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:

' 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.