Isn’t it just amazing this week to see the massive and overwhelming global reaction to the #neverseconds blog? A wee girl with a digital camera and a computer managing to attract widespread media attention around the world for her blog: this is the kind of stuff us edutech evangelists could only have dreamt about.
And do you know what? It actually couldn’t have happened at a better time. If the digital penny doesn’t drop for the wider education world now, then I am at a loss as to what it might take. This is a nine-year old girl who embraced digital technology to further her own literacy skills off her own back and in her own time. Okay, so her dad might have given her a push in the right direction, but it is the fact that she embraced that direction so wholeheartedly and enthusiastically that must surely be of interest to us as educators. This was no class project or homework assignment; it was independent learning with a collaborative focus and the gratification of having a real-world relevance and a global audience.
Martha Payne started her blog in order to raise money for the Mary’s Meals charity and she planned to rate her school dinners each day and photograph and comment on various aspects of them. This all kicked off at the end of April and, within the first few weeks, she began to receive comments and contributions from all around the world, from parents, fellow school-lunchers and others genuinely interested in the notion of seeing what children eat at school. It was fast-becoming a bit of a web phenomenon and it is that point that interests me more than anything: the web can be ‘phenomenal’.
The main debate, of course, and quite rightly, is focusing on the whole issue of nutrition and whether school lunches are as healthy as they could be. Folks like Jamie Oliver and Nick Nairn have revelled in it, of course, and the celebrity retweets are just brilliantly high profile, but they all seem to focus on the healthy-eating side of things. This issue is what sparked the incredible public backlash against the (regrettable, I’m sure) decision of Argyll and Bute to ban Martha from taking photographs of her lunches and it is this issue that sees the Mary’s Meals donations on the verge of topping £100,000.
Surely an equally important, if not bigger, issue for education is the process at work here? As well as raising issues of healthy eating and nutrition for our school lunch provision, this whole #neverseconds debate has the potential to raise massive issues with the 21st century learning process and whether our schools are equipped to cater for that too!
I see the beginnings of this discussion in my Twitter followings but I think we could be on the verge of an amazing opportunity here. Martha Payne’s blog is the most awe-inspiring example of independent, creative learning that harnesses the far-reaching and collaborative opportunities of digital technology. It spreads this message much better than any of us edutech bloggers and tweeters could ever hope to convey with our few hundred followers and preachings to the already-converted. Martha’s blog has the potential to effect change in our schools that people like us can only aspire to do. This could be the start of a digital revolution.
The sad reality is that, alongside spending her lunch breaks and evenings totally absorbed in uploading digital photos, writing reflectively in her blog posts and engaging in online discussions with digital peers, Martha could very well have spent her school class time using a pencil and a jotter and maybe getting a shot of an interactive whiteboard for ten minutes or an hour’s visit to the ICT suite, if she were lucky. The even sadder issue for us is that Argyll and Bute not only failed to recognise this excellent example of independent learning, but actually took active steps to block it. It’s outrageous, isn’t it?
#neverseconds is what can happen when one nine-year old girl from a rural Scottish village has access to technology. Imagine what could happen if this became embedded in classroom practice? I am confident that our Scottish Education Cabinet Secretary, Mr Russell, appreciates this, but I think that he needs to embrace the opportunity that the attention surrounding Martha’s experience brings. If people running our local authorities have the potential to respond in the way that Argyll and Bute did, then it is pretty clear that there is a problem. Technology should be alongside Literacy, Numeracy and Health and Wellbeing as a ‘responsibility of all’ essential component of CfE. That all too frequent excuse of ‘I don’t do computers’ should be treated with the same kind of action that one might imagine someone who ‘couldn’t do’ classroom management might receive. The days of subtle encouragement and choice should be over.
Access to technology at school should be a basic and fundamental right for every child and young person in our schools. It can happen. It should happen and it maybe it needs to happen sooner, rather than later.
Perhaps a great starting point would be to include Martha Payne in Mr Russell’s ICT Education Excellence group suggested in this recent blog post. Maybe our young people can lead the way better than any of us adults, no matter how tech-savvy we profess to be.
On today’s menu? Digital Revolution, anyone?
Google Apps for Education Summit: Using Technology to Transform and Unlock Learning – FREE CPD for Teachers using FREE technology tools
Saturday 9th June 2012, 10.00 – 3.30pm
Hilton Grosvenor Hotel, 1-9 Grosvenor Terrace, Glasgow
Google and partners are delighted to invite you to the Google Apps for Education Summit, a one-off opportunity to attend an ICT Training Event for educators at the Hilton Grosvenor Hotel, Glasgow on Saturday 9th June 2012. This event is a celebration of interesting practice. Attendance is free and includes lunch and refreshments.
