Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Curriculum is not Content

I wrote this for the Financial Times and it was published in July 2013 as an opinion piece for FT readers to reflect on as the summer holiday season began. They ran it just as I wrote it, pretty much, although the last paragraph got lost in the sub editing - and important conclusion, I thought.

Anyway, here is the piece:



In Hong Kong in 2011 I watched Under Secretary of State for Education Kenneth Chen telling school leaders that Hong Kong would not remain top of global science teaching tables "by continuing to teach science in the old ways". He implored them to "move away from a focus on Content Knowledge" and to embrace the "learning to learn" that he had placed at the heart of education reforms. Technology was a key to open that ambition. Precisely a decade earlier, at the end of an ambitious tech research project in Singapore, Teo Chee Hean, then Minister for Education there, observed that "The pace of change of new technology is more rapid than the typical timeline for educational research studies". He confirmed that in Singapore "teachers need to be action researchers who can produce and publish research findings on a more rapid cycle so that other teachers can build on their experiences, learn from them and implement these improvements in their own classrooms".

By 2012, looking back over the past decade, Heng Swee Keat - Singapore's current Minister for Education - noted their movement from an initial survival driven focus on national cohesion, into an efficiency drive in the 70s to improve school drop-out rates and "boost industry-relevant skills", before finally moving onwards to today's focus on "developing a broader range of skills such as critical thinking and creativity, and to devolving more autonomy to our schools to encourage innovation".

Although much else contributed too, it seems to be working. Between 2007 and 2013 Singapore's GDP Growth Rate averaged over 5%. Hong Kong too is currently growing GDP at close to 3%. Perhaps the key difference is that for both economies education is an investment, where much of Europe and the USA sees education as a cost. For that investment's outcomes Singapore and Hong Kong are seeking a lot more than just kids who can remember and recall a finite set of facts. They want collaborative ingenuity. Unsurprisingly, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) educational survey, in the face of some criticism about its own measures of educational success, has noted Singapore's focus on equipping "students with critical competencies, such as self-directed learning and collaboration skills" and will be introducing Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) as a new international measure of educational effectiveness, from 2015.

How well might English children perform on those CPS tests? In parallel to the South East Asian focus on creativity, critical thinking and reflective practice, in England we are watching an alternative Coalition experiment in education. Encouragingly it has given us a huge diversity of school types, from Free Schools to Studio School, from University Technical Colleges to Academy clusters, - precisely what is needed for the kind of "vibrant learning communities where exploration and experimentation are integral" spoken of by Heng Swee Keat. That diversity is necessary but not sufficient. Rather less encouragingly, the other half of the bold Coalition experiment sees a refocus on Content. It was perhaps wonderfully ironic that in a month that saw a newly fact based English history curriculum launched, Richard III's skeleton was unexpectedly discovered under a council car park in Leicester. As English schoolchildren were being told of the irrevocable supremacy of their history text books, archeologists were saying "we will have to rewrite the text books now". Oh dear.

Focussing on Content is a familiar economic mistake. Back in the last century, in parallel to the expensive misunderstandings of the dot com bubble, education based companies thought their market would be Content Delivery. Surely, Content was King, and Delivery was Dollars? They weren't. In a world awash with content, much of it free, markets turned out to be about memberships and mutuality, whilst ingenuity and creativity were increasingly scarce and valued. Will English schoolchildren, newly returned to rote learning, sitting down to an exam paper and hoping there are no surprises, be ready for the certainty of uncertainty and the constant surprise that characterise our current economic circumstances? It is a gamble, but it doesn't seem likely. At this stage in the world's race for economic survival, an educational refocus on Content starts to look like a suicide note.

At a time when probably every company in the City aspires to be a Learning organisation, and every corporate mission statement mentions learning, agility and creativity, it should be clear that Education is far too important economically, strategically and socially to leave in the hands of a Department of Education, whoever the minister at the time might be. The hot economic debate is thus: if education is to move forward quickly enough who should we now entrust it too? The global answer emerging in the world's high flying economies seems to be: "give it back to the schools, the teachers, the parents and the children; ask them to make learning better". Maybe we should too.



© professor stephen heppell july 2013

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

letter to Queensland

I wrote this at the request of Queensland's Courier-Mail - they duly published it, with much else on learning spaces too.

All,

Having just enjoyed a remarkable day of conversation and creative energy at the State Library of Queensland, focussed on your future learning, I reflected overnight on the remarkable potential that you have to change your own destiny statewide, and the world's too. That doesn't happen very often.

The coincidence of several unique moments has thrown up a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Queensland, as I know many of you have already reflected:

Firstly, next year is the 100 year anniversary of secondary education in Queensland, a chance to be proud of the progress in that first 100 years, but also to look forward to the potential of the next.

Secondly, you have some exceptional young teachers: they entered the profession in times of full employment - with your healthy state economy they could have done anything they wished, but they still chose to teach. Alongside them stand a near-retired group of wise old owls (if I can so characterise them!) approaching retirement but with a robust track record of making change happen, and of coping with change; their careers have been necessarily agile. The combination of these two groups, working alongside each other will only be with us for another decade - they are a remarkable asset going forwards.

Thirdly, you face significant changes in the Australian National Curriculum (ACARA), with an increasingly standardised set of tests. This tested new approach won't last of course - the research evidence is damning about high stakes testing - but it does provide yet another reason to review existing practice today. 2012 will be very different to 2002, or even 2022.

Fourthly, the transition of Year Seven into Secondary School is a substantial change - and in a world where playful learning is finally seen to be effective and appropriate, a key challenge will be to retain the playful, autonomous learning from the early years into the secondary years and beyond.

All this offers clear enough opportunities - and good reasons - to explore alternative ways to teach and learn, but there are further drivers of change too: the new technologies in your students' pockets and hands; the plea from employers for new employees that are comfortable with ambiguity, are team players, have ingenuity; the 24/7 connectivity of our world; tightening finances... and more. This perfect storm of progress is inevitably sweeping away the old factory schools of the last century, but it also provides a unique opportunity to shape what comes next. All around the world teachers and schools are discovering, researching and sharing the new approaches that make learning more engaging and extraordinarily effective. Some of what they have discovered is counter intuitive, not all of it will suit yourselves, but it is now so easy to reach out to borrow from their tested ingredients to assemble a Queensland recipe that is as world class, and as noticed, as your state library. Inevitably, your future world class learning will look as different as your new library did.

None of this needs to be expensive though. New approches by and large can be very affordable - are often actually cheaper - and do need to be. It is my simple belief that a world riven by strife can be healed with better learning. Like many of you, I've seen children inoculated against poverty with learning, seen how children who learn together emerge with understanding ahead of hatred. The model you evolve from your unique opportunities will need to be affordable so that others less fortunate might follow your lead. Change, but change cheaply.

The hardest thing to do, with change, is to begin. Circumstances had already begun that change for you. My note here is simply to confirm what many of you are already saying - that here is a unique chance to make the world sit up and take notice, and to mend that world a little too.

Professor Stephen Heppell
Bournemouth University, England
Universidad Camilo José Cela, Madrid.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Because we can, surely we should?

I wrote this for CEMP's Media Education Manifesto - a really interesting collection of views and reflections - and am quite pleased with it. The Manifesto is turning into an MIT Press book, which is interesting, given what the contributions mostly say (!). Anyway , here is what I said:


Sometimes, as we struggle for resources and for progress in a parsimonious, post banking-debacle economy, with our cross-platform screens filled by conflict and disengagement, it is all too easy to forget that learning has the potential to do so much that might mend a broken world. And the world is really very broken. The World Bank’s data is bleak: more than a billion people unable to read a book or sign their names, great swathes of Africa with literacy rates below 50%, gender parity indices showing girls missing out too often in too many places. Around 50 million children excluded from education because they live in war zones. We see completely collapsed economies in Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In Liberia 75% of the population is under 25 and 75% of them are apparently in gun toting militias. More than half the armed conflicts worldwide use children under 15 as fighters. The data isn’t just bleak, it is relentless. Every day children are hurting.

Traditional educational practice has, perhaps unsurprisingly, made little impact on resolving this hurt. Even in our already developed economies traditional approaches have been characterised by too much disaffection, have too many coasting kids, and have found that a world of managerialism and incrementalism has delivered a disappointing plateau across a range of key variables. If traditional educational practice isn’t working here, it might be a bit ambitious to expect the same model of cells and bells structures, with kill and drill, stand and deliver pedagogies, to work in far more challenging circumstances. Lorry loads of second hand textbooks, or brave charitably funded teachers, or donated chalk boards have not made, cannot make, enough difference, however heroic and welcome those myriad efforts might be. It isn’t that children the world over don’t want to learn. They do, and in many places the indicative graphs are mostly moving in the right directions, but the progress they chart is not urgent enough for the current generation of under ten year olds born and living within the 21st century. Their needs outstrip their opportunities. Every decade of glacial progress, another generation misses out. Eventually, perhaps sooner than expected, their collective patience will be exhausted.

If the old factory model of 20th century learning is not working well enough, we do know that in other sectors new and emerging technologies are capable of demonstrating real alternatives with huge impacts, in particular within new and emerging economies: the Bank Rakyat of Indonesia with its 21 million mobile phone based savers, or the Equity Bank in Kenya with its 3.9 million micro-bankers – one in ten – reinvigorating economies and empowering farmers. The Afridoctor virtual health clinic in Cape Town, offering a “snapdiagnosis” service, where patients can send phone pictures of their ailments to a panel of doctors. Same Language Subtitling (SLS) of Bollywood movies in Gujarat state hugely transforming literacy rates through some form of visual osmosis, and much more elsewhere. ALternative approaches can be remarkably effective.

