37 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

August 27, 2011

Why Eric Schmidt is only partly right about science & technology education [#mgeitf]

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was the first non-television exec to deliver the McTaggart Lecture at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival last night. A core part of his talk was on the state of "UK education", and how "over the past century, the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. You need to bring art and science back together." Britain should look to the "glory days" of the Victorian era for reminders of how the two disciplines can work together, he said. 

"It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges. Lewis Carroll didn't just write one of the classic fairytales of all time. He was also a mathematics tutor at Oxford. James Clerk Maxwell was described by Einstein as among the best physicists since Newton – but was also a published poet."

"I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn't even taught as standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made."

It's a shame, though, that he didn't Google a little more on the education system of the country in which he was speaking. Scotland.

There is no such thing as "UK education", only English and Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish. The latter is significantly different from the others, and programming is a core part of our curriculum for excellence Technologies strand, from age 3 through to 18.

It's why my daughter learns input-process-output at nursery school (kindergarten) through computer programmes and robots. It's why the literary structure and coding expertise needed to create a computer game is taught in more and more primary (elementary) schools. It's the reason that the very "learn how to use, not how to make it" approach to software has been questioned for the last eight years or more in Scottish computer science circles, and moves are made to reinstate the importance of programming at secondary (high school) level.

It's why our definition of 'text' in the Literacy (arts) guidance moves well beyond "the three Rs" and includes the likes of text messaging, computer games and the web at large.

In England, the education minister has gone from not mentioning technology at all in his curriculum and policy plans, to making piecemeal and out-dated contributions about how technology provides a great carrot and stick for learning. The differences between this and the forward-looking ambition of his Scottish counterpart are stark.

Yes, the McTaggart lecture is designed to "boil down to anger and arch-villains, impossible proposals and insults". But, Mr Schmidt, before going in for a great, potentially constructive insult for our neighbours, please accept an invitation to discover more about the country - and its own education system - that you have been kind enough to visit.

Read the McTaggart lecture in full.

Photo from TechCrunch

May 10, 2011

We made history: lessons for learning from co-directing a Scottish election landslide campaign

Election SNP edublogs

"The best new media team in UK political campaigning history."

It was with immense pride in what we had achieved as a country, and the part I had played as part of a genial team, that I heard these words from Angus Robertson MP, the Director of the 2011 Campaign for the Scottish National Party (SNP), as we celebrated a Scottish Parliament election win with a majority that, in the theory behind the design of the Scottish Parliamentary system, was never meant to be possible.

NoTosh SNP election campaign coverage I've written in greater detail about the strategy behind our winning campaign, and linked to much of the press coverage on this in the last few days, over on the NoTosh website. But there are lessons from this political campaign for those of us trying to build better learning communities. At the core of the online campaign was, after all, community building, and we did it in short term, with next to no budget, to great effect.

No-one in the UK - or Europe - has come close to what a small HQ team, a couple of external team members (NoTosh friend Ian Dommett, myself and a team of crack creatives), and legions of volunteers and activists achieved over the past 100 days. The newspapers, the Party's leaders and tens of thousands of commenters on our Facebook pages and blogs have put it quite simply, using five words: "We won. We made history". A map of new constituencies in the Scottish Parliament 2011-16When I started work on the campaign's digital strategy and tactics, with 100 days to go to polling day, all polls indicated that the Labour party were set to win: at one point we were 15 points behind challengers, the Labour party.

Hope did, indeed, beat fear. We redrew the political map of Scotland and, by engaging every demographic out there, helped make concrete the fact that the SNP really is Scotland's National Party.

We helped shift the public viewpoint from one where, six weeks ago, the party languished some 10-15 points behind Labour, to one where it finished with an outright majority of 69 seats in the 129 seat Parliament, a majority of Scots wanting a Scottish government working for Scotland in the form of the SNP.

