Tag: purposed (page 2 of 3)

Reflecting on yesterday’s Purpos/ed Summit for Instigators (#purposedpsi)

Doug Belshaw at #purposedpsiIf you take away my wedding day, the birth of my two children and that time in 1998 when my football team beat local rivals to win 4-0 in the cup final replay, yesterday was one of the best days of my life.

Why? It marked a turning point, really. Up until my 30th year, I’ve seen myself as an ‘ideas person’, as somebody who sparks things off. The trouble is, most of the rest of the people in the world see themselves in that vein. So things never get started or are left unfinished. It’s time to be the change I want to see in the world – from start to finish.

Yesterday I helped organise the Purpos/ed Summit for Instigators. It’s the first time I’ve organised an event and, from the feedback both at the event and online, it went very well.

Over 50 people gave up a sunny Saturday afternoon to come and debate the purpose(s) of education as well as planning how to open out the conversation. They were absolutely awesome and I’m looking forward to what they go away and do as a result. It’s the first of many events!

I’m indebted to my co-kickstarter Andy Stewart for being utterly dependable, to Josie Fraser for chairing the event so effortlessly and effectively, and to Steve Boneham for capturing the audio, Leon Cych for sorting out the live video stream, and Maglio Viracca for the photography. Thank you!

If you want to catch some of the archived video stream, head over to our UStream channel (scroll down to ‘Recent Videos’)

Image CC BY-NC-SA Learn4Life

Hog roasts, Amazon EC2 and traffic lights.

I feel that these images, some of the last taken by photojournalists Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington in Libya before their deaths earlier this week, link in some way to the following. I’m just not sure how to work them in whilst retaining any form of subtlety.

Question: What links a hog roast, the recent Amazon EC2 outage and traffic lights?

Answer: The notion of Civil Society.

The London School of Economics’ Centre for Civil Society defines it thus:

Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups. (via Wikipedia, my emphasis)

At lunchtime today my family and I are heading down to the pond and newly-formed wildlife reserve behind the small cul-de-sac in which we live. The pond was formed by some kind of mining-related sinkhole that I don’t pretend to understand. What I do understand is that it’s now a beautiful space that adds value to our life (and to our house). Today is the opening ceremony at which a hog roast will be enjoyed free-of-charge, with people coming together to celebrate the space. More spaces for meeting means a greater likelihood of unmediated interaction.

Last March I was in Turkey with my good friend and collaborator Nick Dennis at the request of EUROCLIO which is doing some work on behalf of the Dutch government. Nick and I helped train History teachers on the use of technology in education (see presentation here), part of a many-pronged strategy by part of the Dutch government aiming to raise the level of Turkish ‘civil society’ in preparation for the latter eventually joining the European Union.

With the Turkish educators, technology was a trojan horse as the whole point of the programme was to get across the ‘multiperspectivity’ of History and, once that was established, equip them to be able to communicate that to the next generation. The only other strategy I can remember from the ten or so mentioned was that of making sure that traffic lights both worked properly and were sequenced in ways that were ‘European standard’ (i.e. enabled a good flow of traffic). It’s the little things that make a big difference.

So far, so obvious. The wildlife reserve and our work in Turkey fairly relate directly to the definition of Civil Society given earlier. But what about the Amazon EC2 outage? What’s that got to do with anything?

First, some context:

Cloud computing is all very well until someone trips over a wire and the whole thing goes dark.

Reddit, Foursquare and Quora were among the sites affected by Amazon Web Services suffering network latency and connectivity errors this morning, according to the company’s own status dashboard.

Amazon says performance issues affected instances of its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service and its Relational Database Service, and it’s “continuing to work towards full resolution”. These are hosted in its North Virginia data centre. (TechCrunch)

Having recently considered moving this blog to Amazon EC2 because it’s ‘never down’ I breathed a sigh of relief. Bluehost may be slower at serving up content than it used to be but at least it’s never completely failed me. Outsourcing via set-it-and-forget-it only works if you’ve got a backup plan.

