A new start

There is something heroic about working away on a computer while the rest of the world sleeps, with only a cup of tea and a distant street lamp to keep one company. But the health benefits of caffeine-fuelled nights are yet to be discovered. Thus it was that around four weeks ago I decided that a radical change in my lifestyle was in order.

Note that this was not a New Year-inspired turning point – it was, after all, still December. No. For reasons which need not detain us, I decided it was time for a change. So what did that mean?

Before and after

Before this, my general routine was to stop work in the evening at around 6 pm, then watch TV and/or read, and then around 9 pm make a cup of tea and start reading blogs, and writing blogs. In my mind that meant I would have more time for client-related work on the morrow. However, a month ago I decided that I would be in bed by 10 pm if not earlier, which meant no tea after around 6 pm, and certainly no looking at a computer screen after 9 pm at the latest, and preferably not after 8. Plus, my return to the computer would be only to read a blog that I enjoy reading – preferably unrelated to work – or to run a malware program or two and execute my nightly backup.

The results

It’s hard to say with scientific precision whether this new regime has been beneficial, partly because  I have not always managed to adhere to it, and partly because around the same time I acquired a cold which was more than usually unpleasant. However, if we eschew the criminal court style demands of science, in which something must be proven beyond reasonable doubt, and adopt instead the balance of probability approach of the civil court, I would say that it has almost certainly been beneficial. Not only have I been less tired, I have also been at least as productive, if not more so. These two observations are not, of course, unrelated.

I enjoyed (if that is the correct word) a rather dramatic revelation of the truth of that last sentence. A few days ago, fed up with the prospect of having that cold for the rest of my life, and deciding that this was, after all, a holiday, I decided to have a more or less complete break. This entailed almost no time at the computer but, not relishing the prospect of lying in bed for several days, I compromised by reading a book about change management. The effect was remarkable: one idea after another presented itself, and I found myself at my most intensely creative for weeks, if not longer.

So what, and what if?

What does this health report have to do with educational ICT? Well, on a personal level, it means I have had what I believe are great ideas for articles, which once written, will hopefully be interesting for anyone who reads them. But beyond that, I got to thinking about whether the understandable tendency of schools to relentless pursue targets is actually less productive, in the long run, than an alternative approach.

Why not try a different way of looking?What would happen, for example, if a school decided to adopt a Google-like approach to time and decree that for 20% of the week – one day, in effect – teachers and students alike could work on their own pet projects?

If that is pie in the sky, consider instead what the results might be if the Head of ICT (or equivalent) in a school whose timetable includes taught ICT lessons declared that one lesson in five for each group was to be used, not for curriculum- or examination-centred ICT, but for anything ICT related? What if, for example, students could use that time to update their own blogs, work on their own online businesses, teach themselves or each other new technology-related skills?

Before you dismiss such ruminations as evidence of an inebriated New Year’s Eve (I drank only orange juice, by the way), I do have a proof of sorts that this can work. When I first started teaching, my subject was Economics. Obviously, I taught what was on the syllabus, topics like supply and demand, inflation and unemployment. But I wanted to do more than produce students who could pass an Economics exam: I wanted to produce economists.  We therefore covered all sorts of topics which rarely or never came up in the exam. Topics like Third World Debt (as it was referred to in those days), the use of cigarettes as currency in prisons, and radical road-pricing approaches for dealing with traffic congestion. I even did crazy things like teach them which statistics to use (legitimately, without cheating or lying) in having a discussion with someone, depending on whether they preferred to be for or against the issue in question.

My students did just as well in Economics as they did in all their other subjects. In other words, my counterintuitive approach certainly didn’t penalise them in terms of their grades, and, I like to think, even helped them to develop both their thinking skills and their sense of social responsibility. Perhaps most important of all, our lessons were fun.

A lot of people spend this time of the season looking back over the past year and reflecting on what was. I prefer, instead, to reflect on what might be.

Happy New Year!