Minister for schools, government spokesperson for education and skills
Principal, Henley Management College,
Anthony Burgess (observer)
Senior e-learning policy manager, Learning and Skills Council
Chief executive, Skillset, the Sector Skills Council for the audio visual industries
Chair in education, Lifelong Learning, Institute of Education
Research director, Futurelab
Director of research, Cambridge Assessment
Vice principal, curriculum and quality, Henley College, Coventry
Head of curriculum development, University for Industry
Publisher, New Statesman
Education correspondent, the Economist
Group manager for education relations, Microsoft Ltd
Head of the skills for life strategy unit, Department for Education and Skills
Professor of European economic integration, University of Sussex Iain Simons
Barry Sheerman MP (chair)
Chair, education and skills select committee
Head of public sector citizenship programmes and relationships, Microsoft Ltd
Research and innovations manager, Edexcel
Barry Sheerman (chair) At the education and skills select committee a few weeks ago, we started off thinking we would look at the design and build of schools, given that there is going to be £45bn of taxpayers' money spent on this new generation of schools and upgrading schools. We were persuaded by the experts that what we needed to look at was what was fit for purpose for the sustainable school in the 21st century in its entirety. We need to look further than buildings, how far people travel to school and how it is maintained, and look at what goes on in that school in the 21st century; the use of IT, how we use smart learning, how we anticipate that learning.
This discussion today is not just about schools. We are looking at the further education (FE) sector but we are also looking at how schools can reach out into the community and how we can look at smart learning at every level, for lifelong learning, for skills.
Stephen Uden from Microsoft can start us off.
Stephen Uden There is a lot of momentum in education at the moment. It is quite right, given we are dealing with young people's futures, that we do not make short, sharp, changes. However, given this huge opportunity, we want to try to imagine the possibilities of what future education can look like so that when those schools are built, we can enable people to be far more effective with technology.
Clare Riley Building schools for the future requires new partners to work together to see if they can come up with the thinking. At Microsoft, we are working with the government, government agencies, commercial players, architects, teachers, students, whole bunches of people in developing some blueprints that we hope will inform the debate about where we are going. What do we want teaching and learning to look like? How do we think we might manage and structure the way we deliver education in the UK.
Barry Sheerman In my committee yesterday we discussed what sort of qualities and what sort of schools one wants a 16- or 18-year-old to have. I think being people centred rather than technology or building centred is where we want to be.
We have a whole generation of kids who know more about the technology than their parents. Kids as young as five have to instruct their parents.
Chris Bones Is that not because most formal education at school level removes experimentation and innovation as quickly as possible to impose an answer? If you are five or six you are free of fear and you are free of failure. We spend our time dealing with people of an average age of 35, unpicking perceived answers and fears and really engaging them with how great education is, which is about exploration. I worry that learning does not start with the learner, it starts with building or technology strategies, or teaching methodology.
Sylvia Green I work for an assessment organisation and some of the research we have done shows completely different perceptions of children, 11-year olds, for example, when they are being assessed in the technology arena. Boys particularly seem to feel freed up to engage with the technology and less restricted. They perceive this arena of technology as their personal space, as their world and they feel that they can be safe in that world.
Karen Evans I think that one of the problems we have with our policies in the UK at the moment is that there has been too much emphasis on fairly narrow forms of skills and too little on developing educated attributes in young people, such as the ability to question assumptions. Technology enables a glut of information, images and messages. Young people really need to be able to have a very questioning approach to what they are receiving. They need to question assumptions and have a critical take on what is valuable and what is not.
Other educated attributes will be things such as the attributes that come through foreign language learning, cultural awareness, and so on.
Keri Facer When you look at children's learning outside school, it is driven by what they are interested in, which is the direct opposite of school-based learning. For example, in the United States a group of students were interested in Manga, the Japanese animated cartoons. In order to get hold of them before they were due to arrive on the market, this group got together, taught themselves Japanese, subtitling and web streaming, because they were motivated to.
What is the relationship with this idea that education is handing down a general base of knowledge? I think that is one of the tensions.
When you look at learning in the home you see knowledge-building communities. Children can act as teachers, they are allowed to adopt different identities and they are not just learners. They have control over the time of their learning and how long it will take. The school system needs to know a lot more about what is happening outside school in terms of children's passions, interests and abilities than it does at the moment.
We need a shift towards an education system that is about listening to what the learners are bringing into the school situation, as well as thinking about an education system that is pushing things out.
Gillian Whitehouse If we have a look at different education systems around the world, they have very different approaches. In Sweden, for instance, children stay at home until the age of seven and they learn through experience and play. However, by the age of eight their reading and numeracy ability is equal to students in this country, if not better.