All of this reminded me of Unhosted.org which, no doubt, has received a boost because of the EC2 outage:

Unhosted is an open web standard for decentralizing user data. On the unhosted web, data is stored per-user, under the user’s control. That’s where it belongs.

I’m no fan of privatising everything within society but I do think that sometimes we rely on the state and big businesses a little too much to provide things we can organize through communities and networks. Despite the #fail that is the Big Society in the UK the idea behind it remains sound. Unhosted is one way in which we can developers can come together as a force for good in the online sphere – just as the wildlife reserve and training Turkish educators were strategies in other spheres.

By way of conclusion, therefore, I’d like to challenge you. Be the change you want to see in the world. Small changes can have large symbolic actions and lead to a domino effect. Take next week’s #purposedpsi event in Sheffield, for example. There’ll only be about 50-60 people but, due to networks (and networks of networks) we’ll have a disproportionate effect on people’s thinking and conversation. There’s a few tickets left if you’d like to join us.

So, get out there and do something! Go and make the world a better place.

What I talk about when I talk about ‘user outcomes’ #3

This ongoing series is a way of explaining the focus of this blog. In previous posts I’ve discussed Douglas Adams on metaphor and Borges and embodied cognition whilst below I discuss symbolic action and the importance of stories.

freedom or not:across the city

Yet for all this, our world is still shaped by stories. Through television, film, novels and video games, we may be more thoroughly bombarded with narrative material than any people that ever lived. What is peculiar, however, is the carelessness with which these stories are channelled at us — as entertainment, a distraction from daily life, something to hold our attention to the other side of the ad break. There is little sense that these things make up the equipment by which we navigate reality. On the other hand, there are the serious stories told by economists, politicians, geneticists and corporate leaders. These are not presented as stories at all, but as direct accounts of how the world is. Choose between competing versions, then fight with those who chose differently. (The Dark Mountain Project manifesto, p.13)

Everything we say and do has at least two elements: the connotative and the denotative. That is to say, there is a symbolic element to everything we see, say and do. The problem is that the interpretation of those symbols can be tricky.

  • A film you watch with a friend may have had religious and positive undertones for you, but meanwhile reinforced your friend’s belief in the futility of life.
  • What one person sees as ‘sharing good practice’ is someone else’s definition of self-promotion.
  • A look across a crowded bar is a search for a friend to the looker but a flirtatious advance to another.

Open up Heat magazine (or any other low-budget weekly) and what do you find? The surface (denotative level) celebrity gossip could also easily be interpreted on a connotative level as telling a story to keep the herd in line. This diet is good, this skirt is bad, this is how you should treat others, and so on. For celebrity (and other) magazines they’re cultivating a tribe for the sake of advertising and profit. Organizations such as Purpos/ed do so for the sake of social change.

That’s why it’s all about the story – both the story you witness and interpret, and the one you tell. They don’t have to be one and the same. And remember, you tell yourself a story when you say you can and cannot do this or that. Don’t internalise other people’s stories; tell your own.

Image CC BY visualpanic

Purpos/ed featured in the TES

No April Fool here! Purpos/ed was featured in the Times Educational Supplement today – on the front page no less – with a double-page spread on p.26-7. It’s a testament to just how much need there is for a non-partisan debate of this kind.

Many thanks to Michael Shaw at the TES for his work behind-the-scenes. Much appreciated!

Purpos/ed in the TES

Purpos/ed in the TES

It’s also one year since some people were rather shocked at my announcing I was leaving schools to work for JISC infoNet: The end of the beginning. Much cake was eaten in the office.

Collaboration, perception, and context.

a Zed and two Noughts

One thing you can never really know is how people perceive you. This is especially true at a distance with people you’ve never met face-to-face. Whether face-to-face or at a distance, however, each situation depends heavily upon the ‘history’ you share with others. There are only a few people, for example, that I’ve known online since 2004 (when I started teaching) that I haven’t met face-to-face. Context changes things.

