WISE 2013 – Qatar

The Learning {RE}imagined team is in Qatar attending and filming interviews at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha. It’s the annual summit hosted by the Qatar Foundation that brings together many of the worlds educators to meet, discuss and network around the themes of education, innovation and transformation.


Of all the summits I attend I feel that this one has a genuinely global perspective that isn’t specifically based around policy makers with disposable budget. WISE brings together an engaged and diverse community of policy makers, educators, innovators and thought leaders from over 100 countries all passionate about making a better world through learning. Whilst the summit sessions themselves provide plenty of opportunity for the sharing of ideas it’s the chance meetings and social as well as professional networking opportunities that make it so valuable for me.

If you’re attending WISE then you can discover more about the Learning {RE}imagined book and digital media project by visiting our space on the first floor to the right as you enter the building where you’ll see a sign that says “WISE Books“.


You can contribute to the project by visiting our special video recording booth where you can record your response to the question “how would you reimagine learning”. We’ll be making a special compilation of these video clips so you can be immortalized as a contributor to the project. It will only take a minute of your time so please take part!


I will be hosting a forum session with panelists who have participated in the creation of the book as well as members of the WISE Learners Voice. The session is being hosted on Thursday October 31st at 13:30 in The Forum on the first floor near the entrance. More information here.


If you’re not attending WISE then you can follow the live video streams here


If you’re new to the Learning {RE}imagined project then welcome to this blog and start here to begin the journey.


We look forward to seeing you during the next few days and please say hello if you’d like to know more!


Olympic Learning for Brazil?

Smile, you're on cameraIt was far too short with so much to learn in such a large and diverse country as Brazil but nevertheless we managed to spend a few days there and left inspired but with as many questions raised as those answered which simply begs a return visit!


Brazil celebrates its 200th year of independence in 2022 and this perhaps sets a useful target for its nascent educational transformation programme. Currently committing over $15 Billion to host the Olympics in 2016 and $11 Billion to the FIFA 2014 World Cup it’s little wonder that the Brazilian public, who are footing the bill, are wondering why there is less enthusiaism from government to commit to delivering Olympic or FIFA standards to their public services including schools.


The disruptive history of Brazil is a good indicator of that which has lead to its challenges with public (state provided) education. From colonialism, outside interventions (ongoing) and military dictatorships to redemocratization it hasn’t been an easy ride for the Brazilians. Even today there are vast inequalities amongst marginalised ethnic groups such as the underrepresented Afro-Brazilian population, which is extraordinary when you consider that a recent census showed that 50.7% of the Brazilian population define themselves as black or dual-heritage.


The public education system in Brazil has historically been tragically underfunded and the status of teachers and educators undermined by successive governments. Over recent years there have been many attempts to meet the challenges of transforming their educational systems through the use of technology with a variety of national schemes including the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), 1:1 computing with Intel Classmate PC and various mobile phone programmes of which none could claim to have been successful. Commentators within Brazil have even suggested that these were vanity projects that merely suggested change but met other more commercial interests.


But grassroots activism, social entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships are emerging to meet these challenges. The country is so vast and diverse with a population of nearly 200 million that “change must be orchestrated in partnership with the civil society” as one government official told me. By this, he recognised that the creation of a long term plan that could transcend changes of government in a democracy could only be really achieved if the plan was owned by external social and commercial enterprises.


Gilbert Dimenstein

Our first visit was to meet with the people behind Porvir, an initiative of the Inspirare Institute, whose mission is to inspire innovations in entrepreneurial activities, public policies, programs and investments that improve the quality of education in Brazil. It is the brainchild of Brazilian business man, Bernado Gradin, whose family fortune was made in the petrochemical industries before investing in sustainable energy sectors and other social programmes.


Interviews with Bernado and the many people either behind Porvir or who share the same mission will be featured in the Learning {RE}imagined book.


The creation of Porvir is a not for profit response to the dearth of knowledgeable reporting in the Brazilian mainstream media about education. It acts as a furiously productive editorial office that produces daily stories about global and regional innovations in education that it makes freely available to the mainstream media under Creative Commons licence. The organisation runs workshops for journalists and lobbies mainstream media from newspapers to radio to television and online to carry insightful reportings on educational innovation. The objective is to engage both the general public and policy makers in the discourse about educational transformation.


It is here that I believe the world can learn something. So often “education” is regarded by the public as something that either doesn’t interest them, they have no voice in or is just plain dull. And yet in many countries we hand our children over to the state apparatus without a question about its purpose or whether the outcomes are, in fact, relevant to their childrens future or the well-being of their nation state.


Porvir’s vital mission then is to change that and it’s already bearing fruit for its labour by providing journalists and editors with a resource that enables them to understand the meaning and impact of education and insights from global thinkers and activists.


As a news resource for educators everywhere Porvir is worthing following.


NAVE RioWe then headed down to Rio de Janiero to visit the NAVE Rio School which has won numerous plaudits for being one of the worlds most innovative schools. Thus our expectations were high and we weren’t disappointed.


