July 13 2009

What comes next? Four quotes.

Posted by John in Debate, Education, Events

On 30th June Channel 4 education hosted "What Comes Next?", its summer conference.  The attendees were what Flux calls "an eclectic mix of digital media and education professionals", and the day was characterised by an inspiring degree of enthusiasm from both audience and speakers alike.  Below are some soundbites which stuck out in my head - not necessarily direct quotes, these snippets may have fallen victim to my unreliable memory and atrocious handwriting:

‘Culture eats strategy for Breakfast’


Zenna Atkins, Chair of Ofsted, impressed upon us that government can come up with strategy until it's blue in the face, but unless a culture is nurtured in which that strategy can flourish, be that an approach to education or anything else, it's fighting a losing battle from the off.  I couldn't agree more.  But creating that culture is a problem of complexity and sophistication, as I'm sure Zenna realises.  It might be politically naive of me to suggest this, but I imagine a great deal of strategy aims at precisely that.

I was also struck by one thing that she said might characterise the future - an increasing modularity of life.  That is to say, a movement away from a life split into dedicated chunks of work, rest and play.  We'll all be alternating between them much more rapidly, to the point where we're mostly doing all three at the same time.  I was under the impression that this was just how idiot twenty somethings like me lived.  It's reassuring, in a way, that this is a wider phenomenon.

"We are built for face to face interaction...




...and technology provides a barrier to that."


Or so says Shaun Bailey, co-founder of My Generation, and a prospective Conservative Candidate for the constituency of Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush.  The idea being that as a species, human beings are best at talking to each other face to face - which is an easy thing to forget when you're playing Call of Duty 4 live with people in Beijing, Toronto and Johannesburg, all at the same time.  I'm always wary, though, of the picture so often painted of people permanently plugged into machines alone in darkened rooms whilst the sun shines brightly in an outside, personal and social world which they have left behind.  In addition to facilitating long distance communication, technology also gives rise to curious idiosyncrasies in face to face encounters, like the way in which we watch  youtube with our friends.  I'll grant that Shaun was simply recommending caution (he himself admits that technology is a wonderful thing), but I don't think the slope is quite that slippery.


"The picture of me sitting around watching TV with the family is an anomaly."


David Smith, Head of ICT at St Paul's School, Barnes, (who I have since had the pleasure of talking to in person), suggested that the kind of collaboration and crowd generated content, that has characterised Web 2.0,  is a return to form.  Curiously reminiscent of Tim Berners-Lee's comments that so-called web 2.0 was what the internet was for all along.  David went on to describe some very interesting things that his students have been doing with facebook to complement lessons.  When it's so simple to set up a facebook group to allow pupils to collaborate on classroom assignments, you have to wonder whether the case against schools banning the site has gained a little more weight.

‘Pumping technology into classrooms for no reason is an awful idea.




Using technology to promote learning outside of the classroom, is a good idea.’

Donald Clark, co-founder of Epic Group and hailed as an e-learning expert, attacked what many would call technological development in the classroom with alarming ferocity.  I agree that  "technology", a word which I've often found myself saying so many times I barely know what it means any more, is often thought of as an educational panacea;  it's an attitude like that which means schools get kitted out with interactive whiteboards with no training for staff, and there are apparently plans for electronic tablet desks to be introduced too, which Donald found witheringly laughable.  I admire his fervour and agree with his views.  I also find him a little scary.


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