As I explained in On the glorious weirdness of connecting with people online (2009) I’m careful about the impression I give to people when meeting them for the first time. This first impression is often the one that lasts, or at least colours all future interactions. It’s been interesting, for example, to see how people I’ve known for years have reacted to my co-kickstarting the Purpos/ed debate (overwhelmingly positive) compared to the reactions of a small minority who have assumed that it’s some sort of Ponzi scheme.

The differing reactions, of course, demonstrate that at least some people think I’ve got form in collaborative and co-operative ventures:

2004 – Set up a Grouper-powered network to help members of the Schoolhistory.co.uk forum share educational resources.

2006 – Demise of Grouper led to establishment of HistoryShareForum.com.

2007 – Inspired by EdTechTalk, started EdTechRoundUp to enable UK-focused weekly discussion and debate of issues relating to educational technology.

2008 – Created elearnr.org to host guides relating to social media and educational technology.

2009 – Started a Twitter hashtag called #movemeon to provide advice for newly-qualified teachers (now collated into a book!). Shared strategy and plans relating to Director of E-Learning position, spurring others to do likewise.

2011 – Co-kickstarted Purpos/ed with Andy Stewart to provide a non-partisan, location-independent platform for discussion and debate about the purpose(s) of education.

I’m not being disingenuous when I say that over-and-above an income that provides for my family I’m not particularly interested in money. It’s a means to an end. What I am interested in is connecting and collaborating with people, attempting to inspire them, and working to make the world a little better than I found it.

Purpos/edThere’s a lot of cynicism, jockeying and false promising in western societies. My aim for Purpos/ed (and any future projects I help establish) is to provide something of an antidote to this world-weariness I see around me. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally realised: you don’t have to ask permission to be the change you want to see in the world.

If you feel likewise, and have an interest in education, why not come along to the Purpos/ed Summit for Instigators on 30th April in Sheffield? We’re trying to make the world a better place by debate and discussion leading to action. Why not join us?

Image CC BY-NC-SA Naccarato

Keith Belshaw’s contribution to the #purposed debate

Keith BelshawMy father currently lives and works in the United Arab Emirates. He taught PE and Maths, and was Deputy Head in schools in the North East of England until he left for the UAE in 2009. He’s returning in July 2011.

In this (unsolicited) 500-word contribution to the Purpos/ed debate, Keith Belshaw uses his multi-faceted experiences as an educator, traveller, father and grandfather to question whether the institutions within which he’s spent his working life continue to be relevant in their current form.

Please do comment and ask questions below; I shall encourage him to respond to each directly. 🙂

Purpos/ed “Education in the 21st Century”
Why? What? How? Where? Who?

Keith Belshaw

It is easy on this platform to forget that the majority of readers have gone through the tried and tested “traditional” route of “being educated”. By this I mean school followed by college/university and into a chosen profession, trade or job. For the majority, their outcomes -when viewed from the perspective of what is valued educationally by present day society – have been successful. There will have been real life experiences that have shaped outlook on life, morals and values. There will have been role models who have shown how things are done effectively. There will have been opportunities for learning co-operatively, experiencing cultural diversity and sensibilities in the “global village”. The different “intelligences” which we are given and learn will be factors in the way our relationships are formed – and with whom to a large extent. As this “growth” – intellectual and physical – matures over time, relationships built on the bedrock of mutual empathy, respect and healthy conflict resolution prosper. BUT…

…what is absolutely necessary in the 21st Century are adults who are critical thinkers, reflective problem solvers, who adapt and refine strategies and processes for the common good that is society. Above all, adults must pass on all these meta-cognitive skills that I have mentioned to the next generation, through extensive interaction with those children, and where positive modeling is evident.