But what has this to do with Media Education, that bête noire of the new Govian english curriculum? Media Education is uniquely placed to make a contribution far and beyond its humble impact on domestic social processes, on our critical analysis of communication, on our interpretation and analysis of political events, on our scholarship of media. Media Education has the potential to be a disruptive catalyst transporting learning into the 3rd millennium – it could not be more needed that it is now. It has a history steeped in change and has been adept at responding to change. It has narrated and interpreted, embraced and critiqued that substantial change in its short life. It has deconstructed it. It has helped us to see the cues and clues to the next change, even as we make sense of the current ones. We are in a world where substantial change characterises much of our collective experience. There is something about new technology that allows us to exist precariously, Icarus like, flying close too to the margins: deeper oil wells in the ocean, more planes in the air than ever before, tighter margins on banks’ capital. And inevitably at the margins, things go wrong: oil leaks we don’t know how to cap, a volcanic ash cloud shutting down airspace, economic collapse. These unexpected events impact disproportionally on the weakest economically. So, how do we prepare our least prepared for this unstable world? We look to see who has a track record of having coped; media education has coped, and coped well, with the certainty of uncertainty, the constancy of change. We expect to be astonished; that is our life.

Media Education has always been underpinned by evolving technological delivery. The evolution has been chaotic. There has been no equilibrium: the balance of production contribution has swung to include the user; cross media have muddied our definitional waters; we have seen screen sizes shrink to our pockets, grow into iMax, fatten into 3D; we’ve seen markets stutter, shrink, grow exponentially and vanish; seen culture clashes soothed; seen cartels shattered and individuals empowered; seen aggregated social voices raised, amplified and heard. Media Education above all else helps us to be agile in our scholarship; we’ve had to be. It anoints its students with the necessary survival skills for a life in the turbulent creative industries. But it can be so much more than that. If we are to solve the global and local inequality of educational provision within the shrinking resources of a post-crash world our toolkit must necessarily include the ability to make learning fleet of foot, ready for anything, seductive, engaging, agile, full of ingenuity and unashamedly relevant to today’s world. Media Education can be all that.

Furthermore, Media Education has a remarkable track record of engaging the disengaged, mainstreaming the marginalised, accelerating the coasting, embracing the rejected. Our professional lives are filled with powerful anecdotes about access successes. Where the narrow corridors of educational structures and strictures limit, and delimit, what learners might do, or who leaners might be, Media Educators have collectively widened the pathways to success. We bask in the learner journeys we have enabled for our remarkable students. That matters.

Bluntly, Media Education has the opportunity to pioneer and evidence those new approaches to learning that have the potential to mend a broken world. Together, we have the experience to show how to engage the disengaged, give voice to the unheard, empower the disenfranchised, transcend notational literacy. The danger though, is that Media Education eschews this meta-purpose. For many in Media Education the fight has been for simple local survival. Under-represented on education policy bodies, marginalised institutionally, assaulted by the disdain of the very media we research, tech-rich but resource poor, it has been all too tempting to see ourselves in the manner of a pedagogic proletariat, shackled by systems, with little control over our destiny, and aspiring simply to move on up in respectability and esteem. To focus on that parochial fight would be to betray the opportunity presented and to selfishly abandon the millions who might be helped. If Media Education has a manifesto then surely it should be headlined by a wish to push within all our institutions for ambitious change, to overturn moribund models of practice, to challenge ossified pedagogy, to be the engine of change, to apply what we know.

Media Education is one of only a few things that can help mend the world. Because we can, surely we should?

2010 ©stephen heppell

Shoeless

Shoeless learning works...

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Mobile technologies and handheld devices for ubiquitous learning: Research and pedagogy

I wrote this foreword for W Ng's interesting book "Mobile technologies and handheld devices for ubiquitous learning: Research and pedagogy". Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Global Publishing. At the time it was clear that the progression to embrace hand held devices was universal, but since then there have been rumblings about a universal ban in the UK (which cannot possibly happen, the genie is out of the bottle and even the most obsessive Minister will not call for the searching of every teenage bra!. However, even headline seeking sabre rattling around bans makes this all the more pertinent.

Anyway, here is my foreword:

Education doesn't have a very good track record with innovative technologies. A few folk reading this will be old enough to remember being banned from using the "new" ballpoint pens for fear that their cursive script handwriting might be ruined. Others, later, may have been prevented from using their slide rules, or in still later years yet had their calculators confiscated, or told that it was the "wrong type" ("we don't allow programmable functions here I'm afraid"). Education has had a track record of first confiscating, and then appropriating, emerging technologies. Even the potential that computers, and laptops, offered became tamed by a mass of "managed services" and by a stultifying focus on a small suite of tools for office workers, rather than perhaps the freedom of tools used in creative industries, or in play. For many, the power of moving image was reduced to weakly animated text on a Powerpoint slide. Even the remarkable, free, open world offered by the World Wide Web was rapidly closed off by massively filtered internet provision and by parallel "equivalent" services. "We have our own YouTube" authorities would proclaim, literally blind to the 10 hours of video contributed every minute to the real one.

Education's question, faced with most emerging technology, has traditionally been a simple productivity view of "how can this new thing usefully improve what we are already doing?", rather than "what new things might we now do?". The excitement of games became tamed to "spelling space invaders", the art, installation and celebration potential of a computer plus projector was reeled back into an interactive white-board and so on. It has always been relatively simple to achieve this appropriation of new technologies, because the pace of change was rapid but manageable. We had only been on the gentle slope of an exponential curve that is now, finally, beginning to steepen very rapidly indeed. On the gentle part of that slope we had plenty of time to reflect on quite small technological changes - and to head off perhaps the perceived dangers of that potential change. I remember a debate running for several years in the early 80s about whether we should have colour of monochrome computer monitors! People suggested that colour might be damaging for students' eyes! But now that we have reached the steep bit, where the Technology Progress against Time curve leaps skywards, we have but the blink of an eye to make sense of huge leaps in technological capability, and that changes everything.

Mobile technology is the first to appear in our classrooms and to successfully resist education's hunger for appropriation. It is the first technology already on the steep part of the exponential curve. When I put some of the very first "luggable" phones into a classroom in early early 90s the children saw a potential right away: "we could talk to people in France and improve our language skills; it wouldn't matter where they were, or we were, we could talk about what we were doing" they said, eyes alight with excitement. Education didn't give up the fight easily and produced the usual list of hokum to justify the usual bans: txting would ruin children's prose, radiation might fry their brains; when TV used video to show fictional fights and incidents it was "drama" when children did it it was "happy slapping" and so on. But mobile technology is essentially personal, portable and powerful. As schools were fretting about txting children were already social networking. This time the pace of change meant it was all too easy for the children to remain one step ahead. And they did.

Today of course mobile phone technology is an integral part of very many classrooms: children summarise their understanding, snap images from the board, blog their field trips, bluetooth to their teachers, do day-in-the-life projects through their phones with other schools, sample and exchange data, and - as this book reveals - much more besides. This post-Google generation see a whole new potential for themselves as learners and they see much of it lying beyond the structures and strictures of the old education system of the last century. Mobile learning has already shown itself to be a watershed in learning - the moment when the leaners, finally, had an authentic say in what the future might be like. The biggest certainty we have as we move forward is that education won't appropriate this next tidal wave of change. Tomorrow will be a very different place. This excellent book gives us some hints about what kind of place that might be.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

a new decade in Learning

The Times Educational Supplement asked me to look back on the first decade of this century - and to look froward to the next. What a decade it has been! So here is what I wrote for them, for a january edition of the TES:

A decade passing and the year 2000 already feels a long time ago. Looking back, three clear markers for the future of learning were in place at that time: I remember the Millennium Eve party rather well, considering. It was the opening of the Dome in Greenwich and I'd been involved because our Tesco Schoolnet 2000 (TSN2K) project children were to showcase their work in the Dome om some rather fanciful computer screens fringed by inflatable butterfly wings! At the party, and indeed in the lead up to the millennium, most of the media coverage was looking back - "what a century that was". But the children were, of course, looking forwards to what they might be able to do with the power that ICT had given them: power to contribute, to participate, to collaborate, and to do so without limit. TSN2K became at the time the World's Biggest Internet learning project according to the Guinness Records folk. David Blunkett, an inspired education Minister when it came to ICT, was being interviewed by a little 9 year old reporter who asked if he had a nickname at school. "Yes, I did" he replied, taking her away from the journalists and over to a quiet side of the room, "but I can't tell you in front of all those people". She was doing a web page of course and his secret went viral within hours!

That same year Carole Chapman's remarkable 7 year long Learning in the New Millennium project with Nortel was coming to an end. She'd connected scientists, engineers, primary and secondary children in an on-line social network back in 1993 and had been watching what happened since. BBC Tomorrow's World featured how by the end you could not distinguish the primary children from the adults - their learning leapt forward in a stellar way and Nortel ended up employing many of the youngsters in the project, sponsoring them through university, because Nortel thought were remarkable. Indeed, although chosen as a representative sample they had become quite exceptional. The community became "seamless tapestry of learning" where "children as teachers were as exciting as children as learners" and where applied science and technology for the children leapt ahead, while they in turn tutored Nortel's geeks through the history and languages that they had missed at school.

