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.


A crisper way of putting it

After a recent conversation with a friend re-starting her teaching career and viewing it all with fresh eyes, I realise that there’s another way of expressing my previous post. Labour education policies since 1997, whilst worthy and well-intentioned, have removed much of the delight, joy, serendipity and creativity from teaching. In these grim times, which would you rather: that our children are infused with these optimistic emotions, or with tough-minded, micro-managed, slightly cynical pragmatism? If it’s necessary or indeed possible, how do we strike a balance between the two?

Avoiding a state theory of learning

A thought-provoking evening last night at the RSA, where there was a discussion about the newly released Cambridge University/ Esmee Fairbairn Foundation Cambridge Primary Review Final Report . This has come in for a lot of press comment in the last few days and seems to have been (perhaps inevitably) misrepresented and over-simplified. From what I have read and seen, the report looks like a truly worthwhile contribution to the debate about how we should educate our children in and for the twenty-first century and I share much of its philosophy.

Overall it was particularly interesting to me for its critique of the last twelve years of Labour education policy – with Strategies, SATS and DCSF-commissioned research mostly focussed on retrospectively evaluating the Department’s own initiatives rather than on exploring alternatives, we are coming worryingly close to what they called “a state theory of learning”. Their experiences mirror my own in schools and some teacher training organisations, where sometimes there is very little questioning of the “party line”, and a resulting lack of the values that I think are the most important in any educational endeavour – a constant awareness that you should keep questioning what you are doing and how you are doing it. The Cambridge team were (reassuringly) committed to empowering teachers and learners to think and work for themselves, and believers in evidence-based policies that should constantly be debated . They talked of education being moral rather than instrumental, which I firmly believe too.

The irony is that Labour seems to have been moderately successful in their ruthlessly focussed and very laudable mission to raise the “lowest common denominator” of standards: more children are leaving primary school being able to read and write well enough (although the statistics are still hardly great reading). But their highly controlling method of doing this has been at considerable cost and has disheartened the more creative teachers (and probably learners). I am gradually coming to the conclusion that a lot of really good state schools in England keep their heads under the radar and just get on with doing what they believe in, rather than make a fuss about their achievements and attract the unwelcome attention of policy makers and target-driven bureaucrats. They empower themselves in spite of the pressures from above by treating the simplistic target culture with patient resignation. Whoever our next government is, let’s hope that they don’t have to carry on doing this.

Malcolm McLaren and education at Handheld

I never expected the creator of the Sex Pistols to be a devotee of Baudelaire, but so it is. Malcolm McLaren gave a great and thought-provoking talk this morning about education and himself at the Handheld Learning Conference. Many will have found it a ramble, but the style was an elegant exposition of the substance of his talk – which asked why we have become a “karaoke culture” in which the stupid is cool, and life is lived by proxy (reality TV) and instant gratification, rather than an “authentic” one which celebrates “the messy process of creativity.” I’ll post the link when it’s up, but MM celebrated how we should sometimes (he would say always) be enthusiastic amateurs, open to possibilities (especially those involving “glorious failure”), and celebrate learning for learning’s sake and art for art’s sake. Malcolm McLaren the flaneur – a new one on me.

It’s also the first ever time I’ve had the question “so how do we fix our culture then?” answered with a metaphor involving four-letter expletives and rubber dolls…

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?