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Separating Tech And Teach

October 23, 2011

One thing that struck me at last Monday’s Education Scotland ICT Summit organised by the Scottish Government was that I was in a room filled with those who — on the whole — already got it. ‘It’ being the crying necessity for education to start levering the power of ICT to provide more relevant and rewarding learning experiences for the learners. The problem with this state of affairs was that sitting with a group of people who fundamentally agree on what needs to be done allows the conversation to move away from the strategic to the practical. This is not always a bad thing, but I’ve had plenty of these conversations in the past, and fun as they are, they are ultimately pointless without the prospect of real change at an operational and strategic level.

It Takes One.gifThis leads me to reflect on the one truly sour note that I took away from on the day, and sadly, it came in a throwaway remark by Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Mike Russell (aka @feorlean on twitter — a recommended follow BTW!) I have long maintained (eg: Computer Says No!, and the accompanying blog about my talk from Ewan McIntosh / Who Watches the Watchers? / Instant or Filtered?) that the changes that need to happen require someone to actually make the decision to allow access to the internet in schools. This was a point I put to the then Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop at the 2008 Scottish Learning Festival only to be told it was an ‘operational matter’ — I think in Father Ted the phrase is “That would be an ecumenical matter“. John Connell wrote a great post on the exchange and what it meant on his blog. He concluded his post with the following postscript:

— there was, pre­vi­ously, dis­cus­sion about the pos­si­bil­ity of orga­niz­ing a national con­fer­ence on the issue, per­haps through the good offices of LTS, involv­ing not only peo­ple from edu­ca­tion but also rep­re­sen­ta­tives of those in the IT sec­tions across the coun­try who main­tain the cur­rent lock-everything-down sit­u­a­tion.

Well, arguably, the Education Scotland ICT Summit was the opportunity to finally set Scotland on a new course. This was the time that the Cabinet Secretary could listen and see that there are a lot of great minds thinking about how we progress and implement the Scottish Curriculum and use ICT as an integral part of this. So, inevitably, the point was made to Mr Russell that there needs to be direction from the top if we are to have a level playing field of access to tools that are an integral part of working and learning in this connected world. Someone needs to stand up and say that things need to change and here is how they are going to change… but Mr Russell’s response to this was to say that he “…wished he had that much power”.

If the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Life Long Learning does not have the power to direct Local Authorities to allow access to the internet in a meaningful way, then who does?

This is not an operational matter, this is a strategic matter. The decision to allow teachers and learners to start harnessing the resources that so many pupils already have unfettered access to on their mobile devices is one that has to be made, and made soon.

Nowhere was this more eloquently highlighted than in the words of one of the Stirling High pupils who were present to introduce the 5 topics. Their introductions are now available on the wiki and you owe it to every learner you will have in front of you for the next few years to go and read what they have to say. However, if you are not going to do that, you should consider this one thought from Fraser Davidson as, more than anything, I believe it gets to the heart of the matter. If Mr Russell, or the collected minds who attended #eduscotict can’t make a decision, then the learners will make that decision for themselves:

If I walked into a coffee shop such as Starbucks and took out my phone, I could access anything on the internet with consummate ease. So why is it the case that in my school — a place of education — … I can’t do the same?

I am so aware of John Siracusa’s words: “We aren’t stuck with the things we have now. We can make new things, better things. And it doesn’t take many people to do it…”. He is right, it only takes one person.

Mr Russell… over to you.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Alan Hamilton permalink
    October 24, 2011 7:58 pm

    You sum up my frustrations perfectly. My biggest worry is that we all agree yet nothing changes. I am going to put all my thoughts together and take it up with my LA, again. My pupils have spoken (http://eduscotict.pbworks.com/w/page/47052596/Introduction%20to%20Objectives%20from%20Stirling%20High%20Pupils), they deserve to be heard.

    Alan (sent from my websense free laptop)

  2. Gordon permalink
    October 24, 2011 9:06 pm

    America has a system that operates on the “let’s protect the children from outside influences”, it’s called home schooling. A is for Adam, B is for Bethsheba etc. This system produces a strange bunch of unworldly entrants into the real world (where people say shit etc.). I can’t help thinking that banning the norms of the internet from the educational environment might have the same effect.

    Technology moves faster than nannyist policy.

  3. October 24, 2011 10:03 pm

    Definitely food for thought. Sadly, Mr Russell’s comment was similar to that made by my own MSP when I went to raise my frustrations in early September at how different Local Authorities were hiring supply teachers. Who exactly is in charge then?

  4. October 25, 2011 8:44 am

    So, if the decision is too hard be made at the top can we do something about it further down the chain to make it easier?

    I hear these frustrations from staff and students at schools right across the country. But, I do think we could make the change happen. The phrase that always sticks in my mind is ‘the customer is always right”. There’s a hell of a lot of leverage in that.

    I used to go to a really nice country pub, great beers and tasty food. Got taken over by a brewery, local beers went away, food got average and overpriced. They didn’t offer what I wanted, so I went somewhere else. Presumably, if enough people did the same it would cause the brewery to change their service to what the customers liked.

    Ok, so the example is simplistic but there is definitely something in it.. Or, I could open up a Starbucks on your site!

  5. Mr W permalink
    October 25, 2011 9:37 am

    Thanks for all the comments. I think what you’ve highlighted is how difficult it is to come up with a way forward.

    I think there has to be the desire to enable change, but the conservative (with a small ‘c’) nature of LAs make that nigh on impossible. This is why I think it is so important to address the problem at the highest level.

    I’m going to come back to this once I’ve gathered some further information… In the meantime, thanks again for chipping in. 😉

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