Sunday, 27 January 2008

Glow on Harris and Lewis

I Recently I had the pleasure to work with Glow mentors from the Western Isles in Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. On the drive south from Stornoway to Tarbert, I recognised scenery from a previous visit. I had spent three weeks camping on the machair at Valtos and Cneep fifteen years before. That visit had given me a valuable insight into a local community and a crofting township. As the car meandered past a landscape full of small lochs and climbed over the mountains into southern Harris I recognised the remains of black houses next to modern bungalows and traditional one and a half story houses dotted along the roadside. I wondered, how many people live with their family history and community archaeology in daily view, in their garden, as they do on the Western Isles? These strings of houses look very isolated... but if you get involved in local conversations, or as I did, visit a local cemetry, it soon becomes clear that these communities are connected, to each other and to distant places around the globe. People here have a local and a global sense of place not least because of their connections with and across the Atlantic.

Everyone should visit the Outer Hebridese to enjoy the landscape, at least once: to see the warmer colours, whiter sands and open spaces with no trees. As I approached my destination I shifted my thoughts from Cneep and Valtos to Tarbert, and work. From the backseat of the car, I overheard my host, Hamish, telling my colleague: "the local council are moving to Voip".
I thought, ah crofting township, and asked: "where is that?" There was alot of laughter; because as you well know Voip is not a gaelic name. It is a protocol!

During my two nights and two days in Tarbert the weather deteriorated and connectivity was interrupted but training went ahead without pause. Technical problems were replaced with opportunities for discussion. It was great to be involved in local conversations. Here was a group of people who could see the potential of Glow and were talking about how it could be used to

overcome traditional and current problems in schools. Mentor training includes workshops in using a range of communication tools such as Glow Meet (video conferencing) and how to apply these in an educational context.

It was clear that these mentors were talented teachers with excellent technical support and a good sense of what technology can offer. Add to this certain local advantages: small average class sizes, high expectations of formal education and strong communites and then it is not difficult to see why this is such a good place for Glow. Here are the building blocks for successful 21st century learning and teaching, where the emphasis will be on creativity, connecting and collaborating.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Platforms, Pedagogy and Personalisation

I went to BETT in Kensington Olympia last week for three days to enjoy the show but also to take notes about 'learning platforms' in England and more generally, advances in the
'personalisation' agenda south of the Scottish border.
There were plenty of companys ready to sell a tested learning platform and the seminars were full of presenters addressing the issue of personalisation in learning.
In the halls and stalls my first stop was the National Education Network stand.

Jim Henderson LTS, described to me some of the very useful resources available across the UK, through this network. Glow is at the top of the board: a Scottish solution with more to offer than many of the English based platforms. I lso saw Glow at the RM stand in Olympia 2. This where I saw a Alfred Wegners's tectonic plates in motion on an amazing globe.

I moved on to take a closer look at some of the learning platforms,VLEs and content behind this network. There were a number of stands offering useful information about personalisation and learning. Here are a few that I intend to revisit online:

The National Education Network
Department for Education and Skills
Student Voice

Fronter (see London Grid for Learning)
Gaia Technologies Plc

Netmedia Education (Espresso group)
Clipbank (Espresso group)
I also went to some seminars and found two very interesting speakers.
Personalising Learning-whats in it for me?
Bernie Zakary, Becta
“emerging technology is agnostic: it can reinforce traditional teaching or be used for self paced programs of learning”
“learning platforms are like car dashboards”
“teachers have a responsibility to design learning programs: personalising for the learner, with the learner and by the learner”
“every child should have access to an online learning space”
“teachers need more information about LPs and what to use first (functionality)”

Ten steps closer to the ICT pedagogy we need.
Ralph Taberrer
DCSF (keynote)

“In the UK,we have high standards in ICT and pedagogy but do not get all the benefits we should (improving life chances)”
“Other countries in Europe, are doing better with less technology”
The Ten steps (I think) are:
1. Self review and improvements in school management of technology.
2. More consistency in quality of teaching with technology.
3. Understand young people and their digital literacy better.
4. Allow learners to publish more often in school time.
5. Give parents more access to the school.
6. Remove artificial separations between formal and informal learning
7. Give clear advice on what to learn and how to learn.
8. Make the most of new technology; content and devices.
9. Provide an education service which is customer focused and personal.
10. Invest in change.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Santa in France

As usual our ski holiday over Christmas was excellent. Even better because there was good snow and sunshine all week. This was great for my children who are just beginning to discover the fun of skiing. It is great for me helping them to do that.

