document doesn't even mention it - in fact, it copies the English statement word for word and strips out mention of how filtering should be approached.

This is the story. This is the sexy headline. This is the issue that we need to tackle much more aggressively.

I hope this is clear. I hope that it makes enough sense for people, should they wish, to challenge it or support it. I, frankly, want to move on, to explore and challenge this filtering issue. And, no, you can't quote me on that.

March 04, 2010

Blackberry email adds 10 working days to our year

Lost in Text

The Telegraph reports that the average Briton sees 10 extra days of work added to their year as a result of always-on email through devices like the Blackberry.

Yesterday, in a workshop that included an overview of some productivity tips for coping with more information, I made the point that for teachers more than any other profession, the notion of push always-on email was abhorrent:

  • Always-on email uses up mental bandwidth that, in teaching, is needed to concentrate on the 30 different learning challenges in front of you;
  • Always-on email encourages disorganisation in the sender's world: no email should ever be sent requesting a meeting any sooner than 24 hours ahead. If you need to see someone that soon, go and knock on their door. If you need a meeting with that person then the subject matter should be of such importance (and not urgency) that you can leave it so others can have time to prepare;
  • Always-on email is a distraction from doing the task in hand. If you don't think focus is important, then just spend some time in the world of Merlin Mann.
  • Always-on email outside the normal working day means you are working for free. If you need more time to do parts of your job that are not teaching then either a) ask for less contact time or b) lose some of your job that does not contribute to teaching your youngsters. Don't ask permission to do this. You're the professional, after all.

I was astonished, though, at the resistance to this concept. I'd have thought that good email management was a release for everyone, yet a few folk still felt that they had, in the course of the workshop and my keynote, received some useful emails which they wanted to think about. Fair enough, but they weren't concentrating, weren't able to concentrate, on the really challenging stuff I was trying to get them to think about. Their choice, and one I often make in a conference situation.

But we must always give ourselves the opportunity of maximum mental bandwidth at least once in the day to deal with the complex goals we're trying to achieve.

Pic from Kendriya in Andy Polaine's Lost In Text Flickr group (permission pending).

February 23, 2010

How Glow will almost certainly shine. Eventually

Andrew Brown
Once more a Glasgow Herald journalist chooses 2% of an argument in his quotation from a McIntosh and leaves out the more positive 98% that he could have printed but would not have made such a 'good' story.

Andrew Brown has indeed engendered "a new mood of collaboration" since he took over the Directorship of Glow, the national schools intranet in Scotland, in November - collaboration was something he, I and what felt like a small band of colleagues at the time felt was missing in so many parts of education. I can't wait to see what he pulls off in the longer term; he's already managing to move on from the hype of usage stats of sign-ins and sign ups and is talking about how he can make things better until a new version of Glow is commissioned later this year.

Here's the full text of what I said in an interview on how Glow may shine once more:

I firmly believe that Glow's biggest challenge is not its usability (Andrew Brown has already made simple, cheap, quick changes for the better in that respect) or cost (it's modest compared to startups trying to do the same). No, the biggest challenge is the approach Local Authorities take in implementing the internet that lives around and within Glow. Most Local Authorities in Scotland continue to operate locked down or highly managed internet access, meaning many of the most educationally useful content and collaboration websites, services and tools are unavailable.

This is not a-typical:
Hours of video archive on YouTube - blocked.
Weblogs where students can publish their work and accept feedback - blocked.
Wikis, where students can collaborate on writing documents together - blocked.
Social networks, where students can not only prune and make acceptable their 'social' face online, but also develop their future professional shop window - blocked.
Skype and other video conferencing facilities - blocked or made unworkable.

Glow was, at the time of its inception, a revolution in offering all of these functionalities at a time when they did not exist, at scale and for free on the open internet. If Glow has failed, it is by default of the tendering process of nearly all Government contracts, by not being responsive (or being able to be responsive) to these changes, not at least, to the degree that a purely commercial venture would have had to be in order to survive.

