Thursday, January 17, 2013

The future of education - it's up to us

UPDATE:  The original host for the wiki had advertising that some found intrusive, and was unreliable.  The wiki has been moved to wikieducator, which is a friendly neighbourhood, with related content material.

This is the third, and last in a series of posts about the Parliamentary Inquiry into 21st century learning  environments and digital literacy.  I was thinking how a national discussion on the topic, which I think is critical to our social, economic and cultural future, could be encouraged.  Exchanges of views on blog posts, emails and discussions lists are all useful in their own way, but they are all transient.

Then I realised that a wiki is the ideal tool to build discussion and gather views on the report - the importance and priority of different recommendations, the timing and progress that is being made, and the gathering of input from the wide range of stakeholders that have an interest.

So I took the report, and placed it on a wiki here.** I chose mediawiki because it is familiar to people through their use of wikipedia. I have protected the pages that contain the actual content of the report, to maintain the integrity of the document tabled in Parliament. Each chapter of the report is on a separate page, and the discussion tab can be used to gather ideas and comments.

I guess this is a bit of an experiment in education policy development for New Zealand, which could become a focal point for discussion on the impact of the digital world on our education system; maybe it could be the base of a project for a school in 2013?

Disclosure:  I was engaged by the Select Committee as an expert advisor to the Inquiry.

** I chose to use a free hosting service, and it worked fine while I put the pages together, but appears to be down at the moment, so if you do not connect straight away, please keep trying. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The World into the Classroom - the Classroom into the World

The report from the parliamentary inquiry into 21st century learning contains 48 recommendations; this is an indication of the breadth of  the inquiry, which covered the full range of issues that arise from considering the impact of digital on education.In this post I discuss five areas that, in my view, are the most important for change to occur: devices, community, workforce, equity and leadership.

Devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones are the foundation of future learning. They fulfil two main functions - to provide access to information and as a tool for creativity and learning. They are embedded in educational practice at leading schools -- not as a special tool, but simply as "the way we do things round here". My personal belief is that every child should have exclusive access to their own device, which they use at school and at home. There are a small number of children whose families cannot afford to provide such a device, but schools have always found options to respond to children who are excluded from activities because of financial pressure. Once devices become "the way we do things round here", affordability barriers can be overcome.

We know that children's achievement is significantly affected by the extent to which their families and caregivers are engaged with their education. As education becomes more digital, it is essential that families, as well as children, are confident in the digital world. This will require a significant investment in digital literacy, but will also mean that parents and caregivers will improve their skills for participation in the digital economy.
Community connections are not only local, but regional and global as well.

We also know that the most important influence on children's educational achievement is the quality of teaching and leadership within the school. It is essential that everyone involved in the delivery of education is digitally competent.
This will require a substantial increase in investment in in-service training and also a major overhaul of initial teacher training to ensure that the future workforce have the skills and confidence to lead and support children's learning. This change much is more than a five day training course - it is actually a complete reboot of the profession to introduce new pedagogy and practices based on a model of continuous learning and collaboration.

The New Zealand education system is world leading; however we have a long tail of underachievement, in particular Maori and Pasifika students and in rural areas.
Digital education provides both an opportunity and a risk:digital tools can be used to personalise education and there is some evidence that this is effective in creating better engagement and maintaining connections with children; however financial and economic pressures may exclude the disadvantaged from participation both at school and at home. This is clearly an area for government investment and intervention to ensure equity of access and a future inclusive community.

The digital tsunami has deconstructed many industries over the last 20 years. Education is entering a period of transformational change that will affect every aspect of learning. We know that the biggest factor in achieving successful transformational change is leadership - having a common vision, a structured programme of change and sufficient investment to achieve the future state.
There needs to be a shift from competition to collaboration across the whole education sector - including the national provision and funding of internet and core services, to enable schools to focus on areas where innovation is important. Chapter 11 of the report outlines the importance of leadership and urges the government to ensure that the institutional arrangements are in place to provide effective leadership. This is probably the most important change to New Zealand in the next 20 years and we must get it right.