What you can expect on the day?
- Find out more about Google Earth, Collaborative Documents, YouTube in Schools, free personal storage.
- Find out how Free Google Tools can help you teach digital literacy, assess student’s work and increase student productivity.
Places are strictly limited and will be allocated on a first come and first served basis.
To book your place follow the link: https://docs.google.com/a/google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dGdkX09PREcyZGVYWXEwSHJhSERsSVE6MA#gid=0
One of the main reasons for my finding my role as a Glow DO so rewarding, was that the team was headed-up by such a capable and visionary guy as Andrew Brown. He is a man to trust and someone with whom we should realise that Glow was in safe hands. If Andrew had been making decisions, as well as leading the direction of travel, then I’m pretty sure we would be in the middle of piloting the new service by now and that service would have been met with the same enthusiasm that users have afforded to ‘Glew’.
We have learned in the past few weeks that Andrew has had his role changed. I’m sure even Andrew is baffled as to why. Andrew has a young son and another on the way and I’m pretty sure he has sacrificed a lot of time with his family in order to work his backside off for #Glow2. Ollie Brae was working at the forefront with Andrew and, while working at Education Scotland, I witnessed Andrew and Ollie Brae over the past six months, working late and not taking holidays, looking frazzled at times but getting on with the job in hand under the tightest of timescales, making sure that they met their commitments for the greater good of learners and teachers in Scotland.
Time and time again, Andrew and Ollie had to provide the public face of indecision and I know for certain that they weren’t the ones unable to make the decisions. They were the guys who had to face the frustrated LA key contacts who had been promised decisions that failed to materialise and I’m pretty sure they took a fair bit of flack along the way.
But they kept on going, realising that they had an opportunity to do it right this time and come up with a solution for #Glow2 that was exactly what the people (and Mr Russell, according to his September 2011 YouTube video) wanted. They had the vision and I am confident that they would have delivered that vision as a working solution that needed only a sign-off from the decision makers and perhaps some investment in server infrastructure/staffing.
Andrew and Ollie should have been heroes to us all by this stage and in my mind they still are. What has gone on behind the scenes is a bit of a mystery but it’s a mystery that has cost these guys their professional roles. To put every ounce of passion and enthusiasm and energy into something you believe in is laudable in the extreme; to have it cost you your job is just plain cruel.
What Charlie Love has done in building ‘Glew’ is just brilliant. It does exactly what the Cabinet Secretary wanted from Glow2, even down to the pun in the name which, if you recall, was how Mr Russell described his hopes for the next Glow: the glue that sticks together all the free tools and resources. It probably looks an awful lot like Andrew and Ollie would have wanted Glow to look like and I think we need to see it as our very own field of dreams: Charlie has built it and it looks like the users might come.
‘Glew’ is what we could have had, folks. We could still have it, if we believe that innovation can be effected by users. Sign up here and see how simple this whole mess could have been: https://www.glew.org.uk/
I honestly do not know what is going on with next generation Glow and I fear that there is something murky lying at the bottom of these troubled waters. I was part of the whole options appraisal that took place during January and February and, whilst I don’t know the actual stats, it was pretty clear that there was a tangible leaning towards the big G in informal feedback gathered during the sessions. I can only assume that the survey numbers confirmed that.
And so here we are, now in May and ever closer to the big switch off of our beloved(?) Glow on September 15th with the announcement from Google that they are withdrawing from the procurement process. There is something funny going on.
I am scratching my head a bit here. What has happened? I worked for the Glow team until a month ago and I have no idea what is going on with this Glow business. If you had asked me two months ago, I would have waged my mortgage on Google taking forward the next generation of Glow. It seemed so clear and obvious that the options appraisal had gone overwhelmingly in Google’s favour with the Microsoft offering being found (in general and via informal chats with testing users) to be corporate and complicated when compared alongside the suite of Apps from Google.
I am certain that Education Scotland would have recommended Google as the preferred solution and I would have thought that we would have had a pilot process well underway by now. The timescales for this were achievable. They were tight, don’t get me wrong, but they were just about achievable.
Instead, the team’s plans for piloting went on hold week after week after week. The Government was maintaining a peculiar silence on the whole thing and none of us knew what was happening. Events with LAs had been arranged and announcements were expected, but time after time the silence prevailed. We then get the announcement of procurement from the Government and I can’t help but see the whole process as back to square one. I may just have been too far away from the decision makers to get an informed understanding of necessary process, but I had thought it has been clear for some time that the only options being appraised were Microsoft and Google and that, as soon as a preferred option were apparent, a recommendation would go to Scottish government and they would make the decision and choose a new Glow.
