Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All Change for 2010?

I read with interest today the announcement relating to higher education funding cuts being proposed for Sept 2010 and the resounding outcry that accompanied it about standards dropping because the cuts will affect contact time. It’s an interesting debate and one that is not truthful on either side. Government policy pushes for 50% attendance at university to produce the knowledge workers that our economy relies upon and this latest cut seems to argue against this, along with announcements that universities will be fined for over subscription. This coupled with the lifting of the fee capping would seem that the proposed way of meeting the funding shortfall is to push the burden onto the student. This all works on the principle that whilst the funding requires restructuring, the model doesn’t change and this is where I think we’ve got it wrong.

There is without doubt likely to be a push towards private investment within HE, this year saw the first international venture capital conference for investment in HE, the UK clearly on the agenda for possibility. Both major parties point towards this as a way to bolster UK’s educational offering and enable the creation of the types of facilities and teaching required to provide the next generation with the competitive skills required for the knowledge age.

Is the traditional model of University confused/ redundant? Most educational research is pointing to the fact that we cannot rely purely on academia to provide the skills required for the future, that our educational models are too fixated on academic assessment and ignoring large swathes of human capability. In essence we need to change our view of intelligence/ brightness because the current system of education does not actually identify this. It actually breeds conforming to a set way of thinking to pass exams. Why is it, so many successful people we admire did not succeed at school if academic attainment is a sign of intelligence? With this in mind, when we say we want 50% at University, do we actually mean that? We acknowledge that in order to compete in the international economy, we need a vast array of knowledge workers with a higher education than school leaver age, but is it pure academic education they need?

We now see a vast amount of universities marketing their courses based on career prospects, but this is not what universities were devised for. Surely that is vocational education? Do we need to re-assess vocational education and academic education and clearly define them to applied (vocational) and theoretical (academic)? Additionally, do we need to nurture students to have better choices to fit with their abilities and talents?
With encouragement from politicians on both sides the student market is going to become even more discerning as a consumer and will the ROI be there for them on the existing models? Can it still be true that learning environments have to follow the lecture format/ contact time model that has pre-existed for so long when we know that learning is not so reliant upon those teaching models for higher education. Does a degree really have to be a 3 year course full time?

If it were true that universities are likely to undergo transformation to a new model of more courses with vocational focus, with strong potential of private investment to create the facilities required to create the concept of “edgeless university” and “personalised learning environments” as outlined in the BECTA Harnessing Technology 2008 e-strategy, then we might actually see a higher education system that can deliver the skills required for the knowledge age at an affordable price and flexible enough for the diversity of consumer needs within the student market. With this in mind I reflect upon the presentation I put together for my own organisation and wonder whether our own model for post-graduate education could easily be applied to a number of undergraduate courses successfully, food for thought in 2010 I think.

Did You Know? Legal Education from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Taking The Power Back

2009 was the year where social media activism came into its own, where the promise of crowd sourcing became a palpable force. We saw a number of campaigns where social media gave full voice to a connected audience who had disconnected with the mainstream, be it politics, the legal system or the music industry. Activism became easier, building a groundswell could all happen at the keyboard rather than the soapbox or megaphone. We’re living in a time of great uncertainty and change and the old models are breaking, the mainstream can no longer control or manipulate the message. Whilst we feared the era of the super injunction and Big Brother control, people are taking some of the power back and getting their voice heard. The smart commercial players will be analysing the Trafigura uprising and the Christmas No 1 battle and working out how to play these games for gain in the future, but the key is not social media per se, it’s a connection with the zeitgeist of public opinion. It’s not something new either, it’s often a backlash against the system during recession and this one has more to play for. Whilst I applaud the recent backlash against the X Factor chart monopoly, it seems strange that an anthem from my youth was chosen. Surely there’s a more relevant artist raging against the machine today? Maybe we haven’t had a resurgence of rebellion since the early nineties which after all stood on the shoulders of the 70’s punk movement. I’m hoping that we see more of this dissent in 2010, because overthrowing X Factor seems a hollow victory if we don’t utilise the megaphone that social media gives us to challenge more important things than Simon Cowell. It’s scandalous that in the same week this battle was raging that the super powers of the world could not agree a progressive movement forward on climate change. There are so many things to challenge and give voice too, I hope that the fever pitch that has built this year in armchair activism continues and people continue to say “F**k you I won’t do what you tell me!” with resounding voice.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Johnson Nutt Sacking

Politics of late really does seem to have taken some bizarre twists as we watch Labour free fall without a safety parachute. I've watched in wide eyes amazement at how badly handled this latest episode is, the sacking of Professor David Nutt. Particularly the over inflated way Alan Johnson has defended the decision, appearing on Sky News in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Alistair Campbell on Channel 4 News over the dodgy dossier.

Putting aside the media circus salivating over this, there are some profound issues to assess. Firstly is the issue that a gradual seething resentment has been building up for the last 7 or 8 years between the drugs advisory panel and government due to difference of opinion on the classification of illegal drugs and the associated harm, the primary reason for this is quite simple, a more relaxed drugs policy is not palatable politically. But then why have official advisory panel of experts if their expertise when given is ignored because it is contradictory to your policies. This is not a one-off in relation to drugs policy, it has a long and heated history. I think it is after countless disagreements that Professor Nutt has spoken out so vehemently on the matter, this is not an uncommon issue with government advisers and is pervasive throughout all departments.

