School Blog

Web Tea.0

Instead of going out for lunch every day, School of Everything has started Lunch Club: get lots of picnic type food, and turn the boardroom table into a dining-room table at lunchtime.

The best thing about it is you can invite people in to visit. On Monday Kathleen D'Ore, a School of Everything teacher, popped in to say hello. Then yesterday Lunch Club turned into an outpost of Silicon Roundabout, as we were joined by Alex and Henry from Spoonfed, and Anna and Katie from Social Innovation Camp.

As we're all very serious Web professionals, we mostly argued about whether Spoonfed has a bigger teapot than School of Everything or vice versa.

This is ours:

The mug and business card are for size comparison.

So, Spoonfed: photos please. How big is your teapot?

Fresh Yeast

What are people looking for when they search online for 'Fresh yeast'? According to our website traffic, it might well be - not fresh yeast, as you'd expect, but School of Everything.

Ann Hine is on page 2 of Google search results for 'fresh yeast'. (She's also Dougald's mum, though I don't think Google gave her special treatment for that). The point is: whether it's jewellery-making, driving lessons or electronic keyboard tuition, School of Everything is increasingly becoming a way for teachers to find students not just through the site but through people browsing the Web for interesting stuff via Google, Yahoo, MSN and so on.

So if you're teaching on School of Everything, it's worth thinking about how you can make sure your teaching profile includes lots of the words.

Here's what people who search for 'Fresh yeast' see in a Google search:

Here, Google is picking up Ann's subject tags, which include 'Fresh yeast cookery'. And people are clicking through to see what she can teach. So how can you get more people finding you this way?

The place to start is by thinking about what your students might do. What are the words people might use when searching for someone like you? Then, check your teaching profile. Have you included those phrases as your subject tags?

If you haven't already, also take a look at what you've written in your teaching profile - your classes, experience, teaching approach and so on. Does this text include lots of these words?

If you're feeling really cunning, there are also tools that help you find the kinds of searches people are doing when they're looking for you. If you visit the Google keyword search tool and give it the URL address for your teaching profile, it'll tell you other keywords that people looking for you might use. Are these words or phrases that could describe you? If so, think about ways you could add them to your teaching profile.

This is just one of many ways you can use School of Everything to reach more students. I'll be writing more about this as time goes on. Meanwhile, if you've got another cunning trick, tell us about it! Email your top tip to hello [at] schoolofeverything.com - there'll be special prizes (and cake) for the best ideas.

Live yoga art installation this Sunday

School of Everything teacher Tracy Lee Jackson is one of the creators of Pause Now Pose, which organises mass outdoor yoga meets in London locations.

They're getting together on Dafoe Place, in the Barbican Estate Walkways, this Sunday (21 September) from 11am.

If you want to register to take part, email rsvp [at] pausenowpose.org. Or if you just want to watch, the performance runs from 4pm till 4.45pm.

So what brings you to Everything?

I've been spending some time looking at where School of Everything's visitors are coming from, especially the ones who find us through search engines. If people come from another website, that's much more likely to be because people are talking about School of Everything generally, as an idea. But if people come via a search, it's much more likely that they were just looking about on the internet, spotted something that might be interesting, and stopped by to take a better look.

It's nice to be interesting. But it's all very well us jumping up and down and saying 'La la la we're interesting, talk about us'. Ultimately we'd much rather you visted School of Everything because you find each other interesting. And so I've been looking at our search traffic to learn more about who's visiting us, finding something - or someone - interesting, and hanging around for a better look.

So what's interesting? Well, lots of teachers are using us as a handy way to make a quick website - a bit like the way musicians use MySpace. We get plenty of visits from someone who's looking up a particular teacher, and have spotted them on School of Everything.

Then there are lots of people who are just searching for stuff. For example, feltmaking is for some reason really popular in the North-East of England. Down in Devon and Cornwall, lots of people love painting and drawing.

