Warts and all approach to sharing good practice

I was at a day conference yesterday of partners who work together on the Becta-led Harnessing Technology strategy. We were talking in one of the sessions about how we can boost knowledge and innovative use of  technology for learning, particularly among leaders in the education and skills sector.

As usual in these sorts of discussions, we started talking about the need for case studies of good practice. I couldn’t help but have an inward groan. Case studies are helpful and important and a useful way of sharing knowledge. I thought, however, that in the area of technology for learning the barriers that are put up are more numerous than perhaps in other areas.

For example, there may be a great case study about how a tutor has used texting in lessons and created quizzes using mobile phones that has resulted in better engagement of students in their course. If I was a college principal that had had a major case of happy slapping with mobiles recently my first reaction would be ‘wouldn’t work in my college, we can’t trust our students with mobiles in college’.

Case studies can often have the undesirable affect of making one feel inadequate or, because they are so unique of not being transferable. It made me think of the Dove ‘real women’ campaign. Normal adverts for beauty products can make us feel ugly. Dove started the ‘campaign for real beauty’ in 2004 and ever since have pledged to use images of women of all shapes and sizes – quite a clever way of selling their products I think!

Perhaps we can take from this. What if a case study of pioneering use of technology for learning had a structure like this:

  • these were my objections to doing this at first
  • this is how we addressed those concerns
  • this is what worked well
  • this is what we wouldn’t do next time

We usually learn more from what doesn’t work than what does.  So why do our case studies only talk about what worked?!

We have a big culture change to engender with regard to technology for learning. We need  honesty and real examples, otherwise we face being dismissed as unrealistic idealists.

Oliver Cromwell, Warts and all & Lawrence Olivier without warts
Which kind of case study would be more persuasive?


  1. …it does my head in when all that’s shared is “good practice”… I’ve always tried to encourage our schools to “share bad practice” so that others don’t follow their mistakes. Sir Ken Robinson makes a similar point regarding creativity & why failing isn’t seen as a good (or at least positive) thing…
    Vendor-supported case studies are never representative or (more importantly) replicable – an inordinate amount of time, effort and support has almost always gone in to (a) show every element of the product in its best light and (b) ensure that the project succeeds. Hardly (a) real-world or (b) best practice IMO…


  2. In the same session at the event someone pointed out that an entrepreneur who sets up 10 businesses, one of which is a success is dubbed a ‘successful entrepreneur’. In the public sector, if 10 initiatives are set up and one of them fails, the whole thing is dubbed a ‘failure’! Infuriating!


  3. Thanks for this and I agree totally. For me to learn from case studies I need to know what went right or worked and what didn’t. This is right across the board but particularly with technology-enabled learning projects because I have never known of one which had no warts!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s