And the third straw in the wind, back in 2000, was the complex social networking tool we developed with Oracle to be the millennium mail address for all schoolchildren that Prime Minister Blair promised, but later reneged on. With Larry Ellison's genorosity the software went on to became Think.com. Children simply loved the power of their social network, think of it as Facebook on steroids, and right away started to learn and work with others all around the world.

This is where it gets interesting. The potential learning world of 2010, so clearly presaged by these projects, was probably missed by all the self congratulatory looking-back that characterised celebrations in 2000. A decade ago, learning had already shown that when it escaped from its limits it could indeed be stellar. Peer to peer, mixed age, global, unlimited, shared, stage not age, project based Learning, spurred along by mutuality, exhibition, challenge and a shared ambition, really, really worked. Of course, in 2000 not all ICT at the time was like that. Much of it was still built around the sense that content was king, that kill and drill programs offered productivity gains, and that managed systems with nailed down networks would keep everything under control. Remarkably, today the new schools being built around the UK and indeed worldwide evidence this severe philosophical split too. On the one hand we see the gleaming factory schools with their cells and bells, with rigid and unsubstantiated subject divides, driven by incrementalism and managerialism, inwardly focussed, with children timetabled to the point of despair and beyond the point of disengagement. On the other hand we can see today's learning centric schools, and they are popping up everywhere, absolutely reflecting the promise of those world leading ICT turn-of-the-century projects a decade before. They couldn't be further from factory schools: they are ambitious, are built around community, have the learners' voice at their heart, embrace projects, relish challenge, mix ages, have an open architecture and open curriculum, embrace children as teachers too, are full of engaged effective learners - both staff and students. Above all else have a global perspective at their heart. Talking to a remarkably articulate student in the Kent's Leigh Technology Academy a week or two back I asked him about his work experience and internships. "I've done two so far" he replied, "one in India and one in China". Back in 2000 we knew this could happen.

Knowing where we will be in ten year's time is helpful. We are approaching a time of tight money in teaching and learning. Bankers' greed has robbed education and we are facing the consequences. We can't afford to waste or equivocate as we invest going forwards. ICT in the year 2000 showed us very clearly where education might be going. It showed the choices for the decade ahead - productivity against community, despair against delight. As we leave the Noughties and enter the Impecunious Teens we won't have enough money to equivocate. We will need to get it right first time. Fortunately today's ICT once again gives us a very clear view of where we will be in a further decade's time and this time there aren't any choices. Online learners now have laid down a single set of markers for personalisation, for transparency, for mutuality, for us-ness, for whole new economic models, for quite literally unbounded learning, for a world of helping learners to help each other. The artificial distinction between "formal" and "informal" learning has already vanished online.

We are, as I have often reflected, facing the death of Education, but are very much at the dawn of Learning. 21st century Learning looks pretty exciting and today's leaners, with today's pocketable personal connected ICT, are showing us very, very clearly just how good learning might be. We ignore that at our peril.


© heppell.net 2009

Yes we can? Yes we jolly well should!

Marc Prensky asked me to write the foreword for his new book "Teaching Digital Natives" and i was delighted - honoured - to do so. it is a very useful, pragmatic and helpful contribution. Order it from this link!

What a remarkable century this is already turning out to be for Learning. All around the world teachers, schools, families and even policy makers are waking up to the view that building learning in this new 21st century using the structures and strictures of the previous 20th century is a wild and reckless gamble that all too often fails. But sadly, for so many of them, exploring and testing new ideas within their own context leaves them feeling lonely, brave and rather exposed. Curiously, and rather reassuringly, in isolation many have arrived at very similar conclusions about just what effective 21st century learning strategies and practices might look like. Think what progress they might make together!
 
Marc has been a pivotal contributor to building that togetherness. IIn previous writing and contributions, Marc has already done a remarkable job of steering the world towards a new shared vocabulary, one that helps us all to see the fresh opportunities this century offers to its young citizens. That shared vocabulary has already given the lonely, brave and exposed innovators some collegiality, camaraderie even. Suddenly, they were part of something big, something consensual.
 
And now once again, in this new book, Marc comes along with just the right contribution at just the right time. His stout and unanswerable defence of the need to move learning forward is clearly and accessibly articulated. So much here will feed winning lines into debates at schools, or in policy forums.

Marc has added to this a treasure chest of heartwarmingly effective practice. The palpable sense of a bottom up revolution in learning, built by children, communities and teachers who really care about it, comes over as loud, clear and comforting. The ability to rapidly browse the book for proven, effective, attainable ideas will ensure a well thumbed copy in every staffroom.
 
Lately, the USA has seemed reawakened by a new president who has done a remarkable job of reengaging younger and disinterested voters. There is something in the words "yes we can" that reached out to a new generation, and well beyond the USA, to convey a new optimism. We need that optimism focussed very firmly onto learning. Our forebears began a revolution with medicine, changing the lives of whole continents and transforming the potential life chances of generations.  They didn't stay contentedly with the apparent certainties of their own forebears, but pushed ahead to create a modern medical revolution and in doing so changed their world. Today the world is in quite a mess and many of us have seen the impact that Learning might have on repairing that mess. We've seen children innoculated against poverty through great learning, seen the disengaged reengaged, seen community rifts healed, seen that insummountable problems can be breached and bridged with ingenuity, seen that children who learn together joyfully are simply less likely to grow want to kill each other. Our generation can have a remarkable and enduring impact too, through Learning. Our contribution can be a modern learning revolution.
 
"Yes we can" indeed, and what Marc has done here is to show precisely why and how we can. I'm just adding in this foreword that, given all the opportunities that we now have to make a local and global difference through learning, and given the world's needs, then surely "Yes, we jolly well should".

This book will help us, and help us help each other.

exhibition, performance, delight: the future of learning

Friend - and now as visiting prof at CEMP in Bournemouth Uni - colleague Anthony Lilley (who amongst a hugely hectic life runs Magic Lantern) asked me to write this for an Arts Council publication he was assembling. I finished it skiing at the end of 2009

In the rather sad factory learning era that was the 20th century, the twin Dementors of managerialism and incrementalism stalked education unremittingly. The result was that learners at every level were trapped by the structures and strictures that were put in place to deliver on some depressingly basic and joyless KPIs. "Was education working?" the Treasury would ask, and their simple answer would be to solely look at the number of children who attained 5 GCSEs at C or above. Teachers and others in education are smart - that is how they got to be there. So it wasn't long before schools were focussing efforts on getting the Ds up to Cs rather than stretching the Bs or delighting the As, and rather sadly they abandoned the Es. It would be hard to devise a metric more likely to disengage a generation of learners, or to dismay a generation of teachers. It was and is a disaster.

Worse still, on the international stage the World Bank's sole measure of educational success was even dafter: they simply looked to see how much money had been spent - on the assumption that all spending was gainful - and of course this hardly helped the battle against corruption, or for effectiveness. For the World Bank giving $5bn to a nation, when $4bn ended up in a corrupt government's pocket, seemed more effective that giving $2bn directly to schools. Looking back it is hard to believe the naivety of these and other 20th century measures and for certain we will laugh at them in the future as heartily as today we laugh at the memory of leeches in medicine.

Today, decision making is passing right on down to the schools and communities that are making learning happen. There is good data, scholarly forensic analysis, copious experience and indeed plenty of common sense all of which suggests that we might focus more effectively on rather subtle, and useful, measures. Our schools and other learning institutions themselves have begun to properly value outputs that were unexpected or undervalued in the last century: ingenuity is beginning again to run ahead of conformity, standards are beginning to replace standardisation, universities are beginning to explore graduation by exhibition; it is not fanciful to imagine that even the delight on children's faces might inform a metric of engagement. Other metrics might also include employment, reduced teenage pregnancies, attendance, parental engagement, applicants for vacant posts, employee churn, and stage not age based success. We know with certainty that where engagement and application are key, the learners' voices are suddenly more resonant and urgent than the Minister's in helping us to know what works best. And learners have said "no" resoundingly to cells and bells, to the disaggregation of knowledge, to Dick Turpin style (Stand and Deliver) teaching, to copying swathes in class but being banned from copying from the web at home, from learning being "delivered" rather like milk once was. It seems as though, in a rather gentle and bottom up way, a learners' revolution is sweeping aside that old factory model of learning. All this might be rather encouraging, and it warrants some exploration. How did all this happen? Why isn't it happening everywhere? Is this the future of learning?

In very many ways we stand at a significant crossroads in this first decade of our fresh millennium: new technologies, remarkably confident young users, new models of business and organisation, fresh approaches to work, ubiquitous media, global scale but with small communities increasingly sovereign, a world of unexpected and sudden social change, a palpable tilt in the economic world order, and more. Only a little way into the next 1,000 years and already it feels very different from 1999. Sitting in our many millennium parties just a few years ago the emphasis seemed to be on looking back smugly: how far we had come, what progress we had made, how well we had done, how clever we all were, how modern. Ten years on it is clear that we should all have been looking forwards instead. Recent seismic changes, from a massive economic "credit crunch" to rapidly worsening climate instability make the last century seem pedestrian and snoozy by comparison. The 1990s look dated from here, and we have a better sense of the progress we need to make, the distance we have to travel, to cope with the unexpected changes of this tempestuous new era. It looks as though we weren't very clever at all.

