Now this is what I call an Importance Statement

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The attention-grabbing building above, called the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, is in Shinjuko, Tokyo, one of the main centres of the vast capital of Japan. Completed in October 2008 and designed by Kenzo Tange, Japan’s most famous architect, it sits between the major railway interchange hub and a burgeoning business district that includes the impressive twin towers of the Tokyo Municipal Headquarters. The architect’s brief included the stipulation that the building should not be rectangular –  something that has very clearly been achieved.

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Now you might be forgiven for thinking that the building, with its 50 floors, is perhaps a luxury apartment building or hotel, or at the very least the headquarters of a multi-national company. But you’d be wrong, because it’s a University building. Described as a ‘vertical campus’ for 10,000 students it is occupied by three vocational departments – the Tokyo Mode Gakuen Fashion School, the HAL Tokyo School of Information Technology and Design, and the Shuto Ikō School of Medicine. It incorporates a 3-storey high atrium “to substitute as a ‘schoolyard’, called the ‘Student Lounge’ and multi-use corridors where communication can flourish.”

Tange’s design is intended to represent a cocoon, and as such symbolize  the academic care that is provided, and “Embraced within this incubating form, students are inspired to create, grow and transform.

It was awarded the 2008 Skyscraper of the Year by Emporis.com.

And it’s not alone. The Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers is a similar 36 story vocational educational facility just outside Nagoya Railway station, also completed in 2008.

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There’s no question that these structures make a clear statement of intent as to the importance Japan places on its vocational education.

Fast forward (or should that be backwards?) to 2012, and here’s Michael Gove defining the way forward for school buildings in the UK:

We won’t be getting Richard Rogers to design your school. We won’t be getting any award-winning architects to design it, because no one in this room is here to make architects richer.”

And according to the Guardian at the time:

“Design templates unveiled for 261 replacement school buildings also prohibit folding internal partitions to subdivide classrooms, roof terraces that can be used as play areas, glazed walls and translucent plastic roofs.”

The templates tell architects new schools should have:

“no curves or ‘faceted’ curves, corners should be square, ceilings should be left bare and buildings should be clad in nothing more expensive than render or metal panels above head height. As much repetition as possible should be used to keep costs down”.

In this case, there’s no question that these guidelines make a clear statement of intent as to the lack of importance the UK places on its vocational education.

 

Photos © Tristram Shepard

Dr No No: a thoroughly modern post?

BcXInM9CIAEZsokThe Christmas Dr Who has met with very mixed critical reaction

Dr No was, of course, the first James Bond film, released in the autumn of 1962. As such it has almost nothing to do with this post, except that All Change Please! can’t help wondering if that during the following 12 months it influenced the writers at the BBC to name their new children’s Sci-fi series Dr Who?

Now in true alien monster fashion, All Change Please! has already vented its spleen on the subject of Dr Who, but the latest Christmas Day Special left it foaming at the mouth. It’s immediate reaction was to dismiss it as one of the worst loads of old rubbish ever broadcast, and to wonder who allows programmes of this quality to be screened at all, and how Steven Moffat, author of such brilliant TV series as Chalk and Coupling, can allow himself to be associated with it, let alone admit to writing it in the first place?

But having calmed down a bit, All Change Please! has developed an alternative theory. And that is that Dr Who is actually pure genius. Pure postmodern genius that is. Perhaps Steven Moffat has even succeeded in creating the first populist postmodern TV show?

The largely impenetrable academic concept of what is termed Postmodernism developed throughout the 20th Century. It challenges our social and cultural values and expectations and demands new ways of thinking about the world we live in, questioning the everyday forms and structures we are most familiar with. Applied to literature, art, design and music it freely plunders and transforms existing structures, styles and genres to produce something new that cannot readily be identified as belonging to a particular age or culture. Thus conventional, so called ‘mid-century modern’ stories, music and buildings take on new, uncategorisable, sometimes absurd forms, lacking in any sense of the logical, organised and easily recognisable. As such they can, for those brought up on the constrained, carefully co-ordinated, minimilistic approach of modernism, be difficult to accept. Up to now the consumer has largely ignored the postmodern, and behaved as if it didn’t exist. But even if they have remained unaware of it, there is an increasing overlap between the modern and postmodern world.

