27 posts categorized "Funding"

January 03, 2012

Collaboration 2: Collaborating in hostile territory

One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:

Collaborating in hostile territory

Sony was a company that took pride in its decentralised specialist divisions, divisions whose pride led to them competing against each other. When five divisions were asked to collaborate to create a new music behemoth, Sony Connect, the result was disastrous.

The personal computer division based in Tokyo, the portable audio team behind the Walkman, the flash memory player team, Sony Music in the US and Sony Music back in Japan just couldn't work together, so strong was their competition. The PC and Walkman groups released their own competing portable music players, and the Music and other electronics divisions of the company released three competing music download portals. The US group wanted to use flash memory and the MP3 format. The Japan group wanted to use minidisc and Sony's proprietary ATRAC format for music downloads. By May 2004, a very disconnected Sony Connect finally launched and was taken apart by the media and users.

In the meantime, Apple innovated its narrow, well thought-through line of MP3 player products with no competition worth the name. Apple's divisions had, through Steve Jobs and a culture of unity, collaborated on one perfect player. Sony's interior competition had decimated any chance of creating one dream competitive product.

Competitive units (within an institution) cannot collaborate.
(I've added this note after a great comment, below: competition within an institution breaks collaboration. But competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive. If a leader can unite an organisation in collaboration and turn competitiveness to the outside, then the collaboration will work very well - think: football teams, corporations, or a country of school districts uniting to realise the benefits of scale that come from a nationwide online learning community, rather than letting commercial organisations pick up the financial benefits by uniting to pick off 32 Local Authorities at once.) 

So, then, what does this mean for education? In a school there are many competitive units: individual teachers have, traditionally, been the kings or queens of their manor, the closed-door profession meaning that what happens in their classroom, good or bad, is their responsibility. The result can be a competitive one - "my kids", "my class", "my results". Where teachers are recompensed on performance in any way, even in the form of feedback from superiors, this heightens the sense of competitiveness, making collaboration between teachers in a school impossible. The ingredients of competition - closed doors, one-teacher-one-class, rewards and praise for good performance - may have to be dismantled first, before collaboration can be encouraged.

Between schools within a district, a similar competitive nature exists, if not more so, as schools vie for finite resources from one source - the district. Therefore, for a district to enable collaboration between schools yet more ingredients need removed or altered: funding has to be allotted strictly on a per-pupil basis, not on projects or bids, for example.

Update: Peter Hirst points out further examples of school systems removing competition to enable collaboration, notably in Finland:

Thought I'd link you to an article that intrigued me... The main basis is that by removing competition in Finnish schools collaboration thrives and they succeed - there's no private schools, no school league tables, no performance pay and no standardised tests...

It is no surprise, therefore, that international collaborations of the kind that eTwinning encourages might work better for teachers and schools than collaborating closer to home, but the question that now remains, is collaborating for what? If there's nothing to be lost through competition, there is also, perhaps, a perception that there is nothing to be gained. Cue: collaboration for collaboration's sake.

January 10, 2011

Stop sorting children by their date of manufacture

Abdul Chochan
Six years ago we got a hard time for getting our students to create little snippets of audio for each other and the wider world - using iPods for learning was seen as expensive and gimmicky. "Who has those devices? We couldn't possibly purchase devices for children. They're far too expensive for them to own them any time soon."

Six years on Abdul Chohan was getting the same feedback at his school, the Essa Academy. At the Learning Without Frontiers conference he recounts how he had seen iPod Touches, the next generation of device from our low-fi iPods of 2004, as the key to untapping new learning landscapes for his learners.

With a seamless wifi setup in the school students never lost touch with the web through their mobile devices. Polish students, recently arrived at the school, were able to decipher English-language physics lessons by backing up their learning with the Polish language version of the theme's wikipedia entry.

Above all, teachers could stop judging what students should or could be doing based "on their date of manufacture" (or, as some might add, on their sell-by date). Youngsters were able to extend or support their own learning as they saw fit, when they saw fit.

Students overnight had knowledge at their fingertips (and in their pockets) in text, on the web and in podcasts (boys in particular were amongst those downloading 900 or so GCSE Pods to revise for the examinations).

Edmodo provided a learning social network through which teachers and learners could send messages, manage their learning, set tasks, ask for help.

This film about the Essa Academy iPod Touch project from Newsround sums up more of the impact on the school:


The £40,000 ($80,000) leasing bill for printers will, as a result, be greatly reduced as the amount of paper being used is reduced significantly.

The cost of the devices themselves, even with a refresh rate of 18p/35c per day included, is therefore relatively affordable.

The results? Where, a year or two before, the school had been set for closure by the Government watchdog for having a pass rate never above 30%, examinations results coming in after this mobile investment, at Grades A*-C, were running at 99%.

When we believe that youngsters are capable of anything and, vitally, provide the human and virtual help and support to make that potential a possible, there's nothing that can hold them back.

