Stephen Heppell's Weblog

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I'm currently busy Horizon Scanning for the DCSF, initially exploring technology futures. Undoubtedly the pace of development is accelerating. My new iPod Touch (I hacked it a bit) is currently fully functioning as web-server in my pocket!. At current rates by 2013 a computer will offer the same computational power as human brain; by 2050 a £500 computer should outperform, computationally, the entire species! The huge challenge for policy, of course, is whether it can develop enough agility to keep up with the potential that technology brings, particularly to the most disadvantaged. Evidence is not encouraging.  
 
In the quarter century or so that I have been exploring the potential of technology in learning a significant change has occurred and it took one of my trustee colleagues on the Inclusion Trust to point it out to me: Policy has become confused with Practice. Previously, a government was judged by what actually happened in practice. That practice took time to embed, through iterative cycles. Today governments prefer to be judged by their policy. It's easy to write policies, tougher to implement changes in practice. Consequently Policy is rarely Practice.  
 
As an example, the government's "6 day policy" says that where exclusion exceeds five days, schools must provide full time education from day six. But in practice our Notschool.net project, for those many excluded from school by circumstance or behaviour, regularly finds children who have been out of school, without any provision at all, for years. As another example the Computers for Disadvantaged Pupils policy offers welcome funding to help e-enable the disadvantaged, but by only doing so through schools the huge army of 100,000 plus children outside of the school system, most urgently in need of that support, are completely missed out: policy is a mile from practice. The policy of changing GCSE Coursework to being under school based supervision only, at a stroke catastrophically destroyed the progress of the many rebuilding their learning outside of schools. Governments say "problem solved; we have our policy", practitioners say "problem remains; look at the practice". Policy isn't keeping up. And the people it is hurting most are the most vulnerable. Ironically these are just the ones technology should offer the greatest hope to. 
 
Raising the age of compulsory participation in learning to 18, says all the right things as a policy. At the Fabian Education lecture, Schools Secretary Ed Balls spoke powerfully of a policy to keep young people learning - but through the systems and policies that are already failing them: keeping them in the care homes they are already absconding from, in the schools they are already excluded and truanting from, writing the GCSEs that have already failed them. In practice the policy's key phrase for young people is this: "if young people fail to take up these opportunities, there will be a system of enforcement...". If the systems are failing, we'll blame the young people - it's easier than reform. 
 
I find all this desperately frustrating. Technology has time and time again shown a way of doing things better: the wonderful Notschool.net project has demonstrated remarkable success in reengaging 98% of its thousands of excluded children full time, on-line. We know it could do even better - an annual target of 50,000 saved is not unreasonable; we know that bespoke on-line workplaced learning for the many that never reached university works; this potentially offers massively increased participation rates, up to 66%. We know ambitious targets matter and have evidenced what successful practice looks like - why then is policy so far adrift? 
 
As a generation technology has offered us the chance to make the kind of difference to social equity that our great-grandparents made through medicine. I have seen that we can inoculate children against poverty through learning. Yet in a world where having a policy is sufficient, regardless of what is happening in practice, these enormous potentials remain unrealised. The huge challenge that technology brings our generation in this extraordinary new millennium is whether we can change our systems quickly enough to transform practice. The evidence thus far is that we can't. I don't think that is good enough. 
 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell 2007  

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This week I'm in Brunei judging the Crown Prince's competition for creative, innovative products. Brunei Darussalam is a fascinating place with a quietly successful cultural mix that offers the world a good prototype of just how different communities can get along. But, like so much of the world, there is a very clear sense of the importance of technology and children. As my fellow judges and I explore the ingenuity of each entry one turns to me and says, with a broad smile "THIS is our future". 
 
Some contrast with the UK. I despair at how we have demonised and robbed this current generation that the media stereotypes as gun totting hoodies: rising property values leave them no chance of home ownership; companies lock them out of final pension schemes when they start work; LAs continue to sell off their school playing fields (2,500 more lost since Labour entered office) then we criticise them as sport averse and unfit. Alan Johnson's daft coureswwork changes stop them collaborating, but meanwhile they are criticised for the very selfish individual behaviours the assessment system now encourages. And we've hardly left them a legacy of a stable world have we? It is amazing they have stood it for so long and a tribute to the patience of these techno-confident children. But everything has its limits. 
 
This generation, of course, have been busy turning to ICT to make the world a little better. Worried about about healthy eating? At my Be Very Afraid event at BAFTA last year children from Essex were making healthy eating podcasts that teachers are now tuning in too. Want to see great teachers, challenging mental arithmetic problems, remarkable world-best performances, schools paired across cultural divides, insights into day to day lives, hot debates about peace and more? Go search on YouTube or elsewhere. Children have leapt outside of the straighjackets of their school learning environemnts, virtual and real, to seize and use the remarkable Web 2.0 tools that are changing all our economies. Schools meanwhile often respond using the excuse of "happy slapping" pupils to ban YouTube and much else. Blocks appear at every turn: children, including a small vocal army of home learners, have embraced with real enthusiasm to the BBC's Digital Curriculum offering, JAM, which lets them learn at home, away from school if they wish. Sadly, even the unique and seductive JAM public service is under threat and it may yet not be allowed to get into the hands of our learners. Are we mad? 
 
Well, it can't last and it won't last. Technology is a great democratiser as we saw with the public rejection of the Big Brother racist bullies. This new generation understands technology even better than any before. They are rightly fed up with the deal they have been given and when they finally call "enough" we will truly see just how well technology can amplify a voice. If you thought the road pricing petition was a protest, you ain't seen nothing yet. Pupil Voice? they'll hear the rumpus from Brunei. 
 