I think one of the things we want to build into our education system is the idea of wanting to learn and wanting to foster the motivation to allow the individual to learn throughout their life. I think that from an early stage our education system crushes people's motivation to learn.
Dinah Caine I think there is a real difference between talking about learning outside of the school and assuming all of that takes place in the home because many people are actually out at work. What is home? What is family now? There are other communities, other ways of bringing people together.
I think creativity in all its forms is absolutely key. It is the quality that we would want individuals to apply to every aspect of their lives. The Roberts Review is about to report and this review has focused on creativity at all stages in schools.
It is fantastic that people do use technology at an early age but content is absolutely all in terms of how they are enabled and inspired to learn and to access learning.
One of the attributes that is terribly important is the ability to know what to do with the creative content and the learning content that has been made available on so many different platforms.
Neil Robertson My responsibility is for adult literacy. One of the things that we hear from employers is that they are looking for workforce flexibility. In the future, flexibility will not be about a specific set of skills; it will be the ability to hire a set of skills. What might assessment look like in respect of flexibility?
I think we have a lot to learn from technology here. We have been working with the Army to address the issue of the lack of literacy skills of people who are put in charge of £50m tanks. I noticed that the steering mechanism for the tanks is very like a Gameboy; it is designed around familiar technology, which I thought was fascinating. Also, we offered a digital test, rather than a paper test, and we offered the recruits the chance to do the test or not. As you can imagine, they did not want to do the test, but the digital medium was very attractive to them.
I am encouraged about the future and how we can come up with more innovative forms of assessment.
Barry Sheerman There is a revolution going on in assessment. I have been talking to the examinations people and we are stepping sharply back, retreating from coursework, are we not Andrew?
Andrew Adonis The use of IT in assessment is going to be a very big part of the future. The new tests for IT itself at Key Stage 3 are going to be online, and I think marking will increasingly be online. Our concern as a government in this area is that the change needs to happen in a managed way so that we do not end up with transitional problems in the assessment process, but it would be a whole move to online assessment.
I am very seized by flexibility in assessment, too. If we could have more assessments built around the individual, a personalised education system, I think that would improve things a lot.
In terms of the skills agenda, I am very struck, when I talk to employers, that the skills at the top of their list are core skills: literacy and numeracy. What almost invariably comes second, though, is what we would traditionally describe as soft skills: creativity, leadership, team building and presentation skills. A big challenge for me as the minister responsible for e-learning and the IT agenda is how we can contribute to that. A big way of taking this forward is the extended schools agenda because a lot of these skills are developed by activities outside the classroom: project work outside the classroom, field trips, learning musical instruments, sport and debating. One of the things we have to do far better in the state system is to encourage and provide for the development of those soft skills. This is one of the reasons, to be quite frank, why people tend to pay to go private: because they think that these skills are better developed in the private sector.
Education funding has increased by 15 per cent in the last nine years and it needs to go further. One of the things we have to get from that is an extended concept of education that includes education outside of the classroom and the inculcation of all of the soft skills that are so vital to the success of young people. The debate is how the IT sector can help us in that development as well.
Gillian Whitehouse It is my job to work with on-screen assessment and on-demand assessment. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority strategy says that, by 2009, all GCSEs will be on screen. I spend all of my time doing this, really. I run the pilot qualifications and we trial on-screen assessment. The big problem is platform issues. Imagine the different awarding bodies, all producing on-screen tests for qualifications, and all using different platforms. Schools are not going to engage with this approach. What is specifically required is a single national platform. Then the awarding bodies run their qualifications and tests on this platform.
Sylvia Green I think there are two aspects to the innovation of assessment. One is electronic script management and the other is quality assurance of these new systems. I think that technology will allow us to improve our quality assurance mechanisms.
On the other side is the innovation in the kinds of assessment that we can do.
Barry mentioned moving backwards in not having coursework. We have developed a code of assessment in our international examinations and online coursework where students across the world can access the same kind of real-life-type situations and engage in innovative assessment techniques in that way.
Assessment can move forward and can be different. If the learning is going to be smart, then the assessment needs to be smart as well. I was really pleased to be invited here today, because we need to be thinking about creative assessment. Otherwise we will end up with new smart learning and old forms of assessment, which is not what we want to see.
Barry Sheerman Historically speaking, we thought that, by introducing much more coursework, we were looking for more and different talents, rather than just the ability to take exams.
We are retreating on that because a lot of people think that we did not achieve that.
Karen Evans Coming from a social science standpoint, there is now good, strong social-science-based evidence that quality formative assessment can raise young people's performance by at least a grade at GCSE, if you want a measurable outcome.
Do we know enough about what young people themselves believe about the nature of intelligence and ability? Some young people believe it is fixed and innate and others that it is developable.
