Engaging Citizens: Communities for the 21st Century

Future Forum Logo Today Matthew Taylor, former chief adviser on political strategy to the Prime Minister and current head of the RSA, gave a lecture to Scotland’s Future Forum on:

how best to encourage communities and citizens to become fully engaged in progressing matters that are important to them and society at large.

    I was particularly interested to hear his views on how this might relate to our attempts to increase engagement in education by parents, carers and others in the school communities.

    His main argument:

    • It’s not about getting policy right – there is no right answer to many modern problems
    • It’s not about “Who do we choose to run things?” – the question now is “How can we become the people we need to be to create the future we want?”
    • The role of politicians is to support this citizen-centric process – there’s broad agreement on the kind of future we now want: free, fair, decent and environmentally sustainable.

    It was interesting that he took the time to explain to the group the huge difference between “Web 1.0” technologies, which he described as just speeding up existing relationships, and “Web 2.0“, which he described as having “immense scope”.

    He raised a number of points in relation to education, in particular what he saw as a “vital need for change in the nature of schooling“. Continue reading Engaging Citizens: Communities for the 21st Century

    Can Farnborough’s Extended Project inform Extreme Learning?

    This week’s edition of the BBC Learning Curve included a short piece about the piloting of “Extended Projects” at Farnborough 6th Form College. Our Extreme Learning projects aren’t aimed at that age group: but it was good to hear from some people who have direct experience of this new approach to learning.

    The program is currently available on Listen Again here (this piece is between about 19m 40s and 29m 30s) and due to be repeated at 23.00 today on Radio 4. The interview is also on the college’s site as a stand-alone mp3 file (9MB). Click on the Audio mp3 icon to listen. Link

    Key features:

    • The pilot involved S6 students, working on 5000-word projects during summer months.
    • 120 or so started, and about 70 completed their projects.
    • The projects were bound into proper books, like dissertations.
    • Response was astonishing, with unselected students asking to take part.
    • The dissertations were presented by Sir Mike Tomlinson, who recommended extended projects for schools.

    The projects combined 2 A-level subjects. This was compulsory, and was seen as important in teaching students about the difficulties associated with subject boundaries. The research projects were described as “excavating the area in between” subjects.

    The projects weren’t graded. Although the links below discuss grading arrangements, it sounds like the decision was eventually made not to grade the projects, but instead to provide a subjective response, including good feedback. They wanted students more than anything to be proud of their work. The variety of projects described probably made the development of grading criteria more trouble than it was worth. Perhaps this was because the students involved were using the projects to supplement their A-levels? In that context, perhaps formative assessment, to guide future learning, is more appropriate?

    Students saw coursework as unchallenging by comparison. These projects clearly weren’t a soft option. The HT interviewed claimed the rigorous projects developed resilience and stamina, but admitted that a number of students had found the projects depressing at times, but had come through that.

    Don’t “over-specify” the projects. This advice came through strongly, particularly regarding time allocation.

    Those on content-heavy courses were most prone to drop-out. Examples given were chemistry and biology, where the coursework content was huge.
    What ideas could we learn from this?

    We haven’t spent much time thinking about how we might recognise the achievement of an Extreme Learning project.

    • Perhaps some sort of professional publication could be created, in a similar way to the Farnborough dissertations, and presented to the student? A professionally presented CD or DVD with a copy of the project web site on it could be done at moderate cost, and be a useful part of the student’s portfolio.
    • A formal presentation ceremony is perhaps also something we could consider; it could help build confidence.

    The Farnborough College site includes these other links

    In class, I have to power down

    David Puttnam, in today’s Guardian Education asks why it is, despite children having been quick to grasp the joys of new technology, schools are lagging so far behind.

    At a recent digital education conference in San Francisco, one of the more memorable remarks quoted came from a child: “Whenever I go into class, I have to power down.” That roughly translates as: “What I do with digital technology outside school – at home, in my own free time – is on a completely different level to what I’m able to do at school. Outside school, I’m using much more advanced skills, doing many more interesting things, operating in a far more sophisticated way. School takes little notice of this and seems not to care.”

    He refers to a recent Demos report, Their Space (81 pages, pdf). This report, supported by the National College for School Leadership, includes a whole range of ideas that could help inform eduBuzz developments, for example this from Chapter 4 , “Start with People not PCs, How schools can shift investment”:

    This chapter has laid out a set of changes that when taken together add up to a shift in values: a shift in terms of the kind of investment that is needed to reach the potential for change in the system, and a shift in terms of the kinds of skills, experiences and relationships that schools value. Shifting schools’ value systems in this way will create more meaningful learning experiences for young people, and also more active and engaged learners. It will also enable schools to reconnect the currently disparate parts of young peoples’ lives – in school and out of school – and enable them to transfer knowledge and skills across a whole range of experiences. But finally it is important because by building on young peoples’ interests and enthusiasms, and doing it in ways that are going with the grain of their lives, schools will succeed in effectively providing all young people with a set of tools that they can use far beyond their formal learning experience.