Guest post from Matthew Bebbington @Bebbmeister: The power of data pictures

Hans Rosling’s belief is that ‘making information more accessible has the potential to change the quality of the information itself.”  I believe he is right. Rosling’s work provides a unique slant on how to present data in an exciting way that could purposefully enrich the way in which the 21st Century learner and teacher examines and display data.  One question you should ask yourself, as an educator, should be ‘ how can I use Rosling’s work to stimulate learning in the classroom?’

I could (hopelessly) try and describe his work but I think his TED biography summarises it brilliantly:

“Even the most worldly and well-travelled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the West. In fact, most of the Third World is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the West did.”

What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus. 

Rosling’s presentations are grounded in solid statistics (often drawn from United Nations data), illustrated by the visualization software he developed. The animations transform development statistics into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends clear, intuitive and even playful. During his legendary presentations, Rosling takes this one step farther, narrating the animations with a sportscaster’s flair. Rosling developed the breakthrough software behind his visualizations through his nonprofit Gapminder, founded with his son and daughter-in-law. The free software — which can be loaded with any data — was purchased by Google in March 2007. (Rosling met the Google founders at TED.)

As if all this weren’t enough, the irrepressible Rosling is also an accomplished sword-swallower — a skill he demonstrated at TED2007.

So please, watch, learn and be amazed! – download graphs to your desktop for free & use offline also.  There are also examples of gapminder being utilised by educators on the ‘For Teachers’ tab & a 2 minute video tutorial displaying the various uses of the interactive graphs.


What Google and Facebook Are Hiding And Its Implications On Education

GUEST POST from Mike Reading (@mikereading) 

“I came across this short TED Talk yesterday.  The premise is that Google and Facebook are now tailoring your internet experience by learning what you like and the types of links you follow and then only showing you more of the same.

There is a great screen shot of two identical search queries resulting in two very different search results.

My two favourite bits are found at:

2:15 – how Google personally tailors your results at 2:55 they show you the screen shots

3:40 “The internet is showing us a world we want to see not what we need to see”

So what are the implications on education?

Watch the video and I will give my thoughts below.

Here are a couple of implications:

If we tell our students to search for a certain topic or principle they might not all get the same answer.  This could be a problem if you want each of your students to have access to the same content.

Our students are not being exposed to the wealth of information available but potentially only one perspective.  Similarly they potentially will not have access to all the information for or against an argument, thus limiting their world view.

One of my passions is producing well rounded students who are able to read and discern the material in front of them.  This just took on a whole new meaning.  Now they will need to ask themselves is this the total picture?

One a positive side, if we are aware of this as teachers we can be talking the students about the issues that this can present not just in school but also in the ‘real world’.

Is it something to be overly concerned about? I’m not sure. It is something that I will be aware of and monitor in the future.

What are your thoughts?”


Visual Study Skills: bringing words and pictures together (pt2)

Sunni Brown’s TEDx talk needs to be linked up with her great article entitled, “The Miseducation of the Doodle” (you can follow her on Twitter @SunniBrown) all of which are great for the linking of pictures and words. It ties in with some work I am currently developing around how we design learning opportunities that foster visual thinking to represent information. There’s much to this, plus all the joys you’ll find in the field of infographics and a whole host of visual interpreters who are developing their techniques in an effort to make sense of the enormity of the information available to us in the digital world.

I’m sure I’ll find some more links to bring it together. But for now, it makes me think that this is an area that I need to spend more time on when I’m designing learning. One of the integral qualities of a discerning learner is their ability to sort, sift and select the most meaningful tenets of information so that others might access the knowledge that they have discovered, re-interpreted or even created from scratch. For me, this demands that we consider the ways in which we offer opportunities to our learners to be able to present their information. Such presentations of understanding can certainly serve as a valuable and public validation of learner-thinking. In addition, such visual presentations will help to consolidate their own knowledge and deepen their understanding.

The importance of being able to identify the relationships between concepts, ideas and knowledge is a valuable part of the process of understanding. To do this visually not only provides us with the opportunity to ‘show’ our thinking, but enables us to create a very uniques and personal expression of our understanding. With a class full of 30 students, the diversity of the individual expressions is a discussion point in itself. It’s a bit more than thought-showers and mind maps and, as such, seems to be something that I can certainly consider designing as a focus area for deliberate practice in lessons.

