Martin’s Weblog

Education: How to Look Good Naked

Education in its Suite of Armour

One response to anything new is to attempt to  assimilate it – to fit it into existing models. While it could be argued that Education has attention blindness to technology I think the problem with education and technology goes deeper – a combination of the Shirky Principlecausing education to become stuck into attempting to assimilate technology to reinforce existing models. – the end result being a system that is robust to change yet ever more expensive and irrelevant. One meaning for the E in E-learning is “Expensive”.

However, when context change is so radical attempts to assimilate it leave one disconnected from reality (psychotic) and sustained by rituals and delusions.

Technology can flip our reality:
That which was once scarce becomes abundant
That which was once difficult becomes easy
That which was once once expensive becomes cheap (or free)
That which was once large becomes small
That which was once institutional becomes personal

The technology context within which education operates has changed so radically over the last decade that education must find ways of altering its existing models to accommodate a changing reality – educated learning needs to find a way to accommodate its flip side – uneducated learning or risk increasing irrelevance.

Lets have a look at just two of these  flipping changes.

Flipping Space – Time

Educational space and time is a scheduled batch process in specified locations – the meeting – otherwise know as timetabled classes.

Classrooms and timetables were a necessary batch process to distribute scarce resources and time to abundant learners – move the learners to resources to meet at specified  times in specified  places.

Nowadays learning resources can be accessed almost anytime and anyplace – learners no longer need to wait to be batch processed in a timetabled classroom – learning can happen anyplace, anytime in real-time on demand – Indeed, better learning happens this way.

Flipping resources
Technology resources were once expensive and scarce and education quite rightly provided these for learning – computers, email, storage space and applications.

Nowadays many learners have their own personal technology resources and they are usually much easier and better than those provided by education yet education often chooses to ignore or even ban learners personal technology. Education must accommodate to the reality that learning can take place using learners own resources –  Indeed, better learning happens this way.

Haile Gebrselassie - Marathon Runner

How to accommodate – strip down

Education has used technology to build a suite of armour – a lumbering and reinforced steampunk monstrosity of defence – sucking in increasing resources to reinforce, maintain and move. Within its suite of armour education is blind to the world around it and unable to move fast enough it will become isolated and left behind in a world of its own.

Education needs to strip down – throw off its suite of armour – become part of the world in which it exists and use the resources of its environment.

Education needs to flip from institutional to personal – the conditions to do this are emerging from cheaper, pervasive, abundant, personal and connected mobile computing.

How to look good Naked

Here are some Rules Of Thumb – ROT to do

*  Go Web
Use the web – avoid platform and paper dependencies.

* Go Mobile
Resources have to be useable on a smartphone anyplace and anytime

* Go Free
Use free open web based resources – the sort that any learner and teacher can use anywhere with no support overheads.

* Go Wild
Think of teaching and learning as wilderness survival – a lifelong skill in how to find and use the natural resources of the web. Think of the smartphone as a survival multi-tool.

* Go Open 

Use and produce public open resources

* Go Connected

“The network is our computer” – Invest in your networks – especially wireless, guest and Internet connections.

“Value is in the network not the nodes”
MASH and connect your own and others content.
Develop Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)

* Go Outside
– Think and Design systems outside the classroom and outside the school or college – think Web, Mobile and Global.

* Go Personal
Encourage and use people’s own personal resources and identity.

* Go Equal
Invest and focus on digital equality


August 28, 2011 Posted by | education, IT and education, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Education: What technology wants

Suppliers and institutions may want technology to enable a control, expensive rarity model with proprietary and protected features. People may want technology to enable freedom and choice with a cheap abundance model with open features (except of course where rarity and expensive are a feature of identity rather than function – think “designer” fashion). Initial phases of new technology are often balanced towards the supplier/institution and then competition shifts balance towards what people want from technology. The balance between supplier/institution and people will continue to play out into the future according to contexts but ultimately what technology wants ends up being what people want.

Information technology wants to be personal, abundant, cheap, easy, convenient, open, small, mobile and connected – “resistance is futile”.

The balance of technology in education is weighted to the institution – we depend upon institutionally provisioned hardware and software from data centres and servers to “end user” computers – this is an expensive, resource intensive, centralised and locked down model struggling to meet the demands of what people want from technology.

Continuing on the current trajectory every room will be eventually be an IT suite or every student will have a college computer – how could I provision, support, maintain and secure up to 20,000 computers – we need a new approach. Educational technology must seek a lighter, simpler less resource intensive approach to technology – it must learn to let go of technology, step away from the diminishing returns on the technology treadmill. Instead, education should provide a platform for technology use – a feasible and sustainable model for the next era – the “fifth wave of computing” – personal, abundant, cheap, easy, convenient, open, small, mobile and connected.

The traditional response is for education to provide resources but better choices can usually be readily selected by people from the web. Education needs to de-institutionalise and reduce its own technology – allow the balance to shift to personal  technology by exploring DIY and self service approaches.