I'll write more about which subjects turn up where another time. For now, instead of a load of statistics, I've made a picture of what's interesting to our visitors. It's based on 500 keywords that bring people to School of Everything, according to how long they stay (found something interesting) and how often the search has been made (how many people are interested in it).

(Hat tip to Wordle.net for the tag cloud generator)

Vote Valerie!

School of Everything teacher Valerie Wood-Gaiger has been nominated in a contest to find the ultimate Women's Institute person. Can School of Everything's community help her win?

Valerie lives in Myddfai in Wales, where she runs Grandma's Stories, a not-for-profit organisation that inspires grandparents caring for their grandchildren. She's an expert on intergenerational and e-learning, speaks at conferences around the world, and has been given an MBE for her work. She also founded her local Village Lamb Roast, and wins WI prizes for her bread, cakes, jam and sloe gin. "I'm not the best cook in the world but I enjoy it," she says.

The winner of the Sky/Daily Express competition will become the icon for Sky's new learning channel. Valerie just contacted Everything HQ to see if the School of Everything community could help swing the vote for her.

"This is vital," she told us. "Myddfai is such a tiny community there is no way I could muster the sort of support someone from a large community could attract. Especially at such short notice. Please vote for me. I may not be the ‘perfect’ W-Icon but I would love to do it – it would be fun!"

We've all voted Valerie at Everything HQ. Please help, and vote Valerie too. She's in second place at the moment, and it would be amazing if School of Everything's community could get her into first place before the contest closes on Sunday 21 September.

Here's the link to the poll (you need to scroll down a tiny bit to find it).

Vote Valerie!

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the market

Well, there's hardly been time to stop for breath since our launch last week. Thanks to Cory and all the others who blogged about us - and welcome to everyone who's joined the School of Everything community over the last few days!

Reading through the online conversations, one theme that came up concerns the ethics of creating a marketplace for learning. The argument was put succinctly by a couple of commenters on BoingBoing:

I think promotion of the idea that hobbyists and enthusiasts should charge for their services is very poor... I believe that education should be free and that knowledge should be shared freely. Having highly-developed skills and knowledge doesn't make a person a good teacher, especially if getting paid is a motivation. - Lukus

Most teachers aren't in it for the money, and money will taint the process. - Dejamuse

The first thing to say is, School of Everything isn't just about getting paid to teach. The eBay for learning tag seems to have stuck, but we also plan on being the Freecycle for education...! We want to see more people making a living by teaching something they enjoy and more people passing on what they know for the love of it. The question is, can we facilitate both? Or does money inevitably drive out good will?

I think the answer depends on what kind of marketplace we manage to build. A few years ago, the Indian activist and academic Vandana Shiva gave the BBC's Reith Lectures. When an audience member challenged her 'condemnation of the market system', she replied:

I love markets. I love my local market where local "subgees" are sold, and one can chat with the women. The tragedy really is that the Market is being turned into the only organising principle for life... and it's the disappearance of other markets, other values that I am condemning.

Shiva's local market is a place where buying and selling go on, mixed in with all kinds of other activities. Crucially, your right to be there does not depend on your being a paying customer. Such places are fewer and further between than they once were. (Starbucks may offer a third place to hang out, but you're only welcome if you look likely to order a coffee.)

When so many areas of life have suffered from the dominance of the Market over other kinds of value, some people are properly suspicious of anything that sounds like the further marketization of (for example) education. For me, the challenge is to ensure that School of Everything has the characteristics of the local marketplace, embedded within webs of economic and non-economic activity.

What that means in practice is not simple - but I hope the fact that we're thinking and talking about it will give confidence to people who share our concerns.

(BTW, thanks to Daniel Munro for a thoughtful post which gives another angle on all this - and which prompted the title of this post!)

Launching Everything

Last night Team Everything and friends celebrated our official launch in style.

Big thanks to Channel 4 for hosting us and to everyone who came for making it a cracking night.

