And 70% have no access to information technology at all.
I'll be in South Africa all week, visiting schools in some of Cape Town's townships tomorrow, and on Wednesday meeting and interviewing the Vice Presidents at Microsoft responsible for making a truly global impact for their company, and for the country's 12million learners' futures in the years to come.
I'll wrap up the week with some of the most innovative technology stories emerging from around the globe as 400 educators converge on the Cape for a jamboree of teaching and learning as South Africa hosts Microsoft Partners in Learning's Worldwide Innovative Education Forum, the first time it's set foot on the continent, and 18 years after Microsoft set up its first office here.
This country does, without doubt, quickly present the digital divide in stark terms. Hotel internet is available at a good rate (about $15 a night), and it's fast. But only 70% of schools have access to any form of technology, and only a third of them have access to the web. Reza Bardien, the education lead at Microsoft South Africa sees the imperative to prepare the 12million learners here for the digital workplaces that await those who make there - everything from the restaurant to the shop where I bought my power adaptor runs of PCs with SQL databases.
But her admission that "it is a daunting task" is understatement to say the least.
Here's what I'm hoping to find: in a rapidly growing city in the global region fastest recovering from the global financial crisis with a population of whom 40% are under 18 years old, we will find creative approaches to engaging learners on their terms, looking at content that really matters to them, learning that is going to help them survive in the world they have around them. It will be a learning that we recognise in some ways - much in the same way as we recognise Chinese food in Chinese restaurants we've never been to before - but it certainly won't be in consistent and unwavering praise of that education heaven, Finland, and it won't be promoting the ideal model of learning as a North American one, the vision which, for the past month of charter school mayhem, assessment and standards groaning and Education Nation soundbites, one might feel is the only system worth discussing on the most common "international education" blogs and magazine sites.
I'm thinking that learning at these kind of extremes, as Charles Leadbeater has shown this past year in his report for Cisco (pdf) and subsequent TED Talk, offers some direction to those of us in Europe, North America and well-off Middle East and Far East countries. Seeing how learning has adapted here to be productive, I hope to be able to better envision what Scotland's learning might look like if we were to strip it back to its students' real, authentic needs, the needs that we might see pulling on us if we seek it hard enough, and not those that are pushed to them by curriculum, strategy and policy.
I can't wait to share my video (on my Vimeo channel and YouTube channel), photographs, tweets (#mseif) and reflections here on the blog and on the Huffington Post, about how learning from the extremes might offer some inspiration for troubled education systems on the other side of the equator.
If you have questions of your own that you'd like me to ask students, teachers or education leaders in the townships, or Microsoft's most senior education VPs, let me know straightaway, and I'll post their answers.
Discussions about how attention, finance and effort get spent on educational technology at a national level in any country all too often get drawn into a "We're right, they're wrong" play-off. It's been hard trying to formulate some thoughts after a meeting I was invited to last week by the Scottish Government. In Scotland, on the back of one day, at least, I felt the beginnings of a crack of enlightenment in some frank, sometimes painful discussions about where Scotland's educational technology line of vision might head in the future.
The discussion was conducted under Chatham House Twitter rules, in that the points from the discussion could be made public, but the person from whom they emaninated not. It meant that we were able to call it as it was, challenge and question each other for more detail. It does, though, make blogging about the experience tricky. I've been stung too often in the past from people with agendas, journalists who want to just make stuff up and those who oh-so-wisely but oh-so-naively believe it, by those who hear but do not listen.
There are some good roundups of the content of the day, and some of the discussions:
Instead of duplicating those points, I think I'd like to dump some perhaps unrelated thoughts that came up through the afternoon discussion I was part of, looking at learning from a student's perspective and thinking about what that might mean for a national technology for learning strategy.
