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.

Learning, Knowledge Management and connections

It strikes me that knowledge management, and how that concept is used to give competitive advantage in the commercial world, has parallels for education and learning. Recently I implemented a 'learning platform' for a group of schools spread across the UK. Beneath the external wrapper everything is connected so that in the future their knowledge, understanding and insights can be shared, mined and searched for re-purposing. I call this the 'World of Stuff' where artifacts of knowledge can be easily shared and re-purposed.

So - for a local, regional or national education system is the idea of knowledge management a must if the education system is to stay ahead of the global competition? Well I think so.

In England, Wales and Scotland we are leading the way here. Many of the elements for a very exciting knowledge management system are in place. The e-strategy in England and the Glow project in Scotland are pulling together items of knowledge in ways that allow links to be made. Is this too Big Brother? I am not the paranoid type on these things so I see the ability to intelligently mine information and make previously unseen connections, as a massive advantage.

Having worked for the worlds largest IT corporate for several years the global knowledge management system that was available to all employees was an incredible way of finding out what colleagues were doing, using previous understanding of topics and issues and collaborating with people from all over the world.

So education systems + knowledge management = more powerful and personalised learning?

Implementing systems in a way that can eventually connect all the pieces is an interesting challenge and requires a deal of foresight and planning that has to make connections between areas of knowledge that are traditionally not linked in education. at the simplest level, how many educators who have been involved in ICT have come across the requirement to keep the learning network that pupils use physically disconnected from the administration systems? Less so now but I still come across some people who believe that is a viable approach based on fears over security. All this requires 'multi dimensional' thinking and planning.

Working out how we then positvely add in the use that the young people are making of our connected world (as briefly talked about in a previous post when referencing the 'inbetween' spaces that Stephen Heppell talks about) makes this a delightfully exciting time to be around.

I think the general direction in the UK as whole is very encouraging - the journey will be exciting and I for one will be watching and working with great enthusiasm as we connect the knowledge areas together.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Feeding the ducks

The simple things in life.......feeding the ducks today was a great hit as always.

Technology and learning

Those of you who know me will recognise that I have done a lot of work on the use of ICT for learning. In fact rather in the vein of Stephen Heppell, I'm just a bit passionate about empowering people to learn, being creative and being........well.....happy.

The fact that most 'recognised' and 'validated' learning takes place in schools means that learning, education and schools have become synonymous with each other. Let's keep our eyes firmly on the learning bit though and make sure that we use the education places to fuel and build on the excitement that people have for learning new things.

It strikes me that learning is also about sharing and collaborating with people. Technology should make that come alive with the myriad of possibilities to collaborate, communicate and share that connectivity gives us (take a view across the blog of John Connell and you'll get a flavour of the possibilities for 'web2'). Is this what is happening or are we still seeing the connectivity and creative possibilities of the Internet and the Web simply being used to provide additional sources of reference material to feed a curriculum? My personal 'jury' is still out on this one. Having travelled to over 60 countries in the course of my work over the past ten years I am still waiting to find the place where the collaborative possibilities of the web are a critical part of the learning experience. Where the communication and collaboration possibilities supersede the use of the web as a vast reference library.

Interestingly many youngsters use the collaborative bit outside of the formal education places - the 'inbetween' spaces Stephen Heppell calls them - to run their lives. But you knew that, as it is not a well kept secret. How do those 'inbetween' spaces get joined to the education places to allow more and better learning?

Carefree days....

Did we get a summer this year? Well in bits and pieces. One of good bits was going to the beach with the children and just having the best fun ever! Bearing in mind this was the middle of September and the day was just glorious, the memories will stay for a long time. I've embedded a bit of video below!


Oh....the music is from the second movement of my Flute Concerto.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Is the mouse mighter than the pen?

I've been composing music since I was about seven years old - a good few years now! For the past twenty years or so I have used technology to help get the music into a form that others can easily read, perform and hear. I was reflecting the other day how things have changed in that time. Progress? Well I guess so. I have moved from having a computer (Initially a BBC B, then a RISC PC and also an Atari Mega ST in my case) in the 1990's driving hardware synthesizers that in turn played out sounds through a mixing desk, to a computer being 'self sufficient' with sounds being created in software and real instrument samples being played by the single machine. So things have moved on I guess. The machine I use is powerful and well specified with RAM etc. For the record (no pun intended) the software I use is predominantly Sibelius (http://www.sibelius.com/) and Pro-Tools (http://digidesign.com/) with various plugins and sound libraries. This runs out through an M-Audio control surface (http://www.m-audio.com/) and into my now old and discontinued (but still very functional) Yamaha RS30 AMP and a nice rich sounding pair of Maundent Shaut S100 speakers - also discontinued.

Does all this help with the creativity? Yes and no I think. It certainly makes an end product easy to produce in terms of a listenable audio file. The sampled instruments make a decent stab at mimicking the real thing if that is what we are after. It also turns the previously painfully slow process of producing orchestral scores into a exercise that is governed by the speed of your printer! In performance terms however, nothing replaces real instruments and real people. It is interesting how the vast majority of music for TV is now back to using live instruments after a long period of using mainly electronic instruments.

Walking is good for the soul

Spent a very enjoyable few hours walking around Rutland Water on Monday with a very wise friend. Having covered about five miles in a mixture of wind, sun and rain I departed for home with some very interesting ideas and thoughts and an inner calm that only being outdoors ever really gives me.

We discussed many things, as usual, but were thinking and talking a lot about how ICT in education is used and particularly thinking about whether we are really making the most of the 'C' (communications) bit. Do groups of schools really share and do teachers really collaborate and encourage their pupils to collaborate? I was reminded of a piece in Tim Berners-Lee's book, Weaving the web, where he talks of the web needing to become truly a collaborative medium if its full potential was to be realised rather than simply as a shop window for people to look at stuff. Intercreativity he calls it if my memory serves me correctly.

Hmm - I wonder......

My guide and confidant on the walk, Mike Frisby, runs an excellent website on the village of Langham in Rutland. Take a look here. Langham.