Stephen Heppell's Weblog

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Earlier this year, I became involved with shaping the specification for the 2012 Olypmic Media Centre. An interesting challenge! The short text below was part of my contribution and reflects quite well (i thought!) the challenge that such a Media centre faces, bearing in mind that 2012 is 5 years away.  
 
You might also care to reflect on the economics of all this - where media is so far into a model of perfect competiton that, effectively, sporting video srreams are a free good, where does this leave the finance model for 2012 (or the Premier league for that matter) relying heavily as they do on the revenue from a monopoly video stream.When everyone is a public-service broadcaster, who pays the Chelsea salaries, or the Olympic bills?
 
 
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A media revolution has begun which will have far reaching effects on the whole 2012 experience and on the way that experience is shared with people all around the world. New technology has brought a symmetry to media that was predictable, but that has been unepectedly rapid. There is no reason to suggest that the pace of change will diminish, indeed history and experience suggest that it will increase. 2012 is half a decade away and in new media terms that is a lifetime. Half a decade back, there was no podcasting, no youTube, phones did not offer video, there was little digital TV, no timeshifting for viewers, no watching on PC, no 3G, and so on. It is not unreasonable to expect that some of the major media developments, looking back from 2012, will have occurred in the next five years, between 2007 and 2012. For example we might assume that anyone with a mobilephone will be able to broadcast live to their blog (or whatever) the images that they are currently watching. A kayak entusiast is probably more likely to view the Olympic kayaking though the empassioned live-video-blogs of fellow enthusiast scattered around the white water run, than to rely on a major broadcaster to offer impersonal coverage. Designing a media centre for this new world requires soem fresh, and original, thinking. of course, it needs to work for the old world of traditional global news media too. 
 
The emerging technology might hold surprises, but the underpinning media trends are predictable. Fundamentally there has been a democratisation of broadcast technoloy, which is moving away from a few supplying to many into a world where also many supply to many, and indeed where all supply to some. 
 
Fortunitously this is fair square in line with the philosophy of the 2012 bid. In the Olympic bid for London 2012 Nelson Mandela was quoted as saying:  
"I can't think of a better place than London to hold an event that unites the world. London will inspire young people around the world and ensure that the Olympic Games remains the dream for future generations." 
 
and children around that world were shown watching media images, and thus inspired to take part in the sport. To inspire young peole around the world in the 21st century we have not only to provide them with inspirational media, but to hear their voices and narratives too, through the new media that so many have access too, even in the poorset nations. If the media centre is to be faithful to the bid it needs to be metaphorically a huge lens focussing the world on the quality of sport happening there, but also looking around the world for inspiring narrative that it can maginfy by providing audience and interpretation. The children of 2012 will not be inspired by watching, they will be inspired by hearing these myriad authentic stories, and by contributing some too. As the bid made clear, to make an Olympic athlete requires hundreds of national champions, thousands of athletes, and millions of children. To make great media needs that same broad base of contribution and participation. The media centre, above all else, needs to focus that contribution and participation into inspiration. 
 
So the Media Centre needs to produce inspirational and compelling professional content, of course. But it also needs to be the place where the narratives, the videos, the blogs and pictures from the millions worldwide already seeking selection can be nurtured and exchanged. A YouTube of sporting excellence, an eBay of sporting advice, an MSN of sporting conversations, a Wikipedia of sporting wisdom - there is no reason, of course, why those things can't all exist elsewhere, the Media Centre needs to be a kind of glue that joins them, and addsvalue through narrative, annotation, threads and focus. It can develop and capture this role comfortably ahead of the first brick being laid for the new building. And the new building needs to provide a home to the media contributions from millions around the world. What a future and growing resource that will be for the new London Olympic Institute, as seasoned commentators build threads of interpretation through the narratives of so many. 
 
We can't be certain of the technolgy unperpinning our media lives by 2012, but we can be absolutely sure of one thing: in the 21st century people who are inspired, don't just watch, they do. We can be sure that this means media too, because the world's children, at the heart of London's bid, are already actively doing it. We have a duty to reach beyond our own time and borders. With new media, we can start to deliver on that right now. 
 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell 2007 

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Oops - I can't now remember who or what i wrote this for!! lol  
Was it the Guardian? TES? Err.. really can't remember. 
 
But talking to schools and LAs and others I am often asked for practical things that you can do right now to help the journey towards 21st century learning. So... here's one set of my ten top tips.
 
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There is a palpable sense of education changing, at long last many would say, and a significant part of that change has been brought about by the new technologies that it is surely now impossible for anyone to ignore in our learning lives. In the 20th century most economic success stories were big things that did things for people - a national curriculum, a railway network, travel agents and so on. In the 21st century the successes are largely all about helping people to help each other: eBay, Google, Wikis, cheap flights, the huge growth in charitable sector are indicative. So what small steps might schools take that will prove to be on the route to 21st century learning? Here are ten suggestions, all working somewhere, tried and tested. Simple to achieve but quite profound in their impact. Doubtless readers have 1,000s more, but these are ten of my favourites from Scotland and around the world. 
 
(1) Get an NQT and the children to arrange a staff development day that introduces colleagues to Facebook, Flickr, SecondLife, Bebo, Big Brain Academy, explains why "poking" isn't rude any more, has a clinic to clarify predictive txt (!), explains why children have stopped emailing, and so on. Ask them to give it a purpose, not just another sterile "how to" workshop, and ask if it can be fun please - the last one I visited somehow had an 007 theme worked into it! Great fun, great insights...  
 
(2) Go out and buy a few pay-as-you-go SIM cards (£5) for some old phones (£0!). Remember to match the network of the card to the network of each old phone (eg T Mobile). Give them out to a few colleague volunteers and ask them to give the number to their classes. After each lesson, if pupils have useful suggestions about teaching and learning, they will be encouraged to TXT them to the phone. You will be amazed by the quality of the responses IF colleagues comment on the suggestions and respond. What happens of course is that over and above the motivation of hearing the authentic student voice and the value of wise suggestions, there is a meta-level reflection on learning which in itself improves performance all round. The TXTs are only received, so the pay-as-you-go card lasts forever. 
 
(3) 21st century learning needs properly reflective practice. Set up a staff-student-parent research project. A favourite is to explore the impact of music and sound on learning (you will probably find for example that music with a clear lyric gets in the way of writing, but silence is less effective than some aural ambience. You can structure this any way you like, but involving parents helps too, and structure the tasks so that you get solid data. Again that meta-level reflection is a useful by-product. Having established what works, don't forget to implement it! 
 
(4) On the little Nintendo DS pocket game console, Dr Kawashima Brain Training and the Big Brain Academy really do work. See if you can assemble a half class set (beg, borrow, buy - they are £80 each) and have a regular early morning moment where a group run the game and graph their "brain improvement" but compare their performance on some other curriculum task before and after a half term of "brain training". You'll be surprised! Take a moment to run a staff tournament too. More surprises!! Look no further than East Lothian's Gullane Primary School and class P7 for advice! 
 
(5) If any of your staff are on Vodafone it is currently VERY easy to take a photograph, add a subject and a TXT comment, then publish it to a "phone blog". Get Vodafoned colleagues to capture and blog images they think are useful for a staff discussion about policy - for example school uniform, or movement around the school. Use as a focus for staff discussion. Doubtless colleagues will start to think about how handy this will be for field work, holiday "show and tell" and other things too. You can control who sees the blogs by the way. 
 
(6) Give half a dozen of the more "lively" school students a stopwatch each. Ask them, as a research project, to start the watches when they have finished arriving or getting organised and actually start learning, and to stop them again when they start to pack up at lesson end or are moving about the school. In a secondary school something like 20% of the week will be found to be wasted in this way if the school is on the old 20th century short lesson timetable. Explore the impact of MUCH longer timetable blocks (eg a maximum of three blocks in a day). Not only will concentration and application change, but colleagues will need to re-examine teaching styles (the old Dick Turpin model "stand and deliver" won't work for example) but performance and enjoyment will shoot up. Don't believe anyone who says "our subject is special and needs short lessons!! By the way, you will be amazed at how the behaviour of your lively young researchers changes too. 
 
(7) Set up a school media group and rotate the children involved in it. Ask them to interview key guests, capture sporting triumphs, record the rehearsals for the forthcoming school production, explain anti-bullying week, etc., etc. Get them to edit this down to a punchy 5 or 10 (max) minute weekly show, including any words from the head. Post it weekly onto YouTube and use one weekly tutorial session to ensure everyone watches it. Within weeks half your parents will be watching too. In this instance I'll offer an example of how effective this can be: search on www.YouTube.com for CMTV to see how Castle Manor School do this weekly. A by-product is to hone the media skills of many students of course. Watch those parental first choices climb! 
 
(8) If you go to Google and type a search for "free essay online' you will get millions of hits. In many cases children are delighted to post their best work and it very motivating as a learner when others get "A"s for work you did! It gives a great sense of audience, but is clearly a coach and horses driven through current assessment practice. So work on developing 21st century tasks that are appropriate. For example: find an essay similar to the one set, improve it significantly and then hand in the original AND improved versions. Or find an essay and, with others, critique it - say what is wrong with its sources, its conclusions, its scholarship. A good way to do this is to copy an A4 printout onto the centre of A3 paper and critique it by hand with margin notes. Consider the school posting its own best work online for next year's students and others to explore. Good-bye criterion referencing. Hello progress and ambition! 
 
(9) Take a digital camera (or if pushed, a disposable camera which can be developed onto a photo-CD cheaply). Ask one student per week to capture the ten best things that happen in school that week. they can't just wander around looking, so give them four weeks notice to research what those ten things will be. Twirl a projector round each evening to point at a window that can be seen from outside the school. Focus it onto the glass. Run a slide show all night of those images (© credit the student). This top tip is fab in the winter but a waste of time in the summer, but watch the crowds gather... 
 
(10) and finally - every school is different. Your culture, context, colleagues and children are all different. A breezy wet day is different from a dry calm one. There is no exemplar, just many solutions to making learning more delightful, engaging and effective. But everyone is trying new ideas and learning is moving rapidly. You can borrow tested, effective "learning ingredients" from other schools all around the world. You can take a selection of these ingredients to make into a great local "recipe" for learning. This final top tip say there are tens of thousands of top tips worldwide, don't stop at these ten! 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell 2007 
heppell.net 

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I know that these days everyone weebles on about digital natives and UGC and the like, and the so called Web 2.0 is supposed to be a revelation about social networking... but really none of this is new is it? Indeed, it is very old hat indeed. 
 
Anyway... i unearthed this paper, ommisioned in 1992 by Les Mapp, of the National Council of Educational Technology, as part of a collection of multimedia papers intended to inform the national debate about technology and learning. It stands up pretty well considering it was pre-web. 
 
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Children live in a multi sensory, complex world of aural, graphical, textual, visual cues and communications. Within that world they are more often social participants than isolates. The learning environments that face many of them in their future working lives are also collaborative, multi disciplinary and complex. Educational computing has just begun to explore how it may better reflect this complexity through interactive media. The concepts and components of interactive media in the information age pose some exciting challenges for education.  
 
Interactive media bring audio, (both sampled and from original sources such as CD and videotape), video (again from multiple sources including tape and videoDisc), animation and text into the computer resourced learning environment. Many of these sources are a normal part of the everyday life of our learners. There are for example more video shops than bookshops in the UK at the moment.  
 
There are three issues to be addressed in this paper: the design of delivery interfaces and the search for simple analogues of these complex information types (how do you find your way round multimedia?), the issues of assessment (how do you mark it?) and the symmetry / asymmetry of the delivery systems (who versions the software?). These key questions lie at the heart of successful use of interactive media in the learning environment. None of these questions has been particularly well dealt with in educational computing thus far. With the onset of mass interactive media they become simply harder to solve. In the history of education cheap, mass produced books have only been with us for a very short time. Interactive media, multimedia, are likely to be around a lot longer.  
 