Sunni Brown is a business owner, creative director, speaker, and co-author of one of Amazon’s Top 100 Business Books in C&I titled GameStorming: A Playbook for Rule-breakers, Innovators and Changemakers. She’s best known for her large-scale live content visualizations at meetings and events, and she is also the leader of The Doodle Revolution—a growing effort to debunk the myth that doodling is a distraction. She plans to teach the world how to master “strategic doodling” in her 2nd book, The Doodle Revolution.

Autonomy: trusting that students really CAN do it for themselves

Sugata Mitra shares his findings from the “Hole in the wall project”. If ever we needed evidence that standing back and allowing learners to explore, discover and learn for themselves, this is it.

So what is the role of the teacher? Has Sugata provided us with evidence that teachers are redundant? Well, no. But it does provide us with an important message about who should be doing WHAT in the classroom and what the role of the teacher needs to be. I think of the role of the teacher in the 21st century as an ‘Expert Pedagogue’. 

It connects, for me, to the work undertaken by John Hattie, found in ‘Visible Learning’. Some of the most powerful findings from this work for me are as follows…

Teaching is an intrusive intervention – I think of this as more of an ‘interruption’ in another person’s thinking. Because of this, we (practitioners) must make sure that these interruptions are both mindful and deliberate. Just as a teacher intervention has the power to accelerate the thinking of a student, so, too can it obstruct the thinking of a student.

Now this is nothing new, I admit. But what it does do for me is to remind me about the importance of every interaction between teacher and student. As far as possible, I need to ensure that each and every one of my interruptions is deliberate and really well planned. These interruptions really need to earn their place in the classroom to make sure that they result in the progression of thinking, rather than the halting of thinking. 

If I mistime my intervention, I may well shut down any deep thinking. I may detract from the requires time and reflection that is integral to the learning process. So for me, it’s about asking myself:

How often do I deliberately hold back and allow people to ponder? When working with teachers, this is can be a particularly challenging thing to do as often, I find it hard to resist the temptation to jump in, push on and ‘get though the stuff…’

What can I do in the learning opportunities that I design that will create and nurture the space and time that is necessary for deep, ponderous thought? What does a ‘Pondering learning environment’ look, sound and feel like? And how would it be judged by others?

What do I need to do to establish a ponderous climate for learning that is both thoughtful and purposeful? 

How much courage will it take to really step back, to observe with my eyes and ears in order to inform my interventions? (And how will this feel for me and for the learners?)

Do I have the courage to test Sugata’s theory that, if left to their own learning resources, learners (adults and young people) will be able to progress their own learning? This will hinge on achieving, as with all the good stuff, a quality balance between mindful interventions and thoughtful observations.

The role of the expert pedagogue is characterised by this delicate balance between the observation of learning and provision of timely quality feedback. This is rests on the ability to foster quality learning conversations that both progress thinking and promote self-efficacy in/ for all learners.

Much to ponder…

Climate for creativity: permission to copy

Johanna Blakley offers some fascinating insight here into how we can make a distinction between creative innovation and copying. She explores the relatively free-of-copyright world of the fashion industry and suggests that it is this very freedom that forces innovative thinking and discovery. 

Within the context of the classroom, this open-sharing can be a real challenge. When we ask our students to research information that will inform their thinking, we are, in truth, asking them to first discover and second draw upon this existing knowledge to help them construct their own, new (to them, at least) knowledge. What we are desperate to avoid in this process, however, is a student simply copying the information that they discover and replicating what is already known. We want all our students to demonstrate a sophisticated degree of discernment in how they consider and select information as a part of their personal knowledge-construction.

When it comes to asking students to think creatively, then, what must we do? I think that Johanna’s observations here might help. She presents the case that in the least regulated industries, we find the greatest degree of innovation. Why? Because if your idea is easy to copy, then people will copy it. But they will do it within their own context, using the resources available to them and inevitably, it will be an adaptation of the original. It is at the point of adaptation that creative thinking takes place. Just as when 30 students are asked to write their own critical analysis of the same piece of prose, you know that you’ll get thirty different responses. 

This makes me consider the age-old difficulty of how we assess creativity. What must we ask in order to test the quality of creative thinking?

Well, Johanna’s talk prompted me to ponder this (and I am in no way certain as to whether this works or not, so bear with me, please)…

If you come up with something that is truly innovative, something that is underpinned by considered and sophisticated thinking, then this will be far harder to adapt and certainly, harder to replicate. In that way, it can stand alone and become a trend-setter in its own right and, if you’re lucky, not only stand the test of time but reach iconic status, and you with it. It is the depth of thinking that underpins the innovation that is put to the test here, alongside the creative output itself.