All our learners have on-line presence and identities – why provide institutional versions – allow learners to use their own resources and on-line identity. Allow learners to select their own email and their own applications – some will use Google apps, some will use Microsoft Live apps while others might prefer Zoho, Facebook office or local apps such as Openoffice or even Microsoft office. If learners don’t have on-line resources then this is an area for education, for education should be about learning for life.

Shift investment from computers and servers to the network. Shake off the ghost of internal client-server thinking – think global – think open – think web only. Create pervasive wireless guest access and increase both internal and Internet bandwidth. Encourage learners and staff to use their own IT on your guest network – let the network be our computer – let the network be the technology platform for learning

Education teaching and Education IT could both share a common new approach – facilitation. Facilitate the use of resources rather than the resources themselves. In the same way that teaching is considering facilitation, coaching, guidance styles so too could education IT.

September 26, 2010 Posted by | education, ICT, IT and education | 3 Comments

Education and technology – doing the Monster Mash

Education and technology are necessary partners but the relationship can be far from comfortable or functional.

Technologists often have an almost obsessive addiction about “the next big thing” and a technology fetishism and determination about the power of technology to transform education.

Education is stressed by the need to balance a great many competing factors including finance, legal regulations, government requirements,  market competition  as well as  learning needs – a stress that often results in organisational anxiety a conservative approach to new technology.

The conflux of educational anxiety and technology addiction has in many cases created an addicted, anxiety ridden institutionalised educational technology monster.

The Monster
The monster mash is depressive, agoraphobic, addictive, obsessive compulsive ritual dance.

Dead and decaying technology is toxic and harmful but the monster is addicted and craves increasing doses to sustain itself in an all consuming self destructive habit.

Technology pushers fool the monster to try ever toxic technologies to keep it and its “users” dependent.

Education has become dependent on technology and has to purchase, power, support and maintain more and more equipment, computers, servers, storage and software each year to satisfy an expanding desire for technology in education.

Education has to deploy ever more complex and expensive technology in order to cope – increasingly needing expensive external specialists.

Education’s dependency on technology is almost 24/7/365 – how long could a typical institution last without a technology fix.

The monster seeks comfort from the familiar, private and closed places – it fears and avoids large, open, public and/or unfamiliar places where there are few places to hide.

Education perpetuates familiar first phase technologies and applications such as locally installed, local area network client and server products.

Obsessive Compulsive
The monster comforts itself with repetitive self-reinforcing ritualistic behaviours.

Education seeks comfort in conforming to self-constructed norms of technology use – learner:computer ratios; e-boards installations, VLE/MLE and the use of technology in lessons. Ritualised technology becomes repetitive, rigid, self-reinforcing and difficult to change. Education becomes focused on preserving the rituals f technology rather than the function.

Despite all its hard work the monster cannot find love.

For technologists education doesn’t go far enough and for eduction the technology is too wild and risky.

The Monster Mash
The monster mash is a complex, expensive, rigid, and slow moving dance –  increasingly  ridiculous yet scary and increasingly damaging to education and learning.

New technologies allow Education to provide increasing amounts of IT provisioned faster and more flexibly while also exerting traditional practices for availability, security, control and standardisation. However, there is a price – these new technologies are far more complex than before. Consider the complexity of load balanced server clustering, Storage area networking or a typical institutional email system.

The complexity of our systems is expensive – not only in terms of capital but also in terms of time, skills and increasingly in terms of external support and maintenance.

The scale of educational IT is expensive – the rise in quantity outweighs the fall in unit costs – while the cost of computer hardware has fallen we use many more and while the cost of software has fallen over the years we use more.

The scale of educational IT is expensive to support and maintain – we need increasing numbers of technical people to keep all this ticking over.

There is also a cost in terms of preparing and delivering education doing the monster mash – consider the amount of time spent preparing attractive powerpoint presentations or populating a VLE for classroom use. This is the old e-board and VLE debate where for me the “E” stands for expensive – consider the opportunity costs of these technologies alone.

To deploy, support and maintain on scale institutional IT is pretty standardised – new technologies such as virtualised clients may allow some variety around a standard theme but they are all generally predefined menu selections.

To protect and secure on scale institutional IT is pretty locked down – people often can’t install programs of their choice on educational computers.

Consider the effect of this standardised lock down on learning. A learner may not be familiar with tools you provide so must first learn your tools before they can apply them to their learning – the tools become a stumbling block and get in the way of learning.

Slow Moving
Traditional institutional IT is designed for providing a fixed standardised and controlled provision on scale – it is not well suited to providing a personalised flexible provision on scope. New features appear in free public consumer IT regularly and often yet consider the process of upgrading an institutional application or email system for all your people.

Free the Monster
However comforting the monster mash may be it now has an existential problem and risks harming everyone around it. The Monster mash is a big turn off for many people these days.

