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Archive for March, 2008

Weinberger suggests that ‘everything is miscellaneous’ – and there is much to agree with in his world view. But one of the biggest puzzles to me is why so many blogs are just collections or quotes of other people’s views/pictures/videos? Are blogs also just miscellany at heart? Does it matter? Is miscellany just another word for trivial?

Well, moving swiftly on, I’m currently enjoying reading some straight down the line cognitive science in the form of papers on discourse analysis informing the development of embodied pedagogical agents. A rumour doing the rounds is that the Institute might be ‘advised’ to focus its research in educational technology on adults only. There is research in the Institute which quite properly focuses on adult learners. It is called, variously, student learning, academic practice, studies in higher education. But technology is a cross-cutting theme – much of the best research in educational technology began in the classroom (e.g. Papert, Pea, Heppell to mention but a few) and much of the theorising that our field uses, similarly, began with children (Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner). Coming from the cognitive sciences, there are times that I would argue that much adult learning is a recapitulation of the developmental process observed in children. And most of the work on intelligent tutoring systems has been undertaken with young people, like the papers I am reading at the moment (e.g. Graesser 2005).

And so is this yet another blog that just consists of a miscellaneous collection of other people’s views loosely knitted together with some trivia of my own? Dang!

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Business as usual

Despite the fact that we are being reviewed this week, business in the Institute carries on as normal. We are just completing our annual promotions round. Ideally, everyone submits a refreshed and revised CV to the promotions panel (consisting of all the managers) who (a) provide feedback on the presentation of the CV – the OU has a particular style that all who wish to enter in must follow – and (b) consider who might have a case for promotion.

It is a fairly intensive process, but one that ultimately is worthwhile if everyone plays the game. Unfortunately, over the years the advice from various promotions panels has been variable, leading to a certain amount of cynicism from ‘old lags’ who doubt that their cases will ever move forward. All I can do is encourage people to maintain their faith – we are doing our best, and if you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t win the lottery! So a decent CV is good starting point, chaps.

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Last week spent a couple of fascinating days in the company of some wonderfully stimulating people. We gathered under the auspice of FutureLab as the Expert Advisory Group for the Beyond Current Horizons programme, which aims to provide a ‘long term and challenging vision for education in the context of socio-technological change to 2025 and beyond’, and whose purpose is to:

‘explore how futures thinking tools can be used by the education system in order to ensure that it can more independently determine which ‘visions of the future’ should be used to determine education strategy and decision making.’

The programme is sponsored by the Technology Futures Unit in the Department for Children, Schools and Families. This enterprise is extremely exciting – it provides the opportunity to poke around in all kinds of future-gazing documents, looking more at their methodology than at the specific predictions. But the scope sweeps in the state, politics, society at large, religion, global/local, receding horizons, family, public/private, demographics and spiritual thinking. And that’s all before you’ve thought about knowledge, information, communication, learning and teaching.

One of the issues that grabbed my attention, though, was the extent to which British (English?) society communicates to its young people that they are a precious resource that is going to become more scarce as time passes.  As the average lifespan gets longer, and the birth rate falls, more and more of us are going to depend on the vitality, creativity and public spiritedness of our young people. Are we bringing up a generation of young people who feel this valued? I don’t think so. Various indicators in futures documents signal that the age of consumerism may be coming to an end, basically, because we can’t afford it any more (financially, politically and environmentally). We will be pushed back to the quality of our relationships to satisfy our needs and wants at all levels – in the family, in the workplace, in our educational establishments, whatever they may look like in the future. All our children need to be brought into this thinking, rather than alienated from it by a generation terrified out of its wits by tabloid hysteria and mind-sapping reality television. Eh! Glad I got that out, Norm…

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