Consider that mainstay of education for the last century, the book. As a primary information source it has a number of apparent advantages because its shape and form offer an analogue of the information contained within it: a glance at the open book reveals how far through the text a reader has progressed, navigation is facilitated by a clear contents section at the front (and perhaps an index at the back), by page numbers and chapter headings on each page and, as we become familiar with the text, by a series of visual pattern cues - the layout of particular pages - that serve as milestones to our mental model of the information contained in the book. The principal difficulty is that such navigation tools are best suited either to narrative and linear forms of information, or to strictly two dimensional information that can be simply referenced by the one to one relationship between data and location that an index implies. Children quickly discover, as they struggle to locate appropriate information in a multi-volume encyclopedia, that there are upper limits of size and practicality to books as primary information sources.  
 
Pages of printed text have served us well as metaphors in educational computing. GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces) commonly offer icons to suggest page turning "forwards' or "backwards" through such information as help screens. Icons to represent saved files are often, by default, shown as miniature paper pages. The model of information that we build for ourselves often begins with the linear organisation of a book as its starting point. We are familiar with printed text and feel comfortable with it. However, once we inject audio, video, animation and graphics into the information mix we immediately begin to struggle for good metaphors. Auditory cues are a natural part of our everyday life - if we hear a car tyres screeching, or a child scream it has a clear meaning in our lives and, in those two examples at least, our response is rapid and conditioned; we turn to the sound source. Sound has been with us in educational computing for a good many years and it has now become, with high quality digital sampling, unexceptional. Aural icons however are exceptional. At best they occur as either confirmatory or warning sounds. Clearly the sensory world in which we exist is more real and more complex than the constrained and finite textual world of an individual book. Quiz shows around the world take advantage of the coldness of simple text to perplex contestants by asking them to guess the name of a particular pop song from its printed lyric. Yet, typically after failing, the poor puzzled contestant always knows, before barely a couple of notes of the tune are revealed, what the right answer was. We take our cues from aural and visual information, albeit that those cues, and the constructs we place on them, are socially derived. Such aural and visual cues have a place in the navigation structures of interactive media.  
 
All this should be of considerable importance to educational computing, if we are to avoid developing micro worlds on our young learners' screens which deny continuity and progression, and which have a relevance only to the moment of their use. We are all anxious to develop autonomous, problem solving, risk taking, collaborative, investigative learners; there is at least consensus about much of that, but the environment within which our young learners work must bear the stamp of relevance.  
 
There is much that needs to be tackled urgently before we can really progress. It is unlikely that we will find neat analogues of the current complex information world that are as useful to us as the book was to textual information; perhaps we shouldn't look for them. What we should be seeking instead is some better, clearer vision of the way that we can guide learners through that complexity.  
 
Even at the fundamental level of vocabulary, with current computing technology, little progress has been made. Vocabulary ought to help us, in practice it more typically obfuscates. We use words which serve us by providing a snapshot of technological development but which offer little in the way of support to a user.  
 
Consider the term Word Processing: in the last 20 years we have passed from text editors, through word processors to the present day where many of the features that we once took as axiomatic definitions of word processors (edit, word wrap, copy and paste, justification and format etc.) are now found in painting and drawing programs, in Pascal and Basic program editors and, of course, as a tiny subset of the much more extensive functionality of present day desktop publishing packages. The term word processor is probably redundant already and, if not, certainly will be soon. Yet generic terms such as "Word Processor", or "Spreadsheet " or "Database " can increasingly be found in the national curriculum statements of many Western education systems. Regrettably, whilst this language of the technical expert comes readily to hand, the language relied on to describe the processes expected to accompany the use of these common software applications in the classroom is seriously lacking.  
 
For example: the teacher, observing childrens' computer resourced creative writing, finds language which is appropriate only to pen technology (finished, original, pre-planning) yet no satisfactory alternatives exist. Staying with the example of computer resourced creative writing, it is instructive to consider the layers of assessment that visit the learner's work and to examine the complex problems that computer resourced work has already brought to the learning environment.  
 
If we are serious about the concepts and components of the new interactive media, and their impact, then it is surely not too much to hope that the relatively straightforward challenge of using a computer for writing text has been addressed and tackled; there is however, still much to do: with electronic copying from document to document and encyclopaedia on CDs at family prices, the thin line between plagiarism and research is under threat. It is very hard to make reliable statements about the originality of electronic copy, yet this is still centrally rewarded in our assessment system. Similarly, the formative assessment offered to the student should reflect the chosen delivery medium - electronic text can be rapidly redrafted and reversioned and formative judgements should reflect this, yet typically we find that written work, whether pen or processor generated, is treated the same in terms of assessment. A final example of an issue that has not been well tackled is the status of the electronic text finally submitted - does it re-enter the media pool, stored perhaps on a network server, to be read and absorbed by next year's students, or is it destroyed, erased from the magnetic media that stores it? If it does remain for later students, in subsequent years, then is it indexed with some qualitative judgements, or is it left for the reader to arrive at a summative view? Either way, the problems of indexing and the status of the stored material are complex. Typically, today, we are simply grateful that students have been able to submit work via a computer and leave it at that.  
 
If we are serious about investigating the concepts and components of interactive media then those concepts and components need to include strategies for assessing and evaluating work that utilises those interactive media. We have not done this well for previous outcomes of educational computing but perhaps this has been a learning experience for us all. Most important of all we need to allow our learners space to explore and to present the products of their exploration. We need to be able to offer formative assessment of the processes of exploration and summative assessment of the outcomes. This is not a trivial task!  
 
If the metaphors and assessment issues of interactive media are important, the delivery platform is all important too. The key issue is of symmetry. In a symmetrical delivery system the hardware base that allows both versioning and authoring of interactive media is the same base that delivers that interactive media to users. The users are potentially authors and versioners too. The alternative is an asymmetric system where the authoring and versioning is done on a highly expensive platform which is out of the reach of users. In educational computing this asymmetry is simply not acceptable; the autonomy of the user depends on them being able to exercise ownership at the point of delivery. If we are serious about the Information Age being a participatory, relevant age for learners then we need to bring democracy to information. We must learn to step back from the temptation to impose "frozen in the pack" solutions on our learners. They need the relevance of authoring for their own needs, for their institutions needs and for their local cultural needs. All this requires symmetry in the multimedia platform. It is essential. Of course, issues of equity cannot be ignored. Computer hardware is far cheaper than at any time in our history, but adequate computers are not yet available at prices that most families would regard as trivial, especially if a printer is part of the shopping list too. However, the concept of symmetry is more likely to resolve some of the equity problem because the opportunity for local groups, for classrooms rather than schools and even for families to be participants in the daily deluge of information, rather than passive cyphers, is real. Not every home will buy a multimedia system but with the political will nationally and locally few learners will be denied hands-on opportunities to author and present with such a system.  
 
What then of the concepts and components of interactive media and their relevance within our education system? There are a number of needs to be addressed: we need better metaphors to allow us to model complex information webs, we need new and appropriate assessment strategies and we need symmetrical platforms for delivery and authoring. There is also a technological imperative to be addressed: the interactive media and multimedia systems developing today will be visually seductive, and attractively priced enough to constitute a major part of the home entertainment and education market (the EduTainment market). If education is to bring additionality to these exciting learning technologies then the learning objectives for that additionality need to be clarified here and now. If education either has nothing additional to offer, or is unable, coherently, to make its objectives explicit, then the future of education is bleak and short, perhaps deservedly.  
 
Multimedia offers an unrivalled vehicle for collaborative learning, for invoking varied and relevant modes of assessment, for curriculum continuity and progression, for distant and remote learning, for risk taking, for active, participatory learning and for enjoyment. Regrettably, it could also offer a way of bringing drill and practice to Standardised Attainment Tests, of bringing individualised programme learning and evening Cram Schools to everyday family life, of bringing almost monitorial staff student ratios to educational establishments and, with asymmetrical delivery systems, of disenfranchising the future citizens of this Information Age. This choices represent a critical crossroads for education and for our young learners. The learning objectives we select for multimedia will determine which path the future takes.  
 
At the heart of it all, we are trying to prepare young learners for a life in an Information Age that is multi sensory, complex and uncharted. They need strategies to allow them to participate fully as citizens in that new age. They need knowledge counsellors, guides and co-explorers; some of their teachers already are beginning to take these roles and those teachers should be needed more than ever before.  
 
It is a very exciting challenge for all of us. 
 
 
 
© 1992 Prof Stephen Heppell 

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I do a lot of work with BAFTA, from judging movies to helping embed interactivity in the major genre like film and games. Back in 2000 I ran an event there to help BAFTA members come to terms with what was happening, potentially, to toys as they became digital too. The event centred around a project that began with EU's i3 funding support and developed some remarkable little toys. Andy Simpson was the project manager. But the best thing about éTui (the toy's name) was the methodology that developed it - by children for children. No surprise then that the process worked and produced some remarkable little toys. 
 
I think, looking back, that I am quite disappointed with how poor toys are today. If we look at how much of our lives has moved forward, and by such huge distances, the fact that toys haven't is puzzling. Of course there are exceptions... but children playing in the Digital Age can't assemble code the way they could assemble Meccano in the Engineering Age, can they? Nor are their toys as smart as they might be...  
 
Anyway, éTui pointed very clearly to a way forward; as with all these things in 10 years or so someone, hopefully, will wake up and grab this progress as their own!. Till then, you'll have to wait.
 
 
Scattered along the corridors and filling the cupboards at Ultralab can be found the UK's National Archive of Educational Computing, custodian of the shortest history that any museum might find itself cataloguing. In a span of less than 30 years the clunky old wooden computer of the hobbyist builder had given way, via Clive Sinclair's ubiquitous ZX computers, to today's creative industry workhorses. But along the way whole cupboards full of missed opportunities and bright, but undeveloped ideas, have accumulated in the National Archive.  
 
Amongst the monster modems and disc drives the size of Battersea Power Station lie one such set of ideas in the shape of a family of programmable toys: lumbering trucks, little barrel shaped robots, inverted perspex wheeled bowls, caterpillar tracked buggies and more. Children visiting the lab today are still delighted by these "old" toys, love to control them, to programme them and to set them tougher and tougher tasks each to be surmounted in turn. The toys engage children intellectually in a unique way. Yet shops today are almost totally devoid of these seductive engaging little pseudo-sentient programmable robots. Their passing is regrettable but it was the Furby a couple of Christmases ago that triggered a wish at the 'lab to revisit the programmable toy genre. The Furby pretended to learn from children but actually didn't and legend has it that whilst children were disappointed only the nation's secret services were daft enough to be fooled into thinking that the Furby was actually listening to anyone as they banned these simple toys from their offices. Children wanted toys that could really learn and somehow their disappointment in current electronic toys and the continued magnetism of the old programmable toys in the archive suggested a clear direction for a research and development project. As a result Ultralab, together with Catalan researchers at Barcelona's Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Apple Computer, began work on the éTui Project. 
 