It would be a wild and reckless gamble to think that we might move forward into this new millennium with the same education system that served a previous century, any more than we would expect the same power stations, or the same medicines, to suffice. Few adults would now wish their children to be in a school that is like the one that they themselves left a generation before, just as few have ever wished their dentist to be like the one we went to as a child! But what to change? what to keep? what to abandon? what are others doing better? Perhaps in the 1870s policy makers, responding to the industrial revolution around them, faced a similar challenge as they migrated learning into formal institutions, but they had the luxury of so much time to decide on action. Noone has previously faced the pace of change that characterises this decade so far, and that pace of change will no doubt accelerate further yet as we climb to the steep part of the exponential curve that is 21st century technological progress. Pace changes everything and it will change learning too, for the good.

In post war Europe, facing an unprecedented baby boom and unrelenting mass production, factory schools looked to policy makers like a very good idea indeed: a one-size-fits-all curriculum, with uniformity, conformity and rigidity at its heart, with everything broken up into manageable pieces, appeared to be able to process the booming numbers and to provide a time-aware, production-line savvy, workforce for the burgeoning automobile and washing machine factories. School time was broken up into ridiculously small blocks with bells to punctuate the day in a way that many commentators since have paralleled with the tea break bells in those same factories. How on earth could anyone engage in a learning task that had any ingenuity or creativity in a 30 minute lesson? But Fords et al didn't want ingenuity or creativity on their production lines, they wanted compliance and acquiescence. At one point in the 1970s the UK was opening a school every day, somewhere, and most were flat roofed, galvanised windowed, corridor rich pastiches of the factories down the road - both with industrial scale toilets and rather over-grand entrances. In this context, it is no wonder that standards got muddled with standardisation and learning got utterly lost.

The standardised "output" from these cells and bells schools filled the many mindless jobs of post war economic Britain. Single figure graduation rates from university - around 7% for England, reflected the lack of national and economic ambition for learners. "Too clever by half" was an insult, not a complement. Today of course things are different. The mindless jobs are outsourced or done by robots. In the 21st century the economic need is for ingenious, creative, collaborative, engaged children who can go on to manage the outsourced global teams, or design better robots. In employment, the job category that has collapsed fastest has been unskilled clerical work. Technology has simply taken that work over in the way that the early photocopiers replaced rooms full of copy typists in the 20th century. Ironically, factory schools remained dominated by repetitive clerical tasks, preparing children only for unemployment as the end of the last century demonstrated all too depressingly. The Campaign for Learning's IPSOS / Mori poll of 2007 revealed that the top item reported by children as required learning activity in school was simply copying from a board or worksheet. How could that possible be useful? There has been no work for copyists for decades. Cells and bells schools do not produce the fresh, innovative, creative, sometimes maverick thinkers we need to approach tasks differently, to innovate, to break through past assumptions - to solve the unexpected problems of global warming, economic collapse and conflict. For children to think outside of the box we need first to let them escape from it. Life changes, schools must too.

Of course, technology changes too and it has been a huge catalyst in allowing so much of what we "always did" to be rethought. Technology's changes currently are exponential: the processing power of computers, internet data traffic, the adoption of mobile phones, the number of transistors on a chip, bandwidth available wirelessly, the falling price of storage, GPS in cars... It doesn't matter which 21st century technology you plot on a graph against Time, it will yield an exponential curve taking a moment to gather pace, but then rushing skywards. As time goes by the pace of change increases substantially. You think it is quick now, but you haven't seen anything yet.

Looking at an exponential curve, with its flat start and precipitate conclusion, you can see just why pace changes everything. Early on, at the dawn of micro-computers for example, with the curve still flatish, we had a relatively long time to reflect on comparatively small changes. I remember debating for some years the merit, or not, of a colour rather than green and black, computer screen, or of a move from 5.25" "floppy" discs to the more robust little 3.5" ones. Should computers be in "suites" facing the wall (no!), or more ubiquitously distributed? Cue debate throughout the entire 1990s. With the luxury of time, policy could be piloted, conclusions mulled over, iteration could occur, consultation and debate absorbed, Quangos could proclaim, draft proposals would be circulated. However, today the really substantial technological seismic shocks are "out there" in the consumers hands before a policy debate has even had time to start, let alone conclude. As schools debate acceptable use policy for their managed IP networks, students are arriving with more personal bandwidth, unfettered, on their 3G dongles, or tethered mobile phones, than the school offers, filtered, and shared between whole classes. The first 3D printers I saw recently were in schools, not in policy quangos or strategy think tanks, or ministers' offices, or tech shows. The impact of children "printing" otherwise unmanufacturable 3D physical objects as components of their Design and Technology projects and coursework will have been addressed, and solved, by the children and their schools before the policy and strategy folk have even perceived the problem. Top down is blind in this rush, bottom up has the breadth to offer insight. Bottom up will evolve wise decisions too, because children have an acute sense of what is right and just. Earlier in this decade, policy folk were still debating the merits and dangers of Google (which was for a mad while banned in many schools) as the children themselves were already switching to YouTube as their primary search engine. Whilst the government floundered and obfuscated around its promise for an email address for each child, the children themselves had dropped email ("It's what you dad does") in favour of the greater conversational granularity of social networks and messaging. Policy looks backwards in this hectic rush, but children and (many of) their teachers look forward. The gap between their visions widens as a result.

However, the pace of change is not a benign neutral influence - it can and has transformed other sectors - sending shock waves through them in many cases, hugely challenging our existing models of organisation and the of the structures that they support. It is surely apparent to all but the most stubbornly deluded that one significant impact of this accelerating pace of technology is that it breaks cartels. Any organisation who seek to build barriers around themselves - for example by substantial merger activity, or through legislative requirements - as a way to vouchsafe their economic futures - will be doomed because technology has tipped the power balance back in favour of users. It is a people century already. Is is instructive to consider some examples, because education could easily be next: since the 1960s the music industry sought to persuade us that live music had no value whilst the "high fidelity" perfect studio recording was a treasure to be purchased and held dear. This lie ended with the complete nonsense of "performers" lip synching at their "live" shows accompanied by a recorded invisible multi-tracked orchestra. It was in every sense laughable. Youngsters have seen clear through this madness and will not tolerate it. Today's youngsters see a recording as having simply no value - in the way that a camera-phone photo of the Mona Lisa, or a photocopy of a banknote, is clearly not valued as original either - and thus these youngsters swap digital facsimiles as downloads guilt free. However, they do see where true value and scarcity lie, and they have poured back into live music gigs paying high prices and everyone from an ageless Tina Turner to a kissed-and-made-up Spandau Ballet are wonderfully back on the road and making substantial profits from live performance, again. The music industry, confronted by the collapse of their Great Lie about recordings rush cap in hand to Downing Street or to the White House pleading for protective legislation against "pirates" whilst sales of live event tickets look like a gold rush! The market, and the rules, have changed. People have broken the cartel.

A second example, Media, has also long been characterised by these artificial cartels - the results of merger and protection. Inevitably then, media has come under siege from these same formerly passive but now empowered consumers. Currently, it is impossible to think of a broadcasting, or newsprint, organisation that is not in fear of its life. Youngsters have called the bluff of media too. They see "establishment" shows like Top Gear with its edited and part scripted "adventures" and its bullying of the ecologically aware as no different at all from their own phone based media fictions, as personified by the demonised Happy Slapping, with its bullying too. Not unreasonably, they ask how could one be acceptable and legitimate media, while the other is apparently evidence of a subversive youth turning bad? Of course the youngsters are right - Top Gear IS Happy Slapping, but with budget. Unsurprisingly, that is not how the media cartels see it. The result is another 20th century cartel structure crumbling before our 21st century eyes with a new generation enjoying doing it for themselves. Education must learn from this: the learners want an active role, they want honesty, they are armed and deadly with their new technologies.

Is is not rocket science to see these same dangers building for Education. Children's learning lives have been filled by schools with copying - from whiteboards, worksheets and books - and they are not unreasonably starting to question the value of this facsimile learning. Children are mostly obliged to attend school because of the law, not because they particularly want to. Legislation defines a very narrow prescription of who and what can be involved in "delivering" Education (just look at the hugely complex bureaucracy surrounding the creation of Academies!). This is classically protection of the supply side rather than stimulation of the demand side. If education is an artificial cartel - and surely it is - then it will inevitably be under considerable threat too, and soon. We already have UK schools following the International Baccalaureate, or even the Queensland curriculum, we have on-line providers sourcing their mentors on other continents, global consortia of schools with centralised administration and culturally diverse locations, we have virtual and alternate provision burgeoning, we have the beginnings of phaseless cradle to graduation institutions and everyone, from Pearson to Oxfam now see education as a central part of their business. The cartels are already crumbling. No amount of legislation will protect our learning institutions if they simply don't offer what is needed. If they don't offer learning that is seductive and engaging, producing learners who are valued and valuable, then they will be surpassed by others who can, and will be surpassed rapidly and inevitably. And there is no likely scenario that sees government intervening with huge offers of finance to support learning institutions because their learners have defecting in droves. These are not banks. Governments will simply shut them and be glad for the savings.

