Tuesday, 30 December 2008

I called it dancing....

I was amused by my twenty two year old nephew who was just on his way out to a club as we popped over a few days ago. Apparently dancing is now called 'Throwing some shapes'......!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Mixing it up.......

Is learning in a mixed age and mixed ability environment scary? Sounds like a good idea to me,bit like real life. Interesting that some people appear to find this a bit daunting!

Friday, 19 December 2008

When is a school not a school then...?

I was thinking yesterday about where some of my views come from on the nature of schools. Over the past few months I've had occasion to talk to a number of people about schools, mostly linked to the BSF programme in England. It strikes me that, as commented in the previous post, most people have the model of a physical location strongly fixed in their minds as the starting point. Why, then, do I have the concept of 'Learning' embedded in my mind as the central tenant of what a school is about?

One experience popped back into my head as I pondered this. In the mid 1990's I came across the Florida Virtual High school. It was an interesting model for what learning was all about and as the name suggests, it was completely divorced from any physical buildings. The results the students obtained were every bit as good as in any physical school and in many cases pupils that simply were unable to thrive in the traditional physical setting did very well. There were many stories of pioneering adventures that had to be overcome. For example, Florida only funded pupils who were actually sitting in chairs in physical schools so the virtual High school had to get State law changed to allow them to be funded for virtual pupils - I'm still not aware of anywhere else that has done that - then there were stories of the adventures they had as they created the online materials and the approach to working with the students and the fact that organisational skills for the students were really important. The whole story is too long for a blog post but much is documented on the online site, so go have a look if you are interested.

Anyway the sum of this experience has clearly shaped my view that learning experiences, and approaches to teaching are not actually locked into any physical setting, in fact quite the opposite. Looking back now and reflecting on the BSF conversations, I think I now realise that the Florida Virtual High School and some other virtual school models I came across as I travelled the world, in effect 'Flipped' my axis when it comes to thinking about learning and teaching. Note learning first and teaching second - quite an important distinction.

So when is a school not a school? Don't know if I can answer the question because if a 'school' is a place where learning is meant to take place then I've seen 'schools' in such a range of settings from under a tree in Africa through virtual schools to the most sophisticated, futuristic and impressive buildings. Does the quality of learning correlate to a particular setting? I'll leave that question for a future post.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Some observations

Having seen a large variety of education models across the world, and been involved in many discussions on education ‘transformation’ I have some observations.

1. Despite being part of an ‘Education System’ at Local, Regional and National levels, the management and leadership models used in schools promote the individualisation/isolation of schools. Collegiate models and federated leadership models, shown to be more effective in many areas, are only just starting to be explored.

2. Large schools are still the norm in European cultures as the ‘industrialised’ approach to education dictates that large scale aggregation saves money.

3. Subject based curriculum models that are organised around age based cohorts that require pupils to move every fifty minutes still dominate. ‘Cells and Bells’ as some describe the model. This model for the delivery of education appears deeply ingrained in the psyche of politicians, education leaders and parents such that significant questioning is labelled as ‘challenging’.

4. The predominant teaching model in schools appears to still be a didactic approach. This is reinforced by the subject/age based curriculum models.

5. Research shows that the best learning takes place in smallish, non age based groups where learning is focused around project based work that takes place over longer time frames and where ICT is a part of the process and not added as an extra resource.

6. Small scale and ‘agile’ learning is congruent with large schools if the leadership, management and physical structures are in place to support flexibility.

7. Accountability and measures of success can be misinterpreted as creating constraints as to how education must be delivered.

8. Parents appear alienated from the ‘education’ of their children. The ‘industrialisation’ of education removes them from the process such that they feel unable or embarrassed to intervene, in the same way that most of us are now alienated from the process of food production. Yes parents complain if things appear to be going wrong but they are not part of the education, just observers in most cases.

9. Parents are passionate about their children’s learning and have very strong views on the role of learning in their local community.

Feel free to disagree or agree with my observations :-)

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Learning and age

A debate continues apace in our household at the moment about the age children should, or should not, start school and the overall affect this has on learning. Having travelled the world extensively to talk about education I have seen many approaches and talked to many senior policy makers about the challenges they face in their particular social context.