Applying this approach to Dr Who, this is exactly what we get. This is no hierarchical administration-led, science and logic-driven Star Trek. There is no coherent plot, because a structural narrative is no longer of central importance. Instead it is an extended fast and frantic assemblage of short scenes, each one freely drawn from a wide variety of familiar and established genres – such as romance, conflict, loss, thriller, transformation, nostalgia, festive, comedy, religious, etc. Thus the audience receives a jumbled, ‘wibbly-wobbly’ series of brief but emotionally intense experiences, not unlike jumping from one webink to the next without any idea of the time or place in which it was created. Meanwhile TV programmes have become increasingly less about the content and more with the engagement with the media-hyped, attractive, good-looking male and female ‘eye candy’ celebrities, and indeed the writer, or creator, himself. We are simultaneously watching The Doctor and Matt Smith, Clara Oswald and Jemma Coleman. We are watching Dr Who and at the same time analysing what Stephen Moffat is up to and where he might be going next. And a growing number of us are taking this a step further and tweeting as we watch: our former ‘water-cooler’ moments are rapidly becoming live, as we watch, social interactions.

By rights, the viewing public should be completely baffled and bemused – as indeed some are – and viewing figures should be tumbling. But instead, while us rapidly ageing modernists struggle with the shock of the new, the evidence is that the good doctor is delivering exactly what the majority of the audience wants. This seems to suggests the emergence of a significant cultural shift away from a demand for conventional narratives, while at the same time clearly providing maximum provocation for use of the new ratings holy grail of social media interaction – indeed the episode was identified as the most tweeted about Christmas TV show.

As a result of all this though, it’s no longer scary – no-one watches Dr Who from behind the sofa anymore. Indeed in terms of terrifying monsters, perhaps it is The Silents, created by Moffat in 2011, who most personify the postmodern Dr Who.  Their existence is a secret because anyone who sees them immediately forgets about them after looking away, but retains suggestions made to them by the Silence. This allows them to have a pervasive influence across human history while being difficult to locate or resist. Likewise anyone who sees a scene from the current Dr Who programmes immediately forgets about it after watching the next one, but retains the suggestions made to them.

In the postmodern age we are finally entering there is therefore no longer any sustained or developmental narrative, little understanding of the past or anticipation of the future, but merely a series of immediate, intensely-flavoured and largely forgettable fast-food like experiences instead of a carefully balanced five course menu eaten at leisure and consumed in the context of interesting social conversation and an attractive setting.

And of course, despite Dr Gove’s best attempts, the world of teaching and learning is inevitably moving towards a postmodern approach to education, seemingly based on isolated, anytime, anywhere exposure to video clips and quick answer multiple-choice questions. And what we need now is a curriculum and pedagogy that accepts and builds on the new realities, rather than delivering a solution to a sabre-toothed monster problem that no longer exists. There are surely more things in postmodernism than are dreamt of in Gove’s philosophy?

So is Steven Moffat an evil postmodern genius, or a sad old modernist failure? Which is it? You choose… Vote now!

Meanwhile, all this has understandably left All Change Please! somewhat shaken, not stirred…

Image freely drawn from: https://twitter.com/tomscott/status/415959116595470336/photo/1

The Campaign For Real 21st Century Education

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So what’s the problem? You can always buy the skills you need on Amazon…

Now one could be forgiven for thinking that schools across the country are busy putting away their toys and girding themselves up for a major onslaught of facts to throw at their poor unsuspecting students who, at least up to now, had found their education to have been of at least some interest and relevance. And while some schools are probably doing just that, there’s a growing underground resistance movement of teachers who are preparing themselves, or rather their students, for what are secretly known as ‘21st Century Skills‘ which are to be delivered using ‘21st Century Technology‘ through a mysterious process known as ‘21st Century Learning‘. And when Herr Gove finally surrenders and realises that he can’t win the war without any troops behind him, there’s a strong possibility that the resistance movement will emerge victorious and schools will start to move forward again.