So what is to be done? Probably, as I have observed often elsewhere, this is the beginning of the Death of Education. It has no more hope of survival than the old Music industry or the crumbling media cartels. But if this is the Death of Education then, rather encouragingly, it may also mark the Dawn of Learning. It simply needs a moment of clarity and an agreement that the period from 1950 - 2000 was a wild gamble on factory education, which has now failed, or perhaps more charitably, has run its course. People can, and will, redefine Learning using the new tools that surround their 21st century lives. That is more evolution than revolution, but the evolution will be, already is, pretty rapid. I'm often asked what governments might do to jumpstart a new 21st century world of learning - to have a significant role at this new dawn. In practice, it it doesn't need jumpstarting, that change is happening, unstoppably, all round the world. Fortunately a huge amount of thinking is already being done, not at the policy or strategy level, but in classrooms and communities everywhere. It is a curious thing to observe, but most of what passed for success in the 20th century consisted of building big things that did things for, or often to, people. The BBC, a national railway system, a national curriculum, an Education service. In contrast, almost all the successes of the 21st century - from eBay through Facebook to microbanking - are about helping people to help themselves and right there is the clue to what this future era of Learning might be like. In 2002, I asked a large sample of children, in several countries, to recall what their best piece of work ever was, and if their parents had seen it, and where it was now. The survey produced some pretty dismal results. For many of them their best piece was produced for an assessment task. It was bundled away for moderation, never got home and is now lost - presumably shredded somewhere. It is hard to think of a less motivating way to treat excellence. That good work needed to be exhibited, shared and celebrated. It needed collegiality and mutuality rather than individualisation and secrecy. Today, leaners everywhere are discovering, or perhaps rediscovering, the power of exhibition and exchange, of mentoring and esteem. They share, swap, and exhibit, both on-line and face to face too. Just watch any group where one person takes a digital photograph - most often the rest will immediately gather round to view the picture right away on the camera's screen - a shared social experience of smiles and joy. Feedback really matters. Even institutions can be engaging when they are feedback filled and praise rich. Prof Mitra's remarkable "hole in the wall" research project in India and elsewhere has had a recent twist where he asks someone to simply stand and praise children at their shared wall mounted computer screen; despite dire economic circumstances, the children support each other in their discovery learning and the praise input adds further engagement. Results leapt ahead even faster. Helping people to help each other.

In a way, seeing the future of learning clearly is not a great challenge. Einstein famously once commented that "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education". New 21st century learning will be full of exhibition, performance and delight. It assuredly won't get in the way. It will be built on communities of practice, and collegiality will matter. It is the most natural thing. It is not unreasonable to imagine that evolution favoured learners. Why else would we be so driven to learn? It is interesting to reflect that when educational structures with their dismal factory schools stood in the way of learning we probably took ourselves nearer to the end of our evolution than at any other time in our history. Suddenly the phrase "don't we ever learn?" sounds very very dangerous indeed...

It's time to change.

© Prof Stephen Heppell for the Arts Council

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

People power?

Written for my Guardian column Spring 2005 this column addresses the democratising power of technology for individuals and groups to help each other. Looking back - spot on!


On the way to a Hong Kong, where I am helping with some ICT futures policy, I was lucky enough to be invited to post-tsunami Thailand. I've written before about the importance of mobile phones in learning lives around the world, but was still surprised to see just how hugely fashionable, and affordable, they are in Bankok.

After school the students, still in their immaculate uniforms, all assemble, in a huge bustling throng, on the floors of the shopping malls dedicated to phones. They chat, they look, they test, but they are really there simply because it's a cool place to be, the way earlier generations in other countries might have hung around milk bars.

Meanwhile, the computer stores in these Bangkok malls have retained their fourtysomething clientelle, but are now something of a child free zone. We would be foolish to ignore this kind of clear signal about the future. Seeing so many pavement stalls dedicated to selling "memorable" phone numbers was a bit of a surprise too!

I ran some family learning events in the retail heart of Bangkok, at a very large ICT facility built for drop in visits, one of several really significant investments in community learning by the Thai government. I had a good gang of parents and children all tasked with building a narrative in images and sounds, but without words. We had great fun and you could immediately see how family learning might move two, or even three, generations forward at once. But the moment the children's faces really lit up was at the end, after they had all shown their narratives to each other, when I simply compressed their work into a 3gp file (good old QuickTime!) and bluetoothed it back onto their phones. The children literally ran around showing their work, on their phones, to all and sundry. It was the first thing they had ever made for their phones, and you could begin to see how one democratising this technology can be as one learner helps and creates things for another.

This democratising power for individuals and groups to help each other potentially meets other needs too. The Tsunami in Thailand left behind many unforgettable stories, both of tragedy and of extraordinary luck. But it has also begun a serious economic debate about "micro-aid". What is it? Many in Europe were immediately moved by the disaster and put coins and notes into buckets to help. At the other end devastated families, schools and hospitals would have liked to put hands into those buckets for the immediate help they needed and this has raised the prospect of families directly aiding families without an NGO or government in between; hence the term "micro-aid".

Of course this is simply not yet possible, the communication links and banking regualtions are too complex. But already we can see that ICT can successfully put many providers together with many consumers. Success stories, from e-bay to skiing holiday bookings, show how well it can work for all. It will be phones not computers though that unlock the door to micro-aid once banks finally get their act together. That may take some time, but when learning is the need, the potential for learners to help each other is already vast and achievable. The need is worldwide and demonstrable.

Charles Clarke was a great advocate of UK schools helping other less well funded institutions globally, and gaining by learning from them too; he was absolutely right. The huge investmenmt by many countries in ICT infrastructure, and the spread of ever more powerful phones to many, has opened a door to this kind of mutual support on a vast scale. Successful online communities of practice always focus on the internal expertise of their members. Schools worldwide, rich and poor, have plenty of expertise to exchange with each other. Lots of excellent partnering projects, many involving UK schools, have hinted that this can work, but to achieve the really massive scale needed is a substantial undertaking.

Taking the philosophy of micro-aid, adding the opportunity of ICT investment, mixing with the ubiquity of phones and stirring in the ineguity of children sounds like a heady recipe. It is just what a troubled world needs though, and could start right now.

Why wait?

© Stephen Heppell 2005

Inclusion excluded.

I suppose the short version of this piece is that, despite paying lip service to the principle, very few folk indeed really a give a *&@^ about the many children who have found themselves, for whatever reason, at the bottom of the social pile. It is all apparently too easy to condemn, and way too hard to bother to help. I beg to differ.

The 90s and the first decade of the 2000s seem to be characterised by a dreadful blame culture: set inappropriate and trite targets, then blame people for missing them, resulting in a catastrophic incrementalism and plateauing of performance accompanied by a disengagement and anomie that is palpable and damaging all round,.

Just maybe, the way that this blame culture has jumped back to bite parliament on the bottom with the 2009 expenses scandal, might see the end of this mess. just maybe. Anyway, I wrote this in 2007 for my Guardian column:



I'm currently busy Horizon Scanning for the DCSF, initially exploring technology futures. Undoubtedly the pace of development is accelerating. My new iPod Touch (I hacked it a bit) is currently fully functioning as web-server in my pocket!. At current rates by 2013 a computer will offer the same computational power as human brain; by 2050 a £500 computer should (apparently) outperform computationally, the entire species! The huge challenge for policy, of course, is whether it can develop enough agility to keep up with the potential that technology brings, particularly to the most disadvantaged. Evidence is not encouraging.

In the quarter century or so that I have been exploring the potential of technology in learning a significant change has occurred and it took one of my trustee colleagues on the Inclusion Trust to point it out to me: Policy has become confused with Practice. Previously, a government was judged by what actually happened in practice. That practice took time to embed, through iterative cycles. Today governments prefer to be judged by their policy. It's easy to write policies, tougher to implement changes in practice. Consequently Policy is rarely Practice.

As an example, the government's "6 day policy" says that where exclusion exceeds five days, schools must provide full time education from day six. But in practice our Notschool.net project, for those many excluded from school by circumstance or behaviour, regularly finds children who have been out of school, without any provision at all, for years. As another example the Computers for Disadvantaged Pupils policy offers welcome funding to help e-enable the disadvantaged, but by only doing so through schools the huge army of 100,000 plus children outside of the school system, most urgently in need of that support, are completely missed out: policy is a mile from practice. The policy of changing GCSE Coursework to being under school based supervision only, at a stroke catastrophically destroyed the progress of the many rebuilding their learning outside of schools. Governments say "problem solved; we have our policy", practitioners say "problem remains; look at the practice". Policy isn't keeping up. And the people it is hurting most are the most vulnerable. Ironically these are just the ones technology should offer the greatest hope to.

Raising the age of compulsory participation in learning to 18, says all the right things as a policy. At the Fabian Education lecture, Schools Secretary Ed Balls spoke powerfully of a policy to keep young people learning - but through the systems and policies that are already failing them: keeping them in the care homes they are already absconding from, in the schools they are already excluded and truanting from, writing the GCSEs that have already failed them. In practice the policy's key phrase for young people is this: "if young people fail to take up these opportunities, there will be a system of enforcement...". If the systems are failing, we'll blame the young people - it's easier than reform.