The statistics still tell us that starting school around 6 or 7 years old, gives the best results. This then begs the question: Why do we insist on sending children to school in this country at 4 or even younger? At a very high level I would say from my travels that the countries where children start school later government policies are focused around the concept of the family with many incentives and in some cases laws, that make it easier for parents to spend time with their children.

In the UK we appear to be on an unstoppable ride to create a high cost of living, with especially high house prices compared to other countries, that means that both parents have to work full time to make ends meet. This inevitably leads to the need for child care and what better way of caring for children that putting them into school as early as possible, after all that is free at the point of delivery.

Having spent a lot of time looking at the aims of the current educational reform in this country and particularly the spending on rebuilding schools I'm not sure that I see any real links between creating a better social outlook and the so called 'transformation' in the education system. Maybe the task is just too big but it would be nice to see the the macro picture of wider social reform, including the education system, and the wider economic system being debated as a whole rather than the debates being limited to the width of a column in an online article or a newspaper.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Industrialised learning

Having spoken to several parents lately it is clear that the vast majority are resigned to learning having to take place in school. It is however interesting to also see them criticising the school as in my last post, so a little bit of duality going on here?

Listening to these people talk it did set my mind wondering whether learning has become so industrialised that parents felt unable to take part in the process, or that taking part was economically not viable taking into account the general cost of simply 'living' these days. I'm not sure if this is a good analogy but my wife was commenting a few weeks ago that the art of making clothes was disappearing, so industrialised has the process become that the cost of making your own is now more than buying from a shop and most people don't consider making clothes as an option in any shape or form. this is of course a complete switch from even ten years ago.

In short, my unscientific group of parents appear to be very exercised about the education their children are getting, but feel that they are not able to take an active part in that education for reasons that range from needing time to themselves, needing to work and feeling unable to deliver the prescribed curriculum. I'm most surprised that these parents really feel unable to teach their children, or at least unwilling to even contemplate that this is something they could do even if they wanted to. I'll leave you to draw further views.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Personalised Learning........

My wife came back from a meeting with some friends today and recounted the woes of a four year old who has just started school. He is mad on reading but the school says they are not interested in reading this term, that's next term as this term they are focusing on writing. So he has to be happy with reading at home and not at school.........needless to say his 'love' of learning is at a bit of a low at the moment!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


Our three year old son has a wonderful way of dealing with time at the moment. Things happen either 'in a minute' or 'later'. Quite nice really as dealing with the immediate is all consuming whilst the future is - well 'later' :-)

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Personalised Learning again

I was thinking more about the post yesterday looking at the article by Mike Baker on the discussion in the House of Commons. It occurred to me that personalised learning was actually very easy to define, but maybe not from within the confines of a 'Mass Production' education system. let me explain a Little more. I was listening to a book being read on Radio 4 called 'Don't Sleep There are Snakes About'.

It is an account of a linguist who lived with Piraha, a small tribe of Amazonian Indians in central Brazil. In one section the linguist, Daniel Everett, describes how he tried to get the Indians to tell him their words/phrases for 'Right hand' and 'Left hand'. After an amount of trying it came to pass that there was no equivalent in their language. They had no need for such a concept. They were able to talk about going 'upstream' and 'downstream' as they had an uncanny ability to always orientate themselves to the river that dominated their life. So within their culture they had no need of right and left, relying instead on their more meaningful way of describing direction.

Within a Free Range educational system I think personalised learning is easy to define and describe. Maybe within the mass production education systems that the various education experts were constraining their thinking, personalised learning cannot be defined - the necessary structures are simply not there to be able to create a meaningful definition.

Just a thought!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Personalised Learning is dead! Long live personalised learning

As usual an insightful summary from Mike Baker on a session in the House of Commons where the Children's Committee were looking for a definition of personalised learning. As I read Mike's account I was minded of why I feel so passionately about learning, size of schools and need to understand that each pupil is an individual. It was also interesting that David Hargreaves was repeating an idea he stated in a paper called Education Epidemic in the early 2000's. In that paper he talks of transformation not being a thing you achieve:

'Rather than being represented by an organisational structure or a single policy lever, transformation becomes an ‘emergent property’ of the whole system as it learns to generate, incorporate and adapt to the best of the specific new ideas and practices that get thrown up around it.’

