Dream School – Why TV failed and YouTube won.

This post is about TV’s efforts to create Dream School and how Channel 4 did a far better job online. It’s also about being brutally honest about how serious we are about technology. So let me start by claiming that kids are virtual ethnographers, immersed in a culture for a long time, taking constant field notes and working hard at that endeavor. They are not digital natives, they are researchers.

“virtual ethnography is an exercise in taking the technology seriously”. Christine Hine (2000)

In order to make much sense of technology, the few who make the choices for the many are not taking seriously the accounts of the world produced by technological subjects – those who have half-lives partly in immersive environments. Anyone who spends time online.  To make effective choices, those who have such command and privilege have to be ‘in the field’ – visible amongst the people they rule over.

This is my favourite still from Dream School, something I’m talking about down the page. What’s wrong with this picture?

I wonder, given the absence of many leaders authentically life-logging and engaging with the lower-downs in either physical or virtual space if this isn’t a clear sign that decisions made can never be taken seriously either.

It is hard to establish, in the classroom, what is a human effect (on student learning) and what is a machine effect (the socio-cognitve world in their pockets). It appears the limits of truth and deception are stretched to a point where it’s impossible to say if students – apparently being ‘more productive’ with technology is due to teacher innovation, leadership or perhaps simply advances in technology that allow students to exploit massive networks and enormous amounts of information to enrich the mundane.

I keep going back to the hole in the wall project, and watching my five year old grind his way through Warcraft with the occasional help from his siblings (who can read).

I’m doing nothing at all, just allowing it. Theres nothing I can do for him at school, and that makes me feel terrible. In NSW teachers accredited by the NSW Institute of Teachers at the key stage of Professional Competence must undertake 100 hours of professional development over five years to maintain their accreditation. Wow, 100 hours. And that’s not even with technology. 20 hours a year. There’s no assessment of that, it’s just sign-on stuff. An average teenager spends 21 hours a week playing games. 12 million Warcraft players spend a cumulative 34 years a day, solving problems.

And yet, we call this innovation, quality and progressive education. 20 hours a year to keep your boarding pass.

Dream School, the TV version (watched by the oldies) was edited to tell a story, and send a message. Starkey wasn’t an innocent, anymore that Suki in True Blood. I won’t bore you with UK politics, suffice to say, he wasn’t there by accident. The TV edit was brutal, and designed to have 2 reactions. On one hand ‘the kids are feral’ and on the other ‘Starkey is an out of touch toff”. This is essentially the pointless argument that rages on and on – as it suits the incumbent. It translates into little impact on policy – despite all the fuss Dream school will cause.

Teachers can still spend zero hours a year leaning about technology if they want.

The YouTube edit is very different – why? because it’s a totally different audience and makes an interesting comparison, if you’re nerdy enough to put both edits into Final Cut Pro and see what the difference is. Online students are presented quite differently, and Starkey, far less of an ignorant has been. He’s not, he’s pretty smart from what I can tell, and I bet nervous as hell too.

This comment seemed apt if you watched the TV show (not aired on Australian TV), and worth comparing to the YouTube Edit.

“The very first episode of Jamie’s Dream School unwittingly exposed precisely what is wrong with our education system. David Starkey made a grave mistake at the start: he tried to be cool and hip. No doubt remembering how teachers behaved in his day, he called one of his pupils fat. The pupil hit back with venom, and was then lost for the rest of the lesson, and possibly forever.”

I wonder if this TV show is how educational leaders see kids too. A repainted school, handing out laptops, bringing so called experts and kids laughing and texting their way out the door ruining their own lives as they don’t pass the test.

I’d like to see an unplugged version of Dream School – called Real School.

What I wanted to see was Starkey (or anyone else who thinks they are uber) dropped into a real school, handed a casual lesson plan – un-announced as himself, just another shmuck who can’t get a permanent job. Then film it, boost the raw, unedited version online and let the planet edit it and inject instances and examples of better solutions. We are still a long way from serious. If there is a slither of hope for education, it’s that Channel 4 have used the internet far more effectively in this discussion that they have TV – and perhaps Ewan had a hand in that. Take that to the next level and we might actually be onto something. Kids are virtual ethnographers, experts in digital cultures – but highly selective. They know a faker, but if you engage them with technology – as the Hole in the wall does or even Warcraft – they learn so much.

This raises two questions this week for me.

If you’re spending 0-20 hours a year learning about technology – why are you still here? And why are we asking a chef to fix education via TV


Button, G. 1993. The Curious Case of the Vanishing Technology. p. 10-28. In Button, G. (ed.) Technology in Working Order: studies of work, interaction, and technology. Routledge: London.