XChange06 – the challenge of innovation

Jul 09, 2006

Miles Berry

We returned to the innovation theme for the last session of the afternoon, chaired by Becta’s Vanessa Prittard, who acknoweldged that innovation was a ‘bottum-up’ process, although it also served ‘top-down’ agendas. Bristol University’s Angela Macfarlane gave a wide-ranging presentation of some of the familiar themes surrounding technology in schools, starting with an exploration of the swing between associationist and constructivist pedagogies, with, she perceives, I think correctly, some tension between the two at the moment, although she comes down firmly in the latter camp, as she sees digital technology as being particularly good at letting learners work things out for themselves and create their own representations of their learning. She spoke about personalisation, advocating futurelab’s report and the view that

“the logic of education systems should be reversed so that it is the system that conforms to the learnerm rather than the learner to the system”

rather than the not unfamiliar view that personalisation is merely differentiation-plus.

She provided an interesting perspective on the central-provision vs school-choice issue, by comparing the near 100% take-up of the literacy strategy with the somewhat less pervasive adoption of IT initiatives. She also spoke about the near ubiquity of mobiles and seemed to be advocating more use of personally owned technology in schools, although apparently New York has banned all this kit from its public schools, and very few schools here (certainly not those on the C2K service in Northern Ireland) allow pupils to simply connect their laptops to the network.

Despite our focus on providing technology for learners, Angela highlighted research which suggested that the greatest impact came through providing better technology for the teachers themselves, particularly ones which can help support teachers’ ‘executive functions’ – which, when you consider how Moodle’s been developed by educators themseleves perhaps explains some of its success.

We also heard more about futurelab’s work from Dan Sutch (ppt), who described futurelab as at the itersection of education and the creative industries, and provided some interesting contrasts between the supply and demand sides of the marketplace, particularly in relation to knowledge transfer, where a culture of innovation depends on informed consumers and informed developers. It’s interesting that with open source development, this distinction between users and developers is rather more blurred, as futurelab acknowledge in their recent report on open source methods.

The evening was great fun, with a reception at Stormont, including the presentation of awards to local schools for work in digital video and animation and a tour of the debating chambers, and a barbecue at the Ulster folk and transport museum. There’s a huge sense of pride from the home team in the achivements of the province, computer based and otherwise.