Literally hidden away in Tijuca, built in to an existing telephone exchange building the school is a partnership between Brazil’s largest telecommunications corporation Oi via their Institute of Social Responsibility, Oi Futuro, and the state departments for education of Rio de Janiero.


The school is a public, state school for students aged 16-19 and is a exemplar of how public schools could be in Brazil given the necessary level of support and vision from the private as well as the public sector. Competition for one of the 500 places at the school is fierce with some 5000 applications for the 120 places available each year. But also the demands placed on students is also fierce. Given that the school is compelled to meet the statutory demands of the state education department but at the same time is striving to provide students with marketable skills in the digital domain such as coding and design students work a 10 hour day, 5 days a week.


I spent much of my day with a group of students who showed me their school and took me to lessons. Like High Tech High in San Diego the school features a strong project based learning ethos where cross-disciplinary subjects are merged to solve particular challenges with the results being exhibited within the school building.


School in a Telephone ExchangeAnd what a school building it is. Policy makers who assume that architectural enhancements to learning are a folly should take note. The environment at NAVE Rio is one of the key’s to its success. Like High Tech High and the offices of IDEO in San Francisco the building is a design space full of collaborative common areas imaginatively decorated and lit. The inside of NAVE Rio looks more like the inside of a corporation like Google than the sort of schools that resemble prisons. In discussing this with the students it’s clear that this environment is key. Like employees of Google they are expected to spend long hours in the building while being able to meet the demands of the day, staying sharp, social and creative. Whilst both the students and teachers would like to see a shorter day, which may actually come to pass, the environment was compelling rather than oppressive and in my mind answers the question about environment when so many policy makers see it as an unnecessary luxury at least from the benefit of their leather chair in a luxurious government office 😉


The basis of the school being a private/public partnership is similar to the charter schools in the US and academies in the UK so I was cautious about the motives behind the investment of Brazil’s telecoms company Oi in this venture. Was it intended to simply be a training camp for compliant future employees willing to work 50+ hours a week?


Carla BrancoI put this question to Oi Futura’s Industry Liaison Head, Carla Branco, who explained that whilst mine was a natural suspicion the initiative was “not intended to create future employees for Oi but to stimulate local well-being and independent wealth creation within the community itself. If Brazilians are doing well then so do our businesses.”


What is key, Carla told me, “is that students from NAVE Rio generally gain entry to the state-funded universities which are far better than the private ones’. This statement was also roundly supported by the students who all have ambitions for future careers and not necessarily in the digital industries.


3 days in Brazil can never be enough, it’s a complex country with a booming economy but with a restless population demanding better public services as the treasury begins to expand. Unrest and dissent is the reality and indicator of a healthy democracy and one can be optimistic that without external interventions that Brazil can capitalize on its relative stability and growing wealth provided that it is distributed. If it can do this then it will genuinely have become independent and make 2022 a year really worth celebrating.


Outside it’s America

Airplane LondonWe spent an intense 10 days in the USA on what was an ambitious schedule of New York, Cambridge, Rhode Island, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego then back to New York before heading to our next destination in Brazil (see next post).


Whilst at the time it felt madly ambitious we only missed one flight, which left me sleeping in a motel that looked like a rendezvous for Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman, we visited some really impressive people and organisations.


This post, like the others before it, can only be a brief summary of our activities. For the rest you’ll have to wait for the book 😉


First up in New York we visited Quest to Learn, a school that one of the 14 year old students told me was the school that everyone’s heard of apart from New York. By this she meant that Quest to Learn receives a constant stream of visitors from all over the world and yet many of her friends haven’t heard of it. Designed from the ground up by a team of teachers and game designers based on 30 years of learning research it is a bold initiative that redesigns the curriculum and teaching practice taking influence from the way young people engage with games.


Quest to Learn SchoolBy games they don’t specifically mean video games and indeed despite being known as the “game based learning” school in the popular media there is little evidence of what we typically think of when we think games. As co-director Arana Shapiro tells me “people expect to see our students sitting around playing video or board games and whilst we do use such games from time to time the reference to games is in the mechanics we deploy within our teaching and learning strategy.” To get an idea of what’s happening here I visit their “Mission Lab” which is a design studio within the school where teachers work alongside game and curriculum designers to design flexible learning experiences for their classes.


One of the principles of the teaching style draws heavily on the gaming concept of simulation where learning is placed in applied context rather than simply memorising things by rote whilst employing cross-disciplinary skills to solve a particular problem or challenge. Students are actively encouraged to work in collaborative teams which effectively act as self-organising learning environments in between teacher directed segments of a given class.


The designers and directors of the school have learnt a lot since it opened in 2009 and an important lesson has been in the role of the teacher. Arana is candid when she explains that “initially we imagined that teachers would essentially be content specialists supported by designers but it soon became clear that there was far more to teaching than simply knowing the subject specifically their ability to engage learners by being engaged themselves.”