But éTui was not just about designing a great new toy (as if that wasn't ambitious enough). The project wanted to use four to eight year olds across Europe to design a toy whose real purpose was to help children learn about learning; the holy grail of education is this meta-level learning, but could a toy lead children as young as four to it? European funding was duly offered (from the ESPRIT i3 blue sky research pot) and a methodology was established which offers an effective blueprint for toy development everywhere: the children designed the toy. We established an on-line community between the families and schools in Norway's Trondheim, Spain's Deia and (rather less exotically) Essex's Brentwood. Children swapped thoughts, drawing and ideas with a heavy reliance on digital video (remember that at four nobody reads much and the toys were going to need to be programmed without keyboards or notation of any sort). Initially our young developers told us about their favourite toys and we showed them our favourites from the Archive. Once a dialogue was established we began to feed them with ideas in either 3D VRML or as a screen based simulation of possible behaviours. They responded to these ideas and we re-coded so that they could see immediate feedback from their "research". Through the VRML worlds we offered everything from scary spiders to shapeless amorphous blobs and we collected feedback about look, feel, colour, texture and behaviour. Slowly but very surely we moved in a whole series of iterative steps towards the beginning of a definition of this "ideal" toy. Much of this VRML work was done by Josep Blat's team in Spain and it is worth noting the clear differences between children's play culture across our research population; in Norway, with metres of snow covering most of the ground much of the time, indoor activity dominates, although there is a great national obsession with marbles once a year as patches of ground begin to be exposed where snows melts in late spring. In Catalan Spain life is very much more outdoor with children sheltering throughout the lunchtime siesta from the sun. In Brentwood children had their lives filled much earlier and more formally by a sense of curriculum where play is perhaps getting squashed by the pressure to achieve in early testing. All our schools and families were delightful and different and a successful toy would need to fit into the rather different lives, cultures and language of children in each location. It also needed to fulfil their ambitions and once engaged in the design process the children were enormously, but never unrealistically, ambitious for how good "their" toy might be. 
 
How big should éTui be? In many languages the word éTui means something small, a container, to be carried in a pocket and that had been our initial guess about scale, but the children steered us to something larger. Memorably one of them commented that she'd really like to be able to ride the toy home and we found the design heading in a series of iterative lurches towards something in the size range of many of those programmable toys from the archive, about the size of a dinner plate. The simulation software that Ultranaut Kris Popat masterminded in the 'lab was cute and engaging in its own right (and may well spin-off into another project), but it gave us a very rapid way to test ideas and to feedback to the children how their thoughts might work out in practice. Our young researchers had no problems with making the abstract step between screen toy and real toy; these were after all the youngest of what is a very wired generation. 
 
It was clear from the simulation software that the ability to programme our toy in a tactile way (for example dragging it in a remembered pattern) was desirable. It was also clear that our young researchers were chock full of bright, media literate ideas. When we asked adults the difficult question "How do we know what the toy is thinking?" they would suggest LEDs, or screens or various technological solutions, but the children were clear: "You need music" they said, "because when we are watching TV if something is worried and unsure they play worried-and-unsure music and then we know what they are thinking". So Weiya Wang, Ultralab's electronics genius gave éTui sounds and added the ability to be taught tunes by flashing a torch at it. The children also fed back their clear views for the way an éTui might move (it now has a jerky insect-like motion with a bird-like unpredictability). When we asked if it should have eyes again our young researchers were clear: "if it has eyes we'll think it can see like us, and it won't be able to, will it?" so éTui has strange alien sensors that allow it to explore its environment, seek out dark corners (to hide in when startled), do line following and learn tunes.  
 
So have the children defined something useful? The final éTui prototype has now had a number of outings to exhibitions and shows (including a weekend in Paris - we sent two together). Children are absolutely, completely, dottily captivated by it. For hours. A toy designed by children for children has proved to be, perhaps unsurprisingly, just what children wanted. But there have been some other gains too. Trying to teach a little éTui that is keen, but a bit dim (rather like doing sheepdog trials with a Dalmatian), really does help children to reflect on learning in general and on their own learning in particular too; we have observed those elusive meta-level learning gains. Perhaps most surprisingly, adults seem captivated too, suggesting that we have neglected play for adults for rather too long. 
 
Ultralab are now seeking manufacturing partners for this engaging little toy and its interchangeable wardrobe of stretch-on clothes. Meanwhile in that dusty cupboard in the National Archive of Educational Computing the clunky old programmable toys from an earlier era are getting quite excited as the wheel of fashion starts to turn their way again. 
 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2000  
 

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A very familiar theme emerges, often, in on-line and around-the-bar debates and it hinges on the tension between on-line learning as a "delivery" mechanism and as a conduit for shared contributions. I was in and out at various times of a fascinating UNESCO debate that explored this space in the context of an excellent databse they'd supported the development of. My initial contribution is here: 
 
 
All, 
 
This has been a fascinating debate - and I've sat here nervous to intervene because there are such huge questions underpinning the whole, useful, exercise. But here are four thoughts: 
 
Firstly, the 21st century is very different from the 20th, everywhere. In the 20th century many successful enterprises consisted of "building a big thing that did things for people": the BBC, public transport systems, huge universities, and so on. But in an age of communication the success stories are about "helping people to help each other" as we have seen with SMS, with e-Bay, with Google. Even the BBC is moving rapidly towards user generated content. I'm involved with teachers' TV which has over 800 programmes about teaching largely by teachers for teachers (www.teachers.tv) both on- line, v-podcast and on-satellite. VERY cheap communications technology is helping this, but in most cases education has been slow to respond and we still hear of learning being "delivered" and wisdom "received" in a very one way, synchronous manner. Distance learning built on a peer-to-peer model of collaborative endeavour is powerful, effective HUGELY affordable, culturally sensitive and advances learning in the context where it will be applied. Ideal for everyone, but particularly for countries with limited resources but long histories! Have a a look for example at workplaced degree models built around the "ultraversity" concept. (www.ultraversity.net) 
 
Secondly, the distance learning market and provision is distorted by one huge problem. Almost all (in fact all as far as I have seen, but I'm cautious about absolutes) see it as a Content market in the way that publishing once was. That may have been true once but where content was king now community (and communities of practice) is sovereign. This confuses tradition providers and they do not clearly see the business model. As education moves from oligopoly towards perfect competition (with many, many providers and many consumers because most participants are both) that these traditional providers have to rethink. My worry about the database is that it, inevitably, favours 20th century provision and says very little about the alternatives. As with micro-payments and other innovations it it the alternatives that Africa, and indeed everyone, desperately need. 
 
Thirdly, it is clear that education is going, or indeed has gone, global. This poses some real challenges. Public service activity is almost always national in funding and scope. As learning goes global we see a huge swing from public service education provided free at source to a commercial model where initial economies of scale disguise the privatisation of provision. Now, I don't object to private and commercial provision, it has been very helpful and I applaud it. But as education moves to a global activity we need a countervailing, balancing public service provision that is global too. You will see why UNESCO is so important in this... 
 
Finally there is a challenge here for traditional models of research. The "old" model of refereed, peer reviewed journals is failing. It fails because in a cosy way it largely only confirms what we already knew. I'm engaged in a huge amount of work on innovative designs for learning spaces all around the world (amongst other things, see www.heppell.net) but as an exercise I've just taken the best 10 schools worldwide and I only find three of them mentioned in any way in traditional research literature. Want to know about them? You have to talk to the people who built them and are running them to find their internal research and reflections. So suddenly research has become like detective work. We have to look in the unexpected places for the things we didn't expect to know. Universities will REALLY struggle with this. Individuals won't. 
 
And of course you will see how this discussion within a community of practice, globally distributed, in a small way mirrors the direction that learning is taking. How useful the database is we will debate, but the conversation is of real significance, as ever. 
 
 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2006  
 

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At the end of the eighties and indeed into the early 90s Western Autralia had a whole gang of excellent poeple pushing things forward with multimedia in learning. A string of conferences confirmed their commitment and indeed their lead. It all wobbled a bi when WA decided to 'standardise' things and and, as is so often the case, that led to a bit of ossification and much of the lead was lost... Autralia's great strength of course is that then another state, and another, and yet another took up the baton.... 
 
I rather like this piece... and i hugely enjoyed the "Australian Computers in Education Conference" that begat it, so to speak.... 
 
 
Introduction 
 
Addressing a conference of risk capital entrepreneurs I was surprised to hear one of them suggest that learning is "Simply, one helluva great new market". "No", I protested, "It's one helluva great old process"... 
 
And so it is. Even Egyptian mythology had a God of Learning, Thoth. The years have rather clouded Thoth's role, but in various incarnations he was patron and inventor of science and literature, inventor of geometry, magic, medicine, instruments and above all hieroglyphics (writing). Thoth was the scribe of the gods and as such was keeper of the archives. The sound of Thoth's voice was important; from that first spoken sound came all the works of creation, apparently. You don't need a PhD in Egyptology to see that this put Learning toward the centre stage for pyramid builders. Sadly, in a world where home learning and learning technology is similarly centre stage we struggle to find any clear evidence that the accumulated wisdom of centuries about what makes good learning has been incorporated in any way into the current crop of multimediocre products. 
 
A helluva process 
 
From Vygotsky (1962) through Papert (1980), Bruner (1975) and Wood (1988) we can see a reasonable consensus that Learning is Doing, and Doing Socially. Indeed from Plato through Locke to your grandparents this unstartling view of successful learning has had common currency. It might be described as constructivist; understanding built through conversation and critical friendship, through constructing artifacts and reflecting on them. At Ultralab we characterise this as an iterative cycle of Select, Collect, Annotate and Present. Parents and teachers have a key mediating role; setting a meaningful task which engages the learner with diversity and passion, whilst rewarding them with some feeling of ipsative progress and delight, is what separates great learning experiences from mundane. 
 
These are simple ideas and hardly controversial. Yet if we were to construct our theory from much of what we see advertised for home and school learning it would be reasonable to think that perceived wisdom places us in another world where learning follows very different rules: seeing is believing, searching and finding equates to understanding, all learners' needs are identical and progression is subversive. `Join us with your family on our multimedia magic carpet as we take your on a helter-skelter trip through the worlds wonders. Log your progress with our Knowledge Retention Award Programme' is already plausible advertising copy. In the early days of educational computing the question was often asked `Will computers replace teachers?'. The more immediate danger is whether they will redefine learning. This makes now a very good time for education to speak out and offer a broader contribution. 
 
It is not necessarily a conflict situation. In many cases software developers simply don't know enough about learning because, like so many industries before, education has kept its innermost secrets to itself relying on saying "Trust us, we're professionals". But, as lifelong learning and the learning society emerge this simply won't do. For example, parents sitting reading books with their young children typically don't know whether to point at words as they read, to pause after each page and discuss the narrative, to ask the children to sound out words they know... or what? And when helping a 7 year old with mathematics being told "No, no we don't do it like that, I'll be in trouble" leads most parents to step rapidly back from learning support. Parents don't know because they haven't been told and typically they have no idea where to find out. Do you? Is it any surprise that with learning software too, they are uncritical and unknowing consumers and developers work in a vacuum? 
 
To move the situation forward requires learning professionals to speak loud and clear in support of learner centred software, and to advocate software that also delivers on the metacognitive task of helping learners and their mentors to understand better the processes of learning. 
 
How might that software look? It will need to offer an interface that clearly points to Tools, Tasks and Purposes (what is the purpose of this software environment? What tasks might I engage in with it? What tools are here to help me?). It must assume diversity - many classrooms around the world assume that a group of children born between two calendar dates are an appropriate learning community, yet we know from observing learning in the home and the community that children work well in diverse groups, younger drawn forward by role model of older, older reinforcing concepts by tutoring younger, with mixes of gender and culture occurring easily and naturally. Software will need to support critical friendship and peer presentation (how can I show my friends the activities I engaged in on the way to this outcome? How can I pass on the strategies I adopted, show the drafts I abandoned?). Where software evolves new creative opportunities it needs to offer critical awareness through a body of comparative electronic `literature' (where is the body of comparative children's graphic art for example to help us weight the outcomes of the creativity against the wealth of pre- scanned clip art?). Learners will need to be made aware of their progress through the increasing evolution of their interface, through ipsative referencing (`I'm better at this than I was'). And of course the cycle of select, collect, annotate and present that characterises so much of our learning environments will need to be overtly supported. This is only an advance from the user centred design originally advocated by many, for example Norman and Draper (1986), in that the user is always and everywhere a learner, in a culture of learning. 
 
