After ETAG

After the ball by Ramon Casas Y CarboAfter the ETAG report failed to provide a coherent route map, the new government now has a once-in-a-decade opportunity to develop a radical new approach to ed-tech.

In the autumn of 2013, I welcomed the Coalition government’s revival of interest in ed-tech after four years of neglect (see “Land ho!” of December 2013). But the process of bringing the ship into port does not always run smoothly. If last January’s report from the Education Technology Action Group (ETAG) is of any value, it is only because it shows so clearly how muddled is the thinking of the ed-tech community in the UK.

I do not welcome the opportunity to produce another negative critique (indeed, I have hesitated for four months before doing so). I would much rather move on to make a positive contribution to a coherent discussion about effective ed-tech policy. But so long as a group such as ETAG, established with some fanfare by Ministers, produces such a poorly reasoned argument, there seems to be little option but to offer a rebuttal.

What I want to emphasise at the end of this piece, however, is that the failure of ETAG provides an important opportunity to put aside the muddled vision of technology in education that has dominated our discourse for the last 20 years. Following last week’s election, we have in 2015 the best opportunity since 1997 to make a fresh start and introduce a truly effective model of education technology into our schools.

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Next generation SCORM

Ballet dancerAn outline and rationale for my proposal for “next generation SCORM”. I call it STARLET: Shareable Tools Activities and Resources for Learning Education and Training

This is the second in a series of papers prepared for an Education Priorities Working Group being run by W3C. While the first paper, Proposed W3C Priorities for Education, took a high level overview, this paper drills down into a proposal for a specific work item. At the technical level, which is not education-specific, I call this XDMDL, eXtensible Data Model Declaration Language. At the education level, I propose that the XDMDL should be used to underpin a new digitial ecosystem for learning. It is this education-specific ecosystem for which I propose the name STARLET: Shareable Tools Activities and Resources for Learning Education and Training. As before, if you are interested in what you read and want to get involved in the W3C discussions, email me at

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Proposed W3C priorities for education


A white paper proposing key ed-tech priorities for the world wide web

I co-wrote the following paper with Pierre Danet from Hachette Livre for the task force being run by W3C, the consortium responsible for the world wide web. The paper outlines what we see as the key priorities for the world wide web in the face of an emerging market for digital ed-tech. The basic premises of the paper were accepted in a call last Friday and over the next two weeks we will be working on a paper to describe in greater detail the specifics of the next steps that we believe need to be taken. This will be intended to form the prospectus for a W3C Community Group, which anyone who is interested in taking this work forwards is invited to join. Please email me at and I will forward your details to Pierre, who is leading the current scoping exercise. The original paper is currently on the W3C wiki page for this group.

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Rescue ETAG—say no to FELTAG

FELTAG and ETAGThe 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.

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What ETAG should say

The first meeting of ETAG, attended by Michael Gove and Mat HancockThe 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.

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Private intuition: public expertise

Twitching the net curtainsAs well as debunking numerous teaching myths, Tom Bennett’s book Teacher Proof reasserts the common view that teaching is a sort of private craft. I disagree.

I was not able to attend ResearchEd2013 back in September 2013; but ever since then I have been meaning (and not finding the time) to comment on the outcomes of the conference, which were conscientiously videoed and posted to the web by Leon Cych. The conference was organised by Tom Bennett to highlight the importance of (and problems with) current research in education. This was a few months after he had himself published Teacher Proof, mentioned in my earlier post, Why teachers don’t know best

It struck me that while the attack on quack theories was sound, the conclusions reached in Teacher Proof about the nature of the expertise of teachers were not well justified. Indeed, they seemed to me to be bizarrely at odds with the advertised prospectus of the Research Ed conference.

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Unlocking pedagogical innovation

A 1568 woodcut published in Meggs, Philip B. A History of Graphic Design. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1998. (p 64), via WikipediaJust as Gutenberg’s printing press provided the means by which the intellectual culture of Europe was transformed, so ed-tech will provide the means to transform our understanding of pedagogy.

This article was originally published (a couple of days ago) as “The View from Here” in the first edition of Terry Freedman’s re-launched newsletter, Digital Education, to which you can subscribe here. It provides a relatively short summary of the position I have outlined in this blog, arguing for a new approach to education technology that focuses on formalising and systematising the transactions and processes involved in education, rather than chasing after chimera like independent learning and twenty-first century skills. Continue reading