Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fat or obese?

A row has erupted after a minister and prominent physician recommended that patients be called ‘FAT’ and not ‘obese’. Actually I don’t want politicians lecturing me at all on what vocabulary we should use in any context. Are we to call anorexics? Skinbags? Are we to call kids who have learning difficulties ‘stupid’? How about kids who wear glasses? Specky? Would Anne Milton say to Anne Widdicombe’s face that she was a ‘fatty’?

Jamie Oliver has also been attacked for a ‘lecturing’ approach to parents and children. So it’s OK to lecture them on maths, religious education and other subjects, but not on their health? School does much damage to children by feeding them foods with dangerous levels of saturated fats. There’s something deeply duplicitous about a government that wants education to be one long lecture, but eschews advice on nutrition. Andrew Landsley, who made this attack is somewhat ‘obese’ but let’s start calling him ‘fatty’ in public and see how he likes it. Then there’s fatty Tories such as Boris Johnson, Ken Clarke and huge fat f***ks such as Eric Pickles and Nicholas Soames. Let’s use Parliamentary privilege to denounce them as ‘fatties’ in the House of Commons. Cameron himself has a podgy face and Osborne a beer belly. Let’s be clear, they’re fat because they eat too many expensive lunches and dinners. It’s their fault.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

CIPD accused of incompetence in Telegraph

Jackie '405k per year' Orme comes under more pressure as the charge of unprofessionalism and incompetence appear in The Daily Telegraph (thanks to Garry Platt for the link). The Chief Executive of LSIS (Learning and Skills Improvement Service) wrote a stinging rebuke to the CIPD’s “wildly inaccurate” report on Government spending on skills organisations. As he listed the report's many errors, he put the knife in stating surprise that the CIPD could be “so unprofessional as to not check their facts” and suffering from “a lack of professional competence”. This follows on from another complaint from NIACE along the same lines.

Here’s the letter in full:

21 July 2010

Dear Sir

Quangos and the facts

At a time of economic stringency it is clearly important that all parts of the public sector are appropriately scrutinised for the contribution that they make to society and for their value for money. Your coverage of the report from the CIPD yesterday gave credence to the popularly held view that considerable sums of money could be saved without detriment to the services offered by four of the government so called “quangos” – namely LSIS, LSN, LLUK and NIACE.

Unfortunately the section of the CIPD report that relates to LSIS – which incidentally is not a quango but a sector led body – is wildly inaccurate. We do not fund LSN as is stated and there is no mention of the £80m cut that has been made this year in our funding. Neither is the fact that we use the sector itself to support improvement by providing staff development, materials and consultancy in areas of government priority. We also deliver the majority of our funding back to the front line and assist institutions that have failed their inspection. In the latter case we are proud to report a 95% success rate of satisfactory or better provision being identified when those same institutions are re-inspected. It is unfortunate that an organisation such as the CIPD that purports to support professional development can be both so inaccurate and dismissive of this activity. It’s a pity too that they can be so unprofessional as to not check their facts or find out how an organisation really works or what it does before rushing into print. I’m sure many of their existing members will be very disappointed in what is clearly a lack of professional competence.

Yours faithfully Dr David Collins CBE

Chief Executive

Learning and Skills Improvement Service

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Friday, July 23, 2010

$35 iPad for education

India’s Institute of Technology and the Institute of Science have launched an iPad lookalike for education. The touchscreen, Linux based, webcam (iPad doesn’t have one) wireless device is, according to Kapil Sibal, ready for mass manufacture. Even more astonishing is the claim that the price may drop, on volume, to $20, and eventually to $10!


Add -ons include a solar power charger.

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CIPDs Jackie Orme issues grovelling apology & pulls report

The CIPD have been forced to withdraw their report ‘Quangos in the education and skill system’, and the hopeless and hapless Jackie Orme has had to offer a grovelling, written apology. Surely she has to go. She has come under fire recently in TraingZone and the CIPD members Group in LInkedin for her astronomical salary, at a time when the revenues of teh CIPD have shrunk. She pocketed a £57k bonus, while sacking over 40 staff and freezing bonuses for everone else.

This is the message on the CIPD website.

"We have removed this paper from our website as NIACE and LSN, both charities and not quangos, were concerned about appearing alongside quangos in the context portrayed in the paper. We will consider the paper for future publication only following a thorough review."

