Current models of ed-tech are based on theories of progressive education which are in turn based on a false understanding of what learning involves.
I wrote the following piece as an assignment during my PGCE, which I completed in 1990 at the Institute of Education in London. It was to some degree an exercise in letting off steam, a cry of exasperation at the complete nonsense that I felt we were being prescribed on our reading lists. I publish it now, partly in response to Harry Web’s review of Gert Biesta’s the Beautiful Risk of Education. It is also relevant to a Twitter conversation yesterday in which my interlocutor suggested that it was up to teachers to ensure that the curriculum was “developmentally appropriate”.
Ed-tech (the subject of this blog) rests on education theory—and there is a chasm opening up in the current debate in this area between those who think that education is essentially an exercise in development, driven from within; and those who think that education is an exercise in socialization, driven by the transmission of knowledge and values from the society in which the learner is placed. I take the latter side—see my recent article for Terry Freedman’s Digital Education—and to anyone who cries foul (or at least “false dichotomy”) I would say, you take the latter side too. Because while those who believe in transmission (or socialization, as I call it in this essay) also recognise development as a necessary prerequisite for achieving certain sorts of understanding, those who believe in education driven by internal development generally appear to view external influence and transmission as illegitimate. That is why the question is not “should children develop?” (of course they should) but “should education socialize?”.
And to those to whom I have promised some use-cases, to illustrate how the sort of education technology that I am advocating will work in practice, let me say, in passing, that I am working on it.
The ed-tech community should listen carefully to concerns being raised about the effect on our children’s development of excessive time spent online
Baroness Greenfield recently wrote an opinion piece in the TES, restating her view that education technology is not just ineffective but may well be positively harmful. “More pseudo-science poppycock”, harrumphed one prominent ed-tech tweeter, who was quickly supported by others. “Actually, she makes some rather sensible points”, said I. “No, no”, said my interlocutors, “the Baroness has been completely discredited. But if you are going to blog about it, please keep it short”. “1,000 emollient words”, I promised.
I am not sure how well I managed to be emollient—I am afraid it is not a style that comes naturally to me—and I certainly failed to keep it short. But, if you are interested in ed-tech, then I think its intersection with emerging neuroscience, and the controversy that has blown up in this area, are worthy of careful consideration.
Those of us advocating new approaches to ed-tech in UK schools need to take the time between now and the next election in May to build a case that does not assume that the argument for technology in education is self-evident.
Two days ago, a UK government re-shuffle removed from their current posts all of the sponsoring Ministers for the Education Technology Action Group (ETAG). The likelihood that this report will now have any significant influence is slim. This might represent a lucky escape because I saw no evidence that ETAG was going to produce any convincing or coherent argument for ed-tech that went much beyond saying we should adopt it “because it’s there”. This is not a position that is going to cut any ice with Ministers of any political party. The following post is copied from an email sent to the ICT Research Network, a reflector originally established by Becta and now managed by ALT and NAACE. It responds to a conversation bemoaning the uneven extent to which schools have pursued “digital normalisation”.
Why Liz Truss was right to call for more professionally produced learning resources; and why the profession misunderstood her when she talked about “textbooks”
Liz Truss, Minister in the UK DfE for Education and Healthcare, has been calling for a return to textbooks. The headline story masks a more complex argument that bundles together several different strands. Instead of dismissing Truss’ call as regressive, it should be brought together with Matt Hancock’s ETAG initiative to stimulate a serious debate about how teachers can be given better tools of the trade, which exploit the opportunities provided by digital technology.
A summary of my recent contributions to the debate around ETAG
To many on the ETAG committee, I am undoubtedly seen as an awkward and disruptive influence—something like the know-it-all who keeps putting their hand up at the back of the class. They have already changed the medium through which their consultation is conducted, shifting the emphasis away from Twitter (which provides me with the opportunity to challenge poorly justified contributions) to an online form, which keeps submissions private and unchallenged. At the same time, the committee retains in public a stony silence in the face of my arguments, while one prominent member of the committee complains (in a context in which he is clearly referring to myself) of the activities of “trolls, spammers, abusers, and self-publicists”.
Well, as its formal consultation finishes, it is time that ETAG publicly acknowledged the debate and made a serious, substantive response to the criticisms that I and others have raised. Because if they do not, it is increasingly clear that their report will be ignored by government, just as the FELTAG report was effectively ignored before it. This post contains a list of links to my various substantive contributions to the debate, most of which are on other people’s websites.
The DfE should reject the FELTAG recommendations in order to ensure that all the same mistakes are not repeated by ETAG
At the same time as the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) got ready to submit its recommendations to government for action to support ed-tech in Further Education, a new group was set up to propose similar recommendations that would cover all education sectors. But the Education Technology Action Group (ETAG) has inherited all of the same flawed assumptions that were made by FELTAG and by BECTA before them. If Matt Hancock wants to be the man who ends the long history of failed government initiatives and the man who helps introduce genuine, transformative education technology to the UK, he needs to insist that the government is given a much clearer and more convincing rationale for action than the FELTAG report has offered.
The Education Technology Action Group, set up by the DfE and BIS and announced by Matt Hancock at BETT, has made a shaky start. This is what I think they should end up saying to Ministers.
In my post “Land ho!” of 16 December, I welcomed the noises being made at that time by Matt Hancock, Minister for Skills & Enterprise at BIS, about the government’s new, more proactive approach to education technology. This led to the announcement at BETT on 23 January of a new advisory group, the Education Technology Action Group, to be chaired by Stephen Heppell. The most that could be said so far is that ETAG has had a slow start.We didn’t hear anything of substance until 23 April, when it published a series of questions that are to form the basis of a consultation, which is to run until 23 June. In my view, the questions are not particularly helpful. Nor have they attracted any significant response in the first couple of weeks, there having been only a couple of dozen substantive tweets using the #etag hashtag. But I am looking forward to engaging in the consultation and, by way of encouraging the debate, publish below my own views on what ETAG should say to Ministers.