If you have this idea of intelligence as being fixed and innate it leads you to approach learning in certain ways. If you think that you are naturally good at something, even very able pupils are much less likely to put in the extra effort or go the extra mile. Also young people who believe that they are not good at mathematics will avoid mathematics tasks and so on. Conversely, those who have the incremental view of intelligence will work harder and are less likely to avoid tasks. How do they get these fixed or non-fixed views of intelligence and ability? We do not know that. Formative assessment will obviously be very much more powerful for those young people who have an incremental view, who believe that they can develop through feedback and act on it.
Colin McDonald I would disagree with Gill's point about a single national infrastructure for assessment. I think that is the quickest way of strangling innovation and progression in technology. To support innovative forms of learning and assessment, I would rather see sufficient common standards and intraoperability standards among the technologists to ensure we can purchase the technology that we need to make our provision run effectively. We need national standards but not a single national system.
Chris Bones I am struggling with this. Ultimately, I do not think that people really learn effectively until they have to apply some things.
I find the question of motivation really interesting. Once you get people motivated to learn, you can teach mixed abilities more effectively. For example, 10 per cent of our population do a masters degree with no formal education on an open-access basis. That is about passion and wanting to change themselves.
If, from the employers' point of view, what you are looking for is critical thinking, then one of my criticisms of online assessment is that it cannot assess critical thinking. You can test in an abstract way whether someone has critical thinking ability, but it is applied critical thinking ability that you are looking for as an employer.
Innovative assessments around critical thinking are very difficult. Someone in their late twenties or early thirties will be looking to have the learning that they have undertaken at work given credit. We are pushing this idea, which shows a degree of learning and applied learning. I think it will take us to a 50 per cent accreditation for a masters degree, which is really pushing the limits under the current way in which we try to standardise quality assurance.
Barry Sheerman As I listen to experts, I want to ask: who is the repository of knowledge here?
Stephen Uden It's certainly not us. When I go into schools, I see that some schools and some individual teachers have cracked this understanding. I see children creating individual learning plans and creating fantastic classroom environments, innovating and so on.
One of the perennial frustrations is that there does not seem to be a system to enable that good practice to be shared with others, to disseminate.
The leading edge is always changing. Now it is not so much about white boards and ICT suites but it is more about individualising, such as putting a set of laptops in the classroom.
Katharine Quarmby I am here to gather knowledge as a journalist rather than to put forward any firm opinions, but I am interested in the constraints on smart learning, assessment and so on.
As to cheating and plagiarism, which has cropped up a lot lately with assessment, I am struggling with this basic idea about what value are we adding in using technology to deliver learning.
Iain Simons Just to follow up what has been said in relation to the ICT that we are talking about, what are the boundaries of it? I am not sure if we are talking entirely about PCs. Are we having a conversation about Windows-based PCs or network-based PCs? Is that what this discussion is principally about at the moment?
In terms of beginning to understand how young people are interfacing with new technology, we are looking at technology such as mobile phones, Playstations and different interfaces.
Andrew Adonis When I think about the issues that crossed my desk last year, three other issues come to mind. First is how we can use IT as a tool for bringing about the step changes we need for continuous professional development opportunities for teachers and the expectations of teachers.
The question in my mind relates to Chris's point that it is when you have to apply training that matters. I still have in my mind the idea, and it may be that I am yesterday's person, that doing an online module is going to involve less actual training and serious tooling-up than a face-to-face module. I am open to views on this.
The second area is information about schools. Parents want useful, up-to-date, relevant information about schools, and where they all start now is on the web.
Unusually, it was government that first put inspection reports, test and examination data on the web, making them available in a way that they could be accessed online. Increasingly, there needs to be a more sophisticated means of accessing information about schools, and increasingly schools are selling themselves online.
The third area that I would highlight is the relationship between parents and schools, which is where I think IT has a huge role to play. I think it could have the effect, if we get this right, in breaking down one of the great Berlin Walls in education, and particularly so in secondary education, which is "keep parents out". The more developed schools have an online curriculum, marking of work online and e-mail addresses for teachers so that parents can have ready interaction between school and home and they have much more frequent reporting to parents, which is possible by these means. I just put those three areas into the discussion. I have been struck during the past year with those three areas in which I think technology has a big part to play and, perhaps, even a decisive part in improving the education system.
Barry Sheerman It has to go beyond that. Although I want parents to be able to communicate in that way, and we must encourage it, the real challenge is to engage them with lifelong learning. They need to know that there is an extended school, there is a programme for them and that they can get involved in their own education and develop their own skills, as well as simply being good parents.
Dinah Caine I think that is right. I have been sitting here wondering why we are talking about smart learning just in relation to ICT. Any learning that delivers people to learning is smart.