I will be honest here, I preferred Google’s option too. I did an incredible amount of testing and playing in both appraisal environments and I was overwhelmingly of the opinion that Google was the better option for the education community in Scotland. I cannot provide specifics, but I came across nobody who preferred Microsoft 365. And I spoke to a lot of people.
I cannot help but be suspicious about all of this, especially in light of this week’s announcement of withdrawal by Google. I think Google might just have been shafted a bit here. Google offered a product for testing, any users who I worked with liked it a lot and that must have been clear in the survey results and recommendations that went to Scottish Government. One can only wonder at the reasons for stalling on the whole process. Where is the democracy in this?
I had been leaning towards favouring an independent Scotland. I like Alex Salmond and I feel that he represents Scotland very well in any media coverage and debate he is involved with. I had seen him as honest and a man of integrity and I felt that, if Alex Salmond believed in it, then it might just be quite a good idea. This present situation with Glow makes me feel suspicious of government to such an extent that I find myself questioning my political beliefs.
Maybe it is just the case that Scot Gov IT decision-makers are so entrenched in the corporate world dominated by Microsoft that they cannot contemplate anything a bit different. Maybe they have pals at Microsoft that they don’t want to let down. Maybe they simply don’t understand education.
After the September 2011 Mike Russell video starting this whole process of #eduscotict dicussion, there was a gathering excitement about the way forward. There was almost universal agreement on what needed to happen and there was a lot of thought and chat and enthusiasm. I genuinely believed that we had an opportunity to bring together the diversity of opinion on Glow. Its critics and fans were united in talking about going forward to make it better. The hashtag has now slowed and the excitement has petered out and I can’t help but feel that an opportunity has been missed.
Whatever the heck is going on in the background, it doesn’t smell too good. With this withdrawal from Google, I would now stake my mortgage on Scottish Government paying RM a small fortune to extend their service provision until they get Microsoft 365 in place as the next Glow. The latest promised announcement is allegedly due by the end of this month but there seems to be only one way it can go now.
And you know what, fair play to Google for jacking it all in they way they have done. The rest of the education world is debating Google Apps over Microsoft 365 and, whether you are Googling or Binging, a web search reveals a heavy leaning towards the former. Perhaps Google sensed the Scotland-wide solution wasn’t going to go their way and their Google Apps for Education Fast Track Site is a brilliant way of fighting back against whatever is at play here. Google claim to have received a lot of interest from Local Authorities in this proposal to set up Apps at local level, as opposed to nationally and, if that is the case, I cannot help but think that Google might have the last laugh here.
I’ve just clicked on one of those Facebook apps that invites you to procrastinate in a survey that reveals something hitherto unrealised and allows you to compare your results to your friends’. You know the drill: you go through a list of 100 items, spending way too long debating your selections and wishing you could see how the rest had faired before you reveal your shortcomings to two hundred odd people. The clock ticks on and the emails keep vibrating their arrival in the background but you sweat your way through the app’s processes just to see that final percentage and how you stack up against your pals.
I was fourth amongst my friends, in case you’re curious: 50 out of a hundred ‘foods to try before you die’ have satiated an appetite of mine at some point or other and I submit my selections, satisfied that I’ve done okay and not too embarrassed to share the stats on my wall.
The responses of my friends lure me further into this thief of my time: a guy I knew from school had eaten kangaroo, frogs legs and alligator and yet hadn’t ever had ghoulash. How strange. My sister had tried abalone and, the next time I saw her, i should ask her when it was and how she found it. I also think my mum would be up there in the 80s and go back to the app to forward her an invite.
I wonder what my choices say about me but the only taste on my tongue by that stage is irritation at the fact that I even care.
It’s a stupid list anyway and quite ridiculous that ‘most people have only tried 20′ of these foods to try before you die. Sure, some of them were what you might call esoteric: birds nest soup, the real one, from swift saliva used to form their nests; fried crickets; head cheese, which Wikipedia later told me was a terrine made from calf’s head and those French favourites of frogs legs and snails.
Mostly, however, they were what I would consider quite ordinary. The kind of stuff you might even have for dinner on a Monday night. No deep fried guinea pig here and not exactly the witchetty grub stuff that celebrities in the jungle have to endure. There was the ghoulash I couldn’t believe the old school friend hadn’t had at some point and there was a pastrami on rye sandwich that surely everyone who has ever even watched an American TV show has tried.
I mean, how adventurous do you need to be to have tried a bit of black pudding? We all know it’s a regular staple of even the not-so-full English/Scottish/Irish breakfast so it’s hardly in the ranks of the cockroach when it comes to strange fruit. Haggis was there as well, of course, and you can get both of them in every chippy in Scotland on any night of the week that takes your fancy.