School is now an outdated institution! The influences within can be harmful to the positive development of young children. Certainly, many parents will echo that viewpoint! Therefore, what skills and what knowledge will a youngster need before being let loose on the information technological overload that is “out there”?

With whom will they choose to learn? With their good friends! How will they learn? Looking at my grandchildren as they use software – I think we are missing a major opportunity for educational growth if games for all ages, which are motivational, intellectually stimulating, competitive, available and affordable  are not developed soon.

There needs to be ongoing assessment based on agreed rubric that covers all aspects of human development. This can be done at various “hubs” – centres which provide purely arts, or technologies, or mathematics and science, or sport. They should be able to be accessed 24 hours a day to suit the individual. The “hub” will have nationally agreed benchmarks that allow students to move from level to level in various aspects. Being able to study, investigate and explore when the motivation takes learners will be key to success. Universities will eventually be on-line and open to all, being the ultimate certificate providers at every level. So who learns? Everyone! No-one stops learning – learning is life-long! The system needs overhaul to afford opportunities for learners to opt in – opt out – and then opt back in again. We need to make education totally flexible, relevant, readily available with support – and FREE!

A civilized country is measured by the number of educated people in it’s population!

More on the (fragile) nature of reality.

Captured & Sequestered

One of the wonderful things about getting involved in a new venture like Purpos/ed is the connections that you make to people and organizations you’ve never heard of before. One such person is Dougald Hine, who’s been involved in a myriad of projects. This post centres around The Dark Mountain Project, something  Dougald co-founded.

What struck me upon reading the manifesto was, as I was discussing recently, the assumption behind most of what we do that business will continue as normal and that ‘reality’ is a stable, coherent, objective concept. In fact, what we term ‘reality’ is merely a “bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion” (William James) of competing narratives and stories. It’s the reason we often talk past one another: what some may dismiss as ‘semantics’ hide very real phenomenological difference in the way individuals are using terms to descibe things and ideas.

I urge you to read the whole of The Dark Mountain manifesto, but certainly the part quoted below (and definitely the last bit which I’ve emphasised in unmissable bold):

If we are indeed teetering on the edge of a massive change in how we live, in how human society itself is constructed, and in how we relate to the rest of the world, then we were led to this point by the stories we have told ourselves —above all, by the story of civilisation.

What makes this story so dangerous is that, for the most part, we have forgotten that it is a story. It has been told so many times by those who see themselves as rationalists, even scientists; heirs to the Enlightenment’s legacy —a legacy which includes the denial of the role of stories in making the world.

Yet as the myth of civilisation deepened its grip on our thinking, borrowing the guise of science and reason, we began to deny the role of stories, to dismiss their power as something primitive, childish, outgrown. The old tales by which generations had made sense of life’s subtleties and strangenesses were bowdlerised and packed off to the nursery… It is hard, today, to imagine that the word of a poet was once feared by a king.

Yet for all this, our world is still shaped by stories. Through television, ?lm, novels and video games, we may be more thoroughly bombarded narrative material than any people that ever lived. What is peculiar, however, is the carelessness with which these stories are channelled at us — as entertainment, a distraction from daily life, something to hold our attention to the other side of the ad break. There is little sense that these things make up the equipment by which we navigate reality. On the other hand, there are the serious stories told by economists, politicians, geneticists and corporate leaders. These are not presented as stories at all, but as direct accounts of how the world is. Choose between competing versions, then ?ght with those who chose differently. The ensuing con?icts play out on early morning radio, in afternoon debates and late night television pundit wars. And yet, for all the noise, what is striking is how much the opposing sides agree on: all their stories are only variants of the larger storyof human centrality, of our ever-expanding control over ‘nature’, our right to perpetual economic growth, our ability to transcend all limits.

