Some Last Coments about NAACE 2008

A Mini at Torquay
A Mini I caught pulling out onto the bay road.
We landed around midnight last night at JFK and spend a few hours sleeping in a Fairfield inn.  I left Brenda and Martin at American Airlines for a short flight home and I’m spending a fairly comfortable morning at the JetBlue gates with WiFi and 110 electricity.  Tomorrow, I’ll be speaking at a literacy conference in Salt Lake City, and am anxious to learn how my geeky ideas will resonate with them.

I’d planned to spend part of the morning listening to my recording of Ewan McIntoshes keynote at NAACE, but unfortunately, a combination of the acoustics and McIntoshes Scottish rhythm leaves the recording difficult to impossible for me to follow.  It’s a shame, though readers of his blog know the message.  Part of it was that we can make this work.  He described the amazing success of the school(s) he worked with in East Lothian, where blogging and other community-forming tools caught hold and have resulted in many indicators of improved learning and learning environments.  He also offered that it was not any one influencer that caused this — referring to Duncan Watts’ recent work with Yahoo.  Here’s a paragraph from a Fast Company article about the study:

In the past few years, Watts–a network-theory scientist who recently took a sabbatical from Columbia University and is now working for Yahoo –has performed a series of controversial, barn-burning experiments challenging the whole Influentials thesis. He has analyzed email patterns and found that highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs. He has written computer models of rumor spreading and found that your average slob is just as likely as a well-connected person to start a huge new trend. And last year, Watts demonstrated that even the breakout success of a hot new pop band might be nearly random. Any attempt to engineer success through Influentials, he argues, is almost certainly doomed to failure. (Thompson)

We had some conversation about this after the keynote and there seemed to be some skepticism that Ewan (a quite charismatic personality) actually had little to do with the initial and continued success.  I suspect that the the issue is far to complex to say that this work and this doesn’t, that all things depend on influencers or nothing does.

The one thing that was clear, from my very brief experience with edtech’ers in the UK, was that the are in a different place from us.  Their government has provided far more (FAR MORE) material support to schools with ICT.  Professional development seems also to be much more a part of their conversation than what I see here in the U.S., though this may be arguable.  Like us, they are struggling with the challenges of changing the direction of an institution that is, by design, conservative and difficult to move off of its well tracked course.

Yet subversive was a term I heard several times and in several contexts,  indicating to me a land that is more fertile for the germination of well planted seeds. 

One idea that truly caught my imagination was delivered most directly by Niel McLean of Becta, which is apparently England’s chief ed tech government agency.  His message seemed to be that schools needed to become more  demand-oriented, addressing the needs of their customers (students, parents, and communities) rather than service as usual.  This is my interpretation, so please correct me if I’m getting this wrong.

Terry Freedman, Ewan McIntosh, and I talked about this after the address, while Terry was recording comments from Ewan and I for his podcast.  I expressed some excitement about the approach, as some conversation about customer-based education is beginning to emerge in the U.S.  Ewan, on the other hand urged caution, that education should not necessarily use business shifts toward customer oriented/filtered services — a logical response considering the example that had been offered from the business world.

What I saw in the presentation, and especially from a conversation I’d had at breakfast with Julian Nietrzebka (independent consultant in Cornwall), has more to do with tapping into customer needs and tendencies, rather than just serving their needs.  It has more to do with a different pedagogy of learning, that is more customer led.  That’s just my impression.

A wonderful time in England, but glad to get back to my Diet Pepsi on ice and a quick five and a half hour flight to Salt Lake City.

Thompson, Clive. “Is the Tipping Point Toast?.” Fast 122Feb 2008 6 Mar 2008 <>.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.