I'm back!

This is just a very quick update. Having sorted out my computer problems (fingers crossed and touch wood), reinstalled loads of software and (hopefully) not lost any data, I'm now almost ready to start writing again.

After I've done a mega backup, installed Tweetdeck and actually gone out to earn a crust, I will be back with some new articles.

In the meantime, take a look at this report by Patrick Hadfield on the 140 Meetup panel discussion I took part in last week. Some very interesting issues were raised, from a wide variety of people (mostly from outside the education profession).

Constructing Education for the Future

I've been invited by Bernie Mitchell to take part in a panel discussion at one of the #140 Conference Meetups. The topic to get us started is:

Constructing Education - Do we have a real time responsibility to future generations - NOW? (And what does that look like?)

Here are my initial thoughts.

There is a temptation to say, like Sir Boyle Roche,

What has posterity ever done for us?

I believe that would be both shortsighted and wrong, for the following reasons:

  • The future is closer than we think. The pace of change, as measured by, say, adoption rates, is so fast these days that anything we do now, or fail to do, is likely to have repercussions in our own lifetime. So from a self-interest point of view if nothing else, we'd be pretty stupid not to exercise responsibility towards future generations.
  • On moral or ethical grounds (I'm never quite sure of the difference), why would anyone go into teaching if they were not committed to the welfare of future generations? I like to think that not everyone goes into teaching as an interim measure between more lucrative forms of employment.
  • The term 'real time' is quite interesting. It suggests the idea of changing education according to needs much more quickly than is usually true. It ties in with an idea I've had for some time, which is that if you want schools to succeed you have to give them more freedom rather than less. Micromanagement stifles creativity in commercial life; surely the same is true in education?
  • That being the case, if I am right then what we need to do is construct an education system which is minimalist, rather than detailed.
  • We also need to somehow remove the risk of failure from the educational process. Many teachers/schools are so concerned about league tables that they dare not risk trying out new approaches, such us using Web 2.0 applications in the classroom. I wonder if there is a way of allowing innovation -- especially using educational technology -- without risking students' life chances or Headteachers' careers? The fact is, not innovating and not using technology are just as risky as taking risks!
  • That's because the world is changing. The world is becoming a Web 2.0 world. I may have a chance to say more about this tomorrow, but basically the point is this, and it has been made many times by many people: there is little point in educating future generations for life and work in a world that is gradually disappearing.

If you can make it to Holborn Piccadilly in London tomorrow evening, I hope you will be able to join me and a brilliant line up of other panelists and a great bunch of participants to discuss such matters. What are your  thoughts?

STOP PRESS! The venue has changed: it is now at the Grace Bar, 42-44 Great Windmill Street, London W1D 7NB.

18 highlights from the 140 Conference

Yesterday I attended the 140 Character Conference in London, where I met up with Bill Gibbon, Neil Adam and Bill Lord.

From left to right: Neil Adam, Bill Lord, Bill Gibbon, Terry Freedman

Here are 18 highlights, any one of which could be the start of a rich conversation. I think if you take the volume and variety of the presentations overall, you would have to conclude that any schooling which does not address matters such as etiquette in, and use of, Twitter and other social media is not really a fully rounded education at all. Anyway, here are my ‘takeaways’.

I love the idea of Buy A Credit. Donate £1 and you get to have your name listed on the credits of a film. The money goes towards financing said film. What an ingenious idea. @buyacredit.

In the eracism slot, Kyra Gaunt told us that racism gives us the opportunity to be courageous.

Apparently, one fifth of businesses in the UK are on Twitter.

Several people, such as Stephen Fry and the lady from SB Buzz reminded us that Twitter is a relationship channel, not a sales channel.

Alex Bellinger told the story of a high street florist which engages its customers with Twitter. The plasma screen in its shop, displaying Twitter conversations, attracts curiosity, and then converts. This would probably be a good tactic to adopt in a school setting, both as a way of engaging other teachers and, on open days, parents.

I liked hearing from Dean Landsman and Dean Meyers that an augmented reality system tried out in New York provided the information that, in a particular direction, the nearest tube was 3,000 miles away. This is almost science fiction: think of the great creative writing you would see if you used this anecdote as a starting point.

In the musicians’ slot, Manny Norte started a sentence with the words, “M and M comes from an age…”  That was only 5 years ago! He went on to say that if M and M were starting out now, he would almost certainly use Twitter to engage with fans, as part of the marketing strategy.

I have to say that, in the ‘brands’ session, talk of ‘humanising the brand’ all sounded very cynical to me. Why not just be upfront and admit that Twitter is part of the marketing mix and be done with it?

JP Rangaswami, chief scientist at BT, asked why we couldn’t subscribe to a car park’s Twitter feed. Brilliant idea: you’d know which car parks are full in advance. After all, Tower Bridge has a Twitter feed and sends out alerts when the bridge is about to go up.