I find all this desperately frustrating. Technology has time and time again shown a way of doing things better: the wonderful Notschool.net project has demonstrated remarkable success in reengaging 98% of its thousands of excluded children full time, on-line. We know it could do even better - an annual target of 50,000 saved is not unreasonable; we know that bespoke on-line workplaced learning for the many that never reached university works; this potentially offers massively increased participation rates, up to 66%. We know ambitious targets matter and have evidenced what successful practice looks like - why then is policy so far adrift?

As a generation technology has offered us the chance to make the kind of difference to social equity that our great-grandparents made through medicine. I have seen that we can inoculate children against poverty through learning. Yet in a world where having a policy is sufficient, regardless of what is happening in practice, these enormous potentials remain unrealised. The huge challenge that technology brings our generation in this extraordinary new millennium is whether we can change our systems quickly enough to transform practice. The evidence thus far is that we can't. I don't think that is good enough.


© Prof Stephen Heppell 2007

Friday, 20 February 2009

tech changes all...?

I wrote this for my Guardian Column in Spring 2006


Sometimes technology brings about changes before those guiding an industry realise. Teachers all over the world have seen how new technology has given children the ability to make powerful short movies themselves. Five years ago they were having fun just playing with the kit, but these days they want a voice and are using video to make that voice heard on bullying, politics and much more besides. In cinema, too, low-budget independent movie-makers have also stopped playing and are seeking a voice, often conveying powerful messages. George Clooney's recent BAFTA nominated anti-McCarthyite "Good Night, And Good Luck", was made cheaply with new technology and filmed in black and white with George directing and writing for a nomimal fee. I was lucky enough to attend the Bafta awards, dinner and glamorous party even though I'm some distance from being a fashion icon. At the Baftas David Puttnam, was receiving lifetime award. David had abandoned film making feeling that there was no longer a way to make powerful films with a message; however, he thanked Clooney for winning that opportunity back for the whole industry. Somehow though, the Bafta members had slightly missed all this, and they settled for a cosy, big studio movie for many of their votes. How could they miss such a substantial and obvious change?

Well, education has missed a few changes too. And this causes real problems when it comes to evaluating the impact of investment like new technology on learning. When we spend money to add computers into the learning equation, what do we measure to convince treasury colleagues that it was all worthwhile? To explore this, I'm engaged in a substantial Microsoft-sponsored project to build a Learning Metric, to help people like UNESCO or the World Bank be clear where educational investment, especially ICT, has been effective. Essentially this will be a big complex computer model showing gains and costs, but what variables should be measured? One might look for literacy improvements in the widest sense, or world-class numeracy, but also hopefully for a bit of joy, engagement, better attendance, motivated teachers, impressed parents, growth in national income and so on. We can measure all this, but we must be sure to include the new gains in learning too. All around the world countries are pouring money into ICT in different ways, but are other countries' investments proving more effective; what transforms literacy? what reverses disengagement? what retains teachers? what works?

ICT has allowed many countries to re-examine their whole education systems and so, inevitably, I'm helping many to plan significant educational change. For example, 18 months ago the Caribbean was hit by hurricane Ivan. Grand Cayman island was flooded to the point where it disappeared from satellite view for some hours. But the Ivan the Terrible started a process of renewal and repair. A new Cayman government, the People's Progressive Movement (PPM), came to power. They promised children that education would be transformed and ICT lies at the heart of this. Even without hurricanes, transforming education in the 21st century is complex. So many things must move forward together, not just ICT alone: professional development, examinations, curriculum, architecture, expectations, parents, and more. The Cayman Isles are moving away from the computer suite to a fully wireless nation, are making the most of one laptop per teacher, using ICT to celbrate children's performance and creativity, asking ICT to transform their data collection to aid policy decisions, and harnessing new communication technologies to link their schools with others worldwide. The PPM got off to a really good start by immediately asking to hear the views of all interested parties, from children to employers, and committing to those views in a published document. To maintain their pace, it will help to have clear metrics showing where ICT, CPD, or new architetcure are working, and where they aren't. Walking round Cayman schools recently, there was an optimism, a glint in the eye of their learners that suggested their new journey of change had begun. Technology changes everything and now, all I've got to do, is work out how to measure, and nourish, that optimism. I think I need another rum punch.

© Professor Stephen Heppell 2006

Sunday, 15 February 2009

first finance then education?

I was asked to write this as a contribution to a useful document on school design, in the broad sense, put together by the excellent Dyer Group who amongst other things are significant architects. I wrote it early in 2009.



The finance industry's collapse was not much of a surprise to many observers, although it shocked those within the industry. It had seemed pretty clear to many of us watching that continuing to offer mortgages to those who could not repay them, was foolish. But within the sector eyes were focussed on the short termism of the next quarter's targets and on the bonus payments that would result. There was a clear view that if it was really foolish, then somehow "they" would intervene to stop the foolishness. In the end, of course, there was no "they".

For a very long time in learning we have been clear about the components of 21st century schools. Paper after paper, report after report, project after project confirmed the effectiveness well tried and tested ingredients of 21st century learning: smaller units of learning organisation - in particular the small "home base" type groupings of around 150; of the effective engagement brought by project based working; of the power of the learners' voice not just in guiding new learning but in generating that meta-level learning reflection that is so infectious; of the wasted expense of corridors in a world where children move so much less around the school; of the need for agile multi-faceted space that can respond rapidly to learners' needs; of the effectiveness of much longer timetable blocks, or even no timetable; of the paucity of current furniture focussing as it mostly does on the individual doing non collaborative tasks; of the effectiveness of some mixed age learning and much, much more. Everyone from the World Bank to President Obama's current advisers generate cogent, rational papers arguing for the effectiveness of learning recipes assembled from these many ingredients. 21st century learning, in all its forms and iterations, works and in many cases can be stellar.

And yet because our metrics of learning success are so blunt, short term and unambitious (for example the number attaining 5 GCSE passes above grade D) it is quite possible to build a school that ignores the certainty of so much research and advice and simply delivers on these unambitious incremental targets, with the inevitable consequence of disengagement and dismay amongst its learners. I have yet to read a report from Ofsted, for example, that chastises a school for continuing to "deliver" factory learning and ignores this solid consensus that we are not now in the 20th century. Somehow our systems seem incapable of realising the foolishness of keeping doing the same thing when the evidence is that it is wrong.

It all sounds alarmingly like the finance industry with a headless chicken dash forwards, just about attaining the incremental targets, but ignoring the damage in terms of disengagement from a love of learning, that accompanies these continued errors. "Don't worry" might be the cry, "if it is all so foolish 'they' will intervene to stop the foolishness". Unfortunately, as with the finance industry, the key insight is that there is no "they". It would only take 15% of students or so to finally walk away from factory learning ( a "run" on the school mirroring a "run" on the bank" as parents queue to withdraw their children) for the whole financial assumptions of state education to collapse.

Hopefully, we are not as foolish, or as greedy, as bankers, but to be convincing in this assertion we - everyone engaged in the wonderful task of transforming our schools - need to raise our heads from the short termism of unambitious and imposed targets and start asking instead just how good might our children really be, if we gave them the chance to show us. That is the most exciting design task any of us will face in our careers.

Prof Stephen Heppell © 2009

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Power to the people's pockets

As we approached the 2007 London Games Festival the Guardian had a bit of a handheld theme running - which led me down a bit of a nostalgia pathway...


I was rummaging through the attic this summer, and under the piles of ageing technology (a BBC B, a Binatone Pong, a HyperCard manual, some lineflow paper) I found my first mobile phone. I put a picture on my phone blog but also took a moment to measure it. It stands 23cm tall, without the aerial, and weighs in at over 5kg. It was whopping. My current phone, with its gigabyte of storage, useful browser and decent camera is 8cms long and only 7mm thick. It weighs 70gms and does quite a lot more than that first big one! There is something powerfully seductive about tiny hand-held technology which is "yours" in a way that a desktop computer rarely is. But if technology has progressed in leaps and bounds it is not entirely clear that policy has.

Of course, back in the last century, schools teachers and students would have to wait for some central policy directive to guide them: a 'strategy' document, a White Paper, a ministerial speech, an inspection framework. Past guidance included the "correct" number of keys on a computer keyboard! With mobile phones, they waited for a decade or so for policy to notice handheld technology, whilst a whole generation of children missed out. But the wait is over; schools have decided that anyway, in the 21st century, they should simply get on with it and leave strategy, policy and speeches struggling (and failing) to keep up. As a result schools all over the place are embracing hand-held and pocketable technology and doing some very cool and creditable things with it.

Recently I was up in Scotland again enjoying a wide range of visits, with Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) colleagues, to their front running institutions, and they have many. In Dundee I came across Derek Robertson at LTS' regional offices with his Consolarium which is, in essence, a little research lab dedicated to the use of portable and games technology in learning. Every school should have one! The children who pass through it are the co-researchers, of course. Like others Derek talks about using Dr. Kawashima Brain Training with some of his research projects and he takes care to properly research the outcomes with learners. He has absolutely no doubt about the magnitude of what he describes as incredible gains in terms of pupil engagement and motivation. I've commented before on how exciting it is to see a generation hooked on the mind-stretching challenges of Nintendo's Big Brain Academy, but Derek thought he would trial a daily first-thing-in-the-morning workout for the children's brains using just that. It is no surprise to readers of this column that performances got better in some key areas of the curriculum, but also that new orders of merit emerged as unexpected performances showed new and unrecognised potential. Being Brainy became cool too and it has been quite a while since schools students regarded anything related to school technology as cool. It a curious thing in education that when we have absolute certainty about what is demonstrably effective, policy still fails to embrace that proven practice for years and sometimes never does. I swapped a couple of emails with Estelle Morris about this and we are both bemused by the sheer inertia of the system. But schools don't care any more. They are swapping ideas, practice, research, results and more.