As usual we exchanged presents on the 24th so we can all ski on the 25th. But this is the first time I have had to explain about Santa.

The children were asked to hide in their bedroom because Santa was coming over the hill (the headlamps of a piste basher were seen from the balcony). Santa was fooled into thinking all the children were asleep and was happy to leave the presents, on time. Not only that but he assured us that he had left some in Scotland at our house on the way to the French Alps. Two Christmases, brilliant!
I must check the route on Google earth.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Christmas Future

Christmas is a time to be with your family. Before my children came on the scene I would spend the days between Christmas day and New Year mountaineering in the Scottish Highlands. Withdrawing from people to the wilderness of the Cairngorm Mountains. It is a distant memory but I still remember my mother saying "people should not be allowed to go into the mountains at this time of year, it is too dangerous!". And of course every year we read stories about mountain rescue teams and deaths in the mountains. We feel for those lost in the dark, cold mountains of Scotland. They are mixed feelings and our fears are often heightened by the bright lights and warmth of Christmas.

Paradoxically we admire those who go to the mountains or who are able to withdraw voluntarily. We also see the ability to survive in adversity, to be physically or emotionally tough as a great asset. It was no surprise to me to read an article in the Guardian newspaper about 'great survivors' this Christmas. People who had survived extreme circumstances: such as plane crashes in the Andes Mountains. Experiences such as these are super 'real'. Survivors never forget. In a society where we are becoming more fearful of risk, riskful events seem to be more interesting to us. In a society where we are becoming more middle class and more connected we are more fearful of being disconnected or left on our own.
As we pad towards safety we occasionally look over our shoulder to see a trail of lonely footsteps in the snow. Have you seen Sean Penn's film Into the Wild? Not to be confused with The Call of the Wild, also a recently released film about adventure in Alaska. Sean Penn relates closely to the main character in his film, Chris McCandles:

It is a role, you suspect, Penn's younger self would have fought tooth and
nail to play, a character whose wanderlust and extreme attempt at
self-determination he identifies with wholeheartedly. 'Chris was a kid in search
of a place to belong,' he says, 'a place that would accept him as he was. His
quest was a quest for goodness and purity. It woke up some stuff in me, for
sure. I totally support his decision to go outside the comfort zone, even with
all the risks he took. The way I see it, whatever it takes for you to be truly
alive in this life, short of intentionally hurting someone else, you have to

I often think about the type of character Chris Mcandles is and am sure that there are many other young men and women like him. He is certainly not alone in his need to escape. Guy Grieve talks about his more recent experience in the wilderness of Alaska:

Three years ago I took my life into my own hands and travelled into one of
the most remote wilderness regions on earth with the intention of living there
for one year. For some time my family and I had been trapped within an all-too
common scenario, living separate lives while I commuted hundreds of miles each
week to a job I hated, in order to pay a mortgage for a house that we could not
afford. Our family life was crammed into the weekends, and was fraught with the
tension of pretending we were happy, when in fact we were screaming for escape.
Through the week, I only ever saw my children asleep, as I left before they got
up and returned after they were in bed. On a good night, if the traffic wasn't
bad, I might just fit in a bedtime story. Then Juliet and I would cram down a
meal together before we collapsed into bed, ready to start the routine all over
again the next day.

Also, have you seen Will Smith in the film I am Legend? This is the third film of this story by Richard Matheson (1954) the last being the The Omega Man with Charlton Heston (1971). The story is basically the same; an individual survives against all odds. There is violence and there is lonliness. This is a film that revisits our darkest fears and basic strengths, as with 'Into the wild and Chris Mcandles'. It is not back to nature but it is a film about being lonely 'it's all about the unsettling silence, not the noise'. The type of silence Mcandles would have been comfortable with.
There also some key differences between the remakes of 1971 and 2007. The 21st century film is different in that the main character is reconstructed. In the same way that Sean Penn reconstructs a view of Ian Mcandles by describing him as a travelling philosopher, so too is Will Smith's character reinvented. He is very different from the previous 1971 character in that he does more than just survive he looks for a solution; a biological cure to a viral plague. He wants to be more than a survivor he seeks to be constructive and participative.

The winter months are a good time to reflect on risk and loneliness as integral parts of our biological makeup. In an increasingly digital and soft skills world how will this hardwiring evolve? This brings to mind that great science fiction film, 'Bladerunner' because it is about digital loneliness. The loneliness of a high spec short life military robot who is about to die. He has fantastic memories of battles in outer space and has led an exciting adventurous life. He has no real family only the painful realisation of the value of living and sharing.