Mike reports that David Hargreaves said:

'...it was more helpful to see it (personalised learning) as a constant challenge rather than a particular state a school could ever say it had reached'.

I was glad to see langauge being used like 'bespoke learning' - rather as in one of my previous posts. So - forget personalised learning, think bespoke - think Free Range Learning in a Free Range World - see previous posts!

Mike concludes with a comment about the government: -

'In short, like parents at the school gate, they (the government) cannot let go and trust everything to the teacher.

I would like to ponder on why we can't let go and trust the pupils to be the guides. In a Free Range environment there are clear boundaries but within those boundaries we should trust learners to roam - productivity will be higher. Still the language predominates that we 'doing' education to pupils rather than facilitating people to learn.

As Stephen Heppell always tells us - 'be ambitious' for the learners. A small global team of educators I worked with in the late 1990's and early 2000's used to say: 'We are educating pupils for their future and not our past'. Add to that a nice little phrase in a book about school and organisation. It is co-authored by Chalres Handy of Empty Raincoat fame and Robert Aitken. In that book -Understanding Schools as Organisations - the authors sum up as syaing there are great possibilities for schools but:

'It is more likely, however, that schools will, in the best British traditin, stumble backwardss into the future, looking longingly to the past as they move away from it.'

Stating the obvious

I read with interest a report published under the banner of Digital Youth Research - the two page summary can be found here. I could not help thinking as I read the high level conclusion that it was so obvious as to be...well 'obvious'. It sates:

'Adults should facilitate young people’s engagement with digital media. Contrary to adult perceptions, while hanging out online, youth are picking up basic social and technical skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society. Erecting barriers to participation deprives teens of access to these forms of learning. Participation in the digital age means more than being able to access serious online information and culture. Youth could benefit from educators being more open to forms of experimentation andsocial exploration that are generally not characteristic of educational institutions.'

And goes on to state:

'What, the authors ask, would it mean to really exploit the potential of the learning opportunities available through online resources and networks? What would it mean to reach beyond traditional education and civic institutions and enlist the help of others in young people’s learning? Rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, they question what it would mean to think of it as a process guiding youths’ participation in public life more generally.'

All good stuff but to be published as something ground breaking and as if this was new, is to say the least a little worrying. However, it might go to show how adrift many leaders and thinkers are from the realities of where the young sit in relation to 'learning'. I've written a lot about this in other posts so I won't go on any more. Kinda makes me a little worried about where the multitude of billions of currency units that are being invested worldwide will actually take us and will any significant 'Transformation' take place this time around.......let's hope so.

Reading the first piece of extracted text and turning it around to read.....
'By not hanging around on line adults are not picking up the essential social and technical skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society..'
...reminds me of a quote I have often used from Hofer - 'In times of change learners inherit the earth whilst the learned are beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists'

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Creating more bespoke learning environments

How do you create small scale learning environments without completely disrupting the current trend for large schools? Large scale is used to control cost with small scale often being cited as expensive - we've all seen the reports of small schools being closed. I don't think large groups of people in one place at one time necessarily means that small scale learning can't happen.

Using ICT may be a key. By creating a shared infrastructure that allows smaller groups to emerge the large scale of an institution could ironically be key to allowing the smaller scale communities to emerge, thrive and create the measurable outcomes that traditional systems demand.

Maybe size on its own is not the real obstacle. Maybe the way that the organisational structures that 'size' supports are creatively 'constructed' is something to ponder on for a while. Willingness and foresight at senior leadership level to look outside the box might well be the transformational level. Free Range Learning needs a Free Range environment to be set free,

Music, music, music again

My wife and I have put together a very short nativity for a group of toddlers that meet at our local church once a month. All very simple and a lots of fun with some original simple songs and a couple of arrangements of well known tunes. We had the first, well rehearsal would be a bit of an overstatement today and it went down well. I was once again stuck by the ebullience of the youngsters, all between a few months and 5 years old, as they played and explored the world together. Learning in the Raw!