Secondly I get very tired of the rhetoric that surrounds the whole illegality of drugs and the war on drugs, it's all from fairly moralistic viewpoints. The reality is that by and large prohibition does not work and the constant criminalisation of it fuels the problem rather than rectify it.

I'm not an advocate of drugs and am not naive to it's harm, having witnessed a number of fatal overdoses from a variety of substances. However, a vast majority of drug related deaths are down to the underground nature of the distribution. Principally being the measures of drug are hardly being done by pharmacists and secondly they are mixed with all manner of other substances to keep them profitable, it is not unknown for cannabis to have plastic in and ecstasy to have brick dust in. The money currently wasted on fighting this never ending war would be far better spent on education and healthcare to support and prevent addiction, rather than criminalising it.

This is an age-old debate that has been raging between politicians, law enforcement, sociologists and scientists ever since the 1936 Geneva Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs, and I can't see it ending here.

I am curious as to why Alan Johnson has taken such a stupid political grand stand over this when surely at this time Labour should try to stop rocking it's boat so much, it's like the cabinet all have political suicide tourette's at the moment. Alienated adviser's have a habit of blowing up in your face and therefore a little more diplomacy and a little less arrogance may have gone a long way. Which reminds me of my own run ins with a previous Home Secretary and drugs policy back in 1997, the year Labour took office and I saw the machine for what it was and everything since has not surprised me.

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Inconvenient Truth

We’re in an interesting time, there’s no doubt about it. With the financial collapse of the traditional mechanisms and the landscape changing at an exponential rate how prepared are we to construct and think differently about the future, how are we preparing future generations for this different landscape. As Phyllis Grummon of the Society for College and University Planning states “we are in a ‘neutral zone’ – a time of maximum uncertainty and time for creative possibility between the ending of the way things have been and the beginning of the way they will be”. The important aspect of this is that the “re-arranging the deck chairs approach” needs some serious reconsideration.

Too often we place technology as a driver for this reconsidered approach as if technology is driving it, I disagree, technology is an enabler of this change, it makes certain things possible efficiently and effectively, but it is not a driver. We have to look at why we need to change our approaches and a great deal resides in the purest elements of human motivation and ability; we have to question our logic of carrying forward the educational and management principles of the industrial age into the knowledge age. This is at the root of the change.
I think Sir Ken Robinson eloquently raises some very key principles to this change in his excellent book “The Element” that queries and examines many of our pre-conceived notions about education and management principles, illustrated very succinctly in this clip:

I strongly recommend watching the entire talk here
I believe Sir Ken is very right in his summation of how humans work and learn best and that the management hierarchies and educational structures put in place for the industrial revolution no longer hold water. I hear so much debate about returning to good educational principles, good teaching etc, but seldom hear anybody analyse how sound those principles were in the first place. The history of the grade and assessment system in education was never born out of good educational theory, it was born out of an industrial practice of paying teachers piece meal based on the number of students they had in their class, an entrepreneurial teacher therefore invented a system that allowed him to teach larger numbers in order to be paid more.

As Marshall McLuhan pointed out “We drive into the future using only our rear view mirror” and “Our age of anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools and yesterday’s concepts”. With this in mind, what does the future require of us, how do we rethink our preconceived notions on how to structure education and management hierarchies and systems? I explored many of these questions in my Did You Know? video below by taking information and quotes from leading research and thought leaders on these matters, there is a great deal of research in cognitive science on how the brain learns that we did not know before and new theories of education emerging from this, connectivism being just one. Additionally, management principles are being reassessed along with business models, the global economic meltdown may now be the catalyst or “tipping point” to enable this change beyond the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rhetoric of the past that has viewed these ideas as “happy clappy”. The notion that you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube is probably a correct analogy. As with education, it is time to re-assess the motivation dynamics of business, as Daniel Pink eloquently does here in his TED conference speech from July this year at Oxford:

Phyliss Grummon’s assertion above is just as applicable to the world of work as it is the world of education, we are at an important time and we need to landscape and plan for possible futures, something Price Waterhouse Cooper explored very well in their Future of Work 2020 project. These are all seeds of thought, the big question is how we grow them because we can’t build them in an industrial manner, this is our climate change issue within the human climate and we’re at just as critical a point as we are with the environment and it shouldn’t be an inconvenient truth.

BNP Rebranded?

