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Where You Going?

November 23, 2006

The Stage news items have caught my attention this evening. The first is from The Stage, Britain’s paean to the acting profession. Their top news story is that (part of the UK’s Channel4 set-up) is to be re-launched as a social networking site. This is a major step for a couple of reasons, and as educators we need to pay attention to the ramifications.

Big Brother LogoAt first glance, the social networking tools will be used to allow potential housemates for the next Big Brother to upload their audition tapes (…be still my beating heart…), but this is really just the thin end of the wedge. What it indicates is a clear shift in the traditional media companies from being Media1.0 (we sit and take what they give us) to Media2.0… where we start being invited to upload the content for mainstream media companies. The impact is incalculable at the moment, but as the Stage reports, there are already other stations/production companies doing the same… and the advertisers are taking note. It is easy to see why:

MySpace and Bebo have proved an effective way attracting the 16-24 demographic, which advertisers are keen to access, at a time when television and traditional broadcast mediums are struggling to pull in young people.

So, do we pretend that we can continue to teach in the old ways? I think not. When mainstream media are making the change, then it is time to start thinking ‘critical mass’. We need to start integrating Web2.0 into our existing teaching where possible as a first step, but we also need to be taking a more strategic view and be ready to tear up the way we teach and start again. Here in Scotland, A Curriculum for Excellence might just be the first step on an inevitable journey… I hope so!

EricSchmidtThe second news story that caught my eye is an interview with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. He is talking about why it is such a smart move to bet on the internet, and in doing so he said something that speaks directly to the heart of education. Read the following quotation, but think education rather than business…

But what’s surprising is that so many companies [schools] are still betting against the net, trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. The past few years have taught us that business models [education initiatives] based on controlling consumers or content don’t work. Betting against the net is foolish because you’re betting against human ingenuity and creativity.

How true I find these words. From its earliest days, the internet has given us information, but I really like Schmidt’s take on what Web2.0 has given us:

The internet is helping to satisfy our most fundamental human needs—our desire for knowledge, communication and a sense of belonging.

He’s right. It is that tribal response to social networking which makes the difference. If education can tap into that, then it can profoundly affect the learning process… and yet so many schools/teachers/Directors of Education/First Ministers don’t get it… or maybe they are just scared to devolve the learning back to the learners?

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2006 9:56 am

    Interesting thoughts – would you agree that the blogging community’s development could perhaps overtake national initiatives – ACfE is good in this respect as it’s ideas as quite conceptual. For me, blogging puts the trust (and therefore power) back into teacher’s hands. Where the line is drawn between experimentation and policy-led development remains to be seen. Maybe what web2.0 teaches us is that there’s no point in thinking too far in advance, as the answers aren’t available until the technology is.

    As a geek/programmer, I also wonder about the restrictions of VLEs – Glow will have limits – who will have the power to integrate it with new tech or will it get left behind?

    Really thinking out loud here, but to me all important questions! Thanks for the interesting posts!

  2. November 23, 2006 1:29 pm

    Hi Peter,
    I think you do have a point (or two). I think one of the great problems in the past has been the speed with which institutions can adapt to change. Historically, there has always been a delay… the institutions are ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’. Web2.0 removes this delay for those brave enough (or foolish enough?) to be the early adopters. One of the exciting things about A Curriculum for Excellence(ACE) in my eyes is the open-ended nature of it. It is designed to encourage innovation in teaching and learning, and the message that seems to be coming out loud and clear is that we should not be waiting to receive direction from the centre… instead we should be driving the programme as classroom teachers.

    With regards to GLOW, I’m a Glow Mentor and had a really interesting/frightening conversation with one of the techies from RM at the launch dinner in Glasgow (SETT06). I asked him if he knew how easy it would be to take RSS feeds from the portal, and then had to spend the next 5-10 minutes explaining to him what RSS was, how it worked, and why I thought it was important. If I’m being optimistic, I would say that this was a real opportunity to speak directly to one of the team that is programming and building the software… but if I’m being pessimistic, this was a thoroughly depressing experience because I don’t think I should have to explain why RSS is such a valuable resource to the people who are building the portal… they should already know about RSS and be designing it in.

    I’ll be interested to see how many of the tools people are starting to use end up being assimilated into Glow… and if they don’t turn up, then there’s always the internet!