 
© Professor Stephen Heppell, 2007 

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As we approach the London Games Festival the Guardian had a bit of a handheld theme running - which led me down a bit of a nostalgia pathway...  
 
I was rummaging through the attic this summer, and under the piles of ageing technology (a BBC B, a Binatone Pong, a HyperCard manual, some lineflow paper) I found my first mobile phone. I put a picture on my phone blog (phone.heppell.mobi, but also took a moment to measure it. It stands 23cm tall, without the aerial, and weighs in at over 5kg. It was whopping. My current phone, with its gigabyte of storage, useful browser and decent camera is 8cms long and only 7mm thick. It weighs 70gms and does quite a lot more than that first big one! There is something powerfully seductive about tiny hand-held technology which is "yours" in a way that a desktop computer rarely is. But if technology has progressed in leaps and bounds it is not entirely clear that policy has. 
 
Of course, back in the last century, schools teachers and students would have to wait for some central policy directive to guide them: a 'strategy' document, a White Paper, a ministerial speech, an inspection framework. Past guidance included the "correct" number of keys on a computer keyboard! With mobile phones, they waited for a decade or so for policy to notice handheld technology, whilst a whole generation of children missed out. But the wait is over; schools have decided that anyway, in the 21st century, they should simply get on with it and leave strategy, policy and speeches struggling (and failing) to keep up. As a result schools all over the place are embracing hand-held and pocketable technology and doing some very cool and creditable things with it.  
 
Recently I was up in Scotland again enjoying a wide range of visits, with Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) colleagues, to their front running institutions, and they have many. In Dundee I came across Derek Robertson at LTS' regional offices with his Consolarium which is, in essence, a little research lab dedicated to the use of portable and games technology in learning. Every school should have one! The children who pass through it are the co-researchers, of course. Like others Derek talks about using Dr. Kawashima Brain Training with some of his research projects and he takes care to properly research the outcomes with learners. He has absolutely no doubt about the magnitude of what he describes as incredible gains in terms of pupil engagement and motivation. I've commented before on how exciting it is to see a generation hooked on the mind-stretching challenges of Nintendo's Big Brain Academy, but Derek thought he would trial a daily first-thing-in-the-morning workout for the children's brains using just that. It is no surprise to readers of this column that performances got better in some key areas of the curriculum, but also that new orders of merit emerged as unexpected performances showed new and unrecognised potential. Being Brainy became cool too and it has been quite a while since schools students regarded anything related to school technology as cool. It a curious thing in education that when we have absolute certainty about what is demonstrably effective, policy still fails to embrace that proven practice for years and sometimes never does. I swapped a couple of emails with Estelle Morris about this and we are both bemused by the sheer inertia of the system. But schools don't care any more. They are swapping ideas, practice, research, results and more.  
 
And of course the technology continues to move on a pace. Apple's recent wireless iPod Touch with its tactile browser is indicative of just where pocketable, cool technology might be going.  
 
And tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, it just gets better and better. Wouldn't you love to be at school again but this time with the world, quite literally, in your pocket? 
 
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© Professor Stephen Heppell 2007 

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I was coming back from a vibrant e-assessment conference in Malaysia. At the airport, I stepped onto one of those strange moving pavements and started to stroll along it. In front were a couple - and they had stopped walking. In their minds they were moving forwards quickly enough - the wall posters were passing by. But because they were standing still, they were delaying the urgent family behind me who were clearly late. It was a nice metaphor for ICT. The pace of change is such that many feel just keeping abreast with on-line banking, booking, browsing or buying is enough; it feels like progress. But the generation of children rushing down the moving pathway that ICT offers, want policy to get out of the way of their learning. Education is blocking them. 
 
But just exactly who is it that makes the judgement about what is appropriate progress? A colleague at DfES reminded me this week of the day I dropped a (colossal!) digital mobile phone onto a desk there and declared "that's a big bit of education's future - right there". Incredibly, next year we will be at the 20th anniversary of that moment and whilst children have been early and inspired adopters and users of SMS and other phone based technologies, it is fair to say that education policy, like the couple on the moving walkway, has stood in the way of children's progress with this important communication tool. Twenty years is a long wait. However, lately I have seen a lot of schools doing inspired things with phones, whatever national policy might be. And that is a very clear hint for us about how we might organise education in the future. If we could only share and assure that progress.  
 
Well, now we can: next month, with support from Microsoft, I am beginning to bring together 6 nations in a brave project. Each nation, from China to Spain, will identify schools. The hypothesis is that these schools CAN improve; their scholarship will be to look for tested and effective ideas from other schools, worldwide; their action research is to take these ideas, fit them to a local context and improve their schools. At that point they exhibit their research success and it is rewarded with a Prof D. for the whole cohort of staff involved at the school - teachers become doctors. This is only possible because ICT gives us such great tools to share, communicate and exchange with, but make no mistake this is the beginning of a revolution in educational policy making. 
 
This week I have been amazed visiting a vibrant and wired special school in Scotland (wheelchair country dancing!) and have also been delighted by an ambitious cluster of schools using ICT to unify science and maths vocabulary at the primary secondary divide. Each week I see more great ideas, carefully trialled and measured. These schools do NOT need anyone to tell them what to do, or to cap their ambition; they have a vision and they are getting on with attaining it. What they need most is for their research and reflections to be shared, exchanged, critiqued, valued and tested. Hence the project. 
 