Just to be clear, they have no idea what they are talking about, as their researchers don't know the first thing about the sector and the status of the organisations within the sector. NIACE is NOT a quango. NIACE, like the CIPD is a charity (as is the LSN also featured in the report), and does genuinely do useful and charitable work (unlike the CIPD in my opinion). The board is not appointed by the secretary of State and it wins the majority of its Government revenues through tenders.

This was a mean-spirited report by a charity, having a pop at other charities. I wonder why? Could it be that the CIPD wants to consolidate its position as ‘opinion’ former? What a bunch of hucksters.

Full report still available from here!

Read the CIPD Report "Quangos in the education and skills system" - [PDF]

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Robot teachers – endlessly patient, CPD updates in seconds

The article in the New York Times will no doubt drive traditionalists to apoplexy, so there must be something in this report about the rise of robots in schools. Imagine a teacher that is endlessly patient, always teaches the correct skill in the correct way, provides lot of constructive feedback, can receive CPD updates in seconds, never gets ill and costs less than one month's teacher’s salary? That’s the long-term promise.

What makes all this possible are advances in AI, motion tracking and language recognition. We have already seen what Microsoft have done with Natal in terms of speech, gesture and motion recognition. Plonk this into a robot and we’re really getting somewhere. The point in the short term is not to replace teachers but to replace the teaching of SOME TEACHING TASKS.

The focus, for the moment, is on early years education, playing to the ‘cute’ factor. This makes sense. We could see significant advances in early numeracy, literacy and second language skills in schools with software that provides guidance superior to that of many teachers. In addition, they can be updated, wirelessly, in seconds and can even learn as they teach.

The basic premise is sound and was shown convincingly by Nass and Reeves in The Media Equation – we treat technology as humans if it has the right affective behaviours – good timing, being polite, co-operative etc.. This is how computer games work. With the right movement, sounds and behaviour, avatars and robots seem real. Tens of millions use and experience this phenomenon every day. There’s even a touch of this in your ATM, where you’d rather deal with a hole in a wall than a live teller.

Robots don’t get hangovers, don’t take holidays, never discriminate on grounds of gender, race or accent. They’re patient, scalable and consistent. The ideal teacher!

Robots & language learning

The initial trials have been in learning tasks in autism and English as a second language. S Korea sees English as a key skill in terms of growth and its Institute of Science and Technology has developed Engey, to teach English. Their goal is to have an effective robot, that is better than the average teacher, in 3-5 years. This is part of a general push in robotics that sees robots do things humans do in areas such as production, military, health and education. Hundreds of robots are already in S Korea's 8,400 kindergartens and the plan is to have one in every Kindergarten by 2013.

The University of California has been doing studies with a robot called RUBI, teaching Finnish. Initial studies show that the children do as well in tests as children taught by real teachers on specific language tasks. The retention was significantly better after 12 weeks with a reduction in errors of over 25%. Another interesting finding is that the robots need not look like real people, in fact hi-fidelity seems to be a little ‘creepy’ for kids. Although for an amazingly life like robot watch this.

CES 2010 featured a wonderful talking robot that follows you around the house and teaches you languages. It was remarkably sophisticated, with voice recognition, face recognition, picture recognition (show it a picture and it will say the word in your chosen language).l

Robots & autism

In a collaborative Japanese/US research project, children with autism have been shown to respond positively to synchronised behaviour from a robot. This is used to move the child on to other types of social interaction. In the University of Connecticut, a French robot is being used to with autistic children using mimicry to establish trust. Have a look at Beatbot's Keepon robot designed for kids with autism.

Robots and personalised learning

Personalised learning can also be realised through one on one interaction and the robot engaging in conversations and learning from the learner. Work of this kind has been going on at the Georgia Institute of Technology, with a robot called Simon. The improvements in AI and natural language processing have led to results in the robotic world that promise one to one tuition in the future.

Robots & physical tasks

There’s also the teaching of physical tasks, such as setting a table, where Honda Labs have taught older children to complete the task without the aid of teachers. Robots can already complete physical manufacturing tasks way beyond the physical capability, speed and accuracy of a human. We’ve had 25 years of robotic surgery, with robots being used to do surgery at a distance, unmanned surgery and to minimise invasion. In May 2006 the first AI doctor-conducted unassisted robotic surgery on a 34 year old male to correct heart arrhythmia. The results were rated as better than an above-average human surgeon. The machine had a database of 10,000 similar operations, and so, in the words of its designers, was "more than qualified to operate on any patient." The designers believe that robots can replace half of all surgeons within 15 years. In January 2009, the first all-robotic-assisted kidney transplant was performed at in the US by Dr. Stuart Geffner. The same team performed eight more fully robotic-assisted kidney transplants over the next six months.

