Author Archives: Richard Millwood

About Richard Millwood

I direct Core Education UK, where I am responsible for the National Archive of Educational Computing and I am also Assistant Professor in Trinity College Dublin responsible for the MSc Technology and Learning.

Until recently (July 2013) I was Reader in Distributed Learning working on the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning project in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton since 2007. From Nov 2012 until Sep 2013 I was also a Research Fellow in the School of Information Systems, Computing and Mathematics at Brunel University.

From 2005 to 2006 I was head of Ultralab and worked with Stephen Heppell from 1990 to build it.

From 1980 to 1990 I developed simulations in the Computers in the Curriculum project with Margaret Cox.

I started out in 1976 for four years as a Mathematics and Computer Studies teacher in London schools.

Screens, health and causality

Hal playing a game in the back of the car

‘Warning over children’s multi-screen viewing’, a BBC web site article by Katherine Sellgren from August 2011, updated today and hence came up for my attention, reports on research at Loughborough and Bristol universities. They found children (63 in Bristol) were often “multi-screen viewing” – watching TV while simultaneously using smartphones, laptops or hand-held gaming devices. Furthermore, they are reported as saying such habits are linked to obesity, poorer mental well-being and health problems in later life.

If you read their peer-reviewed published research report, the claims are somewhat softened – the health problems are concerned with adults mostly and with too much overall screen watching. And in the discussion, the reasons expressed by the 11-12 year olds give comfort – they are common-sense explanations which confirm the thirst for knowledge, activity and social communication:

“Participants reported that there were three main reasons for engaging in multi-screen viewing.”

“Firstly, it tempered impatience that was associated with a programme loading or waiting for a response to a text message or instant message. For these children the second or third screen filled the time and prevented boredom.”

“Secondly, multi-screen viewing was a reactive response that enabled the child to use their time more efficiently as they could filter out unwanted content such as advertisements and focus their attention on just the content that interested them.”

“Thirdly, multi-screen viewing was a proactive decision with the children opting to do two or more things at once as it was perceived to be more interesting or more enjoyable.”

Still, no clear certainty that the health problems are actually caused by multi-screen viewing (sad, fat people may prefer to watch television than join in team sports).

My colleague and friend Stephen Heppell discussed this issue nearly twenty years ago (!) in ‘Children of the Information Age and the Death of Text‘ – an article that first appeared in the Society of Authors’ journal “The Author” as part of a computer focused edition “The Electronic Author”, in Summer 1993.

In the article Stephen writes:

“…the TV too is typically reduced to a small information window in a larger social context – children watch it whilst browsing a magazine, listening to music, playing with their “Game Boy” or whatever.”

and that:

“We should not view this as a deficiency model of children. It is not that their concentration threshold has declined; rather, they are not happy anymore to adopt the role of passive information consumers. This is progress.”

I find it simply amazing how frequently researchers judge children’s habits as deficient before proving the causal question – is it the multi-tasking use of multiple sources of information which leads to the health and well-being issues suggested?

Might there be a connection with the food industry, dysmorphia or the ‘stranger-danger’ fear of playing outside?

How has the research shown any connection with later life?

Most importantly, why are we discussing passive ‘screen viewing‘ as being the predominant interaction in the contexts described when modern mobile technology is all about active choices, games, social communication and creativity?

Computing at School


I presented at the third annual Computing at School conference, reporting Nili Naveh’s research in a seminar I proposed to discuss the research into childrens’ conceptions in computing. The central issue is the contrast in the attention paid to children’s conceptual development in maths and science compared to computing. In maths and science, research has established a Piagetian analysis based on data of what percentage of children can achieve which conceptual understanding at a range of ages, and this is the basis for the National Curriculum levels. Clearly this should not be used as a straitjacket – there is a diversity in attainment and children are often underestimated. Teachers have excellent tacit knowledge of this, but I argued it may be helpful to articulate this more clearly and to construct a data-gathering exercise from schools across the country. We had a good discussion, thanks to some really good presentations earlier in the day which gave good fuel for our debate. Here are my slides:  Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs.

Old lobster almost boiled

Learning on the Beach 2011

The second annual Learning on the Beach unconference #lob11 has just scattered – I am blown away, boiled, invigorated and inundated – and that was just the weather. We were a self-select group of ‘old lobsters’ like me @richardmillwood and some fresh faces like @squiggle7 – the value of this mix in challenging the norms of indoor education was enormous.