We have focused a lot on school in our discussion so far but we need to look at the demographics, at who is going to be in the workforce in 2020. I would say that some of these skills have a greater sense of focus and urgency among our adult population as well as being, obviously, critically importantly to our children and the next generation.
Keri Facer The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have just launched a multimillion pound research programme that focuses specifically on how you bring technology and education together. The difficulty is translating the language that academics talk into the language that other people will then be able to use, and vice versa, to understand the questions we are asking.
What are the shared questions that policy-makers might ask? Are we even asking the same questions? That would be a good place to start: what are the key questions we need to address, collectively?
Karen Evans There is a study that has identified 11 ways in which people learn at work. They learn by making mistakes, by correcting them and learning not to make the mistakes again. They learn by self-education on and off the job. They learn by putting personal values into practice. They learn by applying theory, practising skills, problem solving, interacting with others. They learn by offering leadership to others. They learn through teamwork. They learn by being an advocate and representative for others. They learn through formal training and they learn through engaging in quality assurance.
I think what that boils down to is: in the workplace people learn through engaging with and sharing with others and through that process they potentially learn through constructing new ways of looking at things, understanding things. This links to the point about creativity, but part of the challenge there is creating the kind of workplace environments that enable and support people in doing that.
There is an awful lot of nonsense talked about this. The latest skills survey actually shows that the scope for discretion and manifestations of empowerment in the workplace have actually gone down since 1980, or whatever. I think those are the sorts of areas we should be looking at, in workplace learning, and then asking how new can technologies actually support that process.
Jim Rollo I am very much at the key end of this. I have maybe 60 postgraduate students a year and between 20 to 40 continuing professional development people. They are all working on a very specific set of issues about European integration; some of them are policy-makers, some of them are academics, and some of them are just people making their own way through a masters degree and into a doctorate. It is about soft critical skills.
I spent a long time as a practitioner. I remember one day, in a European negotiation, sitting there thinking: "Now I see why we have been arguing like this for the last 12 months." It was because we could not put ourselves in the position of the other side.
Empathic critical thinking is one of the things we do. A lot of it is chalk and talk, and sit and talk and that is fine if everyone is coming to you and sitting in your room for a couple of hours kicking things around, but people do not want to come to us. People can't afford to come. They do not have the time to come to us.
I pricked up my ears when Chris said you couldn't assess critical thinking in this context. I do not know about that. There may be things that one could put online and do on a distributed net, some sort of game- playing type of technology. I do think we need analytical and critical thinking skills. We get lots of people come out of the German system, for example, where you listen to the professor, you write it down, and you regurgitate it. Getting to a point where they are really saying what they think and have a real way of explaining why they think that is the key thing, it seems to me.
We have distant doctoral students and, frankly, it is a dysfunctional relationship so far as I am concerned. I do not know if technology can help.
Keri Facer We are asking the question, what is the use of ICT for learning? People always talk about the brilliant teacher but I would just plead for a fair comparison. There are a lot of average teachers out there as well, so let us look at good ICT and let us not compare the brilliant teacher against some banal technology.
The introduction of technology into our environment raises some fairly profound questions about education more generally. What does it mean for education to be functioning in an information technology economy?
I think there is an interesting question that comes out around cheating. Everybody is concerned about plagiarism and learning. Copying is a really good technique for learning. Are we thinking about the individual, the child or the adult, separated from the environment around them or are we thinking about them connected to information resources, to other people, to simulations? It throws a completely different slant on the question of cheating.
I am not an uncritical advocate for technology in education but I do think that there are things that it begins to allow us to do that are very different. We are operating in a changed social and technical, economic and cultural environment these days.
Gillian Whitehouse Research says that there are four predominant learning styles: activist, reflector, pragmatist and theorist. If the use of digital media would engage and facilitate different learning capabilities and different learning styles, it can provide rich environments that will cater for a whole range of different styles. Added to that is that what you also really need is assessment that is fit for purpose for those different learning styles.
If you engage in any one topic, say critical thinking, you cannot necessarily teach it in just one format and you will also have to assess it in a variety of ways. I think that digital media can facilitate this environment for different styles of learning.
Stephen Uden To some extent we have an assessment system that is focused on the things that are easy to measure. Technology is now enabling us to measure the things that are important rather than just the things that are easy to measure. If you can measure the things that are really important, we can actually make soft skills into some of the things that you can demonstrate that you have the capacity to do when you come out of education.
Katharine Quarmby Could I just go back to the issue of cheating? If you simply lift off the shelf an entire piece of text taken from somebody else's work and stick it on your own paper, then you are not learning anything from that.
Keri Facer I think the assessment system cannot cope with the fact that people have access to these resources to produce materials. It cannot assess what sort of learning is going on.