It is interesting to reflect on how very nearly the revolution started by authoring tools, specifically HyperCard (in 1987), came to delivering learner centred software. At that time, emersing teachers and learners in the process of software authoring led to an avalanche of `comparative literature' as creative work poured into the public domain; to established developers it looked like anarchy, to authors/users it felt like democracy. The tools were clear, usable and palpably progressing, the tasks and purposes defined by context (often, of course, by teachers and parents). Critical friendship and peer support was reported in a weight of anecdotal evidence from classrooms. However, the progress of authoring environments has been disappointingly slow (think of the advances made by painting or communications applications over the same time period) and the creative outcomes they engendered have begun to look jaded alongside other computer based learning material with a resultant self esteem hit which dampened the enthusiasm of many. In 1995 however it may be that HTML and the authoring tools it evolves will deliver the potential that HyperCard promised. Certainly on the World Wide Web we see once again the anarchic spectacle of learners presenting their work to the world for criticism and review. Once again much of it is imperfect but the dialogue surrounding it is of producers not consumers and is participative not passive. 
 
In `Some Thoughts Concerning Education' (1693), Locke advocated an emphasis on doing instead of reading. Locke advised the student to study a tree rather than a book about trees. If our learners are to develop metacognitive awareness of the process of learning they will find no better way than to be active learners and active in the support of others' learning. If this requires learner centred software and authoring tools then education should say so, loudly, now. We should not be surprised to find a lot of people prepared to listen, education is after all a helluva big market too. 
 
References 
 
Norman, D., & Draper, S. (1966). User centred system design. Hillsdale New Jersey: Erlbaum and Associates. 
 
Papert. S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers and powerful ideas. New York: Harvester Press. 
 
Vygotsky. L.S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. 
 
Wood. D. (1988). How children think and learn. Oxford: Blackwell. 
 

© Stephen Heppell 1995  
 
 

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Good grief, I must be getting old - I've just written an "angry of..." letter to complain about a TV programme (first time ever)! But honesty the BBC's Question of Sport programme is SO anti-women that something needed to be said. And this episode plumbed depths even lower than the usual nadir. I don't do "angry" very well, so those of you who know me well will be amused by this grrrr letter! 
 
Needless to say, I didn't get a reply and the programme is as awful as ever. I remain a resolute fan of the wonderful BBC though. It is truly a global asset / treasure. Apart from this show. 
Sigh.
 
 
------------------- 
Question of Sport plumbed new depths of misogynism tonight. I think we've got used to the almost complete absence of female sports stars - compere Sue Barker is the token weekly woman - but this week no questions featured any female sports stars at all until the last few minutes when finally we had a fleeting reference to "who was Andre Agassi's wife?", and then a photo of Martina Hingis (which stumped the assembled men - probably because of Matt Dawson's description "er,.. she used to be young...".  
 
Possibly the quick witted viewer might have caught a glipse of a female equestrian star in the last few seconds - only the knees and below of course - helped by the team's spirited description of equestrianism's dressage: "they trot around and look very pretty". 
 
So with 2012 on the way this programme leaves millions of viewers with the dinosaur view that women in sport have no sports, and have almost no role at all, except perhaps as a host, a wife, or to be pretty. 
 
For UK sport this programme is a weekly disaster in a nation with the legacy of Lillian Board, Mary Peters, Shiley Robertson et al. Please, please, please axe it now. How on earth can it be allowed on the air in the 21st century? 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell 2006 

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This article first appeared in the Society of Authors' journal "The Author" as part of a computer focussed edition "The Electronic Author", in Summer 1993. The Society of Authors editorial adress is 84 Drayton Gardens, London SW10 9SB.  
 
The end of the multimedia era and the dawn of the web was an interesting time. I remember popping along to a senior management seminar at Oxford University Press with David Puttnam at the end of thr 80s where we tried to alert them to the new world dawning, but to no avail.  
 
"If the publishing industry would only look at the way that people were changing rather than focussing on technological change alone we could begin to see some exciting new products, some real change and an enormously exciting future role for electronic authors." 
 
Sometimes I think things are simply so clear yet it is amazing the lengths that people will go to obscure that clarity. Nothing changes here does it? 
 
Anyway.. interesting little chapter, even a decade and a half on... 
 
 
----------------------------------- 
 
It is hard to remember today that the first estimate of the world market for computers considered there might be a need for three (and people were worried that the estimate might have been a bit optimistic!). By the mid the 1990s millions have been sold and the design life of the latest tiny notebook computers is now as brief as nine months. Many electronically authored products for the home market have developed the same short fashion lives that pop music once had and indeed share the same fascination for "Top ten charts" of weekly sales.  
 
Perhaps most important of all, these electronically authored products are beginning to offer multiple media types - speech &high quality sound, video, graphics, text - indeed all the components of our everyday information lives. It is easy, of course, to sit back and watch this technological revolution and comment on the rapid development of hardware and software - from the faithful BBC B in our schools to multimedia workstations or from "ping pong" on our home computers to Sonic the Hedgehog&-170; and the like. However, to focus on the hardware and software is to miss a component of change that authors everywhere ignore at their peril: people have changed too. They have changed their habits, their capabilities and most important of all, they have changed their expectations. Whilst we have watched the computers develop, the computers have watched us develop even faster; typically, the younger we are, the more rapidly we have changed. For the components of our society, including education and all forms of publishing, this is fundamentally important and poorly understood.  
 
It is easy to illustrate the magnitude of that change anecdotally. Children in the 50's who were lucky enough to live in a house with its own TV set offered it their full attention during children's hour. Often the poor screen meant that curtains were drawn and the glowing tube was a primary focus of interest. Similarly families would sit around a table together and enjoy BBC Radio's "Round the Horne" or whatever. There are now very few households in the country where the family sit down together and listen to the radio; mono-media is not enough to sustain our collective interest and radio listening figures indicate that listening is mainly done as a background activity to a primary task - driving or housework perhaps. Indeed the TV too is typically reduced to a small information window in a larger social context - children watch it whilst browsing a magazine, listening to music, playing with their "Game Boy" or whatever. They have come to expect autonomy in selecting the primary focus of their attention; if the TV is interesting , they look up, if not, they look back at their game or magazine. In schools this has left educational broadcasting at a crisis point - children do not comfortably dedicate 45 minutes of concentrated attention to the TV screen and TV in school has moved in 15 short years from a treat ("If you work hard at this we will be able to go to the TV room next week") to a drudge ("Will you sit still and listen to the programme, you can't concentrate for 5 minutes, any of you!"). This is rapid change by any standards.  
 
We should not view this as a deficiency model of children. It is not that their concentration threshold has declined; rather, they are not happy anymore to adopt the role of passive information consumers. This is progress.  
 
Generally of course, the rate of change in education has always been slow. A cinema newsreel, filmed in the 1920's, of transport, hospitals, cafeteria, sport, indeed almost any aspect of our daily lives will remind us of the great technological changes that have characterised the 20th century. However, show a short film of a group of children in a classroom anywhere in Europe and it is extremely difficult to attribute its date accurately to any particular time between the 1920's and today without resorting to the "non educational" clue of fashion. Our learning environments have not yet been transformed by technology in the way that much of the rest our everyday life has been.  
 
This slowness of education to change - the intransigence of pedagogy and of the institutionalised learning process - is not necessarily bad; the history of education is scarred with the wreckage of failed innovations (mechanical teaching machines providing an excellent example). Instinctively we may express relief at such conservatism - we neither want the bland uniformity of fast food or the impersonal coldness of modern banks as role models for education! However, such a reaction ignores the real gains that the application of technology can bring.  
 
If we look at car manufacture for example the productivity gains from high levels of capital investment have included better, cheaper cars, with more flexible specifications, that are better able to match the specific needs of the consumer, and a better quality of life for the "delivery team" (that is, for the factory workers). Any investment or change in education that offered better, cheaper learning, more flexibility to match the diverse and specific needs of the individual student, and a better quality of life for the "delivery team" (in this case the teachers and lecturers) sounds like an ideal goal.  
 
Technology could and should make a real difference to the way that we learn, but a too rarely applied litmus test for the application of new technology is to ask "where is the additionality?" and then to examine the change on offer to see if we value it.  
 
Outside education too, the publishing industry has been notoriously slow to change for equally good reasons of conservative caution. As a result we now see the harnessing of emergent technology not to a new publishing industry that reflects the new climate of expectation developing in our children (the new citizens of the Information Age?), but to produce a new version of old solutions. We see the development of a vigorous and expanding electronic book industry with trade fairs, conferences and investment. Again the litmus test should be "where is the additionality?". Are electronic books more suited to consumers' needs? Are they more delightful as products? Do they better match the new capabilities of the Sonic generation? Typically, the answer is no. Electronic books are looking dangerously like technology for technology's sake.  
 
If the publishing industry would only look at the way that people were changing rather than focussing on technological change alone we could begin to see some exciting new products, some real change and an enormously exciting future role for electronic authors. If not, we could be looking at the beginning of the death of text. 
 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell 1993 

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Learning is, of course, everywhere. I am, as many readers out there will already know, quite obsessed by sailing. To be precise, by racing sailboats. In 2002 I spend some time helping the UK's Royal Yachting Association develop better coaches (an urgent need then, as now, and probably always). As part of that I wrote a short piece, below, about how learning is changing and how coaching should too.  
 
Looking back, it remains generally applicable beyond coaching sailors, I think.  
 
It is interesting to reflect that as teaching methods for the top sailors have changed so have the UK's sailing results in two very varied Olympic regattas, where they have been quite exceptional. I'd like to claim a miniscule 0.0000001% of that success!
 
 
 
In the 21st century you wouldn't dream of arriving for a regatta with a set of cotton sails, nor even with a set of 1999 Dacrons. Nor would you arrive wearing a pair of PVC yellow shorts. Sailing is moving rapidly forward and the constancy of change is something we have all learned to live with, even delight in, with high performance sailing. 
 
Coaching high performance sailors is no exception and it is not simply the transmitted knowledge and shared wisdom that has moved on, it is also style and approach - the pedagogy - that is separating winners from losers before they even get into a boat. Not that a ripple in the collective sailors' gene pool has occurred to change the way our brains work, any more than the laws of physics have shifted to change the way wind generates lift, it is simply that the ways we have available to harness sailors learning are beginning to reflect the vast amount of learning research that is simultaneously changing the way that everyone, from doctors to infants learn. 
 
A part of that revolution is an emerging understanding that the old Piaget view of learning (you learn this stage, then progress to that stage..) which was conveniently linear, but always implausible has succumbed to "newer kid on the block" Vygotsky who confirms that we learn by doing and points out rather obviously that we storm ahead in different directions at different times in our lives in a much less predictable, and certainly less linear, way. Sometimes indeed we can achieve huge leaps in one direction whilst remaining positively remedial in others. This fits with a commons sense model of learning too: a young Mirror dinghy sailor may be a relatively weak squad member but may know more about fluid dynamics that anyone else on the team, coaches included; an Olympic champion may get into the medals in the last race of the regatta but may struggle with the maths needed to evaluate the possible options for the last beat. Not only that but different sailors embrace different learning styles at different times and in different contexts, although they may be predisposed to one in particular; thus, coaching a group of five sailors one may remember only your diagram, two your words and the rest only the activity you all did together. Understanding this has made schools much more complex places to manage although it has also helped parents to see why the teenage years are so unpredictable. In sailing this means that some rather convenient organisational behaviour is condemned to the same skip the cottons sails and PVC shorts occupy. If youngsters learn in such a scattergun way, dashing off in all directions, sometimes astonishingly successfully, then pretending that their learning is best managed by grouping them according to birth dates is genuinely hopeless, we might as well use star signs or shoe size as age. Much better mixing of ages is a problem schools are now wrestling with, and so too must sailing although it is curious that in sports and music and theatre historically it has been the model of older helping younger whilst the younger chase the role models of older that has maintained continuity traditionally. 
 
Unfortunately, the changes don't stop at organisation. A better understanding of learning also hands us more clarity about the consequences of "doing it wrong". It is useful to contrast two "styles" of coaching and explore the consequences of their use: 
 
The old "barrack room" model, with a full "drill hall" of learners ("stand up, sit down, what's Rule 14c?") produces sailors who know some things with a confident certainty: 
 
* they know what is the "correct" action in various prescribed circumstances, 
* they do it unquestioningly and 
* they do it automatically. 
 