I can't think of anyone better placed to do this than themselves, with their electrifyingly ingenious NQTs, their confident, inquisitive young learners and their nearly-retired wise old teachers. As I've often said before: in the 20th century we built big things that did things for people, in the 21st century we help people to help each other and surely that includes schools. Luckily ICT, with its viral, peer-to-peer world of rich global communication, is rather good at all that.  
 
www.heppell.net/doctoral 
www.learnometer.net 
 
© Professor Stephen Heppell, 2007 

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Some of the big questions that ICT pose for us in the 21st century revolve around "who owns what?", and "what is original?". It is clear that the whole issue of ownership and copyright is set to hurt education badly worldwide if we don't get our principles clear. 21st century technology is all about helping people to help each other, as I have observed before. Innately, we take a delight in helping. My daughter, currently immersed in her PGCE practice, phoned me delightedly to say that her lesson plan had been adopted by another teacher, who badged it as her own. "I must be on the right track, mustn't I?" she said, delightedly. In education we have always shared and exchanged - from Banda sheets to effective practice. In the 80s in ICT we saw really substantial numbers of teachers swapping ULPs (Useful Little Programmes) that they had developed themselves. Individual celebrity might have been on offer, but funding certainly wasn't.  
 
I frequent Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London and typically pop along to see exceptional performers create something special, late into the night. If you ask me about it I'll usually say "you should have been there". The musicians are famous, and well paid, because of their ability to be ingenious and to delight their audience, differently, with each performance. In the last century the wish to ossify every performance or activity by wrapping it in a complex web of patents and copyrights reached a kind of mania. Recently, this was wonderfully pastiched by a group who claimed to have registered several million combinations of telephone number keypad tones, as "their" unique tunes. Thus, when you phoned a friend, you were breaking copyright by playing their tune!. It is ridiculous, but shows how foolish the whole thing had become. ICT is facing this problem in myriad ways. A radio programme used to be something that was owned, then performed on the air a finite number of times. But with web streaming, podcasting, MP3 storage on phones, Sky+ and more, the place and time when you listen will vary from individual to individual. As a broadcast passes from hardware to hardware the concept of "original" or "authorised" starts to wobble badly. A question that dropped into a forum I belong to showed how confused everyone is by ICT's ability to communicate and replicate: "If," it asked, "on a face-to-face course CLA clearance has been obtained for a reader-pack and the articles cleared for photocopying, can they also be scanned, pdf-ed and uploaded into a password protected VLE?  Or are you in breach of copyright?". Who knows?! 
 
Fortunately movements like the Creative Commons group are busy implementing good solutions to the impact of ICT on "ownership" and "rights". The BBC's Creative Archive project looks to be able, finally, to wrest that wonderful archive of broadcast material away from the lawyers and make it available for the children and families who paid for it in the first place. Others, like the UK's Teachers' TV, have started with a completely refreshing view that anything they broadcast will be freely available from their website, to stream or save, and can be used in schools, homes, on phones even, as suits the user. 
 
Technology copyright rules, depressingly, are hopelessly biased in favour of developed economies. In the West I can protect my invention of an clever algorithm, but the Arab nation that invented the numbering system it depends on get nothing. So it is easy to see why one nation's piracy is another nation's retaliation against cultural imperialism. ICT in schools progresses by each of us helping, rather than charging, each other. The children understand this perfectly. Type "free essays online" into Google if you doubt it (and you'll get a lot more hits than if you type "buy essay online"). In the end, probably rightly, all we will be able to protect is our individual ability to be ingenious, to solve problems and to perform delightfully. 
 
If in doing so we come to value, once again, the individual contribution of great teachers and exceptional students, and we develop skills to help us choose between them, it doesn't sound to bad, does it? 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2006  
 

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Sometimes technology brings about changes before those guiding an industry realise. Teachers all over the world have seen how new technology has given children the ability to make powerful short movies themselves. Five years ago they were having fun just playing with the kit, but these days they want a voice and are using video to make that voice heard on bullying, politics and much more besides. In cinema, too, low-budget independent movie-makers have also stopped playing and are seeking a voice, often conveying powerful messages. George Clooney's recent BAFTA nominated anti-McCarthyite "Good Night, And Good Luck", was made cheaply with new technology and filmed in black and white with George directing and writing for a nomimal fee. I was lucky enough to attend the Bafta awards, dinner and glamorous party even though I'm some distance from being a fashion icon. At the Baftas David Puttnam, was receiving lifetime award. David had abandoned film making feeling that there was no longer a way to make powerful films with a message; however, he thanked Clooney for winning that opportunity back for the whole industry. Somehow though, the Bafta members had slightly missed all this, and they settled for a cosy, big studio movie for many of their votes. How could they miss such a substantial and obvious change?  
 
Well, education has missed a few changes too. And this causes real problems when it comes to evaluating the impact of investment like new technology on learning. When we spend money to add computers into the learning equation, what do we measure to convince treasury colleagues that it was all worthwhile? To explore this, I'm engaged in a substantial Microsoft-sponsored project to build a Learning Metric, to help people like UNESCO or the World Bank be clear where educational investment, especially ICT, has been effective. Essentially this will be a big complex computer model showing gains and costs, but what variables should be measured? One might look for literacy improvements in the widest sense, or world-class numeracy, but also hopefully for a bit of joy, engagement, better attendance, motivated teachers, impressed parents, growth in national income and so on. We can measure all this, but we must be sure to include the new gains in learning too. All around the world countries are pouring money into ICT in different ways, but are other countries' investments proving more effective; what transforms literacy? what reverses disengagement? what retains teachers? what works? 
 