Disclosure:  I was engaged by the Select Committee as an expert advisor to the Inquiry.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

21st century learning and the digital tsunami

The changes in education as a result of the digital tsunami cannot be underestimated – it is the largest, and arguably most important, transformation that will happen in New Zealand in our lifetime.  2,500 schools and 4,500 early childhood education (ECE) centres, nearly 100,000 registered teachers, 750,000 students at school and 190,000 at ECE centres, and more than four million stakeholders .

The Select Committee for Education and Science completed an inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy, and submitted the report to the House in December 2012  The text of the report gives some indications of the nature of the inquiry.  In this post, I use the top 10 most frequently used words in the report to illustrate some general themes relating to the future of education; my next post will discuss the key recommendations from the report. 

Education is about learning, but "learning" is not just what children do at school.  Learning happens everywhere, and learning happens for everyone - teachers, students, families and care givers.  Technology creates a platform of almost limitless opportunities for better learning . 

The focus of the inquiry was the impact of technology on schools; there was general agreement on the changes that are needed to the school environment - it needs to support flexible, adaptive and collaborative learning within the school and through connections with other schools. 

There were 90 written submissions to the inquiry, and 55 oral submissions; this involved a lot of listening to a wide range of well informed advice.  From this listening, there emerged a clear consensus - in the future, education will use innovation and collaboration to create a unique personalised learning experience for every child. 

It's not the technology that will make a difference, but the fact that all resources, whether used by or created by the student, are digital and reusable.  The technology will continue to change, so skills will be needed to ensure that the technology is continually put to best use. 

Universal access to digital tools is fundamental to a high quality education system - this includes device and internet access at school, at home and in the community, for all participants - learners, teachers, parents and caregivers. 

The voices of the students who made submissions to the inquiry were illuminating; they have grown  up in a digital world, where information and connections are instantly available, and they will drive future innovation. 

New Zealand
The digital tsunami is changing education in every country in the world; it is essential that New Zealand culture, language and values are at the core of our education system. No-one else will nurture these unique assets, and we have a responsibility to develop and maintain Maori and Pasifika content. 

21st Century
The changes in the first 13 years of the 21st century have been huge - for example, in 2000 there was no broadband, Gmail, Facebook, or iTunes.  Changes in technology will continue to accelerate over the remaining 87 years of the century; the shift to digital needs to be adaptive to continuous technology change. 

The teaching profession is at the front-line of responding to the challenges and opportunities of digital education.  Significantly increased investment is needed to ensure that our teachers have the skills and confidence to act as guides for future generations.

Disclosure:  I was engaged by the Select Committee as an expert advisor to the Inquiry.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Data Scientists – building open data capability

Following on from the previous post, an emerging community of “farmers” are sharing practices and constructing a series of helpful guides on how to approach data management.  If you want to move beyond being a hunter gatherer of data, you should look at the guides that are under construction, and contribute your experience to the community. Here are three sources that you may find useful.

Semantic Community is a wiki dedicated to using and promoting Data Science - “It is not just where you put your data (cloud), but how you put it there." A good entry point is the section on free data visualisation tools. I was fortunate that one of the drivers behind the Semantic Community, Brand Niemann, was willing to be online at 4am to deliver a presentation to a W3C egov conference call, which helped me connect to this rich data source.

The Data Wrangling handbook is a crowdsourced “textbook” from the School of Data, supported by the good folk at the Open Knowledge Foundation. The OKFN blog last month published Managing Expectations  by Rufus Pollock which described the long term evolution of open knowledge; it promised to be the first of two posts, so watch out for the sequel.