The press have covered our campaign strategy, particularly the digital part I was lucky enough to co-direct with the inhouse head Kirk J Torrance. You can read about this in detail over on the NoTosh website. It's worth pointing out in that article the reference to the design thinking approach we took to generate, prototype and move forward over 100 ideas of digital and offline media engagement, an approach that resembles enquiry-based learning techniques and which generates significantly more workable, responsive ideas than drawing up papers, annual plans or working in isolation in a leadership team suite of offices.

There are a few points about this project which I feel have pertinence in so many domains, not just political campaigning, lessons which could be extracted to the world of learning, school leadership and building better learning communities:

  1. Online activism is not PR: it actually creates change in the real world (including that most critical of offline actions in an election: vote for us), rather than just creating the perception that something is changing in the real world.

    Most school websites are PR. Good school Facebook pages are relentlessly appearing on parents' and pupils' own feeds, at all times of the day and night, creating offline actions that are desirable (do your homework, here's some help, this parents' evening looks interesting - I might head along for it).

  2. Positivity and optimism are underestimated, underused, under-believed-in
    All those who live in the land of "Yes But" do not belong in successful teams. Believing your goal is possible frees the mind to work out how you're going to get there, and prevents wasted hours debating "if" things are happening, and frees up space to ask "should" things happen.

  3. Talented, passionate teams and a clear simple message are the can't-do-without ingredients for success
    I have rarely worked with such a bunch of hyper talented, yet quietly spoken, unassuming, modest and generous people as the team at SNP HQ. That passion and talent, together with that very Scottish attitude and "let's work together" ethos, is what created the Scottish successes of the renaissance and industrial revolution, and will see us through the development of our next revolution in being at the centre of the Green Economy Reindustrialisation of Scotland. It certainly had a top place in achieving success on quite this scale.

    Clear messages on the learning vision for a school are, in my experience, a rare beast. School leaders could do a lot worse than employ some of these election campaign tactics in creating, honing and sharing their clear vision of learning with the school community at large. It's not good enough to say "We're all about learning". Are you about "Engaging youngsters and creating smiles every day"? Or are you about "The best examination results you can get". The former will almost certainly lead to the latter, but placing examination results as your core message will leave people in no doubt as to their decision-making process when faced with the choice of going down the avenue of an interesting, deep, rich discussion, or thumping on with content that has been pre-set, pre-planned.

  4. Having the best leadership secures you success Peter Murrell, the Chief Executive of the SNP, holds all the qualities I've just described. He's quiet, hard to gauge at first even, but is the smartest mind in political campaign management in the UK, quite possibly in Europe. He is, without a doubt and with no offence to the amazing people I work with every day, the most dynamic, alert and decisive Chief Executive with whom I've ever had the pleasure to work.

    He, Angus Robertson and, of course, the leaders of the party in Scotland itself (notably those with whom I was able to work most closely: Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney), gave us permission to go with what our guts, and our data, told us felt right to do. "If you ever need anything" was the most common phrase I heard which, as an external consultant, is a gift. Thank you to the leadership team for their confidence, their trust and their support in helping Kirk, the team and me get our ideas out into bits, bytes and relationships.

For me, this particular gig is now over. But there will be other elections, other campaigns. None of the lessons we've got here are anything that a half decent consultant with some life experience and an overdraft couldn't find out from their local book store and some choice reads on the web. That is why I have no issues sharing these elements of what some might call the "secret sauce".

The secret of any sauce is, of course, in the subtle turns of the ladle that the entire kitchen staff put in over a service and that service, my friends, I've been very lucky to be part of for a history-making 100 days.

March 08, 2011

Scottish Parliament Elections 2011: Is the SNP the only party with an education vision?

ScotlandVotes Education Hustings
When you listen to four politicians responsible for education and lifelong learning in their parties, it's remarkably easy to spot those with some savvy and those who choose to waffle on the clichés they think we want to hear.

At the Scotland on Sunday Education hustings this week the current Education Minister, Mike Russell, was at home sick, so the SNP's Lifelong Learning and Skills Minister Angela Constance took up the reins for the debate. She was joined by Des McNulty (Labour), Elizabeth Smith (Conservatives) and Margaret Smith (Liberal Democrats).

