RSA videos on the school system

A One Nation Schools System (Stephen Twigg)

Stephen Twigg has emerged from the shadows, aka the often criticised for being policy-light opposition benches, with a ‘One Nation’ take on schools.  His talk is on the RSA video channel and his opinions have been picked up elsewhere, including on the Local Schools Network (LSN) and The Guardian.

I find it interesting that the YouTube comments have picked up on why online learning is not considered in the debate.  I’ve mentioned on various platforms in the past that online education should allow for better interaction between educators and parents and more consistency for students.  It sounds like ‘One Nation’ Labour are still looking for ‘local challenges’ to schools rather than recognizing the need to educate, not for local communities, but for a globalized world.  To raise aspiration, I would argue a key aspect is to make young people aware of the opportunities available to them by not looking locally but to the national and global level.  This would help deal with a number of issues facing our nations, including assisting with making young people more entrepreneurial and aware of the importance of exporting goods and resources.

Twigg calls for “networked” schools but the focus seems to be on local communities playing their part, it will be interesting to see if the announced work for David Blunkett simply recommends a return to more LEA style-coordination.  Presumably, as Labour introduced academies, they are potentially just as likely to ignore reports into their weaknesses as Twigg suggests the current Education Secretary has around Free Schools.

He also suggests schools working together, but still doesn’t mention online learning and tutoring specifically in this speech.  I would say the physical bringing together of children in schools immediately puts up walls, physical and metaphorical.  Schools create a “them and us” mentality; online platforms ignore location in a way that would enable the level playing field Twigg desires.  This would include sharing the best teachers to more pupils and dealing with the challenge of meeting the crisis of students outside educational institutions, again ignored here.

Twigg says Free Schools, via their current approval process, will dry up but I don’t think he actually sets out how he will deal with the challenge of places he acknowledges (and is asked about).  The necessity of likely school building costs needs to be seriously considered, and has probably been made even more pressing by the axing of the Building Schools for the Future programme.  There is a suggestion in the Q&A that Labour will not throw money at the challenges, thus how will One Nation labour save money and deal with the exploding issue of class sizes fuelled by immigration under the last Labour government?  Twigg identifies quality of teaching, by qualified teachers, as a way to improve schools.  This includes making outstanding schools partner and support those that are struggling.  He does not, in such a short speech, get into specifics.  However, class sizes were the old argument piece in education (pre-Free Schools) and I would argue a shift to online would allow us to move from worrying about class sizes, within physical schools, to the better measure of 1-2-1 educator to pupil time.

I would agree with the LSN post that Twigg’s positivity is a big step forward, as opposed to the current cycle of argument between schools and government.  However, whilst the current anti-Gove atmosphere in schools is one thing it should not be forgotten that the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, was not particularly popular with educators either when responsible for schools.  A move to online could offer the teachers, who feel stressed and alienated by the current environment, a flexible working model that allows them to continue to contribute to the profession.  Those who excel in 1-2-1 coaching could concentrate there whilst large group presenting masters could specialize in that area.

The following speaker, from Kings College, identified the current patchy quality.  I would again argue an online schooling system can deal with this challenge.  Bringing the sector together online would help to deal with the inequalities she highlights, including pupils identifying themselves by their local hierarchy.

Overall, the talk and Q&A confirms the insular approach of schools, I would say regional government has to be seen as failing here.  The public sectors advantage should be in freedom to share and network, league tables have not helped but are not solely to blame for the cultural problems.  There are clearly a whole host of challenges to tackle; online schooling, I would argue, is a potential solution.  Pitching it to teachers unions, educators, parents and evidently politicians is the next step – and I would not be keen about using the ‘cloud’ term.

Redesigning Education: Shaping Learning Systems around the Globe (Global Education Leaders’ Program)

This second video has a vision more in line with my own, as hinted at above.  However, the six design principles ‘GELP’ highlights are hardly revolutionary in their own.  Indeed there is still talk of ‘classrooms’ and brining technology into the classroom.  In addition, a lot of the ‘ecosystem’ talk is largely meaningless, at least in the detail afforded by the presentation format.

There is a growing consensus that system transformation, not school improvement, is the necessary response.