December 16, 2010

FunFelt: Finally something for toddlers on iPad


Since getting my iPad this summer I've been frustrated at the lack of apps designed for me to use with my three year old daughter, so I'm delighted that we've managed to launch FunFelt just in time for Christmas. Remember fuzzy felt when you were a kid? This is the 21st Century equivalent for iPad.

Fun Felt has a beautiful user interface, 50 delightful realistic felt shapes, colours and sounds that help you to easily produce the pictures you (or your toddler) want.


You can save your creations to iPhoto and share them via email. You can also save your artwork to the Felt Board library to continue working on it later. The FunFelt letters allow you to start spelling out words.

Don't be surprised, then, this year if your email Christmas card comes in the form of a FunFelt creation!

You can download the app now from the Apple Store.

FunFelt is one more app from the world's first iPad Fund that I kicked off in January with Northern Film & Media, based in Newcastle. It's also the second in a series of 'retro' games that we've brought up to 2010 for the iPad. Check out the first one we launched, Pitch N Toss and Pitch N Toss Lite.

Chris Chatterton, Producer, Fun Felt puts the development this way: “The Fun Felt app has been a labour of love. I have a background in graphic design, so the user experience and the interface were very important to me. Throughout development we tested the app on a focus group made up of children of different ages. This helped us to find out what worked and what didn’t, meaning that the final version has a clean layout and is easy to use. "

November 03, 2010

Culture Popped: what can pop culture teach museums, the arts and education about engagement?

Success with digital media for museums, education and cultural organisations isn't about scrambling to sign up to the latest fads, those teasmades of technology, and more about attitudes of organisations and the individuals within them. What are the handles we can grab hold of to begin or better develop our journeys into digital media use in the world of exhibition, performances or engagement of new audiences?

A couple of weeks ago I opened the Digital Futures conference, part of a project exploring how social media interfaces with museums, galleries and other cultural heritage organisations, funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a partnership between the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, National Museums Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland.

The presentation is now up on Slideshare, and above.

It tries to make a few points, some more successfully than others, no doubt. Key amongst them:

  • how to institutions do better what is now so easy for everyman to do?
  • is there anything to be learned from the world of startups where coming up with a compelling problem that needs solved?
  • what are the problems museums manage to solve? Do they need to think in that way at all?
  • what potential is there for cultural organisations to open themselves up to new audiences by tackling the same content and ideas in alternative ways and on different platforms?

March 26, 2010

A chance to get students building their own apps

There's a chance that by the dawn of the 2010-11 school session, the beginnings of iPhone app-making as a curriculum activity begins to take traction in Scottish classrooms.

The other day I entered into a prolonged twitter debate with Graham Brown Martin and Joanne Jacobs on how we could encourage a change in technology teaching and learning by encouraging more coding. But, if we did this, what kind of programming would we expect students to learn? And is the point that they should learn programming languages or simply how to learn how to programme?

My tuppence worth was that creating apps was an easy entry point that gives relatively quick results and gratification for one's efforts, and which could lead to greater (more complex things).

Well, the good people at Adventi and new Scottish education startup re-wire are offering a chance for schools to win iPhone training courses and Apply hardware, along with courses on the entrepreneurship and innovation strategies that work with Apple development.

To qualify you have to submit a five-minute YouTube video to the Community Counts site, answering the question "what does best practice in computing teaching mean to you?", and should give a recent example of an innovative project within a computing or information systems classroom in Scotland. For more information, email Lisa Keyse. You have until June 4th.

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.

June 07, 2009

Should we all be saying 'no' more often?

Educators have a reputation for generally saying 'yes' to doing things they are asked to carry out. The expectation is that if a peer or more senior member of staff asks or tells, the teacher does. It's not a healthy place to be. We need to say no more often.

To be honest, I hate saying no, most of the time. Yet, in my current job: of the 400 or so ideas I've seen in the last six months, only about 4% have resulted in a development of that idea.

Everyone else got a 'no'.

Most have had the heave-ho within minutes or days, some have had an instant yes, but there's a troublesome group in the middle, about 30% of ideas at a guess, that need looked at in more detail before being sure if they're worth taking forward. This group of ideas need at least a day's worth of thinking done by the company proposing the idea and a day or more of my time. It's only when we do the figures, work out the business case, see the approach action-by-action, explore the legal and compliance risks, that we realise the idea is a dodo. All that "for nothing".

What I wonder, sometimes, is whether it's worth just pushing back on anything that is not a clear 'yes' at the first sighting. Those "might work" ideas nearly always fail to get through the hurdle of being 'spec-ed' out, yet involve a disproportionate amount of thinking to get them to a point where we can ever know if they're likely to work.

However, there's always that grumble that maybe, just maybe, one might be saying 'no' to the best idea since sliced bread.

Seth Godin suggests we're indeed better off saying no more often to pick out the obvious gems the moment they appear:

You can say no with respect, you can say no promptly and you can say no with a lead to someone who might say yes. But just saying yes because you can't bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work.

