January 31st, 2007 § § permalink
A nice comment on my blog led me to the blog of Uyeasound Primary School in Shetland — with the delightful title of ‘the Rainbow Light School’. Anyone who has ever visited Shetland will know why this title might be used. The blog is in a friendly, conversational style that will pull me back to read it regularly.
The comment on my own blog came from a mysterious ‘HT’ — could that be the school’s headteacher (Sherlock Holmes, I am not!) who, according to my research is Kate Coutts?
So, take a look at the Rainbow Light School!
Technorati Tags: Uyeasound , shetland
January 30th, 2007 § § permalink
I have been mining the rich seam of ideas presented by Canadian educationist and learning environment designer, Brian Alger, on his website, the Experience Designer Network. Brian has published a book — The Experience Designer: Learning, Networks and the Cybersphere — which I have not read yet. His site is, I would guess, based largely on the notions he expresses in his book.
There is much of interest here for anyone thinking about the ‘new education narrative’. Alger has his own idiosyncratic take on the issues involved, but he has some thought-provoking things to say. I was particularly taken with his attempt to describe the impact of moving from a traditional education system to one that he describes as a Connected Intelligence Learning Environment. Like me, you might not agree with the precise wording he uses for each element below, but his overall direction is hard to argue with.
Alger writes on Connected Inteligence: Impact:
Connected Intelligence Learning Environments are designed to shift many of the traditional assumptions about education, teaching, instruction and assessment into a new paradigm of learning. The essential shifts are…
From: A self-regulated and separate aspect of society, culture and economy…
To: An integrated system of lifelong learning and source of innovation for cultural and economic development.
From: monolithic bureaucratic hierarchies of mass communication…
To: Flexible and adaptive networks of communication
From: A physical building where learning takes place…
To: A communications hub for global interactivity and participation
From: A standardized pre-determined scheme of information and subject disciplines…
To: A flexible learning environment for knowledge creation and applicaton
From: Teacher as the source of expertise…
To: Distributed systems of expertise across all stakeholders
Assessment and Evaluation
From: Standardized and imposed forms of testing…
To: A pervasive, inclusive and participatory culture of assessment.
From: An expert in a particular field of information…
To: An experience designer focused on the mentorship of individual talent and potential
From: A receiver of standardized information…
To: An active creator of knowledge and designer of experience
From: Abstract schedules and imposed systems of time management…
To: Flexible and adaptive time management in response to the needs of the learner
From: An artificial division of students into classes based on age groups…
To: Varied and diverse age groups collaborating on real world issues and problems
From: A static body of information to be distributed to people…
To: A dynamic system of experiences that evolve and change over time
From: A common body of things people need to do…
A diverse body of capacities and abilities that grow over time
From: A standardized set of behaviors based on societal expectations…
To: Individual development of emotional capacities that benefit self and others
From: Information, facts, data
To: Behavior, prototypes, experience
Technorati Tags: brian alger, experience design, connected intelligence
January 27th, 2007 § § permalink
The current debate in England about Britishness is, of course, making the expected incursion into education. Whatever the merits and demerits of the debate, I think the whole idea will simply prove too difficult to realise in any genuinely pragmatic fashion in terms of the schools’ syllabus in England.
Why should this be the case? For three reasons, I believe:
First, because, like the British state itself, the British ‘nation’ has from the beginning been a partnership of convenience rather than a genuine expression of nationalism or nationality. The union of the parliaments was itself largely an act of economic convenience — certainly few would deny the social and economic benefits that it has wrought over the three centuries since for its constituent parts. As such, the concept of Britishness is simply too woolly and nebulous to be distilled in any meaningful way within a modern curriculum — any attempt, for example, to pass off rote memorization of a chronology of British kings and queens as an expression of British identity would be just too pointless for words.
Secondly, I have long agreed with the notion that it is really only the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish that have, over the years, had any real chance of understanding the notion of Britishness. The reason for this is simply that for each of the Celtic countries it has been possible to separate in some way their more immediate nationality from their membership of the larger, British entity. So, for instance, as a Scot, I have tended to see myself as Scots first and British second; the same has largely been true for the Welsh and Irish, I believe. The English, however, have tended to equate Englishness with Britishness — I think they have found it much harder to differentiate one from the other. I doubt that it would be too difficult to adumbrate at least some of the social, cultural and historical roots for this correspondence in English minds. This is by no means a criticism of the English — whether we like it or not, England has been the ‘senior partner’, so to speak, in this federation of nations, and that must affect mindsets.
Thirdly, at a time when there is a strong trend towards a global economy and a global society, the tension with attempts to protect and sustain regional or national identities is inevitably going to be fraught with difficulty. I am quite happy to be a Scot, but I’d like to be a Scot that has no problem identifying myself as a European, or indeed, as a member of a global society in which my immediate interests and passions can be aligned closely with those of my peers around the world.
