Small and Connected

A few days ago I received a beautiful photograph.

Our daughter Beth sent us a picture of our granddaughter’s first pair of shoes.

The smallness of her feet is put into context by her father’s shoes.

Our granddaughter’s shoes were fitted by a very careful shoe shop assistant.

This picture encapsulates symbolically much of my thinking at present. I am becoming more and more interested in personalisation and learning. To develop my own practice I have been reflecting on ideas shared by Satish Kumar and the Hartland Small School:

The Small School is within walking distance of children’s homes, so that there is no need to take children away from their family and village life.

Almost all of the teachers in the Small School live within the community of Hartland itself. They teach French, rural sciences, biology, chemistry, creative writing, history, pottery, drama, folk songs, cookery, gardening, and more. Few have undergone teacher training, but all are experienced in the school of life and are very happy to share their skills and experiences with the children of the community. And in doing so, they show the children how many different ways it is possible to earn one’s livelihood.

The Small School is not compulsory and there are no fees for attendance. We did not want it to become like an elite school, which only the rich can afford, nor did we want to suffer from government intrusion. Therefore, the Small School operates with contributions and donations from the parents and with grants from foundations, which ensures that it remains at a human scale.

Hartland Small School aims “to achieve a balance between the academic, the practical, the artistic, and the spiritual. We are small enough for all children to know each other, for all teachers to know all the students, and for parents to know all the teachers. We aim to work across age groups rather than having a secondary experience which only allows for work within one age group. We want to be firmly based in the community of Hartland, and be able to respond to this special place, but we also offer opportunities for students to travel beyond the village for cultural experiences.”

I am very confident that small scale organisation of learning is made even more possible by the connections we can make between learning communities. In making this case I am reminded of Ernst Friedrich Shumacher‘s suggestion that “Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful.”

It is a wonderful synergy that our grandaughter’s first pair of shoes appeared 100 years after Shumacher’s birth. That they appeared in a town committed to sustainability and transition is very special.

Photo Credit

Hartland, North Devon

Literary Institute

Technology Enhanced Learning

The Faculty of Information Sciences and Engineering at the University of Canberra hosted a talk by Catherine McLoughlin today: Web 2.0 integration in Higher Education: it’s all about participation and personalisation.

Catherine is the coordinator of SiMERR ACT (Centre for Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia) and is in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Canberra. She is editor of the Australian Journal of Educational Technology and a member of the Editorial Board of the British Journal of Educational Technology. In addition, she is on the editorial boards of a number of leading international journals in the field of educational technologies and mentors early career academics in research and publication. Her research interests are interdisciplinary and related to pedagogical improvement and innovation, translating theory into practice –through appropriate learning design and learning environments; evidence based practice in education, the application of emerging and mobile technologies in higher  education and the development of underpinning research frameworks and theory for current ICT supported  teaching and learning. Catherine’s most recent publication is a co-authored book on Web 2.0 practices in higher education titled  Web 2.0-based e-learning: applying social informatics for tertiary teaching, published by IGI Global in August 2010 (Contents listed here).

Her talk focussed on:

the changing landscape of Web 2.0 practices and their impact on teaching and learning. As technologies have evolved, the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 signals more user-centered, participatory Web practices. By describing a typology of Web 2.0 tool types, a number of different pedagogical approaches are outlined. The opportunities and challenges for using these social networking tools in an educational context are discussed along with their implications for learners, focusing on three themes:

  • Digital literacy skills
  • The importance of task design
  • Pedagogies to engage learners

I was particularly interested her discussion of pedagogical transformation of teaching and learning.

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Catherine McLoughlin

Coaches as Technologists

I am writing this post in the delightful seaside town of Grange-over-Sands at a time when I should be meeting friends and colleagues in Doha, Qatar. My flight to Doha from Manchester was cancelled yesterday due to the most natural of events, the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, an Iceland volcano.

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Part of my time in Doha was going to be spent talking with coaches about technology and I think events in Iceland are a great reminder (if we needed reminding) about how basic we can be to support learning.

My thoughts about coaches as technologists are focussed on four themes and these were to be the basis of my conversations in Doha. Coaches as:

  • Educational Technologists
  • Users of Commercial Technologies
  • Users of Free Resources
  • Technology Developers

Educational Technologists

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Coaches facilitate learning and improve performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources. As such coaches (like teachers) are exemplary educational technologists. In this context coaches use “an array of tools that might prove helpful in advancing student learning” and educational technology is characterised by a broad definition of the word technology (material objects such as machines or hardware, and systems, methods of organization, and techniques).