This learning style is still found in parts of the armed services for example, although it's in retreat there too, but in sailing terms it might suit sail-by-numbers boats in very predictable waters. 420s in Kingston, Canada, for example. In contrast the "new pedagogy" would produce sailors who knew with certainty that they: 
 
* can discover rapidly what to do in any circumstances, 
* can act analytically and 
* will constantly question, critique and enquire. 
 
That learning outcome might be good for a consultancy, but in sailing terms would also suit less predictable waters in constantly variable boats - a skiff on Sydney Harbour for example. Of course, the lesson is that nothing is simple. Spend enough time on unpredictable waters (like the bay off Auckland) and they become relatively predictable but it makes an interesting exercise to reflect on past performances and circumstances in this way and to see successes where national coaches continually challenge their sailors with maximising opportunities in a regime of uncertainty, swapping anything, even crews and boats, at short notice makes for agile, problem solving, unphased sailors. Eventually! 
 
It is worth revisiting one further reflection about learning: exploring our own best learning experiences. Any 100 people are likely to reveal that their best learning happened when they were: 
 
* doing something, 
* had a sense of progress and esteem, 
* had a positive sense of audience, 
* worked collaboratively, 
* had some expert mediation 
* and enjoyed some passion and even eccentricity in the process. 
 
It's a useful checklist for sailing too, even (perhaps especially) at the highest levels. Mantras to chant, that your own best learning experiences will confirm, include that "standards do not mean standardisation" and that "listening is not participating". Rather less obvious is the spectre of the self fulfilling prophesy that constantly confirms a coach's judgment, even when it is flawed, and that badly dilutes the pool of talent our peak squads are drawn from. The self fulfilling prophesy works simply; a coach makes a snap judgment, for whatever reason, that a young sailor is "star quality". As a result, even in a mixed group with other more talented sailors, the coach will ask "stretching" questions that build the esteem of the "star" whilst the truly talented (but unnoticed) feel slighted by less ambitious questions and suffer disengagement. By the end of a year the potentially best sailors have slipped back, or lost interest, whilst the ersatz star has progressed and extended. "See", says the coach smugly "I can always spot the stars early on". Self fulfilling prophesy is a bad coach's best friend and a sport's worst enemy. It is almost certain that in any group of talented young sailors you will not be able to distinguish those with the greatest final potential. This knowledge should guide your every judgment and activity. 
 
By the way, don't assume that because a group don't seem to engage in your "compelling" session that the problem lies with them. As one youngster interviewed commented: 
"the session started with an introduction to the basics - but the trouble was every one of us there already knew the basics. First we got bored then we got naughty and he told us we'd never be any good if we couldn't even concentrate on the simple stuff" 
 
Great sailors are not necessarily great communicators. Indeed sport in general has a problem that as reaching the top becomes more absorbing and complex, so the great "personalities" that characterised the past begin to disappear. This matters to coaches because in face to face "seminar" situations great oracy skills can become confused with great sailing ability, feeding the self fulfilling prophesy again. Sailors who answer questions, if the seminar becomes competitive, don't necessarily know the most, they just have the most confidence in contributing perhaps because their learning styles are centred around speech. Asking for drawings and illustrations may favour other more kinesthetic sailors. In research at Ultralab in the 1990s, exploring the dynamic of the seminar situation, some real surprises emerged. Mapping the flow of speech around the seminar members revealed that there was little relationship between knowledge and contribution. As a generalisation often the people who spoke most were simply good at speaking rather that knowledgable. In one case a genuine expert in the subject discussed remained silent throughout its discussion. Asked why she held back her memorable response was that "they seemed to know so little I thought it was churlish to intervene"! Coaches should be aware of the dangers, but should consciously mix styles and approaches to allow the best talent to rise to the top, rather than filtering talent inappropriately. 
 
Another tough challenge for coaches is the march of technology into the learning arena. It is too trite to suggest that young learners are unequivocally wired whilst older coaches aren't, but it is clear that younger learners expect not only a wider spectrum of media in their learning, but make judgments about coaches' capability based on their ability to handle it. A faltering unstoppable video, with no indexing and little structure, dismays young learners every bit as much as an inarticulate performance dismays older coaches. If the coach is to be held in any esteem, then demonstrating some capability with simple technology will help. Actually being good at it will help even more because there are such powerful analytical and comparative tools that can be harnessed at very short notice to inject some of the essential diversity into coaching sessions. 
 
By its very nature, coaching is an intermittent activity so that a graph of learning would show peaks and troughs between coaching activity and sessions starting with a wasted "now, where were we...?" section. The wonderful thing about Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the word in the middle: Communication. By simple emails and other little provocations a coach can keep alive the questioning and discourse that underpins the coaching sessions with the effect that, not only is less time lost at the face to face moments, but the peaks and troughs are ironed out a little, with a clear net gain in learning. Don't mail "knowledge" to your charges, mail questions and uncertainties that engage them in their time away from you. Mail a picture of a top flight fleet arriving at the last leeward rounding and ask questions like "what if you were leading here but with suspect boatspeed?", "what if I was the German boat, but badly wanted to go left?", "what if I needed a fourth to win the regatta but am a very tight seventh here?" and so on. You'll find the responses, with the benefit of some time for reflection and research, lift the next face to face session immeasurably. Technology doesn't recreate familiar situations but it does offer new situations that deliver on our need for diversity, challenge, engagement and agility. 
 
Finally a note for coaches' own development. All this sounds like a load of trouble; why not simply stick to coaching squads for predictable waters in sail-by-numbers boats, annoint a few chosen "stars", encourage them like mad and sit back for a quiet life? One self centred but effective reason not to, might be to understand the value that the economy places on those coaches who can do the opposite. If you can coach for problem solving and agility, can avoid the curse of the self fulfilling prophesy and can yourself demonstrate an awareness and understanding of new learning opportunities and technologies, then the economy, and some grand consultancies, will value you greatly and offer you a life after coaching replete with thirsty cars and fluid lunches. Of course if you have a more altruistic perspective it should be enough to know that your country has a much better chance of winning medals as a result of your expertise. Put simply, get it right and we'll waste less talent including yours. 
 
Whatever your motivation, it's time to change and for the rest of your coaching life it won't stop being that time. 
 
But you knew all that didn't you? 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2002  
 

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In 1998 the BBC launched an initiative for nervous computer users (or rather not-users) "Computers Don't Bite". . . and 17 million people (!) later it added "Computers Don't Bite Teachers" for techno-reluctant teachers too. 
 
I was asked to write the preface for the free booklet that the BBC published in 1998 in huge numbers for all teachers and all staff rooms. The initiative was a great success, but looking back on the words I wrote then in that preface I don't see anything I wouldn't say today to the same audience.  
 
So here it is...
 
 
 
Schools are busy places and the tasks that fill a teacher's day seem to multiply annually. At the same time performance targets, tests and inspections are a constant worry and there are so many duties to be done; if Gilbert and Sullivan were writing today they would most likely have reflected that a teachers lot, never mind a policeman's, is not a happy one. 
 
Unless you had a particular fondness for technological trouble shooting, a private life that offered endless opportunity to browse technical manuals and a rare predisposition to stay awake as you do so, you were likely to be one of many (quite sensible) teachers for whom the computer and worse still, its printer, constituted just one more problem, one more duty to be addressed, if only you had the time to do it properly. 
 
But, computers themselves have got better, their software more powerful and their built in help has become really quite useful. With the genuine enthusiasm and commitment of the government translating into some real initiatives at the national level, it couldn't be a better time to have another look at computers and learning in your classroom. 
 
Every teacher, parent, grandparent, guardian and governor will confirm that children have an unshakeable faith in the ability of their "Millennium Generation" to do remarkable things with technology. Of course every teacher will also tell you that an "unshakeable faith" does not necessarily translate into their doing as well as might be possible. The children need teachers to guide, to inspire, to brief them, to de-brief them, to mediate their experiences and to help them leap from learning about the computer to learning with it. The good news is that teachers' common sense still works around a computer. Whether it is siting the computer (and why do children so often have to sit and face the wall when they are mousing around?) or organising roles for three children sitting around the screen, teachers' wisdom remains a valuable complement to children's enthusiasm. 
 
In addition, computers uniquely allow children to do things they couldn't do before: rapidly exploring many new enquiry strategies, posting requests to scientists in volcanic craters and getting hot responses, working with very different age groups and cultures, composing music directly onto the stave by playing it in slowly via a keyboard, investigating hypotheses like a link between pulse rate and limb length, finding a critical reader for their poetry on the other side of the world, taking a risk with a model of the economy, changing their mind in an artwork ('maybe that cobalt wash was a mistake"), fleshing out a story after writing the ending first and then reediting it finally again... The opportunities are boundless . Note that this does not mean the computer replacing the teacher. Far from it. Because children get to these things more quickly they even more urgently need the wisdom of their teachers to help them prepare for the experience, and unpack the result. Technology does not have to be as mechanical (or impersonal) as optical mark readers with multiple choice questions were. The computer is not a teaching machine, it is a learning tool and curriculum in all the corners of the United Kingdom reflects this in a brave and encouraging way. 
 
Another reason to look again at computers is something of a surprise; technology is changing so fast and advances are so breathtaking that it would be arrogance indeed to suggest that anyone knew all the answers (or even had a full set of questions!) about the best ways that we might harness either technology or children's confidence and capability using it. For many teachers exploring what computers might offer, the excitement has been to find themselves once again in the role of action researcher, working to establish when why and how great learning can be engendered in new ways and looking for opportunities to share those ideas with colleagues. This small scale exploration within their own classroom reminds many teachers of their expertise as learning professionals; a chance to look up from the paperwork and ask searching questions about the difference between multimedia and multimediocre. For teachers who feared that computers would take their autonomy away, this comes as a pleasant surprise. 
 
You may have noticed that the simple initials IT, for Information Technology, have transformed into the new set ICT. The additional C, for communication, is significant. Computers have always encouraged collaboration as children debate and argue around their screens, but as soon as computers joined together in networks we began to see clear evidence that we were building a generation who not only were happy to work with their peers elsewhere in the country (or indeed the world) but who also were able to debate and reflect upon the work they are doing. Teachers are great communicators; suddenly the computer is one more conduit for that communication to pass along. 
 
Well, if you have read this far, despite the many tasks that fill a teacher's day, you might just be thinking you'll give the computer another chance in your learning environment. Please do. Computers are not perfect, but they really don't bite and the rewards, despite all the difficulties, might just be to see real delight on the faces of your children as they rush ahead with their learning thanks to your wisdom, to the computer's power and to their own personal hunger for learning. 
 

© Stephen Heppell 1998, © BBC 1998  
 

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I wrote this back in 1993 as a lead article (ie it had a picture about it on the cover!) for the London Times Educational Supplement. It makes interesting reading alongside the "Play to learn, learn to play" piece i wrote in 2006.  
 
They say the difference between being a radical and a conservative in education is about 10 years. Maybe it's thirteen! 
 
Just to get some idea of how long ago 1993 was, I notice that I had added the following note to the email I sent to Merlin John , the TES technology editor. In those days just connecting a computer to the phone lines at all was a work of heroic valour and I'd been under the hotel bed with screwdrivers, pliers, wire strippers, test lights and crocodile clips. Here's what i wrote to merlin when I mailed him the piece below: 
 
"Ho Merlin - gor blimey the technology nearly let us down there - the conference ended friday, the Applelink room shut, we spent a day and a bit trying to work out a wiring system for the hotel phone to get this out to you - I took a photograph - you'd be amazed (so would the hotel management if they could see!!) " 
 
Those were the days? 
 
