Tag Archives: iPad

The cost of university

costHigher Education is changing.  It is no longer a given that young people will look to universities in this country as a default position for their future.  The increasing cost of a degree has inevitably made those seeking the best HE option also seeking the best value for money. 

A piece in The Sunday Times confirms this shift in thinking. It reports that there are signs this country’s universities are becoming part of a global rather than national offering.  The most recent ranking of world universities placed only Oxford and Cambridge in the top 10 universities internationally with 9 British universities making the top 100.  Harvard tops the rankings, illustrating the domination of American universities, so it is inevitable that students in the UK will consider their options.  After all, they are acutely conscious that we live in a globally connected world where future employment opportunities for talented graduates may well be overseas.  A 9% increase in the number of British students crossing the pond over the past 5 years is indicative of this growing interest.

In this context, I reflected on a conversation I had with a Harvard and Yale graduate who recently enjoyed the opportunity to return to a Harvard lecture hall.  Her observation? The almost factory like approach to ensuring students received the same lecture: whilst hundreds were packed into the hall, hundreds more were receiving the lecture through video link.  This was Harvard and this experience cost each student $70,000 per year.

Contrast this with the rise of MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) in the States.  This radical approach crosses social and national barriers and does not cost $70,000 per year.  Stanford, MIT and Udacity lead the way in this phenomenon. The rise of MOOC is a truly disruptive force with the potential to be a game changer.  However, as with any innovation, MOOC attracts its dissenters who are quick to see the limitations of this approach.  Pursuing a course independently, disconnected from a collegiate environment, is the antithesis of a university experience.  Dr Keith Devlin, a Stanford Mathematician, has delivered free courses over the past two years to 1000s of people across the world. As such, his observation about MOOC is instructive: “What is becoming clear is that evaluating MOOCs in terms of traditional higher education will prove to be about as useful — and just as misleading — as the early twentieth century pundits who thought of the first automobiles as “horseless carriages.”

So the future of HE promises to be a fragmented offering.  Arguably the level of fees set at UK universities where virtually every institution charges the same, irrespective of what they offer, is not sustainable.   And with universities such as Maastricht boasting modest fees of £1,600 per year seeing an 80% rise in British students, the financial imperative is hugely important in decision making.

What is clear in this changing landscape is that we are moving from a national system where UCAS is the universal portal for application, to a multi layered matrix where the expertise offered by a UK school in supporting its students’ applications to universities overseas will be critical.  Those schools offering this guidance will therefore be well placed to support the ambitions of their students in the future.  Or of course students could enrol on a MOOC.

A Digital Learning Journey

Later this month I shall be making a presentation to a contingent of 200 Swedish politicians and educators about leadership in education.  My presentation is one of a range of talks and seminars in this Apple sponsored event in a week-long series culminating in the appearance of the keynote speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, the internationally renowned expert on creativity in education. The focus of the London event is the potential impact of technology on pedagogy.  Most specifically, will issuing a lap top to every student inSweden improve the learning experience in the classroom?  And more broadly how do school leaders manage the pedagogical challenges created by this interface with the digital world?

iPad 2

My invitation to this event is related to the digital profile of our school.  Last September every student in the senior school was issued with an iPad a year after the teachers had themselves been equipped with the device. As an independent school we have the luxury of making our own decisions without reference to the latest government hobby horse and it was blindingly obvious to us that a school disconnected from the digital revolution was failing to educate its pupil for the world we live in.  A digital world.

It is a truism that technology should not be used for its own sake.  This is clearly the concern of our Swedish guests.  Yet it is also clear that there is a world of possibilities.  I am fascinated by digital innovation and how it can transform the learning Eco system.  Only today I was reading a blog about “The Internet of Things” written by Steve Wheeler@timbuckteeth. In this world every object is connected to the Web. “The announcement of a new technology called Touché has the potential to change forever the way we interact with everyday objects…. Touché uses a Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing technique to make just about any everyday object ‘aware’ that users are touching it.  From door handles to sofas, once connected, objects will be context aware, and respond to our natural gestures.”  Indeed not just learning but our life styles could be disrupted by such technology.