While slow moving, rigid, complex and expensive its addictive, depressed, agoraphobic obsessive compulsive nature make the monster parasitic and difficult to escape

Shock tactics and cold turkey could be fatal for both the monster and the host – we must treat the underlying problems of addiction and anxiety appropriately with exposure and response prevention. With support the monster must confront its fears and discontinue its escape and avoidance responses. The Monster must learn that it can be safe in open, public spaces and that it can reduce and maybe one day eliminate its dependence on tradition and ritual. Over time educational technology may once again lead a less complex, expensive, rigid and slow moving life – one day the monster may lead a happy and fulfilling life.

I hope to explore some technology and education for the monster in future blogs.

September 18, 2010 Posted by | education, ICT, IT and education | Leave a comment

The Future of Technology in Education – The Big Switch

Technology adoption often starts with big, rare and expensive institutional models that technologise existing practice – this is particularly the case with Information technology and has been the case with Information technology in education.

Initially, computers were rare and education provided a handful of computer terminals in specialist suites for relatively specialist access to mainframes. Over time, Mainframe terminals were replaced with desktop “personal” computers and the same model expanded and applied mainstream such that a typical school or college may have thousands of “terminals” and a great many IT suites. Such desktop models are supported and maintained on an institutional model – they are generally standardised and locked down – they really are more like mainframe terminals than personal computers.

Initially, education assimilated computers were a rare resource and teachers could book time in the IT suite for specialist sessions. Over time large machines (desktop computer “terminals”) have been placed on the desks in front of learners. Classrooms have attempted to accommodate these machines by providing benching and computer chairs and often arranging conveniently along and facing walls – in many cases, learners all have their backs to the teacher.

Education’s very long and expansive initial assimilation of IT while already problematic is now under real pressure from radical  technology and cultural changes. Where computers were once big, rare, expensive and institutional  they are now small, common, relatively cheap and personal. Where information was once relatively rare, expensive and institutional it is now abundant, free and personal. Learners are increasingly carrying around in their pockets or bags real personal computers with access to as much information as they need – the typical educational technology provision is an anachronistic steampunk concoction of IT rarity in an age of IT abundance.

The future of technology in education will be mobile and personal but is less about technology and more about education – Education must learn to accommodate new technology and culture with new practice – I hope to explore some of these issues in future blogs.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | education, IT and education | Leave a comment

Social Media – a Bleeding Edge in Education

While social media is a cutting edge on the web it is a bleeding edge in education. This blog examines why this is such an issue now, interprets responses within a change-anxiety paradigm and suggests a way forward.

The application of technology in teaching and learning is as old as technology, teaching and learning – as is the tension  caused between teacher and learner. Perhaps the most famous example is from round 370 BC in Plato’s Phaedrus where Socrates argues that reading and writing would undermine knowledge that “writing would erode memory” and that “reading would mislead students to think that they had knowledge, when they only had data”. Socrates championed dialogue in teaching and learning – arguing that the written word locks down this process – no matter how many times you ask text a question it always responds with the same answer.  Socrates’ ideas about text epitomise the way technology can affect relationships in society as well as the relationship between teacher and learner throughout history.

In 1455 the Gutenberg Press revolutionised not only the production of text but the world around it. “As in the case of many inventions, there was immediate opposition. The new printing system was seen as something that would undermine the existing political and religious order” – Henry VII instituted mandatory censorship and the printing of Lutheran ideas is regarded as a major factor in thousands of people leaving the Catholic church during the protestant reformation. While allowing mass distribution of ideas the printing press mass industrialised Socrates’ concerns about push -> consume as a model of teaching, learning and communication – a model that has been institutionalised throughout the 2nd millennium, reaching its logical conclusion in late 20th century mass media.

Today social media is revolutionising communications as significantly as writing and printing did in the past. Social media introduces dialogue to text and mediated communications, it democratises communication and like pushing against an open door this is one reason why it has become so popular so quickly with people rather than institutions.

Social media is becoming integrated with the web. For example Microsoft and Facebook have announced an on-line version of Microsoft Office for Facebook; websites can use Facebook Connect to add social interaction to their Websites and social media provides interactive back channels to events and traditional mass media.

Social media is becoming integrated with identity – in mediating both traditional and digital relationships. From “keeping in touch”; arranging meetings; sharing media and interacting, social media is becoming integrated with many people’s lives – especially young people.

The integration of social media with the web and people’s identity creates a new context for web access within institutions and especially so in education – full of young people developing their identities and so used to “web life”.
Social media has placed a new context in which traditional IT suites/computer classrooms operate – the context can be interpreted within a change-anxiety paradigm with such responses as avoidance, management, assimilation and accommodation.


Avoidance is a common initial anxiety response to change, uncertainty and loss of control – coping mechanisms may result in blocking out unwanted contexts while seeking comfort in the safe and familiar. Blocking Social media can be very difficult, counter productive and even dysfunctional.

While it may be possible to place a direct block on a site like there are many ways to indirectly access directly blocked sites or just use interfaces on other sites including mainstream sites such as Netvibes, Yahoo and iGoogle – is it then necessary to block “mainstream” sites?