Activities included:

  • a scene setter on flat-lining and free-learning from John Davitt
  • collaborative presentations by teams of participants on themes (and genre) as diverse as Irish History (sing-song), The Salt Marsh (tragedy) and Tides (rap)
  • a tour of the beach with Seán and Matthew to understand the nurturing approach to the ‘machair’ or sand dunes found on the west coast of Ireland and particularly in Mulranny, where we were staying
  • the Explainer Olympics – a chance to hone with a sharp stick in the sand our skills in capturing a concept
  • a Ceilidh to let it rip -thanks to Jim and Ann, @angedav @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @magsamond @johndavitt
  • Postcards from the Edge, scribed on the beach – to let us shout about our findings
  • thoughts to challenge suppliers – what do we need to support learning outdoors in the design of equipment and infrastructure? Peter at @westnet_ie made it possible for us to connect from the beaches around Mulranny so that we could benefit from our vast array of gadgetry to support our inquiry including TouchaTag an RFID technology, but there were many issues addressed regarding weatherproofing, robustness, daylight viewing and power supply that would enhance outdoor activity anywhere
  • hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold plunge and swimming pool – four facilities that were welcome 😉
  • the sharing of Guinness, Google, kindness, camera-derie, Twitter, time, humour and happiness ( to say nothing of black and white pudding, fresh air and fine rain)

There are not enough wild sea-horses to hold me back from attending #lob12  – I already miss the lobsters: @squiggle7 @magsamond @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @andyjb @dughall @VickiMcC @johnmayo @johndavitt @angedav @katherinedavitt @timrylands @sarahneild @susanbanister

Analysis of a single interaction

I revived this Analysis of a single interaction recently thanks to a PhD student who is working on user-centred design. It was first developed in 1988 based on Donald Norman’s work, applied to the kind of computer software we were designing then. The ‘concept keyboard’ mentioned was a programmable touch pad from that era which enjoyed considerable popularity as it allowed an interface based on the developer’s own visual layout, suitable for younger and special needs pupils – a precursor of the iPad!

Is society presenting a ‘still face’?


This article about ‘brain science’ and policy relating to early childhood development by Chris Corrigan is uplifting and affirmative, but the ‘still face’ video showing a child interacting with mother and then being shunned is heartbreaking, saved by a happy ending. The notion that interpersonal relations start early is tacitly obvious to many, but this video articulates it so clearly.

The extension, to ask whether society presents a ‘still face’ to young people may be a leap to far, but it could be argued that ignoring the interests of the young leads to upset, perhaps amply demonstrated by the recent action by students in response to a reduction in government funding of further and higher education in the UK.

Thanks to Jonnie Moore for highlighting this.

Quality & delight for business & learning

W Edwards Deming

Knowing my interest in delight in learning, colleague Derek Wenmoth pointed me to a post on Steve Denning’s blog, from which Derek quoted this:

“…management in the 20th Century was about achieving a finite goal: delivering goods and services, to make money. Management in the 21st Century by contrast is about the infinite goal of delighting customers; the firm makes money, yes, but as a consequence of the delight that it creates for customers, not as the goal.”

This reminded me of the way delight was discussed by W Edwards Deming:

“It will not suffice to have customers who are merely satisfied.” I would add, “They must be delighted.”

Deming was credited by the Japanese as being a major force in their rise to world economic power in the second half of the 20th Century, so Steve’s view that this is a 21st Century idea is a little late, although perhaps a reasonable observation about many western businesses.

Nevertheless it is good that Steve is promoting this and it is a short step from Deming’s assertion to say, as I would:

“It will not suffice to have learners who are merely attaining targets.” I would add, “They must be delighted.”

In Deming’s case, the policy of delighting customers leads to them spreading the word and returning to purchase more from your business, which sustains it. In my case, it is ensuring learners remain lifelong learners, whatever their attainment at any stage.

Mostly, it is those who attain highest who are delighted in learning, which is not to imply cause and effect, simply to observe these can go hand in hand. But this minority success does not sustain and develop the global community nearly so well as having everyone continuing to learn throughout their lives, because they delight in learning, no matter what their early attainment level may be.

And that is without even starting on the moral case for delight….