1. Do we need Big IT doing stuff for us, can we just do it ourselves, or is there a sweet spot somewhere inbetween? With me on the day was Andrea Reid, a Quality Improvement Officer from the south of Scotland, and in her summary of the day she quotes one of her students, summing up a latent tension any centralised or national technology initiatives hold:
I was with a group of P7s and part of their group getting over a high wooden wall, with no footholds ( about 12 feet). It was one of those team efforts where everyone had to get to a platform on the top, and I promptly interfered and gave advice. One boy took himself out of the group and wandered off to the side – completely adamant he wasn’t getting involved. Eventually he came over and said to me – “Look when you stop helping us I’ll get involved.” Point duly taken I backed off and he worked with the others to get everyone over in a really fast time. His leadership and collaboration with the others was outstanding. At feedback later his comment to me was "When you learn to trust us to solve our own problems, you’ll find we can do it and even if we can’t we’ll have tried our best". Clever boy, who had been really hard going in class previously – disengaged and hard work. Big lesson for me…
The assumption that Government knows the problems that need solved and then goes in to sort it all out is one that has blossomed in the last dozen years or so. But, as we hit these times of austerity, it's the lack of cash to go around that's forcing (or allowing us to take advantage of) an attitude of "it's not what your country can do for you, it's what you can do for your country".
2. National technology for learning projects that are about connecting learners, parents and schools seem to have forgotten something: Facebook has all the mechanics required to do this, and the critical mass to make discovery of others easier. Facebook might only be useful for the adults and older students amongst our learners, but where it fails, Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin etc come to fill in the gap. Could we not harness the open market better, rather than trying to compete against them?
3. "Safe" is the (wrong) key word of most national learning technology initiatives. In Scotland, the 'safety' of Glow has been over-stated, and has been used as a crux by some to avoid delving into the issues that Facebook and other social networks and virtual worlds bring in the real world, both for adults and for children.
4. No online service should ever be so unintuitive and hard to use that it requires training to learn how to open it, let alone how to harness it for deeper or more collaborative learning. Design is vital, and has been ignored - is still ignored - in national education technology projects. Get BERG to do it right.
5. The underlying problem for national education technology has nothing to do with technology. We're solving the wrong problem by throwing money at training and code, when the real problem lies in collaboration itself. Collaboration across age, stage and school subject gets more difficult from nursery onwards. Nursery is the fragile balance between schooling, play and life-learning that we should struggle to maintain throughout formal education. Until we get to grips with how to better plan learning, particularly in secondary education, then the vast majority of "collaborative" technology is a wasted effort. We should be looking at how we can have more schools consider their curriculum through the lens of a learning wall, how they can generate truly student-led learning.
6. National collaborative technology projects assumed that the gatekeepers - parents and teachers - think sharing is a good, worthwhile activity. Sharing is a good thing, and is the lifeblood of great creative ideas (no hyperlink to prove it - there's a ton of literature and evidence out there; start off with my delicious links if you like). But vast swathes of teachers don't think so. If there are still relatively few teachers sharing on weblogs, for example, it has nothing to do with the weblogs or other choice of sharing tool, and everything to do with their perception that spending some time thinking, reflecting, committing to (e)paper and sharing that with as wide an audience as possible is a futile, useless, time-consuming activity that competes with many others of greater perceived importance. It would be worth £35m working out how to crack that one first.
7. National technology projects have largely failed to delight. The reason games-based learning is so popular in the past four years more than any four year period prior to this is down principally to the exponentially improving field of video game narrative, graphic, motion controllers, augmented reality and storyline. The second key ingredient in helping this culture spread is a committed (but tiny) team of individuals who can help empower teachers to weave their own stories around those video games, and in turn inspire learners to do the same. Had the Consolarium team been peddling ZX Spectrum text adventures in 2010 I doubt there would have been the same excitement and tremendous uptake of a new set of contexts for learning.
Great technology and national condoning and pushing of it have combined to delight.
While social networks, virtual worlds and social media have been delighting growing numbers since 2005, national technology projects have tended to not only fail to condone their use for learning, but to distract potential users - publish here, not there, they try to persuade us. "Facebook is used by teachers for their personal lives, not for learning" I've been told. But I don't play video games to learn, either, yet I and many others are happy to harness them for learning in a different context.
8. National technology projects tend to see decisions made on beliefs and passions, not on transparent data. I want Glow's homepage to tell me:
monthly unique visitors
segementation of visitor types: teachers, learners, parents, admins, LTS staff etc.
number of pages served
number of unsuccessful log-ins
percentage of returning visitors each month
peak user access times
key pages served
I then would love to see data-driven decisions taken as to whether certain elements of Glow are working or not, and a weekly or monthly trial of new ideas to see if the public bite. If data is made public then we can see the rationale for decisions, rather than seeing them being made on gut insinct, the legacy of the project's history or who has been involved at any one point. I could ask for that information monthly on a Freedom of Information request. Or we could just see the decision-making process as transparently as it should be.