When I am thinking, I use tools. I am making notes, you are making notes, and we are using those tools to think with. We now also have a huge number of other tools that we can think with, that are complex but allow us to engage with a different set of resources and with different sets of people.
We are continuing to assess the individual as though the only tools we have to think with are the pen and the piece of paper, or if we are very lucky the typewriter. We need to be aware that humans have invented different tools but we still assess as though we have not.
Chris Bones I will come at it a different way. In terms of outcome, what processes, what activities, seem to generate the best outcome? If you go back to the learning styles thing, 84 per cent of the adult workforce prefer the learning styles of activist and pragmatist, that is by doing and interacting. Only 12 per cent are theorists and reflectors and, for most people, computer-based learning is a reflective experience, it is being on your own and thinking, it is not interactive. That is computer-based learning as opposed to e-enabled learning. That is one of the reasons why we are so backward, because we saw it only as computer based.
The whole schooling process at the moment is aimed at the 12 per cent. It is making you be a theorist and a reflector. Most adult training is hugely interactive and applied.
I think you do have to recognise the tyranny of best practice research. It is manufacturer and producer led, which is why every school has interactive whiteboards. Most of them don't work. There is not going to be any one answer for every school, for every college. There will be a whole series of very different experiences.
That is one of the reasons, why we have gone into blended learning. I do not think there is a solution. Technology is not the medium, it is the tool. I am not talking about PCs, it is interactive learning of core tools, it is virtual tutoring, and, in fact, we are now talking to gaming companies about bringing gaming technology into worldwide learning.
I did not know I needed a video iPod until I got one for Christmas. When you do find technology that is hugely enabling, it is so exciting. If we research it we will be another five years. Get people experimenting and you will soon find out what works, just as happens in gaming.
Dinah Caine What I do know is that blended learning is important. Interestingly, when we talk about the workplace and workplace learning, we still tend to rely on notions of permanent employment. So much of policy is based on the notion that there is an employer and an employee and that they stay together in a creative community. Actually, my industry is massively freelance and casualised and that is a mode of working, going into the 21st Century, that we need to be attuned to. My industry has just done a big workforce survey and 94 per cent of those freelancers identified barriers to training. It is partly about cost and so on but it is also about being able to access the right kind of learning and knowledge at the right time and the right place.
What the BBC has done in terms of online learning has been fantastic. We are looking to access other people in the workforce around that but it is only one tool. There has to be a blended mix.
Chris Bones Education is increasingly freelance. If you are investing in yourself and if you are a freelance, your education should be tax deductible. You should be able to offset against your tax liability the investment in your own development. At present, you cannot do that.
Dinah Caine If you are Schedule D, you can.
Chris Bones If you have a company, you can.
Iain Simons When I left university, e-learning was just kicking in. My experience is of a sudden influx of materials at every university and, basically, at that time they were rubbish in terms of their fundamental production values.
Clare Riley Before my current job, I was at the BBC for 20 years. I agree that a lot of the materials available online are just books on screen. When you are using public sector funds you have to say to yourself: "What are the ways in which you could use this media to add something to the spectrum of things that are available for people to use?"
There are certain things that are fabulous but quite hard to do in the classroom. Learning by discovery is quite complex and learning by collaboration is quite hard to do. However, contextualising learning is incredibly easy to do using technology, although it is very expensive. If you look hard at the new generation of materials that are coming out, there are some marvellous creative and inventive examples. On BBC Digital, if you go to "Curriculum online" and look at resources for teaching Key Stage 2 geography, you will find a huge amount of materials. However, it is probably only the top five that are really worth using. That is a very sweeping statement but it is an illustration.
Sylvia Green Katharine asked ages ago about how you add value. I talk not just from assessment but from a learning point of view as well. It should not simply be a question of putting the paper and pencil stuff on to the screen because then we are doing nothing. You can bring in virtual environments and simulation where young children can be asked to problem solve, evaluate, choose methods for doing things, work on peer assessment and self-assessment.
In relation to the wealth of material that is out there, you are so right. There is so much stuff out there but there really needs to be some sort of quality assurance.
I think we have to put our hands up and accept that technology cannot do everything. There will always be elements where you have to have a human being who either interacts with the student in the learning environment or in an assessment environment, otherwise what kind of world are we going to be living in? I think fitness for purpose in the teaching, learning and assessment environments, is very important.
Angie Kokes I appreciate we are talking about smart learning but a big benefit that we get in the FE world is variants of ICT and information operations technology around the management of learning. It is not just content. It is flexibility, use of text messaging to tell why we are here and that sort of thing.
Spencer Neal One of the things we have not talked about is how different platforms might be used.
Stephen Uden Several people have mentioned blended learning. This is something that is being used very effectively by corporates.