And of course the technology continues to move on a pace. Apple's recent wireless iPod Touch with its tactile browser is indicative of just where pocketable, cool technology might be going.

And tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, it just gets better and better. Wouldn't you love to be at school again but this time with the world, quite literally, in your pocket?

© Professor Stephen Heppell 2007

Saturday, 26 May 2007

written for my Guardian column in 07


I was coming back from a vibrant e-assessment conference in Malaysia. At the airport, I stepped onto one of those strange moving pavements and started to stroll along it. In front were a couple - and they had stopped walking. In their minds they were moving forwards quickly enough - the wall posters were passing by. But because they were standing still, they were delaying the urgent family behind me who were clearly late. It was a nice metaphor for ICT. The pace of change is such that many feel just keeping abreast with on-line banking, booking, browsing or buying is enough; it feels like progress. But the generation of children rushing down the moving pathway that ICT offers, want policy to get out of the way of their learning. Education is blocking them.

But just exactly who is it that makes the judgement about what is appropriate progress? A colleague at DfES reminded me this week of the day I dropped a (colossal!) digital mobile phone onto a desk there and declared "that's a big bit of education's future - right there". Incredibly, next year we will be at the 20th anniversary of that moment and whilst children have been early and inspired adopters and users of SMS and other phone based technologies, it is fair to say that education policy, like the couple on the moving walkway, has stood in the way of children's progress with this important communication tool. Twenty years is a long wait. However, lately I have seen a lot of schools doing inspired things with phones, whatever national policy might be. And that is a very clear hint for us about how we might organise education in the future. If we could only share and assure that progress.

Well, now we can: next month, with support from Microsoft, I am beginning to bring together 6 nations in a brave project. Each nation, from China to Spain, will identify schools. The hypothesis is that these schools CAN improve; their scholarship will be to look for tested and effective ideas from other schools, worldwide; their action research is to take these ideas, fit them to a local context and improve their schools. At that point they exhibit their research success and it is rewarded with a Prof D. for the whole cohort of staff involved at the school - teachers become doctors. This is only possible because ICT gives us such great tools to share, communicate and exchange with, but make no mistake this is the beginning of a revolution in educational policy making.

This week I have been amazed visiting a vibrant and wired special school in Scotland (wheelchair country dancing!) and have also been delighted by an ambitious cluster of schools using ICT to unify science and maths vocabulary at the primary secondary divide. Each week I see more great ideas, carefully trialled and measured. These schools do NOT need anyone to tell them what to do, or to cap their ambition; they have a vision and they are getting on with attaining it. What they need most is for their research and reflections to be shared, exchanged, critiqued, valued and tested. Hence the project.

I can't think of anyone better placed to do this than themselves, with their electrifyingly ingenious NQTs, their confident, inquisitive young learners and their nearly-retired wise old teachers. As I've often said before: in the 20th century we built big things that did things for people, in the 21st century we help people to help each other and surely that includes schools. Luckily ICT, with its viral, peer-to-peer world of rich global communication, is rather good at all that.

www.heppell.net/doctoral
www.learnometer.net

© Professor Stephen Heppell, 2007

Friday, 16 March 2007

Ingenuity...

Written for my Guardian column around Easter 2007. It will prove to be sadly prescient.

This week I'm in Brunei judging the Crown Prince's competition for creative, innovative products. Brunei Darussalam is a fascinating place with a quietly successful cultural mix that offers the world a good prototype of just how different communities can get along. But, like so much of the world, there is a very clear sense of the importance of technology and children. As my fellow judges and I explore the ingenuity of each entry one turns to me and says, with a broad smile "THIS is our future".

Some contrast with the UK. I despair at how we have demonised and robbed a current generation that the media stereotypes as gun totting hoodies: rising property values leave them no chance of home ownership; companies lock them out of final pension schemes when they start work; LAs continue to sell off their school playing fields (2,500 more lost since Labour entered office) and then we criticise them as sport averse and unfit. education minister Alan Johnson's daft coureswwork changes absolutely stop them collaborating, but meanwhile they are criticised for the very selfish individual behaviours the assessment system now encourages. And we've hardly left them a legacy of a stable world have we? It is amazing they have stood it for so long and a tribute to the patience of these techno-confident children. But everything has its limits.

This generation, of course, have been busy turning to ICT to make the world a little better. Worried about about healthy eating? At my Be Very Afraid event at BAFTA last year children from Essex were making healthy eating podcasts that teachers are now tuning in too. Want to see great teachers, challenging mental arithmetic problems, remarkable world-best performances, schools paired across cultural divides, insights into day to day lives, hot debates about peace and more? Go search on YouTube or elsewhere. Children have leapt outside of the straighjackets of their school learning environemnts, virtual and real, to seize and use the remarkable Web 2.0 tools that are changing all our economies. Schools meanwhile often respond using the excuse of "happy slapping" pupils to ban YouTube and much else. Blocks appear at every turn: children, including a small vocal army of home learners, have embraced with real enthusiasm to the BBC's Digital Curriculum offering, JAM, which lets them learn at home, away from school if they wish. Sadly, even the unique and seductive JAM public service is under threat and it may yet not be allowed to get into the hands of our learners. Are we mad?

Well, it can't last and it won't last. Technology is a great democratiser as we saw with the public rejection of the Big Brother racist bullies. This new generation understands technology even better than any before. They are rightly fed up with the deal they have been given and when they finally call "enough" we will truly see just how well technology can amplify a voice. If you thought the road pricing petition was a protest, you ain't seen nothing yet. Pupil Voice? they'll hear the rumpus from Brunei.


© Professor Stephen Heppell, 2007

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Ten Top Tips

Oops - I can't now remember who or what i wrote this for!! lol
Was it the Guardian? TES? Err.. really can't remember. But in conferences people keep referring to it (warmly). So here it is again:


Talking to schools and LAs and others I am often asked for practical things that you can do right now to help the journey towards 21st century learning. So... here's one set of my ten top tips.

There is a palpable sense of education changing, at long last many would say, and a significant part of that change has been brought about by the new technologies that it is surely now impossible for anyone to ignore in our learning lives. In the 20th century most economic success stories were big things that did things for people - a national curriculum, a railway network, travel agents and so on. In the 21st century the successes are largely all about helping people to help each other: eBay, Google, Wikis, cheap flights, the huge growth in charitable sector are indicative. So what small steps might schools take that will prove to be on the route to 21st century learning? Here are ten suggestions, all working somewhere, tried and tested. Simple to achieve but quite profound in their impact. Doubtless readers have 1,000s more, but these are ten of my favourites from Scotland and around the world.

(1) Get an NQT and the children to arrange a staff development day that introduces colleagues to Facebook, Flickr, SecondLife, Bebo, Big Brain Academy, explains why "poking" isn't rude any more, has a clinic to clarify predictive txt (!), explains why children have stopped emailing, and so on. Ask them to give it a purpose, not just another sterile "how to" workshop, and ask if it can be fun please - the last one I visited somehow had an 007 theme worked into it! Great fun, great insights...

(2) Go out and buy a few pay-as-you-go SIM cards (£5) for some old phones (£0!). Remember to match the network of the card to the network of each old phone (eg T Mobile). Give them out to a few colleague volunteers and ask them to give the number to their classes. After each lesson, if pupils have useful suggestions about teaching and learning, they will be encouraged to TXT them to the phone. You will be amazed by the quality of the responses IF colleagues comment on the suggestions and respond. What happens of course is that over and above the motivation of hearing the authentic student voice and the value of wise suggestions, there is a meta-level reflection on learning which in itself improves performance all round. The TXTs are only received, so the pay-as-you-go card lasts forever.

(3) 21st century learning needs properly reflective practice. Set up a staff-student-parent research project. A favourite is to explore the impact of music and sound on learning (you will probably find for example that music with a clear lyric gets in the way of writing, but silence is less effective than some aural ambience. You can structure this any way you like, but involving parents helps too, and structure the tasks so that you get solid data. Again that meta-level reflection is a useful by-product. Having established what works, don't forget to implement it!

(4) On the little Nintendo DS pocket game console, Dr Kawashima Brain Training and the Big Brain Academy really do work. See if you can assemble a half class set (beg, borrow, buy - they are £80 each) and have a regular early morning moment where a group run the game and graph their "brain improvement" but compare their performance on some other curriculum task before and after a half term of "brain training". You'll be surprised! Take a moment to run a staff tournament too. More surprises!! Look no further than East Lothian's Gullane Primary School and class P7 for advice!

(5) If any of your staff are on Vodafone it is currently VERY easy to take a photograph, add a subject and a TXT comment, then publish it to a "phone blog". Get Vodafoned colleagues to capture and blog images they think are useful for a staff discussion about policy - for example school uniform, or movement around the school. Use as a focus for staff discussion. Doubtless colleagues will start to think about how handy this will be for field work, holiday "show and tell" and other things too. You can control who sees the blogs by the way.

