You get what you measure

From RTE:

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has warned that the use of technology in schools may be doing more harm than good.

It found that countries that have invested heavily in information and communications technology in schools show no appreciable improvement in student achievement.

  1. That’s not what they’re for.
  2. Seldom is the curriculum and support infrastructure present to exploit technology.
  3. Seldom does the teacher have the experience to exploit technology
  4. The examination infrastructure is weighted towards using paper and pencil (and, no, ticking multiple choice boxes on a computer doesn’t constitute exploiting technology)
  5. Who cares if they don’t raise results? Exam results are more about finding ways to write off sections of our population. We standardise exams because we can’t standardise children.
  6. Most schools provide 1-2 hours per week of computer access. Maybe they shouldn’t invest as most kids get plenty of access outside school. But if schools don’t invest, you’ve just created a digital divide. Well done.
  7. This is one of those moments where we train children to do one thing and then test them (measure their progress) using a completely different methodology. It’s like we are criticising a fish because it can’t climb a tree.


Our school system was designed during the industrial revolution. We need to think about what schools look like during the knowledge revolution.

As a special prize, some Ken Robinson.

My submission to the Haass process

Here’s what I sent in. I’m not afraid of argument or debate. I’m not afraid of polarised opinions and I’m also not afraid of causing offence to those who consider the exercise of their culture to trump the rights of everyone else. I’m also not afraid to admit I may have gotten it wrong.

I am afraid of the status quo.

I’m very concerned about what the last year has brought as I am seeing a rapid brain-drain and loss to the net industry of skilled workers. This is greatly affecting the ability of our local industry to grow and expand our markets. The troubles of the last year have also affected our ability to attract significant FDI into the local industry because, despite our expertise and talent, the message that was received in Japan from a recent Nintendo FDI visit, was “Belfast Mean Riot”. Similar visits from Bohemia Interactive and Square Enix in the last year turned out the same. The opportunity cost of this runs into the tens of millions in FDI alone.

I express our disappointment that our elected leaders continue to attack each other even while they are in a shared coalition government. I note the rising discontentment within the “Other” community who never get invited to the table to talk. More than 50% of Northern Ireland is not “green” or “orange” but no-one consults them because they don’t carry guns under the table.

I would beseech you to give recommendations on these contentious issues that support the rule of law, that give considerations to the population who do not take offence at the actions or words of others in celebration of culture and who truly understand that tolerance is something you seek within yourself and not something you demand of others. If we continue to capitulate to the threat of civil unrest masked as demands for “tolerance”, we can never move forward as a nation.

On Parades and Protests:

I fully support the rule of law and the rights of individuals to peaceful protest. We would consider that once a protest has become violent, that the security forces should move in to disperse or contain the unrest. To do otherwise is seen as appeasement by the “other” side which encourages them to further test the limits of civil society. These parades are defended as “tradition” but tradition in a country that is less than 100 years old is a sham.

My recommendation is that we can do something with the Maze/Long Kesh site in the provision of a parade ground and that parades are located there. It will bring much footfall to the rural area, providing a contained opportunity for tourism and concessions. If people must parade in this country, let it be a net gain and not a net loss for the nation.

The flow of public money to cultural organisations to organise parades and events should predicate on their cross comity involvement. There is an opportunity for either side of the struggle to take the high road and be inclusive. But if they will not take it voluntarily, they must be persuaded.

On Flags, Symbols and Emblems:

A US citizen appreciates the power and respect of a flag. In my time in the US, I witnessed how flags and emblems are to be respected. I do not see that in this country. Our streets are festooned with rags, some of our national flag and some commemorating terror organisations from our dark past. Civil society should treat signs and emblems of the IRA and UVF and other terror organisations as Germany treats the Swastika. These emblems represent our terrible history and serve to open wounds on all sides of the community. People who are not opposed to them still feel intimidated by them.

Flags should be reserved for flagpoles. They should fly during civil celebrations and they should be removed not more than one week after the event has passed. Flags that are not tagged by the erecting organisation should be removed immediately. We cannot legislate on flags on private property but the Council should have a record of every flag erected and have powers (and protection) to remove flags that are placed inappropriately.

Murals should be messages of solidarity and peace, not threats of war. They should not depict skulls, weapons or masked men. Slogans and emblems of intimidation should be banned. Councils should have the responsibility to deal with this and we would look to the Minister for Justice to enforce this.