Oysters, lobster, a bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese and what must be the very epitome of ordinary: Spam. Isn’t Spam widely regarded as the poor man’s pale pink alternative to proper meat? Every Scottish town has a ‘Spam valley’, doesn’t it? An estate of private homes built by Barratt or Bett that, so the legend goes, left the happy home-owners so financially-compromised that they couldn’t afford real food and had to get their sustenance, instead, from the inside of a can. I would bet that you can still by this stuff in even the smallest and remotest of corner shops.
So now I have a whole blog post courtesy of the ’100 foods to try before you die’ app. It has caused me to ignore my email for over an hour now but it has made me think and it has made me write and, most importantly, it made me find out what ‘head cheese’ is. A waste of time? Maybe not entirely.
Apparently, there is an equivalent for places to visit before you die. Another day, perhaps.
I believe that CfE would be embraced a whole lot more successfully in secondaries if teachers were able to visualise how it could ever be possible. Technology can do that. Forums for discussion topics and websites/blogs to share resources and learning results in instant collaboration across curricular areas. The school buildings cannot sustain cross-curricular gatherings in assembly halls, but the web can.
We collaborate on the web across continents and time-zones. We share ideas, frustrations and bargain deals with our friends on Facebook, and they keep track of our and our children’s progress through life in the photographs and funny stories we post and share. The web keeps us connected to each other, regardless of location, social standing, confidence or appearance. It’s a great leveller and gives us all the opportunity to take part. Isn’t that what school should be?
Teachers need to be able to see that a pupil with a web device is a pupil equipped for 21st Century learning and they are not going to have that realisation until those tools are available any time they need them. It is not enough to have the opportunity to take pupils to computer suites three weeks on Tuesday and it is just mind-blowing that there are still signs up in most secondary schools I have ever visited that remind pupils that mobile phones, iPads and iPods are banned in school and any discovery of them will result in some punishment/confiscation.
The problem we have with CfE is that we are trying to bring a 21st century curriculum into schools that are set up in the same way they were a hundred years ago. Teachers cannot see how it can work because they don’t have access to the 21st century tools that could make it work. My nephew told me last Wednesday evening that he was ‘excited’ about school the next day because Thursdays are his favourite day of the week. When I asked why, his answer nearly brought a tear to my eye: Thursdays are the day he gets to go to the computer suite. He is seven years old and can land a Boeing 747 at most airports in the world using his flight simulator.
The reason I am so excited by my newly unemployed status illustrates the power of the web rather nicely. I got my P45 in the post on Saturday morning but I had a new blog by Saturday afternoon and am working on developing my company website from my dining room. I am followed on Twitter and have a lot of friends on Facebook, so I have already got access to a pretty vast consumer base. I can conduct market research instantly by reading forums and blog posts and following Twitter hash tags. My business development is a journey that I am going to do by myself but the web allows it to evolve on a second by second basis and gives me access to pretty much anything and everyone I need to make it happen. Imagine if learning could be like that?
Glow is a huge part of all of this, of course, but I am in such a state of dismay about the lack of developments for the new platform that it is making me reconsider my political beliefs. I guess that’s a whole other blog post…
I wanted to start my blogging career today because today is my first day as an independent voice. I am no longer tied to an organisation or local authority and, whilst that really means I am unemployed, I am not even going to consider making the trip to the job centre. I am in the process of launching a new business that will use my skills and experience to provide support and resources to schools and businesses. There is a lot to be done, but today is the first day of a new journey for me, a turning point that will change how I live my life: no more holidays until I start making some money!
So, how do I feel? Well, a wee bit scared, of course, but also very free. In some ways, what I am doing this morning is no different to what I might have been doing in my last role, as Emerging Technologies Development Officer with Education Scotland. Radio 6 Music is on in the background and I am in front of my shiny new Macbook Pro creating stuff. The context of my work is similar and the only real difference is that I won’t be receiving a payslip at the end off the month. I really must remember that difference as key and start thinking of ways to make some money…
Anyway, I started my day with a read of a really interesting article from Bruce Robertson in this week’s TESS about CfE and the general attitude to change in our schools. Bruce ponders (very well) the notion that there seems to be an inherent resistance to change in our schools (secondary more than primary maybe?) and raises the fact that CfE has been a work in progress for some ten years now, if we consider the Peter Peacock debate on the curriculum as the start of it all. Ten years? That’s just mind-blowing, isn’t it?
So, I started to consider this whole business of change and why we struggle so badly with it in schools (and I would argue secondary schools in particular because I think our primary colleagues are much better at it) in Scotland. My life has changed dramatically, remember, and I am not struggling with it at all; I am excited and inspired by the opportunity it presents to be genuinely creative and innovative in what I do. I can do what I want to do, whenI want to do it and it strikes me that CfE presents a similar opportunity for teachers.