------------------------------------------- 
To get a record into the top twenty, which most of us remember as the hit parade, currently requires as few as 20,000 record sales. When Segas Sonic the Hedgehog II was released last year it took over one and a half million pre-orders around Europe before it had even been seen. Many games for the home market have developed the same short fashion lives that pop music once had and indeed children share the same fascination for top ten charts of weekly games sales that their teachers had for the Fab Four on Parlophone. Computer games are of cultural importance to the information generation. 
 
Perhaps because of this a whole catalogue of social disorders are laid at the door of the games industry. From parents and the media today Sonic and his friend Tails, or the Super Mario brothers get the same sort of critical press that Mick Jagger once got: Children cant read because they play too many computer games and watch too much TV. The games make them violent. Children only see gender stereotypes as virtual heroines queue up for actual rescue. Children become hopelessly addicted, social misfits trapped in an electronic never-never land. Children have fits, are exposed to pornography and truant from school. Or that is what the tabloid press would have us believe. Ironically, many of these wild and improbable claims are made by the generation who were supposedly corrupted and debauched by Mick Jaggers antics in the sixties. They ought to know better. 
 
Of course there is cause for concern in some instances: content, ethos and cost are all real issues but the constant search for negative criticism has meant that we have been typically unable and unwilling to consider that computer games are important to education and may have a useful contribution to make. It is time to re-evaluate the games revolution and seek that contribution. 
 
Of course, underpinning all this we are witnessing rapid technological progress: the faithful old BBC B in our schools has evolved into a multimedia workstation and in our homes the repetitive ping pong TV games have evolved into frenetic games consoles and powerful home computers; Sonic the Hedgehog for example, is a visual and aural feast with blindingly fast graphics and complex challenges. The hardware evolution at the heart of games revolution is clear to see and, if you can draw a line on a graph, easy to predict. Weve all noticed it. 
 
However, to focus only on the technology is to miss another key change that schools and parents everywhere ignore at their peril: change in people. As we move further into the Information Age we are changing our habits, our capabilities and most important of all, we are changing our expectations. Whilst we have watched computers in home, school and business develop over the last two decades, the computers have watched us develop even faster; typically, the younger we are, the more rapidly we have changed. This is fundamentally important and poorly understood.  
 
It is easy to illustrate the magnitude of that change and its impact on home entertainment: children in the 50s who were lucky enough to live in a house with its own TV set offered it their full attention during childrens hour. For technical reasons they had to; the poor screen meant that curtains were drawn and the glowing nine inch tube was a primary focus of interest. Other families would sit together around a wireless on a Sunday and enjoy their favourite programme. Today there are very few households in the country where the family sit down together and listen to the radio; monomedia is not usually enough to sustain our collective interest and radio listening figures indicate thbat listening is mainly done as a background activity to a primary task - commuting or dusting perhaps. Indeed the television in many of our homes is reduced to a small information window in a larger social world - children watch it whilst browsing a photo-magazine, listening to their Walkman, talking to their friends, doing their homework, playing with their pocket game computer and so on. Children especially, expect to be in control of the focus of their attention; if the TV is interesting , they look up, if not, they look back at their homework, game or magazine. Although this sounds as if they are grazing information, and there is of course a serious debate about the quality of retention that this information grazing supports, we should nevertheless be excited by their behaviour. Why? Because the alternative is for children to sit down and give their undivided attention to the latest game show or soap drama; this passive state is exactly what we mean by couch potatoes.  
 
Curiously, when children have computer games plugged into the TV we have seen almost the opposite change in behaviour. Where the early ping pong games required little concentration the current games are so complex, fast and full of traps for the unwary that children need to offer their undivided attention to the computer games screen, indeed this is a common complaint levelled by parents: she never seems to leave that screen anymore but there is a difference; with computer games the childs role is complex, usually interactive, often collaborative and never passive. 
 
Children expecting to be more active information consumers sounds like good news for education, but in fact this has left traditional educational broadcasting at a crisis point - children no longer comfortably dedicate 45 minutes of concentrated attention to a single narrative TV screen that offers them no interaction. TV in school has moved in 15 short years from an exciting learning stimulus (So now you really know what it was like to be a Roman) to a drudge (Will you please sit still and watch, you cant concentrate for 5 minutes, any of you!) whilst at home the childrens relationship with a TV screen, through their games, has become more complex and absorbing. 
 
We are justifiably proud that generally we try to value the experiences children bring to the classroom and that we seek to build on those experiences, having progressed from a deficiency model of children. Curiously enough, in relationship to TV and computer games, we have instead adopted wholesale a deficiency model of young learners. This is misguided, it is not that their concentration threshold has declined; rather, they are not happy anymore to adopt the role of passive information consumers. This is real progress and we should harness it to improve our learning environments. 
 
This deficiency model of children and their games playing highlights a real problem for teachers and parents. When adults observe children playing computer games what we see is coloured by our own experience. Our experience does not typically include computer games in any depth. We see a cacophony of sound, an anarchic blur of vision and action. We see children reacting to this, absorbed in their activity, but we typically undervalue what is happening because we dont see what they see. They see sophisticated cues and clues, they see categories of visual information, they have expectations about the behaviour of objects on the screen and within this environment they see challenges and solve problems that their parents and teachers are not even aware of.  
 
This is no different to the way in which a sophisticated reader sees books and text differently to a non reader; for a non reader a library is confusion of books, unstructured, chaotic. For teachers and parents, with an individual history of familiarity with books and libraries the same shelves hold past memories: Fiction, Romance, Reference, Travel and so on; the books are familiar friends and they can be referred to in conversation with other literate adults.  
 
The problem for teachers and parents is that, while they may be adept at computer based work, they are typically illiterate computer games players. At ULTRAlab observation and filming with children playing computer games suggests that, with the best games, they are engaged in a sophisticated cycle: Observe, Question, Hypothesise, Test, that parents and teachers would be delighted by if only they were aware of it. We have been trying to drum this cycle into children for years; now, they have discovered it for themselves. 
 
The problem for schools is simply how to acknowledge and take advantage of the sophisticated skills that children are developing through computer games if teachers and parents undervalue, or are unaware of? them. What we seem to be observing is the Andy Pandy generation leading the Sonic generation into the information age, and the Andy Pandy generation have some homework to do. This home work, for teachers and parents, can follow some useful guidelines: 
 
• Engage children in dialogue about their games, learn something of the vocabulary, begin to share their understanding. 
 
• Play some games, not in the privacy and shelter of the staff room or study but with the tuition of young guides, learn from them. Investigate the problems, see where the challenges lie. 
 
• Be aware that, just as books can be morally suspect or of pulp quality, so not all games are excellent. But without a shared vocabulary and experience how are teachers and parents to enter the moral debate and help children be more critically aware? 
 
• Value the skills and strategies of young games players. Help them to see that problem solving approaches developed and honed on computer games can be re-purposed in the science lab, or the maths room. 
 
Finally, look at the faces of children as they play games in small groups - concentration, collaboration, self esteem and delight. How much of that do we see as children are prepared for their SATs this summer? If we truly value our children, computer games deserve a closer look. 
 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell 1993 

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I've been submerged in a mass of interesting work on the design of learning spaces for a long time. From the physical space of the Millennium Dome to the virtual spaces of Oracle's Think.com, Campus 2000, SchoolNet and so on. 
 
This short piece appeared in a new publication, the Building Schools Journal and is, I hope, a useful contribution. 
 
I will shortly (I promise) be putting up a whole heap of useful materials for those engaged in the whole task of building learning spaces for the future. 
 
 
 
Throughout 2004 I was tasked by CABE and RIBA to research the answer to a simple question. “What does learning look like in the future, and are we designing the right buildings to contain it? The question has some urgency underpinning it. In the UK in 2005 one new school will open every four days and the pace does not diminish beyond that. Building the wrong school every four days would amount to a national catastrophe. The transformation of learning through the re-design of the building stock ought to be one of the design challenges of our times. So... what was the answer to the research question?: 
 
Firstly it is important to understand why the buildings need to change at all. Surely a quick makeover of existsing stock, an injection of technology, some rebranding and a sympathetic landscaping would suffice? Sadly not; the drivers of change impacting on our learning environments are complex and considerable:  
 
There are social pressures as the school becomes increasingly open to the breakfast clubs and after school activities driven by parents caught up in the long hours of the UK's 21st century working ethic. Designing a lunch hall for 900 that doubles as a breakfast home for 100 is not trivial. Secondly teaching and learning are both changing in a number is significant ways. For example it is clear that children learning with rich new media, including the internet, become focussed and engaged in a way that results in them moving less and in some schools studied this movement reduction was very substantial indeed. The debate around school design focussed historically on the need to move children efficiently, without pressure or stress, around the school; cue debate about school corridors, passing places, social interaction "lay-bys" and the rest. But, in a world where the learners move a lot less, corridor free schools are being build and, unsurprisingly, the gains include discipline as the archtypal "naughty child circulating on the corridors" vanishes. Today, ideal class sizes vary from the "performance" lecture delivered to a large group to the intimacy of a tutorial or seminar. This can't be achieved with a simple count (enough little rooms, enough big rooms.. etc), but can only be delivered through genuinely agile design. 
 
Another driver is changing school organisation. In a post "Tomlinson Report" world, and in a world where the guiding philosophy is "every child matters" we will most certainly see children moving freely between institutions. A short summary might be that back in the postwar baby boom years, when we had too many children, wasting a few didn't matter and our focus was on the institutions tasked with managing the explosion in learner numbers. That institution centric world has given way to a learner centric one as children become scarce and the needs of the economy become ever more demanding in terms of the skills and capabilities required of them. New fashions in teaching appear too, but these days they are backed by careful research. A trend of performance enhanced science teaching is sweeping in from eastern Europe where is is closing gender gaps and accelerating the understanding of science. In architectural terms the UK science lab is probably the last place to find good performance space and it can be seen that a lack of design anticipation can seriously damage our ability to hold a place in the pecking order of world learning. 
 
Many schools worldwide are revisiting their organisational assumptions. Casualties of that re-examination include horizontal structuring of the learners and subject groupings. Many schools are finding that vertical organisation, with mixed age teaching and house systems rather than year groups deliver a more challenging learning environment as the youngsters chase down the role model of older learners who in turn reinforce their own understandings by helping teach and guide younger learners. Brave schools like the Australian School of Maths an SCience newly opened in Adelaide, or Chafford Hundred school in the UK's Thurrock are finding that abandoning subject groups makes great sense too. What is the point of training biologists and technologists when the world is crying out for bio-technologists?  
 
Obviously, technology is evolving rapidly too. In many UK schools, the "computer suite" with its fixed rows of CRT monitors and fan cooled, noisy, CPUs already looks like an inflexible dinosaurs alongside the freedom and flexibility that schools are finding with portable and wireless technology. The computer suite is dead. In Scotland the 2001 School Census showed that the target ratio of 1 "modern computer" for every 5 pupils had been achieved a year early, but by 2005 it is clear that the future will be much more complex that just computers per leaner as phones, newly-smart-TVs, laptops and whiteboards make their own seductive contributions. One horror story emerging from the research was that, whereas lighting and mains is designed in at the architectural stage, ICT typically goes into new schools with the curtains resulting in a tragic web of tacky conduit and unlikely plug locations. Why? 
 
So what of design processes? One certainty that emerged in every country studied was this: if children and teachers are involved in the design of their own learning environments, then performance will improve even where the design is poor. Where design is excellent performance will be stellar in its improvement. Their advice is powerful, but their reflection starts a process of meta-reflection about teaching and learning that is itself a key catalyst. Asked about the design failures of his school one truculent 15 year old reported that "the trouble with the design is that noone around here knows how good we are". As ever, learners make you think a bit, don't they? 
 

© Stephen Heppell 2005, © BBC 1995  
 

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This article first appeared in the European journal INTERAct in 1994. INTERAct's editorial offices are at the Amsterdam Science Park, Kruislaan 419, 1098 VA Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  
 
At that time I was having a lot of fun popping over to the Netherlands for empassioned debates in steamy smoke filled brown cafés at night, with audiences packed by students, journalists, politicians.. everyone! Very Dutch. Very, very enjoyable. 
 