  3. November 23, 2006 3:21 pm

    Hi Peter,
    Thanks for the comments. You make a number of good points. I think that one of the great strengths, and most innovative aspects, of A Curriculum for Excellence (ACE) is the intention to devolve the direction of the initiative to the teachers/schools themselves. I was at an INSET session last week where it was made very clear to us that we should not be sitting around waiting for resources and/or ideas to come from the centre (ie: SEED/LTS/etc). There is an expectation that we should be grasping the nettle and going for it ourselves. I find this a remarkably liberating and refreshing concept!
    I also think it is no coincidence that this sea-change in policy is happening at the same time as Web2.0 tech is blossoming. The more experimental/innovative teachers are already finding ways and means of incorporating these tools in their classrooms. What I find interesting is seeing how teachers do this: do they simply give the kids a blog and then make it an “online jotter” (admittedly this has the benefit of making it impossible to forget it!), or are they actually revising their methodology at a more basic level? If I’m honest, I would say that I straddle these two camps… but I’m working to move into the latter.
    As to Glow — who knows? I am a Glow mentor and have been surprised at the obvious ommissions from the portal – no RSS feeds, no built in wiki facility, no blogging facility… But I hope I’m just missing things at the moment (I have real issues with the site’s ease-of-use at the moment).
    As a final thought, I am not going to go back to doing things as I’ve done them in the past. There is just too much going on that is of value and importance in the classroom for us to ignore it… and if Glow won’t give us the tools we want to use then there’s always the internet!

  4. November 26, 2006 10:44 am

    “are they actually revising their methodology at a more basic level?..”
    You wouldn’t like to be more (subject-) specific on this, would you?

  5. November 26, 2006 3:56 pm

    “are they actually revising their methodology at a more basic level?..”
    You wouldn’t like to be more (subject-) specific on this, would you?

    I’ll try! Shackin’ – fackin’ – rackin’ – Chris… making me think again! ;0)

    As an English teacher, I’ve been experimenting with blogs and wikis in the classroom. I started thinking that blogs would be the most useful resource, but I think this is me thinking ‘online jotter’/’homework diary’. In practice, I’m finding that it is wikis that are the more powerful tool. Their ability to allow pupils to carry on the conversation without me is liberating, but is also a real move away from the ‘teacher as authority’ that my own teacher training instilled in me.

    I recall having a conversation with a PT of English who pointed out that I was the one in charge and was expected to have all the answers. I accepted this view without question, and have probably thought that I’ve been teaching that way through my career. However, this actually ignores the reality of the situation. I have regularly had pupils saying things about a text that I haven’t considered, and as a result, the next time I’m teaching the same text, I’ll take this insight and include it in my own teaching. (And yes, I regularly give credit where it’s due and point out it was a pupil that came up with the point!) This is (I hope) where wikis come into their own. By encouraging the class to become more active in their learning by contributing to a wiki, they start to take a more active role in the process of learning.

    I’ve just had a 5th/6th Year parents’ night, and one of the comments that I received from a few of the parents was that their son/daughter was really enjoying the class because of the wiki. The pupils’ like being able to refer to it, post questions and so on. In a couple of cases, the point was made that the son was putting more effort into their English than the parent had ever seen before. From my point-of-view I count this as an example of how the tools (in this case a wiki) can enhance and extend the learning experience for the pupils.

    Interestingly, my own expanding knowledge of Web2.0 etc, has had an impact on my choice of texts as well. I’m making greater use of online resources, and have the class finding and commenting on online resources (newspapers and blogs) rather than on the traditional newspapers that the SQA recommend. In fact, for all the years I’ve been presenting pupils and telling them and their parents that they need to be looking at a ‘quality’ newspaper if they are going to improve their reading skills for the close reading paper, I don’t think I’ve had as many pupils’ reading appropriate passages as I have this year. It might just be this particular class, but I am inclined to think that it has more to do with the fact that I am getting them to engage with a medium that they understand (the internet) rather than one that they perceive as being ‘not for them’ (traditional newspapers – see Young People Don’t Like Us).

    I hope that I am trying to empower my pupils, and make them take a more active role in their own learning (Goodness knows that I’ve seen enough teachers boring their classes into submission over the years!), but I’m also very aware that I am not necessarily teaching them ‘the facts, and nothing but the facts’!

    Do I worry that someone is going to look at some of the work my class are doing and say, ‘What does this have to do with the exam?’ – yes… I am, after all, a teacher. But I think that I have to do it… because the enthusiasm levels in the class are great, and I can see the development of new learning because of the questions that I am being asked…

    So… (sorry this has been so long!)… am I changing the way I teach? Yes. Is it making a difference? I think so. Can I measure this? Mmmm… a guarded ‘yes’… Is what I’m doing the way forward? I honestly don’t know! There are many truly gifted and imaginative teachers out there, and I have a pretty good sense of my own strengths and weaknesses, so I’d be very surprised if I got it right first time…

    Maybe the biggest difference that all this [indicates blog] is making, is that it is actually making me be the reflective practitioner that I always thought I was…

  6. November 27, 2006 11:45 am


    Your comments really resonate with me, er… man. You know what I mean.