ICT has allowed many countries to re-examine their whole education systems and so, inevitably, I'm helping many to plan significant educational change. For example, 18 months ago the Caribbean was hit by hurricane Ivan. Grand Cayman island was flooded to the point where it disappeared from satellite view for some hours. But the Ivan the Terrible started a process of renewal and repair. A new Cayman government, the People's Progressive Movement (PPM), came to power. They promised children that education would be transformed and ICT lies at the heart of this. Even without hurricanes, transforming education in the 21st century is complex. So many things must move forward together, not just ICT alone: professional development, examinations, curriculum, architecture, expectations, parents, and more. The Cayman Isles are moving away from the computer suite to a fully wireless nation, are making the most of one laptop per teacher, using ICT to celbrate children's performance and creativity, asking ICT to transform their data collection to aid policy decisions, and harnessing new communication technologies to link their schools with others worldwide. The PPM got off to a really good start by immediately asking to hear the views of all interested parties, from children to employers, and committing to those views in a published document. To maintain their pace, it will help to have clear metrics showing where ICT, CPD, or new architetcure are working, and where they aren't. Walking round Cayman schools recently, there was an optimism, a glint in the eye of their learners that suggested their new journey of change had begun. Technology changes everything and now, all I've got to do, is work out how to measure, and nourish, that optimism. I think I need another rum punch. 
 
Professor Stephen Heppell heads his own policy, research and practice consultancy, Heppell.net, at the heart of a network of innovative collaborators worldwide. 
 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2006  
 

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Never mind the Unteachables, there are no Unlearnables... 
 
I'm chair of trustees of a new charity, TheCademy, which, amongst other things, looks after the remarkable Notschool.net project which I have been something of a father too since its inception in the 1990s. The project uses home computers to connect learners into a vibrant learning community with hundreds of mentors and experts all around the world stimulating and leading learning. It is no more expensive than traditional learning in brick and mortar schools and works spectacularly well. The catch is that to get into Notschool you need first to be excluded from school by circumstances or by behaviour. We call our learners "researchers" because this is assuredly NOT school and because we learn so much from them about designing effective learning. For most of our researchers the project is a last chance to build self esteem and progress. They grab it. 
 
At the launch of the new charity some of Notschool's alumnii spoke about how the project had quite literally turned their lives around. They spoke convincingly of the way that a personalised learning agenda, with mentors and peers who valued them as individuals, had unlocked their passion for learning and demolished most of the barriers that had stood in their way. The learner centric curriculum that emerged under their guidance contained a lot of science, maths, narrative, new media and much else that is conventional and important, but it also contained Wrestling, Electronics, very high levels of ICT capability and Chinese rather than French as a modern language. When one of the Notschool alumnii fielded a question about their preference for Chinese, she replied in fluent Chinese; you could hear jaws dropping to the ground all around the launch guests. The young researchers said little about their backgrounds but lots about their passion for learning. Guests had tears in their eyes, but PGCE students present had a host of hard nosed questions: "what advice would you give to a teacher about what NOT to do in conventional school?" 
 
Notschool has been lauded everywhere from Prime Ministerial speeches to White Papers. In the five years that it has been functioning it has moved from a rather maverick project, only allowed to exist because the children it focussed on had been failed by everything else, to a really radical alternative that has so much to offer to conventional learning about the role of respect, families, personalisation and engagement, all hot items in the current education agenda. Perhaps the fact that there is a vigorous Notschool cohort in Bolton, Ruth Kelly's constituency, is significant!  
 
But here is the problem: Notschool works, it is cost effective, is incredibly complex, is scaleable and is currently rolling out to even more LEAs. But because it is NOT school it doesn't fit very well into the current DfES structures (who should be responsible for it?), and of course in a world where the money now goes directly to the very schools that our researchers have either fled or been bannished from, getting their money back from schools is not trivial. The new Education White Paper welcomes a new diversity of approaches, with the doors open to a host of new learning institutions. I heartily applaud it. However, what we learn from Notschool is that building the freedom for really radical and effective new solutions to emerge is not easy. My biggest worry is that the new freedoms will lead to a few scandalous and naively simple "high-tech hi schools" run by some of the escapees from the dot-com collapse, rather than the really radical, complex, effective alternatives that we need to evolve. 
 
Notschool shows that all children can learn, and love to learn. Like me you were probably aghast at the recent Unteachables TV series. How anyone can label a child as "Unteachable" and then exclude them is completely beyond my comprehension. Tha is about as damaging as it gets. What Notschool shows us is that, never mind the Unteachables, there are no Unlearnables at all, and we need more variety, with some really fresh thinking, to prove it. I'm just starting a series of TV programmes with old East End teaching colleague Stephen Hoare that will, I hope, show what is possible. 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2005  
 

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Can ICT win the World Cup for England? 
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I am often described as the person to blame for adding the "C" into the middle of IT. It's very likely true and it rather ruined a lot of cute posters in the style of "Let's get down to IT" and similar. But I stand by the change. Information and Technology were simply not enough for learning in the 20th century, let alone the 21st. The "C" allowed everyone to focus a little better on Communication, and on the way that new technology was transforming it, as we have now seen everywhere from SMS and MSN to podcasting and blogs. Rather encouragingly others have now taken up the torch and are valuing community, collaboration and creativity as "C" words too. As we look at ICT in the 21st century it is clear that shared community spaces and inter-group communications are a massive part of what excites young people as we have seen with mySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia, Bebo and the like. YouTube is not just a place where 15 million people go to watch video, it's a place where huge numbers go to contribute and share too. Check out the BTEC final assessments posted there for example. Content isn't king any more, but community might just be sovereign. This is no surprise is it? 
 
Yet UK education has a long history of valuing individual endeavour. Collaboration and communication - whether with parents over coursework, or with peers sharing homework assignments - is all too often classed as "cheating". The annual ritual of exam grades being opened on TV focuses on individuals. Unsurprisingly, as a result of this obsession with the individual, our UK star performers are very rarely team players. Our star sportspersons, from Ellen MacArthur via Nigel Mansell back to Seb Coe, are typically individual stars. This jars with the 21st century. Our Prime Minister is nowadays criticised for being too "presidential" and not "collegiate" enough. Our football team, as we saw earlier this year, is rich with individual talent, but they don't seem to be able to come together as a team in the big events. We blamed their coach because the team failed to gel together. We should have blamed the curriculum.  
 
