A year on: purpose

A year (and a bit) after starting this journey I’ve been reflecting a little on the purpose of it all.

It comes down to this:

Is the education system designed around the right set of outcomes?

Where the definition of *right* depends on who your are and where you are coming from.

If the outcomes that the system is optimised and funded for aren’t the right ones, then:

What should those outcomes be and how should we construct a system that delivers on them?

and for me as an aspiring educator:

Where do I add value in today’s system?

Where could I add value in a new education system, fit for the needs of students in the UK in 201x?

Do I try and change/influence the system from within or without?

I’m using this post to collect links to resources that I’ve been using to think and reflect on the above. (And as a holding pen so I can clear my mind a little to focus on the learning to teach bit.)


Kick starting the debate on “the purpose of education”.

A Whole New Mind

Dan Pink’s book on the future of society and the need for education to encompass all aspects of human nature: artistic, intuitive, big-picture in addition to linear, logical, sequential, analytical.

Stop Stealing Dreams

Seth Godin’s look at education from the perspective of the changes that the massively connected internet has brought to other industries and how education might look if it focused on, and succeeded at delivering on, all of the following objectives and not just the last…

To create a society that’s culturally coordinated.

To further science and knowledge and pursue information for its own sake.

To enhance civilization while giving people the tools to make informed

To train people to become productive workers.

The Shift: the future of work is already here

Lynda Gratton looks at how trends in globalization, society, demography, technology, and energy are changing ‘the future of work’ with the implications for education (or the implications if you assume the purpose of education is preparation for work). Includes evidence to support many of the assertions made by Pink.

Changing Education Paradigms

An animated version of (Sir) Ken Robinson’s (classic?) speech on education and society.

The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age

A report summarising a collaborative look at the impact on institutions from the changes in technology that enable ‘shared, interactive, learning.  (Part of a series from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning)


A collection of observations and reflections on what was needed to build, run, and grow a business in the highly connected and scaled world enabled by the internet today. Based on the experiences of 37signals building things like Basecamp.

The Spirit Level

Why more equal societies are better for *everyone* than less equal societies. Kind of a foundation for thinking about the rest.


Most people think this blog is outstanding.

But, just because the government are looking at it, doesn’t mean we should discount it (behavioural science that is).

Future of Ed

US site focused on the Future of Education. A subproject of KnowledgeWorks, a US organisation that supports schools across the states.

Some Strategy Guidelines

One of the little tasks I have over the summer holiday is to figure out next years strategy for computing across the school. Specifically, how we can leverage software and services to maximise the benefit to learning and teaching from the rather splendid investment made in hardware infrastructure as part of the new build.

To help I started with a set of guidelines, based around some principles, to help guide the decision process. Hopefully these will also help others understand where things are coming from.


Principles are important (especially if you can keep to them). This section sets out a set of principles that have been used to help guide the process of forming this strategy.

1. Keep things simple. Training and the impact of change can be costly. Simple things that get used are more valuable than complex stuff that doesn’t. Related to this, consistent solutions are often better than better solutions[i].

2. Use commodity stuff wherever possible. What needs a custom solution today can be done with commodity stuff tomorrow. It usually makes sense to wait for tomorrow. The benefits of large customer base and the associated multipliers of scale will typically outweigh the benefits of a solution customised for a niche market. We’re not experts in running technology infrastructure; so we’ll partner with those that are.

3. Education is preparation for life. So we will endeavour to ensure education reflects life outside the education bubble wherever that’s appropriate. Likewise, we believe that education doesn’t need specialist ‘education technology’ to support it[ii].

4. Life is risky. Learning how to manage risks is an important life skill so we don’t want 100% insulation. Where there is risk and risky behaviour we’ll try and architect so that it remains close. Pushing risks underground is more risky than acknowledging them and holding them close.

5. Boundaries are blurred. Working and learning don’t happen just within the physical space of TOA. More than acknowledging; enabling, supporting and promoting learning and working anywhere are important outcomes for our technology strategy.

6. Computing can be deployed such that costs elsewhere are reduced. Computing can also been seen purely as a cost to be minimised. We’ll aim for a balance that recognises that education has typically treated computing more as a cost and less as an opportunity.

7. Software is more important than hardware. Or: it’s not what you have it’s what you do with it that matters.

8. Open solutions are better than closed. ‘Nuff said.

[i] Tim Bray has some related thoughts on this at http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/201x/2010/01/02/Doing-It-Wrong

[ii] As an illustration: a reasonably recent trend in the commercial sector has been the commercialisation of IT (characterised by the support for consumer devices, like the Apple iPhone, as part of IT systems). A similar trend is expected in education: the consumerisation of education.