Blocking access creates an “arms race” as students look for ways around the filters (it’s easy enough to Google suggestions) or simply switch to alternative sites that are not yet blocked. Starting this arms race can be counter productive in terms of reputation as it is the students who usually win.

Social media is so integrated with the web and with identity that avoiding it may be dysfunctional. In social media is a cutting edge on the web I describe how social media plays an increasingly important role in education, business, politics, work, media, news etc and that to block social media cuts out a significant amount of modern life – should education be isolating itself from mainstream culture? Mizuko Ito et al provide a well researched argument on the importance of social media access in relation to identity and  especially for Disadvantaged students who do not have Internet at home – “When kids lack access to the Internet at home, and public libraries and schools block sites that are central to their social communication, they are doubly handicapped in their efforts to participate in common culture and sociability”. In learning, experience is better than avoidance and in terms of safety Ofstead advise that “Pupils given a greater degree of freedom to surf the internet at school are less vulnerable to online dangers in the long-term”


Change-anxiety may be met with rationalisation and an attempt to manage responses – if social media activity is considered as a classroom behavioural issue then it can be managed with classroom behavioural management – the same techniques used to manage talking, passing notes, throwing paper and other student distraction and inattention behaviours.


“A problem is an opportunity” – rather than avoid or manage find ways to turn a problem to advantage – make use of it. Consider the philosophy of the martial art Aikido “an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury” by “blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on”. Social media is integrated with the web and with our learners lives – educational “Aikido” seeks ways to assimilate and blend social media with learning – there are plenty of examples – here are just a few: 100 ways to use Facebook in the classroomFacebook for ESOL classesTwitter in the classroomEffective use of Social Media Part 1: Twitter in the classroomtweaching with TwitterUsing Facebook to help students pass EnglishEmbracing the Twitter ClassroomUsing Social media to improve retention13 Enlightening Case Studies of Social Media in the Classroom;Learning science with social mediaSocial Media and the 21st Century Classroom.


Systems and behaviours adjust to their environment (through avoidance, management to assimilation) but where the environment changes dramatically then systems and behaviours need to do more than just adjust – they need to change. The current model of education and the classroom is an assimilation of industrial age contexts that is maladjusted to information age contexts. Computers with Internet access are an incredibly powerful information and communication technology – imagine placing them onto the desks of a 1960s classroom – yet this is what we do in our “IT suites”, no wonder there is culture shock. Our IT classrooms are like steampunk scenarios where worlds collide – culture-technology-time mashups of information scarcity and information abundance in the same place – no wonder there are problems. The IT classroom steampunk paradigm difference is stressing the education system and those who  teach and learn within it. It is time for education to accommodate to the culture and technology of the information age – to shift paradigm and change.

The resurrection of Socrates in the classroom

The Internet, Web 2.0 and social media have shifted the information gateway from teacher to learner; changed the relationship between them and redefined the role of education and the classroom. Rather than being a source of information the classroom can become a source of knowledge and understanding –  a return full circle through 2,000 years to Socrates and dialogue in teaching and learning. Today it is expensive in terms of time, money and energy to bring people together in a classroom – we should use classroom opportunities to provide value unique to that situation.

What I am arguing is that the style of IT classrooms of the last 20 years are now dysfunctional and that this dysfunction is the bleeding edge.  I am proposing a shift away from “traditional” IT classrooms and to develop classrooms for interaction, debate and dialogue. More of learning can take place outside the classroom – activities such as research, preparation, writing and programming can be done elsewhere and may be more effectively done elsewhere.

The big challenge for the education system is to accommodate to the its changing technical and cultural context and by so doing support our teachers and learners – I hope to explore this in future blogs.

May 3, 2010 Posted by | education, IT and education, social media | 2 Comments

Social media: A Cutting Edge On The Web

“The Web does not just connect machines, it connects people” (Tim Berners-Lee).  Social media is pretty much what Tim Berners-Lee envisaged for the web when he started his early development work. The original web 1.0 was an analogue of traditional publishing media which provided the opportunity for people to read on-line – this was familiar, easily understood and accommodated. Web 2.0 provides the opportunity for people to write as well as to read on-line – this is less familiar and has not been so well understood or accommodated. Social media takes Web 2.0 even further by predicating itself on people’s contributions, interaction and participation – the consequences are even less well understood or accommodated than Web 2.0.

Simply in terms of numbers social media is is important. Radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users; Terrestrial TV took 13 years to reach 50 million users; the internet took four years to reach 50 million people. Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months! Facebook has been growing at over 100% year on year; in February 2010  it had a “population” of 400 million active users (25% of all web users) – if it were a nation it would be the third largest on earth. 67% of Internet users use social networking, its ahead of email use and accounts for 10% of all time spent on-line.  Wikipedia has more than 13 million articles in more than 260 different languages and would be 1043 volumes if printed. Youtube serves 1 billion views a day.