9. In Scotland we tend to be happy with being the first in the world, not the best in the world. Glow was the first national schools intranet. It might be the last, too. The implication is that an intranet is the best medium through which to connect learners, teachers and parents on a learning journey. Why is it? It may not be.
Is there something less compelling about the International School Bangkok's portal of learning that Jeff Utecht has kicked off, connecting to the world, where every student and teacher regularly contributes their learning to each other (and anyone else who wants to listen in) through freely available and free platforms?
Or what about the part automated, part teacher-produced feedback mechanisms of the Indian Mindsparks platform, letting students learn new concepts and reinforce their classroom learning on their own terms?
By limiting ourselves to promoting so heavily what we were the first to produce we limit ourselves away from harnessing the great new platforms and communities that others have forged and which are quietly thriving.
10. In 2005 there was little truly great content on the web. In 2010 we're spoiled for choice. Having great content was one of the things Glow was sold on - successfully - in the early days. Like so many other things, the world changed faster than we could have imagined. TED Talks alone prove the huge value we place on world class content but, unlike much of its education content provider cousins, TED found a business model that allows it to make this learning material free, joining its closer cousins MIT Open Courseware et al. As YouTube seeks out new ways to let us rent or borrow content as and when we need it, what role is there left for a tiny national schools intranet as the curator of 'quality' content? Can one group of curators, however greatly qualified and localised in viewpoint, beat the cream of the world's global curators?
11. We don't want to consume content. We want to learn through experiences whose context is relevant and meaninful to me. Too many have told me about their Glow training sessions with this phrase: "We were told that 'this is how you put up your PowerPoints or class notes for everyone to see." The fact is, this is not the kind of learning we want. If someone feels that their learning can be swiftly and easily uploaded to a site in the form of a PowerPoint or worksheet then something is wrong. How can an online experience back up and augment the real world experiential learning we see in some of our best schools? How can that experience each child experiences differently be represented, shared and developed after the fact? It's certainly not through document stores and half-empty forums.
12. We want a sense of audience - sometimes that's beyond our class, school or country. The biggest challenge with any national platform is going to be that word - national. Our students are already empowered to go international every time.
Project-based learning, or PBL, that happens in schools nearly always seems to be based around fake problems. I don't know how we manage it as educators, but if we can find a lame problem that needs solving, we'll give it to the students. In turn, we largely end up with students who are happy to play the game of working our fake problems, and even proposing more fake problems themselves.
Design Thinking, the immersion, synthesis, ideation and prototyping process of creative thinking that I've witnessed in the creative industries for the past three years and have, for the past eight months tried to bring to more schools around the world, is about solving real problems. The type that affect real people's lives.
Part of this is to do with the physical space of the learning environment, something we can work on in small steps or in revolutionary renovations and rebuilds, as I described last week. Some of this we can do, though, through our aspirations and subsequent actions.
From the Stanford d.school site comes this story, showing how something as 'traditional' as "studying a book for English class" can be given the Design Thinking treatment and come out a far richer, far more educational and far more useful experience for all concerned:
Her students were reading the novel Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, and their design challenge was to "create a way for inmates to feel more comfortable in their cells." They used details from the book and pictures from the Internet to immerse themselves in imagining what living in a small cell would be like. Melissa gave her students cameras and Andy asked if he could take the camera to the jail where his father was currently serving time and bring back pictures to add to the class observation chart. Andy had not visited his father for quite some time.
At the facility, he was not allowed to take pictures. Instead, he took detailed notes. He also brought the book with him and read to his dad for over an hour. In recounting this story, Melissa said that she believed that Andy just needed a reason to visit his father and felt that he could contribute in some way to him though this project.
