Tuesday, 15 July 2008

21st century learning and the Walsall Gigaport

Ok, so you might think that I'm trying to cram two stories into one here, but I am interested in how local and national strategies can be fused to improve life locally.

The power of technology to enhance local regeneration is highlighted by the Walsall Gigaport project, which is described thus: "Ambitious proposals have been unveiled to create 'Walsall Gigaport', a 21st century technology platform to attract new industries to the region." Big broadband, wireless. mobile plans that we hope have knock-on effects beyond business incubation into schools, colleges and the public sector, as well as upskilling local people and not simply replacing them with new knowledge workers. An integration with the aims of the Community Broadband project and the outcomes of the Onsnet project in Nuenen would really help engage hard-to-reach communities with the potential of 21st century thinking, learning, playing and acting.

This type of technical infrastructure underpins the world that has been highlighted in Charles Leadbeater's report for the Innovation Unit on 21 Ideas for 21st Century Education. Leadbeater makes some big points, some important points that we all need to think about. A few, for me, are as follows.
  1. "Children need to be able to rely on ‘relationships for learning’ at school, home and in the community. That is why a learning strategy for this century cannot solely focus on school, and school itself needs to be radically reformed. The idea that education is just a system of schooling invites the idea that the best way to improve it is through the techniques of mass customisation, efficiency and quality improvement, driven on by central targets, national strategies and inspection regimes."
  2. "[Innovators] seek to achieve these outcomes by ensuring children have the relationships they need to motivate them to learn. That is why so many of these efforts to refashion the school are creating new ‘communities of learning’ akin to villages or neighbourhoods... Strategies need to take account of the whole set of relationships children have which could influence their learning".
  3. "Pragmatopians: are propelled by a vision of learning as a route to personal liberation and creativity but they are canny enough to know they have to deliver results."
  4. Student leadership, mentoring and personalisation supports "learning where and when it is appropriate to any family in the town and to change aspirations and ambitions to learn", alongside collaborative "shared curriculum around key competencies and social skills such as self-management, collaboration, teamwork and creativity."
  5. Critically, it is the timing, pacing, settings, styles, aims and technologies for learning that need to be renewed.
  6. Participation, being cared for, recognition and motivation for individuals stem from learning networks with schools as community hubs that support enhanced personal and communal learning.
  7. "The school leadership provided an igniting sense of purpose to propel innovation and encourage managed risk taking to develop new approaches... That kind of ‘igniting purpose’ is vital when innovation is such a highly collaborative, cumulative endeavour, which relies on mobilising and motivating staff, pupils, parents, partner agencies, other schools... Collaborative innovation relies on the participants having a strong shared sense of purpose.
    Innovation stems from the combination and recombination of ideas... The most fruitful source for these new combinations are often ideas that come from the ‘margins’ and are then applied in the ‘mainstream’... Innovators have to create a ‘change wedge’ [UGH!?!?] – enough resources to allow them to plan, develop and experiment with new approaches...
    Capacity for innovation must be built up across the school, especially among teachers."
Leadbeater's 21 ideas start on p. 52. I especially like his take on:
  • emotional resilience in learning [do we do this in HE?];
  • peer-mentoring [the power of stories we trust and relate to is huge];
  • personalisation that leads to ownership of learning [feeding forward into personal development, not wasting time on meaningless data];
  • schools and HEIs as productive, rooted, situated enterprises;
  • community-based learning and engagements/spaces between formal and informal contexts;
  • devolved leadership.
So much of Leadbeater's work offers hope for movement towards an inclusive curriculum that connects formal education to informal opportunities, and that does not prioritise types of knowing. Equally so much is person-centred and echoes the strands of the Early Years Foundation Strategy. As he argues:

"Relationships for learning would promote learning all over, all the time, in a wide variety of settings, from a wide range of people. Pupils would have more say and more choice over what they could learn, how, where and when, from teachers, other adults and their peers. Learning would be collaborative and experiential, encouraging self-evaluation and self-motivation as the norm.

"What is on offer here is not a trendy account of alternative education. It is a deeply practical approach developed in good schools in challenging circumstances, an approach that offers a way out of the current stalemate: the attainment plateau and ingrained inequalities in outcomes and aspirations. The route to a more socially just, inclusive education system, one which engages, motivates and rewards all, is through a more personalised approached to learning. Learning with, rather than learning from, should be the motto of the system going forward: learning through relationships not systems."

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Health and Life Sciences awayday

Malcolm and I led a session today at the Health and Life Sciences awayday, looking at new directions for e-Learning at DMU. There was a great mix of experiences, expectations and aspirations for the use of technology in the curriculum. Both Malcolm and I hold a position, which states that technologies should be used progressively to empower staff and students, and that the decisions about which technologies should be used need to be owned by programme teams. We also believe that these decisions should be made in negotiation with students.

However, an interesting discussion ensued with the 20 participants. The critical areas for discussion focused upon:
  1. a concern that students are not reading and evaluating enough. Shafi responded to this, stating that he had used a combination of online journals and commenting through wikis to motivate students, and he used the lovely phrase "unfolding a story". This clearly connects into personalisation and ownership of a learning process, where feed-forward is as important as feedback;
  2. Rob argued that getting students to read more is an aspiration with a long history of disappointment. The key is to stimulate their appetite, and the use of appropriate tools may act as motivation;
  3. Simon argued that writing does not deteriorate due to online work, as long as the appropriateness of academic writing and academic literacy was highlighted by staff;
  4. Peter wondered what students' experiences were prior to higher education - perhaps we need to look at BECTA and DEMOS and JISC;
  5. Tilo was undertaking participative research with young people who have a culture of using these tools to engage with new ideas, and wondered how read/write Web tools might help the research process;
  6. Malcolm noted that we were about to buy Penfield Hospital from the University of Huddersfield, and this virtual hospital simulation should help empower students decision-making.
This was a really useful discussion session. However, the key is for academic staff teams to understand the technologies that enhance their teaching, and their students' learning and to engage with those enhancements. In order to understand the technologies, and in order to make better decisions about them and their curriculum, targeted and focused professional development for academic teams may be the order of the day.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Charles Leadbeater

I always find it affirming when I "bump" into affirming or interesting ideas and stories - especially those that connect with my own. The Guardian Education is carrying a story about Blue Skies Learning focusing upon communities and leadership, and empowerment of learners. More liberal hand-wringing huh? But it opened up a new channel for me in the work of Charles Leadbeater who focuses upon leadership and participation and the role of the web.

I am really looking forward to his report for the Innovation Unit on the future of learing in England launched July 10th, entitled WHAT'S NEXT ? : 21 Ideas for 21st Century Education. Comment will follow...