ICT drives a coach and horses through the cult of individuality. And this sets up some interesting tensions. We have seen ICT being harnessed to drive individual's test scores upwards; the rich potential of the computer wasted on what has become appropriately branded as "drill and kill" as we chase the enhancement of individual scores. Oddly, having taking so much social activity out of the curriculum we then seem to demonise children for their anti-social behaviour. ASBOs? We should have slapped one on the curriculum. 
 
But don't despair. Despite all this, we have still seen some stunning collaborations, between and within schools, across groups of engaged motivated learners, increasingly across national boundaries, powered by the extraordinary technology that the 21st century has given us. Personalisation gives us the opportunity to build on that technology to vary and version learning to the particular learning needs, cultures and contexts of our ambitious learners. Their needs include the need to work together, their cultures value community. Personalisation does NOT mean individualisation. Forward looking schools are already clear about that. 
 
This all terrifies the exam-paper fundamentalists who, as we are beginning to see, chant their mantras and attack the evolving alternatives with a reactionary zeal. "Death to coursework" they cry, brandishing their shredders. But of course, it's already the 21st century and we can't turn off progress. Children have embraced the "C" words to build active communities of learners, to swap and exchange insights, to collaborate, communicate, create and challenge. They will neither tolerate having to power down to come to school, nor being locked back into the anti-social world of individualism. Together, our children have seized on the learning opportunities presented by ICT. It's time that the curriculum did the same, before those same children simply take their learning elsewhere. 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell 2006 

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It's the beginning of another year in this century of learning. In hardware terms, this will be a remarkably innovative year, but where will innovation in learning come from?. January means the annual BETT Exhibition showcasing global learning technology at London's Olympia. I remember the first BETT, chock full of new ideas and practices - a cornucopia of innovation even in those pre-Internet, pre-CD days!. It was full of hobbyist innovators: teachers, students, each with tiny stands - a wallpaper table, a backcloth, their mum's spotlights. They didn't sell much, but there was a spirit of debate, sharing and inventing everywhere. In those far-off days people dreamt of whopping storage to replace unreliable floppy discs; of boundless memory and high resolution displays; of connectivity that would work for free right around the world; of cheap TV quality cameras; of pocketable wireless networkable devices; of a world where information was so plentiful that encyclopaedias sat unwanted in remainder buckets outside bookshops. Today, we have it all. Back then the tough question was "can we make the technology do anything useful at all? And those innovative teachers and tiny companies showed emphatically that we jolly well could. In 2007, the much tougher challenge is simply "technology will let us do anything we want, what do we really want to do?" 
 
Today, the hobbyist innovators have largely gone. So in 2007, where might we look for real innovation? Not to universities, with their moribund hierarchical layers of pro-vice chancellor on pro-vice chancellor, aping the collapsed industries of 1970s Britain; not to the now huge corporations paralysed, in the main, by the feared impact of any radical steps on their stock valuation; not to government agencies tied to a host of performance criteria that reflect past rather than future practice, in fact not to anything very big at all. It is no surprise that most of the really exciting innovations in technology have come in recent years from tiny groups. From Google to Skype to YouTube, small has proved to be ingenious. 
 
What we need with real urgency is to set free tiny radical groups to innovate in learning. We need micro-schools researching new pedagogies, families exploring inclusion, clusters of teacher and students leaping ahead with new assessments, a few parents revolutionising the timing of the school day, rural communities developing genuinely 21st century learning spaces. Freedom, space and expectation allowed tiny technology companies to change the world. Now we need that same freedom, space and expectation to transform learning too. At BETT this year I am proud to be hosting four schools whose children will be using ICT to grill visitors for their vision of future schooling. Having already spoken to some of the children I know that many innovations in tomorrow's learning will come directly from them and from their extraordinary, ingenious young teachers. But please, please, please will someone allow them the freedom and space to save education? 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell 

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I was visiting a prison in the Caribbean earlier this week, to chat to prisoners about using ICT to improve their learning opportunities. It was an unexpectedly optimistic place; prisoners almost universally had a sense of their own unfulfilled promise but even the oldest prisoner that I spoke to felt it wasn't too late. It does seem foolish that all around the world we spent tens of thousands on each prisoner annually, have them in our care 24/7, and yet still they leave prison unable in many cases to read or write. That's our failure not theirs. Technology should have made a difference long ago; we know exactly what is needed but, just as with some schools, so much learning technology there - like the Internet - seems to be just banned thoughtlessly rather than provided appropriately. Prison is no place to aspire to, but one prisoner reluctantly concluded that his rapid progress through a correspondence based law qualification course was helped by the lack of distractions inside! Don't tell the minister Alan Johnson; his alarmingly backward decisions on coursework have already sentenced children to more solitary time in classrooms, disconnected from Google, under formal supervision, safely away from the danger of working with their parents or each other. Turning the key on the classroom door could be his next logical step! 
 