Free Range Learning in a Free Range World

It struck me as I was pondering one of the previous posts - Battery Learning in a Free Range World - that it would be useful to try and pull together some of the thinking about creating a 'transformed' 'Free Range' learning system. More thoughts to follow on that in the next few days.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Modern Icon?

The picture is of the Spinaker Tower in Portsmouth. Part of a revamp of an area of docks that had fallen into disuse. Surely it will be an icon of the future if not already.

Conincidently as we were walking around the tower there was a bit of a media scrum going on. We later found out that Mike Perham, a 16 year old sailor, was embarking on a solo round the would voyage and hoping to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe. Good luck to him - the wonder of being young!

IT - Intelligent Technology

I saw something new to me as we parked the car last Saturday. In one of those vast underground car parks that claimed to have x many free spaces technology triumphed. As we drove along the central spine of the car park signs pointed at each row and indicated how many empty spaces there were in that row. When we turned down a row there was a row of bright LEDs, one above each parking space. Red indicated that the space was full and green that it was empty - how good was that! Simply by adding a small sensor above each bay along with an LED, the process of fruitlessly driving around for hours on end looking for the elusive, and claimed, empty space was reduced to a few minutes. I wonder how much CO2 is being saved there. Simple - Intelligent Technology!

Not a wonderful picture but you can just see a couple of the red LEDs.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The role of ICT in Educational Transformation?

There is a lot of rhetoric talked about ICT in education. There are some wonderful examples of individual schools and people doing simply brilliant things. Personally I've spent a lot of years looking at the provision of ICT in education. I was once an IT coordinator at one of the first Language Colleges where a major investment was made in ICT. I then looked at things from a national and international perspective. So I've looked at ICT across individual schools, groups of schools and even whole regions and countries. I've then gone on to build and run significant infrastructures for many schools as well as working with individual schools on a consultancy bases. I wanted to share some observations here, much as a thinking out loud exercise as much as stating any wisdom about what should be done.

ICT is key to a school environment that is vibrant, significant, relevant and exciting. But more than this, these systems hold the key to providing a personalised learning pathway and a vital role in providing vital formative data about progress and understanding to both the learner and the teacher.

However, in my experience, a great number of senior and influential educators have still to make the full shift to personal ubiquitous use. Some have, most think ICT is essential, a few still appear to be able to perceive of education without ICT.

I think a lot of the hesitation for Senior leaders is to do with two critical factors. Firstly the experience of many senior leaders is of a didactic pedagogy, where ICT is great as a tool for word precessing or accessing primary or secondary data sources, but it is not an integrated in the underlying pedagogical philosophy. The second has to do with the way that many schools run and support their ICT. Most still consider themselves as 'stand alone' and not part of a bigger picture, the concepts of Total Cost of Ownership, Life Cycle Management, Key Performance Indicators and Service Level agreements are not well understood. Therefore senior leaders have little if any way of measuring the impact of ICT systems, and therefore the necessary confidence to move lock stock and barrel for their personal productivity is not there.

I admire those people who influence thinking by promoting the very powerful affect that ICT can have on learning, but as I commented in an earlier Blog post they frequently talk of using free webbased tools and always avoid any mention of mission critical infrastructure management and therefore the very senior audiences that listen and take note are not, in my opinion, being challenged to reconsider the way that ICT is managed. In England the current BSF initiative has ICT embedded into the whole process, with the talk of managed services. Whilst this is a move forward my observation is that the key questions regarding the provisions, refresh and development of key pieces of infrastructure is still a long way from being raised on the agendas on senior educators as an educational prerequisite. These essential questions are rarely linked to educational outcomes with the necessary performance indicators being put in place to ensure delivery meets expectation.

ICT is core to business operations, is it core to education? Could a school still run without ICT? I suspect that a good deal of them could - whilst some would find it very difficult of course. How core is ICT to the systemic transformation of Education? Some would say essential, some may argue otherwise. More thought there for another day perhaps.