But what exactly are these 21st Century Technologies, Skills and Learning of which they speak? A simple enough question indeed, but not so simple to answer. Well the first bit – 21st Century Technology – is relatively easy in that it’s widely taken to refer to the use of computers and the internet, even though it does not necessarily follow that the technology is being used to deliver appropriate 21st Century learning and skills – but we’ll save that discussion for a later post.  However what there definitely isn’t is a single, nicely defined, commonly agreed, all cleverly packaged-up in a box designed by Apple statement as to what what 21st Century Skills and Learning actually are. Here therefore is:

All Change Please!s Beginners’ Guide to a Real 21st Century Education

First, one of the most common classifications of 21st Century Skills builds on the 3Rs by adding the 4Cs:

• Critical thinking and problem solving
• Communication
• Collaboration
• Creativity and innovation

All Change Please! can’t help having a slight issue with the first of these however, in that critical thinking and problem-solving, while related, should be separated – problem-solving needs to be more closely linked to creativity. And then there’s the ‘I’ word – Innovation, which is often associated with creativity without any clear understanding of the difference between the two, and in reality has more to do with business practice.

Meanwhile abandoning the simplicity of the 4C’s, in this account here we see the welcome addition of Information Literacy and Responsible Citizenship to the list (Surely Citizenship is by definition responsible? Discuss.)  Hmm, with a bit of re-writing we could have a more memorable and marketable different set of 5Cs: Critical thinking, Communication and Information literacy, Collaboration, Creativity and problem-solving, Citizenship.

And here’s another approach:
Ways of thinking: Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning
Ways of working: Communication and collaboration
Tools for working: Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy
Skills for living in the world: Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility

which has further evolved into:
Collaborative problem-solving. Working together to solve a common challenge, which involves the contribution and exchange of ideas, knowledge or resources to achieve the goal.
ICT literacy — learning in digital networks. Learning through digital means, such as social networking, ICT literacy, technological awareness and simulation. Each of these elements enables individuals to function in social networks and contribute to the development of social and intellectual capital.

And how about this account of 21st Century Learning?:

‘Equally important to 21st century learning is the application of learning science research and principles to learning methods and the design of learning activities, projects, assessments and environments. Principles of effective learning important to 21st century education practitioners include:

Authentic learning – learning from real world problems and questions
Mental model building – using physical and virtual models to refine understanding
Internal motivation – identifying and employing positive emotional connections in learning
Multimodal learning – applying multiple learning methods for diverse learning styles
Social learning – using the power of social interaction to improve learning impact
International learning – using the world around you to improve teaching and learning skills’.

All good stuff of course, and just a small sample of the wide range of indicators that 21st century learning is, or isn’t, taking place in a learning organisation. However, as All Change Please! has discussed before in 21st Century Schizoid Learning, most of these skills and approaches to learning were being explored back in the 1970s and 80s and so perhaps should more appropriately be called ‘End of the 20th Century‘ skills and learning – what schools should have been delivering from around 1975 to the turn of the millennium.

In the first decade of the 21st century a number of significant things have emerged. First, the advent of rapid change (predicted in Alvin Toffler’s FutureShock in 1973) is finally coming to pass: organisations and companies – and indeed educational establishments –  now need to be able to respond to changing needs and markets with new products and services potentially within around six months. For All Change Please! then, one of the essential things missing from so-called 21st Education is the notion of helping children learn how to deal with rapid, discontinuous and unpredictable change.