Social media is shaping the way we communicate and access information. Social media provide new public and private places to meet and interact – the importance of which are now being recognised by all areas of society from politics, business, work, media, communities to education.

In Politics: Obama’s use of social media in the US presidential election is well known as are the applications while in government from the Whitehouse Youtube channel through to presence on twitterFacebookMyspaceFlickr etc he could be decribed as the first wired president. Access to social media is important for access to politics and the world of politics.

In Business The importance of social media is recognised  both externally and internally. IBM, for example, use social media on a very large scale in a decentralised mode both internally and externally. Dell, for example, provide a “case study on how a company has successfully integrated social media into its marketing communications, and culture“. Social media provide an essential medium to develop and expand business – levelling the playing filed and allowing small business to access resources only massive corporations could in the past. Access to social media is important for access to business and the world of business.

In Recruitment and Work: Social media search has become commonplace in staff recruitment and for people to find jobs for example use of LinkedinFacebook and twitter. Even MI6 have been using Facebook in recruitment. Access to social media is important for access to work and the world of work.

In News: Social media has become an integrated and vital factor in news.  Professional use of user generated content is recognised and  BBC news journalists have been told to use social media as a primary source of information. Twitter, for example, has played a vital role in reporting events after the Iranian electionThe Mumbai attacks,  The Hudson Bay crash. Access to social media is important for access to news and the world of news.

In Media: Social media has become an important media “channel”. Youtube, for example, is becoming an integral part of mainstream media on-demand delivery – hosting content from 60 partners, including Channel 4 and the BBC. Live performances are being streamed via social media U2 on Youtube and the Foo Fighters on Facebook. Social media is helping to evolve the way media is produced and consumed. The Youtube orchestra and the work of media remix-mashup artists show how social media are evolving media. TV and radio shows often either have an official twitter presence such as BBC Question time and Radio 4 today or have unofficial presence that adds a new dimension such as for the Eurovision song contest or an unexpected consequence as in the case of 2009 Xfactor. Access to social media is important for access to media and the world of media.

In communities: local groups, councils, governments and organisations use social media to provide information and to interact. Many UK oocal councils use twitter,  Emergency departments,  Governments and Councils use social media for emergency and health and disease communication. Councils are urged to stop thinking about their own web sites as the limit of their engagement” and make greater use of social media. Access to social media is important for access to communities.

In Identity. One of the major factors in identity is that of social interaction and we shouldn’t be surprised to find that social media is playing a major part defining on-line identity and will do so even more in the future. Original forms of identity might be described as Identity 1.0 – website and institutionally centric – typically we need to enter unique identification into each system we want to interact with. A currently developing form of identity could be referred to as Identity 2.0 – user centric – where we can enter a common identification into the various systems we interact with. The promising current development with identity 2.0 this is with OpenID for identification OAuth for authorisation and their combination. Many major systems have become OpenID+OAuth providers (e.g. GoogleYahooMicrosoft) and many allow its use to provide access. Social media (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter) also offer Identity 2.0 – both in terms of identity construction through social interaction but also for access to third part resources.Twitter, for example, is an OpenID+OAuth provider and this is my preferred method of accessing websites. Facebook can act as an OpenID rely and have also developed their own widely used social identity system called Facebook Connect while Google has been developing Opensocial as methods of providing access to and adding social features to third party websites. Access to social media is important for access to identity and to interact and access a great many resources.

In Education: Learning is about interaction with information, people and activities as is social media. Youtube, for example, gives access to an unprecedented wealth of learning material accessible from the Youtube Edu channel are videos from world class universities and experts such as MITUCLAStanfordHarvard, the Open University and UNSW, as well as a wealth of socially generated material on all manner of subjects from relativity through to how to change a tap washer and how to change a car tyre. Wikipedia is of course a well used socially created source of information but also has its socially created content at Wikiversity.There are also some very  interesting learning activities and resources available such as the 140 university on twitter. While many Educational institutes use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to engage students beforeduring and after courses. Access to social media is important for access to education and the world of education.

Social media is increasingly integrated with the web and with our lives and its going to become more so. Major websites are adding social features and many of these are connected back to social media identities. Social media is being integrated with common applications, for example even Outlook is going to get social media features, Gmail has social media with BuzzYahoo provides full access to Facebook and Google has integrated social media in search results. Social media will play a big part in the future in terms of information generation and management. Google CEO Eric Schmidt envisions a radically changed internet “dominated by social media content” – “It’s because of this fundamental shift towards user-generated information that people will listen more to other people than to traditional sources”. Louise Gray builds on the ideas of Chris Messina and describes how “The social Web changes the entire process of content discovery. Instead of portals, we are relying on mortals. Our trusted friends and experts bring us the best content from around the Web to us directly, via FacebookTwitterFriendFeed, and even that old tool… e-mail.” The idea is that social media will provide much of the access and content and that the “human filters” of social media will provide much of the capability to help us manage. Dion Hinchcliffe describes how social media are making the “classic web” obsolete and Jeremiah Owyang looks further ahead predicts 5 eras of social media and describes just how important and integrated social media may become over the next decade.

