I was recently made an EFF Fellow and as part of my formal introduction to that community I was interviewed and answered some questions which you can view here by clicking here
I have also captured the transcript below
Promethean Planet: Please can you tell us what your areas of educational interest are?
Jim Buchan: (a) I first developed an enthusiasm in the use of computers for supporting education as an engineering undergraduate student; I used them to build Numerical Control Simulation for industrial production machinery. I soon realized the social power of the network when I started using computers at a remote university via the Janet Network (UK Research and Education Network), and was able to have an entire conversation with remote computer operators. That early experience was conducted by text on Tele-type I/O devices and was very slow compared to todays communication technology. Today I am particularly interested in the deployment of cloud based services to support teaching and learning by providing better access to content and enabling enhanced communication between learners, educators and between the two groups. We are at a point in technological evolution where there is a great opportunity to integrate educational systems with other services which are provide for general good of society. I believe that technology is no longer “nice to have” and that it can, when effectively deployed, enhance learning and provide increased motivation for learners. We have past the point where only computers are connected to the Internet – there is now a trend to connect input devices so that users can have access to an unimaginable volume of data. I am interested in exploring how this might start to open new doors for learners as all stages.
PP: Why I’m involved in Education Fast Forward?
JB: (a) My initial involvement with EFF was to help extend access to the debates by broadcasting them to the Internet in real time and provide input from the listening crowd. I see great value in having a group of dedicated and expert educationalists conducting a debate, which is made widely and conveniently accessible. I believe in the concept that “education is an enabler” and would like to see better access for young people throughout the world. EFF has been enlightening to me – particularly when I see the valuable contribution that the young debaters have made during events. I aim to continue my support for the events to make the issues raised in debates even more accessible and to challenge policy and decision makers around the world to provide better opportunities for todays young people.
PP: Why do issues of access in education still exist?
JB: (a) The world is a very diverse place, with a strong divide between the “have’s and the have not’s”. Ultimately, the provision and availability of access to education is in the hands of today’s political leaders. I don’t underestimate the difficulties that these decision makers face when resources are limited, but I do think we need to continually restate the value that having an educated population brings, and raising the priority of education to the highest possible level. The quality of life that we human enjoy is an extent a derivative of the circumstances into which they are born. Education can be the key to allow individuals to provide for themselves and give their families a better life. Having the choice to learn is in my view, a right that all humans should have access to. I firmly believe that exposing issues surrounding the quality of education provision is a worthy cause which the EFF debates makes a contribution to, I hope that the impact of EFF will continue to increase with the passage of time.
PP: What do you feel are the main stumbling blocks for achieving a quality education?
JB: (a) I firmly believe that the teacher who stands in front of the pupil is the single most important resource to influence the quality of education that will exist. Give a good teacher the opportunity to teach and the students will be motivated to learn, infected by the teacher’s presence. What defines a good teacher is difficult to quantify but I believe it’s a function of natural ability and having had access to high quality initial teacher training. So countries wanting to improve the quality of their education provision need to take account of the need to not only provide well resourced classrooms, but also to put in every classroom teachers who are well prepared to exploit and embed these resources into the process of learning. We should also keep in mind the fact that every student can also be a teacher; so encouraging group/social learning is also a good thing where on occasions, and in some contexts a learner will benefit from the input provided. Having a teaching professional who recognizes the value of student input to learning is in my view one of the keys to providing a productive learning environment. There is an old saying “you learn a concept best when you teach it” so it makes good sense to encourage learners to take on the role of teacher when appropriate.
PP: What one thing should education be doing right now to facilitate change for the better?
JB: (a) The answer to this question is multifaceted in that the answer for any particular country will be dependent on its current education state of development. In some cases the answer will be to provide opportunities for teachers to improve their competence, another is the need to invest in the country’s communication infrastructure so that learners and education can communicate and share using ICT, and in other’s there may be a need to improve the quality of the school buildings and upgrade them to support better and more integrated use of ICT. The one constant here is I think the need for review and change, which is driven by a desire to make education more accessible and of higher quality.
PP: There have been 6 EFF debates now. Which debate stands out for you and why?
JB: (a) For me all of the debates have made a positive contribution to the process of raising issues, which are important for today’s educators and political decision makers. Those events, which included contribution from learners, were I think the most significant. Young learners have a capacity to raise issues without to much influence for political concern, they are also inclined to state requirements from the standpoint of a young citizen where the reality of technological change is from them both acceptable/expected and natural. Many adults by comparison find todays rate of change at best unsettling and at worst frightening. I believe it to be essential that we scrutinize new technological developments and assess objectively their value as building blocks for tomorrow’s education landscape. We need to try all things and hold onto the things that are good.
PP: There have been some amazing guests on the EFF debates. Who would your dream guest be and why?
JB: (a) I would have liked to hear the contribution that Steve Jobs might have made to the ongoing debate. Not because he was known as an educationalist but rather because he seemed to have a capacity to drive innovation which meets the need of end users. Many of the technology innovations that Apple introduced through his leadership were arguably “ahead of their time”. I so feel that we need to drive educational innovation with our eyes firmly fixed on the views of the very people for whom the system exists – the learners. Today’s generation of learners is more adaptable and ready for change than another in the past, so we do need to have this firmly in view as we strive to evolve to the next stage.
PP: If EFF could achieve one thing what would you like it to be?
JB: (a) This is a very difficult question to answer; I am inclined to state that it needs “to make a difference for the better”. By its very nature EFF has a truly international focus and seeks to air and debate views and opinions to an international audience. Ultimately, if the foundation can achieve a position of respect and some influence amongst education leaders around the world, I think that would be a great achievement. To become a source of trusted advice and guidance to which education leaders will turn to as they work through their own strategic planning activities. To achieve this I feel that it will be necessary to distil the key issues from each debate and provide easy access to the discussion points, which were raised in each context. It would also be great to see key decision makers offering suggestions for topic which need to be debated so that the EFF agenda track issue which are “top of mind” for todays education decision makers.
Read more about Jim Buchan and EFF on Promethean Planet’s EFF pages.