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I had a delayed reaction to Sir Ken Robinson’s keynote last Friday’s at the BETT 2015 conference. It was sparked by something I read when I returned home.


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SKR shared this video of technology being used to enable the physically disabled to create art. It was a wonderful example of combining technology-enabled creativity which was a theme of SKR’s keynote.

But I wonder about an unintended message that this example sends: That technology is used for the extreme or the exceptional instead of the everyday. The fact that SKR wondered how “social” social media was underlined that point.

We do not need both those messages to be broadcast. They are already prominent and do not add much value or change to education.

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My reflection was prompted by a notification from my son’s school about their e-learning portal (excerpt above). One of the lines in the letter was “The e-learning portal has been enhanced with commercially produced simulated lessons and worksheets…” [emphasis mine].

The language is telling. The lessons are simulated. Does that imply that they are not as real or as good? Why was there a need to reassure parents that real lessons happened in classrooms?

The letter also mentioned the two purposes of e-learning: 1) promoting independent learning, and 2) emergency learning (“should there by a national crisis resulting in school closure, pupils will have access to online assignments”).

How are students learning independently if they have to wait for teachers to tell them to do online homework? Are they not already learning independently by watching YouTube videos whether their teachers and parents are aware or not?

Why is the “e” in e-learning still associated with emergency or extra?

I will tell you why. Very few people challenge the conventions that in integration of educational technology must be special. Not many thought leaders take advantage of the stages they are put on to push those buttons hard.

This is not a slight on SKR’s talk. I enjoyed it immensely. But he pushes the let-our-children-create-and-be-creative agenda. He was not the person to illustrate how to do this with technology transparently.

The technology does not have to be on a grand scale like the one in the video. It does not have to simulate lessons. It is already in the hands of learners even as they walk around with heads bowed while doing the Blackberry prayer.

Most people cannot look beyond the surface and creatively take advantage of the wonderfully ordinary. I would like to show them how.

Like most people who attended the Bett 2015 conference in the UK, I looked forward to Sir Ken Robinson’s (SKR) talk on Friday, 23 Jan. 

Even though he rehashed much of what he said before about unleashing the creativity of kids, I was not disappointed. His charisma and humour are hard to beat. 

Using the #bettarena hashtag, I ‘live’ tweeted what I thought were interesting points. Here is something I drafted during the talk and forgot to tweet until later.

SKR made a withering comment on social media with the photo. It seemed to say: You can this behaviour social? However, he seemed to do this in the overall context that we cannot always predict the way people will use technology. 

I am reminded a quote by Marshall McLuhan: We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. 

That is how technology and creative endeavors are intertwined. If we allow educators and learners to explore possibilities, we will find problems and we might create new problems, but we will also solve them. 

During the Q and A session, SKR was asked about how the affordances of things like Google Glass affected privacy. The example the facilitator brought up was what might happen at men’s urinals. SKR replied that such a privacy issue pre-dated Glass.

Men could compare and contrast with or without Glass. The problem was not new nor was it due to the introduction of technology. Most lay folk, teachers, and school leaders need to realize that and I was glad that SKR was the mouthpiece for this message.

However, I was rather disappointed that SKR chose to support Prensky’s “digital natives” (DN) even though it has been largely debunked by thought leaders in education almost four years ago [example]. I am guessing SKR did so because Prensky’s concept was aligned to his own ideas about the innate potential of kids.

The DN model is unnecessarily divisive (them and us), defeatist (e.g., it is difficult to learn how to use technology because I am an immigrant), and innaccurate (e.g., adults might be more native to Facebook than kids are).

I throw my support behind David White’s digital resident-visitor continuum. It is far more relevant than Prensky’s dichotomy. But a continuum is harder to understand than an either-or dichotomy.

Good communicators understand that simple ideas float and hook fast. Then they reel their audiences in with little struggle because there is little cognitive dissonance.

It is tempting to fish like this and I tried that in my own talk by sharing the simplest wrongs about flipping. But it did not sit quite right with me in the end because I like creating lots of dissonance and questions.


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Sir Ken Robinson’s most recent TED Talk was one of those talks that you could watch ten times and get ten different takeaways each time.

When I watched it the first time, I liked SKR’s analogy that teaching is like dieting.

The student in the video below had a less articulate (but more honest) critique about teaching not leading to learning.


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His peers would probably agree that he “schooled” his teacher about the importance of meaningful learning over prepackaged, delivery-oriented teaching.

Whether teachers like it or not, we need more students who think like him. If we teach better, then they may not act like him.


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Quote from this video of Sir Ken Robinson:

…the technologies that we have available in schools don’t make for great education, but great educators can make something great of them.

He said this in the context of turning alternative education into mainstream education. The rationale? We have “alternative” forms of education because the one-size-fits-all model of mainstream education is either losing relevance or failing.

A key solution? Leveraging not just on technology but on “great educators (who) can make something great of them”.

How many of our teachers subscribe to this as a personal philosophy? I estimate that perhaps one in ten has this built-in drive when they are fresh recruits. By the time they complete their first year of teaching, I might be labelled optimistic if I said that one in a hundred still hung on to this ideal.

But I think there is a self-sorting, self-righting mechanism. As more of our student teachers go mobile, they see the relevance of their smart phones in their lives. There is no need to sell the idea of incorporating that technology. The trick is to get them to discover how these mobile devices are educationally relevant and powerful to their students!


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