Finally I often ponder the 'C' in ICT. It stands for communication of course. However, are we making the most of the technology to support communication? I don't really count email here as that is simply a replacement for a memo or a letter. Communication is more than simply sending out an email.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Battery Learning in a Free Range World

I was reminded of the title of this post as I recently talked to an interesting recent acquaintance. The phrase emerged a while ago following several discussions about how to rebuild/reconfigure space in a number of schools that I was working with across the UK. In each of the discussions the heads were clear that wanted traditional classrooms and in particular one school wanted to create ICT suites - not a concept I'm in favour of by the way! The best we could do was to look at innovative fixtures and fittings within these traditional spaces. The key to the debate was the conviction held by these leaders that learning can only takes place when pupils are sitting in rows facing the front. 'I need to see the whites of their eyes' was the comment from one of them! Following one of these debates the idea emerged that it was like 'battery Learning in a Free Range World'. Bearing in mind all the evidence we now have of how good learning happens and the kind of spaces and approaches that yield innovative and interesting work, the continued instance on traditional rectangular spaces with rows of desks facing one direction appeared to hold several parallels with the debate around battery and free range farming. Whilst battery farming of chickens does produce a consistent yield of eggs the overall welfare of the chickens is not as good as allowing the birds to roam and behave in a more natural manner.

Now I'm not for a moment suggesting that there are direct parallels between a traditional didactic pedagogy and battery farming but there is a metaphor that can be extended and is I think it is quite useful. This leads me to look at other production systems and reflect on the following. As the world industrialised mass production became a sought after way of producing a large quantity of similar goods to a low cost base. However, whilst mass produced goods are perfectly acceptable, hand made and bespoke goods still attract a higher price and are normally considered as more desirable. So do we want our education systems to be production lines that produce an acceptable mass produced product or do we want a bespoke education that views each individual with care and personal attention? Well in the UK we are talking about personalised learning a lot - that will need environments that are not modeled on the convenience of mass production environments. No more classrooms then? Well that might be a bit too radical for many to stomach, but spaces that can adapt to a variety of pedagogical styles and approaches must at least be the aim. I prefer to talk about learning spaces rather than classrooms, at least then we don't start from the presumption that they have to be traditional spaces.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Content is everything?

I was struck by the new Nokia music service. Free music to keep for ever and ever! Too good to be true? Well you do get exactly what it says on the tin so everything is fine. Having been around education for a long time and had many debates about content being so important before anyone will use an ICT system I thought a little longer.

Delve and think a little and you realise that whilst you are downloading all this free music you are of course using connectivity and connectivity costs. The more you download the bigger your bill will be for data usage. Fine if you get a bunch of free data with a monthly package but could be a bit expensive on a Pay As You Go SIM.

So free content? Yes. But a business model that places value on the bandwidth use and not on the music? Coincidentally I was listening to a Radio 4 Programme yesterday called Iconoclasts. This particular programme was titled:' The Internet is Killing our Culture'. One of the threads of the debate argued that business models were fundamentally shifting and Music itself has no value but that the creative process may still have value. So expecting payment for the music might not be the future. Having a cut of the revenue created as your music is downloaded might be a very healthy payday. So the future of music popularity might be measured in megabytes downloaded.

At number one this week with 7.5 terabytes of download is.........

One footnote. I, like millions of others, spend a good time plugged into my iPod (other MP3 players are available!). Just recently I happenned to be listening to a CD through a good quality CD player and amplifier. I was reminded of the qaulity that is lost when the music is digitised. This happens to keep file sizes down of course.......just an observation.


Having seen all the publicity about cloud computing from Microsoft and others recently I can't help thinking that the concept in not new. Companies have been storing shared documents on remote systems for a long time and access from anywhere has also been essential for any organisation that operates over a number of sites or has remote workers of any kind.

So, really the paradigm of remote storage and 'remote working' comes to the individual. Not in this case as a response for remote working as such, but as a response to the ever growing number of mobile devices and out of a need to be able to ensure that users have no excuse to swap operating systems.

Also it is a good way to make people use bandwidth that ultimately has to be paid for. Another entry on that topic shortly.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Music, music, music

I spent a fabulous afternoon yesterday with my wife at a course for young flutists that was run by the Flutewise Trust. My wife has been involved with the organisation for a long time now and I occasionally get involved.

