A Talk with Digital Media Expert Ewan McIntosh

Today we have digital media expert Ewan Mcintosh. He is the founder of 38minutes.co.uk, a creative network website in the UK, and No Tosh Limited, a company that provides digital media consulting to firms. Ewan has also worked in over £1 million worth of investments in digital media products, and has worked with the BBC and Northern Film Media.. He is with us here to talk about education and technology.

1. What inspired you to start blogging?
I was working with reluctant learners in relatively deprived areas of Scotland where learning French wasn’t seen as relevant, easy or even vaguely interesting. At the time the one thing I was able to do to rectify this somewhat was help connect my learners with others, and facilitate conversation in the foreign language about what they did love: football, food and friendships. Pen letters with friends in French-speaking Canada took too long – six weeks to turn around one batch of conversations. When we started blogging back and forth, though, it took more like six minutes to see the conversation develop. We also used blogs on school trips to keep parents informed of what we were doing and how things were going. It’s actually been this easy connect with parents that has proven most beneficial since.

2. How can technology change education?
In terms of parental links and encouraging parents to take more of an active role in the education of their children, social technologies have been priceless. When, in 2006, we started edubuzz.org the goal was to help teachers share their practice with other teachers. The biggest pay-off was, in fact, helping parents understand how their children where being taught. Instead of conversations between child and parents being “How was school today… Fine”, the conversations would begin with talking about what the parent had seen a photoigraph, video or blog post of previously.

Obviously technology has huge impacts on the way children learn, too. Increased engagement leads to more depth in learning, so the use of video games for learning, spearheaded in large part by my former colleague Derek Robertson at Learning and Teaching Scotland, achieves this in leaps and bounds. I’ve enjoyed working with thousands of educators since my first dabbles of using the Sims for learning foreign languages way back in 2002, but both the increases in quality and engagement games of the past five years have demonstrated, along with the research and development of countless educators, has led to this technology, along with sharing of experiences through social media, to be one of the most potent for developing project-based learning, designed and led by the students, not the teacher.

3. What makes the current generation of students different from others in terms of technology?

Today’s students use the same technology as their parents and teachers: there are more over-35s on Facebookthan under-35s. However, they’re prepared to spend more time understanding them in greater depth, for their own purposes, and teachers have the opportunity to show them how to turn these new technologies to their professional and learning advantage.

The current generation’s main difference is down to what technology enables them to do: they’re used to having their say in a way that previous generations have never had. Social media and the ease of self-publishing have given us a generation that expects to have its voice heard. This is a positive force, but one which schools need to take more profoundly in the way they make decisions and run their affairs. Paying lip service to a student council of 12 representatives for 1500 students is no longer sufficient. Everyone should feel enabled and empowered to have their say – and see their say have an effect on their lives.

4. What is the biggest obstacle in integrating technology in education?

There are what Hugh McLeod, the advertising man and cartoonist, would call “extraneous pillars”. These are barriers that certainly exist, but which needn’t get in the way of doing stuff. For example, a teacher in New Zealand claimed his greatest obstacle to doing project based work was the school bell – it cut students off in mid-flow. On the suggestion that perhaps he could just ask for the bell to be left off for a week, to see what impact it had, he could then see what his next action was: go and see Keith, the caretaker, about turning off the bell. But time, or lack of it, is the main reason teachers feel unable to implement more change in the way they work. Quality, energy-filled time is rare in teaching, so principals and other school leaders need to work with teachers to reduce unnecessary meetings (why not keep them to Pecha Kucha standards: 20 slides of 20 seconds each would cover off most administrative catchups), to keep curriculum reforms down to manageable levels, and to help staff see which
elements of reform can be put to one side while the most worthwhile elements are developed in depth.

5. Do you think it is possible to one day have an all-online classroom?

I wouldn’t want it. I take far greater pleasure in meeting face to face with learners and other teachers, than working with them online. Likewise, I’d not want to see every learner or every teacher every day. We need to find the right balance, and think carefully about what elements of our learning lend themselves better to leaving people to their own schedule, their own rhythm and their own learning journey online.

Thanks for the talk Ewan. Again, you can see his edublog here. For more information about democratizing education and technology, see Udemy’s main page here.