Open Thinkering


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Why Ewan McIntosh *was* (partly) wrong.

***Ewan’s gone back and added some clarification to his blog post. I’ve still got issues with points 3 and 4, but I’m pleased that we’re more in agreement than I initially thought. I thought about deleting this post, but I’ve learned that once something goes online, it should stay online!***

Ewan McIntosh

Based on an original CC BY-NC Ewan McIntosh @ Flickr

I like Ewan McIntosh. He’s a great guy: extraordinarily innovative and has worked hard for innovation within the educational community. However, I think that having moved away from the education sector he’s perhaps become a little out-of-touch with the realities of the classroom.

Normally that would be fine, but there are literally thousands of people who read his blog and are influenced by him. That’s why I want to take issue with a recent post of his entitled Why backward social-network-banning education authorities are wrong. I agree with the main thrust of the post about the folly of local authorities blocking access to social networking sites. However, Ewan concludes with the following:

What do I reckon could be done (only my tuppence worth, I add…) In a recent interview for Merlin John’s new Innovators series I outline how I believe things could change:

  1. design tools and learning spaces that entice and delight young people, rather than tools we have to mandate them to use – if the kid had a choice, would they use that or the competition?;
  2. plan less, creating time and room for movement as innovations come up;
  3. stand still and do nothing: look at what is working in the world around you and steal, steal, steal (and give credit where it’s due);
  4. if there’s a bandwagon, jump on it and see if it goes anyhere (a Coulterism);
  5. don’t do pilots, just do the real deal from the start.

(N.B. I’ve numbered these for ease of reference)

I’ve already outlined my opposition to the fourth point in On the important difference between hitchhiking and bandwagon-jumping. Here’s my reason for opposing, with varying degrees of intensity, the other points:

1. Tools & Learning Spaces

As educators, we should be using the best tools for the job. There are two ways to conceive of ‘best tools.’ The old thinking was that the ‘best tools for the job’ were those prevalent in industry. Hence we have schools teaching Microsoft Office to students in ICT lessons. That’s wrong.

But the opposite of that isn’t designing our own tools and learning spaces. It’s using the best tools for the job. Those are tools with a pedigree, a user base and enable us to get data out as easily as we put it in. That’s why I’m a big fan of Open Source Software. Designing our own tools and learning spaces can often lead to the creation of ‘creepy treehouses’, stripped-down versions of what’s available elsewhere and clunky functionality.

Knowing what Ewan usually says about these things, I think we’re probably actually in agreement about this. I just don’t think he’s put it very clearly in what I’ve quoted above.

2. Plan less

I actually think we need to plan more than we do currently as educators. Instead of planning in isolation, however, we need to plan in collaboration. We should be planning not only with other educators (in our own educational institutions and further afield) but with students. This is where real innovation occurs. 🙂

It’s the learning outcomes that are important, not the tools we use. Yes, students need to learn how to use tools, but that shouldn’t be the focus. So I agree that we should ensure we have time and space to allow for innovation, but we shouldn’t be leaving spaces to be filled with ‘cool tools’. That’s the wrong emphasis.

3. Stand still and do nothing

Granted, reflection is important. I spend a lot of time doing this and encourage my students to do the same as often as I can. But it’s not really a tactic that can be used that much. In fact it’s something that goes against 4iP’s (Ewan’s employer) mantra of ‘Do it first. Make trouble. Inspire change.’

Yes, we need to be aware of what others are doing. Yes, we need to take time to think about how what others are doing can be adapted for our own use. But we also need to get on and do it as well! Looking around you can equally lead to copying instead of innovation. Nothing can be imported wholesale and be expected to work perfectly without modification. Everything requires work.

5. Pilots

Ewan sets up a false dichotomy when he states “don’t do pilots, just do the real deal from the start.” Piloting before rolling out can be the ‘real deal from the start.’ Take, for example, my rolling out of e-learning tools and approaches at the Academy. The only reason I was confident in getting every member of staff using Google Apps straight away is because I’d ‘piloted’ it in various ways in other schools. I knew all the features, likely problems, and anticipated training needs.

Without pilots of tools and approaches the person responsible for roll-out is constantly firefighting. That’s a stressful thing to do and not conducive to innovation. Whilst I understand the sentiment about making bold leaps and being uninhibited, that’s not always as possible as we’d like to think. There are other factors to consider, not least child protection and politics. Research is vital.

What do you think? Have I made fair criticisms? Are Ewan and I actually saying the same thing?

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