February 20, 2010 Posted by | culture, education, IT and education, IT and society, media, social media, society | 1 Comment

Education: For Better, For Worse, For Change

There is something strange going on in education – It’s getting both better and worse at the same time.

Exam grades have been improving year on year and this summer students achieved the best exam grades so far in A levels and GCSEs while International studies place our students in the global top 10. However, when students answer questions from past decades they do worse than their historic counterparts.

It seems no one is happy – there is the usual argument about exam “quality” – Richard Pike for example  complains that science exams standards have been eroded and that first year chemistry students require remedial education, employers complain that graduates lack soft skills and students enjoyment of science and maths has dropped remarkably.

All these things are true because education is changing.

Information, knowledge and education are embedded within culture and society – the nature of our culture and society changes and have changed radically over the last 20 years. Information is the stuff of education but our relationship to information is very different from that of 20 years ago and even 10 years ago. Back in 1988 information was a relatively slow and scarce resource – “locked up” in papers and books. Today both students and teachers have “at your fingertips” Internet access to overwhelming amounts of information – today information is a fast and overloaded resource.

Methods of dealing with a resource that is slow and scarce are different to those needed to deal with a resource that is fast and overloaded. With slower moving scarce information education focused on the subject with deeper operations on the available information. With faster moving overloaded information education is focused on information with broader operations on the available information – the ability to find, filter, assess, use and communicate information

Michael Shayer found students today were better at tasks requiring quick, descriptive responses whereas students from the 1970’s were better at deeper more “complex” thinking. Shayer goes on to relate these changes to the changes in society and culture – “everything in the past 30 years has speeded up. It’s about reacting quickly but at a shallow level”. Information management and “soft” skills are often referred to as “dumbing down” but I would argue that they are just different and that they are as valuable and complex as the deeper subject skills many value more.

The one experiment that can’t be done is to observe how students from the 1970’s and 1980’s might cope with the information rich world of today. Our students, teachers and education system have adapted to the changes in society and technology. Today we use information technology as a tool for mechanical (e.g. simple arithmetic) and memory tasks to free time for information handling tasks such as research and the application of information to problems. Subject operation is different – instead of “deep” within subject questions we seek to operate more broadly and ask questions that relate subject knowledge to the world we live in.

The curriculum is seeking to adapt to changes in technology, culture and society. The Rose report  for primary education suggests that six broad “areas of learning” could replace individual subjects. Looking ahead to the year 2020 The Gilbert report for secondary schools calls for increasing curriculum breadth and more active, collaborative and creative learning. Looking at the global economy the Leitch report calls for Developing a culture of learning (integrating learning with life and work) and the development of communications, collaboration, research and problem solving skills.

The various sectors of society want different things from education and as a result no one is entirely happy. Universities want deeper “hard” subject knowledge and competence. Employers want subject competence but also want adaptable people with “soft” skills. Institutions want to be able to test and measure performance.  The government wants entrepreneurs and innovators. On the one hand society wants “hard”, measureable, “traditional” education yet on the other hand it wants “soft” and innovative education.

Somehow education must reconcile the need for measurable deep subject skills with the need for innovation which develops best on a broad base. The only answer is for the education system to be increasingly flexible and adaptive and to offer choices. One approach is through the personalisation of education suggested by Rammel together with a choice of learning/teaching/course/qualification styles.

The questions about education I am most interested in are:

What do students think?

What do students want?

December 30, 2008 Posted by | education, IT and education | | 1 Comment

Cloud the Issues

This blog discusses cloud computing in relation to organisational culture and the forms of cloud computing that may be adopted as a result.

The issues with cloud computing are the same issues that have existed on the Internet since it was created issues of identity as constructed through relationships to control and ownership. This shouldn’t be surprising as the term “cloud computing” is after all based upon the network symbol for the Internet.

Relationships to control and ownership are formed through specific requirements such as legal obligations and through psychology.   

Approaching Cloud – First Impressions describes some of the system types available for cloud computing – they can be regarded as if on a continuum from the more traditional “product on-site” approach (not really cloud) through to a fully MASHED DIY approach.

Those who wish or need to assert identity through strong control and ownership of information are unlikely to feel comfortable with the concepts of cloud computing and would be most comfortable with traditional “product on-site” adoptions. Such individuals or organisation may also find hosted products with appropriate Service Level Agreements acceptable.

 Those who are or can be more relaxed about control and ownership may feel  comfortable with approaches from mid range cloud services approaches from Microsoft live@edu or Google apps for education  through to the more extreme Mashup Corporation, Mesh Collaboration or ideas of Clay Shirky  in “Here Comes Everybody” which web 2 and cloud computing make possible.