Soon after, she noticed that the book began traveling with Andy everywhere. It was always in his hand as he walked through the hallways, replacing his ever-present football. She believed that it became symbolic to Andy, representing a bonding moment between him and his dad, and a connection that he had been he yearning for. The following week, Melissa brought the class to the Elmwood Detention Center to prototype their designs. While there, Andy met Sergeant Liddle ,who tested their prototypes. After his positive experience at the prison, Andy has set a goal to become a police officer. Since that challenge, Andy has not yet been back to see his father and his football has returned to his hand. However, the design challenge became the hub of a wheel for Andy that brought together family, literacy and community.
In 6 minutes 40, the 20 ideas I think will affect educators in a big way in the next couple of years. This appears as part of New Zealand Core Education's EDTalks:
20. QR Codes and other smart mobile means of making the real world expand into the virtual world will become commonplace in the pockets of our students. With Layar you could craft a living history of your school transposed onto existing real-world buildings viewed through a smartphone camera. 19. We will gain a better understanding the hype curve, and what types of behaviour with technology can be spotted along it. 18. This gives us a chance to shorten that lead time to get to the learning quicker 17. Anything 'touch' changes the game, not necessarily because of the device itself but because of the way it affects the design of everything else around us, especially websites. 16. More will leave the desktop and go online, whether it's MIT's Scratch heading online next year thanks to the MacArthur funding we awarded earlier this year, or 15. Making real life products that students can feel, touch and use will be where the best learning takes place. Students will stop "doing" stuff at school and will more likely "make" stuff at school. 14. We'll think about how we build more interaction into our virtual spaces but also our physical spaces. 13. Think how engagement of the senses can do something as simple as encourage people to walk up the stairs rather than take the escalator. 12. The last 30% of our planet will get online in the next year as more of the world, south of the equator, gets powered up and online. This will mean an explosion in connections. 11. These connections will nearly all come from Africa and South America initially - most African countries are at the birth of their internet journey. 10. When we start collaborating with all these new partners at scale, we'll find that the ultrafast broadband of which our schools are so proud will become, rather quickly, slow-feeling. 9. This is especially true thanks to our changing TV habits. We'll be watching more television online than we do on the television, which will contribute to this higher demand for bandwidth. 8. We'll actually watch less television, but all of it online. Television choices will start to be made for us, using algorythmns to work out what we might want to watch based on our friends' and our previous selections. 7. We'll also stop just watching the television, and start interacting even more around it, online more than with the people in the same room as us. Maybe education will have a second chance at getting television use for learning right. 6. Understanding open data will become more important than social media has been in the apst five years. 5. This means, in the next two years, we might actually find ourselves with a teaching population that is more illiterate than the youngsters they are teaching, as this basic skill of understanding complex data is mastered by young people quicker. 4. There will be less money for spending in education, and innovation will start to appear as a result. 3. Open Source technologies will increasingly make us question why we spend so much on corporations' pay-for technology when so much else is available for free from passionate communities of practice. 2. The innovation will start to appear not from big industry making big things that do things for people, but from 'small' people in their bedrooms and startups making things that empower people to do stuff for themselves, and that includes learning. 1. And the people we're empowering will come at all ages, all cultures. The lead time for people to understand how they can become collaborators, makers and doers has decreased from the years and months of the industrial age to hours and minutes for new generations. Just see it in the way my daughter reacted to Skype over four minutes, from horror to fear to curiosity to comfort.
Young people do, and they might just care about privacy more than the adults who care for them. That's what I pick up (with all caveats r.e. my reading between lines as well as on them) from the fascinating research on late teens and privacy that danah boyd has published with Estzter Hargittai:
Overall, our data show that far from being nonchalant and unconcerned about privacy matters, the majority of young adult users of Facebook are engaged with managing their privacy settings on the site at least to some extent...
...Based on data collected in early Fall 2009, Pew found that 71 percent of the 18–29–year–old social network site users they surveyed reported changing their privacy settings while only 62 percent of those 30–49 and 55 percent of those between the ages of 50–64 had. While Pew’s practice–oriented data do not measure youth’s attitudes towards privacy settings, the findings do suggest that younger users are conscious enough of privacy issues to take measures to manage which parts of their profiles are accessible.
While the paper is concerned with students in higher education, who have by now left the high school nest, I think there are some conclusions that we could work backwards into high school and even primary school, given that many in late Primary / Elementary are already experimenting with Facebook.