This excellent comment from the GELP website does not really seem to get followed up in the presentation as their ‘transformation’ seems to be about schools working together (as Twigg advocated) but not transforming the system.  Again, I would argue there is no reason why such collaboration has not existed in the past.  Whilst league tables can be blamed, universities do collaborate in a similarly competitive admissions market.  The argument for forcing change on schools would be that have they failed to transform themselves.

The Q&A inevitably leads to the point that schools are effectively forced by parents/students demand to focus on grades due to their implications in the post-school (work/university) world.  This, again, is a common complaint in the university sector where educators fear students are solely interested in reaching the 2.1 benchmark.  Personally I would advocate that Open Badges, ePortfolios, etc might be what is needed here.  Ultimately a ‘young persons’ LinkedIn’ (like to make young people more transparent to employers could be built out of online schooling and help with the crisis of youth unemployment?

Whose Education is it Anyway?

In answer to this website’s fundamental question there is clearly a flaw in both of these presentations – the ‘Global Education Leaders’ and politicians may decide what they think is best (based on varying research/practice bases).  However, as shown in a recent report, parents and students (at least in the US) are already recognizing the value in online.  The challenge for the UK, in my opinion, is for the online developments to be led by teachers and school leaders rather than having a system imposed upon them.  Success will make it impossible for politicians, or anyone else, to then pull the rug away.

“No more sitting on the fence” (Learning Technologies 2013 Summer Forum)

It was great to hear this, just a shame it was from a Learning Management System (LMS) vendor talking specifically about Tin Can.  However, it was my take away message from the recent Learning Technologies 2013 Summer Forum (LTSF).  The statement acts as something of a wakeup call; Learning and Development departments need to deliver, not just responding to fads but offering a joined up approach.  A Learning Management System that offers holistic support is, realistically, probably the easiest way to structure that support.

The challenge in my eyes, however, is if a LMS remains realistic.  In many ways they have evolved to the point where they cross over with many other systems, not least the near universal SharePoint.  Their USP remains testing/SCORM tracking and as such a stripped down basic LMS might work better than one which supports all the possibilities now discussed at events like LTSF.  If you are going beyond this then you need a joined up approach between L&D, Knowledge Management, competitor intelligence and other teams for:

  • Internal communication,
  • Sharing resources
  • Learning

With this in place professionals’ (in whatever company) know where sharing is recommended (although they’ll of course still use Twitter), how to collaborate, where to access relevant learning (preferably embedded with the relevant work tools) and have a clear understanding of how their career can progress both within their current organization or elsewhere.

FadA fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period of time; a craze.

L&D now have tools to deliver what a business needs by combining pieces of the puzzle so they are no longer seen as fads.  Indeed the LTSF presentation I attended from MindClick outlined some of the ways an LMS can be used for 1-2-1 support (the importance of which has been recognized by Bloom and others) at a distance, including via personal development plans, BYOD and badges (which in isolation could be seen as fads).  One way for your new LMS to not be seen as impractical is to make money and the SAAS LMS model is increasingly being sold as one to enable course sales via the extended enterprise.  This could be a fundamental shift for some L&D departments from pure internal support and, arguably, help drive up quality as a result.

The LTSF was dominated by a number of topics/tools for me:

1)    Tin Can/The Experience API/xAPI

2)    (Open) Badges

3)    (Learning) Analytics

4)    Mobile (Learning/Delivery/Authoring)

5)    Social (Learning/Collaboration)

6)    70/20/10

7)    Personalization (development plans/personalized curriculums)

8)    LMS/Portal developments

9)    eLearning

So, when is a fad not a fad?  Perhaps items 8 and 9 on this list can now be seen as evolutionary rather than revolutionary but the others are still gaining slow adoption.  The struggle for mobile adoption picked up by Andrew Jackson’s article (The shortest lived technology fad ever?) over on TrainingZone.  He also points out that eLearning is still revolutionary for many businesses which, whilst keeping some e-learning companies and consultants going, is – I would say – just a little depressing really in 2013.

I would agree that mobile was a fad but I would say it must now be considered as part of the learning designers’ toolkit, just as it is for marketers and other industries.  I would effectively consider 3-9 ‘traditional’ tools and 1-2 simply new ways of doing old things.  Ultimately the speed of ‘new’ technologies has changed and working them into a learning model should not be as hard as many people at such events seem to feel they are.  That said, they are not always as easy to adopt as the vendors would like to suggest but that is technical adoption rather than the enthusiasm of working something into your learning approach.  Enthusiasm, vision and a willingness to try things do not really need to be restricted by budgets either.  It was clear from a number of LTSF stalls that ‘phase 1’ deployments are something vendors are willing to support to prove concepts locally.

