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

“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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Computing in the National Curriculum

Michael Gove leaving a platform on the National CurriculumMy response to the Department for Education’s consultation on the draft National Curriculum

Following my previous posts on the review of the National Curriculum (Digital literacy and the new ICT curriculum and Good lord! Where’s the digital literacy?), I submitted the following response to the DfE’s consultation on the National Curriculum, with particular reference to Computing.

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Digital Literacy and the new ICT curriculum

The Royal Society made a convincing argument that ICT should be replaced by a combination of Computer Science and Digital Literacy. The current draft of the new ICT PoS does not live up to this vision.

In my post Scrapping “ICT” on January 18th, I attacked the term “ICT” on the grounds that it confused two concepts: the teaching of technology (which I proposed to call Computer Studies) and the use of technology to improve learning (which I proposed to call education technology).

I had not at that time read the Royal Society report, Shut down or restart?, which had been published five days earlier. This report argued along similar lines to my own, but suggested that the term “ICT” confused not two but five concepts:

  • the National Curriculum Subject called “ICT” (itself a combination of many strands);
  • the use of generic information technologies (e.g. the internet, VLEs, office software) to support teaching and learning;
  • the use of specific technologies to support individual subjects (e.g. weather stations in Geography, MIDI instruments in Music);
  • the use of technologies to support teachers’ administrative processes, and the school’s management information systems;
  • the physical infrastructure of a school’s computer systems: the networks, printers and so on.

I can agree with the Royal Society that “ICT” confuses many different terms without necessarily  agreeing that their five points represent the most helpful classification of the different concepts. Continue reading

The dog that didn’t bark

Whatever happened to Michael Gove’s “serious, intelligent conversation about how technology will transform education”?

The clue to the mystery of missing racehorse, Silver Blaze, was provided by “the dog that did nothing in the night-time”. It was the absence of any barking as Silver Blaze was removed from her stable that aroused Sherlock Holmes’ suspicions that it had been the stable manager himself had taken the horse.

When called upon by Michael Gove to engage in “a serious, intelligent conversation about how technology will transform education”, the education technology community proved almost as unresponsive as the dog in Silver Blaze’s stable. If it woke up at all, it was only to wag its tail.

Michael Gove did not only call for a “serious intelligent conversation” in his BETT 2012 speech, he also told people where that conversation was to happen. Naace and ALT had already set up a discussion site at www.SchoolsTech.org.uk, where they hosted the conversation over the second half of January and February 2012, with the collaboration of the DfE, which provided the stimulus questions. In July 2012, Naace and ALT published the conclusions of the conversation in a joint report, Better learning through technology (BLTT).

Both the level and quality of the debate were disappointing: the respected ed-tech journalist, Merlin John, rated most of the contributions to the debate “lacklustre”.

This post will ask three questions:

  • why did the “serious, intelligent debate” not happen as we all might have hoped?
  • to what extent does Better learning through technology make good the deficit?
  • now that the Naace/ALT report has been published, what conclusions should we draw and how can we now move forwards again?

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Ploughing the same old furrow

Inside Government’s forthcoming conference, “Innovation in Education”, has a tired agenda which shows the ed-tech community still obsessing about the failed orthodoxies of the last decade
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The agenda for Inside Government’s conference, Innovation in Education (http://www.insidegovernment.co.uk/children/innovation-education/), provides a nice illustration of the point I argued in Scrapping “ICT”. The ed-tech community still seems to believe that that the only way to use technology to transform education is to teach it. Continue reading

What do we mean by “content”?

A presentation given to an Ad Hoc group in ISO/IEC SC36, responsible for scoping future standards work for digital learning content

Learning content is a divisive concept. Over the last few years it has become increasingly fashionable to criticize “content-driven” systems as encouraging transmissive or instructionalist styles of teaching. Ian Usher from Buckingham County Council reported in 2008 that “the best work we’ve seen within our Moodles in Buckinghamshire hasn’t come from great swathes of pre-produced content but from interactions…between learners and other learners (with teachers in there as well)”.  This echoes a 2006 article by Stephen Heppell stating that “Content isn’t king any more, but community might just be sovereign”.

There are two questionable assumptions that lie behind this now established orthodoxy:

  • the assumption that content and community are opposed to one another;
  • the assumption that we know what we mean by “content” in the first place.

The following presentation argues that the problem with concept of learning content is not that it is pedagogically flawed—but that it is misunderstood. Continue reading

Learning analytics for better learning content

A resume of a break-out discussion at the JISC/CETIS annual conference

For me, the highlight of the 2012 JISC/CETIS annual conference[1] was Adam Cooper’s session on “Mapping Cause and Effect”. Adam asked participants to create diagrams which traced chains of causality (both negative and positive) through to a final, desirable, pre-defined outcome.

I joined a break-out group with Colin Smythe (Chief Architect at IMS ), Tore Hoel (Oslo and Akershus University, Sweden), Malcolm Batchelor (JISC/CETIS), and Seyoung Kim (Carnegie Mellon University, USA). We chose to analyse what preconditions would favour or disfavour the use of analytics to improve the quality of course materials, taking course materials to be synonymous with learning content. We envisaged a scenario in which the author of a digital course might be able to track the performance of students taking the course. Having discovered from this data which parts of the course worked well and which worked less well, the author could improve the quality of the course materials.

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In the name of God, go!

A message to the DfE’s Information Standards Board

Of all the denunciations thrown across the floor of the British House of Commons, “In the name of God, go!” occupies a special place. It was first used by Oliver Cromwell when he dismissed the Long Parliament in 1653. In 1940, it was used by Leo Amery to call for the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, opening the way for Winston Churchill to come into Number 10. More recently, it has been used to call for the resignations of Gordon Brown and Silvio Berlusconi. Only Margaret Thatcher, at the hands of the more emollient Geoffrey Howe, was spared the British political equivalent of Robert Louis Stephenson’s black spot[1]. It is a call that is only appropriate at the final resort, when the last possibility of reasonable discussion has past. In the case of the DfE’s Information Standards Board, that point has now come.

The ISB holds responsibility in the DfE for the development of data standards to improve interoperability. On this blog, I have started (see Scrapping “ICT” and Aristotle’s saddle-maker) but not yet finished making the argument that will conclude (as did BESA’s Policy Commission of 2008) that these interoperability standards are critical for the intelligent application of education technology. It is in this context that the failure of the ISB should be judged.

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