    I’m just starting out on trying to use blogs etc with classes, and as you say, one of the main benefits has been to me as a teacher. I’m thinking a lot about what I’m actually trying to do.

    Last week I started a website with my AH English class. We intended to start a blog -but were having problems accessing any blog sites. One of the pupils suggested he set up a website for us -with a forum where dissertations and critical essays could be posted for others to read and comment.
    We discussed what we would use it for in class. We all like the idea of being able to access it outside of school. One or two students brought up their concerns about not knowing how to do ‘this and that’. Others promised to help them with it.
    The class were very worried about people lifting/copying/trashing their dissertations, so want the thing to be password protected.

    (So, they WERE listening when I was rambling on about plagiarism -must have overdone it 😉

    I checked with management if it was alright to go ahead. They were happy, with the provision that we don’t exchange personal email addresses.

    It was set up that night by the pupil. I was writing a little post about being responsible on the forum, not putting on inappropriate links etc -when I noticed that said pupil has already addressed this issue in a very direct, effective, sensible way.

    The thing is, I realised as we went along, that the pupils were getting to show off their knowledge, work out solutions to problems and co-operate with each other.

    To me, this is where we want to go with education.

    Now, how do I set up a class wiki?

  7. November 27, 2006 11:47 am

    Thank you, Neil – this is great. It would have been fun to be in the same department …;-)
    You’re teaching them “how” rather than simply “what”, and I’ve always (well, for the past 15 years) thought that this was the best thing I could ever do. I had to do it with discussion and direct interaction with words on the page, but there was little actual writing done in the classroom as I tended to feel it should be done elsewhere when I wasn’t around (and the rest of the pupils weren’t around) to bounce things off. Presumably the wiki allows the bouncing to go on at home/in the resource centre/whatever. And so exams should hold few terrors *if* you’ve spent time on the texts that will fulfil the demands of the questions set – because the pupils won’t need to remember the stuff to regurgitate it; they should have the ability to work it out as they go along. Just texts to recall and understand!

    Analogy: I am hopeless at remembering music or words – anything from hymns to Tallis’ 40-part “spem in alium”. But it doesn’t matter because I’m a good sight-reader – so I just read what’s in front of me and concentrate on interpretation and sound.

    On a slightly different tack: do you ever use QuickTopic – in particular the Document Review facility? Dave Weinberger suggested I try it when we met at Teach Meet. (Didn’t know it was him at the time, mind ….)

  8. November 27, 2006 11:53 pm

    I sent a long(ish) and thoughtful response to this ost, but it seems to have vanished into the ether and now I don’t feel thoughtful any more. Sorry!

  9. November 28, 2006 9:19 am

    Liz – Full marks for checking with the Management… I really must do the same myself one of these days! (I often find that it’s better not to tell the people that could stop you what you’re doing)

    As to wikis, if you follow the link on the side of my front page (or click HERE) you can be set up with an advert free wikispace in minutes. After that, I’d suggest that you just play about with it! Apart from the different code for italics et al, it is fairly self-evident. If you need help, just drop me a line!

    Chris – No worries! I’m getting ready to speak to LTS about content-filtering/blocking anyway, and am so nervous that I’d probably not be able to reply sensibly anyway…

    Did what I said make any sense to you?

  10. November 28, 2006 11:48 am

    Neil – it made every sense. I knew for the last 15 years of my school life that I had to teach “how” rather than “what” – something that I think English teachers often felt was confined to teaching Maths. You simply have a better range of tools with which to do this – I used a great deal of oral discussion and my classes tended to do their actual written work away from the classroom.
    Another thing I mentioned in my vanished post was Quick Topic/Document Review, which Dave Weinberger (!) recommended to me. I put a link in – maybe that’s what lost it for me! Do you use it at all?

  11. November 28, 2006 4:43 pm

    I don’t know the Weinberger reference? Do you have a link? (I’ll try google as well)

  12. November 28, 2006 6:26 pm

    – Document review allows for co-operation and comment on, say, a piece of written work.
    (DW wrote the url on my Stormhoek leaflet!)

  13. November 28, 2006 6:27 pm

    Left the link and it’s vanished again. But it’s obvious – just add the http + www bits!

  14. November 28, 2006 8:01 pm

    Thanks neil, I’ve set up a free wiki, and will now do as directed 😉

  15. December 1, 2006 12:25 am

    Hi Chris… don’t know if you’re still reading this, but I’ve found your missing posts. Akismet had decided they were Spam… it also decided one of MY comments was spam too… the cheek!

  16. September 30, 2014 4:29 pm

    This is my first time visit at here and i am genuinely happy to read all at one place.

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