Perhaps some lessons in ‘internationality’ would be more approriate today?
Technorati Tags: britishness, nationality, scots, english, irish, welsh, internationalism, internationality
January 24th, 2007 § § permalink
January 24th, 2007 § § permalink
I have been glancing occasionally at some of the articles and essays in Samuel Brittan’s book ‘Against the Flow’ over recent weeks. It is a collection of pieces written mostly between 1999 and 2005 for various publications. I bought the book just before Christmas and have enjoyed dipping into it, each time reading all or most of a piece and then leaving it alone for a couple of days before going back to it. Brittan is a curious character — virulently anti-socialism (note the ‘ism’ rather than ‘ist’ — it is the credo he dislikes, not necessarily its adherents — otherwise I might have found him harder to read), trenchantly iconoclastic, and excoriatingly logical (by his own logic, of course — but that is merely to state the obvious).
His unsentimental method brings him up against myriad writers and thinkers, politicians and hacks — he ranges through British foreign policy to the European economy to public services to government economic policy to religion and ethics to academe to some key twentieth century luminaries, such as Keynes, Hayek and Bertrand Russell, and much more. Even when I disagree with him, which is quite often, I cannot but respect the means by which he comes to his conclusions. I would certainly not like to meet him in a head-to-head debate — on any subject!
One sentence jumped out at me as I read one piece last night, on Steven Pinker’s book ‘The Blank Slate’, a book I own but have only read in bits. Brittan writes something I have always agreed with on a purely instinctive level — what interested me particularly, though, was the link he made to David Hume. He wrote, in a piece called Humanitarianism Without Illusions:
“Throughout …[Pinker’s]… book, he reminds people of the Scottish philosopher David Hume’s demonstration that no ‘ought’ proposition follows from any factual or logical assertion.”
I found an online copy of Hume’s A Treatise on Human Nature so that I could search the text, and came up with this — in Book III, Part 1, Section 1:
“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprized to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, it is necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.”
That, I think, is why I can never be anything other than a relativist when it comes to ethics, morality or belief — I have never really been able to understand how anyone can simply ‘know’ they are right in ethical or moral terms. That absolute knowledge that ‘I am right’ is a strange phenomenon, indeed.
And, boy, does this old world of ours suffer from its effects!
Technorati Tags: samuel brittan, steven pinker, david hume, relativism, ethics, morality, belief, religion, ought, is
January 24th, 2007 § § permalink
I caught an item on Simon Mayo’s BBC Radio 5 Live programme this afternoon in which Chris Vallance plonked himself somewhere in Second Life and reported live about his experience there (Chris also has a BBC blog — pods&blogs). While Mayo spoke to a few people about the phenomenon of Second Life generally, Chris, in the guise of ‘journo lumpen’ — his avatar — soon had a throng of Second Lifers around him chatting away. I went into Second Life and lurked on the edge of the group to see what was going on — it is an interesting experience to see a group interacting in the virtual world while listening to someone in the broadcast media talking live about the experience.
Mayo received the usual noisesome bouquet of emails and texts imploring the virtual explorers to ‘get a 1st life!’ — all too predictable and uninformed, I guess. But Mayo, in his signature style — intelligent, light-touch, sympathetic, humorous — managed to fit quite a lot of interesting chat around the piece. He even managed to get the real life people behind a couple of the avatars milling around ‘journo’ Vallance to speak to him on the phone as they were interacting with the group.
Mayo chatted to Jim Purbrick, a Nottingham programmer currently working for Linden Labs as a senior software engineer. Purbrick gave us a succinct and factual description of what Second Life is, how it looks to someone in the world, its open-endedness, and the attractiveness of Second Life to so many companies. One of the companies that now has a presence in Second Life is, of course, Cisco — they have built Cisco Island, with places for meetings, lectures, workshops and so on. Purbrick also mentioned the fact that Linden are dipping their toes into the open source stream, opening up the source for the viewer application that users have to download to their computers. They do have plans to extend their experiment with open source, though.
He also had a few words with Tim Guest who is publishing a book soon called ‘Second Lives’ on the virtual world. Guest explained a little about the Second Life economy and the nature of the various interactions that can happen there. There was also some interesting chat about the possibility of 1st life politics making its way onto the virtual stage — already Jean-Marie le Pen, the French far-right politician has tried to set up an office in Second Life and has met with more than a little resistance to the move from other Second Lifers.
I guess now would be a good time to ‘come out’ as a resident of Second Life — my avatar’s name is Jonn Jya, and as you can see, I have made it easy for anyone I bump into there to recognise what part of the world I come from! To date, I have spent the odd moments I have been there simply wandering this strange and diverse environment. I can see the possibilities of this alternative world, but Second Life, at the moment, still has a way to go to become the world it could be. That will come, though, I have no doubt.
