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.