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Huginn and Muginn

October 5, 2007

The above named were Odin’s two Ravens. Melanie Rawn’s latest novel Spellbinder references the translation of their names as Thought and Memory but states that the more accurate version is Thoughtful and Mindful. Now I came across that reading in the bath this morning . There is no better place than a bath to think by the way and why US hotels only have showers I will never understand. The bath followed an email exchange with Ivan Webb in Australia. He was asking about how to you sustain successful practice (so much better a phrase than best practice) in schools, and also how you would scale those practices up to a whole school or to other schools.

So what’s the connection? Well it’s in the difference between the state of X and being Xful. The former is a thing, a manageable object. The latter an attitude or way of doing. It strikes me that the solution to Ivan’s problem may lie in this difference. Its also one of the general problems in KM, the difference between lessons learnt and learning lessons on which I have blogged before. However the issue of ICT in schools raises some wider issues and ones that justify the polemical category into which I have placed this. So I sat down today and developed seven (its always a good number) learnings/comments/recomendations that I offer for criticism.

Firstly, don’t teach ICT as if it was a “body of knowledge”?
I know from my own children that ICT was seen as a soft option, they were being taught skills that they had already acquired. I’ve seen a similar problem with college courses on word processing where a highly structured approach with lots of examples is taken. People who have been through that process often fail to understand how to use word processing creatively. Instead they have learnt a way to do things which they tend to follow slavishly. OK teach some basics then let people gain experience and give them a manual. I check the Pages manual every month or so and pick up new things I can do, I would never learn them all up front (or need a certificate). You learn things as you need them, which means you learn capability not rote. The teaching model of conveying facts etc while appropriate for parts of a subject like History is inappropriate for a skill, capability or attitude.

Secondly, make computers and broadband a universal right, like water
This is to deal with an objection about middle class bias. Not everyone has access to a computer and there is a role for schools in providing that. However I think the need for the modern generation to have access to computing and web capability at home is paramount in an society which values equality of opportunity. Low cost broadband and computers, possibly with some innovative financing schemes might be a better investment as in general most computing skills and all social computing capability is learnt by doing and by regular practice rather than classroom lessons. In the classroom, the class divide is more evident.

Thirdly: teach children touch typing, despite my comments above there are some basic skills that could be taught early as basic capability. Ten fingered typing for one. The Headmaster of my old school realised the importance of this back in the early 70s and made his academic sixth form pass RSA Grade II typing. We all screamed about it at the time; we were not going to be secretaries we were going to University. However it was insightful of a that brilliant man. I see people typing with one and two fingers and while they can be fast, they will never be as fast or as accurate as those who have been properly taught. This is suitable for schools as it takes discipline and authority to train the knowledge into the fingers.

Fourthly: teach people HTML and create social computing experiences
HTML is a basic skill. It’s a different way of writing with its own conventions and skills. and the sooner you learn it the better. Again its an issue of discipline and the basics can then be taught. After than its easy. Firstly create a wikipedia entry for your school or class and get people engaged in updating it. When people join the school they should get a blog in the same way as they get a peg in the cloakroom. Let them write class projects using a Wiki, where the teacher can look at the edit history and interaction and provide feedback. Some of this may be happening but I doubt it.

Fifthly: Let things emerge, don’t plan
I think this is one of the big issues in the email from Ivan which sparked this. I think I probably want to challenge the question. It’s not so much about repeating a success as repeating the conditions which led to that success. In any complex system you can never replicate outcome, but you can replicate starting conditions. Maybe part of the problem of scale and replication is a consequence of a failure to recognise this basic fact. In a sense you want multiple diverse initiatives to emerge, and you want to measure their impact on the social and educational fabric (something we are doing pioneering work on at the moment) not a series of pre-determined targeted outcomes.

Sixthly: Teach people about human beings not computers
Computers and their software are powerful and useful tools and should not be allowed to become fetishistic objects. I get a real sense that a lot of teaching is inspired by fetishistic government tendencies to set targets for computer adoption. I think we would create a more literate and capable set of computer users if we had a compulsory humanities course in all schools. That would include Philosophy & Anthropology which are neglected at the secondary level or used to disguise religious instruction (that is certainly true of GCSE Philosophy in the UK). You might throw in to good effect some basics of architecture; a lot of the best designers I have met have been architects. Not many people will need to understand the inner nature of our ICT tools, but they will need to understand how to use (and to avoid their abuse) in human systems.

Seventh: Don’t ossify the past in current teaching
I remember when I was in school we were taught how to use a punch card machine. The argument was that if we had that skill we would have a job for life. Our headmaster got typing right, but that was badly wrong (it’s still a useful skill as a hoby and I wish I had kept one of the machines). The technology course of my MBA started off with This is called a floppy disk. I pitied that lecturer; at least 90% of the class knew more about technology than he did, but it was the most popular lecture series for its entertainment value alone. When he tried to get us to calculate in binary so we would understand computers better there were mass hysterics. By the time an eleven year gets to college anything we can teach them about computers in the sense of X not Xful is going to be out of date just like the punch card machine and the floppy disk.

In conclusion, what really matters is that children experience and contribute to the evolution of technology, and to see that evolution as a symbiotic relationship with human kind. That requires us us the thoughtful and mindful. We don’t need to sacrifice an eye to gain wisdom, that was Odin task, but we do need to sacrifice an over explicit non-experiential approach to ICT teaching

PS
Melanie Rawn’s Spellbinder is an out of genre novel . Rawn is normally a fantasy writer (and one of the best of the second rank), but this is more a modern novel about spirtuality, witchcraft and the like. She wrote it as part of a release from clinical depression and its worth reading on multiple levels.

PPS
While on the subject of spirituality, you may (or may not) like to know then when, in my work with Shamanism over the years, I have been on a Spirit Journey ( a form of meditation), then my spirit guide has always been a Raven ….

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