Secondly the impact of the internet has become a widespread disruptive force, changing the behaviours of the mass-population through social and commercial media. Although hinted at in some of of the accounts above, ‘media literacy’ (ie how digital content is produced, manipulated and distributed – and how to create it yourself) also needs to be a major priority.

And there does not appear to be any mention of the concept of Lifelong learning? At the same time there remains a need to completely redefine what might be considered as ‘basic’ knowledge, distinguishing between the grasp of essential underlying concepts and the facts that can now be easily found on the internet. And another thing – again something being anticipated back in the 1960s and 70s (and All Change Please! should know as it was there at the time) – are the 3Rs of Sustainability: Recycle, Re-use and Reduce. Ever read the Waste Makers?

So All Change Please!’s Campaign For Real 21st Century Education includes the need for:
• critical thinking
• creative, active, open-ended problem solving
• collaboration and competition
• flexibility in response to rapid, unpredictable change
• digital media / technological literacy
• initiating sustainable change
• 21st century knowledge
• learning how to learn for oneself

And finally something else that is still far from being a 21st Century solution is the process of the assessment and examination of learning which appears to be regressing into little more than a series of electronically generated and scored knowledge-based multiple-choice questions and answers. Only the e-scape project seems to offer a vision of completely new approaches to processes of assessment that utilise emerging technologies, rather than simply seeking to automate the old ones. Just as business now needs to rapidly respond to emerging fast-changing markets in an agile way, so does educational assessment. The model of developing a pre-specified, fixed course and final examination that takes five or so years to write, get approval for, publish, give schools adequate time to prepare for, and then commence delivering a two year course is no longer appropriate. A more flexible approach is now needed that is capable of responding much more quickly to learning emerging knowledge and skills, using computer technology to create new forms of examination or validation of what has been learnt, rather than what was specified to be learnt many years previously.

The sad fact is, despite having had more than 30 years to get ready for the challenges ahead, we’re still totally unprepared for the opportunities and threats of living in the 21st Century.

And finally, here are some people who for some strange reason don’t seem to agree with any of the above!

Michael Gove’s planned national curriculum is designed to renew teaching as a vocation
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/04/michael-goves-planned-national-curriculum-is-designed-to-renew-teaching-as-a-vocation/

The philistines have taken over the classroom | Frank Furedi | spiked

http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/13497/

Pass Notes: There’s no business like…

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In this post All Change Please! turns its attention to another important school subject to see how it fares in the proposed new draft National Curriculum.

Ah, finally – Business and Economics. That’s one of the most popular subjects students study at university isn’t it?

Yes, by quite a big margin – nearly twice as many as History.

And absolutely vital to the nation’s future growth and prosperity. So I suppose you”ll be telling me that the DfE has included some daft content inappropriately placed in the wrong key stages and written in a way that relates more to business practices of the 1950’s?

Errr, no I won’t be actually.

You mean they’ve managed to get this one right? That’s a turn up for the textbooks.

Well, no, not really. You see, Business and Economics is not part of the National Curriculum at all.

What? So let’s get this straight. Business and Economics is the most popular university subject, and the basis of the future economic success of the country, and we don’t teach our children anything about it at all while at school?

Yes, you’ve got it one.

Ah, well, I suppose it could be argued that we have such well organised management systems and a highly motivated workforce that the basic principles do not really needed to be introduced in schools.

Well you could argue that but in most cases you’d be wrong. Just the other day I heard about someone who works for a leading UK global company. He’s very good at bringing in new clients, but the problem is that this means more work for the delivery team, so they’ve just got rid of him. And then I know a manager of a small business who can’t manage to recruit employees with a good work ethic – it seems they just want to do the least they can get away with, without realising that unless they all work together to help build the business and keep it going, they will soon be out of a job. At the same time too many business are running on out-moded management and administrative structures, and are likely to fail in the next five to ten years unless they completely transform their culture. And do you really think the current economy is being well-handled by the government? So there is definitely an absolutely essential need for children to understand how businesses work, how money is made and lost, and that teamwork and collaboration are essential.

