October 16, 2006

Passion sitting under our noses

Shel has beat me to the blogosphere with the account of an excellent evening in the Scottish Borders where we hooked up with Don Ledingham and talked social media, education and making things better.

Img_2990 Walking around Dryburgh Abbey (pics on Flickr) with a pint of 80” in hand I was constantly reminded of how our past really leaves a lot under our noses when it comes to thinking about creating a new product, nurturing it and releasing it to the wild. Example: I would have thought the large number of oak trees around the ruined abbey might, in fact, have been a reason in its downfall. This thought comes more from the weeds currently undermining the foundations of my block than anything else. But, in fact, these trees were created because the builders knew that in 300 years there would be a need for good, strong oak to replace the beams of the abbey. When we talk about sustainability in projects we often get sidetracked into details far too complex and contrived when in fact our own oak trees are sitting under our noses.

The other thing that really impressed me is the way that Rick was able to push Don and me into explaining the hows and whys behind the social software movement in education without coming close to putting backs up or making people defensive. Impressed because so often when Directors or senior managers in the education business do so they come across more Dragons’ Den than Critical Friend.

Img_3027 One of these things affects us all – how do you know that social media is going to make a difference? Our immediate answer might be motivation and improved student/teacher experience in and outside school. But quantifying this has, in the past, been really difficult. This is where East Lothian’s SELS package (Student Evaluation of Learning Software) comes into its own. Don has collected four years’ worth of data on what students in one year group think of their education in different subjects. This data has been fed back to teachers in one school. Now we are carrying out this online anonymous surveying of ‘customer’ views over three points in their school career before feeding back the information to individual departments and teachers, providing support to those teachers to help them improve the experience for their learners.

This raises eyebrows because for so long teachers have had lifelong tenure and schools haven’t had the ability to move on unengaging unengaged teachers. But deep down, does every teacher not want to improve? If we scratch the cynicism we find do we not find passion?


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The key to making SELS work is putting it in the hands of teachers. Student Evaluation of Learning only really becomes alive where the teacher is doing it for themselves - not because somebody else does it to them.

It's important to wrap layers of motivation around evaluation tools. People getting evaluated need to be motivated to engage with the results of the evaluation before they realistically commit to changes.

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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.

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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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