Posts Tagged Technology

An Education – for the 21st Century

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I went on a bit of a “rant” today in response to some worryingly narrow responses to an excellent piece the wonderful Euan Semple had posted on his blog The Obvious, criticising a school (which the son of his friend attends) for withdrawing/banning the use of Facebook in school time.

I’ve copied the relevant exchanges/pieces below. I hope I didn’t upset Helen or Christian but sometimes you have to say what needs to be said. There is little more important than progressive education….we should continue to encourage a progressive discussion.

This seemed somehow apt today as I went along to the local Primary School to hear about the possibilities for becoming a Governor. I’ll be checking they harness social media in the classroom before I sign up to anything!

I’m glad to say that most of the posts that preceded and followed mine agreed with Euan’s original sentiment. So all hope is not lost….I was really touched by his kind words following my post. That, for those of you who don’t know the influence of the man, is praise indeed.

Anyway, here it is (was?) albeit a spell checked version (old habits..) starting with Euan’s original post. You can find the full exchange with all comments at his excellent blog which I’ve linked above.

Some thoughts on schools banning Facebook


Banning Facebook is like banning the telephone. What people in authority don’t realise is that it is just a tool. Any tool can be used or misused. What they should be focused on is harnessing its potential not being paranoid about what people do with it.

Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. Yes learning what people had for breakfast – but also learning news, learning what works, learning what books are best to read, learning where to find the right bit of information.

It is particularly ironic when schools ban Facebook as they are the very ones who should be teaching effective use of this technology – not keeping their pupils stuck in some industrial, factory model of learning.

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When you’re at school, you are there for learning. Learning the important stuff – and the even more important stuff about being social in the first place, by talking to friends, face to face.

Social sites don’t help with this, which is why this ban (to which I can relate very well) is so interesting:

September 22, 2010 | Christian Guthier

Guns are just things.

Porn is just pictures.
Crack is just a substance.

“Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. ”
This statment strikes me as absurd and untrue.
Absorbing random bits of information piecemeal is actually the opposite of learning and is, as we are finding out, having a very negative impact on young minds ability to function in reality.

Is information synthesised on facebook or twitter? Are worthwhile discussions ever had?

September 22, 2010 | helen clattenberg

Huge assumptions being made there Helen and Christian. I wonder how much experience you have actually had of these tools or of the way people and kids use them?

Yes those things are just things and can be used for good or ill. Demonising the things without dealing with our issues ducks the issues.

Social tools enable millions of us to meet, build relationships, and have better informed and enriching conversations about all sorts of things.

Otherwise what are we doing now and why did you leave a comment?

September 22, 2010 | Euan

Am not assuming anything, just reporting my direct experience (I work part-time with teenagers – outside the US) and I see that constant distraction and inundation with trivia from electronic impairs cognition (not just while the devices are being used).

Depth of consciousness and patience are learned attributes. Most of us older folk grew up in environments where that was instilled and valued.

The social environment has changed vastly and our teenagers now, will reap the whirlwind.

Of course Social Networks “enable” many positive things, but just because something is “enabled” it does not follow that it actually happens.

Like schools, nightclubs also “enable millions of us to meet, build relationships, and have better informed and enriching conversations about all sorts of things”.

Should schools be converted to nightclubs so that the kids may enrich their minds. communicate, network, bond and “learn” dance moves, chat up routines etc etc?

You first assertion that social tools are about learning, gives a very skewed idea of what learning is.
(Assuming he is adolescent) its natural, that your son is more interested in learning social / romantic skills etc etc, rather than other skills that might be of value later on, but we as parents, I think would serve his generation better, by demonstrating that not all learning has the same value no matter how cool and groovy.

September 22, 2010 | helen clattenberg

Great debate Euan. I do want to also pick up on some points raised by Helen and Christian (thanks for stoking this conversation both).

“The social environment has changed rapidly”. Agreed and if we don’t help to equip our children to learn and thrive in that environment then both we and our schools are abdicating all responsibility as educators for their future well-being. If we don’t teach our children how to use all available resources safely and efficiently – for their own good and the good of wider society – then we set them and society up to fail in what is becoming a true knowledge intensive “attention economy”.

“Depth of consciousness and patience are learned attributes. Most of us older folk grew up in environments where that was instilled and valued”. These are still learned and valued attributes. If ever we needed to help our children learn the power of mindful attention and patience then this is the age. But we must teach them within, not without, the social environment in which they will live otherwise it just won’t stick.  It is interesting to me that some of the most powerful and joyous advocates of “social technology” are those who are already deeply conscious and mindful.  Simply because it provides opportunity for a growing awareness of our infinite and inherent “interdependence” as Ethan Nichtern calls it. Check out Bhuddist Geeks or 21Awake or The Here and Now Project for what is a much more mature and evolved consideration on this:  it is a necessary invitation and opportunity to explore what it means to be conscious and patient within (not outside of) the 21st Century. The aspiration is still the same but our children are growing up in a different time so it must a slightly different question.