Augmented reality is another development with potential to transform our world view.  AR is a medium through which the known world fuses with current technology to create a uniquely blended interactive experience.  NASA has used AR to illustrate the Mars Curiosity Rover expedition.


The potential for changing the conventional landscape within our schools is huge.

And it is all about the potential.  Arguably the pace of innovation is far outstripping the capacity for educators in schools to harness it to transform the learning experience of students in a meaningful way.  The fear of disruption outweighs any perceived benefits.  After all, the focus of schools is to ensure students successfully engage with a broad and stimulating curriculum; and leave with a clutch of qualifications facilitating progression to the next stage of their lives.

Yet this is the critical point.  Our young people are growing up in a world where it is a cliché that the pace of change is exponential.  Failing to engage with the digital world is ignoring the world which shapes their lives.  If schools are to enjoy the opportunities offered by the digital revolution a key change has to happen.  Teachers, our greatest resource, must not only be encouraged to be active learners themselves, schools must place innovative pedagogy at the heart of what they do.  It is no longer the case that a teacher emerges from Higher Education fully formed.  In the dynamic world in which we live the most effective teacher is one who is on their own learning journey, unafraid of change, within an environment which supports their professional development. A school today should truly be a community of learners.

Tweachers global voice


I read a surreal Twitter exchange recently between an astronaut and William Shatner, the erstwhile Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame.  The actor queried whether Commander Hadfield was tweeting from space.  His response?  “Yes, standard orbit Captain.  And we are detecting signs of life on earth.”  This convergence of science fiction and science fact is serendipitous. But it also points to a greater issue. The world imagined in the past is increasingly becoming aligned to the world we live in today.  The canny observation “be careful what you wish for” has never been so pertinent.

So how does today’s world shape up to the imagination of the last century? The showcase TV programme which reported on innovation in my younger years was “Tomorrow’s World”. The cool theme music and urbane Raymond Baxter heralded a range of ideas which challenged our perception of the possible.  One of the show’s presenters was Maggie Philbin who in later life shared her reflections on the many and varied inventions demonstrated on ‘Tomorrow’s World’:

”I would love to say I recognised their significance immediately but often the technology was fragile or incomplete – a mixture of space age and Stone Age – and the real potential was hidden… During my years on the show I saw the mobile phone downsize from one you could fit in a suitcase to one you could carry on your own but which cost £3,000. I remember BT lending me one for a weekend, so I would get the hang of it. I had given the number to my husband, who rang me while I was on the train home. I like to think I was the first person to say: “I’m on a train!” The whole carriage stared and shared my excitement that it was indeed possible to make a call on the 18.35 out of Paddington…”

Ms Philbin’s point about not necessarily identifying the transformational technology is as relevant today as it was then.  It is now a truism that digital technology is transforming our lives in quite fundamental ways.  The virtual world is as prevalent in our lives as the real, raising all kinds of issues we had never anticipated.  This is arguably the greatest challenge for educators today.

Illustrative of this is social media. Let me take Twitter.  For many, Twitter is a self-absorbed platform for individuals who want to share their every waking hour with “followers” foolish enough to take an interest in them.  I thought that too.  However, it is clear that something quite extraordinary has happened over the last year in the world of education.  Recently the Times Educational Supplement ran a piece on the rise of the educational ‘tweeter’ during 2012 (or tweachers!). Across the globe Twitter connects a broad spectrum of people who are united in their interest in learning.  And Twitter is very democratic.  It matters little if you are a senior member of staff or a professor in a university; what matters is that you have something to contribute to the on-going debate about the future of education in our different schools, in our different countries.

Certainly for me, Twitter has opened a window to a fantastic world of ideas and thinking which I find stimulating and challenging.  Indeed at times dialogue between tweeters can take on a Socratic quality.  Which is really the point.  Far from “dumbing down” our thinking, Twitter has provided a vehicle for promoting genuine and meaningful debate across continents.  And who would ever have anticipated this back in 2006 when the world of Twitter was born?