Angela Constance For all that she was a lastminute panel replacement, Constance was the only one speaking in terms of action, policy with the facts to back it up, with experience rooted in what she has seen herself in Scottish schools, on teacher unions' understandings of the current state of play and on the latest research, some of it commissioned by her Government over the past four years.

The others delivered platitudes, meaningless statements ("less indiscipline", "more testing", "more rigour") without any indication of what role a Government would play in achieving them.

Are we not all literacy and numeracy teachers?
Des McNulty from Labour believes that Scottish education is 'in a mess' because of decisions from the current Government and from Local Authorities themselves. He wants add 1000 extra teachers to lead on literacy and numeracy, despite the fact that when I was a teacher under his Government I distinctly remember them spearheading the approach of "every teacher is a teacher of literacy and numeracy".


The best practice from around the world shows that integrating higher aspirations for all children's literacy and numeracy throughout their curriculum leads to greater achievement in these areas, something that works the other way, too: skills learnt in one subject area are useful elsewhere.

That's why Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence is so vital: it's less something to be "implemented" from on high (with screeds of policy documents and advice sheets) and instead embraced from the teaching community, who, rightly, can expect more videoed examples from inside classrooms where the planning, the tactics and the teaching style can be observed in virtual-first-hand terms. A visit to the Journey to Excellence or Learning and Teaching Scotland websites shows that the current SNP Government have done just that, and the process of changing the habits of 150 years is well on its way - although it was always going to take longer than 4 years to see a wholesale 180 degree change in practice.

We're talking about upending existing notions of how we timetable, moving towards longer periods of learning, less movement around secondary schools, more practice emulating that of the primary school environment. This is what's increasing attainment in reading, writing and 'rithmetic in schools like the Stovner School in Norway, and countless other schools in the small-country systems we like to fetichise.

The opposite is what we see in England under Gove, whereby the Education Bill makes reference to "The Importance of Teaching" without looking carefully at what makes the best conditions for learning. Not only that, it does away with the key institutions for developing the quality of teachers in our classrooms.

Labour & Tory: Drive standards, test more
McNulty's other key platitude was that he wants to "drive standards with teachers". But what does that mean? Does he, along with his Conservative companion Elizabeth Smith, want to introduce "more rigourous testing, earlier, before students move on to secondary", testing the growth of our youngsters by pulling up their roots every six weeks? Do he and Smith want to increase the importance of "passing the test" later in school, and emulate the disastrous attempts to introduce "rigour" in the United States, which has left the arts, creativity and any teaching and learning outside the test out in the cold?

Greater rigour, and a return to 'traditional methods' as Smith put it, will meet only with disdain from our students, disengaging more of them at every turn. Look at what happened in Jamie Oliver's Channel 4 "Dream School" when Professor David Starkey, no doubt one of the greatest historians of his era with unbeatable knowledge, was unable to demonstrate, let alone inspire in his students, the kinds of soft skills so often berated by those who talk of "rigour": he exhibitted everything that's wrong with "rigour" in the classroom. Soft skills, which Starkey himself sees as less important than acquiring discreet areas of knowledge, would have saved him and his students much pain and embarrassment.

And engaging kids isn't about pandering to their whims. As David Price points out in his recent post on the Channel 4 series, engaging students is about appealing to their emotions, and, without that engagement of brain and emotion, deep learning cannot occur.

"I want to do something about indiscipline… [cue: tumbleweed]"
Finally, McNulty got tough: "I want to do something about indiscipline." Great. How? I do believe teachers have been trying for some time, and some of us have started to work out what it comes down to. It's about engaging students in the first place (see above, "Rigour"), involving parents more (they need to want to be involved, though - dragging kicking and screaming, parent or child, tends toward the ineffective), getting better in-class training on handling different types of students and support from better school leaders. Tell us, please, what your potential Government's role is in helping what we're trying to do already go faster, deeper, quicker.

Teaching the Teachers
While only the Tories are still daft enough now to think that Scottish students want to pay for their higher education, with Labour having changed their old position recently to align to that of the SNP, it was only the SNP who seem to have made the connection between Higher Education in general and those vital programmes that teach the teachers.