So why aren’t business leaders making more of a fuss?

That’s a very good question. At least Sir Richard Branson managed to express his concerns last week and revealed his usual insightful grasp of the situation when he said:  “Some of the things people study at school are not particularly relevant for when they actually leave school.”

Gosh. Next I suppose you’ll be telling me there is no media studies to give children at least some insight into the way in which the information they consume is created, manipulated and distributed, and no engineering on the curriculum either, despite the fact that engineering is one of the priority professions for UK immigration.

Yes, you guessed it!

Talking of which, I hear chicken sexing is another of the priority professions for immigrants. No chance of that being included in the National Curriculum I suppose?

Well, I expect they could probably find some space for it in D&T…

Do say:  Mind your own business.

Don’t say:  Pass the Branson Pickle, would you?

And finally,  if you haven’t already done so, don’t forget that your country needs you to vote for your least favourite subject in the Grand National Curriculum Consultation competition. The bookies have History as odds on to win, with D&T coming up quickly on the rails. Let’s just hope that Secretary of State ridden by Michael Gove out of Government falls at the first and has to be inhumanely put down. Talking of whom, if you’ve not seen it yet, this is worth a watch…  http://www.goveversusreality.com/

 

Image credit: http://pixabay.com/en/arrow-business-crisis-decline-15630/

The Unbearable Obsolescence of Learning

It may be a sad fact of life, but when something has ceased to be of any practical use or value, it needs to be disposed of. Dismantled. Torn apart. Recycled and re-purposed where possible, and the rest sent unceremoniously to the dump, before being replaced and updated by a brand new model that works a whole lot better – even if it maybe doesn’t last quite as long. And that’s exactly what needs to be happening to our current education system right now.

All Change Please! has recently come across three very different posts that are essentially about the same thing – the need for completely new approaches to teaching and learning, fit more for the remaining seven-eighths of the 21st century than the 19th. (Yes, this month we’re exactly 12 years and 6 months through the 21st century! Well, depending where you start counting from, anyway.)

The first: Unwilling to learn?
http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2012/06/unwilling-to-learn.html

This post endorses something that All Change Please! expressed a while back, that children do actually want to learn – it is after a basic survival skill – but that the problem is that we are not currently teaching them things they don’t see the relevance or need of, and don’t care about.

“Let’s put down the burden. Just set it down and walk away. Make schools places where the first job of adults is to discover who these kids are, and provide support, time and resources to help them become the people they want to be.”

Meanwhile in the (much needed) haste to reform the ICT curriculum, all those BBC Micro enthusiasts from the 1980s have taken the opportunity to get back to the good old days and promote the idea that everyone should take a course in Computer Science. Now I agree that all children should experience the basics of programming to discover if it’s something that appeals to them, but the thought that everyone should become coders is nonsense. So it’s good to read this post:

Let’s Not Call It “Computer Science” If We Really Mean “Computer Programming”
http://codemanship.co.uk/parlezuml/blog/?postid=1109

“Of all the mathematical sciences, computer science is unquestionably the dullest. If I had my time again, despite discovering just how much I love writing software, I still wouldn’t study computer science. I’d program, for sure. And I’d buy books on CS and learn what I need to make me a better programmer. Which is exactly what I did. It’s my deepest concern that we don’t put off a new potential generation of software developers by teaching them stuff that a. they probably won’t need to know, and b. will be taught at the expense of things they might actually find useful.

“The graduate would be able to write a program, but write a program to do what? … It’s no good being about to program if you don’t know anything of how to solve problems.”

And finally, designer John McWade on The Vanishing Master:
http://www.mcwade.com/DesignTalk/2012/05/the-vanishing-master/

“You spend a career mastering a craft, over decades becoming so deep, so knowing, so capable, that you are now the wise old man or woman to whom even teachers of teachers come for guidance. And then the craft vanishes, leaving what?  “That’s what’s going missing! We’re not making masters. The changes are coming so fast that everyone is always beginning.” ”…Skills, entire professions, especially in tech, now run a 100-year life cycle in a decade or less. No one gains the wisdom of years.”