Above all, I'm increasingly aware of how little research we have in Scotland, in the UK and further afield into how young people approach social networking in our countries. Most of what teachers and school-based decision-makers here see is based on "assumptions that all users have a uniform approach to the site and how their accounts are set up are incorrect [leaving] certain user populations especially vulnerable."
I've also observed a marginalisation of any institutional action around how we teach youngsters to use social networking sites effectively in a schooling setting, with the shield of school intranets and virtual learning environments as "safe internets" abounding since 2006 (about the same time Facebook went public).
Notable in the report are some clues as to how we should approach our discussions and learning opportunities around Facebook with young people. Traditionally, in the UK at least, fear has been used as the number one blunt instrument to get young people thinking about privacy. CEOP (the "chop shop") are the UK agency responsible for chasing up and prosecuting instances where children's protection is compromised, yet their voice of "stranger danger" vastly overpowers those that point out the relatively larger benefits of taking some measured risks online.
Let's consider this notion first, as an adult. As an adult running his own company, but also as someone who wants to learn from other's experiences, I have learned and earned more from publishing my mobile phone number (it's +44 791 992 1830) and a safe contact address (i.e. not my home) as well as my general location (Edinburgh, but also other places I might end up day by day through the Dopplr platform).
But these arguments, as I say, are all too often drowned out by the far more conservative (and therefore far easier to condone and express in public) attitudes that one should try to limit one's public sharing as much as possible, sharing only with those we know we know we know, the implication having been that we've met them face-to-face. Government officials request features that sound great, like the Facebook panic button, but which actually create more problems for those who really need help. And the argument that employers will not want to see your real life shenanigans online is just too distant a worry for most teens and tweens. That's just not the way the online world works when these youngsters hit late teen-hood and adulthood. We need to educate, not stipulate.
What approaches might work for increasing awareness of privacy management?
One simple approach to helping youngsters get an even better handle on how to manipulate their privacy settings in the way that will best work for them is just to talk about privacy settings. When Facebook prompted their own users to think about their privacy settings with a welcome screen message:
35 percent of users who had never before edited their settings did so when prompted. Facebook used these data to highlight that more people engaged with Facebook privacy settings than the industry average of 5–10 percent (E. Boyd, 2010).
We also learn that “a student is significantly more likely to have a private profile if (1) the student’s friends, and especially roommates, have private profiles; (2) the student is more active on Facebook; (3) the student is female; and (4) the student generally prefers music that is relatively popular (high mean) and only music that is relatively popular (low SD).” Therefore, if we can get friendship groups rather than class groups in school to learn together about these principles,we might stand a better chance of creating a culture of understanding about privacy.
What also shines through this report is that more frequent users of Facebook change their provacy settings more often, engaging more with the concepts of privacy the site throws up:
Avoid fear as a means of making young people think about privacy
The main reason we heartily discourage young people from engaging with those they know they know is fear: fear of stalking, bullying or making friends with someone you've never met face to face. boyd points out the shortfall of 'fear' as a tactic for instructing media literacy in youngsters:
While fear may be an effective technique for prompting the development of skills, the long–term results may not be ideal. The culture of fear tends to center on marginalized populations and is often used as a tool for continued oppression and as a mechanism for restricting access to public spaces and public discourse (Glassner, 1999; Valentine, 2004; Vance, 1984). To the degree that women are taught that privacy is simply a solution to a safety issue, they are deprived of the opportunities to explore the potential advantages of engaging in public and the right to choose which privacy preferences and corresponding privacy settings on sites like Facebook serve their needs best. For example, many young people value the opportunities to participate in communities of interest or peer–based production (Ito, et al., 2009). These communities support a wide variety of public practices — they serve as a distribution channel for participants to share artistic creations or promote their bands; they provide infrastructure for participants to learn about their practice or develop new skills; and, they provide a cohort for collaboration. In interviewing teens, boyd (2008) found that some girls who wanted to participate in these public forums were too scared to do so. Fear paralyzed some girls, limiting their engagement with some of the “geeking out” communities that Ito and her colleagues (2009) highlight. Furthermore, by adopting and promoting a gender–differentiated narrative that focuses on women’s safety matters, core issues about privacy that concern both men and women get overlooked. While our data do not allow a direct examination of these questions, future work should examine the role that safety rhetorics and fear play in online participation and practices.