We left New York for Cambridge, MA where went to MIT to visit Noam Chomsky, Mitch Resnick and Eric Rosenbaum.


Noam Chomsky & Graham Brown-MartinNoam, unimpressed that I had hardly been home in months, suggested that I needed a good shave and looking in the mirror that evening I think I’d have to agree. To receive personal grooming tips from someone I regard as one of todays greatest living intellectuals was quite a moment for me. We’d arrived to take photographs for the book to supplement an earlier interview I’d conducted with him but during the photo session we discussed a variety of issues such as a comparison of the education systems of Cuba and Singapore as well as Noam’s childhood experiences of attending Oak Lane Day School that was regarded as an experimental when it was founded in 1916 upon the principles of honouring a childs individuality in a setting that fosters intellectual, creative, academic and personal growth in the Dewey tradition.


Well, I think the proof of the schools efficacy is in the results!


I asked Noam how we would reimagine learning and this is what he said.


Next, we moved on to another building at MIT to visit the people behind EdX, the non-profit partnership founded by MIT and Harvard with an investment of $60 Million to increase access to students globally, improve campus education by bringing online technologies in to the campus and perform research around learning. It’s the latter parts of their mission which I feel separates them from the almost embarrassingly over-inflated EdTech bubble that is MOOCs.


I met with Johannes Heinlein, Director of Strategic Partnerships at EdX and like him immediately as he immediately dismisses all the hyperbole around MOOCs and sticks with the facts that MOOCs are still work in progress, that they don’t replace the vital social, interpersonal and collaborative engagement that a physical meeting place provides and whilst access is key they are using this opportunity to improve the quality of learning on and off campus. He tells me that EdX students are forming meet-up groups and that nearly 30% of the EdX subscribers are of high school age effectively benefitting from the lack of any entry requirements to begin studying degree level material. I ask him about the potential for educational colonialism as a result of exporting MIT or Harvard degrees and he agrees that this was a concern so they have made their technology open so that international partners can participate in this programme with their own materials.


Mitch ResnickWe moved along to MIT’s Media Lab and the Lifelong Kindergarten where we met with its leader and Professor of Learning Research, Mitch Resnick. Mitch amongst other achievements is regarded as the father of the Scratch programming environment for children and the building bricks that became the basis of the LEGO Mindstorm kits. I’ve been a long time fan of Mitch’s work and he tells me that the thinking behind this group at MIT was based on the inspiration he gets from the way children learn in kindergarten where they spend lots of time “playfully designing and creating things in collaboration with one another”. Mitch believes this natural creative learning instinct becomes eroded by the time students reach high school where the learning is more geared towards listening to lectures rather than experimentation rather than develop as creative thinkers. So Mitch’s group explores and develops techniques and platforms to prepare young people for the kind of tasks that he believes are more needed today where they are able to take on new challenges with confidence. That said Mitch is concerned that kindergartens today are becoming more like our schools in that you can now find young children now filling out worksheets on phonics and working on spelling flashcards.


Working in the same group as Mitch and in fact one of Resnick’s PhD students is Eric Rosenbaum, co-founder of Makey Makey.


Makey Makey calls itself an invention kit for everyone and is a programmable circuit board that allows you to control things and get feedback. Sounds techy but it’s child’s play and you can be up and running making the contents of your fruit bowl into a musical instrument – yes really! Makey Makey is to programmable control boards like Arduino what the Scratch programming environment is to Python it’s an easy point of inception that gets kids engaged, building and creating quickly. It’s also a fab present for the upcoming holiday season (or so my daughters keep reminding me).


John MaedaWe then take a 2 hour drive out from Cambridge to Providence and the Rhode Island School of Design and meet the team lead by Provost Roseanne Somerson and President John Maeda. I asked John why he thought STEM subjects had become such an apparent priority amongst education systems to the detriment of the arts and he explained to me that “it’s because we believe that technology innovation creates new economic opportunities in a way like back in the 1960’s the Moon shot required a significant expansion of our knowledge in maths, science, physics etc. But the reality was that it was influenced by creativity and design. Somewhere along the way we become more interested in the “what?” rather than the “why?”. This creates a problem in that you can be a good testing nation but you can’t invent or innovate which is why we seek to put the ‘art’ back into the STEM education conversation in what we call STEAM”


I had a really stimulating afternoon with the RISD team and learned far more than I can write in this blog so looking forward to putting altogether for you in the book. But speaking of books Roseanne kindly gave me a copy of her recently published book which is not only beautifully produced but also very thought provoking so I recommend you take a look. It’s called “The Art of Critical Making”.


