September 18, 2008

Enjoy an unflattened world in transit, in Hong Kong

It's rare that I do the "parachuting into a conference" kind of thing (in fact, I've never done it) and I've oft been heard lampooning the quacks and snakeoil salesman conference speakers who do. I like to get to know a location, its people, its goals well before I open my mouth to proclaim on what I happen to think is a useful way forward.

Unfortunately, with the desire to give my all to a new job, Learning 2.008 in Shanghai, China, is just that. Mea culpa, and I hope to make up for the lack of conversations I could have had in the days preceding this unconference-y conference over the next 46 hours. I'll have spent longer getting to and from Shanghai from Scotland than I will in situe, and have relied, jealously, on the morning views, sights, smells and random foot massages of my co-keynoters to fill in the cultural gaps I will undoubtedly miss this Friday and Saturday.

I'll enjoy this trip like many I've had this year, and have a slight tinge of sadness, too, as it marks the last of my long-haul endeavours for the forseeable future. This past year has been exceptional for my young family and me, beginning with a six week old Catriona making her maiden aeroplane voyage in a 60-hour round trip to New Zealand, where I presented to some of the most innovative, homogenous groups of 1400 people I have ever met. It's the only place where a session of cupstacking at breaktime ensued, involving some of the countries most senior education officials. The team at Core Education made us feel not like visitors, but like family, and took care of us (and Catriona) as if she was their own daughter. One of them is providing full circle this weekend in coming to Shanghai.

I've seen dedication to learning like no other in India, teachers who take innovation in their stride, quickly, and see the point behind the tool in terms of pedagogy. Brains like sponges, hearts of gold. I've been daunted by knowledgeable Canadians and heartened that there's always something new for everyone to learn. Frustrated everywhere with educators who think someone else will make the changes for them. Ready to hang and quarter the guys who came up with America's assessment regime.

Holland's educators inspired me with their respect for good design principles in learning, a desire for the process to be as elegant as the final product. Florida's language teacher community took me and my family into their home, figuratively and literally, and soaked up every opportunity to make learning (for themselves as well as their students) more engaging. My work with Alas Media in LA, soon to be released through Learning and Teaching Scotland's MFLE, made my want to move my family into their studio for a whole year in itself.

Ireland's opportunity to make a difference with nearly €250m, and my opportunity to help them, made me feel that those "up top" of the system really do have the learners' needs at their heart. Slovenia's seriously strong technology infrastructure and application of this to improve literacy blew me away.

Whichever shortsighted fool told us that the world was flat, I have a message in a bottle for you: it's not just spiky. It's undulating, with more variations than an American news columnist up a skyscraper could experience in a lifetime. It's full of people who want to connect, not so much on an equal (read: Western) basis, but on an equal basis of give and take, of compromise, of sharing of cultures. Why is it that technology can, sometimes, lead us to read from the same songsheet?

Personally, I prefer the countries where the music is incomprehensible. But beguiling. For all that I love the vibrance of cities with 25m inhabitants, and I've been in a few this year, the vibrance is astonishingly samey. It's when I've gone out to the smallest (and poorest) communities in the countryside where I've had the best craic, the most enrichening learning experiences, whether that is in the plains around Agra or the pubs of Islay. I do hope that the localised spikiness continues, undiluted by the global tools we create and use.

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Gosh.Just ... gosh.

Lovely post Ewan, I like the undulations, keeps folk light on their feet. As a monolingual bloke I've the advantage of a lot more incomprehensible music to choose from.

Good one Ewan Good luck for conf & keep it Spiky

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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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