So what are those core issues about privacy that we might be overlooking in our quest to fear youngsters into a media literate approach to networking?
"This is nothing like school. In school everything runs quite smoothly… You learn a lot more [this way]. I never knew how hard it would be to fight for your own job."
These are students talking about a student-driven project around the theme of a soap opera, whereby they had to create a non-scripted soap opera production, with the story of a paper plant about to go bust. It was initiated by the art teacher, but encompassed much of the business, language and creative side of the curriculum. It's fleshed out in the video above.
The genius part is that their art lesson, rather than being a prep for recording the soap opera, became the "art club" of the bust company that in which they were playing their roles. Their choice, not that of their teacher (and, I'd argue, not something that a teacher would come up with in isolation were (s)he to be forward planning like crazy).
Alison Ferguson, the teacher, puts it like this:
"You're not teaching in isolation. You're teaching in a much more natural way, as you would if you were bringing up your own children."
This is part of a series of new videos the Scottish Government have produced to try to help parents understand how learning and teaching is changing to better equip young people for the future. I'd argue that they're ideal for those teachers who are struggling to see what it means, too, and more effective than the thousands of pages of 'guidance' and 'advice' given with the Curriculum for Excellence so far.
"Call me a grumpy old man, but I want my students to engage with ‘old’ technology – books, journals, articles, conference proceedings. face-to-face discussions in real time, learning to think on their feet…too often ‘new’ technologies get reduced to gimmicks and Wikipedia – I want students who can operate the tool between their ears (another piece of pretty old technology)…"
The eloquence of Stephen Fry in this BBC Virtual Revolution rush, above, provides some common sense to even out the 'grumpy old men' and women who proclaim the computer between our ears is what needs played more often.
The bit I particularly appreciate when dealing with grumpy olds is this:
"Where people make their fundamental error and criticise all this I think it's a danger and it's reducing our capacity to act as proper human beings is they think it's all this. Either sit in front of a screen of some kind tapping away all your life, going lol and, and, and being childish and not writing in proper English sentences or, you sit in an old fashioned study with books and you read properly and you engage property and you go for walks. Well I do both! And most people do both, it is not one or the other. "
You can download more rushes from the BBC Virtual Revolution programme and make your own version of the documentary. In fact, what a great exercise for students learning how the media can alter the outcome of a set of interviews purely by editing.
"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
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?
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?
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?
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.
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."
Will Richardson's blog, of late, has featured dozens of posts pointing out the impending doom one might feel as we realise learners (and tomorrow's workers) need to be self-starting, entrepreneurial people with passions they know how to exploit, but our education systems seem largely incapable of teeing them up for this way of thinking and learning. It's getting harder to see how we can motivate DIY learners. I'm always slightly disappointed that the posts finish just as the thought process should kick into action. There's never an easy path to beat out (or blog out) in changing our systems, it seems. But what if we consider that the problem is not systemic: it's just a challenge with individual teachers.
The notion that the world cannot change, and that we can't change within it, is more widespread than any of us can imagine. This is the fixed mindset, according to Carol Dweck, and it's not just stultifying if you work in an environment where questioning the present and changing things for the future is rare. It's fatal.
Colleagues who had heard Carol Dweck speak at the Scottish Learning Festival raved. They all said to buy the book and get my Dweck fix. If I wanted to understand why any stubborn students, teachers, parents and business colleagues were the way they were, then Carole Dweck's 'discovery' of the fixed mindset and growth mindset would explain all.
First of all, let me get the negative out of the way - this drug was a little too sickly sweet for more than a brief encounter - the writing style is indeed intended to be relaxed, accessible for a parent, coach, business person or teacher - and I think it is - but for me comes across a little too much like a self-referential "our theory will cure your life of all ills" bible.
That said, the assertion is a useful one, a handy framework for beginning to think about how as a teacher you might handle a particular group, or as a dad you might handle the Terrible Twos.
For Dweck and her research team a fixed mindset is about non-learning, taking delight easy unchallenging tasks. It's about having at least once proven that you are great at something (the degree, the gold medal, the "we did this first… ten years ago"), but then not taking the risk to show that your knowledge has grown, evolved to keep apace of the times, your competition or your peers. This is the very mindset I see more than a few times each week when highly successful teachers who have, say, twenty years of experience are loathe to create changes in the way they work for fear that they'll shake out all the reputation they've built. What Dweck's mindset research reveals is that twenty years doing the same thing twenty times over is a fixed mindset approach to work.