It is interesting to reflect on how mature so much of the multimedia debate was.. it got a bit lost of course when the WWW came along, so that it is only now that we are returning to these issues. 
 
"This paper develops the simple view that, whilst we have have focussed on technology's ability to deliver multiple media, those media have themselves been changing and whilst we have focussed on children's learning, the children too have been changing." - Sounds familiar? Exactly... 
 
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There are few more contentious words than either Multimedia or Learning. Learning has a long history of debate, but Multimedia is a special word, invented comparatively recently, to describe the possibility that a computer might finally deliver all the elements that we take for granted in the rest of our everyday lives: speech, text, graphics, video, music, sounds, data.  
 
No one seriously describes life as a multimedia experience, although it is, but we do have special words to describe our lives where key information elements are missing - sensory deprivation, blindness, deafness, dyslexia. In the same way, a text based, command driven computer might well be described as visually impaired and mute. In our everyday lives, missing any of the multiple media components that comprise our normal information channels will be characterised as exceptional. In our computing lives the multimedia computer, with most of those multiple media components in place, is seen as the exception, worthy of special terminology.  
 
Because of this, when we come to consider the computer and learning, the debate focuses on the occasions when adding video, sound and other elements might be useful. Logically it would be more sensible to assume that all these elements would always be present. We might then ask in what circumstances might it be appropriate to leave something out, when should we exclude text, or when might video be abandoned, to good effect. If life is generally a multimedia experience, our normal, computer based, learning environment should be too.  
 
Learning and its analysis has a long history of debate. 'How children learn?' is controversial enough, but computers have added a new urgency to debates about: 'what do they learn?', 'how do we know that they've learned it?' and 'what do we assess?'. At present some countries are struggling with the dimensions of these problems, while rather more countries are struggling to be aware that they are issues; none yet have solutions.  
 
A simple analogy is illustrative. Imagine a nation of horse riders with a clearly defined set of riding capabilities. In one short decade the motor car is invented and within that same decade many children become highly competent drivers extending the boundaries of their travel as well as developing entirely new leisure pursuits (like stock car racing or hot rodding). At the end of the decade government ministers want to assess the true impact of automobiles on the nation's capability. They do it by putting everyone back on the horses and checking their dressage, jumping and trotting as before. Of course, we can all see that it is ridiculous, yet in schools all round Europe we are arming children with spreadsheets and assessing the same old mathematics capabilities, we are arming them with collaborative, editable writing tools, like word processors or desk top publishers, and then assessing them individually as writers through a typically linear writing form that is increasingly alien to them. In the UK we have even gone as far as to ban some of the powerful tools from the assessment process - having supported writing, appropriately, with spelling checkers we then remove them at the point of assessment. In terms of our analogy we take away the car and put them back on the horse, in time for the test. Patently foolish. Allowing children to author multimedia essays and assessing their performance with a handwritten summative test is equally foolish.  
 
Multimedia and learning enjoy a further similarity, in addition to their shared controversy: Our focus on multimedia is essentially a technical one. The debate is largely in terms of the quality of full screen video, of sound sample rates, of CD drive speeds or multiple session support. In our hunger for technological solutions and debate, we fail to notice changes in the normal world of everyday life. Similarly, throughout the debate on what children learn and how we measure it, we focus on the learning but in doing so we again fail to notice changes that are occurring in ordinary children. Multimedia and learning share the surprise that it is in normal lives and in normal children that we will find the real revolution that is changing our learning and multimedia futures.  
 
What are those changes in everyday life? In the 1950's, in Europe, television was unusual. It was the Radio Age. The generations that currently dominate our teaching professions were the children of this radio age. They retained the habit of reading too, as an important information and entertainment source. Cinema was not an everyday experience and was most significant socially, as a night out. This 'radio generation' were fed linear narrative information in a largely passive form. Families would gather round the radio and listen to favourite programmes together. TV, when it finally became available for mass consumption, needed darkened rooms, offered a tiny grey and white picture and was again a primary narrative source. As TV developed, many houses evolved their social rooms to give the television a central focus. TVs were often built into a massive piece of furniture with all chairs facing towards it. Advertisements and programmes were dominantly narrative in form.  
 
However, TV in the 1990s provides an information window in a much greater information context. Children watching TV in 1993 might have a Nintendo 'Game Boy' in hand, a photo-magazine on their lap and even, inexplicably to parents, be watching whilst listening to their 'Walkman' headphones. Of course all this will be with the channel controller nearby and often with a vast number of channels on offer which are 'stepped through' at frequent intervals. Children seem to 'graze' information and TV production companies, hoping to retain the interest of the youth viewer, seek to build programmes with little narrative structure, but with complex information dimensions - text, voice over, video edited with great rapidity, separate background projection, music and graphics. Watch advertisements aimed at children for any number of convincing examples.  
 
In schools there is a crisis in educational broadcasting as children find it increasingly difficult to sit for 50 minutes and offer their undivided attention to a single information source with no other choices and no video controller. Of course, it is equally uncomfortable for their teachers to sit around a radio, doing nothing else, and listen to a single aural source. We have all changed our media habits.  
 
There is considerable irony in this for multimedia. We have struggled technically to be able to deliver the full screen narrative form that TV so clearly represents - one hour of full screen full motion video has been a multimedia 'holy grail' for so long! - and yet just as we appear to be able to deliver it, we find that what learners seek is something else anyway. They need a browsing, grazing environment where learner autonomy is fundamental, where the model of information represented is crucial to that browsing function, where metaphor and interface design are of primary importance and where sound bites, video snatches, auditory icons and text labels offer a complex and participatory environment that challenges the learner and recognises their increasing sophistication as information handlers and creators. Our normal information lives have changed without us noticing and the implications for multimedia and learning are complex and significant. The many publishers seeking to provide electronic books and narrative CDs are seeking to generate product that is a generation too late.  
 
And what of the changes in ordinary children? Just as our normal information lives have changed, so have the children who are the young learners of this information age. Many observers see only negative changes. Computer games are of real cultural importance to this 'information generation' and games have developed the same short fashion lives that pop music once had. From parents and the media today computer games get the same sort of critical press that 60's pop stars and the 'rock generation' once got: children can't read because they play too many computer games and watch too much TV. The games allegedly make them violent and show gender stereotypes as virtual heroines queue up for actual rescue. Children become hopelessly addicted, social misfits trapped in an electronic never-never land. Children have fits, are exposed to pornography and truant from school. Or so we are led to believe.  
 
Ironically, many of these wild and improbable claims are made by the same generation that was supposedly corrupted and debauched by Mick Jagger's antics in the sixties. They ought to know better and, just as our focus on technology neglected crucial changes occurring with information consumption, so our focus on what is wrong with the games has led us to neglect important and valuable changes in the children playing them.  
 
Games can provide a challenging problem solving environment where the players observe, question, hypothesise and test. Games can offer a vehicle for collaborative endeavour and, crucially, they have changed the climate of expectation that surrounds children's computing experiences. Children expect delight, mental challenge and a role that is evolving from interactive to participative. Everyone acknowledges anecdotally that children are competent and astute computer users. Few designers of 'educational software' for young learners begin from this premise. If multimedia learning environments are to offer challenge, provide delight and deliver real learning outcomes they must first recognise the emergent capability of learners and respond to the climate of expectation that those learners bring to their computer screens.  
 
This paper develops the simple view that, whilst we have have focussed on technology's ability to deliver multiple media, those media have themselves been changing and whilst we have focussed on children's learning, the children too have been changing. In both cases we have been watching the wrong changes and the implications for multimedia and for learning are considerable. This constitutes a real and urgent challenge for the designers of multimedia, of learning environments and of the home and school curriculum. 
 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell 1994 

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I wrote this for the Building Schools Journal - the team that publish it run what has become a pivotal conference annually in Harrogate - and i enjoy the contrast between the scale of BSF with its multi billion pound budget and the simple, but oh so wise comments of the children in this 5 student school. 
 
Happy days... 
 
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Peace and Iguanas: I was visiting a tiny island in the Caribbean, Little Cayman; the one school has five students. After some fun when colleague Gareth Long introduced them to Google Earth - they zoomed in to everywhere they'd ever dreamed of visiting - I mentioned to them that we might be linking their school up to other tiny schools around the world. Looking out at the lush vegetation, parrots, vivid flowers, turqoise blue sea, coral reef and surf, I asked them "what would you show others that you have here, but they probably haven't ever seen?". the eldest (8) thought for a moment, "Peace" he said, whilst the smallest added "and Iguanas". The never fail to delight, children, do they? 
 
But small and peace are not a bad starting points. Back in the 70s and 80s when factory scale secondary schools with anonymous staff and students prepared uniform, and indeed uniformed, children for the typing pool, production line or other mindless work, scale mattered. Indeed, we rewarded headteachers financially for making their schools ever bigger. The consequent overcrowding, alienation and loss of self were just vocational preparation. But the mindless jobs have gone, to be done by robots. Now we need children who can design better robots, not act like one. Inexplicably, that old productivity model of learning lingers, but around the world the scale of learning organisations is finally returning to favouring personal, collegiate, intimate, stable, mixed age and small learning units. Schools within schools, principal learning centres, learning bases, home bases - from Iceland to Tasmania the langauge may vary but the principle is the same: children staying put for much of the day in a "home base" for about 125 leaners, with a dedicated teacher and other teachers visiting. The timetable is flexible, work has substantial project based elements, and there are some specialist spaces too (for example for sport). I call these basIC schools - they harness the Base principle to build Integrated Communities of learners - hence the name.  
 
What is facinating about basIC schools is the quality of educational outcomes that they all evidence. Not the tiny 3% or 4% gains of the best of the old productivity based "factory" model schools, but whopping gains often into three figures of percentage improvement. And of course both really small and over-large schools can operate at a level of intimacy, effectiveness stability that is hugely engaging for all concerned: teachers. As we start to see the international linking of the basIC components to form global learning institutions we can see clearly how important diversity is. Peace and Iguanas? What will our schools offer in return? 
 
© Prof Stephen Heppell 2007 

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The other day I was sitting in the cockpit of our boat, moored up at St Katherine Docks in London, playing with my little Nintendo DS lite. A father and daughter walked past and chatted. After a while the dad indicated the big IMX40 steering wheel; "Carbon Fibre?" he asked and I confirmed that it was. He looked impressed. His daughter pointed to the DS and asked "Animal Crossing?" but although I like that game I was enjoying Big Brain Academy, and told her so. "Cool" she said, doubtless picking a word she thought I'd understand, and showing a thumbs-up sign.  
 
I reflected that a time when 10 (or thereabouts) year olds think that brain games in games consoles are cool is pretty close to that holy grail of learning and games working together to inspire and challenge us all.  
 