One of the issues in primary schools is the number of teachers with language skills at the level that is needed to teach. In a primary school the teacher has to be a bit of a Jack of all trades.
There is a language college in the north-east that developed a load of support material, made it available through a learning gateway, a portal, and teachers were invited to access it. The materials support their language teaching. They started off with a relatively small number of people using it. Now more than 900 primary schools are supported through this. It is efficient, effective, raises standards and uses some of the ideas around how you can blend technology and people together through learning experiences.
Keri Facer I think this comes back to the question of what is technology good for in education? However, we need to approach it from the other side. "What is the educational problem? What is the difficulty that we are trying to sort out? The tools needed might be technology or anything else.
Chris Bones There is a problem, Keri, which is what I call "gadgetisers". My example in business is the Blackberry. People have not got a Blackberry because they have deliberately thought, "I have this issue I need to solve". Most of them got it as a gadget.
If you start with the approach that you want to achieve certain educational and learning outcomes, the solution is not a technological one as often as you might assume. It could be an improved face-to-face solution or a better understanding of the situation of the learner, or even the discovery of a new need.
One of the biggest things that this debate will do, if it does anything, is to stop the technology debate and to start the education debate, and then work out what tools, investment and resources you need to put together to do it.
Dinah Caine Which, in a sense, has to go back to some notion of tailoring. In the film industry 90 per cent of the work is freelance or very small companies, or companies being set up on a production-by-production basis. Nevertheless, they are recruiting and more than 60 per cent are graduates.
We looked at the fit, what was the understanding between the two. While many people in further and higher education were saying, "We absolutely trained for this sector", the industry did not see that or recognise it. There was a communication and partnership mismatch.
We have developed a cradle to grave strategy for the film industry, starting with careers advice and information. Through a levy in the industry and through other investments from the UK Film Council, we have established Skillset Screen Academies. We are saying, "We will invest in you and with you." That brings together a public private partnership. We are hoping that it will produce the kind of people in the future who will give the industry a competitive advantage.
Karen Evans We have just completed a piece of work on improving workplace learning. Rich learning environments are being developed by a range of companies. We have developed a number of criteria for these. The extent to which they are using technology varies.
However, I think there is another very important dimension here when we are talking about the workplace, that of the employer/employee relationship, and those relationships are better in some companies than in others. We found that people engage on the basis of trust and, in relation to the Trade Union Learning Fund, particularly unions such as Unison, are making quite big strides in enabling the access of workers to learning, including IT learning. This is often for people who previously have had very little access to it.
Neil Robertson I think the Skills for Life Strategy enables employees to benefit very much from that relationship, where a trusted individual often brings an unconfident but needy learner to a computer.
Evidence tells us that we could do even better in the delivery of broad skills, particularly literacy but others as well, when they are taught in context. How can we now use technology to deliver that "in context" learning?
I have high hopes for the concept of simulation. I have seen it working in other settings, in education as well as the games setting. It is a concept that people seem to trust.
Keri Facer Mobile technologies can support people on the job. You can put people into real situations and provide them with the support that they need at that particular time.
I think we need to approach learning through games with some degree of caution because they are being held up as a panacea. In some areas there are huge benefits in terms of emotion, responsive feedback and the ability to adopt different identities as a learner.
Where it falls down is around the stimulation of these critical thinking skills and in the stimulation of reflection on action. When looking at games and learning, we need to think about how you combine emotion and reflection with that technology.
Chris Bones Saving face is very important in our culture. From a very early age, in the classroom one loses face for being stupid. For a lot of unconfident learners and those with various learning difficulties, if you lose face early and often enough you do not put your head above the parapet as often as you should. I think there is a huge opportunity for technology as the first point of reconnection. If you fail the test, you do not lose face: it is a machine.
Keri Facer NotSchool, run by Ultralab, is one of the most successful online learning communities. It is specifically for people who have not succeeded in a school-based setting.
Regarding games, how do you shift the experience, skills and practices that you developed in that setting into another one?
Chris Bones We know it is the interaction, being forced to reflect, that is important. So can we combine the technology and a virtual facilitation to create a virtual challenge, an interaction.
Spencer Neal Does that not also address this issue of trust, in that people will not be anxious about it because they are just having fun?
Chris Bones One could argue that they would pay more attention if it is serious and, therefore, learn a lot faster. If you do games in management training, very little stays. If you do an applied exercise on a real problem, it is not fun but the learning stays.
Keri Facer Games allow you to fail frequently and often and know that you can try again, which is just as important and useful. In school, children's first effort is often the one that they are assessed on.
Clare Riley There are some lovely websites where kids can share their learning, they can peer review each other's learning. They can take advice from people who are much more expert than they are. Children learn when they are messing around online; they are not afraid of making mistakes.
