Land ho!

land_hoMatthew Hancock, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for further educationskills and lifelong learning, announced in the Sunday Times yesterday that the government was setting up a Whitehall unit “to examine how children can be taught by computers that use sophisticated algorithms to set the pace according to individual ability”. After three and a half years of virtual silence on ed-tech, this is a welcome and exciting announcement. Online tuition, he says, is the key that “could help to raise Britain from the bottom of the international educational league tables”, using technology in a complementary role to teachers, so that “computers [will] take the lead in ‘imparting knowledge’ while teachers focus on ‘mentoring, coaching and motivating’”. Not only does this statement put education technology back on the political agenda in the UK, but it does so on completely different terms from those previously proposed by the advocates of independent learning, twenty-first century skills, and the wisdom of the crowd. Instead, it reflects something very similar to the position that I have been arguing on this blog. There is even a sense of urgency detectable in the fact that Mr Hancock wants “the changes…to be implemented as soon as possible”.

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Its the technology, stupid!

wheelThe consensus is that we should not mind the technology but that we should focus instead on the learning. The consensus is wrong.

This is the transcript of a presentation I gave at the EdExec conference, held by ICT Matters in London on 6 November 2013. The ostensible argument in my talk is that “procurement matters”, which I will admit, probably isn’t going to set your heart racing. But perhaps it should. The reason why procurement matters is that technology matters – and this is a point that much of the ICT community do not generally admit. Time and again, you hear the old saw being repeated, “never mind the technology, where’s the learning?” Most of my talk addressed addressed this point—and in doing so, I take on (as is my wont in this blog) a lot of shibboleths. I summarise some arguments with which those of you who have read previous posts may be familiar, and I also shadow some arguments that I will develop in greater detail in future. And I return to a promise that I made in my first post to this blog in January 2012, which is to discuss in rather more depth than I have done before why Becta’s approach to procurement was so lamentable. Continue reading

Why teachers don’t know best

The blind leading the blind by  Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568It is not surprising that teachers get impatient when others tell them how to do their job: “we are the experts”, they complain, “not you”. What should surprise the rest of us is how wrong they are: most teachers know little about teaching as a technical discipline.

This post responds to a comment by someone nicknamed subminiature, who argued on the Radio Times website that teachers knew what they were doing and should just be left to get on with the job. In this lengthy response, I argue the opposite: through no fault of their own, teachers do not have the skill-set that is required to improve the chronic under-performance of our education service. This will only be achieved by the implementation of education technology, backed by sound pedagogy. It is not surprising that teachers are not technology-experts: what is surprising is that they are not experts in pedagogy either. Expecting teachers to lead the sort of transformative development that is required in education is about as sensible as expecting a group of horse-drawn carriage drivers to design the first steam engine. Yet that is precisely the assumption on which government policy has been based over the last 15 years. A policy based on teachers sharing ed-tech best practice is analogous to Breugel’s allegory of the blind leading the blind.

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Learning content customisation and adaptation

Custom car

A copy of a comment regarding the difference between customisation and adaptation, and the importance of the latter to learning content that encapsulates pedagogy.

It is a central argument of this blog that the attempt to apply technology to the improvement of education has been held back by the lack of education-specific software. Such software will generally encapsulate pedagogy. An objection to this approach was recently raised by Peter Twining in a useful discussion on his blog, EdFutures. It is a little difficult to link directly to the part of the conversation where this occurs – the best way is probably to follow the link to the discussion page and then to search for “Re Technology Enhanced Learning”, which is the title of the thread in which this discussion occurs.

To paraphrase the general objection to software that encapsulates pedagogy, such software might be seen as a way of scripting lessons that dis-empower the teacher. At the top level, I would respond that many teachers have a pretty shaky understanding of pedagogy, so the ability to put pedagogically proven tools into their hands is a key way in which we will empower (not dis-empower) teachers (see my Education’s coming revolution). As for the nature of those tools, I certainly accept that the way in which software is used in the classroom needs to be flexible, allowing the teacher (the professional on the spot) to apply the software in the right way. This provides the background to my conversation with Peter Twining regarding the customisation or adaptation of education-specific software.

Peter’s argument is that, according to an OU project in the 1990s called SoURCE, in which he was involved, the pedagogy encapsulated in software often needed to be subverted by the teacher—and that this suggested that the encapsulation of pedagogy was something of a blind alley. I copy below my reply to Peter, followed by my conclusion.

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Five principles of pedagogy

Teacher at blackboardPeople talk a lot about “pedagogy”—but what do they actually mean? In this post, I suggest five principles that might help clarify matters.

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, as a condensed conclusion from my long essays, Education’s coming revolution and In the beginning was the conversation. But the the spark that has persuaded me to get it down on paper was given to me by a Twitter conversation with Pete Bell, an ICT Examiner, who quoted J Bruner saying “Teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation”. The argument of this post is that teaching is a lot more than that.

I propose the following five key principles of good pedagogy:

  • motivation;
  • exposition;
  • direction of activity;
  • criticism;
  • inviting imitation.

These principles may of course overlap and/or be sub-divided into sub-principles.

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“ICT” and “digital literacy” RIP

Still from the film "The premature burial"The term “Information and Communications Technology” (ICT) has referred to the curriculum subject taught in UK schools. As advocated on this blog, it is now being changed to “Computing”.

I laid out the reasons why the term “ICT” should be abolished in one of the earliest posts on this blog. The Royal Society made a similar argument at about the same time in its report “Shut down or restart?”. Yesterday, the Department for Education announced that it was initiating the the legislative process required to change “ICT” to “Computing”. It also suggested a surprising response to the debate over “digital literacy”—one that is equally welcome as far as I am concerned.

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Round-table with Ian Livingstone at Computing magazine

Round-table at Computing magazineWhy I disagree with Ian Livingstone (and why we should continue the discussion)

Last month I participated in a videoed round-table at Computing magazine’s offices in Soho, chaired by Peter Gothard. The panel included Ian Livingstone (the father of RPG games like Dungeons and Dragons and co-author of the Nesta NextGen report), Phil Bryant of OCR, and Joanna Poplawska of the Corporate IT Forum.

Part 2 of 3 of the conversation was published yesterday. Part 1 contains the panelists’ opening remarks and part 3 will address BYOD. It is this second part that contains the heart of the discussion.

I was a little taken aback, when I showed the video to my work colleagues yesterday, that they all complained that we were all far too polite to each other. “Where’s the passion?”, they complained. I assured them that this was not my normal reputation when discussing Learning Technology (indeed, I boasted, I had recently been threatened with legal action for defamation). But I can see what they meant. Maybe the shortness of the recording session and the unfamiliarity of the studio setting made us all a little stilted.

So, while there was much that the panel did agree on, I write this piece to highlight my disagreements with Ian Livingstone. They are generally disagreements of degree rather than of category—but they are significant nonetheless. When you add them together, they become pretty fundamental—and I would not want the importance of this disagreement to get lost in the civilities of the TV studio.

With all quotes coming from his first speech, I disagree with Ian…

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