Sir Ken Robinson & Graham Brown-MartinOver to Los Angeles and we meet with the one and only Sir Ken Robinson. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Sir Ken for a few years now and I’ll admit that I feel a couple of inches taller and a bit more determined after spending an hour or two in his company. We meet in his very trendy offices in Westwood Village to film our interview before heading across the street for a very good cup of coffee and some photos. If you’re attending or watching the livestream of the WISE 2013 Summit you’ll catch a small preview of our interview but you’ll get full access to the whole enchilada once I’ve had a chance to edit it down and prep it for, well you know, the book 😉


We had a detailed discussion about the role and potential of digital technologies within the learning experience and Ken compares them to the role that many tools have had in our past to extend what we are capable of, not just of doing but of thinking about. Ken tells me that “as soon as you have writing systems you don’t just extend your ability to spread a message you affect the very nature of the message and what you can conceive and all great transformative technologies have done that. They’ve not just let us do the things we did before just differently but let us do things we haven’t conceived of before and that’s what’s happening with this new wave of digital technologies”.


Ken was generous with his time and has made a terrific contribution to my work. I asked him the same question as I asked Noam Chomsky about how he would reimagine learning and he said this.


Our work completed in Los Angeles we left for San Francisco, not to visit the homes of the digital technology companies that have so much impact on our lives (although we did ask – see my earlier post about Silicon Valley’s false consciousness), but to meet with Sandy Speicher, the education lead at design consultancy IDEO.


Sandy SpeicherIDEO designed Apple’s first mouse for the Lisa and Macintosh computers, the Palm PDA and work for a range of well known brands. They have been championing the approach of “design thinking” and more recently applying it to education. Sandy explains that IDEO take a human-centred approach to their design work which really means adopting a process that begins with people and that leads to a desired outcome that takes into account the desires and needs of the people working within that system. Sandy believes that by adopting design thinking approaches to education we can create better learning experiences and environments where teachers and learners are designers of this physical and mental spaces. Sandy has already instigated some useful resources for those interested in learning more about design thinking as it applies to education. There’s the free “Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit” and hot off the press the “Design Thinking In Schools” which is a partnership between IDEO and the K12 Lab Network at Stanford d.school both established by IDEO co-founder David Kelley with the aim of helping people of all ages and background build their creative confidence.


I happened to be at IDEO’s offices at the launch of Tom and David Kelley’s book “Creative Confidence” and was given a copy. It seems like everybody is writing a book these days!


We then headed over to San Diego to visit High Tech High and the force of nature that is Larry Rosenstock, their CEO. High Tech High is in fact 11 schools in the San Diego area comprised of 2 elementary schools, 4 middle schools and 5 high schools. They are “charter schools” which means that whilst they must adhere to a set of state standards they have greater freedom in how they teach. They are state schools and deliberately attract a socially and culturally diverse student population selected by lottery.


Larry RosenstockDespite the name the school does not deploy or rely upon any significant about of digital technology. It is there but it is not the focus, the name comes from the schools origin as a response to the high technology corporations in the region that were becoming frustrated with the skillset exhibited by students coming out of traditional schooling. The schools DNA is configured around a high level of personalization, adult-world connection, common intellectual mission and the teacher as designer.


Larry explains that “teachers as designers means that they are creators of new knowledge and not just churning stuff out of books”. He says this with such conviction that you wouldn’t want to argue with him. There is such a rebellious streak in him that I am immediately caught up in the bonhomie but with good reason for this is one of the most exciting schools that I have had the fortune to visit.


The interior of the school is almost identical to the design studio of IDEO in San Francisco, part swanky private members club of the Shoreditch House variety and part creative design studio with nearly 500 students. It’s difficult to define where classrooms finish and social collaborative areas begin for in effect they are one and the same. I am guided around the school by a student and invited to speak to any student or member of staff that I wish. Without exception every one that I speak to is knowledgeable, interesting and interested.


Jeff RobinThe school is almost certainly the leading exponent of “project based learning” guided, defined and installed by resident art teacher and ships mate Jeff Robin. I’m not going to say anything more about Jeff here other than if you want to put a zap on your educational world then visit his website that is full of resources that he has created to share with the community. I mean just visit it, like right now!


The project based mentality that is at the heart of educational practice within High Tech High means that the walls and common areas within the school are adorned with the outputs of the students projects where the goal for each student is to complete their project to the point where it can be displayed to share with other students. Trust me when I say that much of what I saw would not have looked out of place in a high end design store.


I’ve a lot more to write about High Tech High but I can say that this is as good as transformation gets within the confines of remaining within a system that demands a set of standardised tests at the end.


Larry has a coffee mug that states his aim of “nurturing creative noncompliance” which pretty much sums up the exciting learning environment he & team have created.


Here’s Larry’s words on how he would reimagine learning.


Finally, we head back to New York to the offices of TED, of the conference and talks fame, to meet Logan Smalley the head of TED’s educational initiative TED-Ed. The goal of TED-Ed is to find the worlds best lessons and combine them with great animation and production so that they can reach a bigger audience. TED-Ed uses an open nomination system where anyone can nominate either themselves or an educator they respect for consideration for the TED-Ed program. So far in the 18 months since they started they have created nearly 300 lessons worth sharing that have been viewed about 36 million times.