As it happened, that same week was the London Games Week and I had been asked to launch the excellent booklet "Unlimited Learning: computer and video games in the learning landscape" for which I'd written the introduction. It explores this very issue. Here it is:
 
 
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It didn't take long for the very first, very simple, computer games to catch the attention of education. Even with the simplest of graphics and moribund processor speeds, children were gripped, and education was fascinated. But that attention was characterised by two entirely different perspectives, rather in the manner that some see a "glass half full" where others see a "glass half empty". In the "glass half full" camp there were those observers who could straight away see, and applaud, the motivation and attention of the game players with even these simplest early games. Children whose attention wandered elsewhere in their lives, for example at school, were unexpectedly very, very focussed. Their discussions about tactics and strategy were detailed and enduring. Competition was strong. For this camp a journey began of what has become something of a quest for the Holy Grail. In this case the Grail was learning software that was as seductive and engaging as computer games. In the early years that quest reached out to try to inspire Spelling Space Invaders or Punctuation Pac Mac. On-screen snooker became an exploration of bearings, virtual football an exercise in maths and probability. Of course, in those early days of computing, the school computer was one of the most powerful a neighbourhood would see. People broke in to schools to steal them and the educational programmers, hobbyists and geeky teenagers, were at the forefront of their art. Some of the earliest educational software was seductive, engaging, challenging and evocative because it was written by the same teams that were in parallel developing the cool games. In terms of the installed base, schools mattered in the market because, in the UK at least, a lot of the nation's best computers were in schools! Security and theft were huge issues. There were more computers in school than on the high-street. But the home computer revolution, led in the UK by companies like Sinclair with its wobbly-keyed Z80 powered cheap-as-chips Spectrum, began to dominate the market and a host of "computing" devices filled UK homes with a remarkable penetration. And at home, people liked to play, didn't they? Rapidly, those hobbyist pioneer software writers began to evolve into a games industry that in 2006 has helped the UK's creative industries to outperform the City in earnings. In learning the "glass half full" perspective would also reveal that the skills and capabilities of this new creative economy were rather different from those needed back in the last century. In a curiously recursive kind of way, people began to see that the collaboration and problem solving OF games, were exactly the strategies required FOR the industries that had grown up on the back of new technologies. Learning would need to move on. 
 
But at the same time the "glass half empty" camp were furrowing their brows into a fierce frown. Computer games were just the kind of thing that they could see needed to be banned right away too. Where the other camp saw concentration they saw addiction; where there was intense competition they saw social dysfunction and isolation; where there was delight they saw distraction. Children were "lost in a world of make-believe" when they should have been out "kicking a can around the streets with friends". We should not be surprised by this. An aggressively Protestant streak in education has always seen its task as the protection of learners from almost any new technology. When the first ballpoint pens appeared they were confiscated for fear of the damage that might occur to children's writing (as though the blotchy fountain pen, with slow drying ink, in the grip of a smudgingly left handed child was somehow a peak in technology to be protected!!). Later, as calculators appeared these were in turn removed for fear of the damage they might do to the learner's arithmetic and today children's mobile phones are being removed at the school gates for fear of... well, for this "glass half empty" group almost anything will do as a reason as long as education can be made to lag well behind the reality of everyday life. In every case throughout the history of educational technology however, this negativity has been seen, eventually, to be foolishness. Ballpoint pens are now the bedrock of children's literacy, calculators have enabled new and effective strategies for engaging children in numeracy. Enlightened schools are already embracing the mobile phone as a conduit for communication outside of the school, and for its ability to offer a powerful, personalised, browser in every pocket. But for Games the criticism has always been a little more enduring, possibly because the games themselves evolve continuously, providing fresh focus for new criticisms. Today's games are criticised for being "graphically photo realistic" where before the criticism was of the ""primitive shapes" and "garish colours"; where prices were once supposedly a socially divisive issue, now the cheapness brings a criticism of "ubiquity". A favourite criticism of this dark view of gaming is to see "rapid hand eye co-ordination" as some kind of strange digital palsy, somehow missing completely the fact that "rapid hand eye co-ordination" needs some awesome cognitive processing to enable that co-ordination. But if you see a "glass half empty", that negativity embraces you like a black cloud. Rather like being trapped in a computer games darkest level, ironically! 
 
Now, to some extent, if we were still in the 1990s, this wouldn't matter. Children had rather enjoyed education's "distant" relationship with games and were happy to be slightly subversive experts in a place that their teachers poorly understood. Surely a tweedy teacher embracing their games earnestly would damage the street cred. of this most enduring of leisure pursuits and dilute some of the pleasure and mystery? The industry too was happy with a distant and slightly prickly relationship. If teachers confiscate games consoles, then what better advert for them could there be, the industry reflected. Indeed a major learning initiative with one major games platform brand in the 1990s, which also involved a huge UK publisher and the creation of a global learning brand, was scrapped at the last moment because the platform provider suddenly took fright at the prospect of Education approving "their" games. A warm embrace by Education seemingly threatened to smother their product's reputation and sales. "Teachers recommending computer games? It could kill the brand" they cried. The industry was happy with a gulf between learner and gamer. Children were too.  
 
But, we are in the 21st century now and, for some fortunate learners, the curriculum has moved on. For them, it is already rich with seductive new technologies, hopefully by now properly embedded, as the leading edge children create digital videos, collaborate on their own podcasts, and assemble their e-portfolios to log an impressive track record of digital creativity. In terms of its impact of the curriculum, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) started out with a primary focus on the word Technology (children studied the computer in Computer Studies), but as time passed and technology became more ubiquitous the focus in learning turned to the word Information and indeed in a multitude of conference keynotes much reference was made to The Information Age. But one huge impact of this ubiquitous technology is to move Information towards being a free good. So much information, so many providers. All the heated debates about IPR and plagiarism fall away with the realisation that, like Technology, Information is everywhere. ICT isn't then about these two key words and again the debate moved forwards. For ICT the C word has become a primary focus; good communication is scare and valued: in the 21st century it is Communication that is making the running in new learning. Interestingly in the games world too it is communication, from player to player, from console to console, from continent to continent, that is making waves. 
 
Communication matters. In a world of ubiquitous technologies it is no longer about how many computers per pupil a school has installed. In a world where Google is freely available on the phone in your pocket, where literally millions of contributors sharing their images and videos and knowledge on flickR, YouTube or MSN, content is not king either. And in a world where WHAT you know is looking like Google's role, WHO you know and HOW you collaborate with them are looking pretty important. Communication has come to matter more than either technology or information. They are both everywhere, good communication is scarce and treasured. ICT has become fiercely democratising as the authentic voices of the consumer, the learner, the viewer, the parent, have finally been given a place to be heard. Games have been quicker to respond to this than education. while schools struggle to connect children around the world, consoles like the little Nintendo DS offer a naturally wireless environment and a host of connected collaborative games. In modern language lessons children rarely phone a friend in France for a chat on Skype, but on the way home they might easily assemble a global team for a game of virtual football. This is a peer to peer century and it is not likely that children will tolerate having to power-down to come to school in it. If wireless collaboration and fun is so easily carried in their pockets and so much a part of their gaming world then, they might not unreasonably ask, where is it in the classroom? Part of the answer may lay with the new form factor hardware such as PSP, or Microsoft's Origami project, producing very much a personal, pocketable computer form, restructuring the computer for peer to peer communication. 
 
The simplest way to summarise this is that in the 20th century we built big things that did things for people (like the BBC, railway systems, or the National Curriculum in many countries) and all the technology of the industrial revolution took us in a direction of economies of large scale, centralised organisation and hierarchical structures. The technology of the 21st century however, has taken us in new directions. ICT has offered a host of new opportunities: companies are becoming more collegiate and agile, hierarchies are flattening, the word "centralised" has become an insult, and all the success stories of the 21st century have been about helping people to help each other. For example, eBay doesn't carry stock, it just puts together people who want items, with people who have those items; helping people to help each other is simple recipe for 21st century economic success. If these things interest you, you might anticipate a massive expansion of the voluntary and charitable sector too. It has already begun. The Games industry understands this reasonably well too, and a host of current games offer collaborative, social, virtual and actual, communities on-line as part of the play experience. This includes the sheer fun of playing together away from the keyboard. Watching small groups of children learning language through specialist software that interfaces to their Konami Dance Mats is to see peer to peer learning too. 
 
Unfortunately education has been rather slow to notice all this, with the exception of a few inspired ministers and projects around the world. For example, universities have, if anything, rushed off in completely the opposite direction, have become quite viciously hierarchical and depressingly unsocial. Having spent the 20th century trying to escape from their 19th century structures they seem to have greeted the 21st century by finally embracing 20th century instead. Oh dear. Universities rather blindly relish continuing to be the "big things" that "do things for people" and may well not survive as their already collaborative students apply a very considerable ingenuity to helping each other; just type "free essays on-line" into Google to see what that help might look like if universities don't move forward soon. One possible salvation may lie in the support of groups like SkillSet, developing effective partnerships between the audio visual industries and further and higher education institutions to ensure a progression for 21st century skills. Of course, as you might expect, SkillSet emerged from the film and new media industries, but by building and conjoining a network of Skillset Academies it is very much trying to help universities and the industry to help each other. A glimmer of hope perhaps. But is isn't just universities that have largely missed the plot: we have too few global schools, inside schools there are very few formal collaborative assessments; "learning stuff" is still valued more than "critiquing stuff"; working alone is assessed ahead of working together. It is quite possible to imagine a future where schools too become like railway stations: places where you go reluctantly when other choices are unavailable; when you get there you very quickly regret it.  
 
Some games companies too have struggled with the onset of the 21st century. Rather too many seek to be the organisation that produces the next blockbuster whilst their passive market falls in line to consume what is on offer. In their dreams!, but unlike universities, most games companies have woken up and noticed which century they are in. The voice of the consumer shines into their development processes. They are building seductive games which help people to help each other and indeed where helping others is a primary strategy for generating enjoyment. For example GameTrack provides a complex system for tracking and analysing sports performance metrics, but by creating Gametrack Groups the power of peer to peer support is unleashed. GameTrack doesn't coach you, the way it might have in the 20th century, it helps you to coach each other through the generation of complex and detailed metrics. 
 
Indeed, this is where it starts to get really interesting. Interactive games (characterised by players making choices) are becoming eclipsed by participative games (characterised by players making contributions) and the strategies for successful game playing are increasingly complex, sophisticated, challenging and cerebral. This edges games towards the very heart of where learning is headed. The danger is that, as these 21st century games evolve, education fails to take proper account of these complex strategies, fails to offer a learning progression that builds on and from them. One result would be a disaffected generation recoiling from learning not because it is is dull but because they are hungry to progress their cognitive skills and don't find enough challenge in traditional learning to offer such progression. This is not fanciful. My own research work in the early 1990s revealed a very clear set of strategies evolved by children playing computer games. To succeed in even the simplest platform game children had to lock their problem solving into a tight cycle of Observe, Question, Hypothesise, Test. Curiously this exactly matched the scientific method that education had been trying to embed in young scientists, with a conspicuousconspicuous lack of success, since the birth of science. The problem back in the early 1990s was that because teachers and policymakers didn't play those early games they had no idea of just how sophisticated their young learners' iterative strategies were. As a result the opportunity to build on those strategies and bring science to life were missed. To some extent an early deficiency model of game playing blinded education to the opportunities on hand.  
 
This might not happen second time around. Optimism is strong because learning is seductive too, per se. Children love to learn, from pre school, through their Key Stages and on into adulthood and lifelong learning. Games manufacturers are discovering that this love of learning is not easily diminished and a host of games are emerging that are nakedly and gloriously focussed on learning. Suddenly, the 21st century has a real opportunity to bring together the engagement and focus of game playing with our innate sheer delight in learning. The Holy Grail of learning software that was both seductive and engaging games might be found that delivered on specific national curriculum targets. Today that Holy Grail might be found because those games have a focus on learning itself. Titles such as Nintendo's Brain Training, with its clever box caption "How old is your Brain?" are selling to young children and to pensioners simultaneously in colossal numbers. And of course this happens just at a time when education and learning, throughout life, is questioning and reinventing itself. The huge global trends in learning, away from one size fits all towards personalisation, away from age phases towards "no age limits", away from specific disciplines towards project based learning, away from simple notational assessments towards new media based e-portfolios, away from individual towards collaborative, all open the door to a wide embrace of cerebral learning games. Education and Games are literally starting to speak the same language, pursue the same research paths. It may well be that, just as all the success stories of the 21st century are about helping people to help each other, the success stories around learning and games playing will all come about as a result of the two industries helping themselves to help each other.  
 
People love to learn, people love to play. It should not have taken quite so long to make progress on putting those two seamlessly together should it? In the 21st century, the glass is neither half full or half empty; for the first time, it is simply overflowing with opportunity. 
 
 

© Stephen Heppell 1996  
 

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