The Guardian data blog has been doing some great work on visualising data about the Olympics over the last two week. Last year Tim O’Reilly wrote a short piece for Forbes on the topic of the “World’s 7 Most Powerful Data Scientists." More interesting than the fact that the list actually contains ten names, is the fact that they are all from the USA – just like "World Series" baseball. In the w3c discussion, Brand Niemann confirmed my view that the Guardian data blog is leading the application of data science to data journalism; maybe Simon Rogers should be at the top of the list.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The anthropology of Open Government Data – moving beyond Hunter-Gatherer

RAW DATA NOW was the rallying cry issued by Rufus Pollock from the Open Knowledge Foundation in November 2007. Sir Tim Berners-Lee picked up the call in his landmark TED talk from February 2009, and now, nearly five years on, Open Government and Open Data have become part of government operations for many countries around the world.

In this post, I propose that we are still at an early stage of Open Government Data, and use the stages of evolution of our species as a framework for thinking about the future of Open Data.

Hunter Gatherer

For over 100,000 years, homo sapiens was a Hunter Gatherer and generally nomadic, hunting and foraging for food and moving constantly in the search for sustenance.

The open data community is essentially a hunter-gatherer world – finding food (data) and providing it to our families in the best way possible.  The tribes have ways of sharing information on where good food can be found (#opendata on Twitter is a good source), but in some terrains (governments) food is hard to find, and it takes skill, experience, and cunning to be an effective data hunter.

Fortunately hunters are willing to share their findings, and provide signposts to help hunters find easy to gather food, although a lot of it has tough skin (pdf) and is of low (calorific) value. 

Maps are emerging, but are not authoritative. Interoperability is sharing information on the design of the bow and arrow, through channels such as on Scraperwiki and G_Refine.


Humans first began the systematic cultivation of plants and animals between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago, and the relative security provided by agriculture provided the incentive for most humans to live as farmers in permanent settlements.

The idea of farming and harvesting data is emerging in a few areas; two notable examples are OpenCorporates and the World Government Data Store, where farmers have planted crops from many terrains in one place.

The emergence of data geo-coding and Spatial Data Infrastructure initiatives suggest that more facilities will be available to support agriculture.

Cities, states and empires

The next phase of anthropological evolution saw the establishment of governments, complex economic and social structures with increasing specialisation, sophisticated language and writing systems, and distinct cultures and religions.  The rise and fall of these cities, states and empires has happened across the world for the last 2,000 years.

Open Government Data has not yet moved into this stage, although some people are thinking what it might bring. Government is the world’s largest information business – from global organisations such as the UN to national, regional and local governments.  How will the supply chain change as the internet deconstructs the management and distribution of government information? Other industries have tried to preserve their old business models but have been unsuccessful – artificial scarcity is met by abundance.

What are the specialised roles that will emerge to support this more complex environment - data retailers, data wholesalers, distributors, quality control inspectors, curators and regulators – and what are the new operational models?  Can we expect to see the emergence of the farmers market, specialist stores, department stores and hypermarket chains?


Just over 200 years ago, the industrial revolution replaced human and animal labour with machines which led to major new modes of mass production, and the related social and economic changes that are the foundation of modern society.

The promise of the semantic web, interoperability, and the 5 star scale of open data may be a pointer to a future. Many have commented that the semantic web is too complex for today’s operational needs; the open data ecosystem may need to evolve through different phases.  The experience of early pioneers can help to ensure that all parts of the ecosystem develop to support high levels of automation - the journey will be much shorter than the evolution of the human race, but will still take decades to reach full potential.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sector Development 101

Singapore reclaimed a leadership role in e-government and ICT sector development with the announcement this week of eGov2015 and the third call for Cloud Computing Proposals.

Their approach to cloud computing is an outstanding example of sector development – both strategy and execution. Singapore decided to promote the City State as a cloud computing hub by encouraging vendors to establish cloud facilities in Singapore, and then issuing a series of calls for the use of these facilities. Different cloud vendors have participated in each of the three calls for cloud computing proposals.

