Learning Without Frontiers 2012 Day One


We’ve just filed into the Main Theatre here at the Olympia Conference Centre on Hammersmith Road in London, the same venue that hosted the BETT Conference 2 weeks ago. A different area of the venue is being used – instead of using the huge open area utilised for the BETT Expo, a narrower, longer space is being used to house big, white, inflatable domes with displays in them. I spotted a Nintendo Dome, and it’s full of 3DSs set up for delegates to have a go on. I’ll be going back for a closer look and a chat.

Morning Sessions – Learning Futures


There are three huge screens at the front of the theatre, and Noam Chomsky has appeared on all three – it’s a pre-recorded interview about learning and education.

He discusses two ideas of “education”, indoctrinarian and inquiry. He asks “are you trained for passing tests or are you trained for solving problems creatively?”. He talks about how learners need to be able to approach a resource as large as the internet with a framework/driectives in order to navigate and find what you need, not just random “factoids”. He states that information is not enough, we need to learn how to question and analyse. He adds that “taking tests can be of some use for both the person taking the test…and instructors (for development the course of instruction) but apart from that, they don’t tell you very much”. A person can do magnificently on every test without understanding the topic well at all. Lastly he notes that “passing tests doesn’t begin to compare with searching and inquiring into topics that excite and engage us” and, my favourite quote, “it doesn’t matter what you cover, it matters what you dis-cover.”


Learning Without Frontiers founder Graham Brown-Martin (@GrahamBM) is speaking, using iPromptPro on his iPad2 – a great app for presenting, I use it every time I present now. Love the bit about how he said his daughter only knows the 21st century, but we (educators) are still discussing the 21st century in terms of how best to teach her Geography. For her, technology “just is”. She is a master of AppleTV, Nintendo 3DS and YouTube. She can manage Google without any issues. She is 6.

As educators we need to take into account that students come to us with better digital knowledge than most teachers and to tap into it rather than shying away from it – I don’t believe it’s fair to have students “gear down” while at school, so to speak.


Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near and Founder of The Singularity University is on stage. Here’s his Website. Here’s Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns. The main topic throughout his talk was exponential growth in education, technology, biology, health and medicine. It took 400 years for the printing press to be adopted by a mass audience. Sanitation took 100 years to be adopted. It took 7 years for the cell phone to be adopted by the masses. Social media took 3 years.

Kurzweil describes technologies such as calculators and search engines as Brain extenders. When calculators were introduced to schools, some educators feared students would not learn arithmetic as thoroughly and would rely on the calculator.

Kurweil states that “young people plus ideas plus passion” change the world. Technology accelerates the process. Do it in school! When talking about students at his University he says that young people who are already changing the world are of interest. “A young woman who has designed a way to convert swamp water into safe drinking water is of interest to us. A young man who designed an iPhone App with a million download is of interest to us”. Kurzweil says that for him, education should be more about creativity and the ability to solve problems. And I agree with him. Here’s one last great quote from Kurweil’s talk: “Your daughter can’t take her iPad to school? That’s foolish”.

So are our students coming out of school with the creativity and problem solving abilities discussed? Can they, if they are completing worksheets daily?


Debbie Forster, Interim CEO of CDI Europe, is on next. She talks Apps for Good which is a problem-solving course where students work from their own interests and passions, through a vigorous 5 step program to solve a related problem. Students do market research, put together business models and more. Classroom teachers are trained as part of the program and resources are available on line. The program involves 200 experts visiting schools, Skyping with students and participating in online forums to offer advice to students.

Jaron Lanier is a man with THE longest dreadlocks I have ever seen. He is a musician, artist and computer scientist for Microsoft. He unpacks this amazing looking musical instrument that he explains is in the same family as the mouth organ, and is called a Sheng. Lanier tells us that “innovation knocks on the door via mistakes”. He mentions that he was part of the team that made gadgets for use in the movie Minority Report. He shared stories about creating things for use in Hollywood blockbusters such as extra limbs and gadgets. A great idea he is sharing is about the use of Avatars in education, and says “turn kids into avatars that are the things they are studying. For example when teaching chemistry – turn a kid into a molecule. If you are the molecule, that molecule is interesting because it’s you… it gets very interesting very quickly”.


