MS Podcast#86


The 86th MediaSnackers podcast features education and technology guru Stephen Heppell.

(WORLD) The MediaSnackers podcast focusses on individuals, organisations or companies who are simply impressing us and which are crying out for more discussion.

Stephen Heppell is passionate and insightful plus one of the world’s leading online education and technology experts.

0.00—0.27 intros
0.28—1.09 Stephens focus
1.10—2.32 what has changed for young people
2.33—5.12 “eyes on the horizon, feet on the ground”
5.13—8.00 digital divide discussion
8.01—9.02 the barriers
9.03—11.19 future exciting challenges
11.20—11.32 outro

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Stephen Heppell: Yeah. Hello, everyone. I’m Professor Stephen Heppell. These days I work for myself. In fact, I have a company, I’m still a professor in a few institutions but I’m really my own boss, which is fabulous. It gives me time to go sailing.

DK: And so tell us a bit about your focuses, then Stephen.

Stephen Heppell: I’ve got a very simple focus. I just want to change the world a little bit or actually, I just want to help the world to change itself and just help take some of the barriers down that are in the way of all that. I’m building new schools all around the world. I’m designing new models of assessment to working on the new media, developing new television channels, doing a lot of publicity work and then organizing eight or nine countries at the moment and really having the time of my life. One of the nice things about running your own business is when people ask you to do something, if you don’t want to do it you can just say “no” and that means I’m very efficient at using the term.

DK: Well, I know you focused very much on school and pedagogy and new media and technology as well. Tell us from your perspective, your experiences while, you’ve been in this arena for a while, now. What has changed for young people in the last 25 years?

Stephen Heppell: Well, I don’t think there’s a ripple in the gene pool. You know, I think our cognitive processes are still pretty firmly in place. When you get back to the pharaohs, I expect and the model of learning, you know, you do things without the sense of audience for what you’re doing with a bit of passion, some eccentricities, some challenge, some executive reference, some feeling of your self moving forward. I mean, that model of learning, which I think is unashamedly constructivist you know, is a pretty much a constant but the things that have changed everything. So, if you look back on the 1950 to 2000 period, which I think was a moment of complete aberration, where we built these ghastly factories.

You know, the curriculum was delivered and wisdom was received, I think we’re starting to break out of that and some of the things that we’re dreadful about that. You know, putting children in boxes, physically in boxes in terms of the time table, the curriculum. Bizarre things like ringing the bell at lunchtime and expecting 1,000 teenagers to all be hungry at the same time or dressing them identically. Now, what use could there be for uniform children in the 21st century? You know, I think what’s changed is people are starting to realize that was just barking mad, and now we’re moving forward at last towards a new 21st century model of learning.

DK: So, I know you’ve got a philosophy of “eyes on the horizon, feet on the ground.” Could you kind of expand that especially in terms of the digital infrastructure we’re now finding ourselves in, digital spaces that we find ourselves in?

Stephen Heppell: Well, I’m very lucky because I think this is partly with being old, actually and I’m very lucky that I’ve always been able to see what was coming next. And it’s interesting how people misunderstand the future direction when the internet started to appear and immediately this wonderful sort of matrix of people simply exchanging and working with each other. You know, creating their own websites, started to appear. The corporations completely misinterpreted this and rush around chanting “content is king” and spend vast amounts of money you know, building huge online repositories of stuff that nobody was interested in.

I guess it was pretty clear I think the content was never going to be king. Community was only going to be sovereignized when a lot of the, during the 1990’s , building online communities spaces, TESCO school networks, which was at the time period, the biggest internet learning project in the world because the view it from the Guinness Book of World Records. I was really hoping for a place in Guinness. But some of those large scale things were just showed absolutely with clarity that this is a social world we’re in. It’s not a world of stuff, it’s a world of people and just advancing. One of the things that clearly is an important part of that horizon we’re heading towards, is a sense of who because I think the internet’s slightly built upside down. Isn’t it?

It’s full of universal resource locators so I can find your stuff. You know, I go to MediaSnackers, there it is and it is it’s podcast, but it’s very hard to find people. You know, you listen to the podcast and you go “oh.” You know, I might like to chat to him, I wonder where he is and you don’t know because there’s no universal person locator. So, you can still watch what’s happen – I’ll just turn it off. It’s my phone about to play “A life on the Ocean Waves” because one of the crew of my boat was trying to call me. I’ll shut it off, now, turned off.

But I think you can sense that that sense of identity is going to be enormously important or interesting to hear that the ringtone tells me immediately who that person is. And you can see that on the internet. People have been struggling to express themselves. They say, “Well, you can’t find me, but you can find my stuff but my stuff’s very personal. Here’s my blog or my stuff’s very personal. Here’s my podcast.” And you get a sense of people who are reaching out for identity and honestly. You know eyes on the horizon, feet on the ground, is about being very pragmatic about where we are but keeping, just standing back far enough to see what the future’s going to look like. And that’s a very, very important role. I regret that heaps of more people don’t do it.

DK: Definitely and especially in our experience. We’ve gone out and we’re delivering training and we’re seeing the noticeable vacuum in terms of people understanding this kind of digital world that we’re kind of growing up in and especially young people that are embracing it very much. And the big things we always come up against is kind of you know, the kind of, well, why does this matter to me as an individual or as an organization. And what they always throw back into us is, well, what about the digital divide? And you know –

Stephen Heppell: I know. That’s quite extraordinary that they should say that. I mean, I went past PC World the other day and I picked up a copy of the encyclopedia Britannica, which had remained there for £9.50. When I was a kid, that was a full time job for someone to go around house to house selling encyclopedias and wealthy families would put themselves into debt to buy the knowledge that they thought would help their children through school. And now, every single child, every single child has access to that stuff, absolutely free online from Britannica, from Wikipedia, from goodness knows where, from all those wonderful forums that you know where people debate in real detail you know, everything from handling food, to whatever your hobby happens to be.