Conclusion

It is only natural that robots, which have replaced highly skilled tasks in manufacturing, should be considered for teaching. Automating repetitive, difficult and dangerous tasks has always been technology's trump card. If we know one thing about teaching, it’s that it is difficult and demanding, leading to unnatural levels of stress and illness. If we can, at the very least, relieve the pressure on teachers, that is surely a noble aim. In its own way, simple robotic, screen programmes like BBC Bitesize and e-learning have already automated a lot of education and training. Robots promise to personalise this process. Every passing month sees improvements in movement, gesture and language recognition, with the technology appearing in the games world this year by Christmas. I have no doubt that robo-teaching will be common in schools in my lifetime.

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UFI/Learndirect - reports of death greatly exaggerated

Michael Gove's endless, faulty lists were clearly a sign of his inexperience. This is what happens when ideology overrides good sense. To rob the budget for repairing existing schools to pay for new schools for middle-class lobby groups is madness beyond reason.

But this is not the only gaff made by the new Government. Vince Cable, or at least his department BIS, has mistakenly announced the abolition of UFI/Learndirect, not once but twice. The first was on 24 May, which popped up, rather surprisingly on my alerts. The second was on Monday 19 July in an official press release from the COI, on behalf of BIS.

As Mark Twain said, discovering that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal, "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" but having your obituary published twice seems, well.......odd!

Would be interesting as UFI HQ is, I believe, slap in the middle of a certain MPs Sheffield Hallam constituency - Nick Clegg!

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UFI/Learndirect - reports of death greatly exaggerated

Michael Gove's endless, faulty lists were clearly a sign of his inexperience. This is what happens when ideology overrides good sense. To rob the budget for repairing existing schools to pay for new schools for middle-class lobby groups is madness beyond reason.
But this is not the only gaff made by the new Government. Vince Cable, or at least his department BIS, has mistakenly announced the abolition of UFI/Learndirect, not once but twice. The first was on 24 May, which popped up, rather surprisingly on my alerts, then recinded. The second was on Monday 19 July in an official press release from the COI, on behalf of BIS. As Mark Twain said, discovering that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal, "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" but having your obituary published twice seems, well.......odd!

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Depressing survey of L&D

It’s has been claimed by the likes of Donald Taylor and Jay Cross, that training must transform itself or risk being ignored. And there is a feeling in the training world that all is not well, and that the deep, dark secret is that training is regarded by many as second-rate, full of odd people delivering oddball stuff using outdated methods.

For the first time I’ve seen evidence that this may be true. So I draw your attention to this independent survey of decision makers at 100 of the UKs top 500 companies (by turnover):

70% see inadequate staff skills as barrier to growth

40% see risk of employee skills risk being obsolete

55% claim L&D failing to deliver necessary training

46% doubt L&D can deliver

less than 18% agree that L&D aligned with business

(Coleman Parkes Spring 2010)

Too often astrology not astronomy

Worrying or what? Imagine the furore around these stats if applied to your production, finance or marketing department. These stats suggest an L&D lag that threatens to hold organisations back in any economic recovery. What lies at the heart of all this is a non-strategic approach to training and development. The industry is mired in a gooey swamp of faddish, non-empirical and ineffective approaches from fuzzy leadership courses to life coaching and NLP, that ignores key competences. It’s too often astrology and not astronomy.

Outdated delivery

Imagine the production department hand crafting products using cranky old mechanical, as opposed to computer controlled, production tools. Imagine the finance department using pen and paper without the use of spreadsheets and computers. Imagine the marketing department ignoring the breadth of marketing techniques and ignoring online marketing. That’s exactly what training departments so often do – the main form of delivery is STILL largely talk and chalk.

Strategic alignment

Getting our houses in order means producing some real strategic initaives within a change management context. It means shortening courses and replacing many courses with more agile and flexible tools and delivery methods (usually online). It means making courses shorter and cutting curricula to avoid duplication. It means less classrooms and depressing 3 star hotel venues and more fast delivery design and delivery (usually online). It means reorganising L&D around a more flexible and responsive delivery. It means a different set if skills within L&D. It means better evaluation, targeted at the decision makers. It means freeing training from that money-making monopoly the CIPD. Above all it means fostering a spirit of innovation within L&D that matches the aspirational innovation of the organisation.

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