Here's the room starting to fill up early on:

Big thanks to JP (below) for chairing the evening, and to Geoff Mulgan, Matt Locke and our very own Paul Miller for giving such inspiring - and concise - speeches:

And finally, thanks to everyone who stayed on to party into the night with us:

We were moving pretty slowly around Everything HQ this morning, but there was no time to relax as around lunch time we got BoingBoinged. So a big welcome to all the many many new users who've joined us from that, and a big thanks to Cory Doctorow for coming along last night and saying such nice things about us.

To Everything, and beyond!

Back to school

It's the beginning of a new school year, and time for School of Everything to get a shiny new look.

We've gone live today with a sleek new design (thank you Sangeet) and various new features including:

  • explore the most popular subjects
  • find people and subjects near you
  • browse related teachers
  • bookmark teachers and learners
  • integrate your teaching and learning profiles
  • teach for money or just for the love of it
  • report bad or inappropriate content

Hopefully all these new features will make sense, but if not, take a look at the new help section which explains Everything. We've also polished up our terms of use and added some more details about us and how we got started.

Take a look at the new site and what it can do for you in our big feature tour. And if you'd like to know more, or want to let us know what you think, please do get in touch.

That's a lot of work for the summer holidays. We're celebrating tomorrow night with a 'Back to School' launch event at Channel 4, where we'll be officially opening our doors for the new school year and inviting everyone to teach anything, and learn everything.

How is Everything?

Here at Everything HQ we really, really want to find out a bit more about how we're doing.

So we've made a little survey. It's very short. We'd love it if you felt like using it to tell us what you think.

Click here to go to the survey

Thank you!

Stand and deliver

No school holidays for us here at Everything HQ: we're hard at work on a big site redesign and some new features to be launched at the end of the month. (For a sneak preview, send me a message and join our beta testing group.)

As I comb the site looking for ways we can improve the product, I've been pondering this very elegant quote from our Chair JP:

"Use what you stand for to attract customers; use what you do to retain them. Ensure they’re always free to go, and they will stay."

I hope our customers will always be free to go, provided we have a healthy level of competition for what we're doing. But I'd certainly like them to stay, make use of what we offer and tell their friends about us. And I can't shake the anxiety that what we 'do' at the moment doesn't back up our promises.

I'm very proud of what School of Everything stands for. The project was born from the passionate desire of a few friends to change education, and I think we've attracted people to us who share our vision and want to help us succeed. But I feel like we've set ourselves up as having the answers to some pretty big questions, when actually what we have is the willingness to work on them.

The reason I'm an entrepreneur and not an academic is that I like the sounds ideas make as they smash into reality. The highest ideals must be destroyed if they are to become real, and the best ideas are those strong enough to survive the transition into the cold light of day, undiminished. It's difficult labour. We build something, and in the course of building it we learn what we should actually have built. We release it to our users, and they teach us what School of Everything really is.

I'm proud of how we're helping teachers promote what they can offer, but I'd like to do more to help the students design their own education. I'd like us to have better ways of matching people up, more tools for starting new classes and organising events, more tools to help people talk to each other, and better services for professional teachers. I want Everything, and I want it now.

And naturally I want to know what would be useful to you, how we can help you solve your problems. But I also wonder if that's setting me up to provide even more answers? If I solve your problems for you, I make you dependent on me and we remain divided. It's only when we solve our problems together that we are free to leave, or to stay.

Traditional business is about meeting customer needs, but web 2.0 is about bringing people together to meet their own needs. We all have an idea about transforming education, but we don't know how to do it yet. We haven't got an answer for you. We can't do Everything. What we can do is raise a standard, a rallying point for everyone who wants to work on this problem. And if the problem is worth solving, I think the answers will come.

To borrow JP's format:

"Use what you stand for to rally people to the task. Find the questions we all want to answer, and let us answer them together."