Sylvia Green This comes back to the research I mentioned earlier at the beginning of the day about the perception of the children that they were safe in that space.
Keri Facer I wanted to come back to the plagiarism thing and the question about media literacy and information literacy. If we are asking questions in education to which you can get an off-the-shelf answer, then we are asking the wrong questions; we are asking people to reproduce something to which there is an already existing answer. That may be knowledge that is new to them, rather than new to the world, but we need a different conception of learners that are able to create and build things.
It is not a question of just downloading information in different ways but of actually being able to get stuff out there to the world. I think that is where, if we are concerned about social inequalities, we are likely to see huge differences emerging in the future. There will be groups of people who see this environment as a space that they download from and they may do it critically. However, there will be a much smaller group of people who say, "Actually, we can contribute to this, we can shape it."
We are talking about flexible learning, we are talking about people who will fit into niches that are predetermined for them in this environment, and we are talking about people who can generate and create their own opportunities. They might not be that flexible.
They might actually be very determined, quite stubborn, and trying to create something new. There are all sorts of questions about the relationship that I am talking about between teaching and learning which is not just about the concept of downloading. I think this goes to the heart of the question of what being creative means.
Karen Evans It is not just creating new things. You actually have to engage in the same way you do in postgraduate studies in universities, where people create things but those can be evaluated in terms of the processes that were gone through: validity, conformability, the ethical elements and so on. They have to stand up to all of these forms of scrutiny.
Chris Bones Maybe increasingly what you are saying is, "You don't need to know about stuff any more" because it is available when you need it. What you need is to be a master of very different things, which is interacting with people.
Jim Rollo Much of the stuff on the web does not go through the critical process that is required to get something published. General knowledge needs to be correct general knowledge.
Barry Sheerman On this side of the room we have the creatives and over this side we have some sceptics. How do we judge in a creativity vacuum?
Stephen Uden We all agree we like blended learning but we need blended assessment because, if you plagiarise something and you have to do a viva, when people ask you about it you are going to fall flat on your face. We know people go off into a dark room to do an assessment but we know that we would not send them off to do the learning in that way.
Jim Rollo The key point for us is not plagiarism per se. If you acknowledge the source, it is how you pull together the existing pool of knowledge and then pick up a critical assessment of it at the end.
Chris Bones Something that employers should be criticised for at times is that they look at education as a utility, not in philosophical terms - which is as most of us would see it - that it is to increase happiness and maximise everyone's potential. They see it as utility in the sense of utilisation of a workforce with a particular set of skills that they want. Those of us who are in receipt of the most immediate demands, whether we work in secondary schools, FE colleges or are business educators, are occasionally inclined to go down the path of utility, as defined by employers, as opposed to standing up for what is right in education and has that wider social requirement.
I think you have to be very careful that the technology revolution doesn't drive us down the utility-as-defined-by-employers route.
Dinah Caine I think that is such an unfortunate polarisation and not one where I think a lot of good work goes on. In the media industry we want canny, creative, analytical and questioning people who are the product of a good education but who, most probably, also know how to apply that in a way that is sensible and relates to the equipment and people around them. This means that they can deliver a quality product on time and to budget.
I think that the sooner that we get away from this digital divide, or the notion that if we debate with employers what they want, it is going to somehow subvert the future of individuals in this country, the better it will be for all of us.
Barry Sheerman I was at a seminar the other evening where Alison Wolfe said that qualifications do not matter as long as the employee can do the job.
We asked attendees, "What are your criteria when you hire someone?" Interestingly, it was diverse answers that we heard. The guy from the creative industries said, "I don't want qualifications. I want a 'wow' mindset!" - however you define that.
We live in a wonderful world, though, where people fight to get the best degree they can from whatever university they go to and, from my experience, no one ever asks you what grade of degree you have got.
Let's give everyone a final chance to voice any outstanding thoughts.
Gillian Whitehouse We have talked a lot about learning and a lot about skills. We have talked about technology and trends and tracking these trends to find out what is actually happening. One of the things that is happening is the mobile revolution.
Technological devices are really starting to converge. The market is asking for one piece of technology that can do everything. We need to look at the convergence of mobile technologies and we need to look at ways in which learning can be facilitated through this convergence.
Barry Sheerman It would be very interesting to track what is happening in south-east Asia, in comparison with what is happening in the US, UK and Europe.
Sylvia Green Whichever phase of education we are looking at, we have this triangle of teaching, learning and assessment going on, perhaps incurring new, innovative and exciting concepts. We need to enhance the technology to reach the parts that we have not reached before but we must not lose sight of the issues of confidence and trust that were mentioned earlier. The stakeholders, the public, politicians and parents will need to trust whatever new innovations come along and whatever new systems are introduced.