An excited and talented group of young people were busy working away together listening to and talking about music. I am fortunate that the main tutor on the course, Gareth McLearnon, is giving the world premiere of my Flute Concerto next March and we are working on finalising the work. We talked and played through the work with the young people and get some very positive feedback. Check out Gareth's MySpace page for details of the performance.

It set me thinking once again about the nature of formalised education and how difficult it still can be if you have a particular talent for music, sport or something else that requires a lot of time and dedication when the education system wants to focus on a wide curriculum. Not that this is necessarily bad but with the world getting ever more competitive the need to focus and be dedicated if you want to be the best, there is a need to find time to practice and study. I remember that when I was at school all I really wanted to do was compose music, a lot of other stuff got in the way as far as I was concerned.

All power to the dedicated youngsters who were working hard when many others were probably doing a lot of other things.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Proper cold

Not quite Vermont in the Fall but Petworth Park in West Sussex on a cloudy, cold but still very nice day.

The reason for the visit was to collect leaves to make pictures to help us think about Autumn.

A serious business, and it was proper cold with a North wind blowing and no Sun.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Learning and Education

As I posted previously learning and education are often talked of as if they are synonymous. Countries and regions tend to categorise their education into phases. This leads me to reflect further about the difference between learning and education. In some recent discussions it appeared to me that quite simply put: Access to learning in the 21st Century is effectively free. By using online sources and resources combined with freely available tools, like this blog forum, anyone can essentially tap into all the learning they need. However access to Education has a cost. Either at the point of delivery or through the diversion of public funds that make the cost at point of delivery 'free'. This distinction between learning and education therefore can create a number of interesting avenues for further thought and discussion.

One theme that emerges is that the majority of tools being made available on the web are focused around allowing individuals to present themselves and then connect to communities that have things in common with them. This connections either takes place through a specific process or via a random connection based on synergy between themes and topics being explored by individuals. Education focuses on putting a group of age specific people in rooms (still the predominant paradigm) and taking them all through a process of instruction. Various flavours of instruction area viable of course from tight didactics to more constructivist approaches, but they all operate within a highly structured and timetabled environment that still owe much to the historic roots of much education in religious and military philosophies. Here then lies one key thread. Many who espouse the use of technology comment that the really exciting uses of ICT is not being pursued. But are the tools we see being used in the social contexts of the web actually at odds with the underlying philosophies of education institutions/schools? Worth a few minutes of contemplations perhaps.

From the above I find myself asking questions about form and function with regard to new learning environments. If form is to follow function then the process for creating learning spaces needs to be very sharply aware of the aspirations for pedagogical practice and for the future directions that pedagogical practices are likely to take. This in itself presents some very exciting challenges for architects, designers and educators. Lessons from the transformation that has taken place in other industries may be relevant or they may lead us down less fruitful avenues. Some fundamental issues like the optimal size for groups of learners and whether age based cohorts are the best approach still appear to be contentious and therefore can current design only ever be compromise?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Challenges a plenty

I was reviewing some presentations today and was reminded of two themes that have run through my thinking very strongly in my professional life.

The first theme is encapsulated in a presentation called 'Learning to Know or Knowing how to Learn?' It looks at the underlying philosophies that are driving the rationale for an education system, group of schools or even a single school. It questions whether simply the acquisition of facts is enough and if not what else are we looking for. Finding some clarity on these questions often helps to focus debate around what are the important key issues to the various 'stakeholders'. In the late 1990's I was asked by a Minister of Education in a forward thinking Middle Eastern country a very interesting question. He asked how he might go about creating a learning society. This provided a very interesting theme for a piece of consultancy work that roved through many of the themes captured in the aforementioned presentation.

The second theme is that lasting change in any organisation means not only looking at the physical environment and the way people work but also at the processes that underpin how things are done. It takes a look at learning in particular and asks questions about the form of learning spaces, the function of these spaces and the human structures that are required to make the most of these spaces. If speaks to the title and strap line of this blog - If you don't want people to hide in corners then build round rooms.

This second theme in my experience is the most challenging. I have often come across education systems, groups of schools and individual schools that were genuinely passionate and genuine about wanting to be 'better' (however they choose to define 'better'). Sometimes the appetite for looking at the really hard things around people and structures is not great - making the chance of real, systemic change very limited. Where these issues are up for open debate then real and fast change can take place in a positive way and at a fast pace. Often the route is to change the physical environment and then leave the existing people structures in place. This often leads to great challenges.