I spoke to one Caribbean lad about how he had ended up out of school and into trouble. He reflected back on what had been a pretty torrid school career. Constant trouble with his interpretation of uniform quickly deteriorated into a permanent run-in with teachers that finally escalated to exclusion and the rest, as they say, is history. As chair of trustees of The Inclusion Trust, with its flagship project Notschool.net, this is familiar territory. I'm clear that 21st century learning should not want uniform kids, we should value ingenuity above mindless acquiescence surely?. One of the biggest impacts of ICT in our learning lives has been the excuse it has given us to think again about much that we once just assumed should be the components of our learning organisations, like uniforms, year groups or corridors. ICT in the workplace has meant that employers are newly looking for collaborative, reflective, ingenious, team learners who can research, critique and communicate. Those same attributes make good parents and citizens too, and clearly some of the old vocabulary of learning needs to be re-examined to reflect the 21st century. In Notschool vocabulary matters enormously - every child there is known as a "researcher" because that is what they are, helping as they do to define their project. But the word also builds their self esteem and thus I've become something of a vocabulary fundamentalist!. For example, I am anxious that we don't confuse "standards" with "standardisation"; I don't want simply "flexible" spaces for learning (which usually means a folding room divider), instead I want the sophistication of "agile" space design; ICT has embraced "personalisation" really well. It is an easy concept to fulfil through technology, yet too often I hear a confusion between the sterile old concept of "individualised learning" and the sophistication of "personalisation". Personalised learning of course takes proper account of learning styles, of the varied roles needed for collaboration to be effective, of different intelligences and emotions. But it doesn't have to mean working alone.  
 
Vocabulary really matters in getting the details right. In the Cayman Isles we are now talking about the whole country as a Campus Cayman. The words clearly signal a commitment to putting learning at the heart of policy and the economy, from tourism and finance through to culture and citizenship. Words matter, getting the right words can make a big difference; the Caribbean prisoners knew it, the Notschool researchers knew it. Now all we need to do is think of a new word for coursework that the minister won't ban. How about "research?" 
 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell - November 2006 

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Some of the big questions that ICT pose for us in the 21st century revolve around "who owns what?", and "what is original?". It is clear that the whole issue of ownership and copyright is set to hurt education badly worldwide if we don't get our principles clear. 21st century technology is all about helping people to help each other, as I have observed before. Innately, we take a delight in helping. My daughter, currently immersed in her PGCE practice, phoned me delightedly to say that her lesson plan had been adopted by another teacher, who badged it as her own. "I must be on the right track, mustn't I?" she said, delightedly. In education we have always shared and exchanged - from Banda sheets to effective practice. In the 80s in ICT we saw really substantial numbers of teachers swapping ULPs (Useful Little Programmes) that they had developed themselves. Individual celebrity might have been on offer, but funding certainly wasn't.  
 
I frequent Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London and typically pop along to see exceptional performers create something special, late into the night. If you ask me about it I'll usually say "you should have been there". The musicians are famous, and well paid, because of their ability to be ingenious and to delight their audience, differently, with each performance. In the last century the wish to ossify every performance or activity by wrapping it in a complex web of patents and copyrights reached a kind of mania. Recently, this was wonderfully pastiched by a group who claimed to have registered several million combinations of telephone number keypad tones, as "their" unique tunes. Thus, when you phoned a friend, you were breaking copyright by playing their tune!. It is ridiculous, but shows how foolish the whole thing had become. ICT is facing this problem in myriad ways. A radio programme used to be something that was owned, then performed on the air a finite number of times. But with web streaming, podcasting, MP3 storage on phones, Sky+ and more, the place and time when you listen will vary from individual to individual. As a broadcast passes from hardware to hardware the concept of "original" or "authorised" starts to wobble badly. A question that dropped into a forum I belong to showed how confused everyone is by ICT's ability to communicate and replicate: "If," it asked, "on a face-to-face course CLA clearance has been obtained for a reader-pack and the articles cleared for photocopying, can they also be scanned, pdf-ed and uploaded into a password protected VLE?  Or are you in breach of copyright?". Who knows?! 
 
Fortunately movements like the Creative Commons group are busy implementing good solutions to the impact of ICT on "ownership" and "rights". The BBC's Creative Archive project looks to be able, finally, to wrest that wonderful archive of broadcast material away from the lawyers and make it available for the children and families who paid for it in the first place. Others, like the UK's Teachers' TV, have started with a completely refreshing view that anything they broadcast will be freely available from their website, to stream or save, and can be used in schools, homes, on phones even, as suits the user. 
 
Technology copyright rules, depressingly, are hopelessly biased in favour of developed economies. In the West I can protect my invention of an clever algorithm, but the Arab nation that invented the numbering system it depends on get nothing. So it is easy to see why one nation's piracy is another nation's retaliation against cultural imperialism. ICT in schools progresses by each of us helping, rather than charging, each other. The children understand this perfectly. Type "free essays online" into Google if you doubt it (and you'll get a lot more hits than if you type "buy essay online"). In the end, probably rightly, all we will be able to protect is our individual ability to be ingenious, to solve problems and to perform delightfully. 
 
If in doing so we come to value, once again, the individual contribution of great teachers and exceptional students, and we develop skills to help us choose between them, it doesn't sound to bad, does it? 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2006  
 

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One of the joys of having working globally is that I constantly stumble across good ideas, that really work. These are rarely found in universities or central policy units but almost always in schools and many readers will know my passion to see schools much more closely identified as the engine at the heart of educational research and change. So, here are five of the simple but effective things that have impressed me already this year. Try any of them, they work: 
 
(1) Big desktop computers might be robust and very cheap these days, but they pose an interesting dilemma. Teachers can either see the faces of their students, or see what is on the students' screens, but not both at the same time. One very simple solution in the old style computer suite needs a quick trip to Ikea and the purchase of some very cheap non-glass mirrors. Hang them all around the room and, hey presto, screens AND faces can all be seen. Perfect. 
 
(2) While we are in the old computer suite, I surveyed them once and found, amazingly, that some 75% of the material on the walls was to tell children what they must NOT do. Hardly inspiring decor of a learning revolution. Like many others, you might care to review yours too. 
 