Logan SmalleyLogan says that a key motivator for teachers to get involved is the reach of the TED-Ed platform, he says “that they have worked with teachers that have given a lesson in a class that may reach perhaps around 500 learners a year but on TED-Ed the same lesson is reaching more than 100,000 learners”. He continues to tell me how “exciting it is to hear the voice of great teachers amplified”. Logan cautions however that “video is not teaching, it doesn’t have the body language or the sixth sense that teaching requires but it delivers content in a way that can be used by teachers and learners.”. Logan explains that the purpose of TED-Ed is to ignite curiosity and compared to other video based flipped classroom approaches he feels that its geared towards the why? of education rather than the how? By this he means learning, for example, why Pythagoras Theorem is useful as opposed to just learning the formula.


This is what Logan said when I asked him how he would reimagine learning.


So that was our excellent adventure in the USA. If the truth be told there was certainly a book’s worth of material just from that 10 day trip and I will do my best to distill it down into a useful essence when I come to the full writing and resource editing part of this project.


Here’s another musical interlude:


Next up Brazil!


Silicon Valley – Open Up

“I can tell you what a society run by Silicon Valley would look like. Terrible food, worse style, and no sex. And lots of apps”


Umair Haque, Harvard Business Review


Apple, Google, Facebook. These and other corporate religions from Silicon Valley exert a disproportionate amount of influence on our civil society yet are unaccountable, unelected, undemocratic and rarely questioned. What does this mean for the world of education?


Be Ready

As if irony knows no bounds we spent 2 days in Silicon Valley during the US leg of our world tour to discover innovation in learning but didn’t meet with a single technology company.


One might think that for the Learning {RE}imagined project to deliver a book and digital media about the impact of digital technology on learning this might be an oversight but it wasn’t. It was expected.


Over a period of many months prior to our trip I invited Apple, Google and Facebook to participate in the project by way of granting a short interview. Invitations were sent at the highest level I could muster, after all I hobnob with CEO’s, Vice-Presidents and PR bunnies, but despite my silver tongue and persuasive charm I was politely declined. I even invited celebrity educator Salman Khan to an interview but unfortunately the not for profit superstar, who will charge $75,000 to speak at your next conference, was unavailable for the 20 minutes it takes to go in front of my teams camera.


So what happened here?


Well, normally when I meet with these companies it’s 100% on their terms. It is a carefully constructed experience that is designed to deliver “The Message“. Absolutely no deviation from “The Message” will be tolerated, none of the individuals within these organisations are allowed to speak to the mortals outside their fiefdoms without ensuring that they are completely on “The Message” of “The Brand“. Critical thinking is regarded as a mortal sin that will ensure that invitations to future gatherings that celebrate “The Message” according to “The Brand” will be withdrawn. They also like to ensure that “on the record” meetings are so rare that even respected members of the mass media will prostrate themselves before them. One only has to read the fawning non-stories splashed across the planets mainstream media when one of them hosts an “Event” to launch a piece of unapologetic plastic to realise that something has got seriously out of hand here. If an alien species visited Earth during a product launch they would assume we’d discovered the cure for cancer.


The level of control that these organisations have over “The Message” makes the Jesuit movement seem like party.


The reality is that I knew these organisations would decline the opportunity to participate in this book but I wanted them to have the chance just in case. Now, before you go thinking that I’m suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder (do you know who I am?) I realise that it could just be that the WISE book and community just isn’t important enough for them in the grand scheme of things and perhaps I just don’t have enough pull. So go ask any technology or political journalist when was the last time they got a senior representative from these organisations to speak on the record about something that wasn’t to do with a new product and that wasn’t 100% managed by a member of the Marketing Communication Stormtroopers.


These are private companies who, in theory, have only to answer to their shareholders so why do I think it’s important?


Well, for a start these companies manage communities. that have populations the size of continents. They also have revenues that dwarf the GDP of many nations as the untaxed income from overseas and the money that used to go to the physical economy fills their offshore banking arrangements. The world it seems is becoming a smaller place and the wealth being distributed to an even smaller number of organisations and individuals. But these aren’t really my chief concerns.


AppleWhat I’m concerned about is the influence, intended or otherwise, that these corporations have on the way we as a society learn about our world for we have unwittingly allowed this world to be mediated by algorithms designed by a handful of computer programmers that dwell in the Valley of the Digital Gods.


Excuse my act of heresy but I suggest that these algorithms are not pure and that they are not democratic. I would also suggest that whilst the Internet brings us together it is also driving us apart.


If we are to assume that children of today and tomorrow will increasingly gain knowledge from digital devices then I believe we need a greater understanding and awareness of how this knowledge is mediated and the biases these algorithms hold.


What do I mean by bias?


There’s a common belief that “The Internet” has a culture and that its rules of apparent openness and ways of working are sacrosanct and should now be applied to nearly all aspects of human society. But my gambit is that we should start questioning this and practice some much needed critical thinking.