This week saw a heated debate as to whether Nick Griffin of the BNP should be given a platform on the BBC’s Question Time last night, the outcome of the debate was fairly clear for all about how effectively he used the platform to promote his vision and manifesto and the other panellist’s did what should be relatively easy and pulled apart his thoughts and expose them for what they are, the protestations of a xenophobic mindset that individually has a low self opinion and thus needs mob rule to have a sense of identity and be part of something, a common recruitment policy for extremist groups of all colours and creeds. Anyway, I’m happy and support the decision of the BBC to give the platform for this debate, it is only through aired debate and confrontation that the BNP will be shown up for what it is, as demonstrated in this old episode of Re:Brand, whatever you think of Russell Brand, I will always admire him for his confrontation of the BNP mindset:

I also liked Cassetteboy's edited highlights of last night:

and the inevitable Downfall remix:

Griffin is now seeking to sue the BBC for alleged unfair treatment, maybe he could get Carter Ruck to represent him?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Word of Mouth on Steroids

As I reflect on the Twitter and Blogosphere phenomenon of the last day relating to The Guardian gagging injunction from Carter Ruck to protect their client Trafigura, it flags up a number of interesting thoughts about the role of social media in news and how our existing structures simply can't cater for the disintermediation of mainstream media. Before I look at this, for good insight into the specifics of this case go to the excellent analysis and podcast at CharonQC with Carl Gardner.

Putting aside the legal facts of the case and how an injunction was served on something that was raised in parliament, there was a basic assumption that this could be buried because companies and lawyers have become adept at knowing how to close down mainstream media reporting. Conversely mainstream media has done it's self no favours. There is a prevailing misconception in news media that they are reporting news, this is a flawed concept because news travels at an exponential rate now, much faster than a news agency can deal with. So it's not about news, it's about contextualising the news and this is then where the flaws come in with the approach Carter Ruck took over the Guardian story and the Judge made in awarding the injunction, in a world of social media, my grandmother's old saying  prevails "Truth will out". When crowd sourcing news and spreading the conversation can be done at such an exponential rate, the spin doctor angle doesn't work and neither does the injunction. Social Media is word of mouth on steroids. It's time businesses, firms and mainstream media started to actually take this on board rather than dismissing as flights of fancy and irrelevant. How are media lawyers going to advise their clients on how to deal with social media phenomenon, the landscape has changed massively in a short period of time, people will need to start actually exploring what all of it actually means sooner rather than later, here are some useful starter tips etc:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A National Identity Crisis

I recently added a comment to Charon QC's blog about the state of the nation following the terrible story of Fiona Pilkington.
In the comment I asserted that the culture of this country is broken and we seem to keep trying to deal with the symptoms of the situation rather than the cause. This of course, doesn’t fit for political posturing during party conference season, prior to the general election.
Additionally I nodded to how Scandinavia seems to have got many things right in terms of culture and attitude and saw this week with interest that once again the UN stipulates that Norway is the number 1 country to live in.
Being a frequent visitor of Norway due to family connection, I have always been struck by the cultural values and national identity there that seems alien in this country and this I believe to be at the core of our systemic problem. We can’t just copy their system tactically; we have to understand it culturally too. Why do they have a system that is so much more open for abuse than we have, yet far less abused by their populace, the reason is it is abhorrent in their nature and there lies a clue, they have a national conscience and a concept of collective responsibility.
We seem to have fallen into a culture where we have decided to abdicate our collective responsibility to authorities and thus blame them entirely when society doesn’t work; we rely upon our government to legislate our behaviour and then protest of a “nanny state” when they apply it. When systems fail because of a lack of regulation we once again blame the state, but where are we taking some of the responsibility? When the world economy collapsed due to the relaxed lending principles of most banks, primarily with mortgages, I still cannot understand how so many were taken by surprise.
So many people were borrowing way and above what were truly affordable for them and they must have known that. I know from personal experience that I was offered much higher value mortgages than I knew I could comfortably afford, and only status anxiety and postcode snobbery could have overridden that fact. Which I think is the root cause of our cultural psyche at the moment; we are still in a post-Thatcherite era of self obsession and identity crisis. This is often evidenced in the extreme narcissism of reality TV, but can be witnessed across the board in our behaviour in multiple arenas. There is a fascinating history to this within the excellent documentary series by Adam Curtis "The Century of the Self" and "The Trap", additionally Alain DeBotton’s book "Status Anxiety", within  these examinations are some fascinating insights into how we became what we are and what we need to evaluate before trying to cure the symptoms.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Did You Know?

I recently held an Away Day with my team and I wanted to illustrate the factors that are facing the future of work, the future of education and the future of law.

Having read countless reports, books, blogs etc I decided to build a picture using the salient facts and inspired by a number of videos on Youtube set about compiling the following:
I'm often dismayed that so many aspects of legal education are not engaging in how the world is evolving and changing, there is so much possibility and it is integral that we provide skills that will outlast the current models, because the students of today are going to work in completely different environments so we can't use the tools of yesterday to teach for the future.
I'm reminded that when I was at University, the internet had only just been invented and look how it's progressed and how pervasive it has become.

Starting Out

After 3 years of anonymously blogging my thoughts, rants and observations as a diary for stand-up comedy routines, I've decided to starting blogging in my professional context which is a far cry from the personal blogging.

Why do this? Well as a major consumer of professional blogs it only seems right to put my toe in the water, but also because I want to have those moments of reflection and contextualisation which blogging affords.

Why adventures in media, learning, technology and law? Well these are the spheres I occupy in my role and affect my everyday musings and duties.

I'm not an academic, techie, luvvie or legal eagle. Just someone dedicated and passionate about each of the areas this blog hopes to cover.