Our education system has yet to really consider that impact on teaching and learning of the rate of change we are now experiencing. In the 1950s, you left school feeling you knew just about everything there was to know. These days you leave knowing virtually nothing in terms of the amount of global knowledge there is. And whereas before you spent a lifetime gaining experience and wisdom, now, if you are lucky, that experience lasts just six months before the world has moved on, long before any wisdom has begun to emerge. If it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, then it is important to discover early on in life what that skill might be.

At present, the majority of children moving from Year 1 to Year 11 spend more than than discovering that they are not cut out to spend the rest of their lives as an academic. And we need to ensure that the skills we need to master are as transferable as possible. Somehow we need to find a way of teaching essential and desirable skills and knowledge that will still ultimately lead to some sort of wisdom, while at the same time preparing children for a world in which the skills and knowledge they will actually need are, to a large extent, currently unimaginable.

The world of education is still tinkering with the past at a time when its approach is obsolete, and the time has come when it needs to be disposed of. Dismantled. Torn apart. Recycled and re-purposed where possible, and the rest sent unceremoniously to the dump – and, unlike the last three sentences, not just be repeated again sometime later when everyone has forgotten how inadequate it was the first time round.  Just as we need completely new processes of collaborative thought and action to deal with things like the global economy, future sources of more sustainable energy, the potential use of new and emerging electronic and bio-technologies, etc., so we need completely new processes of thought and action to deal with the requirements for a future education system that is flexible, appropriate, effective, and fit for purpose – well for the next six months into the future, anyway.

Image credit: Mattias Olsson  http://www.flickr.com/photos/maol/254171944

21st Century Schizoid Learning

I first encountered the world of education (as a prospective teacher as opposed to a student) some 37 years ago, in 1975, which by chance marked the dawn of the final quarter of the 20th century. It was a time when design and processed-based education was being pioneered. The phrase ‘throw-away society’ had already be coined, and we all knew about the hidden persuasive power of the media and advertising. And because of the oil crisis in the early 1970s there was much talk of the need for conservation and alternative energy, and public collaboration and for greater participation in new design processes. Quite clearly the end was in sight for the then current approach to the industrial society, mass-production and established design-by-drawing methodologies. By the end of the 1970s the impending impact of the computer on our lives was becoming evident too.

So when I come across the phrases ‘21st Century Learning‘ and ‘21st Century Skills‘, I can’t help thinking that what is actually being discussed is ‘late 20th Century Learning and Skills‘. The need for critical evaluation and problem-solving, creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration was clearly identified way back in the last century, but it has taken 37 years for them to start to become more widely identified and accepted (except of course by the present UK government).

Let’s project forward another 37 years then, to 2049. What are the educational needs of someone actually born in the 21st Century? The oldest will be turning 12 this year, and by 2049 will be 49. But unlike the 1960s and 70s when the next 25 years seemed relatively easy to anticipate, there’s now little indication as to how things will be in the future. The only prediction we can perhaps make, based on the fact that technology has clearly entered a highly disruptive phase, is that the next quarter of a century is completely unpredictable.

Thus the so-called ’21st Century Learning and Skills’ might well be hopelessly out-dated and inadequate to deal with living and working in the later years of this century. I suspect (and hope) they will still have some value, but who knows what things will actually be like in the brave new world our current generation of school-children will find themselves?