The Donaldson Report, commissioned by the SNP Government shows in no uncertain terms that higher investment in (free) teacher training is the only way to achieve long-term success in our classrooms. Not more testing. Not more textbooks. Not, as the SNP have nonetheless delivered, the smallest class sizes in Scotland's history (smaller class sizes inevitably make the teacher's job in developing youngsters easier). McKinsey's most recent research, as well as their 2007 report, repeatedly points out that teacher quality remains the sole factor in differentiating the average from the not-so-average education systems. Initial teacher education, yes, but above all continuing professional development.

This is one area, everywhere in the world, where Governments, teacher unions and teachers themselves can only ever work harder. It's mostly down to money and attitudes in the workforce - teachers need to know they can take up courses, take protected time out to reflect and do so without being told at the last minute they need to take the RE teacher's class again.

It is the SNP that has led the debate on Higher Education with the belief that higher education benefits society, not just the individual, says Angela Constance. She's right.

Invest in education and, generally, you always get more out the other side, and at least make some savings on the other budgets. Underspend or spend in the wrong places in education, and you might just break even, but the costs will re-emerge in health, justice and employment later on.

Education is the only Government spending area that really represents an investment. Everything else is spend. If we invest in education, in helping teachers improve day-by-day, the rest begins to fall into place.

[disclaimer: My company is currently working with the SNP on their election campaign's digital strategy. The views on this post are my own] 

October 26, 2010

My first Huffington Post: You Don't Have to Make cuts in Education to Save Education's Money

Late last week I had my first blog post appear on the Huffington Post, the world's most popular blog (though it's Ed section is significantly weaker than its celeb news, I imagine).

It was a riff on a piece I'd previously written up here, pointing out that if ever there was a point in public service spending history to take the time out to consider alternative solutions to the problems we face, it was now.

A forensic focus on growth, with a population that can break boundaries and innovate, does not come from harnessing traditional values of "cut back, focus on getting to the month's end intact". It comes from innovative policy-making first and foremost, with innovation flowing from the rest of us accordingly:

If I said that the worst solutions for the challenges you're facing might just be the best way out of a tight spot, would you believe me? If I suggested that one terrible idea could save a U.S. school district up to $25 million a year -- cutting an education budget and maybe even increasing teacher numbers -- would you be more interested?

As nations around the world seek to save money in their education budgets -- the U.K. seems an exception to the rule with its $8 billion increase in education, it's only budget increase at all -- we might wonder whether creative flair in decision making might be more effective at saving money than the budget holder's red pen.

When you ask a room of teachers or policymakers to come up with their "best" solutions to a problem you often tend to get great ideas, but not always the best ones. They can be contrived versions of management speak and almost always involve some self-censorship from the team: people don't offer anything up unless they feel, explicitly or subconsciously, that it will get buy-in from the rest of the committee or that favored butcher of creativity, the stakeholders. People's "best ideas" for saving money generally involve generous doses of "chop this" and "cut back on that".

At a time when education budgets have never been smaller, and are only going to get even more so, the kind of thinking that defaults to the "old ways" of doing things -- expensive committees, organizations, meetings, 'experts' -- just won't cut it any more. Stanford's Tina Seelig suggested another route to me that has already saved education departments millions this month.

Ask people for their "worst" solutions to a problem and people tend not to hold back at all -- laughs are had and the terrible ideas flow. And while the initial suggestions might feel stupid, pointless or ridiculous to the originating team members, these awful ideas can take on a spectacular new lease of life in the hands of another, unrelated group.

By insisting on a "yes and" approach, rather than a "yes but" approach, a fresh set of eyes can turn these "worst" ideas into the ones that will save money, improve service or make people happier in the workplace.

I've tried this approach on several senior education groups now from Bahrain to the Scottish Borders, each time with huge success. With one school district, seeking creative ways to maintain the quality of their services for millions of pounds less, the results were simply brilliant.