Dimensions in creative work

In talking about the issues of user-generated content with friends Stephen and Joy recently, Stephen reminded me of this presentation slide I used to show in 2004 in the context of a growing movement to engage children in the filming and composition of digital video.
The push by specialists such as the British Film Institute was to teach film technique, to be methodical, to learn ‘film language’ and essentially to be equipped to make compelling feature films. My feeling was that encouraging creativity and the arts demanded a rather more diverse approach.
With regard to audience, it seemed to me that an artist may well be concerned to articulate their ideas to an audience, on the other hand they may not care what the audience thinks, but simply please themselves in a deliberate (or naïve) break from tradition and justify it as art for art’s sake and true to their calling. I am not an art historian, but this is somewhat the realm of the modernist.
From Wikipaedia:
“The most controversial aspect of the modern movement was, and remains, its rejection of tradition. Modernism’s stress on freedom of expression, experimentation, radicalism, and primitivism  disregards conventional expectations. In many art forms this often meant startling and alienating audiences with bizarre and unpredictable effects, as in the strange and disturbing combinations of motifs in surrealism  or the use of extreme dissonance and atonality  in modernist music. In literature this often involved the rejection of intelligible plots or characterization in novels, or the creation of poetry that defied clear interpretation.”
Narrative on the other hand relates to the structural-temporal purpose of an art form – whether to tell a story which maps roughly on to our life experience of sequenced events or to simply effect a reaction, inspire an idea or evoke a feeling. Clearly a film intended for the latter purposes need not conform to traditional ‘film language’, although it might benefit it.
Control is about viewing an art form in a sequence determined by the author or on the other hand through choices made by the audience. The former could be a film in the cinema, the latter an interactive game or a web-site. Digital video which forms part of a ‘navigated’ experience may owe nothing to traditional film techniques, and make new and less well-known demands of the author.
The bottom line is that it pays to be open minded about the purpose of creative work and at least discuss these choices when introducing new technologies to young people. If they choose to be on the left hand end of each of these dimensions, then it will pay them to develop some film language skills – perhaps at the excellent Filmsense website created by Media Education Wales.

Alive Babbs


Alice Mitchell 1942 – 2010

  • Creative linguist, learning media developer and pedagogue,
  • Head of Language Centre at Anglia Polytechnic University
  • Unique Ultranaut
  • Dedicated wife to Colin Babbs
  • Informal, enthusiastic tutor to my son
  • Personal friend
  • Favourite remembered saying: “half the time in English we mispronounce French and the other half, German”

Alice’s work in the middle nineties to develop language learning multimedia material and virtual spaces for language learning was a decade ahead of its time – Alice was an unusual mix of imaginative ideas and perfection in detail who understood ‘delight’ and made every attempt to foreground affect in her designs. Sorely missed doesn’t really say it.

Elle ne s’en ira pas, elle ne redescendra pas d’un ciel, elle n’accomplira pas la rédemption des colères de femmes et des gaîtés des hommes et de tout ce péché: car c’est fait, lui étant, et étant aimée.

(from Rimbaud)

Research community

A model of community reseearch

Had a very useful meeting in University of Bolton with colleagues intent on developing a community of research – the diagram illustrates our joint efforts to come to terms with this idea, but it does not clarify the concern I have, which is to be confident who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ – I believe to have a conversation that supports learning, you have to feel ‘safe’ with your audience to take risks with ideas. This is exacerbated when you are online, since the audience may be unclear or grow later to include people your are not so sure about!

National Archive of Educational Computing moves

Boxes and crates of the National Archive of Educational Computing

On Monday 15th Feb, the National Archive of Educational Computing moved to its new home, bringing it to a spare school science lab from a storage facility. Now the work can begin to make sense of it all and enhance the web site.

Thanks are due to Keith Lashmar of Chelmsford Van Hire and his tireless workers, together with Maureen Gurr and Patrick Millwood for helping to make it a smooth and well-organised move.

Ultralab's last room is demolished

By coincidence I was in Chelmsford the next day, and saw the last room of Ultralab about to be demolished – we were on the top floor of this building. A sad day.

iPodTouch Conference Oldham

Richard Millwood at iPodTouch2010

A real buzz of learner-centred excitement surrounds the reports of iPod projects presented here – especially the desire to create rather than simply consume resources. Interesting reports of large and small scale use including ESSA Academy’s 1 to 1 roll-out. Working with Friezland‘s Year 3 was a treat and reinforced what I learnt from listening to delegates, that iPod and App store had simplified the whole management issue so much that kids and teachers could take charge and feel empowered.

More at the iPodTouchConf2010 Ning.

Can we reverse the decline in schools’ computing, especially with girls?

You are invited you to participate in the fifth in a series of annual lectures to address the issues surrounding manufacturing, technology and education.

  • Can computing be viewed as a form of manufacturing in the knowledge economy?
  • Why is it in such decline in schools, especially amongst girls?