Chris Bones I have learned a huge amount this morning. I also feel that, globally, we are still right on the leading edge of what we are talking about. I think I have found a bit of a collaborative network as well and if you would like to link in to what we are doing and come and play in our pond I think it would add a huge amount to what we do. I am going away quite excited.
Iain Simons I am really interested in the kind of things we have been talking about. I am more interested, I guess, in the specificity, about the experiences that we are talking about. I am a kind of strategic blue-sky sort of bloke but there are lots of further questions I want to ask individuals about specific examples.
Clare Riley I think there is an amazing amount that we can put into the smart learning debate from the kids and students.
I am also very interested in the idea of smart learning bringing in equity and equality of opportunity, all the things that you want to be able to create. Both of those things really depend on connectivity and I think connectivity is a really big issue and I would love somebody to take away, as a kind of mission, that we get everybody connected.
Neil Robertson We have a lot of people telling us we are in the lowest quartile for skills and productivity in Western Europe, that we have challenges from China and elsewhere, and that we are all doomed. I think we are recognising that and that recognition means doing things a bit differently. Technology is allowing us to do things differently.
I am excited about the technology that can take learning into different places to make it more personal or more contextual.
Jim Rollo I have very skilled people, most of them have one degree and many of them have three. You are not going to teach them unless you really engage with them. We are not involved in mass learning or bulk learning, so we cannot get economies of scale. I can imagine doing some sort of gaming-type logic in this context but I cannot imagine how we are going to afford it, with the production values that everyone is talking about, if we only have 52 students a year. However, I am Podcasting from Australia during the autumn for some of my lectures.
Keri Facer I want to continue the note of caution that I have in this area, which is around asking the question: who is keeping an eye on the digital divide, who is keeping an eye on the inequalities in this area? The second thing is that I think we need to be very cautious in generalising about the groups of people that we are trying to support and educate. I think we need a different approach, which is really about listening to the children or the learners who are coming into our setting or, indeed, the ones who are not, because there are a lot of them.
We need to figure out what the mechanism is for collaborating and talking with young people about where they might envisage things going.
Anthony Burgess I suppose my concern is what happens next. There is so much research going on that people say there is research coming out of their ears, but no one actually asks the right question.
Katharine Quarmby Coming back to teachers, we all remember our inspirational teachers. You need to communicate your ideas to teachers so that they can adapt them and maybe they will look at the technologies in a different way because it is the teachers who are in charge and the technology is merely a tool.
Dinah Caine I talked quite a lot about content. Research and analysing how you use technology as a tool has to be done within a very clear idea of context, be it industry, school or communities.
Karen Evans Future-oriented education is about learning to construct more than it is about learning to reproduce, but one of the important things that has come out of the discussion is about the value of what is actually constructed and how we judge the value of what is constructed.
For me, learning is smart when it has the ability to think critically and evaluate the information, the sources and the richness of those sources that we are now able to tap into and use.
Colin McDonald I think one of the interesting things we have not explored as far as we could have today is the ability of technology to personalise learning, particularly the timing and pace of learning, and its ability to increase the skills for life training of quite a significant percentage of the population. That is something that Learndirect specialises in.
One other thing for me is the discussion on the limitations of technology-based learning and smart learning. We do not know where smart learning is going because we do not know what it is going to be tomorrow. Two years ago we didn't know about Podcasting. We did not know what it could do. It is a fascinating way of learning and it really does open up new opportunities. What tomorrow's Podcasting is, we do not know.
Angela Kokes I think technology should be used collaboratively between institutions. I think this is a growing area, especially in FE and around the new FE specialist diplomas and things like that. We are sharing learning with schools.
Stephen Uden I have enjoyed enormously taking part in this round table. I have learned a whole lot of stuff that we can take out to our work in the field.
For me smart learning is really when we put learners at the centre of the learning process. That is one of those things that it is very easy to say but it has very profound implications for the whole education system in actually doing it. I do not think that technology has the answer to all of that but certainly we have seen a number of examples today as to how it is beginning to chip away at it and to fundamentally change the learning experience by being able to be more adaptive to learners' needs.
However, it is only as good as the people. The technology has to work alongside the people.
Barry Sheerman Funnily enough, if you look at Every Child Matters and its five outcomes, actually, it is not about children but human beings. We want these people to end up rounded, able to earn a living and able to appreciate a broad spectrum of activities.
That is what we have been talking about. IT, smart learning or whatever you call it can enhance that enormously, as we know, but we have to use it carefully. We have to learn who uses it well and who uses it badly.
The only way that I can make a government do things better is by listening. When a government listens to expert opinion and when it is channelled in the right way, it really can make an enormous difference.
That is why a group like this, if it can keep together.Let me give you a challenge. Why do we not stick together through the internet? Why do we not do that and hang in there together?