  • Reduce cleaning costs by scrapping school cleaners. Yes and... we'll get the students to clean the two square meters around the area in which they are standing at 2 p.m. every day.
  • Reduce the cost of maintaining school grounds by no longer using Council environmental services. Yes and... we'll get students to swap the neat lawns for some self-grown fruits and vegetables, leading to cheaper, better and fresher produce in school meals while also teaching youngsters about crop cycles and basic biology. We could even generate some extra money by selling extra produce to the community, or generate good will by giving it away to those families who occasionally struggle with the bills.
  • Reduce the money spent on transporting children to school by stopping taxi runs from remote areas. Yes and... we'll seek out parents to get some regular car sharing started. And we can make a feature of the diverse locations our students live in to create a massive start-of-term expedition to explore the area on foot, and see how close and how far students live from school.
  • Improve the quality of service provision by forming a committee. Yes, a committee made up of everyone in the community -- you can call in to local radio and share who you think has made the biggest improvement in your local services (the refuse collector who always replaces the lid on your bin and cleans up rubbish, for example), but the result is given anonymously. That way, everyone in the Council thinks it might be them and adjusts their behavior accordingly.

I don't know the precise figure spent on fruits and vegetables, cleaning and gardening in U.K. schools, but these ideas, applied nationally, could have a much more positive effect on what and how students learn, as well as saving at least a few million.

I'll leave you with a simple one you could get your local school to give up on right now: window cleaning alone is $50,000 a year in one English borough, which nationally would lead to a saving of at least £25 million a year.

If the U.S. did away with schools window cleaning for a year, and instead the community pulled in around it, how many millions could we save?

An excellent point in the Huff Post comments was that, in some 40 years of being a student in or a teacher at high schools in the US, the commenter had never seen a window cleaner. That's the point. It's a hidden expense few of us spot. They're there, every morning when I walk to the train at 6am en route to Newcastle, England. I imagine there there, too, in the wee small hours, making sure your $100m school buildings made of glass and steel reflect the natural light they were designed to. ;-)

Pic: Chris

September 20, 2010

Write a Twistory, help a kids charity

The Byte Night Bedtime Story aims to beat the Guiness World Record for the world's biggest crowdsourced bedtime story in history. It's a great way to get students reading an (ever-longer) story and then adding their own 140 characters' worth, without the need to register for Twitter or another service - this makes it ideal for kids no matter how young or old they are.

What's more, you help raise money for Action for Children’s annual charity sleep-out event that takes place in various locations across the UK, this year on 8th October. There's no reason, in fact, why the sleep-out couldn't take place in other countries around the world, highlighting the plight of homeless children and raising some supporting cash in the process.

As of the time of writing you have 18 days to make your contribution to the story.

June 24, 2010

GETinsight live web discussion: Budget & education tech cuts: time to crowdsource policymaking


This Monday, 12:00 p.m PST, 3:00 p.m. EST, 8:00 p.m. British Summer Time, I'll be hosting another of my regular 45-minute 'office hours' sessions with the GETinsight gang, looking at how leaders can look towards crowdsourcing techniques to make better policies that actually work on the ground.

Given the budget and education department cuts in the UK, and similar challenges around the world, the time has never been more ripe for those working in the public services, particularly in education, to harness the social tools around us and co-create policy, classroom strategies and tactics.

I come with the bias that the projects I've undertaken in these environments, such as eduBuzz, the BectaX process and the fairly hands-off development of 38minutes, have nearly always ended up more useful on the ground than they would have been had we organised things by committee in a Head Quarters building. Crowdsourced ideas tend to be more sustainable in the long term and free of the organisational red-tape that kills too many great ideas before they've got off the proposal paper.

My GETinsight blog post on crowdsourcing policy sums up the examples that come to mind from an educational perspective, and will be the starting point for Monday's live web chat. I've also been thinking recently about how business at large could benefit in these times from thinking about using the value of users/customers in their decision-making, instead of doing all the thinking themselves behind the metaphorical closed door of the intranet.