In 2005 there were 7242 students sitting A Level computing exams, 815 of these were female. By 2014 that is predicted to drop to around 1500 and all of them will be male, based on figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

Dr Stan Owers’ thesis claimed that the human species evolved in symbiosis with technology since the stone age.
What part has computing in such evolution?

The evening will begin with a focused presentation by our guest speaker, Kate Sim, followed by a brief response from Professor Stephen Heppell, leaving ample time for discussion.

For further background information, please visit:

http://www.core-ed.org.uk/tools/lecture-2009.html and?

http://www.core-ed.org.uk/tools/questions.html

If you are unable to attend, please feel free to nominate colleagues.

A Short History Offline

Becta have just published the article they commissioned me to write about the history of educational computing. I enjoyed writing it – after all, I have been very active in the field since 1977, so much of it is from the heart.

1989 - planning multimedia on a chalk board
Alan Edis, Richard Millwood, David Riley & Colin Smith of the Computers in the Curriculum Project plan a multimedia CD-ROM on a chalk board in 1989 at Kings College London

But its real purpose is to try and bring some kind of coherence to a complex story and thus to create the hindsight analysis which can help us use the National Archive of Educational Computing as a storehouse for insightful & inventive design, deployment and application for the future of learning with technology.

If you want to help this venture, please sign up to support the archive or even better, tell your story.

TreeMeet

treehouse

The ephemeral TreeHouse Gallery in Regents Park London provided a magical venue for an enjoyable discussion on new forms of teacher CPD. Initiated through Twitter by Drew Buddie who facilitated the meeting, which attracted myself, Leon Cych (who broadcast it on TwitCam), John Davitt, Merlin John, Anthony Evans, Dave Smith, Bill Gibbon, Andy Broomfield, Will and Daren Forsyth.

We got excited about TeachMeets, punchy presentations (whilst acknowledging the scope for lengthier, compelling presentations), Twitter and Blogs and the value of global networking. But we couldn’t tackle the challenge of recognition for such learning – could it be that informal learning should be left alone and valued for its own sake? Perhaps its value is in developing risk-free peer-learning, light reflection and seeds for the adoption of new practices –  formal learning undertaken for rigour, recognition and career progression will always benefit from such experience.

All-in-all a valuable moment to pause for thought before tackling the new academic year (and a chance to see how a hobbit might feel in Lothlorien 🙂 .

The act of digital lobotomy

Hugh D’Andrade‘s article on the Electronic Frontier Foundations web site, Orwell in 2009: Dystopian Rights Management, shows how Amazon have fulfilled in part the provocative predictions made by Mark Pilgrim in his blog in November 2007 The Future of Reading (A Play in Six Acts).

In the sixth act, ‘Act VI: The act of learning’ Mark Pilgrim quotes from the Kindle Terms of service (still accurate at the time of writing this blog entry):

Termination Your rights under this Agreement will automatically terminate without notice from Amazon if you fail to comply with any term of this Agreement. In case of such termination, you must cease all use of the Software and Amazon may immediately revoke your access to the Service or to Digital Content without notice to you and without refund of any fees.

Amazon, Kindle Terms of Service

Suppose I was the kind of modern, 21st century learner who augmented their memory with notes and annotations on electronic devices such as the Kindle?

Suppose I was the kind of professional who carried their digital notes to work to augment my performance in real-life work situations?

Both of these augmentations would be out of my control if I subscribe to Amazon’s conditions and  slip up – even if I did not stray from their compliance, their recent act could be tantamount to a lobotomy…

Regardless of my rights, my augmented mind is being controlled…

UPDATE 31st July 2009

A student is suing for loss of learning – from the lawsuit:

“28. As part of his studies of “1984,” Mr. Gawronski had made copious notes in the book. After Amazon remotely deleted “1984,” those notes were rendered useless because they no longer referenced the relevant parts of the book. The notes are still accessible on the Kindle device in a file separate from the deleted book, but are of no value. For example, a note such as “remember this paragraph for your thesis” is useless if it does not actually a reference a specific paragraph. By deleting “1984” from Mr. Gawronski’s Kindle 2, this is the position in which Amazon left him. Mr. Gawronski now needs to recreate all of his studies.”

PhD / Masters opportunities with University of Bolton

I have been working part-time in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics (IEC) at the University of Bolton for the last two years, after seventeen years at Ultralab.