Ellen MacArthur shared stories about her dream of becoming a Veteranarian, which were shattered when she scored 1 point lower than required in her mock exams and was told not to bother trying to be a vet because she wasn’t smart enough. When this happened she returned to her childhood dream of sailing around the world, which she did. Ellen has now left professional sailing to found the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which works with companies to assist them rethink and redesign what they do with finite resources.

Discussing mobile technology and it’s impact is GSMA’s Michael O’Hara. This guy comes from Belfast, lives in Boston and works in London – “distance is irrelevant”. He predicts that the world will hit 24 billion mobile connections in the next ten years. He says that when using devices students are workers, teachers are coaches and that “kids are waaaaay ahead of us with this stuff and can do amazing things”.


Keri Facer, a Professor of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, is speaking about how we need an education that helps us to live with our technologies, live through environmental change, build intergenerational and social solidarity and to create real economic resilience.


Afternoon Sessions – How Innovation Happens


After a sad lunch (I was given a nice looking couscous salad but told there were currently no forks and that “more have been ordered” – I never saw them) we have wandered back into the main theatre for the afternoon sessions with the theme How Innovation Happens. First up is Charles Leadbeater.

Charles presented a keynote at the 2010 DEECD Innovations Showcase, where he was introduced as Charles Leadbeater. Here he has been introduced as Charles “Leadbetter”. So we’ve ben saying it wrong back home!

PS. Sitting in the seats directly in front of me are Conrad Wolfram and Michael Brooks. I’m hoping to gain some knowledge through osmosis while in such close proximity.

His new book is called Innovation in Education: A Million Tiny Revolutions and is for sale outside the door, and is named this so it turns up in Google searches for the terms “innovation” and “education”. Google is the death of metaphor, Mr Leadbeater jokes, as he wanted it to be called “Doors to Infinity”.

Leadbeater suggests that “new ideas come from mavericks, mixtures and margins”, people who are “leading a movement, not running a system”. He states that we need an education system that follows what he calls The Barcelona Principles – Move, pass, connect, always.


Conrad Wolfram , founder of Wolfram Research Europe Ltd and computerbasedmath.org and brother of the creator of WolframAlpha, is talking about Math. Or Maths. In the US it’s Math, in the UK and Australia it’s Maths. Wolfram thinks that Maths is a better descriptor, as he believes there are 2 types of Math: real world and school based.

He discusses and argues the advice from some experts to teachers (get the basics right, computers dumb maths down and hand-calculating procedures teach understanding) in regards to the teaching of Mathematics in schools.

“Get the basics right” – Wolfram questions this – “basics of what exactly?” Of the subject (maths) itself. He suggests problem centred maths – design a currency, how many levels of friends are we separated by on Facebook, making a perfect password for a login, what is a beautiful shape and here’s a face – what happens when it is compressed?

“Computers dumb maths down” – this annoys Wolfram and he asks “have computers really diminished learning? Computers have allowed much more powerful modelling and analysis, because computers do the calculating”.

“Hand-calculating procedures teach understanding” – Wolfram agrees to some extent and shares his belief in the importance of students learning how to follow a process to solve an equation.

Launch of the Wolfram UK Programming Challenge, where UK students can create learning demonstrations to share of Wolfram Alpha with the aim of producing the best demonstration.

We have to fix assessment – the completely dumb way in which people are assessed. It needs to involve computers and be much more open ended.