If you've got other examples you would add then please drop them into the discussion here, there or on Monday in the live chat. I hope plenty of you can join us as we hurtle into the summer holidays!

A quick pre-registration is required, and you will need to be sat near a telephone to take part in the WebEx discussion on Monday.

January 06, 2010

Where is education's "Recovery.gov"?

I believe every citizen should be able to track how every one of their dollars, euros or pounds is spent. Nowhere is this desire to know the destination of our tax dollars more heightened than in education, where we can sometimes feel, as teachers and as parents, very little creeps through into our classrooms and professional development.

Obama's administration is leading the way in showing how this could happen soon.

Last year, within days of becoming President of the USA, Barack Obama announced his intention to create a more open, collaborative and participative form of Government. Soon after, as he pushed through his response to the economic crisis, the Recovery Bill, he was keen that this $98.2bn spend was also monitorable by the people paying for it. Thus at the end of last year launched Recovery.com, a portal to keep an eye on how every dollar is spent, where it is spent and what the recipients of it manage to do with it: creating or safeguarding jobs, gaining new contracts for services.

Recovery.gov Example It's not just agency bureaucracy figures, but also user-generated reports from the people and companies who have benefited from grants or investments. Heck, they even make the data available as a KML file or as text so you can have a play with it, too.

But where is Recovery.com/education? Indeed, why does such a detailed tracker not exist outside the period of crisis, for all of our public services?

Education budgets are admittedly, if we believe our politicians, often saved from cuts (just don't tell the guys in California); it's the one area alongside health that voters don't like to see shaved. Yet, in Scotland as elsewhere, 2011 will see a real cut in the amount spent in classrooms, with Local Authorities and individual school head teachers having to make tricky choices, or learn how to save money in the areas where, in the period of boom, inefficiencies had crept in unnoticed.

Therefore, as we head towards an even more "every penny counts" era than before, having meaningful access to education spend data would mean

  • better decision-making;
  • more transparency before those whose money is being spent
  • more transparency before those who are receiving the service.
Many a costly decision in quangos, local authorities and schools would be questioned by those closest to the delivery of the service - today they're often the last to know.

Better still, Recovery.com is not just a pretty-fied spreadsheet of what money headed out according to the agencies - it's a two-way service, allowing recipients of money to demonstrate what they've done with it, show the true effect of investment and grants in their local area. If £4m is spent in my High School annually and I, as a classroom teacher, am being told that my entire professional development allocation for the year will be only £50, then having access to that data would allow me to either understand a savvy management decision or question its validity.

So, would this appeal to school leaders, Local Administrators, Heads of Education, Superintendents? The data's there already, from their petrol expenses to their Xerox accounts. I, for one, would be generous in my time to show them that Flashmeeting and Google Docs could save them... well, I don't (yet) know how much.

January 20, 2009

Lack of broadband for all, an implicit denial of full citizenship to some

Andy Duncan My big boss at Channel 4 (spot the new website), Chief Executive Andy Duncan, gave a speech last week in anticipation of the Digital Britain report, the first part of which is released next week. In it he makes some key points about the importance of the public service intervention we are making on the web, mobile and gaming with 4iP, but also stresses why Government needs to act rather than talk about broadband access for all.

I still hear about the digital divide as a legitimate excuse for not embracing technologies and equally a reason for blocking and banning sites with which the Establishment of our education institutions don't agree or don't understand. It's the main reason for a propagation of 'safe' social networking sites and school intranets destined for tweens and teens who spend up to six hours a night unleashed in the 'real' online world, reaping the benefits this untempered activity has to offer. Making sure all citizens have access is a key "must-change" in 2009:

