An inspiring evening with Steven Isserlis and friends

Saturday night was spent at a concert in a village hall in Marazion, Cornwall. No ordinary concert, however – one of the IMS Prussia Cove Maestri concerts. It was a joy – some of the best musicians in the world performing at their best and most relaxed, in an unglamorous venue, just because they could. There was clearly no financial driver whatsoever for Steven Isserlis, Andras Scholl and others – other than raising money for the IMS project – and they were having a fantastic time playing with their friends (in both senses of the word “playing”). Recommended, if you can ever get to one…

The BBC’s strategic review

I’ve finally had the time to read, in full, the BBC’s Strategy Review. The one that caused so much furore in the (broadsheet) media about the closing of 6Music, and which also included plans to shut BBC Blast and BBC Switch, both targeted and teens and the first an admirable venture which was once seemingly at the centre of the corporation’s vision for learning. I haven’t seen the numbers on takeup, but this seems to be a decision to leave the teen learning space to Channel 4, who have been making the running for a little while now (if not as ambitiously as many, including me, might like). This is probably a fairly sensible admission of defeat, and is good politics, if a great shame for Blast, which was at least a very good idea (I never really investigated it fully).

The review never really addressess the perennial and fundamental issue. This is the BBC’s constant need to balance audience numbers with “distinctiveness” (which is impossible to define) and “public service” (which is an essentially elitist idea and therefore potentially horribly unpopular as well as unmeasureable and undefineable). And, of course, to fend off its (sometimes justified, sometimes not) commercial critics.

So, as usual, it’s a fudge. Does anyone who does believe in the idea of “public service” (like me) have a way of justifying it which doesn’t sound elitist when you try to write it down? I am trying – will post anything if it comes to me…

A historical start?

Just been having a brief look at the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 objects site. It fills me simultaneously with hope and slight disappointment. It’s a great, exploratory learning site, and firmly public service. It encourages serendipitous discovery, it isn’t patronising, there’s nice user-generated content and localisation (local museums), it’s linked across the BBC brands and channels.The site is pretty useable and looks good. If this is the direction BBC learning (and Learning) resources are heading, it’s encouraging.

But – the offer for schools is woefully thin right now (a bunch of lesson plans and text-focussed flat pages rather than the tools and pan-UK projects which could have been exciting). And the whole thing feels as if it could have been really amazing with more money – I don’t see much narrative to bring me in to the site, and all the academic’s comments seem to be text or audio. There’s no Simon Schama to draw me in or reconstructions of what these objects might have been used for. So – a good start. I hope someone’s working on the truly ambitious follow-up.

Love this – hope it works commercially!

This is elegant and a good idea. I hope it works.

Storybird is a service that uses collaborative storytelling to connect kids and families. Two (or more) people create a Storybird in a round robin fashion by writing their own text and inserting pictures. They then have the option of sharing their Storybird privately or publicly on the network. The final product can be printed (soon), watched on screen, played with like a toy, or shared through a worldwide library.

Storybird is also a simple publishing platform for writers and artists that allows them to experiment, publish their stories, and connect with their fans.

Losing confidence

Seventy percent of primary teachers are considered to be confident and competent using ICT in the curriculum – down from 80% in 2007. The percentage has also decreased in secondary schools with 60% in 2009 being confident and competent using ICT – compared to 68% in 2007.

The fifth page of BESA’s ICT in UK State Schools 2009 summary report is pretty grim reading. Bear in mind this is a trade association which has a vested interest in selling educational products, but its conclusions do ring true. It coincided with a conversation I had yesterday with somebody working in Australian educational publishing. From the outside of the UK, it looks like we have a mature, well-funded and well-informed market for electronic educational materials. The DCSF rhetoric clearly works. Regrettably the reality is somewhat different.

Saul Nassé named BBC Learning chief

The Guardian reports this today:

Saul Nassé is to replace Liz Cleaver as controller of BBC Learning when she steps down at the end of the year, the BBC announced today.

Nassé is currently based in Mumbai where he has been general manager and creative head of BBC Worldwide Productions India since 2007.

I don’t know Saul and wish him all the best in his new job. And for you cynics: no, I didn’t want it or apply for it.

I am however worried about the tone of the announcements surrounding his appointment. They sound more and more like a BBC retreating from offering anything truly substantial aimed at schools or for use in the classroom – George Entwhistle is reported to have said

[…]His mission is to build on the success of services like Bitesize and Class Clips, and on campaigns such as Breathing Places, by forging ever stronger links between Learning, Knowledge and the rest of the BBC[…]

This sounds very much like Learning is becoming absorbed into a mission to educate in its widest – and least controversial – sense. It doesn’t sound like it includes a mission to challenge, complement and enrich what is going on in schools. I am worried the BBC has finally completely caved in to the vested interests of a few powerful commercial companies, and we are left with no organisation to challenge orthodoxy. I hope I am wrong.

Culture and strategy

Been wanting to post this for a while – heard in a presentation at NESTA/ Steve Moore’s Reboot Britain event earlier in the year. I forget who said it – I think it was Charles Leadbeater – but it has stuck in the brain:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

In other words, however clever your vision, however fine your organisational structure, whatever your methodology, if the people aren’t with you, don’t get on and/or can’t be bothered, forget it. Very true!

Wish I’d done this…

Just found, via a slightly circuitous route: Creative Spaces. A shining and alas very isolated example of an open, exploratory “web 2.0” learning resource. The user – whoever they may be – is invited to engage with museum artefacts through story (see the celebrity videos like Tony Robinson’s), other people’s comments, and a tag cloud, hopefully driving them to reflect further and comment themselves. It’s got a lovely clean design, too. Love it (tinge of envy – I was once working on similar ideas that never came to fruition).

Here we go again?

I was rather surprised to learn that the BBC Trust’s service review of children’s services and content, published yesterday, also covered “content to support formal learning for primary school children”. I was less surprised – but weary – to discover that “As part of this review some commercial education content suppliers raised concerns about the competitive impact of the BBC’s formal learning provision. Under the terms of the BBC’s Charter, the Trust has a duty to have regard to the competitive impact of the BBC’s activities and has written to establish whether these concerns should be treated as a formal complaint.

Oh, not again. The review document emphasizes how CBBC and CBeebies are there to promote education and learning. As I have said ad nauseam before, the BBC must have a role to play in education. This should be curtailed by and complement the (usually) bread-and-butter stuff that commercial publishers can do, but that’s because the BBC is the only organisation that can innovate and question the prevailing teach-to-the-test zeitgeist, and so that’s where it should spend time, effort and resources. Ewan McIntosh’s excellent blog pointed me to something I should probably have seen years ago – Ken Robinson’s February 2006 TED talk – in a wider-ranging and thought-provoking post about what we’re getting wrong.

Is there any chance that we can move away from threats towards collaboration and dialogue in the wider interests of society?