One of the most frequently discussed issues when talking about the use of Cloud computing in teaching is that of ownership of teaching materials whether these belong to the organisation or to the teacher or some form of shared ownership in between. If the organisation exerts control and ownership over materials then an IT system which allows this control must be implemented – most likely product on-site installs, hosted systems or possibly an organisational controlled cloud system such as  Microsoft live@edu or Google apps for education . Where the individual control and ownership is agreed then teachers’ personal resources can be used and MASHED in. Where DIY MASHUP is used then the organisation has to consider what happens if/when the individual leaves, changes  or withdraws material and what that individual publishes in public space – these are as you might appreciate issues of identity as expressed through ownership and control.  It is easier to exert an identity if you control and own the medium and the collection of messages available on the medium. Organisations which allow a MASH of personal DIY lose the ability to control the messages – they have to trust their people and truly become the sum of the parts.

The advantage of exerting control is that you can exert a clear identity – a particular “mission statement” in a particular style. This suites a “command and control” style of management and is effective where there are clear objectives and outcomes – it is particularly suited to sectors where known repetitive and fixed operations are required. The disadvantage is that the organisation is less flexible than it could be – everything is pointed in the same direction and may not see the changes coming up behind – good for when you know where you are going but not suited for activities where you need to adapt to the unexpected – where you don’t know where you are let alone where you are going – by this I am referring to areas where invention, innovation and creativity are required.

Relaxing control and ownership offers the advantages of a dynamic flexible organisation defined by its members. This suites a flat, networked, “self organising” style of management  – such an organisation may be difficult to point in one direction but able to see in many directions, to generate multiple ideas and be flexible – such an organisation is best suited to invention, innovation and research. The disadvantage of course is that identity is expressed dynamically through the activity of members which can lead to fragmentation and anarchy.

All organisations are different and will accommodate and assimilate technologies and opportunities according to their unique culture. In my opinion education is about recognising individual differences and developing individual potentials and as such I argue that educational organisations should be relatively relaxed with control and identity – that they should be considering their unique approaches to personal DIY systems for the near future.  The technology exists and continues to develop but is the psychology there?

December 14, 2008 Posted by | cloud, education, IT and education | , , | Leave a comment

Approaching Clouds – First Impressions

Increasing amounts of our lives are mediated by IT and developments in educational, social and technical culture require organisations to develop systems to deliver expectations.

Back in June 2008 I wrote “MLE to PLE a framework for considering systems” which attempted categories approach and offer criteria to help evaluate systems.

This blog looks at the systems for learning being considered at EHWLC to meet expectations and my first impressions.

Product on-site

This is the traditional approach – purchase software and hardware and install in your systems centre. The system we have been having a look at is Microsoft Sharepoint.

In many ways Sharepoint presents the issues of any traditional product on-site system. I have found Sharepoint to be time consuming and overly complex. Due to the logistics involved (product “manufacture” and provision to customer sites) I have found Sharepoint to be out if date at the time of delivery. It offers a traditional perspective on web 2.0, focused on Office documents when what I am looking for is web page “in-situ” creation and editing where you only need a browser. We are trying to move away from the sharing and circulation of word documents and Excel spreadsheets yet Sharepoint encourages this – not surprising really. One advantage to Sharepoint is it’s tight integration with your internal organisational systems (if you are using Active Directory). However, with the increasing number of non-organisational users you may wish to include (e.g. franchise partners etc) this approach presents problems.

Product hosted

Instead of installing a product in your system centre this approach is to use the system centre of a 3rd party to run (host) your system and access it via interfaces across the Internet. The 3rd party can offer business continuity and security. This approach offloads the work of running the data centre systems but presents the limitations of the product. The system we are considering is the ULCC hosted/serviced e-learning.

We have only just started looking at the ULCC hosted service. I am hoping that it errs more towards a service rather than hosting a product. One of the problems of a product on-site is that we are all so busy that finding the enormous amount of time required to get a system on the scale we are considering started up is very difficult. With the ULCC e-learning services we hope to be able to contract technical implementation time to the service providers so that actually provisioning a service becomes a possibility. One of the major areas I will be looking at are the Interfaces we can use to interface with our other systems

Service – Cloud (Organisational)

With this model you use the system centre of a 3rd party to run (host) your system but are not concerned about the technology behind the service – your focus is on the service itself. We have been experimenting with two cloud services for many months Microsoft live@edu  and Google apps for education  

Neither of these systems is fully ready yet and neither offer all I want or in a format I want but the potential is fantastic. For both these systems we have batch provisioned user accounts from files that can be generated by our MIS systems and both systems are very easy to administer. Both systems provide services which Microsoft and Google offer on their cloud sites (blogs, email, collaborative workspaces etc).

Organisational DIY

If you are lucky enough to have your own programmers this approach is to use your own specialists to program and design your own system. This could be on-site, hosted or in the cloud. We are working with Centime  with this approach. We have identified a great deal we would like to work on such as RSS feeds, interfaces, web page “in-situ” creating and editing etc. A major problem is the time and resources required to engineer these features.

