Sustainable kit

As a young teacher in the 1970s I was delighted to receive the Houghton pay award – with a significant (in 1970s money) backdated element. I’d always wanted a really great stereo (yes I know – but that’s really what we called them in those days) so I bought a Bang and Olufsen. It was great , the steak plate record deck, a powerful Beogram amp with radio and Beovox speakers. It was a pity that just out of warranty a couple of the LED lights on the amp failed and I couldn’t afford to have them replaced. That didn’t affect the total enjoyment that I got from the kit – it performed brilliantly for years and I’ve still got it.  I liked it so much that 25 years later I bought a second B&O – the wall mounted B&O century with a glass door that automatically opens in response to the movement of your hand. It’s compact and has great sound. B&O is a tier 1 manufacturer using first class components to make products that look good and perform well. But they do sometimes go wrong. To my dismay the century went wrong after about 8 years (am I expecting too much?) – the CD player stopped working. I took it to a B&O dealer and had to fork out £200+ to get it fixed.

Contrast this with the Bose wave radio that I bought about the same time as the B&O. I couldn’t resist those adverts for the compact Bose that filled the room with sound. It is a great piece of kit. At an open evening for the Saltire Centre I played background music from my ipod through the little Bose and it filled the 2500 square metre 9 metre high space with beautifully clear sound and no distortion. But 10 years into ownership, similar to the B&O, this also stopped working. It wouldn’t do anything and the display just showed gobbledegook. I got in touch with Bose (they don’t have dealers) and they instructed me to pack the radio securely and send it to them. They said they would estimate the cost of the repair and let me know how much a repair would cost and then I could decide what to do. After a few weeks the radio came back in the post – it had been fixed for no charge. It was 8 years out of guarantee but they fixed it for free. That’s what I call a cost effective sustainable piece of kit.

This got me thinking of all the schools, colleges and universities that buy computer kit. Buying tier 1 kit is important (like B&O in music for example) but what really matters – as even tier 1 kit sometimes goes wrong – is that you work with a suppler that provides tier 1 warranty and service and will go beyond the expected to keep your kit working – as Bose did for me. So think about the kit – but also whether the warranty and after care that will keep it available, alive and working.

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Under the Bonnet

I came across a shop in York recently, Hawkins Bazaar (<strong></strong>, with a window full of Bigtracks. What a coincidence at the same time there was an article in the Observer by John Naughton about the fact that all our kids do with computers during their education is use software – most of which feels like ‘computer says no’. The same weekend Eric Schmidt of Google was having a swipe at the British education system for allowing us to descend into a nation of computer users rather than computer scientists. John Naughton’s article was about the Raspberry Pi computer – a £15 Linux based programmable machine that can browse the web that has been produced with the idea that kids might get some insight into programming (see a video about Raspberry Pi on John’s site at <strong></strong>.

I spent the early part of my HE career teaching teachers about IT in education and observing and working with primary school kids using computers so find these apparently disparate events deeply satisfying. Could it be that we are finally starting to realise that what really matters about the relationship between young people and computers is that they have some understanding of what goes on under the bonnet? That kids could feel they have some degree of control over technology and that they consequently develop the problem solving capability and understanding of logic that enables them to feel that they are in control. In the medieval days of educational computing it was logo and turtles that started the IT in education revolution, corporate software took away the magic, for £55 (one Raspeberry Pi and one Bigtrack) every primary school in the land could bring it back. I suspect it would make  Seymour Papert ( a very happy man.

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In the first year of my life my Grandad taught me to rock. I’m not sure how he did this but I guess he rocked my upper body back and forth while I was on his knee or in my pram. How he did it is not important – the family story is that he did. Rocking has stayed with me all my life. I’m hooked on it. Rocking to music is a particular favourite activity and I have memories of having done this for most of my life. Maybe there is a link here with another favourite activity of mine – drumming.

When I was preparing for my ‘A’ level exams my Grandma bought me an Ercol wooden rocking chair to use whilst I was revising. It helped – although I didn’t get brilliant ‘A’ levels I did well enough to get into University. (Incidentally – I’ve still got that rocking chair and I still love it).

I’ve never been sure what it is about rocking but it seems to enhance the experience of listening to music (I’m rocking to John Hiatt as I write this) and it somehow seems to make me enjoy the experience and concentrate more effectively at the same time. Now in my sixth decade I’ve discovered Varier chairs. I have a varier actulum that I use for working at my desk. I’ve had this chair for 9 years and I love it – and I believe that the actulum also makes a great dining chair. I also bought a varier peel chair and stool about 4 years ago. The peel is a fantastic chair that moves really easily as you change your body position and is the best ‘rocking chair’ that I’ve ever used. I’ve been so pleased with these ‘moving’ chairs that I’ve now also bought the varier kneeling chair for use at my desk as well.

When I read John Ratey’s book Spark! it became clear to me that movement and cognitive functions are closely linked (contrary to the myth that being good at sport is an alternative to academic achievement Ratey’s work shows just the opposite). Not surprising then that I think that when we are designing our learning and library spaces we should be open to including furniture that allows and encourages movement. The rationale here is that stimulation of areas of the brain that are involved in movement, by actually moving, also stimulates areas involved in cognitive activity – and learning.

Some time ago in a space consultancy project with Kings College Students’ Union that planned to develop a social learning space adjacent to a gym I talked about the exciting possibility that we should include only furniture that encouraged movement.  The activity that results from simply sitting on gym balls and using rocking chairs, I thought, would link not only the social space with the gym but also mak the link between movement and learning.

I can’t think that many libraries, classrooms or other learning spaces exist with rocking chairs and gym balls but what fun would that be – and likely result in better learning.

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