Yes, as Andrew says, we shouldn’t get hung up on the technology but neither should we discount the potential (especially of Tin Can) to transform learning and development.  Both 1 & 2 potentially open us all up to the world and make us think about our skills development in new ways, which can only be a good thing in my opinion (taking into account certain risks of course).  That said, LMS tracking, certifications and other tools did some of this in the past.  The outstanding question at LTSF seemed to be if capturing experiences should be automatic via Tin Can or rely on self certification.  I can see a value in a learning log of the (noun>verb>object) statements but reflection is also needed somewhere in terms of goal setting, and understanding your own learning.  I can see TC and Badges reinvigorating the personal web space and ePortfolio debate (or at least pushing LinkedIn into full adoption).

I think what Andrew tries to suggest is that, with mobile, we have simply responded to new devices, fine, but I would like to think that that response is about acknowledging issues such as flash vs. html5, app vs. browser, form factors, location of learner, etc. it should have never been about tablet vs. phone vs. laptop vs. desktop per se.  Similarly Epic’s talk at LTSF correctly identified that the Experience API (aka Tin Can) is useful in what it can mean for analytics, such as assessing the impact of learning, and thinking differently about the courses rather than about the development of a Learning Record Store for the sake of the learning logs alone.  KnowledgeAdvisors hinted at the potential of combining MetricsThatMatter data sets with performance data to change how L&D operates.  This includes making use of data to drive “performance based vendor management”, such as paying eLearning vendors only a percentage of their bills if their materials fail to improve workers’ performance.

Now, I appreciate my main interest is in Learning Technologies but many people seemed new to Tin Can and Badges.  That so many people did not seem to comprehend these is worrying and indicative that, like with mobile, we face years of presentations, white papers, etc that simply rehash arguments.  Maybe I have a ‘start-up mentality’ but I would rather see people presenting on early adoption failures than introductory presentations.  I hope this is what we see at Learning Technologies in January but I will not hold my breath.  Even better will be successful coming together of the two with experiences (captured via Tin Can) driving badge creation.  Another interesting piece will be to see the development and interaction of “apps everywhere” (as NetDimensions called them) with learning record stores and/or LMSs.  However, this is potentially not too different to offline LMS access that NetDimensions, and others, have supported via USB drive LMS systems.

The problem may be that for L&D to succeed in implementing what appears to be an optimized learning strategy it would need to be all encompassing of an organisation.  People will only socially collaborate and ‘surface’ informal learning in a tool if it is a tool they have to use or, unlikely, want to.  Thus, new ‘social learning’ tools at LTSF do not fill me with confidence – if someone is already using SharePoint, Yammer or similar has L&D not got to leverage that?  It would seem nigh on impossible to work in a light weight LMS/social tool such as Svelte Social (new to me I think at LTSF) if you have other tools in place.  NetDimensions, whose presenter used the “fence” idea, did a good job in explaining if the LMS can fit in as the social tool or not by saying organisation need to decide what system will be the “social bedrock of their organization”.  Here I would argue culture comes in as, say, a university has an advantage that the ‘place of work’ will be the VLE/LMS so the university’s staff can be encouraged to use that same tool for their own development as it is already the “bedrock” for their daily work.  It is more difficult in a corporate context but the big tools, like Salesforce, have acknowledged it by working social into their own tools.

I came away from the main Learning Technologies event earlier in the year feeling somewhat underwhelmed.  The question now seems to be, as vendors are making the jump into Tin Can and other solutions, can Learning and Development departments use these appropriately to meet business needs?  Simply adding on bells and whistles to an existing, monolithic LMS doesn’t seem to be an option to me.  Instead, organizations as a whole need to consider if L&D professionals in their organization really are just about running/building courses (as NetDimensions pointed out L&D and LMSs in some organisations are simply for compliance) or if they are true partners in making organizations “collectively smarter”.

