Having previously worked in education and still maintaining an interest in life-long learning I find it interesting to read what people have to say about the state of modern education. Regularly I see tweets and blog posts from the likes of @Euan and @MMetcalfe about teaching and learning. Not specifically from the aforementioned people, but one thing I often hear maligned is lecturing, the process by which teaching is done from the front and experience is shared, essentially lecturing to the audience. This is in compliment to the Socratic Method, in which lecturing is used with questioning to establish a pattern of feedback to measure student understanding and pace.

Recently The London Evening Standard has been doing a series of articles about literacy in London and how it affects us. Apparently four in ten job applications are now rejected on the basis of poor grammar and spelling and I saw this in action when I was lecturing because I would mark reports that I could barely understand. I was occasionally told that I shouldn’t mark a student down because of their ability with English but I never respected that view, if you can’t communicate then you deserve a lower mark people need to be driven to success. I’ve often discussed this with friends and family, and it seems to me, and a few others, that one of the biggest problems that we are having today is discipline and respect. I don’t mean in a Victorian punishment kind of way, but in terms of the way those in authority are respected, or not as it seems now. No longer are teachers and the police given the veneration that they need to do their jobs. Parents and guardians no longer tell their children that they must respect and obey teachers and policemen.

Now, I know there have always been disruptive students, there have been since the beginning of time, but once upon a time students knew who the boss was and these days it is politically incorrect to have a boss. I am not the most disciplined person in the world, but I know who is in charge and I like to think I also know how to take some authority when needed. Learning the basics of language really takes routine and practice, boring repartition and positive re-enforcement. Sometimes children need to sit down and try, and fail, and then try again because if at first we don’t succeed… Looking from a far there is a great deal of effort going into finding ‘alternative’ ways to teach children, when actually if that effort was spent doing boring stuff then the children might learn the virtue of doing mundane tasks. Because there are virtues in learning to do mundane tasks that a person in authority requires you to do and you shouldn’t always question authority.

Of course children need to be educated in critical thought, analysis and debate, I feel this more now than I have ever done, but they must also learn about self-discipline and motivation. In school my Design and Technology (metal and woodwork) teacher, who was very much old school, insisted that we couldn’t leave the class at the end until we had correctly answered a multiplication-table question. This forced us to look it up and learn them, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to leave and we would be a little embarrassed. Some might see this as bullying, I don’t, I think it was a cleaver way of motivating us and remember this man wasn’t a maths teacher he was just a man passionate about ensuring we had the right level of numeracy, which is more than I can say about some mathematics teachers I have known.

Perhaps I am getting more conservative in my old age (;-) but I look at society and the way that the suitability of employment candidates has fallen in recent years and I think it is a shame. I want the world to thrive and I don’t want the Western states to become the new third-world. Remember that in many third world countries children can’t all go to school but a child will do as much as they can just for the chance to be educated, yet in Europe they children will happily commit crime just to avoid going to school! So, I believe parents need to take an active role in ensuring that children respect teachers and uniformed authorities, this is quite controversial in itself and then I think teachers need to start concentrating on getting the basics sorted through routine not through time-wasting creativity. I feel teachers should be inspiring through their leadership and enthusiasm, not so much through dressing up and entertaining students, after all teaching should be engaging but it doesn’t have to be entertaining. It would take years to get back into some sense of order in schools, but perhaps then students would start turning up at higher education who can actually write something which makes sense and companies wouldn’t have to do remedial education for their students.

Also, testing and exams might not be pleasant and they don’t represent everyone’s abilities, but when combined with practical work and essays I think they are effective measures of students. The idea of not being competitive at schools is ridiculous, I want people to be acknowledged as being a bit thick so they can be motivated to succeed. I wasn’t much use at sports, but discipline forced me to participate more than I would have done of my own free will and I even found some things I was good at in sports. Everyone has something they are good at, I believe this, but some people are better than others. This doesn’t have to be a Plutocracy in which success is dictated by wealth, but it doesn’t have to exclude people from doing well and it seems to me that it is unacceptable to push one group ahead because it might offend those who are less able.

That is my rant, you are welcome to it.

Dear Readers,

I know I have neglected this blog and website for some time, but now is probably an opportunity to use this page to explain myself in more than 140 characters.

Four years ago I was a moderately disgruntled Senior Lecturer at Ravensbourne College, I was referred to speak to a head hunter by a friend on the basis of my broad experience and knowledge. As a result of two interviews I was able to obtain the position of Chief Technologist at Humax Electronics in the UK. Humax is one of the top five manufacturers of set-top boxes in the world and the UK’s top manufacturer of digital television recorders. This role has seen me drink a great deal, socialise a great deal and most importantly it has seen me gain a great deal of knowledge about a sector which I had very little experience of; in addition it is perhaps worth saying that as a broadcast engineer by training I had very little appreciation for this industry which I now see differently. I have a better understanding of commercial issues as a result of my work with my colleagues and most especially my boss, Graham North, who is among one of the most respected people in the business.