Perhaps the most important thing we should be focusing on is to ensure the inhabitants of tomorrow’s world are as flexible as possible in their thoughts and actions, well prepared for and accepting of discontinuous change as something normal, and more than willing to take risks and deal with failure. But surely the most important thing of all is to ensure that 21st Century children gain a positive view of education, and the ability to be able to learn for themselves in whatever future they encounter? Sadly, at present, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Image credit: Photo-Extremist: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thevlue/4839060646

Little thinks or Big thinks?*

I’ve been doing some deep thinking recently, about…’the art of deep thought’. Not this time the computer in the HHGTTG, but the phrase being presently used by academics and politicians without, as usual, any clear explanation as to what they really mean. For example: (Nice Mr Gove) said he ” wanted to switch emphasis back to examinations taken at the end of two years of study in order to revive the art of deep thought.”

And this very morning on the Andrew Marr Show on TV he explained that if there was a return to a two year A level course it would enable students to spend more time on things like Art and Music to provide a balance to those subjects that required deep thought.

So what exactly is deep thought? And will I be able to buy some in the deep freeze aisle in M&S?

Well, some research (now there’s the first clue in itself) reveals a lengthy text (clue number two), full of obscure words (ah, have I cracked it already?). Well, no, not quite – it seems it’s a bit more complicated than that. Apparently deep thinking skills include:

  • Asking different sorts of open-ended questions about things
  • Thinking about your own thinking processes
  • Putting things in your own words
  • Applying principles to real situations
  • Analysing information into component parts
  • Connecting separate pieces of information to form larger patterns, guidelines or products
  • Evaluating the validity, morality and aesthetic value of ideas, data or products
  • Drawing logical conclusions
  • Deriving principles
  • Making a case for and against an argument
  • Identifying cause-effect relationships
  • Identifying ethical issues
  • Generating creative and imaginative ideas and innovative strategies

And it also seems there is something called ‘deep reading’ which involves a mixture of horizontal reading (ie in bed?) and vertical reading (ie standing up?).To be effective, the information gathered by horizontal, broad reading needs to appropriately interact with narrow, vertical reading.

So what deep conclusions can we draw from all this? The first, and undoubtedly the most surprising, is that just for once All Change Please! finds itself in agreement with nice Mr Gove that more deep thinking would be a good thing. Except of course, in his desire to return to a romanticised, ivory-tower view of rigorous academic study, he has himself probably not thought through his sound-bite very deeply. If he had, he would have realised that many so-called ‘soft’ subjects, with their extended practical open-ended coursework requirements, provide an excellent opportunity for deep thought and action. And that deep thought is not necessarily verbal in nature, but can also be visual, symbolic, musical, etc. Meanwhile if he is really interested in promoting deep thinking, then what better place to start than by promoting and accrediting the QCA’s Personal Learning and Thinking Skills as part of his new English/French Baccalaureate GCSE proposal?

And has Mr Gove yet realised that what we need is not so much deep ways of thinking, but new ways of thinking, focused around things like complexity, community and communication, related to the new world we find ourselves living in, rather than past times.

As I’ve suggested before, we urgently need to understand a lot more about the way in which people start to think and learn deep and wide from an effective mixture of horizontal Pot Google ‘information snacks’ and vertical five-GCSE Baccalaureate course ‘main meals’ as they gather and process information about the real and virtual world they live in.

Hmm – I think I’ll avoid the deep thought counter at M&S for now. Anyone else for some shallow Pot Googles?

* Those of you with the doubted privilege of an academic literary education will of course immediately recognise the reference in the title of this post to HG Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Or, like me, needed to look it up on Pot Google to discover:

‘that to babble about names that meant nothing was the proper use of speech. He called it “big thinks”, to distinguish it from “little thinks” — the sane everyday interests of life. If ever I made a remark he did not understand, he would praise it very much, ask me to say it again and again, learn it by heart, and go off repeating it.’

**Meanwhile those of you with an academic art history education will instead immediately recognise the photo at the top as an image of a human brain as portrayed by the 1960’s Pop artist Peter Max.

