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Ultralab: Talking Heads (2000-2004)

by Martin Doherty last modified Friday Oct 6, 2006 10:29
From January 2000 until June 2000 I worked with Ultralab in a part-time capacity as a facilitator with Talking Heads. In July 2000 I joined in a full-time capacity as this project moved from pilot to implementation stage.

Talking Heads was an online community for English headteachers that began as a DfES funded pilot in January 2000. The DfES recognised that headteachers are frequently isolated and that there is a wealth of knowledge that this group can share with each other. Ultralab's online facilitation team was 12 strong at this time.  They ensured that headteachers were able to make the best use of the communities within Talking Heads. The support generated between the initial 1200 new heads of schools was so effective that the community was extended to all headteachers in England. Talking Heads provided the blueprint for Virtual Heads in 2001 and progressively for all the other NCSL online communities.

As part of this project the Talking Heads Facilitation Team:-
  • developed some truly powerful networks between headteachers;
  • radically moved forward the debate on the effectiveness of online community as a tool in professional development;
  • developed unique strategies to promote online dialogue;
  • pioneered innovative interaction techniques between practitioners and policy-makers;
  • provided school leaders with a unique forum for debate;
  • created some really interesting online events.
Try these links if you want more detail.
  • The Thinking Skills Online Conference
    • Think piece papers presented by Dr Edward de Bono: “Promoting Thinking Skills in School”, Professor Robert Fisher: “Creating a thinking school: a discussion paper for school leaders”, Dr Vivienne Baumfield: “Embed the Principles of Thinking: Case Studies from Thinking Schools”
    • The conference was advertised in the educational press, as well as by email to all registered members of talk2learn (approximately 13,000). The aim of the conference was to highlight the importance of creating thinking schools and to bring the work of renowned experts in this field to school leaders using an online approach. In total, 1128 members registered for the conference with a number of those taking advantage of fast track community registration, which helped previously unregistered headteachers take part in the conference;

    • Conference members downloaded a specially compiled e-pack of materials which was supplemented with web links within the conference. Three online keynote guests led the conference discussions by posting a starter discussion paper and then sitting in the hotseat and answering questions. Issues and answers from the discussions were analysed further in breakout debates within the community.

    • Thinking Skills Leading Edge seminar on 23 September 2002, led by Professor Fisher
  • My Report on the Thinking Skills Conference. (PDF- small download)
  • The Really Creative School Visit Event 
    • where the team brought the ideas of two particularly creative schools to a much wider audience using some innovative web strategies including Hotseat discussion, internet broadcasting and streamed video resources;
    • This event stemmed from the work of the Re-modeling the Curriculum Community, one of the Talk2learn Online Communities, which has been the focus for in-depth headteacher discussions on creativity in schools and the mechanisms for promoting creativity in the school curriculum

    • Many of the postings to this community ask for information on how schools start the journey towards being a creative school, what materials are useful in planning and requests for information on how a variety of problems can be overcome. A number of the postings express a wish to visit creative schools to see first hand how things are done. Given the geographical spread of the schools involved visits are difficult to organize and expensive to undertake. In response to these difficulties the Really Creative School Visit Event was constructed.

  • The Impact Conference
    • Now when it came to drawing the project to a close it made a lot of sense to use the online tools to try to understand what wort of impact the project had had on the school leaders involved. Sop we put together an onlien conference using only the community tools! As a first it was pretty special. A report is here on the NCSL website- Impact Report   or here if you don't mind a more basic version. The analysis is pretty interesting as well because I think we managed to retain the essence of the debate, preserve the identity of the individual and give a unique insight into online community.
A short report on the Talking Heads project can be downloaded here.

A two year interim report was compiled by the Project team:
Bradshaw P, Chapman C, Powell S, Ramondt L, Terrell I, (Eds), Talking Heads, two year research reflections, Interim report to NCSL, 98, 01 Jan 2002

The final report compiled by the Project Team is:
Chapman C, Ramondt L,(Eds), 2003, Online Communities - Final Report: Developments in the Communities of Practice and the Programme Communities - September 2002 to 31st October 2003, NCSL, 90

And of course there is more contained in the project papers and the final report that's not available for public view. However, any of the facilitation can work with you to pass on the knowledge we gained from the project. The lessons we learned are valuable but.... the questions we learned to ask that still need research to find some answers are even more valuable!

If you'd like to know more follow the links on this page or drop me an email:

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