I recognise bits of this fixed mindset in myself and in plenty of my peers. To have it spread over a few chapters really makes you realise the elements of thinking on which it's worth taking a moment of reflection in the future.
She points out that the ultimate in modern day fixed mindset benchmarking - Alfred Binet's IQ test - was designed to be a summative tool, to help show what work needed done to improve the learner's aptitude. I also began to wonder how many of those curating examination systems around the world also intend their examinations to act as summative tools, as assessment as learning or for learning, only to see their devices in the hands of policymakers and politicians turned into yet another Binetesque test.
The reason, Dweck asserts, that this fixed mindset is plain wrong, is that humans have for long shown that, with effort and desire, we can turn our hands to pretty much anything. Take a look, for example, at Betty Edwards' Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain, to see how people with about as much artistic ability as, well, me at the moment, were able to produce what I would call semi-pro work after merely five days of effort and tuition:
We also know that negative labels harm children (e.g. calling a child 'stupid' will generally reinforce their self-image as being stupid. That is why, in the long term, and certainly in the short term, it's not a great idea for an educator to do this.) Yet teachers use these 'stupid', 'incapable' labels on themselves all
the time. I hear teachers call themselves stupid or incapable almost weekly, without a
thought in the world that this may be causing harm to their own chances
of learning a new skill or approach to learning and teaching.
The professional non-learner
Since 2005 I've spent most of my time not looking at how young people learn, but at how teachers and parents learn. Or don't learn. Dweck cites one of her professors Seymour Sarason (p.201) -
"There's an assumption that schools are for students' learning. Well, why aren't they just as much for teachers' learning?"
I often feel this way about educational conferences and seminars, especially those where, at some point, we see a group of impeccably dressed and rehearsed coathanger-smile students share with us their "learner voice", so well briefed by the teacher beforehand. This form of learner voice can end up being more of a distraction away from the deficiencies in the teachers' learning of the subject in hand than a genuine effort to take students' views and bake them into teachers' actions. Notable exceptions, by the way, are the Be Very Afraids, Becta X (disclosure - I helped bring that together) and, by word of mouth, Lehman's Educons - must get myself there next year.
This fixed mindset mentality is, I believe, probably at its most unashamedly visible in the teaching population in one specific area: understanding technology, both in terms of the clicks (how to) and the smarts (why to). The moment someone utters the phrase "digital natives and digital immigrants" they are simultaneously putting themselves into a position that runs contrary to their job description (teacher as learner, continually developing professional) and unwittingly tarring their profession with the same static, fixed mindset.
"Digital immigrants" as a phrase seems to come straight out of the "fixed mindset" - the inability to become fluent in something. But likewise, calling anyone under 35, 30, 25… a "digital native" is also forcing the fixed mindset on them. If anyone were to believe that an expert web programmer in 2000 were today of the same standing they'd be laughed out of the room. Likewise, a 10 year old in 2005 did not have the skills they require aged 15 to cope with the technologies they face today (from a pre-YouTube era to a Facebook and 3D television era), and unless they operate within a rapid growth mindset they will be unable to cope in 2011 when one in five British television sets alone will be internet and web browser enabled.
Might it just be that young people tend to be more likely to be of more of a growth mindset than over 30s, over-35s? Are we more likely to find teachers that are non-learners than those who pride themselves as being the Learners In Chief?
A professor from the Kellogg School of Management wondered: what rules do the bouncers at exclusive night clubs use to filter some clientele into the club and leave others out in the cold?
Bouncers weighed each cue differently. Social network mattered most, gender followed. For example, a young woman in jeans stood a higher chance of entrance than a well-dressed man. And an elegantly dressed black man stood little chance of getting in unless he knew someone special.
It's another reason that we need to raise an expectation that social networks' ins and outs need taught rather than caught. All amateurs get their appearance wrong at some time - we all get refused entry to the club. But some of us get refused less often than others since we learned, or were told, how to dress, behave and hang out to get the things we want in life.
Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.
His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.
Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?
In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.