Last week (and a bit) 28 April 2008

I have been out and about a lot over the last couple of weeks and not found much time to post – so time for a bit of a catch-up.

I spent 24 hours in Belfast a couple of weeks ago with my counterparts from Wales and Northern Ireland. Looking back over my almost seven years at LTS it’s been interesting to see how the four education systems of the UK have evolved and the very different approaches that have been taken to solving common problems and modernising schooling. One thing we all have in common is a changing public sector landscape. In Wales all of the public bodies have been absorbed into central government. In Northern Ireland the library boards are being drawn together into a new public body with responsibility for education across the country. So if you think it is just Scotland that is changing think again!

Last Tuesday I met with former HMIe Walter Paterson who is doing some research on behalf of the SQA on future skills and the future IT landscape. My view is that lots of IT will become centralised/web-based and that many of the traditional local technical roles will disappear. Who needs an internal network in a wireless/web-as-the-platform world? The same goes for desktop support – when was the last time somebody fixed your fridge why do computers need so much support? After that I had a steering group for a great project on Partnerships with Employers that LTS is doing on behalf of the Scottish Government’s Determined to Succeed initiative.

Last Wednesday started with a visit to Haddington to meet the inspirational Don Ledingham, East Lothian’s (acting) Director of Education and Children’s Services. Don is doing a great job in East Lothian and I really like the thoughtful open way that he approaches his work and the focus he has on doing the right things for the right reasons. I always learn something from meetings with Don (and from reading his blog). The focus of the meeting from my perspective was to find out how LTS might better support East Lothian Council. I hope we can arrange a joint project and am very interested in building on the success of edu buzz and the recent publication of the 1,000th blog for learning by a P7 class. Blogs for public accountability might be an interesting area for development?

On my way back to Dundee I had a meeting at the National Library in Edinburgh to discuss synergies with Glow organised by Karen Gallacher. I met with seven of Karen’s colleagues including Alex Miller, Director of Comms at NLS, Jackie Cromarty, Education and Interpretative Services Manager, Simon Bains, Digitial Library Manager and James Toon, Trusted Digital Repository Project Manager. I have always been an admirer of librarians and was really impressed with the professionalism, passion and vision of all of the NLS staff I met. I got a real sense of the National Library trying to take big steps into the digital age. This is an institution in the process of reinventing itself for the 21st Century, looking to a future built on strong foundations from the past and present. Before I left the library I got the chance to see behind the scenes. The John Murray Archive now has a permanent public exhibition but I was also allowed in to see a couple of items the vast collection of papers still under lock and key. My favourite was a letter from Charles Darwin to John Murray offering to waive his fee in advance of the publication of ‘The Origin of the Species’ on the grounds that it might not be a commercial success.

Friday was one of those wonderful days when I realise just how lucky I am to have this job. It started with Graham Watson, Chief Executive of the Scottish Institute of Sport Foundation, an organisation that supports both elite and grassroots sport (a very Scottish approach). The meeting was to discuss progress with an online project called The Winning Game (see Tess Watson’s blog for details of the pilot) and how we might work together on the next stage.

After that I joined Derek Robertson who was briefing Milton Chen and Steve Arnold of the George Lucas Educational Foundation on the work of the LTS Consolarium. Then it was off to visit two P6 classes in Dundee in Clepington and Charleston primary schools. The schools were delighted to have visitors from the USA and pupils were brilliant ambassadors for Dundee and Scotland. We got a real insight into how commercial computer games, in the hands of excellent teachers, can be used to great effect in the classroom (see Derek Robertson’s blog for details).

After lunch it was off to the University of Abertay with Steve, Milton and Chris van der Kuyl. The Principal Bernard King gave Steve and Milton an inspirational introduction to Dundee and Abertay before setting us off on a whistle-stop tour to look at cutting edge research being conducted in: Computing; Complex Systems and; Computer Arts and Digital Media.

1 Comment

  1. Stealing a few minutes of holiday time to catch up. I’m glad you provide an explanation of the vision that “lots of IT will become centralised/web-based”. Unfortunately, so often we see organisations interpreting this as centralised control, rather than centralised, economies of scale platforms with devolved control to the user and community.

    This, ironically, is also the reason we don’t see quite as many Dons out there as we might hope. Centralised control means that the very public accountability blogs bring is often seen as a “risk too far”. Almost every day I hear frustrations, too, that people can’t read the blogs of people like ourselves, working in the public sector, in their public sector institutions. Why? Centralised control of the platform, instead of devolving responsibility of use to the user.

    Breaking this vicious circle is what we did well in East Lothian, but only thanks to a cultural change that accompanied it. The challenge for public organisations of all shapes and sizes in Scotland, the UK and beyond is to change their culture into one that sees risk and failure as potentially positive forces of change, and to empower their own communities to share these failures, successes and individual ideas with the larger community.

    Unfortunately, though, this is a management cost of the organisation that may seem too high a burden for the relatively unknown and unstable output. Meanwhile, for individuals just doing it for themselves, there is no management cost in keeping their community going, so we’ll see more splintering, more people doing it for themselves outwith national, centralised projects, perhaps, before we see a uniting of professionals in a common cause.

    Something more cogent might come onto my blog at some point soon 🙂 Ciao d’Italia!