To ensure the investment is a genuine stimulus to the sector, eligible applicants have to be Singapore-registered companies, and supportable types of projects include trials, proof-of-concepts and testing.  The government had previously identified specific verticals - digital media, life sciences, manufacturing, financial services, retail & tourism, and education. Organisations developing solutions in these areas were selected to take advantage of subsidised cloud computing resources.

The first call in May 2010 outlined the objective to establish Singapore as a Shared Services Hub, focus on the verticals, and enable local users, especially SMEs, and to exploit SaaS (software as a service) for HR, finance, IT & other admin functions. In November 2010, the second call was issued focused on the same verticals. Proposals that were selected include: video hosting and streaming, social media monitoring and analysis, document sharing loud services marketplace, asset traceability and management, Radio Frequency Identification (RFI) technology, commodity trading and investment risk assessment solutions, smart traffic and mobile phone data screening.

The third call, issued last week, continued a focus on “lighthouse projects” that illustrate and promote the use of the infrastructure in the verticals, and added a focus on transportation and construction. At the same time Singapore became the third Asian country to launch an open data portal with more than 5,000 datasets – providing developers with plenty of data to crunch in the cloud.

Other governments should watch and learn.

They are being assessed – also this week a "Cloud Readiness Index" was announced which will analyse 10 key attributes critical to the deployment and use of cloud computing technology across 14 different countries in the region - China, Australia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Small earthquake in the media: not many dead

Wikileaks took pole position in world headlines in November 2010, becoming an "overnight sensation" after several years under the radar.  Was it, as the Guardian claimed "the first really sustained confrontation between the established order and the culture of the internet"? Is Naomi Wolf right about the ambivalence of US media in their defence of journalists revealing truth?

As the story was breaking, I was travelling between the Middle East, Asia and New Zealand. I followed the story with an obsession that was fed across timezones and political boundaries - accessing information sources without borders. The immediacy of the internet media pushed the circulation of ideas to hyperspeed: Live tweeting from the court hearing in London, commentary flaming in media blogs, and a palpable sense of excitement as the "war" escalated. The DDoS attacks on Wikileaks and the attacks by Anonymous on suppliers who withdrew their services, had all the characteristics of early skirmishes. As Julian Assange remarked sardonically "We now know that Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and others are instruments of US foreign policy. It's not something we knew before".  And the continuing leaks around his court case include the publication of his defense. The events have been great theatre, and rich in irony.

At the same time, Wikileaks has very quickly become part of the journalism landscape. Although only 3,500 of the 251,287 cables have been published, news stories are now regularly accompanied by commentary from Wikileaks - it has become another source of information. 

After the obligatory 15 minutes of fame, has the world changed?

In my view, it has. Many people that I respect have already published their views; here I contribute why I think so.

Before answering, I need to separate the Wikileaks effect from its founder - Julian Assange.  I have no direct knowledge of him, or what caused him to pursue his quest with a clear understanding of his goal and the associated dangers,  but I enjoyed reading Aaron Bady's insights into Julian the man.  Here I look at the structural implications for a 21st century fourth estate.

Since the globalisation of capital in the 1970s, there has been an imbalance between power and accountability. Neo-liberal economic ideology, which should have ended with the 2008 financial crisis, amazingly led to rehabilitation of the very people who got us into this mess, and the perpetuation of the obscene gap between the rich and poor. 

Rudolf Elmer recently used Wikileaks to release financial details of Swiss bank account holders - an indication that Wikileaks is not just a channel for US government leaks. Wikileaks targets power and wealth, without fear or favour, and is a necessary counterbalance to the transnational resources available to power and wealth. Look at the organisations that have been held to account.

Power and wealth seeks privacy and secrecy, and abhors public scrutiny.  Social institutions have evolved, building on the hard work of brave and ethical leaders, to create controls which balance the exercise of power. We look aghast at the excesses of dictators in developing countries who accumulate and hide wealth while their people live in poverty.  However in western democracies, power and wealth have found ways to avoid examination by the traditional fourth estate, which is struggling for survival, recycling press releases from governments and corporations alongside celebrity gossip and reality shows.