IEC houses three major projects:
•    the JISC Innovation Support Centre for Educational Technology & Interoperability Studies (CETIS);
•    the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning project creating innovative higher degree frameworks (IDIBL);
•    the TenCompetence European research project developing a lifelong competence development infrastructure for Europe;

I work on the IDIBL project with Stephen Powell and Mark Johnson – an enormous pleasure to refine and improve the Ultraversity model we created in Ultralab at Anglia Ruskin University in 2003 and which is still running. The model is of work-focussed action inquiry as a means to learning, supported by colleagues, online community, facilitators and experts.

After IEC’s success in the recent Research Assessment Exercise, we are able to ramp up our activity in this area and are looking to extend our research group in IEC to focus on the following topics:
•    systematic institutional transformation;
•    organisational improvement;
•    inquiry-based learning;
•    learning with technology;
•    interoperability and standards;
•    learning design;
•    assessment and portfolios;
•    lifelong competencies.

Key features of the learning experience for new members of the research group are:
•    improvement in current work context as the focus for study which enables work full time and study full time;
•    completion of Masters in 15 months, PhD in three years;
•    study online with no need for attendance;
•    learning together as an online community with access to IEC experts;
•    assessment to fit creative and work expertise.

A competitive bursary scheme for PhD will help lower the costs for successful applicants.
If you feel that you fit the bill, then we would be delighted to  to discuss further – mail me at r.millwood [at] bolton.ac.uk or call me on +44 779 055 8641

Opting for innovation

Just read Paul Haigh’s blog on opting-out of Building Schools for the Future ICT , in which he speaks of the injustice for leading & innovating schools –

“The DCSF will say there is a fair procedure in place for schools who feel the way we do- they have 42 days to produce an Alternative Business Procurement Case that the business experts in their Local Authority will have had 18 months to work on (in our case 107 pages long).”

and he continues to say –

“This is a trick, there is no way any school can show economy of scale (even though I actually have the figures to prove we can- it won’t be accepted, it’s sacrilege to suggest it) or show ‘transference of risk’ (we don’t talk about transferring the risks of educating our children elsewhere, we talk about professionals taking responsibility in house- isn’t this a lesson from the credit crunch?)”

It’s hard not to sympathise, but I wonder: can schools like Paul’s club together across the UK and share the burden?

Isn’t this an excellent opportunity for open source procurement thinking?

Leading CPD in the School – Using Web 2.0 Tools

The logo of TeacherNet UK - a project to revitalise CPD for teachers using the online community and the internet from 1998

(This is the logo of TeacherNet UK – a project to revitalise CPD for teachers by using online community and the internet from 1996-2000, after which it became the name of the governments’ website to provide unified information for teachers.)

This seminar lead by Professor Marilyn Leask at Brunel University, feels like a revisit of the work we did over ten years ago when the internet was fresh.

The question is how to best exploit technology to enhance continuing professional development for teachers? I have five minutes to answer…

… and of course the easy way out is to pose two further questions:

What is it about Facebook?

Facebook is highly successful in maintaining vibrant relationships between people, which leads me to ask:

  1. Is it a successful online community or is it a social network?
  2. How is it achieving this without facilitation?

I think it’s a tool which permits both online community and social network and there is a need to reconsider these terms and their meaning. Its success perhaps derives from these four things (amongst others):

  • simple ownership and participation, the ability to make your own space and express creativity by putting your own material in it;
  • automated gossip, the reporting of other user’s activity;
  • some control over privacy and membership in hands of the user including identifying relationships with others;
  • a route for creative developers to extend the system.

Such features continue to be innovated and prevent us from settling on a specification – we need a platform able to change without confusing participants.

How should we conceptualise CPD?

I have been working at the University of Bolton in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics to build an undergraduate and masters degree framework, the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning project (IDIBL),  which permits any professional practice to be explored in the workplace and online. In devising this framework, we tried hard to leave the subject discipline to be determined by context and to focus on inquiry discipline. Nevertheless there remained  a problem of how to form viable online communities to study in this way, and our solution was themes.

In the world of teacher CPD, I argue that a multi-professional theme such as ‘Every Child Matters’ would form the basis for such a theme. In this kind of CPD, masters study is undertaken together with the social worker, health professional, special needs expert and police in order to gain a rounded understanding of a learner-centred improvement in practice.

Thus I would applaud the GTCE for considering action inquiry a central process in the Teacher Learning Academy, but extend that thinking to include a broader online community of the professionals that surround the challenge society faces in transforming schooling. And, benefit from the know-how in higher education of action research methodology and the opportunity for peer evaluation at a high level of rigour.