An example of this was a fantastic 360 degree learning space I came across where every wall could be projected on, had a whiteboard surface and where the learners had provision to sit, talk and work in almost infinite configurations. Unfortunately the timetable, curriculum and scheme of work were all based on a very traditional didactic pedagogy that more often than not required rows of 'learners' to be sitting facing the front. Moving the timetable, curriculum and schemes of work forward was a real challenge that was felt to be a step to far 'at the time'. Hmm....real change is all encompassing and requires a real will to hold onto the improvements and gains that can be achieved. That requires real tenacity in leadership.

Just a foot note on a third theme that has run through the above. Sometimes getting people to agree on what they mean by being 'better' can be quite an interesting process.

Be Very Afraid

I spent quite the most enjoyable time yesterday morning at BAFTA in London as a guest of Stephen Heppell for a event called 'Be Very Afraid'. An incredible mix of young people and not so young people talking excitedly about learning, education and ICT. It made me smile for the rest of the day.

I came away not afraid but excited that such innovation is burning fiercely and is being fanned by some of the most incredible teachers and pupils. Enthusiasm is infectious and what a fantastic show case put on by Stephen and his team. I wonder where else such innovation, discussion and enthusiasm can be found?

Time flies

I've been lucky in my life to travel extensively across the world and have visited some very beautiful locations. I have continued to live in my native West Sussex and was recently wandering the countryside and took a couple of pictures on a glorious Autumn day.

It occurred to me that I had been walking this same countryside for over forty years and it hit home to me that the peace and tranquility is probably why we've never felt the urge to move away despite having some very long commutes to work over the years.

I remember that for many years there was a large tree in the bend of the river, a few sticks and stumps remain, obviously old age and the floods have taken their toll. It set me thinking about change versus consistency. It was nice to see in the first picture that the Sussex barn in the distance has withstood the allure of being turned into a residence. I recall seeing my first Barn Owl nest in that very barn many years ago with my Father and then watching the magnificent sight of the silent parents quartering the meadows in search of food as the dusk settled.

Very little appears to have changed here - but how the world has moved on in those forty years. Worth a moment to ponder I think.

Saturday, 4 October 2008


We moved to a new house in August 2007 after 20 years in the previous house. We actually only moved three houses down the road and our old garden abutted the garden of the new house. One of the key reasons for moving was to get a bigger garden. We inherited a new garden that had been left to go a bit wild - see below:

With a bit of TLC we transformed it into the scene below by July 2008 ready for a jolly good birthday party for two of our children who have July birthdays only three days apart.

Satisfying to see the results of the hard work beginning to pay off.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Form and function

We live very close to the Weald and Downland Museum in West Sussex, UK. It is a wonderful place where old and interesting buildings have been moved and rebuilt stone by stone when their original location was under threat. The museum also hosts many interesting events and the picture above is from a steam rally that we went to in the summer.

I look at the wonderful traction engine and marvel at the interaction between form and function. What a magnificent beast!

If you feel the urge and have time and money of spare what about buying the one below and doing a restoration!

We also love looking at the gorgeous school building that was saved and bought to the museum. It was used in the 1800's to teach six pupils - personalised learning in not new!

March of the Bears

A wrote in an earlier entry that I compose music. I thought I'd post some up here. This one is called the March of the Bears and is for solo Tuba and brass quartet!


Web 2.0 technologies and learning

Some interesting comments on a Becta report from Merlin John. This links to thoughts on my previous post on infrastructure.

The full report from Becta can be found by following this link. Web 2.0 technologies for learning at Key Stages 3 and 4.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Investment in learning

Are we making progress on fully utilising the investment in learning spaces and places? Several of my local schools still appear to be 'closed' after 4pm with a limited number of traditional evening classes. There are some notable exceptions but is this ubiquitous? Is this a good return on the investment? Especially the BSF money now being put into the system. I am a fan of BSF and the associated developments so I ask the question out of enthusiastic optimism!