“All learning is not equal” but why do we persist in suggesting that we – any of us – know what learning is most relevant and to whom? Even the way we study is being challenged as we learn for example that (as musicians already know) repetition of a single discipline/area of study in discrete chunks does not work well for sustaining retention and cognitive development. Rather, regular short bursts of a range of subjects/tasks/disciplines in one sitting yields much more. Even the recognition that so much of our best learning is social is underpinned by science.  But back to my original point – not all learning is equal/as important as other learning. Agreed, but who is best placed to decide that? We continue to prepare so many of our students for a world we appear not to have noticed is changing in front of our very eyes. The capability to source, discern, synthesise and connect to both information and people (in a mindful and patient manner) are among the key skills we will need for the future. As Steven Berlin Johnson says: “chance favours the connected world”. But it also favours the connected (and skilled) person therein.

If that’s not among the “important stuff” then I worry for our young minds. The Battle of Hastings and long division will only get us so far.

I’m fully behind Euan on this. How we learn/teach should reflect how we understand our young people to live. Without that much learning can (and will) feel redundant and stifling. Like everything else, Facebook isn’t bad, but there are bad users of Facebook. Apparently some of our schools are among them.

September 22, 2010 | Shane Carmichael

I love it when comments are way better than my post! :-)

September 22, 2010 | Euan

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Virtual Revolution or Virtual Evolution?

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Very much enjoyed last night’s first installment of the BBC’s “Virtual Revolution” series

As well as providing some interesting (and often personal) insights on the history of the “web” and some of its current uses for individual and greater good, what was most interesting to me was the recognition that the Internet, far from redefining human nature, is ultimately a very pure reflection of it.

As one commentator remarked in the course of the programme:

“The Internet, like all technologies, is not a cure for human nature, it is simply an amplification of human nature”

 I think that’s a beautiful phrase – “an amplification of  human nature”. For on and in our uses of the Internet we do see the very best and very worst of ourselves as individuals and collectives.  Some amplifications are more surprising than others of course – I mean who would have though that sleepy sophisticated Harrogate would be the leading lights in accessing “adult material” on the Internet!

This notion of “amplification” rather than “redefinition” of human nature echoes what the brilliant Clay Shirky suggested in his book “Here Comes Everybody” – that the Internet does not necessarily create new motivations, it simply allows existing or latent motivation to be realised more efficiently (and immediately). As do the words of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg when asked by an audience of Global leaders recently: “How do we create a community (Facebook) like yours?”. Zuckerberg’s answer: “You can’t”. And he is right. Communities are not a creation of the web or anything else. They are a simple reflection of latent/existing human motivations/needs.

We use these tools to enable us to do the things we aready desire or feel to be important. Hence the success of community tools like Facebook, LinkedIn or MeetUp – man has, for millenia, sought out connection and community, both out of personal need for connection with others and an evolutionary instinct that ‘the collective’ offer us advantages as individuals and a society in the provision of services and allocation of resources.

I mention this only because of my interest in evolutionary psychology, the non technical aspects of change management and a growing interest – and some cases misunderstanding – of the web’s transformative power among business, particularly in relation to the creation of “communities of practice”.

There is a lesson here for both society and business in considering our relationship with the web and the social technologies it has spawned. These technologies and how they are used will reflect the culture of our society, communities and business operations. They won’t transform it’s core tenets, only how we share, collaborate and co-operate….and if we currently don’t share, collaborate and co-operate then a simple implementation of Twitter, Ning, Sharepoint or any other social media technology won’t change that. In a business context the lesson is this: social technologies will work best in an environment when people are aready motivated and able (skilled, have the opportunity etc)  to harness them to meet their existing motivations (to share, to learn, to drive business results).  Where communities of purpose, not practice, already exist and just need a more efficient means to practice as a collective.

This applies just as much – if not more so for Government aspirations for Gov 2.0. There is a danger that if we don’t find ways to engage and enable those in society with whom Government conducts most of its interactions (and whom are least likely to be connected to the Internet) then Gov 2.0 will fail as it will simply amplify the dislocation between of Government and the people who need it most (as I mentoned before, almost 80% of Government transactions are conducted with 20% of the UK population base and based on socio-economic esearch that 20% represent those sections of society least likely to be ‘web-enabled’).