For the record these are the talks I attended:

1)    The use of Tin Can and Open Badges for learning programmes (EPIC)

2)    Meeting learning objectives with Totara LMS (MindClick)

3)    How to build a business case for formalization of learning analytics (KnowledgeAdvisors – largely the same as these slides)

4)    What you need to know about portals (Redware)

5)    LMS – Evolution or extinction? (NetDimensions – seemingly a follow up to this article)

6)    Apps and video communications – top 5 things you need to know (Dreamtek)

Capitalism 4.0

Anatole Kaletsky’s 2010 book has a question that I had not really thought about before – when did the 21st Century start?

1815 and 1918 are the dates, as a historian, you often associate with the previous two centuries. Kaletsky considers key dates in the 21st.

Identified are 1989 (Berlin Wall collapse and the WWW being two of five “major transformations”).

However, the era of “Capitalism 3.0” ended in 2008 (with the collapse of Lehmans) and thus the 21st century began.

For the record:
– Capitalism 1.0 = laissez faire (1776-1932)
– Capitalism 2.0 = state involvement (1931-1980)
– Capitalism 3.0 = Thatcher-Reagan led (1979-2008)

As a history graduate I like to try and step back from issues and consider these trends. In-particular, the point made that it was not just cheap credit that caused the 2008 problems. It was a wider self-destruction of “market fundamentalism”, growth driven by 30m communist souls opened to western goods.

The argument is that we now face a period of balance between state and free-market.

So will we look back and consider a banking crash to be the great apocalyptic moment of our generation – when we moved into a new century of new concepts? Perhaps – its something to keep in mind going forward though.

CILIP rebranding and professional futures

Things have moved on quickly since I first drafted bits of this post (I’ve been away from home) but its still useful for my own reflections on what is happening…

Back at the start of the year there were a number of events which considered the future of the ‘information profession’.  I had planned to blog my thoughts on the topic at the time but did not get around to it.  However, the recent CILIP survey related to a proposed re-branding and the resulting outrage/discussion got me thinking about it again.

Firstly, some personal background:

When I first joined a (law sector) information team the suggestion was largely that CILIP would be irrelevant to me.  When I completed my MA, the lecturers were far more positive about the organization, the message I took away was very much “you get out what you put in”.  As a result, once I was in a ‘professional’ post, I was keen to get involved and volunteered for the local professional development group’s committee.  That committee was not short of members so I eventually joined the local branch committee instead.  After a couple of years I then stepped down as I could not commit the time due to starting an MSc course.  When on the committee I performed the “communications officer” role and can testify to problems with the current CILIP brand, website, typeface, etc from that role in setting up new web pages, Twitter feeds, etc.

Therefore, within a relatively short space of time, I had gone from graduate post, to postgrad student, to active member and through to completing another course and being a lurker.  Partly due to my work, the changing workplace and that second postgrad course I now have a quite complex work profile, as mentioned in previous posts CILIP (even though it is an umbrella organization aiming to cover a wide array of roles) is only one of a number of organizations that relate to my professional identify.

Thoughts on professional futures and CILIP’s rebranding:

The CILIP president’s blog post on the rebrand hints at some major issues with the organization:

One of my responsibilities as CILIP President is to act as a conduit between members and CILIP Council and senior staff…in the interests of transparency that the first I knew of the contents of the survey was when it was presented to me last Friday afternoon

A lack of harmony between members, staff and the complex setup of groups, branches and council seems to foster a lack of genuine collaboration within the organization.  The second point, on the President not having seen the survey in advance, seems particularly odd and indicative in that a person who holds that position is not involved from the offset.  Yet that would be wrong too, CILIP should be as strong as its members – not offering them a longer list of suggestions for something as important as the organization’s name seems odd at best and against the membership at worst.  The one thing I do hope for is that any new tagline recognizes what the organization represents “members of the information community” not representing “for the information community”. Whilst advocacy is a key part of CILIP’s role it should not be seen as distinct from its members/staff.  I know there are legacy issues about not being a trade union but the gap between CILIP HQ and members threatens the organization, in my opinion, more than downsizing in public libraries, off-shoring in corporate libraries, Higher Education budget cuts or any other challenge.

The President’s blog post later mentions that the current governance review will hopefully resolve some of these issues.  However, I don’t see why the idea of the re-brand has had to come so out of the blue.  Yes, the world and the CILIP organization are changing, yes the CILIP brand has always been questionable and, yes, it will continue to be so.  My main concern really is that, as a professional organization, crowd sourcing possible names would have been just one example of making it more democratic, as the organization should be, than a survey on suggested names.  Although it is important to point out that the difference between ‘survey’ and ‘vote’/’election’ seems to be lost of some members.