As you’d expect from reading the above, Andy and I have separate reasons for starting Purpos/ed. One of mine certainly centres around creating space(s) to encourage and enable people to air their own stories and powerful ideas. Collaboration and transparency are key. As the maxim goes, light is the best disinfectant and, as Paul Mason explains in the if-you-haven’t-read-it-yet-you-really-should Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere, now (more than ever) ideas can acquire memetic status within hours rather than years and decades. We live in exciting, confusing but ultimately liberating times.

If we choose to, that is.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Jason A. Samfield

#ukedchat TONIGHT about #purposed

As you’ll already know, #ukedchat is a weekly hour-long Twitter chat on a Thursday night between 8-9pm GMT. This week I’m guest moderating on the following topic:

What’s the purpose of education? Are we heading in the right direction?

Step 1

Watch this:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y7MTHYWDTU&w=640&h=390]

Step 2

Download TweetDeck (also Google Chrome version), use TweetGrid or use Twitterfall (my favourite) to follow the hashtag #ukedchat. More on that here.

Step 3

Join in! Read, respond, debate. It’s fast-paced!

If you like this, then you’ll want to follow @purposeducation, the hashtag #purposed and sign up to the newsletter at http://purposed.org.uk


Here’s my summary with the entire archive of tweets here:

An extremely difficult hour to summarise given the frantic pace of the tweets! There was certainly a feeling that the purpose of education is much more than simply gaining ‘good’ examination results; most weren’t happy with the way education is heading in the UK. Although there was a strong anti-Gove sentiment, the overall tone of the discussion and debate was positive, with a sense that there was enough grassroots feeling to make educators’ voices heard in Whitehall.

‘Confidence’, ‘passion’ and ‘skills’ were perhaps the most used words in 140-character contributions to the question of what constitutes the purpose of education. Tweets mentioning the importance of holistic education, of equipping young people with the ability to learn how to learn, and of raising aspirations were among the most retweeted.

Many contributors mentioned how refreshing it was to discuss the fundamentals rather than ‘the latest web 2.0 tool’. Although some expressed frustration at only have 140 characters to express themselves (along with the speed of the updates) there was an almost-tangible sense of people thinking deeply about their beliefs as educators about the purpose of their profession.

Reflecting on Day 1 of Purpos/ed

Blue Skies

Wow! Whilst Andy Stewart and I, kickstarters of Purpos/ed, knew that there was a growing demand to increase the public space available for debating the purpose(s) of education, we didn’t really know just how much! Even doubling the 500 words challenge didn’t satisfy demand (there’s a reserve list here) and Andrés Espinoza Cara (@espinoza_cara) voluntarily started translating the Purpos/ed site into Spanish!


But this is just the beginning. We’re in it for the long-haul. Andy and I are currently busy setting up Purpos/ed as a co-operative, a form of organization that we feel suits its mission better than setting up as other forms of social enterprise (or, for that matter, a charity). We’ll be looking for founding members, therefore at some point in the future who will be able to help plan our first events. For now, we’ve got an exciting mix of well-known and enthusiastic bloggers who will be sharing their thoughts about what they believe to be the purpose of education. After yesterday’s inspiring call-to-action by Prof. Keri Facer today we’ve got Stephen Downes, who needs no introduction!

Finally, this isn’t about individuals, or even small groups. It’s about creating spheres of public debate about the purpose(s) of education. It’s not party-political but it is about power to the people.

Image CC BY jurvetson

BOOM! Purpos/ed launches.

purpos/edI don’t know whether you’ve had this feeling before, but for me it’s been one of the first times I’ve felt it: that feeling that the skills and the knowledge you’ve built up over the years have finally coalesced, have finally got a purpose. Have you ever felt that?

It’s with sheer delight and bursting with enthusiasm, therefore, that Andy Stewart and I launch purpos/ed. We’re aiming to kickstart a debate around the purpose of education, starting with 500-word blog post and Twitter campaigns – and culminating, in 3 years’ time, with simultaneous large meetings/conferences.

It’s going to be big. Join us. 😀