So – hear ye. Without a better understanding of how our current business and social communities work and an investment in fostering a culture conducive to sharing and collaborating, the web and its manifold technologies will simply amplify the corporate or community status quo. Think more of the same only a little sexier, faster and more acute. And that would be a real shame.

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Government & Enabling Technologies: Evolution not Revolution

It has been a very interesting January for those of us interested in Government and IT Transformation. Among other things we’ve enjoyed:

But before I got too excited, my good friend Lee Hopkins sent me this little snippet from yesterday’s Guardian as a reminder that when it comes to technology and transformation the key word in Government is evolution not revolution. Still – I thought it was almost charming….

“Smith admitted that the government had not always been quick to embrace new technology. “Back in 1885, the civil service bought its first-ever typewriter, despite stiff resistance from in-house calligraphers. About 20 years later the government took another leap into the unknown when it invested in its first telephone, a mere three decades after the technology was first demonstrated.”

(Angela Smith Cabinet Office Minister – Guardian 28/01/10)


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Build it and they will come (maybe)

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It never (ever) ceases to amaze me that Field of Dreams was nominated for three Oscars.  Three. Oscars. Still there is no accounting for taste.  Lucky for Kevin K. Although I was a secret fan of Waterworld for years (good to get that out there).

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about making operational change stick in Government and related to that the rise (and rise) of Social Media/Social Technology in Government or what is currently oft referred to as ‘Government 2.0‘.  I intend to dedicate my next few posts to that but for the purposes of a late night preamble it goes something like this…

Reading some of the coverage on the application (or potential application) of Social Media/Technology one could easily come to the conclusion that this might be a panacea for the evils and short comings of modern Governance.  And while there is no doubt that new ‘social technologies’ offer some exciting opportunities for Government including:

  • Improved communication and cooperation (within and between governments and citizens)
  • Improved collaboration for service/solution co-production and participation with citizens (from participatory citizen voting, harnessing collective intelligence on matters of policy to the creation of new “Citizen centric” services built by the public using Government API data)
  • More efficient and effective options for service delivery/monitoring
  • Improved transparency and accountability (of decision making, accounting, voting, interests etc)

it is vital to remember that just “adopting” the tools and language of social media/technology in Government will simply not be enough because as Clay Shirky and may others have pointed out:

  • These technologies to do not in the main create new motivations, they are simply a means to enable existing motivations to be exercised more immediately and efficiently
  • This must ultimately be about a change in behaviour (not simply technology); a change in the way “we do things around here” (aka culture) and that sort of change is hard won and even harder sustained.

Many public bodies and officials will need to change behaviors in a way that will be more significant and anathema than learning the difference between Facebook, WordPress, Twitter and (as a starter for ten:) API.  How they communicate, legislate, consult, lead their staff and are held accountable will all be subject to significant change in a Government 2.0 operational landscape.

More importantly however, if this is to mark a meaningful new era in governance we, as citizens, will need to change our behaviours dramatically. We are seeing record levels of political apathy reflected in (for example) falling political party membership and poor voter turn out. Yet inherent in the argument that social technologies can truly transform Government (stand up Government 2.0) today is the assumption that we have a public who are ready, willing and able to communicate and participate never mind collaborate and create!   Certainly there are many – I included – who can now more easily engage in ‘new ways of working’ with my Government or Local Council – see the wonderful “Us. Now” for more examples. There is a growing body of IT developers who are trying to use Government data to build and develop new services to improve the connection between Government and citizen e.g. MySociety

But there are many – the majority most definitely – who either do not have the knowledge, means or inclination to do so…..”because these new technologies do not (in the main) create new motivations they simply enable existing motivations to be exercise more immediately and efficiently”.  We can design and put in place what I call “the enabling context” but will they come and will they be representative and responsible when they get there? Most pertinent in the context of citizen communication, participation and transactional service delivery is Martha Lane Fox‘s observation at the NESTA “Reboot Britain” Event in July that 80% of government interactions are with the poorest 25% of people who are much less likely to be online.

If the promise of social media in Government is to be realised then we must still ask the question: how do we engage “the people” again in the design and delivery of Public Services and keep them engaged when we do get them there?  If we don’t then at best we’ll have an extremely unrepresentative channel of Gov 2.0 constituents and at worst we’ll have an increasingly disengaged and disenfranchised wider populace.  Some proponents state that the mere adoption of social media technologies in Government will drive that change in citizen engagement – particularly among younger voters – but I am not so sure it will do so en mass on its own…and some recent surveys (more here) bear out the fact that we have a ways to go both in engaging citizens in the process and machinery of Governance as well as demonstrating that Social Media has a role to play therein.

Build it and they will come? Maybe (but I doubt it). Then again, apparently if I believe the impossible, the incredible can come true….

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