So, I mean, I don’t begin to buy this digital divide stuff and what’s happened is the big impact that technology has been that the monopolies have crumbled. You know, the guys that used to do the job of booking your holiday have gone. Now, you scamper around the internet and find a cool place you want to go, find somebody that’s got a room you can afford. Who can contribute a flat for five quid even though it’s going to knock a hole in the atmosphere and off you go and you’ve done it all yourself. You know, so I think we’re in that generation of helping people to help each other.

This is a peer to peer world and I tell you what that could not be further from the digital divide. The guys that are going to get locked out of this, though and there are very few. I mean, remember I charity the inclusion trust, a really interesting inclusion of NotSchool which is a virtual school for children excluded from the school. The guys who can get locked out of this aren’t the people who haven’t got the technology because it’s cheap as chips. They aren’t the people who haven’t got access because you just feel the price disappearing. Think what you paid for a bandwidth you know, ten years ago, look at what you’re paying for bandwidth now. Peanuts. The guys who are going to get locked out are the guys who’ve got no place to put their stuff. They’ve got no place to represent their portfolio when they pass exams.

This is a midwife moving from China to work in London. She arrives in London and she tries to get the job in hospitals or she’s going to end up delivering pizza because there’s no way for representing the quality of her experience as a midwife in China or nobody recognizes the exams. These are the guys that are going to get locked out of the system. Forty percent of migrants into the U.K. have got undergraduate degrees and nobody cares about it and they’re all out doing menial jobs. So, in having a place to put your stuff that’s there forever, that you can go back to and say, “Here’s my portfolio. Here’s my long term me.” That’s the line where the digital divide draws.

DK: Okay.

Stephen Heppell: And I’ll tell you, but there aren’t very many people on the wrong side of it that we should really worry about them.

DK:Okay. And what about the barriers, then? You know, I come up with a lot of barriers, both policy and kind of personal and individual barriers. But what are the ones that you’re coming across day to day and week to week?

Stephen Heppell: There is only one barrier.

DK: Okay.

Stephen Heppell: And the barrier is our ambition. You know, time and time and time again people when they’re doing projects with children, with technology and learning, they say to me, “Wow. I’m just amazed by how far and how fast the children went. I’m astonished by the progress.” I tell you what, in the Caribbean, the work we’re doing with new school out there, we’re talking about doubling children’s performance in four years and the figures I see from around the world, from Singapore, from Australia, you know and obviously looking at some figures from the school in Australia, a four fold increase in children engagement, a four fold increase.

DK: Wow.

Stephen Heppell: So, the biggest barrier is a lack of ambition and I’ll tell you, in all honesty, I come from a century of work in this area, I don’t know how good kids can be with all this, but I do know they can be way better than we allow them to be, and that is the one big barrier, ambition.

DK: So tell us about; we’ll wrap this interview up. We’re kind of coming up to ten minutes mark, tell us about your future challenges and what’s exciting you in this arena then.

Stephen Heppell: Well, I’m having a lot of fun. I’m looking around the world and I have this sort of simple metaphor really that all around the world, people are developing the ingredients of 21st century learning and there’s things that we know that work; project-based work, mixed age teaching, you know, a school day that starts early and finishes late with just in passing with my group of children in NotSchool school project where I’m looking to employ people in New Zealand, so that they can be up in the middle of the night because they can’t stop the children which I’m absolutely just passionate about.


Stephen Heppell: So, what I’m doing is I’m assembling these ingredients and trying to tell people, “Hey, have you tried this? Have you seen this?” And then the joy for me is to stand back and watch people create recipes that fit their culture and fit their context from those tested ingredients. I tell you what, not that that’s starting to happen, there is no “one size fits all”, there is no solution, there is no you know, beacon school and let’s all do it like that. Every school is different.

Every community, every context, well it’s exciting that the ingredients are common. You know, you can pick the best ingredients to suit your schools that suit your culture, suit your contacts, suit your family, suit your region, suit your nation. And, boy, watch them go when they do that and just lately, I’ve seen some absolutely you know, five Michelin Star stuff teaching. Let me give you a tiny final example.

DK: Please, do.

Stephen Heppell: I went into classroom the other day and the kids were all sitting on the floor in the corner and the desks were all drawn into the corner. So, the children are sitting under the desks. The lights are down. Up on the projector, there’s news footage of German Soldiers goose stepping, straight. And the teacher’s walking around on the desk top shining a torch between the cracks, into the cracks between the desks and the kids are sitting underneath it reading The Diary of Anne Frank. And what you’ve got this perfect mix there, really, of books, of literature, of history, of the power of media. You know, but then you’ve got and inspired newly qualified teacher and inspiring QT leading all of that. And the homework, by the way, was you know if Anne Frank had had a mobile phone, what might she have texted to to her mated and think about that for a moment.

DK: Superb.

Stephen Heppell: It just seems to me that there’s a gorgeous recipe built from the ingredients that we know work. That’s the future and it’s happening now.

DK: Brilliant. Well, Stephen. Thanks very much for your time in speaking to MediaSnackers. Really appreciate it.

Stephen Heppell: Genuinely a pleasure.

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