Animating the secret power of time

Beyond the general content of this extract from a recent interesting and thought-provoking talk given at the RCA, which includes a short section on the direction in which education needs to be going, is the delightful post-production animation. Maybe one day PowerPoint presentations will be like this, somehow automatically producing a visualisation of what is being said!

http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/05/24/rsa-animate-secret-powers-time/

Polyunsaturated facts

Warning: this post may contain traces of disturbing words and sentences that are unsuitable for those who are allergic to change in education.

During the week I came across this blog post on Info-snacks, which made an interesting analogy between the intake of information and food. Essentially the author suggests that the increasing online availability of small chunks of easily digestible facts and figures is potentially at the expense of a series of ‘proper meals’ that form part of a ‘sensible diet’. Now I’m the first to admit that being able to rapidly search for and discover some fascinating fact can be surprisingly satisfying, possibly even more so than eating a Cadbury’s Chocolate Egg, and for substantially much less effort than having to sit down for months on end consuming a course in some rich, over-egged esoteric academic banquet and facing the prospect of an examination at the end in order to gain a certificate that will probably mark me as ‘over-weight’ to most prospective employers.

With the rapidly increasing range of easily available motivational Scoobie Snacks such as blogs, posts and a variety of Pick’n’Mix tweets it seems almost inevitable that the young will start to opt for info-bites rather than a desire to acquire an in-depth knowledge and understanding.

At the same time, in a related post, comes the suggestion of something called ‘Just In Time’ learning. In industry Just In Time (or JIT) is a management tool for cutting costs through setting up efficient work-flow processes, so that components for the assembly line through to deliveries to the consumer arrive exactly when needed. In a similar way, JIT learning would presumably deliver exactly the right information to you on your hand-held device at the right place at the right time. Knowledge becomes something that is provided on a strictly need-to-know basis.

What the anticipated growth in Info-snacks and JIT learning have in common is that they both question the established approach that knowledge and understanding of the world is something to be bulk force-fed and absorbed in one’s school and college days. Unless we change our approach to formal academic education courses, learners will increasingly turn to rejecting traditional forms of learning in favour of readily available, easily digestible, instantly forgettable fast-facts. And, as with the need for more healthy eating, it’s not a simple matter of ‘banning’ crisps and fizzy drinks, it’s about educating people how to develop good learning habits and to only consume high-fact information snacks in moderation. Remember everyone: ‘Information snacks between meals can spoil your appetite for real learning?’ There are times when a quick snack is appropriate to keep you going, and times when you need to sit down to a proper meal.

However, there’s one aspect of information snacking that has not so far been mentioned. Just as eating is essentially a social as well as nutritional occasion, so is learning. And it may just be that if these frequent information snacks are shared in some way across social networks that the collective and collaborative experience of the participants will ultimately provide a depth and breadth of learning that begins to transcend traditional methods of teaching and learning and produces a completely new approach to the whole process of education that is actually appropriate to the 21st Century.

Maybe then we’ll even start to read reports in the e-newspapers raising concerns about binge education?

Work less, think more…

Yet another quiet week in the world of education, unless of course you’re a middle-aged university lecturer hoping for early retirement, in which case, things are looking up.

I was about to give up on a post for this weekend when I came across this item:

Cut working week to 21 hours, urges think tank

Suddenly I was back in the early 1970s when Tomorrow’s World was confidently predicting that by the turn of the century we’d all be enjoying extensive leisure time. And here we are again – cut the working week to 21 hours and become better parents, children, citizens, carers and neighbours.

Now I fully agree of course – marvellous, can’t wait (though a bit galling for all those university lecturers who’ve just been given early retirement after a lifetime’s stress and anxiety). But as the foundation’s policy director admits: ‘A cultural shift will throw up real challenges’, and let’s face it that’s an understatement.

The trouble is that although we want massive cultural change in many things, including education, no-one knows how to even start the ball rolling, let alone achieve it.

Back in October’s inaugural post Going for Gold I made some suggestions as to the sorts of big issues we should be considering if we are really going to change anything. If we’re all going to work less and educate better, we are going to have think a lot more about how to actually get there.