Josie Fraser gave an excellent talk about retweets, followed by some fake stats. I didn’t realise: RTs are a rarity apparently.

If you’re a consultant, maybe you miss the buzz and gossip of the office? Federico Grosso suggested that Twitter is actually a gigantic water cooler. Nice idea! Does that mean, then, that home-working is now not only technically possible, but feasible from a ‘human’ point of view too? A question for business studies students perhaps?

Some of the more ‘switched-on’ police forces, both here and abroad, have used Twitter to find missing persons and murder witnesses. Chief Inspector Mark Payne explained how using Twitter as a two-way information stream allowed the police to be deployed in the most efficient way during demonstrations, and to keep the public informed of what they were doing, and why. Question for citizenship students: is this a step towards policing with people rather than the policing of people?

The education session was interesting. James Clay stated the obvious (which is often necessary) when he said that “We need to get educational leaders to understand the value of social media.”

I was impressed by Ruth Barnett, of Sky, who emphasised the need for integrity when quoting from sources like the ‘Twitterverse’. For example, when covering the recent troubles in Iran, Sky apparently did its best to ensure that the tweeters it obtained information from were people who had already been reporting on it before it became the hot topic.

I also thought what she said about the challenges of networking with China was very interesting: they use a different character set and different networks. I’d also add that they probably have a profoundly different world view. All cultures differ, of course, which is what makes all this so interesting and, ultimately, rewarding.

Vikki Chowney made the point that, at the G20 conference, live blogging was difficult because of the volume of data being thrown at the audience. Twitter became, in effect, a tool for live blogging. That’s exactly what goes on at many conferences these days, of course.

She said that Twitter closed the gap between politics and people.

Finally, the author Thembisa Mshaka listed the differences between celebrity and stardom; for instance, a star has a tireless work ethic. She said, in a way reminiscent of Malcolm McLaren’s talk at the Handheld Learning Conference, that mediocrity becomes the order of the day because it is so easy to get away with.


Is the teaching and assessment of text messaging an example of falling standards in education?

The Daily Telegraph today reports on the fact that a forthcoming GCSE examination (for the benefit of non-Brits, the GCSE, or General Certificate of Secondary Education, is taken at 16) includes questions on text messaging. The paper writes:

"In a move described by education campaigners as the "ultimate in dumbing down", pupils will be asked to write an essay on the etiquette and grammar of texting."

I've learnt that you can never take anything the media says about education at face value, so I decided to look up the new qualification for myself. I have to say that, before I did so, my reaction to the news was, well, reactionary. It seemed pretty pointless, at the very least.

Having thought it about it some more, and looked at the new qualification, I have come to the conclusion that the AQA GCSE English Language GCSE (Spoken Language) looks like a fairly interesting qualification.

The section on text messaging is brief, and is under the heading 'multi-modal talk'. The 'blurb' reads:

"This topic deals with new technologies that alter the demarcation between traditional areas of spoken and written language – MSN, text speak, etc. It opens up the ambiguity of imprecise language and, what seems like limited subject material, can actually prove a fertile ground for further analysis."

I think that sounds like a fine set of aims. We live in a modern world; who writes letters any more? Actually probably everyone at some point, especially when applying for jobs. Do young people know that text-talk is not always appropriate? Anything that can help them understand such niceties is to be welcomed.

Shifting gears slightly, there are also positive things to be said for being able to communicate an idea in 140 characters or fewer. Being able to do so is quite an art. In fact, I would suggest that one really good form of assessment (in any subject) would be to ask students to summarise the main points of the lesson in the equivalent of a single tweet.

Brevity often leads to creativity. See, for example, these examples of award-winning fiction in 140 characters. Have a look, too, at this competition for start-up stories in 140 characters. True, it's sponsored by the National Venture Capital Association, so it's not altogether a disinterested party, but it's an interesting idea. If I were an employer, I would specify that job applicants send me their CV (resumé) accompanied by a letter of application comprising no more than 140 characters; it would certainly cut down on the reading, if nothing else.

Going back to the qualification, there is always a danger of taking something out of context. I had a look at the draft assessment paper they've knocked up, and it's not bad. For example, one of the things which caught my eye was this exercise:

"The web host of a creative writing web site approaches you to submit some writing for it. This month’s theme is “Work”. You have complete freedom in your choice of form, but are asked not to make what you submit longer than 1000 words. In this case, ‘work’ could refer to paid employment, work experience, training for work or voluntary work. Write your piece for the web site."

Writing for the web is, in many respects, different from writing for print, especially as far as story titles are concerned. Given that many job entrants will need to write for online consumption, it would be a good idea to address it in an English qualification.

I'm not an English specialist, and I'm not a marketer for the AQA, but this qualification seems to me to be definitely worth further investigation.

I may have more to say on such matters after I've attended the 140 Characters Conference in London tomorrow (17 November 2009).