On Dealing with the Past:

There needs to be a policy of seeking healing rather than justice (or retribution). We cannot forget the sacrifice of many in the defence of peace but some cannot forgive the transgressions of others. Our society must realise that as we pick open wounds, we cannot heal and move on. We have to recognise there were many victims of the Troubles, physically and mentally, but the response to this must be a conscious decision rather than an emotional one. Victim groups that are allied to one side or the other are counter-productive. We also have to accept that a mother killed in a bomb in a town centre is different to a son killed while trying to plant a bomb. We have to realise that we cannot continue to glorify individuals who spent a lifetime propagating horrors. We cannot congratulate terrorists for laying down their arms when they brought us into terrorism in the first place.

That said, the work of the Historical Enquiries Team is important because it highlights the transgressions of the past. Justice is needed if only because members of the security forces colluded to kill civilians. Justice must, however, be blind to the demands of victims and responsible only to the need for society as a whole. Criminals should be punished and shamed.

We are ashamed that there is a need for external intervention in Northern Ireland but we acknowledge that it’s necessary and we hope that there is a result from this.


An audit is an educational term for the completion of a course of study for which no assessment is made or grade awarded.[1] Some institutions may record a grade of “audit” to those who have elected not to receive a letter grade for a course in which they are typically awarded.

I think that all colleges and universities should open their courses to audit. It’s done in the US but I’ve only seen it done very infrequently here in the UK. One such example was the AVTIT course which I hold responsible for starting my career in IT.

AVTIT was a 12 month course at the University of Ulster. While enrolled you had 3 months to attend any class they were running, you had a project/lab room (with some oldish PCs) and you had a lecturer who would call in once a day to check things were going ok. You had a library card and 24 hour access to the lab. Lastly, and probably most importantly, it paid £100 a week (ESF funded) and the course itself was free at the point of delivery. The remaining 9 months had to be spent in a work placement where you maintained your £100 a week pay and you worked your ass off to ensure you would have a job at the end of it.

There were 10 people on the course, all graduates with disciples in other areas, who all managed to train themselves to a standard required by the IT industry. Some tutored themselves in Delphi or Visual Basic, others (like me) immersed themselves in the internet and networking. I spent 3 months learning how to plug computers together. Then I spent 9 months in Nortel taking on responsibility until they couldn’t afford to get rid of me.

Now, the need is greater than ever for people who are skilled in Information Technology. I proposed in 2011 the idea of a computer programming “Free School” which has morphed into delivering Coder Doja and 3D Dojo.

Are there any colleges or universities that permit Audit?

Relatively Expensive iPads

Because of the confusing use of the word ‘alternative’. It really means ‘something else’ in this context as opposed to ‘something just as good’.

Obviously everyone wants an iPad-class device for €200. But in the real world, that simply doesn’t happen.

An Education-focused Link List

Lots of stuff on here on the driving of technology into education. I think this Christmas will be a tipping point. Hundreds of students will receive multi-purpose mobile gadgets far beyond a mere DS or PS VITA. As the Scratch tutorial apps below indicate, there’s a commercial opportunity for educators to work with developers to create the curriculum-supporting apps that are needed. (And the Creative Industries Innovation Fund would be right there to help for Northern Ireland start-ups)

I’ll finish this off with a quote from Bill Gates:

“Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher” Bill Gates

Of course, he was talking about devices loaded with his software but the sentiment remains. Just handing out devices isn’t enough. There’s a “human” part of the plan (where you integrate with lessons, pastoral care) and a “technology” part where you integrate with systems and networks.

Raspberry Pi: some useful links for doing more than playing around.

Miranda Sawyer at the Guardian:

Everyone wants a slice of Raspberry Pi
The £25 programmable computer invented by British scientists has turned into a global sensation. Will it encourage kids to teach themselves code, or just end up in the hands of nerds?

Kit Buchan at the Guardian:

12 things to do with a Raspberry Pi
From keeping tabs on your baby to brewing your own beer, here’s a dozen DIY jobs for a Raspberry computer

  1. Nixie Clock
  2. Robot Slave
  3. Weather Station
  4. Rocket Launcher
  5. Portable/In-Car PC
  6. Jukebox
  7. Radio
  8. Arcade Game
  9. Baby Monitor
  10. Home Brew Beer
  11. Bird Box
  12. Near-space craft

Liam Fraser from

Use Python to make your first game on Raspberry Pi in our easy to follow step by step tutorial
In this tutorial we’re going to be remaking the classic game, Pong. To do this, we’ll be using a Python module called Pygame. Pygame is great, because it allows the programmer to create 2D games without having to worry about things such as rendering the graphics in too much detail. The main portion of the code will be the code that makes up the game’s structure and logic.