(3) As secondary schools move to much longer timetable blocks - 100 minutes is increasingly the minimum - they find that a daily assembly gets in the way, often starting the day badly. Instead, schools are harnessing their student media teams to produce a weekly on-line broadcast. If you have information to put over, a netball victory to celebrate, or an event to advertise, make an appointment and become part of the weekly broadcast. An encouraging number of parents watch on-line too. You know the job will be done well; viewing compulsion is never needed. Everyone is excited to see the next "episode" and a huge amount of time is saved. You get to SEE the netball victory too. 
 
(4) At the last local election barely one in three voted. There is something about representative democracy that doesn't work in the 21st century. But viewers of Strictly Come Dancing, or Big Brother txt votes their in millions. With Pupil Voice a topic in most staffrooms txting offers a way to move on from frumpy Schools' Councils. Why have representative pupils when they can all have their own voice? Try this: buy a £5 pay-as-you-go SIM card. Put it into an old Bluetooth phone. Give the new number to students and they can txt their thoughts to it 24/7. Free software allows you store or display their feedback onto a server (I use the free Cocoa UltraSMS). Because the phone only receives txts it won't cost the school a penny. The last evening student event I was involved in ran the TXT service for feedback and averaged better than one txt every half minute. Now that IS pupil voice! 
 
(5) Asking students for views on the design of their schools, one of them told me "the trouble is, people round here don't know how good we are". That's a design problem of course, but one that is easily solved with another practical idea. Arm one child per week with a digital camera. Their task is to capture the ten "coolest" things happening in school that week. They get two weeks notice of this task, so have to plan and ask around a bit first. Then, at night (this is best in the winter, but nights are drawing in now aren't they?) swivel a ceiling projector to focus on a big outside window and beam a nightly slideshow of these cool images. It's a wonderful PR exercise, but also helps students to properly understand all that is happening in school. 
 
None of the schools running these excellent ideas got written up in journals or books. Research today is about detective work; looking for the best ideas in unexpected places. I've found schools around the world to be just jumping with good ideas. If you have more, and I know you have, mail me. 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2006  
 

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Building learning 
 
Recently I visited Grey Court School in Richmond upon Thames, again. Amongst the trees in the school's grounds and glowing like a great white alien spaceship, glistening in the late afternoon light, was one of the two extraordinary DfES "Classrooms of the Future" that I have been lucky enough to be a little involved with creating. The minute you see them you start to think that learning inside might be exciting, fresh and very different. It will be. A huge gang of people - from the architects, Future Systems, through to the pupils from the three schools in the project, have been involved pushing out the boundaries of what a classroom of tomorrow might look like. The classrooms are nearly finished and last minute touches are being made to the technology inside: mobile phones, smart walls, projectors, coloured lights, a really complex aural environment and much more. It all makes for a very agile, creative, fun, learning space. Not that the technology is intrusive; the guiding principle was simple: anything and everything should work as part of the whole environment, but learning should be central. Already the schools have been changed by the imminent arrival of these new classrooms. Teachers and pupils debated what learning could be like once some barriers were designed away. In terms of the change process the classrooms have been a brilliant investment. 
 
I have also been involved in a huge research project for CABE and RIBA to determine just exactly what pedagogy in the future might look like, so that we could be sure that the schools we were designing today will continue to be useful tomorrow. The UK will be opening a new school every four days throughout next year, so the work was timely. One of the many conclusions from our research was a simple truth: if students and teachers and parents are involved in the design of schools then, even if the design turns out to be quite mad, the students' performance will improve. And where, like the buildings in Richmond, the design is rather good then their performance simply skyrockets. A tough question is: how can we build schools this fast, but still engage the learners and others in their design? Groups like SchoolWorks or Joinedupdesignforschools have plenty of good answers to thsi question. 
 
So how do we recognise a good school design? It is easy for architects to measure the energy efficiency from double or treble glazing. But can they measure learning efficiency? How can we know how much potential learning has been lost? At the lab we've been helping the Design Council with a project to measure the impact of good design in classrooms, exploring lighting or furniture for example. Like everything else in learning, it turns out to be really complex, of course. Not impossible, just complex. And of course as a number of brave schools around the world are demonstrating, the organisation, pedagogy and curriculum are a fundamental part of that design. Which is why we need to trust teachers and learners as researchers far more than we do.  
 
One last school project: i have been helping a little with the design of the Stepping Stones project school in Surrey. A converted chapel, again rich with unobtrusive technology, has been redesigned to provide a school, and a community, for a small number of children with hemiplegia. That same tiny school, with barely a dozen or so students, is also providing the central hub for similar children all around the UK. it poses real questions about what a school really is and shows quite clearly that one big impact of new technology is to allow tiny schools to be really effective. Today's school is much more "community" than "bricks and mortar" and Tomlinson has helped everyone to see that these communities must overlap and work together too. The school of the future is set to look very different from the schools of today, but if the excited and engaged faces of the lucky children in Richmond or Surrey are anything to go by, that's no bad thing. 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2005  
 

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Back and Forth 
 
Sometimes the most profound of thoughts strike you in the least likely of places. Speaking to a group of headteachers and ICT leaders in Tasmania's "Axeman's Hall of Fame" (chopping logs is a national sport in Australia, indeed everything is..), I'd shared some wonderfully creative school work from Europe with them and enjoyed hearing in exchange of the freedom that their remarkable Essential Learnings curriculum offered to teachers. At the close, after world champ axeman Dave Foster had hacked his awesome way through a whopping demonstration log, one of the ICT leaders said simply that it would be nice if more creative classroom ideas were swapped around the world, before those who would harness ICT to "deliver" productivity got the upper hand and all our hopes and dreams for learning were lost.  
 