Some simple examples to illustrate my point.


Today’s search engines have lost the notion of metaphor and thus we title or books and reports in such a way to reflect this in order that they might be more advantaged towards discovery. Journalists, writers and publishers engage digital manipulators to game search engine algorithms to optimise their articles to appear at the top of search engines with the result that whilst the internet is in theory a window to all of the worlds information and knowledge the majority is obscured. Commercial digital publishing is typically supported either by paid wall gardens or advertising that is paid on a per click or impressions basis. As we move to a world of intense personalisation where information is held in content farms matched to relevant advertising, stories that would typically appear in the general public in what the digerati would consider as the inefficient publishing of print no longer appear thus our news becomes increasingly superficial.


Likewise the things that we think are news, for example, on Twitter are more like the reporting that we might expect from the Fox News network. Twitter use their own proprietary algorithms to determine what “trends”. Trending doesn’t mean that something is the most talked about rather it is a spike across a community that is wider than your own. Once something begins to trend the fact that Twitter’s algorithm identifies it as trending effectively makes it trend. Thus the algorithm is effecting the outcome. Additionally Twitter’s algorithm is optimised for these spikes rather than something that is discussed by an equal or greater number of people over a longer period of time so it favours spikes over consistency.


All of these algorithms can be gamed. It is now relatively straight forward for marketing agencies or other forces to hire low cost labour through, for example, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, to enter enough search terms, back links or mention certain subjects to encourage them to trend or appear in search requests.



Memes, those things that seem to appear spontaneously as a result of the crowd are more often than not manipulated by advertising and marketing agencies who leak information to smaller blog writers and then social media before it is eventually picked up by the mainstream.


For more information on the manipulation of search engines, social media and memes read Ryan Holiday’s “Trust me, I’m Lying“.


I did this myself last week, albeit with good cause, when I published an accurate screen shot of cigarette advertising on a child’s iPad game with the result that British American Tobacco pulled their entire online advertising.


If any of this interests you I urge you to read Evgeny Morozov’s latest book “To Save Everything, Click Here” which takes a long and overdue critical look at the technoutopia prescribed by the technosolutionists of Silicon Valley.


One of the mantras of the Internet-centrists, as Morozov call’s them, is the notion of “openness” in fact it’s a founding tenet of Web 2.0 from open government to open education but we should ask what this really means when the very architects of this new digital world remain closed to our questions.


In our quest for efficiency and our fetish for digital innovation we might consider what the unintended consequences of MOOCs and flipped classrooms will be. What would happen, for example, if a dominant provider of MOOCs appears like the equivalent of iTunes in the music industry where ultimately all of our information, media and learning comes from a single mediated source governed and tracked by algorithms? What does an algorithmic society look like and will this ultimately slow down innovation and obstruct creativity.


With this in mind why has there been so little dissent from the educational community? Could it be that our educational evangelists are so reliant on the crumbs that fall from the masters table that they are unwilling to bite the hand that feeds? It appears that we lack the very thing we are trying to instil in our children and charges, to critically think and question the status quo.


Now before I burn all my bridges with the digital companies with whom I’ve spent a career nurturing relationships with I should point out that I am not suggesting that they are malicious however neither am I saying that they are neutral. The suggestion that digital technology is merely a tool and is neutral is a dangerous fallacy. Unlike a hammer these platforms have unconscious biases that have the potential to impact human consciousness and the ‘open’ discourse around these platforms, especially when we consider their impact on the education superstructure, is overdue.


As I mentioned in a post some 2 years ago, and in several keynote talks, our society moved from an agricultural economy defined by the windmill where the feudal lord was the master to an industrial economy defined by the steam engine where the industrial capitalist ruled. Today as we move towards a digital economy we should consider who are the masters and for whom we till the fields.


There are executives in Silicon Valley who think they can fix global education, they can’t & you shouldn’t expect them to. Equally there are educators and policy makers who think they can maintain the status quo, they can’t either.


Something we can all agree on is the importance and value of education and our ability to learn and relearn. Digital technology has the potential to have a transformative and liberating impact within this domain but as we have seen from recent revelations about global surveillance using the very tools intended to liberate they also have the power to enslave.


Here’s a musical interlude:



Naturally I will be covering some of these issues in the Learning {RE}imagined book in 2014 but stay tuned for the next post which will be about some of the amazing people and places that we visited during the US leg of this tour.



Jet LagI am writing this latest post in full knowledge that I already owe you an update documenting what I saw and learned during my recent whistlestop tour of the USA. Have no fear, I will be writing this up and posting it within the next week. I had an amazing time meeting even more amazing people but I also learned that trying to make so many meetings and recording films in the USA in 10 days was much more challenging than I had at first thought!


I had hoped to write up my USA post on the 10 hour flight from New York to São Paulo but the reality was that after nearly 2 days without sleep I passed out on the plane after the obligatory offering of inedible chicken or pasta. I arrived in São Paulo refreshed but then probably over-indulged in the local hospitality resulting in a lost day in my hotel room. Well, it would have been rude not to really!


