June 04, 2007

Citizens of the future: From employers to Further Education

Citizens_of_the_future Further Education trains our country's young people in such a wide array of skills that it's always going to be hard to come up with the perfect example for the subject you teach or learn. However, in today's talk and follow-up roundtable on the Citizens for the Future I facilitated a discussion through the possibilities each individual lecturer, tutor, student or administrator could start building on.

In Friday's presentation to employers in the fastest moving parts of the tech, design and creative industries I started out by expressing the pressure that Further and Higher Education feel to provide employers with qualified staff. Today, I guess the message to FE/HE was that the pressure for rounded, competent individuals who can collaborate and communicate effectively is arguably greater than that of qualifications.

Summary of presentation notes
The main notes for the presentation can be found in Friday's Reboot conference entry, for "Citizens of the Future". These notes might help provide some reminders of the main tech and pedagogical points I made. For some basic pointers as to getting started with all this stuff on a purely tech note, some of the starter notes on tools we made with East Lothian Computing Studies teachers might provide a starter for ten. If you're thinking about how you could use social media to promote your organisation, your trade (if you're a student) or your course then I'd recommend following the copious links in one of my favourite posts: "Just Because You Can Blog Doesn't Mean You Should".

Technologies The Blogging Plumber and why entrepreneurs need to blog
At most of the gigs I go to an entrepreneur is normally the Last.fm type, seeking out his nine figure buyout from The G Y M. Today, our entrepreneurs were more likely to be the plumbers, joiners, electricians, hotel staff, chefs, tailors or programmers of tomorrow. Why, on earth, say some people, would a plumber need to blog? Well, the short answer is: "they don't".

The longer answer has something to do with competitive markets in every vocation, the notion of the lifelong learner leading to the lifelong self-employed individual. If you can get any headstart on your competitors then you're going to do better, and blogging is a low-impact, low-risk strategy for someone to potentially make a huge difference further down the line. It might not, of course, be blogging per se, but publishing anything about what makes you tick, what you do to make you better than the rest, is worth spending the iota of time required.

Just ask the Sprinkler Doc what difference blogging has made to his profits or how much more the horticulturalists in this Australian course have learned from their collaborative wiki (an editable webpage, this one produced on wikispaces [free for teachers]). You might also ask Thomas Mahon how his suit business has come on since he started blogging two years ago, or how on earth a tiny South African vineyard had its wine become the wine of Scottish educational bloggers, of Silicon Valley and increased its sales fivefold in two years.

If a plumber or electrician can do the most basic of learning logs as they work on apprenticeships then they are already laying the ground for a successful self-employed future, a literacy on what goes and what doesn't and a crash course on web marketing in the 21st century. It's not an entirely foreign skill since so many of th students taught by today's tutors and lecturers are being thrown off Bebo in their college courses each day. It's time to harness their passion and push it in a profitable direction.

Are you faking it?
The one thing about students is that they smell a fake a mile off. Most VLEs are, to be frank, the most unappealing, unsexy, unused (and therefore pretty useless) investments that can be made. Free (and much more appealing, socially interactive) learning environments can be created with tools such as eduSpaces, Moodle or Word Press MultiUser (the latter a blogging tool which has helped create individual learning environments for over a quarter of East Lothian teachers over at eduBuzz.org).

Pink The thing is, the corporateness of most VLEs just seems 'fake' to most students. It's school trying not to be school. It's that walled concrete 1970s building trying to be innovative, open 24/7, but it's not a place I want to be when I can be in my online space (which is fuschia pink today and bright blue when Rangers play on Saturday). When things are fake (like David Cameron's ill at ease performances in front of the camera on his video weblog) then they get ridiculed or ignored (Cameron was ridiculed, and this performance garnered a lot more coverage than the legit website. Ouch.). Most VLEs, from the sound of today's chit chat, are ignored.

Social Media can bolster the VLE
While I'm not suggesting that colleges should go into the playgrounds of their students in Bebo, MSNSpaces or MySpace, I think these environments lend a lot to us in terms of what makes a community tick and want to spend a quarter of their daily 200 minutes a night online. My addiction to Facebook at the moment is mostly down to catching up with friends, contacts and friends of contacts I only ever met briefly face-to-face but from whom I can now learn when I want, where I want. Basically, it's about the people on it, not the PowerPoints or notes that I can find. Learn that lesson, and we can start to see how social media actually begins to bolster the VLE, giving it a role quite separate from the one our students are quite capable at working well in their own online social playgrounds.

Myst Theory from game-making to start organising teaching and learning
I had great fun showing what lessons we could learn from playing - and seeing work as play - if only we could steal the time to have a think. The first thing was showing what a game was, that is, with things like Tim Rylands' work with Myst we're far from the days of playing Pong, a game kids now make for free with Scratch. I also showed off some of the Bournemouth Uni research into the use of Nintendo DS's Dr Kawashima's Brain Training to improve medics' numeracy skills - and played a disastrous stroop test (40 years old again :-(.

However, the leveling up of the player in games like these, the constant quizzing of oneself and desire to communicate with friends to find out the answers in games like Samorost, all of this offers clues as to how course design can be harnessed for positive change in teaching and learning. College courses are painfully broken down into their constituent parts - it's no wonder students are left questioning why they are doing something when the whole story can only be seen retrospectively at the end of study.

What the probing and questioning in Samorost or Myst shows us is how this 'bittiness' can be used to our advantage when we do have all these small modules and courses - turn them into levels, where cheat sheets can be created by students who are there first for those who are slower. You can choose to use the cheatsheet for fewer marks or carry on struggling through until you get it yourself. The process of teaching (for the stronger students) takes some to their zone of proximal development, while learning by doing keeps those weaker students engaged.

Just an idea ;-).

Don't integrate. Evolve
And this is it. These are all just ideas until someone tries them out. We are already seeing oodles of innovation all over the country around some of these ideas. I know no-one who's attempting them all and that's just as it should be. If we spend less time on each one, just 'integrating' it into our teaching and learning, then we will see more and more old things taught with new toys.

What we have to do is choose one or two of these ideas and run with it as long as it takes, failing a little, sharing how and why so that our collective intelligence helps everyone. Eventually we'll not have integrated technology, we'll have done something far more powerful. We'll have evolved our teaching and learning to a new level.


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If you are at all familiar with Roger Shank, he argues that VLE's are not encountering success because we are doing the wrong thing with them. It is much like when movie cameras were first invented, the first movies were of plays. Good theatre does not make for good cinema. In the same way, we're trying to take the way we do face to face delivery of education and put that on-line. It is not the appropriate message for the medium. No wonder it feels fake to the students. We do need to rethink the use of VLE's to find a better content more aligned with the interactive nature of the medium.

Hi Ewan, we all found your presentation really informative, fun and creative, I hope your experiences will allow us the freedom to expand on our use of blogs so far on our fine art courses at Telford.

please have a look at our blog


at let us know your thoughts if you have a spare mo!


neil m

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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.

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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