Rob Zwetsloot from

Build your very own media centre out of a Raspberry Pi to save on space and money using XBMC
One of the great things about the Raspberry Pi is that it not only has plenty of power to play back high definition video, but it also has the HDMI output to allow you to do so. This would naturally lead the media enthusiasts among you to think of the possibilities for using the RasPi as a media centre, but the list of advantages don’t stop there. It has network support to stream video, has a ridiculously small form factor so you can tuck it out the way, and of course the low price doesn’t hurt.

The Medium is the Message: Pedagogy, Paper and Politics

Wikipedia entry on Marshall McLuhan

…content had little effect on society—in other words, it did not matter if television broadcasts children’s shows or violent programming, to illustrate one example—the effect of television on society would be identical.

The point I would take away from this is that ‘television’ has had a much greater impact on society than any content created upon it. Of course, as an enabling technology it can rely on the full gamut of visual programming over decades to enforce the effect.

As an Internet denizen for over 20 years now, I wonder how much we consider this when attempting to communicate with other sections of society.


Education lags behind society because it must. The role of the teacher is to prepare the student for the world brut it is a very rare individual who can prepare another for a future that does not yet exist. We tie teachers up in a curriculum they must address, we check on their progress by subjecting students to exams which only serve to reinforce an ageing curriculum and we punish those who do not meet the arbitrary standards set by individuals who did not grow up in this world. Education prepares students to understand the past.

My son was diagnosed with ADHD and the response from the school was that his choices were medication or expulsion. His inability to focus on a task was disruptive to the class yet this same child can display razor-sharp focus to a task when it is presented in a different format.

The content (message) is much the same (the presentation of concepts, numbers, formulae) but the medium is entirely different. And the medium is more powerful and becomes an enabler, maybe even an amplifier) for the delivery of the message.

If our children are living in the most stimulating and distracting era in history, it is because they are being distracted by the medium, not the message.


I love books. My library at home is brimming with them. And despite what many may think, I am yet to read a single book on an electronic device. But the Gutenberg press is nearly 600 years old and despite our advancements in technology, the printed book remains the standard in education media. I would imagine that the data created in audio, video and interactive forms far outweighs the data created in printed books – yet printed books are what we demand our children use.

Sir Ken Robinson:

Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in history, besieged by stimuli that distract them but we penalise them for being distracted – we want them to conform instead, to keep them bored, so we anesthetise them rather than release and harness their energy.

When a child has access to a device like an iPad which provides stimulation of multiple senses, of multiple regions of the brain, to entertain, to educate, to answer queries and foster curiosity, is it any wonder that teachers may have difficulties engaging with them using paper and a HB pencil? They’re used to exploring 3D interactive worlds, touching screens of light that make music, rearing dragons in fantasy lands and defeating goblin and skeleton hordes. Giving them a piece of blank paper and expecting them to tell a story is almost cruel.

It becomes equally nonsensical that our schools still use slips of printed paper to communicate with parents. And if you want further proof, why is it that so many ‘education’ technology tools model themselves after outdated technology (see ‘Blackboard’ – how many school children today have even seen a blackboard?).


I am faced with attempting to communicate the future to government. There is a cruel dichotomy in the way the digital industry works and the way government works. I was asked to describe the development of the marketplace up to the year 2030. Similarly, we have to respond to an industry that considers next year to be the far future.


Dealing with students who are forced to comply with paper is easy as they grasp new concepts easily and even as I stand in a class, charged with delivering a guest lecture on digital, trying to inspire a response from the sullen faces, I know they are texting and messaging and dreaming of being somewhere else. It’s why I often ask the students to turn their mobiles on and take them off silent.

But if education is lagging behind society, then politics remains in the Stone Age. This is an environment that lives on paper, whose establishment thrives on tradition, whose operations are restricted from embracing digital. How else can we explain the resistance of local government to open data? How else can we explain the continued investment in construction, agriculture and other dying industries (compared to under-investment in knowledge economy sectors). Dealing with government remains a paper-bound process and their selection of medium is their message.