It is undoubtedly an intriguing and engaging ‘place’ and most definitely points the way towards how such immersive environments could develop along multifarious routes over the next few years. One of the Mayo interviewees pointed out — in response to someone who texted to say they simply could not see the point of such open-ended worlds, as opposed, for instance, to online game environments with structure and ‘rules’ — that similar technology is being used to create environments designed to help people suffering from schizophrenia or Aspergers.
I will continue to explore Second Life and may occasionally present some thoughts here on its potential, especially for education and training. I don’t go into the environment very often but when I do you are likely, for obvious reasons, to find me somewhere on Cisco Island — unless I’m off elsewhere exploring! Find me and say hello if you’re ever in Second Life at the same time as me.
Technorati Tags: secondlife, lindenlabs, simonmayo, bbc5live
January 23rd, 2007 § § permalink
I have been working my way recently through Don Ledingham’s “Seven Sides of Education Leadership”. As with everything Don does, his model demonstrates an intelligence and a creativity that should immediately render it worthy of consideration, I believe, by anyone needing to think about the peculiarities of leadership in education. Like Don, I usually think in metaphors. For instance, almost everything I do in ICT –whether using an application, searching, troubleshooting, developing — is based on a whole series of internally-held metaphors. Some of them are extremely vague and would not look too intelligible were I to try to write them down or picture them. But they work for me, and that is the important thing.
Don’s metaphors are derived from his own take on the peculiarities of education and the definite and distinct requirements for effective leadership within this domain.
So, the important thing about Don’s model is that it is aimed squarely at leadership in the educational context, a context, by the way, that is not necessarily confined to the school. Too many leadership models are generic, all-encompassing — many have much to commend them, but few make explicit the assumptions behind the mental or cultural model that underpins them or the specific context(s) in which they were first envisaged. For Don, there are enough distinctive traits and idiosyncrasies in education that he feels the need to define a model for leadership that meets those specific characteristics. I agree with him on that — I know from long experience that education is different enough to warrant special treatment. The varied and, often, conflicting sets of stakeholders in education (think, for example, of the desired ends that parents and their children seek from schooling — they do not always coincide — whose needs should take precedence?) means that being a leader in education can be difficult and challenging.
With his leadership metaphor — really, an extended metaphor comprising a number of sub-metaphors — Don explicitly seeks, therefore, to establish a particular cultural model for behaviours throughout education. For Don, this would be a culture that eschews the constrictions of hierarchy, that values genuine participation at all levels, that seeks, perhaps, a distributive model of decision-making (puts me in mind of Greg Whitby on Distributive Leadership), that engenders community, that trusts people, and that promotes critical thinking throughout an organisation. This, of course, is a vast simplification of Don’s thinking, but it draws a picture of an educational organisation at work that I could easily envision as one that is sympathetic, adaptable, transformational, humane and intelligent — how many organisations can claim all of these epithets for themselves? And how many educational organisations?
The point is, I guess, that any of us could come up with our own set of metaphors for leadership, at any level and in any context, but I agree with Don that any particular set of metaphors brings with it its own explicit or implicit cultural baggage. If you like the cultural message outlined above, then take a long hard look at Don’s ‘Seven Sides’ model.
Technorati Tags: don ledingham, leadership, 7sides, education
January 23rd, 2007 § § permalink
Many people from so many different parts of Scottish education, and elsewhere, played critical roles in the development of SSDN. In the days before it was known as Spark (briefly), the key people tended to be in the Scottish Executive. The initial idea for a national intranet came from that triumvirate that I have mentioned before in New Educational Developments (NED), part of the Scottish Executive Education Department — they were Eleanor Emberson, Stuart Robertson and Neil MacFarlane. Eleanor went on to become the head of the Scottish Courts Administration and is still there. Stuart is now retired — but “retirement” is evidently not a word he recognises, because he is now back with LTS as a consultant helping to organise this year’s Scottish Learning Festival! Only Neil is still in NED and is still a central member of the team working to implement Glow. It was Neil who penned a short 5-page paper in early 2001 that still stands as a reasonable description of the huge learning platform we are currently implementing — it is fitting therefore that Neil is still there, seeing his own original conception through to completion.
I was pulled into NED in 2001 from West Lothian Council, and I immediately recruited someone who was to prove absolutely crucial to shaping SSDN, Robert Skey. As I have said elsewhere, Robert’s “intelligence and “left-field” thinking” made my own job as project manager a thousand times easier that it might otherwise have been. During those 18 months or so that we spent working with our colleagues across the country to draw up the specification for SSDN, we were joined by Isla Jack and David Rankin. Both had other areas of work at the time but both played key roles in the critical process of consultation and specification. Later, Hilery Williams, now working in East Lothian, contributed the vital material that was to form the part of the SSDN specification designed to ensure maximum accessibility for those with additional needs.
Of course, right from the very beginning, a number of people in LT Scotland also played important parts in the process: Laurie O“Donnell, the late John Dickie, Jack Davidson (still a key player in the Glow technical team), Patricia Kemp, Nick Morgan, Kennedy Fraser and Shirley Grant. Others, such as Emma Walsh, Ian Graham, Mike Thomas and others have been great friends of SSDN since then.
At some point in those early days, the person who has probably done more than any other individual to ensure SSDN’s success joined the team: Jim Buchan. Jim, at that time, was seconded from Northern College to UKERNA, and had managed the roll-out of the SuperJANET 4 infrastructure across Scotland. Nominally, Jim’s role in SSDN was to manage the implementation of the Interconnect — however, his uniquely comprehensive knowledge of the combined areas of education, ICT and telecommunications meant that his influence became absolutely critical from the start. Jim, of course, is still very much part of the Glow team, as its Chief Technical Officer. Never make the mistake, however, of seeing Jim simply as a “techie” — he is an educationist at heart, but one with a massive knowledge of what can be done technically to enhance the educational process. Scottish education really needs to cherish this diamond in their midst!
There is another big group of people, too many to name individually, who all played vital roles in those early days — they belonged to that brilliant bunch of ICT advisers, techies and others who came together so many times, in their own time, to work their way line by line through the growing specification for SSDN. They all know who they are, and I hope they realise that, without them, we simply would not have been able to take the programme as far as we have.
The team that actually carried out the procurement and the contract negotiations deserve special mention, but I“ll leave that for another post, along with the extended RM team that has done so much to ensure genuine joint working in SSDN.
I know that I will have missed someone from the list above — if I have, please blame my advancing years, but let me know and I will put it right!!
Technorati Tags: glow, ssdn
January 23rd, 2007 § § permalink
I have been surprised and delighted at the many nice things that people have said to me over the past few weeks since I indicated that I would be moving on. I know I am leaving at a time when there is still work to be done, but that, of course, will always be the case. I know, however, that I have left the task of completing SSDN/Glow to a great bunch of people, some of whom have been involved with the programme in various ways from the beginning, many who have come on board over the past couple of years in particular, and a few good people that have joined the effort in the very recent past. The joint LTS / RM team is just about as strong and healthy a partnership between the public and private sectors as I have seen anywhere!
Given the scale and the importance of Glow, it is gratifying for me to see the high quality of the team, therefore, that will continue the work. Glow is gradually becoming a fixture in Scottish education, even before it actually starts to roll out. That is important, because it means that the education community in the country is taking ownership of it, and that in turn means that teachers, schools, local authorities and everyone else who has a stake in the project’s success will work to ensure that it delivers the tools and services that they need. Complacency will simply never be allowed to develop.
From the beginning, SSDN was never a top-down project — right from the start, it “belonged” to everyone in Scottish education who was willing to contribute to the thinking, the planning, the dreaming and the creation of this innovative platform for teaching and learning online. It was this universal ownership of SSDN that ensured that it would never be a closed system in any way, that it would always be an open system, though a secure one. Glow is designed from the ground up to be extensible — the fact that it will be entirely web-based is critical here. Also, Glow is a platform that will never, in any real sense, be completed — it will always be under development. It really could not be otherwise since the technological and educational context in which it will thrive is itself under constant change — any learning platform that tried to set itself in stone at any point would be doomed to failure from its inception.
Indeed, it might be worth noting at this point that I have said to anyone willing to listen for a number of years now, that I do not believe that SSDN/Glow will really reach fruition until its second iteration, i.e. after the first contract is completed in 2010. The complexity of the design and the vagaries of the environment in which it will exist are such that it is likely to be the second version of SSDN before teachers and others really start to see its full potential.
So, while I intend in my next post to thank a few key people who were around at the very beginning of SSDN or who played major roles in getting it to where it is now, there is no sense in which the project can ever be seen as the achievement of a small group — it belongs to Scottish education, and I believe that everyone in Scottish education has a part to play to ensure its long term success for our schools.
Technorati Tags: ltscotland, rm, glow, scottisheducation
January 21st, 2007 § § permalink
A small adjustment to the look and feel of my blog to mark my own change of scene — thank you to Ewan for permission to use his photo in my header graphic — note the disappearing beer bottle!
The image is a view of the Cairngorm national park from my hotel window in Aviemore during the winter of 2005–2006.
I also introduce my new blog to the wider world — I intend to keep some notes of my travels around the globe in my work for Cisco. I will start to make use of it within the next week or so.
Technorati Tags: soutra, edublogger, travel, cairngorm