She was right of course; there are some remarkably imaginative teachers and creative children in many schools worldwide; simply exchanging the innovative ways in which they harness ICT should not be beyond the capability of a technology that, for example, exchanged 200 million text messages in the UK on Christmas day alone. Travelling on to New Zealand's Learn @ School conference in steamy Rotorua these peer to peer exchanges of practice dominated the timetabled conference sessions and the bars late into the night; there were even people there from Norway! Seeing one bleary eyed delegate arriving I commented ungallantly that she'd clearly had a pretty hectic previous evening. "We didn't stop talking until 3 am", she ventured, "but I learned so much I'm hoping to do it again tonight".  
 
Arriving back in London for the DfES sponsored BAFTA celebration of students' digital creativity I saw yet another example of this polination of ideas. The confidence with which primary children and undergraduates alike explained their creative processes to the press, to BAFTA members and to officials from both the DfES and DCMS was information and humbling. The way that the youngest were soaking up ideas from the undergraduates who in turn were decently impressed by the school students' work was also genuininely exciting to watch if, like me, you believe in mixed age learning. Their work was challenging in many ways: what should progression look like for youngsters already this far ahead with their use of technology? How can current timetables or assessments encompass this quality of work? Can universities widen their access to embrace many more of these creative students and not just set them essays when they arrive? Tough questions, but at least all round the world some teachers and children are actively debating, long into the night, face to face, the future of learning. I just hope someone is listening... 
 
 
Since the mid 1990s my lab has been toiling away with projects that use mobile phones in learning, indeed in m-learning. From swapping health advice by cellphone between third world villages for the World Health Organisation back in 1997 to our current rather high profile QCA funded eVIVA blue sky look at assessment, with its phone based viva, it is clear that the cellphone is set to make a substantial contribution to the way that we learn. Already in processing power phones are several magnitudes more powerful than the early computers with which we did so much. Yet back in the late 1970s, we had no sooner got our hands on the new "micro" computers than substantial projects had sprung up all over the world to explore ways to harness their use in learning. But with mobile phones these kinds of projects are still few and far between. One reason may be the real difficulty in actually authoring anything at all to function on a phone. The micros in school revolution was largely built on the backs of a few hero innovators who produced remarkable software with simple tools. Those simple tools do not exist for cellphones, yet it seems blindingly obvious that the first mobile phone operator to provide them for teachers and children will start a revolution of learning technology that will reap rich rewards in their future market share.  
 
Which one will be the first to wake up? Orange are showing the first signs of stirring, but the race has barely begun. 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2004  
 

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People power? 
 
On the way to a Hong Kong, where I am helping with some ICT futures policy, I was lucky enough to be invited to post-tsunami Thailand. I've written before about the importance of mobile phones in learning lives around the world, but was still surprised to see just how hugely fashionable, and affordable, they are in Bankok.  
 
After school the students, still in their immaculate uniforms, all assemble, in a huge bustling throng, on the floors of the shopping malls dedicated to phones. They chat, they look, they test, but they are really there simply because it's a cool place to be, the way earlier generations in other countries might have hung around milk bars.  
 
Meanwhile, the computer stores in these Bangkok malls have retained their fourtysomething clientelle, but are now something of a child free zone. We would be foolish to ignore this kind of clear signal about the future. Seeing so many pavement stalls dedicated to selling "memorable" phone numbers was a bit of a surprise too!  
 
I ran some family learning events in the retail heart of Bankok, at a very large ICT facility built for drop in visits, one of several really significant investments in community learning by the Thai government. I had a good gang of parents and children all tasked with building a narrative in images and sounds, but without words. We had great fun and you could immediately see how family learning might move two, or even three, generations forward at once. But the moment the children's faces really lit up was at the end, after they had all shown their narratives to each other, when I simply compressed their work into a 3gp file (good old QuickTime!) and bluetoothed it back onto their phones. The children literally ran around showing their work, on their phones, to all and sundry. It was the first thing they had ever made for their phones, and you could begin to see how one democratising this technology can be as one learner helps and creates things for another. 
 
This democratising power for individuals and groups to help each other potentially meets other needs too. The Tsunami in Thailand left behind many unforgettable stories, both of tragedy and of extraordinary luck. But it has also begun a serious economic debate about "micro-aid". What is it? Many in Europe were immediately moved by the disaster and put coins and notes into buckets to help. At the other end devastated families, schools and hospitals would have liked to put hands into those buckets for the immediate help they needed and this has raised the prospect of families directly aiding families without an NGO or government in between; hence the term "micro-aid".  
 
Of course this is simply not yet possible, the communication links and banking regualtions are too complex. But already we can see that ICT can successfully put many providers together with many consumers. Success stories, from e-bay to skiing holiday bookings, show how well it can work for all. It will be phones not computers though that unlock the door to micro-aid once banks finally get their act together. That may take some time, but when learning is the need, the potential for learners to help each other is already vast and achievable. The need is worldwide and demonstrable.  
 
Charles Clarke was a great advocate of UK schools helping other less well funded institutions globally, and gaining by learning from them too; he was absolutely right. The huge investmenmt by many countries in ICT infrastructure, and the spread of ever more powerful phones to many, has opened a door to this kind of mutual support on a vast scale. Successful online communities of practice always focus on the internal expertise of their members. Schools worldwide, rich and poor, have plenty of expertise to exchange with each other. Lots of excellent partnering projects, many involving UK schools, have hinted that this can work, but to achieve the really massive scale needed is a substantial undertaking.  
 
Taking the philosophy of micro-aid, adding the opportunity of ICT investment, mixing with the ubiquity of phones and stirring in the ineguity of children sounds like a heady recipe. It is just what a troubled world needs though, and could start right now.  
 
Why wait? 

© Stephen Heppell 2005  
 

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