As these "emerging technologies" did indeed emerge and move more into the mainstream, Glow was still having to train people in the clicks required to do what, in the open market, was quicker and more intuitive to do.

There are four factors that will help Glow seize the day, in the right hands:

1. The new iteration of Glow offers great hope.
First of all, there is potential to offer something more innovative in the very tendering process that leads to the product. Something that demands more responsiveness, not prescriptiveness. Something that demands flexibility, not "deliver what you said you would, or else".

2. There is also technologically a lot more on offer to make something that encourages true lifelong learning.
Currently, it's not clear to learners, teachers and parents where the learning "on Glow" will go when our children leave school. Above all, that online portfolio of work, of students and of teachers, risks being lost when they leave the intranet to head into the Wild World Web. With open source technologies and more interplay between commercial social networks and blogging platforms, for example, there's potential for my portfolio of work, contacts and connections to move with me from school into the world of business, or simply the world of Facebook.

3. Socially people 'get' the point of connecting more than they did even two years ago.
Two, three, four, five years ago I was spending some painful time trying to convince people of the fact that learning knows no national boundaries, and that Glow should not have been about content, content, content. Making connections with people in the education system (and in Glow) and those outside it (and outside Glow) needs to be a key component of any future strategy for Glow.

4. We need local management of Glow to open up.
Local Authorities, the ultimate "deliverers" of the national intranet, either have to be encouraged to open their networks or, quite simply, overruled by central Government to do so. The latter should never have to be invoked. School children and teachers need to be able to access more of the content that is freely available on the web already, through the sites that I've mentioned already. It is not sustainable, when teachers are finding themselves unable to purchase pens and pencils, to spend millions on "content" to deliver online. Glow must not be a "million-dollar textbook". Instead, Glow's role as content provider should be demoted, even made redundant. Instead, Glow should be the connections-maker, a network of trusted links and connections in the same way as LinkedIn is fast-becoming the UK business world's network of trusted business connections.

Likewise, claiming that Glow offers a "safe internet", as some have proffered, is misleading at best, potentially damaging. Glow has the potential to be as risky as the dark corners of a 1970s school building. A platform doesn't remove the risk. Education does. Educating our youngsters and the teachers that have to lead them on this web journey should, in fact, become Glow's top priority of all (see Ofsted Research from February 2010):

Pupils in schools that use ‘managed’ online systems have a better knowledge and understanding of how to stay safe when using new technologies, according to a report published today by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

‘Managed’ systems are systems that have fewer inaccessible sites than ‘locked’ systems and so require pupils to take more responsibility for their own safety. ‘Locked’ systems make many websites inaccessible and although this ensures pupils’ safety in school it does not encourage the pupils to take responsibility for their actions or prepare them for dealing with systems that are not locked.

This is where Glow has been making some of its biggest gains, in taking new ways of working, learning and teaching to more teachers through its regular Glow Meets. I say "new" - many of us were working on low or no budgets to train colleagues in these tools up to six years ago, but with blocked tools and lack of support from those that believed "Glow will do that" we've seen great delays in schools being able to take advantage of what the rest of the world have been using more proficiently for some years.

Glow under Brown's leadership is increasingly seeing that support, that optimism that Glow might, one day not too long away, be able to "do that" and more.

The "more" is that it won't be catching up with the technologies that are all around it, but rather inventing new ones and new ways of exploiting what's out there already.

I'd hope that this is the last time that Glow is commissioned by the Scottish Government. But I mean this in a really positive sense:

If, within five years and with the wealth of technological and social promise on offer, a company cannot take on this mantle and make it a workable free venture in Scotland, and a tangible commercial one worldwide, iterative and churning innovation regularly for profit, something is wrong. I'd like to see our public money considered an investment, not a one-off grant to make a traditional publicly procured one-off service.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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