Michael Brooks (@drmichaelbrooks) is a scientist and author and campaigns for science education, and the importance of it, in the face of the perception that it can be dull and boring. I only saw the very beginning of his talk before…


I suddenly realised I was meant to be in a session elsewhere, snuck out and ended up in an inflatable dome, watching people write on post-it notes about project-based learning, extended learning relationships, school as base camp and school as learning commons. I’m not sure how but I’ve been bypassed for 2 rounds of sticky-notes and some sort of sign up sheet, and I can’t hear my group’s discussion as their backs are turned. It seems that the presenter is from a company that produces publications on project-based learning, and is handing out proof copies for free. They have collected the group brainstorms and are keeping them for future reference. I don’t learn a lot from this session and wish I had stayed for more of Michael Brooks’ talk.


I’ve come back into the main theatre and found the seat I left earlier. I had to ask a man if I could please get past him. He seems a bit annoyed with me. I soon realise, as he gets up on stage, that he is Ed Vaizy MP, opposition spokesman and Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industry. Well, big deal, I needed to get to my seat.

While Mr Vaizy talks about how the education system needs to be porous and flexible and that the enthusiasm of LWF delegates needs to be harnessed and directed by the government, I have googled something that 3 presenters have now mentioned – a cheap computer called a Raspberry Pi.

4.20pm Afternoon Break, and another delegate and I were very resourceful in locating a powerpoint to charge our laptops. My little MacBookPro did well to last the 9 hours since I unplugged it this morning. I’m back up to 23% and good to go.

Oh, and look who I met in the break!


Jakob Kragh, President of Lego Education has taken the stage to great applause for the Lego product (because who doesn’t love Lego?). He is talking about nurturing creativity and innovation in schools, and the fact that a lot of student learning is occurring outside of the school setting. “All children are creative, and we want to put them in a situation that enables them to explore that creativity”. The skill of learning, the will of learning and the thrill of learning, resulting in the students wanting to learn more. Kragh says “we believe” that introducing play into the classroom is important for education in many subject areas, e.g. being able to build the structures they are learning about. Lego robotics project for science and mathematics education.

Mr Kragh then had people distribute little packets of Lego to everyone in the audience, and asked us all to build a duck in 60 seconds. There was much discussion and laughter around this activity, and everyone around me created a different duck. My duck was VERY different. It’s the one on the left, obviously.

This short exercise brought home the point, reiterated by Kragh, that everyone is unique, and students learn through their own creativity, and that Lego Education are working with schools to tap into this to enhance the link between learning and play.

The final speaker for today is Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of NESTA, an organisation which promotes innovation as a way to solve economic and social challenges. Mulgan puts forward the thought that the iPod is not the idea of Steve Jobs or Jonathan Ive: if you take it apart it’s an assembly, a hybrid, of other people’s ideas put together in a way that makes sense, making each element more powerful. Mulgan also mentions that the digital education field is currently relatively evidence free, and NESTA is looking for evidence.

He recommends the book Redirect by Timothy Wilson, about a new set of ideas in psych and accounts of programs in the us for cutting teen preg, reducing crime and encouraging positive social interactions.

He shares his concern that there are small pockets of innovation that are only small and how little our system has changed. He suggests that in education there should be small trials for changes in the system and not across a whole state/country as has been done in the past, and “making mistakes on a colossal level”, affected the learning of many students.


We’ve just returned to the hotel after the Learning Without Frontiers Awards, which were both fun and sad. They were hosted by Dallas Campbell, presenter on BBC’s Big Bang Goes the Theory, a science show. He was good fun in his role as presenter. There were awards for innovators and innovations in the primary, secondary and tertiary education sectors. There was also a special award presented by Tony Parkin (@tonyparkin) and Dawn Hallybone (@dawnhallybone) to the wife of Tom Cooper, who passed away in December, recognising his enthusiasm and dedication to ICT in education.  I’m fairly sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

So that was Day One of Learning Without Frontiers 2012. More to come tomorrow with another big day!

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4 Responses to Learning Without Frontiers 2012 Day One

  1. Evie Heumann says:

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    Is this ok to add this article to my facebook fan page, i think they would love this stuff

  3. Candid says:

    Good points all around. Truly apdaicertep.

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