So I wonder how we go about assessing the quality of thinking (not limited to creative thinking alone, here). Once we have asked students to draw upon existing knowledge and to collaborate with each other to generate ideas, perhaps we can ask a few ‘test-the-thinking’ questions. These might look like this:

How easy will this idea be to copy? (Show me how you might do this)
How might you improve upon it and make it more accessible, more functional, more relevant etc? (Have a go at making the necessary improvements and adaptations and explain why you’ve made these decisions and changes)
What elements of the original idea will stand the test of time? (Identify these and explain the ways in which you think these elements will ‘stick’)
What might be created in time to replace this? (Create a design/ rationale/ proposal for a replacement idea/ concept/ design and explain how this supersedes the original)

The ideal conditions for this creative thinking to happen are openness, sharing and collaboration. A very different physical and pedagogical model from my own school experience. If this is the case, this serves as a great rationale to use when designing learning environments and considering our pedagogy so that it deliberately facilitates collaborative learning. 

As Johanna states in her talk, the democratisation of fashion leads to the development of trends; people copy others, but as they do, they place their own personal ‘twist’ on the original. To move from trend-follower to trend-setter, you need to stay ahead of the trends. It is here that new innovations are born. But what is also noticeable here is that it is the trend that drives the innovation, not the other way round. 

This makes me reflect upon moving my own pedagogical practice forward. It makes me wonder whether I can use this to reassure myself that the best kind of professional development comes about as a result of the prioritisation of teacher action research and enquiry in and between our own schools. When we think and discuss our world of learning in such an open and collaborative manner, then learning could well start to develop as our very own innovative global brand.  Perhaps it already has? As such it is characterised as a powerful movement membership to which is what everybody craves. After all, if we return to Johanna’s talk and the reasons why fashion is so copyright-free, learning is surely far too utilitarian to be copyrighted. 

So if we can continue to learn together within the open and accessible education community supported by Web 2.0 technologies (blogs and twitter at the very least) and through the establishment of professional learning networks then I reckon we will succeed in maintaining authentic participatory access to the brand of learning to as wide an audience as possible. 

Democratisation of learning is characterised by a shared ownership that cuts across all backgrounds, ages and culture. From within the existing masses of followers of our very own innovative learning brand, we may be starting to see the trend-setters emerging. These are the innovators, the collaborators and the applied ideologists. It is from here then, that new systems of learning will grow and develop which will indeed stand the test of time.

Well, that’s what I was thinking about when I listened to this talk. Thank you to @ICTtower for recommending it. 

Teaching with passion: passionate learning

Emily Pilloton shows just how an individual’s passion can influence and bring about significant change on a local, regional and national level. For me, this talk summarises what is really means to be passionate about a subject or activity. Her focus here is on how the power of teaching design can bring about positive engagement from individuals and communities. But I reflected on the fact that it is her passion for what she does that brings about real change above all else.

After I watched this talk the first time, I made a promise to myself to stop being apologetic about being SO into all-things-learning. It is hard but I really think it is working.

Whereas once I would introduce a video clip, a resource or a book to a group of teachers with the self-deprecating mantra, “…it’s because I have no life that I find these things interesting…” I now simply say, “Watch this, it’s really great. I think you’ll enjoy it., I did”. Or words to that effect.

I love to be inspired by people, young and old. It is for this reason that I watch so many people speak online or at conferences or read what they write. The inspiration I experience often comes not from the subject that they talk about but from the passion with which they talk about it. In this way, I manage to get my regular fix of inspiration from a diverse range of people from a diverse range of fields. I also know a lot more about quantum physics than I ever thought I would, but that’s another story.

What this talk does is show how passion can change not only your own life but the lives of those around us. Sir Ken Robinson talks about this very subject in his book, “The Element’. Perhaps if we have the courage to teach with such passion, we will also be and see just such changes occurring around us.

Collaboration: as with all learning, is too important to be left to chance

Jane McGonigal presents a great argument here that attempts to demonstrate the potential force for good that could exist within games-playing. Games like World of Warcraft require a commitment on the part of the participants to collaborate with their fellow players in order to achieve their goals.