Now, four years have passed and it is time to move on. It is not for me to explain here the motivations for my moving on, but I have opportunities that I can follow. I hope I can reveal further details about my mysterious new employer once I have started but for now I must concentrate on doing the best for Humax until I leave.

I will miss my colleagues, I will miss my work and the opportunities that it brings to meet new and interesting people. But as one door closes another one opens and I have little doubt that I will meet many of those that I know again because this is a small business.

Yours,

Bob

I just had an idea and I think it might be rather cool…

So, I was reading the morning’s blogs/news/etc. and I came across an article in which the author had clearly just mistyped the sentence “but the company has said” instead saying “but then company has said”. This made me think, in these days of the social web editors and the distribution chain are spending less time proof reading, in addition there are a greater number of people who are less extensively educated being involved (I think we can all agree that education is less strict at the bottom echelons). Personally I don’t think my standard of English is bad but at the same time I know I regularly make mistakes while typing and that there are doubtless many errors that I don’t pick up on (my family occasionally corrects me). Continue reading “Correcting The Social Web”

Before Christmas I had a parcel to send to Greece, rather than abuse the company TNT account I decided to send it myself and that the safest way to send it was with good ol’ Royal Mail ParcelForce. Mistake… click ‘read more’ to hear my tail of woe..
Continue reading “ParcelFarce Fail!”

My brother just wrote an interesting post about hybrid cars saying how the current measures for economy we see aren’t really effective.

He has a good point, but also what worries me about hybrid vehicles is the environmental impact of them over their life-cycle. Most hybrid vehicles have batteries, these batteries are often made with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. How long do the batteries last? What happens with them when they are expired? I know my laptop battery, after two years of heavy use, is now at half its’ capabilities so how long will the very expensive batteries in a hybrid vehicle last?

Apparently if the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) used in F1 was applied to London Underground they would use 50% less electricity, but like in hybrid cars where would this charge get stored? Certainly not with conventional batteries because they can’t absorb charge quickly enough and have trouble with the discharge power for fast acceleration; that said Altairnano and Hitachi both claim dramatic improvements in this area. Super capacitors suffer leakage so this wouldn’t be very efficient for a standing vehicle. One of the most effective stores of energy is actually mechanical storage because conversion losses can be reduced substantially and this would be the best solution for London Underground. Fit a large spinning mass under the train and store the energy recovered in breaking deceleration directly on the mass, then couple the mass to the drive train during acceleration to give it that extra boost.

However, we can’t all carry round a huge mass in our cars because it will have a worse affect on the efficiency of a car compared to the constant stop-start of the Underground train.

Some new technology is needed and I don’t know where it will come from but, like mechanical storage, I think we will be surprised and it will come from the past!

This June there will be local government and European Parliament elections in the UK, this will occupy many peoples minds and for the first time it will challenge me personally. Mainly because it looks like for the first time ever: I will be voting.Yes, I am twenty nine years old and I have not yet voted. Personally I have always disliked the idea and these are my reasons:

Continue reading “Politics in the UK (or anywhere)”

At the weekend I saw an advert on TV while visiting my mothers which was very familiar and so I sought it out to share. The following is the new advert for Mikado chocolate biscuit sticks:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8kxB3nSTn0

However here is the dutch advert for ‘AA paper’ which is suspiciously identical and predates the Mikado advert on UK television:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zLDTu4QYtI

A shame that the advertising company didn’t check that their advert was original… It seems ‘AA paper’ do know how to make original adverts:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7CfGj406u0

A student I once worked with (David Vargas Racero) recently posted the online status:

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

To which my response was:

“Intelligence in the 21st Century is not knowledge itself, but the ability to know how to obtain knowledge at short notice. Where once it was said ‘Knowledge is Power’ the less catchy phrase should now be ‘Navigation of knowledge is power’.”

My attempt at philosophy for today.

On the BBC Internet Blog, Andy Quested has discussed the various issues around the addition of a test signal to BBC HD. It makes for very interesting reading, well worth it for anyone wanting to better understand their television and get a better picture.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2008/12/a_christmas_present_from_the_h.html

I actually emailed Andy about one part of his article:

 “The audio is actually two blocks of wood being banged once a second – nothing to beat the real thing!

I emailed him to say that in college one of my much respected lecturers (Morgan Jones) proposed using a spark gap as a syncronisation source. Few things in nature are more instant than a spark and the correlation between the light and the light is absolute (subject to the speed of sound, etc).

His response was that he would look at it but he also raised another issue, how do you deal with the fact that an audio compression system based on the psycho-acoustic model might ignore such a short spike of audio? Frankly I don’t know, I am not sure I know enough about compression systems, but it seems worth a look.

Bob