Laws and government systems seek to balance the interests of the individual with the interests of the community. Globalisation has removed capital from the control of these laws, and a globalised media has not yet emerged to hold power and wealth to account. Power and wealth take advantage of this opportunity to avoid the oversight of national watchdogs, and use professional advisors, transnational wealth management and offshore funds to minimise their contribution to the collective interest. 

Wikileaks has been described as the first stateless news organisation, operating as a networked organisation, and not subject to the control of any single government.  Power and wealth have understood the value of being stateless; it has probably always been this way, but we thought that good governments controlled abuses. This faith has dissolved as the secrecy is lifted, and behind the veil we see how the elite, including our political leaders, live. The Cayman Islands has the fifth largest banking asset base on the planet (277 banks holding US$2 trillion of deposits in a country with a population of 60,000). Holding power and wealth to account, whether it is through the US embassy cables or the details of offshore wealth held in Swiss banks accounts, is an important task that needs to operate on a global basis in the 21st century.

After the initial publication of the first 191 cables on 28 November 2010, the Wikileaks web site experienced a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack; in the following week, a range of suppliers withdrew from providing their services to Wikileaks including Paypal, MasterCard and Visa payment services, PostFinance in Switzerland who closed the Wikileaks bank account, Tableau data visualization, EveryDNS domain services, and Amazon hosting services. This line-up indicates the significance of the challenge to the status quo.

The ability of the internet to hold power to account has been praised in western media when applied in countries like China, North Korea, much of the Middle East and a large part of Africa.  The statement by Hilary Clinton in January 2010 seemed to define the US policy in support of "Internet freedom .. {giving} people access to knowledge", but the policy turned out to be fungible when the power of the internet was applied to US government activities. 

What we have found is that technology is value neutral, and the internet can apply scrutiny to all sources of power and wealth, irrespective of ideology.  Operating with integrity and openness is the only way to the moral high ground.

Power and wealth are now facing an equal and opposite force of a different nature - the agility and resilience of the internet. 
  • "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it" - John Gilmore's famous quip 
  • A mirror of the Wikileaks Cablegate site was seeded as a torrent 20 minutes after its availability was published on Twitter. 
This speed and agility is beyond the ability of any government to control: the Chinese government's Green Dam Youth Escort project was not successful, and currently technology is enabling Egyptians to carry on texting and tweeting during anti-government protests, circumventing the country's internet shutdown.

Even if Wikileaks has a short life, the world of power and wealth has been changed forever, in the same way that Napster deconstructed the music business. Creating a place to "help you safely get the truth out" is an essential part of creating a more balanced world, now that individual governments can no longer do so. The fact that there is such a place will change the behaviours of those holding power and wealth.

From Napster to Pirate Bay, from Wikileaks to Openleaks, the genie is out of the bottle.  Does government really want to start another unwinnable war against an abstract noun?

Or as the Guardian put it (before the separation):

Politicians now face an agonising dilemma. The old, mole-whacking approach won't work. Our rulers have a choice to make: either they learn to live in a WikiLeakable world, with all that implies in terms of their future behaviour; or they shut down the internet.

Places to go to find out more

Wikirebels - a must-watch documentary from STV. Some soundbites:
  • "A difference can be made bottom up"
  • "Information does not respect borders"
  • "Democracy without transparency is not democracy, it's just an empty word"
  • "By and large Wikileaks is a force for the good. Wikileaks in very very powerful  ... one has to be cautious about anything that is very powerful"
You see it's not really about Wikileaks. .. every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance; over time, the artificial abundance will win.

The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us "You went after Wikileaks domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don't like the site. If that's the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.

Society is made up of competing goods that can't be resolved in any perfect way - freedom vs. liberty, state secrets vs. citizen oversight

In a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems.

Governments will have to learn what the music and film industries have been forced to learn already, that it's easy to copy and publish digital files

In 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide's The News, wrote: "In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win."