Thursday, 18 September 2014

Digital leadership in an analog educational system

"It's not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It's because we dare not venture that they are difficult." -- Seneca

Today, for the first time, I felt like I was failing my pupils. I've always prided myself on my ability to translate national curriculum orders into a fantastic set of end of key stage levels. Always well above local, regional and national averages. But really, that isn't enough, is it? Not even close.
Let's not forget, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We, as prospective digital leaders have been given a great responsibility; we are the ones charged with being agents of change, in our lessons, schools, pupils' lives, parents' lives and in our communities. There is a deluge of empirical research to validate what we are trying to do. Every youtube clip of Howard Rheingold or Sonia Livingstone only convinces us further. We know what we need to do, we know it makes sense. But, and this is a but of mammoth proportions... How do we do it?
  • We need to be developing pupils' crap detection skills (is that term acceptable, or should we tone it down a bit??)
  • Develop a better sense of self-filtering and self-censorship
  • To widen their palate of possibilities
  • For them to widen our palates
  • Using new technologies, new apps and new web sites
  • Creating new apps and new web sites
  • Encouraging pupils to develop their own voice on-line, to experiment, to take risks, to take risky experiments, to try, to fail, to dust themselves off and to try again
  • To allow our pupils to feel empowered, but not because they know we are taking care of them, but because they are taking care of themselves
The Internet is an adult world, yes, but it's time for a new paradigm. We've all taken our children to a playground, where they had their fair share of fun and their fair share of scrapes. Yes, there were tears, but they always want to return, despite their mishaps. Why wouldn't they?? It's a playground for god's sake!! Let's take something from this. Let's try to make the internet less of a murky underworld and more of an adventure playground. Yes, our knees may get muddy and our hands scraped, but we'll still be back there tomorrow, full of enthusiasm for the promise of more muddy knees and more unbridled fun

I was doing a basic literacy exercise with some Year 8 pupils, pretty standard stuff, but they were still getting into it, and were really enthusiastic about simple things like peer assessment and our general pupil/teacher interactions. But as fun as that was for me, I felt, no I knew, that I was letting them down. This wasn't what they needed. The numbers game, pissing contest of end-of-key-stage results feels trivial and pointless. I, for one, am going to make a commitment to stop this madness and re-align my priorities. I swear, that on Monday, I am going to stand before my first key stage class and boldly ask 'What do you want to learn today?'. I also swear that their needs will come before those of the national curriculum.  Come Monday, I am going to start on the road to creating digital citizens, not Level 5+s. 

I discussed my plans with a high(ish) ability year 7 group, and they were all very enthusiastic about what I was working towards. Some interesting points:

  • All pupils used a wide variety of hardware and software tools, but predominantly they were social messenging
  • About a third of pupils said their parents enforced some kind of filtering system on their internet access, but none of them said their parents restricted where they used their devices, only occasionally when they can be used
  • All pupils sheepishly admitted 'off the record' to using apps that their parents didn't know about...
  • This has inspired me to create a proper survey of pupils' ICT usage. I'll share the survey and results when they are finished
  • I asked for a quick idea of what they were using and what they wanted to know more about. They came up with...


  1. Brave words and eloquently stated. You will have to let us know whether the students like their new open horizon. I suspect that, whilst describing myself as being brave with ICT, I am actually a slave to the scheme of work and assigned assessment points.

  2. Wow Alan - brave and bold! And humbling... to ask the pupils... and to not be afraid of making mistakes - this is something we need to model to students ourselves. I think Sugata Mitra's award winning TED talk on self-organised learning environments (SOLES) - which is on the list of talks I have for you all to listen to when we meet again - is absolutely inspiring in this regard - see it here: - Sangeet

  3. A valuable update Alan! Thanks for sharing the insights you are getting... all invaluable stuff for us all. - Sangeet