(6) Give half a dozen of the more "lively" school students a stopwatch each. Ask them, as a research project, to start the watches when they have finished arriving or getting organised and actually start learning, and to stop them again when they start to pack up at lesson end or are moving about the school. In a secondary school something like 20% of the week will be found to be wasted in this way if the school is on the old 20th century short lesson timetable. Explore the impact of MUCH longer timetable blocks (eg a maximum of three blocks in a day). Not only will concentration and application change, but colleagues will need to re-examine teaching styles (the old Dick Turpin model "stand and deliver" won't work for example) but performance and enjoyment will shoot up. Don't believe anyone who says "our subject is special and needs short lessons!! By the way, you will be amazed at how the behaviour of your lively young researchers changes too.

(7) Set up a school media group and rotate the children involved in it. Ask them to interview key guests, capture sporting triumphs, record the rehearsals for the forthcoming school production, explain anti-bullying week, etc., etc. Get them to edit this down to a punchy 5 or 10 (max) minute weekly show, including any words from the head. Post it weekly onto YouTube and use one weekly tutorial session to ensure everyone watches it. Within weeks half your parents will be watching too. In this instance I'll offer an example of how effective this can be: search on www.YouTube.com for CMTV to see how Castle Manor School do this weekly. A by-product is to hone the media skills of many students of course. Watch those parental first choices climb!

(8) If you go to Google and type a search for "free essay online' you will get millions of hits. In many cases children are delighted to post their best work and it very motivating as a learner when others get "A"s for work you did! It gives a great sense of audience, but is clearly a coach and horses driven through current assessment practice. So work on developing 21st century tasks that are appropriate. For example: find an essay similar to the one set, improve it significantly and then hand in the original AND improved versions. Or find an essay and, with others, critique it - say what is wrong with its sources, its conclusions, its scholarship. A good way to do this is to copy an A4 printout onto the centre of A3 paper and critique it by hand with margin notes. Consider the school posting its own best work online for next year's students and others to explore. Good-bye criterion referencing. Hello progress and ambition!

(9) Take a digital camera (or if pushed, a disposable camera which can be developed onto a photo-CD cheaply). Ask one student per week to capture the ten best things that happen in school that week. they can't just wander around looking, so give them four weeks notice to research what those ten things will be. Twirl a projector round each evening to point at a window that can be seen from outside the school. Focus it onto the glass. Run a slide show all night of those images (© credit the student). This top tip is fab in the winter but a waste of time in the summer, but watch the crowds gather...

(10) and finally - every school is different. Your culture, context, colleagues and children are all different. A breezy wet day is different from a dry calm one. There is no exemplar, just many solutions to making learning more delightful, engaging and effective. But everyone is trying new ideas and learning is moving rapidly. You can borrow tested, effective "learning ingredients" from other schools all around the world. You can take a selection of these ingredients to make into a great local "recipe" for learning. This final top tip say there are tens of thousands of top tips worldwide, don't stop at these ten!

© Prof Stephen Heppell 2007

Friday, 26 January 2007

2012 Olympia Media Centre

Early in 2007, I became involved with shaping the specification for the 2012 Olypmic Media Centre. An interesting challenge! The short text below was part of my contribution and reflects quite well (i thought!) the challenge that such a Media centre faces, bearing in mind that 2012 is 5 years away.

You might also care to reflect on the economics of all this - where media is so far into a model of perfect competiton that, effectively, sporting video srreams are a free good, where does this leave the finance model for 2012 (or the Premier league for that matter) relying heavily as they do on the revenue from a monopoly video stream.When everyone is a public-service broadcaster, who pays the Chelsea salaries, or the Olympic bills?




A media revolution has begun which will have far reaching effects on the whole 2012 experience and on the way that experience is shared with people all around the world. New technology has brought a symmetry to media that was predictable, but that has been unepectedly rapid. There is no reason to suggest that the pace of change will diminish, indeed history and experience suggest that it will increase. 2012 is half a decade away and in new media terms that is a lifetime. Half a decade back, there was no podcasting, no youTube, phones did not offer video, there was little digital TV, no timeshifting for viewers, no watching on PC, no 3G, and so on. It is not unreasonable to expect that some of the major media developments, looking back from 2012, will have occurred in the next five years, between 2007 and 2012. For example we might assume that anyone with a mobilephone will be able to broadcast live to their blog (or whatever) the images that they are currently watching. A kayak entusiast is probably more likely to view the Olympic kayaking though the empassioned live-video-blogs of fellow enthusiast scattered around the white water run, than to rely on a major broadcaster to offer impersonal coverage. Designing a media centre for this new world requires soem fresh, and original, thinking. of course, it needs to work for the old world of traditional global news media too.

The emerging technology might hold surprises, but the underpinning media trends are predictable. Fundamentally there has been a democratisation of broadcast technoloy, which is moving away from a few supplying to many into a world where also many supply to many, and indeed where all supply to some.

Fortunitously this is fair square in line with the philosophy of the 2012 bid. In the Olympic bid for London 2012 Nelson Mandela was quoted as saying:
"I can't think of a better place than London to hold an event that unites the world. London will inspire young people around the world and ensure that the Olympic Games remains the dream for future generations."

...and children around that world were shown watching media images, and thus inspired to take part in the sport. To inspire young peole around the world in the 21st century we have not only to provide them with inspirational media, but to hear their voices and narratives too, through the new media that so many have access too, even in the poorset nations. If the media centre is to be faithful to the bid it needs to be metaphorically a huge lens focussing the world on the quality of sport happening there, but also looking around the world for inspiring narrative that it can maginfy by providing audience and interpretation. The children of 2012 will not be inspired by watching, they will be inspired by hearing these myriad authentic stories, and by contributing some too. As the bid made clear, to make an Olympic athlete requires hundreds of national champions, thousands of athletes, and millions of children. To make great media needs that same broad base of contribution and participation. The media centre, above all else, needs to focus that contribution and participation into inspiration.

So the Media Centre needs to produce inspirational and compelling professional content, of course. But it also needs to be the place where the narratives, the videos, the blogs and pictures from the millions worldwide already seeking selection can be nurtured and exchanged. A YouTube of sporting excellence, an eBay of sporting advice, an MSN of sporting conversations, a Wikipedia of sporting wisdom - there is no reason, of course, why those things can't all exist elsewhere, the Media Centre needs to be a kind of glue that joins them, and addsvalue through narrative, annotation, threads and focus. It can develop and capture this role comfortably ahead of the first brick being laid for the new building. And the new building needs to provide a home to the media contributions from millions around the world. What a future and growing resource that will be for the new London Olympic Institute, as seasoned commentators build threads of interpretation through the narratives of so many.

We can't be certain of the technolgy unperpinning our media lives by 2012, but we can be absolutely sure of one thing: in the 21st century people who are inspired, don't just watch, they do. We can be sure that this means media too, because the world's children, at the heart of London's bid, are already actively doing it. We have a duty to reach beyond our own time and borders. With new media, we can start to deliver on that right now.


© Prof Stephen Heppell 2007

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

another year in this century of learning

This was my Guardian column for the 2007 BETT Show in London's Olympia. The paper is given away to the tens of thousands of visitors, so the piece is quite short (= less paper to print and give away!)



It's the beginning of another year in this century of learning. In hardware terms, this will be a remarkably innovative year, but where will innovation in learning come from?. January means the annual BETT Exhibition showcasing global learning technology at London's Olympia. I remember the first BETT, chock full of new ideas and practices - a cornucopia of innovation even in those pre-Internet, pre-CD days!. It was full of hobbyist innovators: teachers, students, each with tiny stands - a wallpaper table, a backcloth, their mum's spotlights. They didn't sell much, but there was a spirit of debate, sharing and inventing everywhere. In those far-off days people dreamt of whopping storage to replace unreliable floppy discs; of boundless memory and high resolution displays; of connectivity that would work for free right around the world; of cheap TV quality cameras; of pocketable wireless networkable devices; of a world where information was so plentiful that encyclopaedias sat unwanted in remainder buckets outside bookshops. Today, we have it all. Back then the tough question was "can we make the technology do anything useful at all? And those innovative teachers and tiny companies showed emphatically that we jolly well could. In 2007, the much tougher challenge is simply "technology will let us do anything we want, what do we really want to do?"

Today, the hobbyist innovators have largely gone. So in 2007, where might we look for real innovation? Not to universities, with their moribund hierarchical layers of pro-vice chancellor on pro-vice chancellor, aping the collapsed industries of 1970s Britain; not to the now huge corporations paralysed, in the main, by the feared impact of any radical steps on their stock valuation; not to government agencies tied to a host of performance criteria that reflect past rather than future practice, in fact not to anything very big at all. It is no surprise that most of the really exciting innovations in technology have come in recent years from tiny groups. From Google to Skype to YouTube, small has proved to be ingenious.

What we need with real urgency is to set free tiny radical groups to innovate in learning. We need micro-schools researching new pedagogies, families exploring inclusion, clusters of teacher and students leaping ahead with new assessments, a few parents revolutionising the timing of the school day, rural communities developing genuinely 21st century learning spaces. Freedom, space and expectation allowed tiny technology companies to change the world. Now we need that same freedom, space and expectation to transform learning too. At BETT this year I am proud to be hosting four schools whose children will be using ICT to grill visitors for their vision of future schooling. Having already spoken to some of the children I know that many innovations in tomorrow's learning will come directly from them and from their extraordinary, ingenious young teachers. But please, please, please will someone allow them the freedom and space to save education?

2006 © Prof Stephen Heppell