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In conversation with... Ewan McIntosh, NoTosh Limited

This month we have been talking to Ewan McIntosh, CEO of NoTosh Limited. He discusses what he believes are pressing issues in education, what we can expect from the inspirational and challenging NoTosh Limited Keynote and how education will progress in the next decade.

How long have you been working for NoTosh? Please describe your role

I founded NoTosh at the end of 2009, borne out of the frustration with all the keynote speakers of the time telling teachers to "be more creative", yet not showing us how. I'd just left my role as a Digital Commissioner, or investor, at Channel 4 Television Corporation, beginning to understand what made creative companies tick, and wanted to see if the same things could help lead to more effective learning.

What can we expect from the NoTosh talk at GESS this year?

An equal dose of inspiration and challenge. Many of the schools attending, and those companies serving them with products and services, will be successful by traditional measures. But, increasingly, getting kids good grades is commoditised, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, where excellent academic achievement is the baseline 'given' of international schools. Once we've worked out how kids learn well, and get good grades, how can we add something to that learning process? How can we do more than simply get great grades? How can we pay equal heed to creative thinking, the capacity to find problems (and not just solve them?) 

What type of audience do you think would most benefit/ appreciate the Keynote presentation?

NoTosh works with schools from pre-K through to university postgraduates, and we work with creative organisations on how to engender a culture of learning that will keep employees engaged. Our wide scope of work and impact means that the lessons I want to share through one or two key stories will be relevant to any learning sector.

Are there any new projects in the pipeline for NoTosh that you are particularly excited about?  

We are on the verge of partnering with some incredible learning institutions in Canada, Australia and Dubai, to open Centres of Excellence to which educators can come and learn in depth about how to shift learning to become a process more equally shared between learner and teacher, through a deep understanding and practice of design thinking, formative assessment strategy, and digital and physical space design.

Are there any new projects in the pipeline for NoTosh in the GCC?

2014 is the year of the GCC for NoTosh. It's where we start to see how our creative and critical thinking can add value to the amazing foundations already built in the GCC. It sometimes feels like we're at least 10 years late, given the progress in building schools for a growing population. That said, there is much scope for engendering a culture of continuous reflection and creative development in the growing international schools sector. True to NoTosh's roots, though, we would love to be engaged in developing creative practice in learning in state schools and HE institutions. We're taking our first baby steps, but are hungry to work with those who see the same needs locally.

In your opinion, what are the most pressing matters in education? What are the greatest challenges that educators are being faced with at the moment?

The biggest challenge in all sectors is the sensation that, still, "new" things are simply being added on top of an already crowded agenda. Much of this is a leadership challenge: we're using outdated strategy tools to develop words on the page that are irrelevant within months as the pace of technology and our understanding of what makes great learning is better and better informed. If we turn to the agile strategy tools we see in the world of the creative industries, we've seen success in stopping that "additive" feel of "the latest initiative" from management or Government, and creating a sense of making the ingredients of great learning easier for time-poor teachers to see.

How do you think education will change/ progress in the next decade?

We'll see more understanding in more places about what makes great teaching and learning, without the distraction of shiny new fads clouding that understanding. This, in turn, means that our strategy at a leadership level can become clearer and more inclusive, involving a more informed public and teaching population. I don't see "big data" as the revolution it's being touted as: it's part of an equation that involves a good dose of human talent on the sharp end of teaching and learning in the classroom, and at home in the parenting of mums and dads.

Who would you like to see (this may be speakers/exhibitors etc) at GEF 2015 and what issues surrounding education would you like to see being discussed?

I'd like to see exhibitors and speakers coming together to create some really deep learning sessions, where participants, speakers and organisers alike can gain a better understanding of a half dozen key ingredients of great learning and teaching. With such expertise, equipment and multiculturalism in one room, we could potentially create more change than any one keynote speaker!

This year’s theme for GEF, our conference programme, is 'Education and the 21st Century: Skills, Opportunities and Challenges. What skills do you think are crucial to any young person studying in the UAE who intends to enhance their future career?

The UAE always amazes visitors for the pace of change, and capacity to build out of the 'nothing' of a desert. That ingenuity needs to be harnessed, developed and nurtured throughout a UAE kid's life. The skills it requires on the young person's part are, above all else, an insatiable curiosity for how the world (and people) around them work, think and play. With empathy and a strong gut instinct (as well as the "minimum viable" critical and creative thinking skills) as a starting point, the rest will follow.

What do you find your greatest challenge to be when trying to connect with the teaching community?

That there's no such thing as "the teaching community". We're a varied bunch, with competing biases and different pressures from different governments. This makes change in education particularly "unscalable", and very human, something the technology and big data companies espousing "scalable change" will struggle to deal with.

Social media is seen as fundamental to business success and awareness. Would you agree and how have you managed this aspect of your marketing?

One of my proudest client jobs was directing the digital media strategy for the Scottish Government's re-election campaign in 2011. Using social media, good storytelling and targeting, we created the world's biggest ever political swing (33%) in just 100 days. There's something key in that experience for anyone working in education: learn to tell folk about your strategy in terms that they, personally, will care enough about that they will tell their neighbours. Storytelling might just be the most powerful way to design school strategy, to change teacher's approaches to learning, to get parents on board with the changes we need to see from 20th century models of thinking.

How does NoTosh maximise ROI and brand awareness through social media?

That would be telling... the fact is, our investment in social media is tiny compared to our revenues, every pound and dollar of which has come solely from word of mouth. 92% of our customers come back for more, year on year, and they tell their friends. That's the best social media you can ask for.

Play full audio interview of Ewan McIntosh: