Posts filed under ‘Future’

Peripatetic me – amongst the washing up

Monday 30th July 2012 – Day one of my peripatetic journey.

If you don’t know what this is all about, and why would you, I shall explain as succinctly as I can.

For the last 10 years (at least) the Vivid office has overlooked the splendour of the Royal Pavilion here in Brighton. On a daily basis I have strolled from my house, by Queens Park, down Edward Street to the office on the Old Steine to attend to Vivid business around this bustling centre of the city.

Last week we, Vivid staff, moved out of that office with no new office to replace it. We moved out because the owners of the building are seeking vacant possession so that they can sell it. In some ways it suited us because in, any case, most of the people who work with us do so remotely maintaining contact through digital communications, getting face to face only periodically. This is the reality of the increasingly mobile digital world we live in, a reality that actually renders our office with it’s splendid views a luxury rather than a necessity.

Functionally the office had become a means of getting me out of the house, a place where others could occasionally work when we needed them, a mailing address, an anchor. But latterly none of this has been essential to the work we undertake. Indeed our recent award winning (winner of the British Council ELTon award for innovation in learning resources) development of the Sounds app for Macmillan Publishers was undertaken virtually (ha,ha) wholly remotely by the complete team.

So we have complete confidence in our ability to maintain the very highest of standards of the work we undertake whilst operating remotely, and indeed save a bit of cash by ridding ourselves of the permanent physical office overhead.

But there is another important reason for the decision to become mobile. I spend a significant amount of my time describing my vision of the education ‘system’ of the future, a vision that has personalisation, in which each individual can undertake their own unique lifelong learning journey which feeds their individual talents and aspirations, at its core. This is made possible because of digital technology with mobile technology an important component of this.

In essence digital technology rids us of the necessity for a single teacher to teach 30 pupils the same thing, in the same place, at the same time. Now 30 people can be learning 30 different things at any one time. This means that ‘place’ takes on a different aspect. The school building was designed to coral pupils into one place for the purpose of being taught. Now there is a growing recognition that the role of teacher is changing from one of teaching to one of enabling learning, and that learning takes place in a variety of ways, individually and collaboratively.

With mobile technology people can be undertaking learning activities, digitally, individually or collaboratively anytime, anywhere. This doesn’t mean that physical presence, getting together, is not important, or indeed essential, but that such events do not have to be undertaken in the one place called school, between the hours of 9.00am and 3.00pm, during term time.

Thus education itself becomes peripatetic, weaved into our lives, as part of our lives, a combination of individual and collective effort, on-line and off-line, digital and physical, here and there.

In this 21st century, with ‘always with, always on’ technology in most of our hands, the boundaries between learning, working and playing are diminishing. The way that place defines our lives is shifting, the need to delineate the places to learn, to work, and to play is becoming redundant. Whilst my vision for education is of a more dispersed environment, so my vision for the workplace is the same, indeed they are inter related.

Our decision to explore the reality of this, by going mobile is us ‘putting our money where our mouths are’, saying that the future we foresee is happening now. For me it is living my life within the philosphies I profess to.

This ‘diary’ is a device to track progress, to document the highs and lows of this journey, to establish what works and what doesn’t.

My first act is to sit amongst the washing up in my kitchen at home and write this. More later….

August 1, 2012 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

Let’s hear it for the yoof!!

When I woke up on the first day of 2012, woozy from the past few days of excess, turning on the news I noted that the New Year message from our religious leaders, notably the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict, laid some emphasis on youth. The Archbishop observed rightly that ‘society is letting down young people’ something I wholly agree with, although it is nothing new.

Ironically, I doubt that youth would have got this attention had it not been for the riots in the summer. Instead they would simply have been sidelined as usual, despite the disgrace of youth unemployment standing at over 1 million, the withdrawal of much needed financial support for young people to continue their studies, the daunting prospect of having to build up massive debts to continue onto university (despite it being rammed down all our throats that apparently the economy is in such dire straits because we have been living on too much debt in the first place!), and in the face of ‘good advice’ to take any job that is offered whether it is something they want to do or not.

Yes, despite the awful place young people, through absolutely no fault of their own, find themselves in we only take a little bit of notice of their plight when things get sufficiently serious that riots occur, and then castigate them for it.

Pope Benedict in his New Year message extolled the virtues of young people who ‘could become builders of peace if they were given the correct guidance‘. Quite so, although it is not so much guidance as good example that in my view is of the greatest value to them. They are all capable of living good lives, of living peaceably together, of realising their talents, of fulfilling their potential, of making the world a better place, given the opportunity.

But when they look around them what do they see.

Bickering politicians who promise one thing today and do the opposite tomorrow if it suits them best, greedy bankers doing very nicely thank you off the fruits of their failures, collapsing financial systems throughout the world, growing unemployment. This is, as Malcolm Maclaren before his untimely death observed, a karaoke society that lacks authenticity. No wonder the future looks bleak when viewed through the vital and discerning eyes of our young people.

I am not religious myself, agnosticism being as far as I wander in that direction, but I applaud the religious leaders for highlighting the plight of our youth and I implore governments to take note, and more importantly take positive action, although I fear this falls upon deaf ears.

As Edward de Bono said recently ‘politicians (and indeed economists) are good at commenting on things, but not good at designing things’. This doesn’t auger well for a world faced with the predicament of how to veer away from its current path towards self destruction. Sitting by and ‘commenting’, tinkering around the edges simply doesn’t cut it.

So where should we look for our salvation. I say to our youth. After all it is they who will inherit the mess that we have created, it is they who in the end will have to make sense of it all, the phoenix that rises out of the ashes.

So this is my New Year message. Rather than castigate our youth let’s set a better example and support them, trust them, work with them to allow them the opportunities to fulfil their potential, to set them on a path of fulfilment. Then, through them, the world will become a better place.

So, come on, join me and let’s hear it for the yoof!!

January 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm Leave a comment

Ask the experts ??

Futurelab_logo_colour small Ken-Rob-2-763967 small

During the past week I attended two events in London, both on the theme of the future of education. The first was at the British Academy and was a discussion day about the future of education organised by Futurelab, the second was at The Purcell Rooms on Southbank and was an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the ‘All our futures’ programme, which is chaired by Sir Ken Robinson.

The first was around general issues about the future if education fuelled by Futurlab’s research in this area. The second was about ‘creativity’ (or lack of it) in education. Across both these events, which were worthwhile attending, there was a common, and unfortunately not unusual, lack of young people’s voices in any significant way.

When I raised the issue at the Futurelab event it was met with the usual comment that there is so much information to gather that it is not always, unfortunately, possible to represent everything in their research. This is a common response (I raise this question on a regular basis at different events I attend). What I would like to know is that if it is hard to represent all views why is it always young people’s views that are left out.  And also, if not everything is represented, is the research actually relevant.

Another interesting issue that arose was about creativity in schools. When Sir Ken Robinson talks about creativity in schools he means as an integral part of the whole of schooling, and not just an adjunct (e.g. creativity hour).  At the Futurelab event I raised the issue of the ‘freeze frame’ technique (the technique of getting young people to enact an event, freeze at a certain point, and describe how the character they are portraying thinks and feels at that moment) and its value as a teaching/learning technique.

It was my 14 year old daughter who introduced me to this technique (something she had come across in drama classes) and her who suggested that it might have a role across the whole curriculum.

I introduced this at the Futurelab event as an example of why it is valuable to seek young peoples views (I would never have found out about it had we not been chatting over dinner), how such teaching and learning possibilities may themselves inform building and space requirements (such techniques require space), and how creativity could be integrated across all subjects.

Unfortunately, the ‘expert’ panel to whom I addressed this didn’t really ‘get’ it. They understood the value of this having come from my daughter (pupil voice) but didn’t, I felt, get the fact that I was referring to the technique being used across all subjects, not just as a good technique for drama. Nor did they get the implications this would have on school, building design (vis a vis the BSF debacle).

This was disappointing. My difficulty is that if the so called experts whom I would expect to be ‘on side’ don’t understand these issues the great hopes for the future as I see them are very distant indeed.

May 26, 2009 at 5:14 pm 1 comment

Fast track to nowhere

This morning my daughter will take the first part (the oral) of her French GCSE. She is 14 years old, in Year 9 and this is part of the fast track scheme within her school.

A few weeks ago she, in common with school pupils in Year 9 around the country, was required to select the subjects she will be taking up to GCSE for the rest of her secondary schooling to that level. The process of identifying these subjects (which are in addition to core subjects) was agonising for her, for us, and for the many other parents and young people we know who were going through the same process.

The reason this was so agonising is that the decisions taken at this time require ‘second guessing’ the future academic and professional paths of the youngsters concerned. Yet they are only 14 years old.

This is exacerbated by the fact that a young person can be put off a subject simply because it is not taught well. Because in making their choices for the future there will be a natural and understandable tendency towards those subjects that they ‘enjoy’  (mostly because they are taught well) a subject that might have induced deep interest had it been brought alive by its teaching might be lost to a young person.

Although my daughter is undertaking fast track French, and by all accounts doing well at it, she decided not to continue French to AS level after taking her early GCSE. This decision was partly predicated on the fact that although she is doing well she has felt that she has been struggling with the grammatical structure of the language, and that she does seem to have a somewhat uninspiring teacher (for her) both of which have marred her enjoyment.

Her decision not to continue French is now ‘set in stone’ so inflexible is the system. But last night she dropped a bit of a bombshell. During the intense revision she has been undertaking prior to her oral exam, many of the aspects of the grammar that she felt she had been struggling with have suddenly clicked into place for her. The result of this is that she now regrets her decision not to continue French to AS level as this new level of understanding has reinvoked her enthusiasm for the language.

A recent study published in the journal of Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability on primary schooling has concluded that ‘having a bad teacher in the first year of primary school can damage a pupil’s entire education’.

I would go further. Whilst having great admiration for teachers who struggle against the myriad changes to the system made by meddling politicians I do believe that bad teaching throughout school life (not just at primary level) coupled with an inflexible system that requires too much too soon of young people ‘can damage a pupil’s entire education’.

April 27, 2009 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

19th century education meets 21st century building under BSF

I was having a look at a Teachers TV video about a building completed under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

This is the  Hadley Learning Community building in Telford which was completed in January 2007 and is regarded as a flagship building under the programme.

The building is designed to house facilities for primary, secondary, children with severe and profound learning difficulties, early education and childcare, and a variety of community activities and is something of a behemoth

There were a couple of issues that were raised in the video that I found disturbing and perhaps typical of what goes on under the BSF programme.

Firstly it became clear that when the building opened to secondary students the needs of the students in respect of their settling into this radically different environment (from their older, smaller school) were not properly accounted for.

In fact the centres principal Dr Gill Etough, who guided the whole building project from its beginnings, doesn’t feel that ‘anybody in the whole Building Schools for Future has really [noticed that we need to know how to] deal with the kids to make them more settled’.

This is astounding considering that the secondary school exists to serve the needs of its pupils, or should do. I suspect that the senior management of the centre were blinded by the glory of the building itself.

Secondly when Dr Etough went into one of the classrooms and the children didn’t stand up she said to them, ‘Aren’t you supposed to stand up when I walk into the room’ to which they were all required to stand up and intone ‘Good morning Dr Etough’.

This is astonishing and something from the 19th century, not the 21st.

For me this one of the issues with the whole BSF programme. Apart from the fact that it is attempting to ‘predict the future’ at a time when the future is particularly unpredictable, there is a disconnect between the architects vision of the 21st century school building and the education vision of those who will run it.

As one of the pupils commented when asked what she thought of the new building, ‘It’s ok, but schools, school’.

March 16, 2009 at 1:08 pm Leave a comment

Widdicombe or snowman

I know it is a long time gone but just reflecting on the controversy over school closures due to the recent snow I note an article in this weeks TES in which a headmaster of a primary school in London is quoted as saying;

‘…..children all over the country stayed at home, had a wonderful time playing in the snow, and probably learned twice as much as they would have done at school.’

This is in stark contrast to Ann Widdicombe’s comment that the closure of schools just showed how lily livered we had all become, no stiff upper lip and all that.

I’m sure the concept that young people can have fun whilst learning is somewhat alien to her as indeed it is to many of the teachers and parents I talk to. The view that somehow education has to have some stern aspects to it if it is to be considered serious can be very deep rooted.

In turn this leads to rejection of the idea of games based learning regardless of any evidence of its potential effectiveness. By games I mean any type of game, whether technology based, or simply building a snowman.

Yet, almost all people I talk to who have endured our education system have a tale about a particular subject they enjoyed because the teacher ‘brought it to life’, made it fun, and subjects that have been rejected because their teacher made it boring.

This dependence on the vagaries of different teachers introduces an unacceptable inconsistency into the classroom.

Better an individualised approach where the learner is able to take advantage of a variety of learning resources, including teachers, to learn according to their own proclivities. This does mean that the teacher is a resource amongst other resources to be called upon, or not.

The natural progression of this is that those teachers who are most fun will be in demand with those who are no fun eventually redundant – a sort of self regulating environment.

I wonder how long Ann Widdicombe would last then.

March 4, 2009 at 5:39 pm Leave a comment

Forget research, let’s look at the evidence

This post is an addendum to my previous tiny post about new research showing that smaller class sizes would help to improve learning’.

I read about that just after having read several articles in Vision, Futurlab’s magazine, littered with all kinds of research projects and findings about how we learn, games in education, informal learning etc. – the list goes on.

All interesting reading, much of it gathering evidence for significant changes in our education system. But one does wonder how many research reports are needed before real fundamental change becomes possible.

In October at the Handheld Learning Conference in London Stephen Heppell said :

“It’s time to be cracking on. Its time for us to say we have done enough confirming what we knew already. It’s time for us to act on what we knew.”

He was talking about implementing radical changes in our education system, many made possible through digital technology, to allow young people greater involvement in their own learning.

The problem is that such change must involve teachers, parents and pupils many of whom are not yet ready for change for a variety of reasons. So, actually to convince more people of the necessity and value of change evidence is still needed.

But I don’t think it is academic research as such that we need. I think we can find all the evidence we need through simple observation of how young people behave in different circumstances, what switches them on, what turns them off, what they are really capable off, what they want to do, trusting them with their own futures.

This week Teachers TV have a focus on education of the future and every morning have a presentation by a different education guru. One of these is by author and educational consultant Tony Buzan, great proponent of mind mapping techniques (

He argues that we should not be teaching young people ‘what’ to learn, but should be teaching them ‘how’ to learn.

I think young people already know ‘how’ to learn, evidenced by all the things they learn before they even get to school. Fundamentals like walking and talking, colours, numbers, different animals etc. Some of these they take on for themselves, some we, the parents and carers,  teach. But nowhere on that journey does anyone teach ‘how’ to learn.

I also think kids want to learn, and will learn best if allowed to do so, if trusted to do so without too much interference.

February 2, 2009 at 4:19 pm 1 comment


I just read this in last weeks TES:

Most teachers think smaller class sizes would help to improve learning according to a new poll’

You don’t say!!

January 26, 2009 at 3:04 pm Leave a comment

Here we go again

So another BETT passes us by. As ever the show was huge (although minuscule by say Frankfurt Book Fair standards).  For me this year was characterised by ‘very little to report’, a sense that we were seeing more of the same, no sense of any real visibility of things to come.

This is hardly surprising in times when so much is in doubt, not least the detail of how the application of digital technology for education will actually shake down. Eavesdropping on conversations between teachers at the crowded café areas seemed to indicate that the spectre of the implementation of Learning Management Systems was looming large.

Many schools continue to struggle with their own networks and adding the additional LMS layer can only serve to add further complication. It is not the capabilities of schools network administrators that is in doubt but the fact that teachers are not given the time, opportunity, training to really understand the implications of digital technology on what they do.

Goodness knows what it must be like for a teacher to make sense of the myriad digital offerings on display at BETT. I find it incredibly confusing, and I’ve been ‘in the business’ for over 20 years.

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that in all likelihood the VLE’s and LMS’s being rather painfully introduced into schools will quite quickly become redundant as the concepts of cloud computing, physical IT needs being met from out there in the ether, hits the world of education.

Seeing the gimmicky introduction by Smart (the interactive whiteboard people) of the ‘Smart table’ suggests to me that too much effort  is being made to introduce the next iteration of stuff (Gillette like) – technology rather than application led. I am old enough for these interactive tables to remind me of the old ‘Space Invader’ tables that enjoyed a brief sojourn in pubs across the land but died a rather fast death condemned to far corners under spilt drinks and distant memories.

The Smart tables use double touch technology and I imagine are quite fun….for a few minutes. Outside of that I simply ask the question, “Why?”.

The other big question on peoples minds is ‘what? That sense of not knowing where things will shake down does leave the purveyors of digital offerings in a bit of a vacuum.

As a colleague remarked at the show perhaps everything should just stop for a year or two, until there is some more clarity over where things are going.

January 22, 2009 at 4:02 pm 1 comment

Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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