Personal DIY – pure MASH

With this approach we use and integrate whatever people (learners and staff etc) choose to use. W e have been developing awareness and skillsets in many cloud systems for storage, blogging, feed aggregation, website creation etc.

I have found this approach fast moving, dynamic and exciting. The main problem has been with the “paradigm” – most users are unfamiliar and seem uncomfortable with freedoms and self responsibility of a personal DIY approach to their IT. Another problem has been with integrating the diverse systems into something coherent.

First Impressions

My first impressions are that none of the systems offers a complete solution of what I would like to see.

– A system that is inclusive of all our potential users – current staff, students and partners but also potential users and those who have left us (alumni).

– A system that is extremely easy to use and administer

– A system that provides data interfaces for college systems to use (something to identify the user to the system plus associated data)

– A system that is dynamic – easily and quickly able to change (agile)

The full Personal DIY MASHUP approach is I feel the direction we need to point ourselves in and to use those systems that help us to move in that direction.

Microsoft Sharepoint is too complex, slow to change and backward looking but is likely to have a place in a limited traditional organisational deployment perhaps as a development of our staff Intranet and replacement of the Pool drive.

Microsoft live@edu  and Google apps for education  – I have a “philosophical” problem with these – why provision college associated Microsoft live or Google accounts when people can do this themselves. Does a student really want to use a college associated email (e.g. ) for the rest of their lives. More likely is that these services can be used for a traditional secure project in the cloud and this is where our early experiments with these systems have taken place e.g. departmental collaborative space and calendars.

For me this leaves a combination of Organisational DIY (Centime) or service/hosted systems (ULCC hosted/serviced e-learning) provisioned in such a way to facilitate – pure MASH personal DIY.

As a test of these and one of the first projects I would like to look at is the replacement of college provisioned student email with students own email.

December 7, 2008 Posted by | cloud, IT and education, web 2 | , , | 2 Comments

MLE to PLE – A Framework For Considering Systems

The blog offers an outline of the main approaches to provision systems and offers some categories to help you when considering and selecting systems.

Systems approaches

It is possible to build much of a PLE with any of the systems approaches below but bear in mind that real world systems will be a combination of some or even all of them.

Product – on-site

Using a supplier’s product and installing, developing and maintaining it on-site.

Examples of this approach are Moodle and Sharepoint

Product – hosted

Using a supplier’s product but having a 3rd party host the system for you – you manage and access it across the net.

Examples of this approach are using  Serverlogic  and Coweb  to host Sharepoint.

Service – “cloud”

Using a suppliers service – you are not aware of the underlying technology or system but the service you get e.g. access to email, blogs and  shared workspaces.

Examples of this approach are Google sites and Microsoft Live@edu

Organisational DIY

Using your own specialists to program and design your own system.

This could be on-site, hosted or in the cloud.

An example of this approach is Centime which is originated at EHWLC and is developed in partnership with a small number of other educational organisations.

Personal DIY

Using and integrating whatever the users (learners and staff etc) choose to use. 

Examples are the use of people’s own on-line identity (e.g. openId), email, blogs and social networks integrated with organisational data.

Evaluation Criteria – Outline

The headings below can be used as an outline for more detailed work when it comes to considering what system is right for you.


What ownership options does the system offer regarding the use and fate of material in held in the system and do they meet your requirements for ownership.

– What happens when the author leaves the organisation.

– Who can say how the resource is published (private to organisation, public to specific users or fully public)

– “Copyright” – who decides if it can be copied and by whom 

– What happens when there is a disagreement about a resource – liability, conflict resolution etc

These questions can be considered for both staff and learner authored resources.

Service levels

 What service levels does the system offer for availability, security and performance and how do they meet your requirements for service.


What management options does the system offer and do they meet your requirements for management.

For example in provisioning and controlling user access and resources how easy is it to create accounts; change accounts; change access to resources; remove accounts and provision group resources, spaces and permissions.

Data integration

What data integration options does the system offer and how do they meet your requirements for data.

For example – how easy is it use the system in combination with data systems used by the organisation.


How does the system meet your requirements to adapt and change – does the system allow you to deliver what you want and how easy is it for the system to develop what you want.

Teaching and Learning

What teaching and learning options does the system offer and how does the system meet your requirements for teaching and learning.

User experience

What user experiences does the system offer and how does the system meet your requirements for teaching and learning. How easy is the system to use – is it suitable for your users.

Organisational culture

How good a fit is the system with your organisational culture.

For example -do your people like a clearly defined framework to work within, are they comfortable with experimentation and change.

Future potential and issues

What future potential does the system offer and does this meet your requirements for future developments.


What skillsets does the system require and do you have these or are you able to develop them, buy them in or contract them out.


What are the costs and the cost types (e.g. capital vs operational) of the system and can you afford them. Consider all the associated costs – cost of equipment installation, maintenance and operation; software licences, staffing costs (training, development etc) and costs to meet the criteria above  e.g in supplying the skillsets, data integration, service level etc.

June 21, 2008 Posted by | ICT, IT and education | 1 Comment