Those of you who have been following me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram will have a feel of what I got up to in the USA but you can also find some short audio interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson and Noam Chomsky via my AudioBoo page.


So the Learning {RE}imagined team are now here in Brazil where we will be meeting the folks at Porvir in São Paulo and then  NAVE (Núcleo Avançado em Educação – Advanced Education Center) in Rio de Janiero.

PorvirPorvir means “future well-being for all people”. Porvir the organisation is a São Paulo based communication and social mobilization initiative that promotes the production, disseminationand exchange of content on innovations in education to inspire improvements in the quality of education in Brazil. It won’t have escaped your attention that Brazil has been developing very rapidily in passed years with it’s economy beng one of the fastest growing in the world currently at number 6 and heading towards 5. Those in the know attribute this growth to measures that have liberalised and open the economy, boosting it’s competitiveness and providing a better environment for private-sector development. Well, that’s what the money people say at least. The point however is that in this growth there are a lot of very wealthly people and many more poor people here and this division remains noticeable as one travels into a city with its favela districts outside. Economic growth implies a need for skilled and talented people so one must expect that a transformed education system is one of the positive levers in this regard and we look forward to learning more at Porvir.

Oi FuturoNAVE is a programme conveived and enacted by Oi Futuro focused on the research and development of educational solutions using digital platforms in schools that will prepare students for professions in the digital sector. Developed in partnership with the State Departments of Education of Rio de Janiero and Pernambuco, the program is structured on 3 pillars : the provsion of vocational education integrated into the schools regular state objectives, development of activities and research innovation, the dessimination of methodologies and practices developed by the program. The Nave River school was chosen by Microsoft as one of the top 30 most innovative schools in the world in 2009. So we’re going to have a look to discover how they are innovating in learning.

Follow us on the usual channels to find out more as it happens!


United States of America

The Learning {RE}imagined team now have an epic tour of the US ahead of us where we’ll be meeting thought leaders and original case studies from both the East and West Coast from Noam Chomsky to Sir Ken Robinson with numerous inspirational thinkers and doers in between. If you have any questions or comments for the people we’re visiting please feel welcome to add them in the comments section below.


Over the next two weeks we will be visiting:


Katie Salen and the Quest to Learn school in New York. This school was designed from the ground up by a team of teachers and game designers, and firmly grounded in 30 years of learning research.


Social and political theorist, Noam Chomsky, to learn more about his insights on the purpose of education and whether technology can have a liberating role or one that automates.


edX logoAnant Agarwal, the President of edX, a non-profit venture between Harvard and MIT with the objective of bringing the best of higher education to students around the world via MOOCs and interactive online classes.


Mitch Resnick, Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab. Under Resnick the group developed the “programmable bricks” that became the basis for LEGO Mindstorms and also the Scratch programming language that makes it easier for kids to create animated stories, art and video games.


MIT Media Lab LogoEric Rosenbaum, co-founder of Makey, Makey which bills itself as “An Invention Kit for Everyone” and is essentially a set of easy-to-use invention kits that pretty much anyone can use and make stuff with.


John Maeda, President, Rhode Island School of Design. An advocate of STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering ART and Math), John’s work in design, technology and leadership explores where these fields merge. We will also be meeting a number of John’s colleagues at the RISD.


Sir Ken Robinson, regarded by many as the worlds pre-eminent thinker on creativity and learning. His talks on education reform are amongst the most popular and accessible in the world. His talk on “how schools kill creativity” is the TED organisation’s most visited with nearly 20 million viewings.


ideo logoSandy Speicher, who leads the education practice at IDEO – the global design consultancy who have taken the lead on promoting “design thinking” solutions to some of the worlds most challenging problems including education. Sandy was the person behind IDEO’s free “Design Thinking for Educators” toolkit available here.


Jaron Lanier, computer scientist, artist, writer and virtual reality pioneer. Given that, perhaps in light of recent privacy allegations, both Apple and Google declined our kind invitations to visit we thought a meeting with Jaron to discuss his ideas around the shift from a physical economy to a digital one would be relevant and perhaps more enlightening.


High Tech High, San Diego. Not to be confused with the dystopian High Tech High described in our 1989 predictor of education 2010 but a charter school with a focus on “teaching students to think deeply about content and then do something with their knowledge, not just race through a textbook” and where students “can play video games at school as long as they made them”.


TED-Ed logoLogan Smalley, Director, TED-Ed. A former teacher and TED Fellow, Logan heads up the concept, design, outreach strategy and overall execution of TED-Ed, the education initiative of the TED organisation.


Altogether we’re looking forward to an “excellent adventure” in the USA meeting some amazingly interesting people, asking lots of questions and learning a lot. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and please feel welcome to post any questions that you’d like us to ask our participants!