I am fascinated by the use of ICT in education. End user devices get a lot of focus as they are the things that pupils use and parents see as the tangible result of funding. However, behind the devices sits an infrastructure that is required to make the device in any way 'useful'. A model constructued by the Gartner group in the 1990s shows that the cost of infrastructure is 70% of the total cost of running an ICT system.

I am fascinated by the educational approach to infrastructure. It seams that a lot of what is really 'innovative' is being created and stored on 'free' infrastructure. Not a problem? Well my concern is that these 'free' spaces are clearly not 'free'. Somewhere the cost of running them is being met from a well constructured business plan. What concerns me is what happens when the buisness plan fails to deliver the revenue and the 'free' space disappears? Does it matter?

Is the infrastructure cost the stumbling block? Does the current BSF programme in England finally fix this issue?


Building schools for the future? Well not quite but still pretty impressive when you're five!

Monday, 29 September 2008

Welcome to the world of Stuff

A while ago I wrote a paper called 'welcome to our world of stuff'. This was inspired by conversations I was having with some young people at the time, and the work I was doing to build a learning platform for a group of schools to share acorss the UK. This included some interesting discussions with some folk from Microsoft and Stephen Heppell. The paper appears to ask some challenging quetions as reaction has been 'interesting'.

I think it provides a possible definition of 'transformation'. To enable the vision set out in the paper requires developments in several areas including physical sourroundings, leadership, pedagogy, learning and teaching practices. Nothing in the paper is unachievable under the current policy or funding mechanisms that exist in most education systems.

Happy reading!

Carefree days (2) ..........

The sun was shining so we all got our books and sat in the garden and did a bit of reading.

All in all this reading business is a bit serious though!

Sunday, 28 September 2008


I was fortunate to work with a very talented group of people who did a lot to reset my understanding of what learning was, the role of education institutions, the importance of the design of learning spaces and then the role of ICT within all the above.

I had been working for many years as an educator and had done several projects including the creation of a Learning Resources Centre that involved a lot of research into how learning environments contribute to the success of learning and the creation of a learning community.

I have mentioned a couple of people in this blog previously, notably Stephen Heppell who I met as part of an EU e-learning conference in the late 1990's. Others of note are:

Jim and Janet Schnitz who's enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, education was overwhelming. They in turn took me to Peter Fairweather who's thinking on the role of technology in learning was, and still is I expect, quite simply light years ahead of the current accepted understanding.

Janet and Jim now work as part of the team at Western Governors University, an interesting online learning institution. Peter still works at the IBM Watson Research Centre.

It was this team, with others, that put together one of the first coherent papers I had read on Learning Alignment. The clarity of how the pieces of the model connect together and the role for technology in all that came sharply into focus with the paper referenced. Interestingly the focus here for the ICT is how the enterprise scale systems need to be conceived in order to offer up the alignment insights. From this an e-learning conceptual architecture was born that looks at how the technical elements need to fit together.

All this was triggered by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation in the US and as such has a particular slant. But there is still a lot of synergy with what education systems are trying to do in the 21st Century. Another significant driver was also the original US based Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF). In fact within and underpinning the original SIF was the desire to make disparate data and knowledge systems work together - the Learning Alignment concept took that promise of interoperable systems and made the links to better understanding pupil performance.

SIF is now being looked at in many other countries, having been privy to the original thinking and looking at how this then linked into the Learning Alignment and then to an over arching reference architecture I find the current landscape fascinating.

I was thinking about how does all that link into the current BSF programme in England? Are we sure that this understanding is playing a part in the current design work? Are the ICT systems and infrastructures that are being put in place able to support the longer term goals of 'Learning Alignment'? As I have eluded to in an earlier post this all links to the Knowledge Management discussion.

I have spent a significant amount of time studying the psychology of learning, the design and functionality of learning spaces (some people still call them classrooms/schools!), the role of ICT both for the individual learner and at the enterprise/institutional infrastructure level. I have a number of thoughts on all these that I will develop in the near future.

Recently I have been very fortunate to work for a number of organisations where I have been able to work alongside architects, significant pedagogues and inspiring teachers where we have, in our own small way, explored many of these things and begun to make a difference to the learning experience.