Saying no to loud people gives you the resources to say yes to important opportunities.

What do you think - are we right to say 'yes' to the "might work" ideas to see if we can discover a hidden gem, or are we better to concentrate only on those 4% we feel instantly happy with?

June 13, 2008

Qualified to do anything?

This summer I'll be keynoting on the theme "It's not all native wit", about how we can all do extraordinary things when we release our minds (and find out how). I've been wondering how to interpret this Seyi Oyesola TED Talk quote in that light for teachers:

"We the willing have been doing so much with so little for so long that we are now qualified to do anything with nothing."

Seyi was talking about health provision, and his attitude is that we need the specialist kit and specialist knowledge to do great things well, that settling for good enough when you're doing open heart surgery is not, well, good enough.

Is this quote, which could have come from a teacher anywhere as well as the Nigerian doctors who quote it, a good thing for teachers to have learnt to do, or is it actually the biggest barrier to creating extraordinary opportunities in the future?

May 28, 2008

9am: Arrive in Ireland. 10am: Meet Government.

Minister_mcguiness_and_bertie_goldb It's not every day that, within an hour of landing at, say, Dublin Airport, you're sitting in the plush offices of the country's Minister for Trade and Commerce. I've been working for the Scottish Government in various guises for three years and never made it into a Minister's office here, let alone abroad.

I'm not sure if it was really me who got us into Minister John McGuinness' for a 40 minute chat about Ireland's potential for improvement in mathematics and languages learning from primary through to university level. But before the end of the conversation we had, I think, secured a roundtable task force with the Minister and his colleagues, the Google directorship in Ireland and other parties interested in how Ireland's education system could swiftly take its place as the creative, innovative and, importantly for Google, the robust furnace for future multinational programmers and net leaders.

It wasn't 20 minutes before we were walking through the Irish Parliament buildings, meeting up with the leading party's chief blog-reader (and one of Ireland's best photobloggers) and PR people, bumping into the Party leader and the T.D. (Member of Parliament) for Cork, pushing the agenda of getting not only adequate kit and connectivity, but world class training and pedagogical confidence running throughout the nation. Small passionate groups of the kind I was describing later in my talk at Tipperary Institute (mp3). Quite a morning, an unexpected one, too. Bernie really should take some credit for the menagerie.

To take things further, I've already been doing some work with the wonderful, enthusiastic, visionary and (what a euphemism!) compact NCTE in Dublin, the technology agency currently hatching some ambitious plans to raise the level of hardware, software and, vitally, connectivity in Irish schools. Soon they will be helping educators spend some €252m over seven years on technology for learning.

But if a political, enterprise and educator partnership of this kind can be created then those coders, managers, designers and visionaries  of the future might be able to ply their trade at home, rather than fleeing to London or Silicon Valley.

January 06, 2008

1/3: The best school systems in the world: it's not (all) about the money

It's no secret to those of us who teach, have taught or can remember being taught: the most important element in a child's education is... the teacher. So says the 2007 McKinsey report (pdf) which analysed what made the best education systems in the world, well, the best. Over the next series of posts, allow me to paraphrase for you... (Remember, boys, not my words...)

Money_and_ewan More money, smaller class sizes, lower impact
In 2006 there was $2 trillion spent on education by the world's governments. But money alone is not the reason we see improvement, not always.

Between 1980 and 2005 there was a 73% increase in spending in the USA, after allowing for inflation. The teacher-student ratio fell by 18%, class sizes were the smallest they had ever been, tens of thousands of initiatives were launched to improve the quality of education. Yet the outcomes didn't change at all. In other countries where similar cash and policy decisions have been made, flatlining or even deterioration has occurred.

Smaller class sizes actually mean that there is now less money per teacher for resources, for, example, than there was before. Worse still, smaller class sizes have had little impact, or any impact has been evened out by the little amount of money left for resourcing.

Less than 1% of African and Middle Eastern children perform at or above the Singaporian average - to be expected, you might believe, because those Singaporeans must hemorrhage cash into their education system. Wrong. Singapore spends less on Primary education than 27 of the 30 OECD countries.

Could do better...
The lesson here? Across the OECD countries taxpayers could expect 22% improvement for their education investment. "The world is indifferent to past reputations, unforgiving of custom or practice", the report claims, and I'd go with that. Success will go to those which are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. There are three key points to getting this point of success:

  1. Getting the right people to become teachers
  2. Developing them into effective instructors
  3. Ensuring that the system is able to offer the best possible instruction for every child

Improvement is therefore possible in a very short period of time, if the will and brains are there, and adjusting these three areas will have an enormous impact on improving school systems.

Over the next series of blog posts here, I will look at all the areas that, according to the report, make a difference in education, and show how education bloggers could be, if they desired, at the forefront of profound educational change in their own countries, and across the world.

Related posts:
2/3: Finding the best teachers

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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