For me, this brings me back to considering the power of games-dynamics in themselves and of the need for students to get as many opportunities as possible to learn together, in groups. The structure and integral components that underpin interactive games-playing might be translated into a some form of taxonomy of learning design. Here’s a very rough draft of what it might look like:


  • Identifies what needs to be done in order to achieve goals
  • Recognises that attainment of goals cannot be done independently of others
  • Identifies who and/or what can help in the attainment of such goals
  • Adapts own behaviour so as to foster collaboration from others
  • Collaborates with others to achieve own goals
  • Works effectively with others to achieve own goals
  • Is prepared to offer collaborative expertise to achieve goals of others
  • Recognises that working with others is more effective than working independently
  • Actively seeks out further collaborative opportunities with others


And so on.

And what if we created a game-scenario that was intended to solve some of the world’s greatest problems and handed this over to our students? How might this encourage learners to engage with the wider world and begin a process of problem solving from which innovative solutions might emerge? We know it works, after all. Consider the way in which the human gene was finally coded, or the creation of WIkipedia or…well, you know what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we should ditch the curriculum and get students to start playing WoW. What this talk does make me think about, however, is how collaborative skills need to be deliberately practised just as much as skills in calculus, research or reading. As I’ve said before in posts and I’m writing about in other forms at the moment, if we can design learning in such a way that it offers engaging opportunities for students to mindfully practise the skills required to collaborate, then surely that’s one step closer to their readiness to both give and take from the world everything it has to offer?

Other TED Talks on related to this and that have similar connections to learning include Seth Priebatsch and Tom Chatfield.

Policy & Practice: Tread softly on their dreams

Sir Ken Robinson: Part Two”. This talk follows up Sir Ken Robinson’s original TED talk with a call for a revolution, rather than reformation in education. I particularly like his request that we ‘disenthrall’ ourselves from that which we have become accustomed. The original text of the Lincoln speech he quotes is worth a read, and possible a wordle

All in all, with this talk, I suggest you just sit back, watch, listen and reflect. Oh, and don’t forget to make yourself a cup of tea to drink while you watch. And then go to to check out his video responses to tweeted questions about education. Oh, and then read some of his books.

And no, I’m not on commission. I promise.

Here’s those fabulous cognitive media peeps again. A 10 minute animation of his address on the same topic. 

Engaging learners: games dynamics & lesson design

Seth Priebatsch gives an enthusiastic talk about the way in which business is learning from games dynamics. For me, from the start of his energetic talk, I simply substitute ‘learning design’ for ‘business’ and keep on listening. I write a lot more about this in my book but for now, this talk gives a great illustration of the way in which humans are engaging in Web 2.0 or rather, how Web 2.0 is encouraging engagement from humans.

There’s much here to consider, but the highlights include his explanation of how a simple progress bar can be incorporated into daily activities to encourage us to finish them. I’m working with a school who are doing just this in a project with some gifted and talented learners to encourage them to take the time to actively reflect on their learning and complete a personal learning blog. Before it becomes a habit, we need to practice and get good at an activity. When we do this, we start to experience a greater, deeper sense of achievement and we want to go back back for more. And that’s what we want. A learning addiction. That’s what I want, anyway! There’s some great ideas here that can easily be incorporated into the way in which we design learning. 

Nice if learning became as big as Nike or Adidas or Nintendo or Apple or…well, you get what I mean.

Digital Learners: when potential meets potential

Patte Maes and Pranav Mistry (who has a fantastically designed website btw) from MIT shared this presentation of their work from the MIT lab. This is a great example of what provide us with; an insight into a world of cutting edge research and insightful thinking before it gets into the mainstream. I love this about TED. We get to see some of the raw stuff as well as some of the polished, ready-for-distribution stuff. But at its heart is the ‘Sharing of Ideas’. And isn’t that what schools are all about, after all?

Anyway, we recently used this film as part of a project with a cohort of ‘able but quiet’ year 8 students from 9 participating schools and they loved it. We asked them to research and then present a response to ‘What will the life of an average 15 year old be like in 2025?’. It was a long term project run collaboratively over 7 months. The students ran their own research groups and organised their meeting and deadlines without intervention from their adult facilitator. The effect of this particular film was to really open up their thinking and freed them up to get very creative about what they suggested might be invented by the time 2025 came around. As teachers too, it reinforced for us the fundamental need to develop digital literacy in ourselves as well as in our learners.