I was going to exemplify this broad approach to educational technology with reference to, Katie Buckley, a PhD scholar in the National Institute of Sport Studies at the University of Canberra. In 2009, Katie worked with twelve football coaches (Australian Rules and Rugby Union) in four clubs. She noted that:

Coaches used their voices more than 20 dB louder than an everyday conversation. In some circumstances, this was over 40 dB louder. This louder volume occurred both indoors (meetings and indoor training) and when outside. Coaches used their voices around 20% of the time across training environments. This is comparable to other occupations that rely on their voice throughout the day (such as preschool teachers – 17%). This amount of voice use is considerably more than many other occupations, such as nursing and speech pathology (which range from 5-7%).

Katie concluded that:

This research showed that coaches are heavily reliant on their voices for success in their jobs. Despite not having considered their voices at work before, coaches were able to reflect on many aspects of their voice use. This included what impacted on their voices and what they found helpful to alleviate voice symptoms. However, they were generally unaware of why these strategies worked. They did not know how to prevent voice problems from developing. With greater knowledge about what impacts on their voices and how to use them effectively, there is good potential for coaches to improve their vocal health.

Discussions about coaches and technology almost always overlook voice and the organisation of training environments. I was hoping to draw out some of these ideas about the learning environments coaches create with a discussion of:

Users of Commercial Technologies

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Many coaches are innovators and early adopters of technologies. In the last two decades there has been an explosion of commercially available products that have interested coaches. In my Doha discussions I was going to look at:

  • Game and technical analysis
  • GPS tracking devices

These two categories exemplify the application of a particular kind of technology to sport. This SlideShare account shares some of the broader technology issues.

I think a discussion of the the paper by Randers, M. et al (2010) is an effective way to combine a discussion of game analysis and GPS tracking. The paper includes as authors Esa Peltola and my PhD colleague, Adam Hewitt. The paper concludes that “Our results show that the four systems were able to detect similar performance decrements during a football game and can be used to study game-induced fatigue. Rather large between-system differences were present in the determination of the absolute distances covered, meaning that any comparisons of results between different match analysis systems should be done with caution”.

I think this conclusion raises some great questions about automated data collection and the coach’s eye. It offers and opportunity to to explore the role augmented information plays in feedforward.

Users of Free Resources

Since late 2007 I have been exploring the possibilities of using cloud computing resources to share information openly amongst the coaching community. I was keen to develop the ideas I presented in Spotting (2009) and A Fourth Age of Sports Institutes (2009).

I am keen to explore how coaches and sport organisations with limited funds can develop a strong digital presence. As a case study I was going to present the work of my colleague, Leigh Blackall. He has the delightful role of Learning Commons Coordinator in the National Institute of Sport Studies at the University of Canberra.

Technology Developers

Just before my visit to the United Kingdom en route to Doha, I had an email from a coaching colleague in Australia. The coach had seen a paper by Ian White (2010) that described the development of “a potentially useful methodology for the capture, production, dissemination and viewing of stereoscopic video images using existing, low-cost technologies.” The coach picked up on the final sentence of the abstract to the paper “Applications in education as well as vocational and sports training are self-evident (coach’s emphasis).”

The coach’s enquiry is a great example of what Arthur Koestler called bisociation. Creativity in coaching is often made possible because  a coach joins unrelated, often conflicting, information in a new way.


I thought this fourth characteristic of coaching behaviour, technology developer, might be a good focus for all four characteristics of a coach mentioned in this post. I was keen to discuss in Doha how each coach develops his or her own learning environment. I do think that one of the next great developments in coaching, coach education and development will be the personalisation (individualisation) of coaching pathways and wayfinding. I imagined there to be a real workshop flavour to this part of my discussions.

I started this post with the report that a force of nature had prevented my travel to Doha. I am now using a digital technology to share in asynchronous time ideas I would have presented in synchronous time. My work is exploring how we can support each other even though we may be separated by thousands of kilometers and living in different time zones. I see this to be the digital dividend of our time and an approach that can support and develop conversations between colleagues with shared interests. I cite the example of CCK08, a connectivism course in 2008, as a guide to what can be achieved in this way.

I hope you find this post of interest wherever and whenever you read it. If Grange-over-Sands has a beach I am off to it!

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