So, overall, I’m not against a rebrand but I do not think it is the correct time economically (the £35,000 budget being at least 180 members annual fees if my lazy maths is correct)  and it certainly has not been handled in the correct way even though there are not a lack of good examples in related sectors.  JISC, for example, has a lot of shared interests but whilst it has improved itself they have been a mix of internal improvements (better website, etc), crowd sourcing (which services could be stopped) and funder/owner led (HEFCE changes, etc).  JISC has not always done this perfectly, but better than CILIP seem to have managed at least, and JISC was/is a more complex beast.  CIPD, for example, has a very clear voice and has its opinions voiced through the media, by those in positions agreed with the membership, more efficiently than CILIP seems to manage.

What for professional futures?  The point which has concerned many is that the survey’s proposed names all drop the ‘library’ word with “information” staying or both replaced by “knowledge”.  This seems a mistake, surely any future proofing of the, once, ‘Library Association’ brand has to maintain the L word or it loses its relevance/grounding?  Also the suggested names were awful and I did comment to this effect on the survey before the Twitterati backlash – ‘The Knowledge People’ sounds like a recruitment agency, ‘Information UK’ like a government agency or freedom of information watchdog [apologies if I’ve got those names wrong].  The President acknowledges this so, again, why bother with the survey step before crowdsourcing?  This said, the term ‘library’ is far from popular, as pointed out by the President.  Indeed at the CLSIG event earlier in the year an information scientist made it clear in the Q&A they didn’t feel associated with CILIP and disappointed that a ‘future of the profession’ evening was a talk about CILIP’s future (and I am pretty sure Francis did not mention a rebrand).  There remain questions here over the original foundation (i.e. it wasn’t just the Library Association) and as such the original purpose of CILIP is still being questioned, as such it doesn’t fill you with any confidence that a rebranded CILIP will be any better than the current.

Back a few months (around the same time as the CLSIG event) and AIIM was running a webinar to report that its members had completed surveys saying they chose a preference for the title “Information Professional”.  Now this is ‘CILIPs territory’ so to speak and you could well say that with today’s specializations the ‘library’ component is all that keeps CILIP unique from AIIM, BCS, etc.  Indeed there was an interesting suggestion in the AIIM session that effectively IT professionals want a rebrand and that rebrand is some BCS/CILIP hybrid in terms of UK organizations.  Personally I fear that, in the globalized workplace, CILIP should be branching out to the international groups it already has relations with or risk losing relevance for those within the changing workplace.

Finally, for now at least, is the point about CILIP dropping the ‘chartered’ tag.  I suggested in the survey that this is a clear mistake, it is the one thing which keeps an organization above an informal learning and networking organization.  Any dropping of this would, I fear, suggests a deprofessionalization.  If you deprofessionalize CILIP then there is far less value in it is an umbrella organization and there would be fewer reasons for keeping the expense of the parent organization and not simply branching off the special interest groups into their own organizations.

Overall, it is difficult to reposition an organization, especially one that arguably is not needed, but considering the predictable feedback it is odd that the exercise has been conducted in such a way.  There is also a risk of underplaying the public’s understanding of the ‘librarian’ role – I hold that title in my job title, partly because my employer still associates it with a certain skill set.  ‘Information professional’ may be a professionals’ identity but I would doubt it holds such a sway.  Ultimately the answer may be for CILIP to be far less inward looking in preparing rebrands and future advocacy and instead ask the likes of the BBC and major employers what make sense to them.  This would be a sensible suggestion to other groups too, for example, and to show I’m not just picking on information professionals, ‘Instructional Designers’ disagree over their identity too.

A Future For CILIP?

One thing that does seem to be emerging from this is a re-invigoration of CILIP as the training/accreditation body – their own website release stresses some of the things in the pipeline:

some new offers have been launched, including the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base and others will follow – such as a new qualifications scheme, new accreditation of courses and a new virtual learning environment on a refreshed website.

This might work provided the organization recognizes the potential for members, and their employers, to influence the agenda and the PKSB, training, etc. keeps up with change.

Another key item, for me, would be to move Umbrella from its biannual setup to something different.  A free event with paid for sections would be best – especially considering the success of CIPD, Learning and Skills, etc. in this regard.