#ediff: Exploring a Scottish Government Technologies for Learning Strategy

Last week Jackie Brock, from the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate, held a seminar to:

form part of the initial exploration work contributing to the potential development of a Scottish Government Technologies for Learning Strategy.

Just another conference?

Anyone working in this area will know that, recession or not, the business of modernising the education system has spawned an entire industry. It stages exhibitions, seminars, conferences and workshops which seem to be popular, judging by the endless stream of corresponding hashtags on Twitter. For many of us, though, it’s difficult to see how much of that frenetic activity might be leading to improved learning in classrooms. There’s often a sense, articulated by one participant at Friday’s meeting, that these events are attended by “suits”. Perhaps that’s why the first test this event had to pass was one of credibility.

It didn’t take long for participants to decide that it wasn’t “just another conference”, and other commitments were soon being hastily rearranged. Why was that? What differentiated it? Some possible reasons may have been:

  • The agenda consisted only of questions. There were three inter-related themes: experience, pedagogy and capability, and two or three “big” questions for each.
  • The time-scale being considered was a period of 20 years . Most such events concern themselves with quickly identifying and “fixing” current problems with short term actions. Unusually, this one set out to “review these themes in the context of the recent past (back to 2000) and the near future (forward to 2020).
  • The aim was not to reach definitive conclusions. It was instead to ” identify significant tensions, risks and opportunities to be taken into account in designing a new strategy and ideally developing a set of criteria or principles for how to make sound decisions in what is a rapidly shifting environment”.
  • The participants were not invited as representatives. Prospective participants included a good range of people with in-depth experience of the realities of using technologies, from Guitar Hero to Glow, as tools for learning in Scotland. Although from a variety of organisations, they seemed to have been invited as a sample of individuals who could inform the discussion, regardless of their role.

How successful was the event?

Neil Winton has already posted a detailed description of the activities on the day. As Neil explains, he created the Twitter hashtag of #ediff, which can be used to find tweets from the event.

What has been striking, in the interval since, is that it has quickly started an ongoing conversation on Twitter and blogs, which soon extended beyond the initial group.

At the time of writing, I’m aware of other posts from:

I liked the way IFF’s Graham Leicester approached the situation: trying to tease out underlying assumptions that have guided past decisions, for example, and that might continue to do so (“What would be the predictable strategy?”).

Of course,  it’s too early to judge its final impact. Early signs, though, are promising.

The Scottish elephant

The day started with a “Where would you spend your money?” exercise. Each of use completed an A4 form, so there was more detail gathered than shown on the summary flipchart. It proved a surprisingly useful exercise, in that it quickly enabled us to see what a wide range of views there were.

I felt an initial sense of frustration at being asked to choose between a range of predefined options at such an early stage. This felt like the sort of activity that might have been expected towards the end of a workshop session, where the group had analysed a problem situation, decided the answer was to investment in technology and/or learning, identified possible options and was choosing between them in a democratic way.

By starting off, though, talking in terms of technology and learning investments, there was a risk that the options presented set something of an agenda and framed later discussions in that context.

The purpose of the day, though, was:

… not to reach definitive conclusions, but to identify significant tensions, risks and opportunities to be taken into account, in designing a new strategy, and ideally developing a set of criteria or principles for how to make sound decisions in what is a rapidly shifting environment.

Thinking back on it now, I’m not sure we did that justice. I worry that we gave too much attention to things we thought we should do, and didn’t give sufficient attention to a peculiarly Scottish “elephant in the room“.

That issue is the governance arrangements around the use of technology in Scotland’s schools. This is territory that we don’t tend to talk much about, other than in connection with local issues, yet is critical. When we’re thinking about improving learning, we base our decisions on research evidence. If we adopt a corresponding research-based approach to managing our technology, it will lead us in this direction.

We are trying to make a start on developing a national technologies for learning strategy. If any such strategy is to be successful, we will need carefully designed national arrangements to ensure that decisions made align with it.

“To be effective, IT Governance must be actively designed, not the result of isolated mechanisms (e.g. steering committee, office of IT architecture, service level agreements) implemented at different times to address the challenge of the moment.” (Ref. 1)

From this viewpoint, our current arrangements are wrong. And we know that’s a problem, but we haven’t found a solution. It’s such a challenge that it may even be that Glow was, in part, conceived to try to iron out inconsistencies in access to online tools and help provide a baseline, equitable online experience for children – and staff – in Scotland’s schools.

There are still many areas, though, where inequities in access to hardware, software and, especially, online resources are as wide as ever, and may even be increasing.

What do you think? Is this something you would see as being within the scope of a national technologies for learning strategy? How important do you think it is?


1. Weill, P. and Ross, J. W., (2004) IT Governance on One Page

Libraries are crucial to our digital future

Photo by New Jersey Library Association, CC licensed
Photo by New Jersey Library Association, CC licensed

Are you still thinking the future of libraries is all about providing internet access and access to ever-bigger book selections? Think again.

Lynne Brindley, in a Guardian Response column this week, made me realise they present a relatively untapped opportunity to improve reading, commitment to learning and digital inclusion within communities. I’ve lifted the title of her piece for this post because it’s a message I think needs repeated.

Public libraries will adapt and survive because they have a crucial role to play both in fostering reading and commitment to learning, and in delivering vital digital skills and digital inclusion in an increasingly digital Britain.

I’d fallen into my own favourite trap by seeing the potential of technology in libraries for doing existing things more effectively – finding books, researching, accessing information – but hadn’t fully appreciated how powerful the combination of community libraries and technology could be before reading this piece. The point I’d missed is the opportunities they enable, such as building online skills.

In fact most people have broadband access via our public library network, which has a vital role to play in fostering digital inclusion by building the online skills of users both young and old. Libraries are a safe, neutral, public space with internet access and skilled staff able to offer information and advice about getting online. They also act as a portal to a wide range of other services – particularly in these economically difficult times.

In our public library service we have a great infrastructure on which to build a digital Britain. Through this we can increase lifelong learning, digital literacy and digital inclusion by bridging the gap between online information and services and the millions who are currently “nonline”.

From this perspective, safeguarding our existing library system is just the first step; we need to find ways to allow its important new role to develop.