Learning, Digital & Education from Oliver Quinlan.
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This week: Learning from a 19 year old millionaire, interstellar visitors & online rights.

I've learned quite a bit this week, although with just over a week until my big annual holiday I do feel like I'm on the last push to the finish line. I can see why it's the tradition to punctuate the year in the middle with a 'summer' holiday. I can't complain too much though, I'm off to Seychelles for a couple of weeks before Christmas to visit some old friends who live out there. That means one more Quinlearning newsletter next week before a bit of a break. I'll recommend some other newsletters next week to keep you going... for now have a great week.

First-known interstellar visitor is a bizarre, cigar-shaped asteroid

I found this fascinating this week, and even more compelling as this is literally the start of one of my favourite book series; Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (and Gentry Lee for later books). The original series becomes an epic four book exploration of the triumphs and failings of humanity, and how we often value but fail in our technical accomplishments as a society, but de value tour special capacity as individuals to make meaning from the world and each other.

It's an interesting contrast to the books that in 2017 we don't even have the capability intercept such an object and start the story of exploration it might bring, as we've slowed our exploration beyond the earth so much since the 1970s. With initiatives like SpaceX it seems we might be starting to move in that direction again, but with a commercial model for funding these activities rather than a government one based on nation states. It's exciting to think where this might lead. It's true we have a lot of problems to solve on Earth, which might be more pressing to deal with before reaching for the stars, but if there's something our societies need at the moment it's an optimistic goal that is bigger than the current petty struggles we focus on.


I've seen Beeban Kidron speak a couple of times recently on her initiative to bring the offline rights of children online. She's an incredibly insightful individual, but one key insight stuck with me.

She talked of spending time with some of the key founders of the internet and silicon valley CEOs researching the online world. They told her of the dream (under some threat these days it must be said) that online everyone is equal, all voices can express themselves and anyone can access information. What struck her is how different this is to the offline world in terms of childhood. Traditionally (at least in recent times) we have treated children as different. They have different rights and different responsibilities until they reach maturity and assume the rights and responsibilities of adulthood. Online, she argues, this is not the case, and it should be. She's started 5rights to campaign for the rights of children online.

This isn't about scare stories and lock-down, but about working with children and young people to protect and support them as they develop into adults in a connected world. I think this is something we are really struggling with as a society at the moment, and some initiatives can come across rather paternalistic . 5rights is taking the complex challenge of working with young people to figure this stuff out head on.

A number is just an age - Ben Towers

I saw Ben Towers speak this week. He's a remarkable 19 year old who started his own business at the age of 12, and has already sold it for 'a couple of million'. He was on stage as part of a BT Tech Literacy event to show the opportunities that technology brings young people. Despite his inspiring story, I do think it's a little problematic to hold up completely exceptional young people like Ben as examples when we are exploring things like digital literacy as something for everyone. Not even a tiny percentage of people are ever going to reach his achievements.

This is no disrespect to him though, he told his exceptional story with some real insights for everyone. One that most stuck with me was the way he had repeatedly run up against the system as he achieved in ways that it just wasn't geared up to support. The stories of his teachers encouraging him to 'just concentrate on schoolwork' when he was already employing several people and the bank closing his child's account when they saw he was running a successful business from it just showed how systems designed without flexibility can hamper people from actually achieving beyond the 'norm'. The inability of the school system to allow him to study A levels and work and the compulsory nature of education to 18 even led him to employ himself as an apprentice!

I often hear much older people talking about these problems of flexibility in the education system and its inability to adapt to the technological present. They often call for the system to be torn down, for schools to be replaced by technologically mediated solutions, and for hundreds of years of community building around education to be consigned to the dustbin of history. Ben was much more measured. People in schools just need to be a bit more flexible, he said. Education just needs to adapt a bit, stop treating everyone the same, and look at enabling people to achieve rather than keeping them to a prescribed path designed for the average. He seemed to think school was pretty good at what it does, it just needs to be able to treat people as individuals. A fascinating talk, it's well worth watching his TED talk online.
... and finally...
  • The Digitally Agile Researcher - It's just a few days until this comes out, but pre-orders are open. Natalia Kucirkova and I were lucky to bring together such a great set of people to share their experiences of digital research in this new edited book.
  • Firefox Quantum - Must admit I've kept going back to Chrome despite my ideological learning to an open source bforwser as I've found Firefox slow. This new version is much improved though. Time to switch back.
  • BT & 5Rights hothouse - I took part in this event a few weeks ago to develop some new approached to teaching young people about the commercial realities of the internet. A few words from me in the video on the importance of listening to children when designing things to help them.
  • Burial's 'Untrue' 10 years on - An in depth documentary on this exceptional album, including some details I loved on his sampling and where the vocals came from.
Thanks for reading.
Until next week,


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Disclosure: This newsletter contains some affiliate links to products on Amazon, who give me a small percentage of any purchases. This does not affect the price you pay, and I only recommend things we personally like or use.

CC BY NC Oliver Quinlan

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