“Communication, and building the tissue of professional friendships online, is probably the most transformative thing technology has brought us so far.” – Ewan McIntosh, Scotland

Ewan McIntosh knows well that pushing boundaries won’t win popularity contests. But he’s quite OK with that. “My team are never happy that things are good enough, and we all
still spread ideas that might, for some, imply that the status quo isn’t satisfactory,” he says. “This means that we might advance things, but we also annoy a few people in the process.”

When it comes to stirring up the status quo, McIntosh is among the best. A former teacher turned administrator turned venture capitalist, McIntosh’s team at NoTosh Limited works with some of the most creative businesses out there, and then brings the lessons they’ve learned into classrooms around the world.
He blogs at edu.blogs.com, is a renowned speaker, and is thought to be one of Europe’s
leading minds on revolutionary educational change.  He believes, as he recently shared at TEDxLondon, that students learn when teachers get out of the way and let students find
problems to solve, rather than giving students a problem, and asking them to solve it.

While McIntosh’s ideas may at times rub some the wrong way, he is certainly doing something right. According to NoTosh, McIntosh launched the world’s first iPad Investment Fund in 2010, has been at the center of $5 million of creative media investments since January 2010, including $2.5 million of non-profit projects with the MacArthur Foundation to improve the learning of students from North America to India. One of the companies in which he has invested won a Media Guardian Award for the Best App of 2010 and another developed one of Apple’s Top 30 All-Time Best Selling Apps.

It is a pleasure to share Ewan McIntosh’s Daily Edventure with you today.

Tell us about how you have advanced innovation in education.

As a young teacher working with particularly disinterested young people, I used technology in new ways: my secondary school classes were the first in Europe to podcast, and we were amongst the first in the world to blog, too. Today, we’re innovating in education not just in technology terms, but in pushing people’s ambition in their project-based learning.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

The fear and loathing that surrounded social media around 2005-2008 has largely subsided in my own country. Most people making the decisions are on Twitter and Facebook, they might even blog. Most of the same people didn’t even want to talk to me in 2005-2008 when I was advising them that kids might benefit from learning with these technologies. I think more recently, that some of our programs have transformed large swathes of schools’ understanding of what young people are actually capable of doing when the teacher gets out the way a little more often. We spend a lot of time as a team researching what works best for learning. I spent time in the creative industries, and every week still work with the world’s leading fashion, technology and media companies, so I bring that experience to mash up with education research. The result is a robust new understanding of how processes from the creative world, such as design thinking, can really add huge value to existing practices in project-based learning, challenge-based learning, student-led experiences or formative assessment tactics.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

I give away a lot of what I do on my blog, and our company site (notosh.com) is always updated with projects we’re working on. The videos there often feature our hero teachers, talking about how they took ideas and made them happen.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

We use free-to-air technologies to maintain contact with our schools – Skype, Google Hangouts, Posterous blogs, Facebook, Twitter… whatever tech best suits our schools is the one we’ll use to keep in touch. Communication, and building the tissue of professional friendships online, is probably the most transformative thing technology has brought us so far. For all the bells, whistles, augmented reality and gaming consoles in the world, I’d not swap that social web for anything.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

There’s still a lack of confidence felt by many teachers in Scotland that THEY are the ones who can make a difference and change the world around them. The curriculum, many feel, isn’t clear enough, but Scotland’s curriculum is what teachers choose to make of it. Success stories are hard to spot, not because they’re not there but because we still suffer, I fear, from a bad case of Tall Poppy Syndrome when we spot something worthy of note. Scotland is also guilty of not looking beyond its borders for new ideas to stimulate ever better learning and teaching. We have a national intranet – the word itself implies inwardness, even if practices might perhaps be trying to reach further afield. The national education website has a technology section that doesn’t even mention global social technologies: it just talks about how Scottish kids and teachers can collaborate amongst themselves through the intranet. We need to become a global outlook country, not one tied up in itself.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

We have a government that really cares about education, and keeps higher education free for Scottish kids. We have amazing head teachers in every corner of the country, and our teachers are a genuine profession – they’re of a very high level. We need to make sure that teachers’ time is freed up from meaningless meeting after meeting when they’re not teaching, and give it over to them to develop themselves, and to receive great development opportunities.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

Local Authority red tape means too many Head Teachers are being Head Administrators or Managers, instead of taking the lead every day on pedagogy. That one change in purpose and practice could have a massive impact, and not just in Scotland.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

More sharing of what worked by every teacher who feels they’ve got something to share, and more reading of what worked by every teacher regardless of how good they think they are today.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Don’t just read about education improvement. Subscribe to the Harvard Business Review, or read design magazines and see how problems are found and solved outside this bubble. Pick a plan of action, a project you want to see through, then do it. Don’t let people stop you trying stuff out, and make sure you share every step of the way with as many people as possible. The advice you get back is worth its weight in gold.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

The trend of following trends is damaging to education. We know what makes learning great – collaboration on challenging, real things, being given the respect by one’s community to get on with trying it out and having a choice in which way you want to take your learning. We should be doing everything we can to get to that destination, and ignore the rest.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Their own mind. Too many kids are indoctrinated within weeks of entering the formal education system that they are to wait to be told what to do. The world is moving too fast for passengers. We need our infants right through to our (disempowered) teacher population to take initiative, to be their own boss from day one.

About Ewan McIntosh


  • Birthplace: Dunoon, Scotland
  • Current residence: Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Education: MA (Hons), University of Edinburgh in Modern European Languages and European Union Studies; Post Graduate Certificate of Education with Distinction, University of Strathclyde
  • Website I check every day: http://www.swiss-miss.com
  • Person who inspires me most: David Ogilvy
  • Favorite childhood memory: Endless play (with nothing much more than a ball or a bike) in the back lane with my friends.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): The Gold Coast
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh every day at the things my daughters come out with. Just over lunch there was the cheeky look my 22 month old gave me as she “stole” some chocolate buttons from her plate.
  • Favorite book: Wisdom, Andrew Zuckerman
  • Favorite music: My dad was a music teacher, and I got exposed to a lot, and love a lot. Jazz, 20th century stuff from Bernstein and the like (not the plink plonk modern things), even pipe bands. Every day, though, I have an insatiable appetite for awful pop music.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “Touch not the cat but a glove” – it’s my family motto that basically means look out for things that look nice but which will scratch and bite if you’re not prepared.
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