The Equinox Summit – Learning 2030

Perimeter InstituteFrustrating, stimulating, exhausting, exhilarating, infuriating and inspiring – that was my week spent at Canada’s Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics which hosted the Equinox Summit presented by the Waterloo Global Science Initiative. The theme of the summit was Learning 2030 and was the second in a series of summits designed to tackle and provide solutions for the near future. The first summit, Energy 2030, hosted last year was intended to tackle future energy challenges with bold but achievable solutions.


Emboldened by the success of the first summit the organisers at WGSI decided to tackle the subject of Learning given that if we don’t get that right any chance of solving any of the worlds future challenges would be virtually hopeless.


The summit brought together 40 people from 6 continents all with different backgrounds and included a group of young leaders aged 18-22 who had either dropped out or were in full time university education. It’s fair to say that I was amongst the most concentrated group of smart arses that I have had the privilege to be associated with in quite a while. Many were opinionated and self-important – just like me. Together we were given the challenge of living, eating and working together to define the challenges for the global education systems in 2030 and beyond, then propose flexible, context and culturally sensitive solutions that would act as a foundation to define new systems. At times it felt like we were participating in an intellectual version of the Big Brother reality TV show.


Robot ThespianI wondered if the organisers might as well have called the summit “Religion 2030”, invited the leaders of the worlds religions and told them to agree on a new religion within 5 days.


I’d argue that whilst solving the worlds future energy requirements is an audacious goal it is a somewhat easier challenge than learning on the basis that energy was at least quantifiable. The problem can be expressed in hard numbers as can the solution. Not so with education and learning although many continue to try. I don’t think we even agreed entirely upon what the problem was let alone what the near future might look like. This rendered the solutions somewhat challenging in the absence of a defined problem to solve but this was the genius of the process and the week.


I had wondered many times during the summit whether trying to quantify the unquantifiable was the result of a process largely devised by theoretical physicists who couldn’t spot the differences between solving a challenge like energy versus a challenge like education. But then I remembered something that Sugata Mitra told me when I interviewed him a week of so earlier. Sugata isn’t an education specialist but a theoretical physicist so I persevered with the process.


The process consisted of closed but filmed sessions of work and discourse that were held under Chatham House rule combined with open public plenaries where the general public were invited to join physically or virtually via the live stream. Each evening the local television station TVO, who had been running a series around the Learning 2030 theme, would broadcast live from the event as part of their leading current affairs programme, The Agenda with Steve Paikin, where members of the summit would take part in discussion broadcast to the nation and streamed to anyone watching without so much as a 5 second delay. The recorded shows can be found on YouTube.


The challenges and solutions were broken down into chunks then worked on by groups who’s membership was fluid as members left one group to join another at will. For me it was counter-intuitive as to how we would arrive at the weeks target of delivering the publication of an agreed communique from the summit that would form the basis of a blueprint for Learning 2030.

Tests and Entrepreneurship

The hours were long where each morning we started at stupid o’clock and worked through to the evening. Late nights socialising were hardly an option given that most participants were exhausted by the early evening and repaired to their rooms to mentally prepare for the next days mental gymnastics. Either that or it was our accomodations uncanny resemblance to the Overlook Hotel from The Shining.


It was tough, it was hard, there were tears, at least one participant may never speak to me again, and yet I learned a huge amount in what was a very short time. The process was buoyed along by our ever cheerful, optimistic and skillful facilitator Dan Normandeau (who in my mind was a dead ringer for Dick Van Dyke) with the participants and programme curated by renegade scientist, Dr Michael Brooks, author of the epic book “Free Radicals” (if you’re interested in teaching science please read it).


Whilst sometimes consensus felt like attrition and collaboration like compliance the fact is that by the end of the process I felt like part of a team where genuine, as opposed to socially expected, respect for my fellow cohort members emerged. I didn’t think we’d get there but we did arrive in the closing hours with a communique which, whilst the detail remains to be worked over in the public domain, identifies key issues and direction for radical reform that includes the decoupling of high school level education from examinations and grades so that teachers can focus on innovating for learning rather than getting kids through a set of arbitrary exams.

Upon reflection the process and the output reminds me of a summit that I was invited to in 1989 hosted by Bangor University in Wales themed Education 2010 where we accurately predicted the rise of personal mobile devices and public private initiatives leading to academies supported by commercial interests designed to get students through tests as efficiently as possible (High Tech High). That event too was full of robust debate, disagreement and minor fallings out but nevertheless left everyone with the satisfaction of producing something meaningful and indeed the work was commonly found within teacher training programmes within the UK and further afield. That document had an impact on the discourse around learning, teaching and education and I’m confident that the work that my fellow participants and I contributed to over the past week plus the work that must now be done by the wider community will have an even bigger impact.


My congratulations to WGSI and the organisers – I was genuinely impressed and found the entire experience valuable, thanks for having me.


It’s good to talk but even better to do!


Resources from the Equinox Summit can be found online here.