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.

© Professor Stephen Heppell, 2007

Friday, 16 March 2007


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 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