Joe Wilson

1st February 2013 at 00:00
The head of new ventures at the Scottish Qualifications Authority talks about the value of a new educational resource publishing platform, why the future is going to be very open and what holds teachers back. Interview by Emma Seith Photography by Dave Gordon

Head of new ventures sounds like an exciting job - is it?

It's enormously exciting. Education is going through an amazing transformation. Globally, I think the internet and online learning have finally arrived. This year people will talk more about massive open online courses. Carnegie built a lot of the public libraries in Scotland and it's that kind of learning revolution that's happening just now. It's interesting to think about how all this new stuff links sensibly to what we do in Scottish schools, colleges and work-based learning.

What does the job entail?

It's looking for the new and where we can sensibly engage with it, as an organisation and sometimes as a nation. So it's looking at things such as Mozilla badges. A Mozilla badge is a form of certification that comes along with all the meta data telling you how it was assessed, what you did, who assessed it - it might even link back to the thing that you made or created. Some of my work just now is with the California-based Mozilla Foundation, looking at how we can take the best bits of that and bring it into Scottish education. In the past year we have also introduced Big History (TESS, 30 November 2012).

What are you working on now?

One thing is all the opportunities there will be for learners around the Commonwealth Games. We're also about to sign a memorandum of understanding with the British Computer Society and that's really about firming up professional progression routes for HNC and HND students, but also to open up more staff development opportunities for computing lecturers and teachers. I'm also have a meeting set up at the BETT show (the educational technology fair) with Microsoft and Adobe.

What is your greatest achievement so far?

The one that's had most significant impact on learners is the Diva partnership. That sees us working with the computer industry - companies such as Microsoft and Apple - to bring, where appropriate, vendor certification into national qualifications. It means basically people within an HND, HNC or school qualification can do the online training and certification from a big list of companies and that will count towards the qualification. It means that our national qualifications are closely aligned to the needs of the workplace and our students are job-ready.

What does the future hold?

The future world is going to be very open. My background was in English teaching. Now we are going to have a prescribed list of Scottish texts and Robert Louis Stevenson is on the list, which is good. In terms of new ventures and openness, Stevenson is out of copyright, so every book is free and you can simply download it and read it on your phone. I did an English degree at university. Most of the texts I had to pay for are available free online. But we are not ready for that yet and I'm also conscious of the digital divide - how we bring all of this about in a fair and equitable way. So the future is about greater openness. There's a whole lot of stuff around scholarly exchange and research being open. The other thing I am pleased about is the open educational resource publishing platform called Resource, aimed at Scotland's colleges, that launched at the end of November.

How will it be used?

Hopefully by lots of people to share their learning materials.

And if one of our readers is interested in using that ...

They can just go ahead and google it.

Will there be something like this for teachers?

There should be. It would be useful if Glow or one of these tools had something like that inside it.

But if you can do that for colleges, can't you just do it for schools?

I don't see any reason why schoolteachers couldn't just use Resource.

I suppose they are catering for different audiences

A lot of this is about behavioural change. With the things I've talked about, there are few technical barriers, it's nearly all about working practices and a culture that needs to adapt.

What is it about the culture just now that holds teachers back?

Part of it is just fear of doing new stuff and that things will break. People are also quite intimidated about opening up online and they shouldn't be. One of the big things that will happen in the next two years is a lot of issues around broadband will be resolved and then the challenge is about getting everybody to use it well, not just as passive consumers, but as creators.

How do we encourage people?

You've picked up on my Twitter feed and my blog. I've been blogging since 2000. There is a role for the professional bodies to start saying things like "e-portfolios are not just for learners" and people in policy posts like me should be obliged to blog and share. Education is about the movement and exchange of ideas. If teachers wait for the next iteration of Glow, they are missing a global world of learning they can already use.

What keeps you busy when you aren't working?

I've got a six-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter.


Born: Glasgow, 1962

Education: Cardonald Primary and Hutchesons' Grammar School, Glasgow; University of Glasgow; Jordanhill College, and University of Strathclyde

Career: English and history teacher, Glasgow; English and communications lecturer, Cardonald College; project manager, Scottish Further Education Unit; joined SQA in 2003, becoming head of new ventures in 2009.

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