...We must have universal access to broadband services.  At the moment we rank fifth of the OECD countries for access, but in terms of speed we are some considerable way behind countries like Korea and Japan.   If we are to be a fully digital society, then every citizen must be able to participate.  Anything less would be an implicit denial of full citizenship to some.   For a household to be online is becoming as essential to participation in the life of society as having a TV and a phone.   And TV and phone are probably most important to those who are most disadvantaged.   The same should be true of broadband access.   In any case, the more universal a network, the greater its value.  Google, Yahoo, You Tube, Facebook, Bebo – they know that very well.  It’s even more true in a wider social sense as a common unifying element of citizenship.  And while many people - perhaps most people - will want to top up any basic provision by paying more for hi-speed or specialist equipment or content and services, just as they do with television today, access itself should be a basic right for everyone.
Full speech (pdf)   |   Listen to the speech online   |   Pic: Informitv

February 03, 2006

Off the rails: my Scotrail Dell Hell - Sketch

Scotraillogo1 OK, so Hell might be a big word here. But Scotrail really have no idea about customer service - or the law, for that matter.

It all started with a coffee yesterday morning, on the 9:15 from Edinburgh to Glasgow, Scotrail's elite train service for the hardworking, highly paid, high paying commuter clientèle (most of the passengers qualify in elements one and three only, however). The woman who serves the coffee (Marion) has a fouler mouth than I have heard in most Rangers matches in Ibrox, having earlier threatened to "run over that f... b... from first class" who had, apparently, told her buddy how to do his job (and by the end of this tale you, too, may be in a position to do so, as well).

After getting my change and supping on a coffee that definitely had a lingering taste of curry
I plugged in the iPod and blocked out the nasty world around me.

However, it was when trying to buy lunch in Boots that the kind girl at the counter pointed out that I had been palmed a false £1 coin. "Return it to the place that gave it to you - it's illegal". She was right, of course. I had to find Marion and hope that she would not verbally abuse me.

This morning on the train there was no Marion (I was on an earlier service and can only presume that she was running over some more first class passengers with her trolley). Instead the lovely Jacznica (sic?) informed me first of all that there was nothing wrong with my coin, which by this point had had several shopkeepers embed their nails in its silver, not gold, surface), then that the conductor would have to deal with it. The conductor never did deal with it (too busy boiling kettles for Jacznica's trolley, no doubt) but my 'catering hostess' / trolley dolly came back with a phone number for the Operations Manager at Queen Street station and advised me to walk to the back of the station, the other side from where I need to go, leave through the doors and find the Catering Department, to see if I could get my real pound back.

I saw the Scotrail Manager's Office and reckoned I would try going to the top. But his receptionists did a great job at deflecting this particularly nasty, stingy, scamming client from the Über Railway Manager and, instead, laughed off my claim on the phone to their colleagues in the Catering Department (on the other side of the station) before returning sage-faced to the reception window to inform me that I would, indeed, have to make the 10 minute walk to reclaim my money.

Could I be bothered? By this point I had lost three kilos in persperation and was losing the will to live, too. I ended up doing the unthinkable. I passed on illegal currency to the bloke at Greggs' bakery. Well, I had lost 3 kilos and needed an apple turnover.

January 27, 2006

Google.cn - the Chinese filtering Google results

Google.cn has been launched for Chinese searches on the Internet. However, Google have struck a deal with the Chinese Government to massage the results. Google have also banned Wikipedia so Chinese language wikipedia results are limited to those posted by Chinese communities in other parts of the world.

Ethan Zuckerman has started some interesting word searching experiments with curious results. It's not that everything is returning with no results, but some searches return Chinese-only results. Interestingly it's returning fewer results in a different order to Google.co.uk for things as banal as "ewan mcintosh". Anyone got an explanation? What have I done against the Chinese state?

Using Ethan's experimental phrase: “site:wikipedia.org 太石村”, I was amazed not just that nothing was returned by that the search changed automatically from 'Search the Web':


to 'Search China only':


This means that Google cannot be used to get round the Chinese authorities' grasp on wikipedia access. Scarily close control of the internet but really clever, too. More scary, though, when you realise that the Chinese search term is in relation to Taishi village, where the first signs of a democratic rebellion against corrupt officials were stamped out quickly and ruthlessly by the authorities

Is it right that Google have signed themselves and their technology away in a manner that restricts free speech, not only for Chinese in China but for the rest of us who might want to communicate with them?

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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