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.
When the UK coalition government came into office in May 2010, one of the first things that it did was to light its bonfire of the quangos (quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations, which in most cases mean government agencies). One of these was the British Educational Commuications and Technology Agency, BECTA—and when BECTA went, so did the government’s active involvement in promoting technology in education.
The government’s position in this respect (and it is one that I largely agreed with) was that most of what Becta did was wasteful and ineffective and that if there was to be a future for education technology, then we were much more likely to get there quickly if the market was allowed to lead. The trouble with this policy has always been that there is not much money in education to tempt the red-blooded entrepreneur, particularly as government remains the ultimate customer and cannot help interfering (as it continues to do through it’s misjudged procurement frameworks). So the predictable response to the government’s withdrawal from ed-tech has been a deafening silence, broken only by the distant sounds of government initiatives in America repeating most of Becta’s mistakes, 10 years later.
Whatever you think of Michael Gove, no-one can accuse him of not being prepared to own up to mistakes. In a world in which most politicians angrily denounce each other across the chamber and tie themselves in oratorical knots rather than admit any culpability for anything at all, Michael Gove quite regularly turns up at the dispatch box in the House of Commons as a Roman Catholic might enter the confessional box. So it was that the DfE admitted that it had over-estimated the market’s ability to innovate by itself, and asked for advice on what it could do to amend matters. Matt Hancock, Junior Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (also responsible for Higher Education) was given the brief, with responsibility both to David Willets, Secretary of State at BIS, and Michael Gove at the DfE.
The first stage of the project was to form the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) in January 2013. In April 2014, this produced its final report , to which the Department for Education is expected to respond this week.
In the meantime, on 23 January 2014, Matt Hancock made an admirable speech at BETT, arguing that we should welcome the new sorts of education technology that would support learning and at the same time maintain rigour. In this speech, he announced the establishment of a new Education Technology Action Group (ETAG), which was to repeat the exercise undertaken by FELTAG with respect to all sectors of education and not just to FE.
In their own report, this decision was interpreted by the authors of the FELTAG report as an endorsement of their own success:The success of FELTAG led to the formation of a cross-departmental, ministerial learning technology implementation team (the Education Technology Action Group, ETAG)…[which] will explore the potential to replicate FELTAG’s success across the education system
It might be thought a little gonflé and certainly premature of the FELTAG authors to congratulate themselves on the success of their report even before they had finished writing it—and I hope that they will be proved mistaken in their optimism.
It was certainly true that the ETAG group has carried on from where FELTAG left off. Not only did it inherit a number of FELTAG participants (8 out of the 17 members of ETAG were previously participants in FELTAG)—but more crucially, it also inherited many of its assumptions, which, as I shall argue below, are poorly founded.
Its new chairman, Professor Stephen Heppell, decided to proceed on the basis of a “crowd-sourced” consultation using Twitter. This started on 23 April and is due to last until 23 June.
This post will argue that:
- FELTAG produced a weak report which ought on its own merits to be rejected by the DfE;
- the wholesale transfer of assumptions from FELTAG to ETAG has meant that the members of ETAG are failing to address their own remit;
- ETAG’s Twitter-based consultation exercise was misconceived and has already proved to be a failure.
The fundamental problems, both with FELTAG and ETAG and with most of the other ed-tech reports of a similar kind, are as follows.
- They fail to address explicitly the fact that, in spite of considerable investment over the past two decades, there is no empirical evidence that ed-tech has had any significant impact on education. This does not mean that we should not be very interested in the potential of ed-tech; but it does mean that we should be very cautious about asserting how it will work. Nothing can be taken for granted; everything needs to be scrutinized carefully and contrary opinion considered carefully. Yet all of these reports assert positions based on the flimsiest of rationales and consistently fail to engage with contrary positions.
- They regard technology indiscriminately as a sort of commodity—like a huge vat of peanut butter—which contains various sorts of hardware (particularly smartphones and tablets), sprinkled with some generic software and cloud services, like Twitter or Facebook. They do not recognize that technology is at heart all about process and not about things; they do not recognize that there are different technologies appropriate to different requirements and professions; or that that these different requirements correspond to different, vertical markets for sector-specific technology products; or that in the case of education, the market for sector-specific technology barely exists.
- They frequently confuse two completely separate requirements: one being about what we should teach students about technology; and the other being to use technology to improve education across the curriculum, for teaching whatever curriculum society, parents and learners deem appropriate. So ed-tech is often justified in terms of promoting so-called “twenty-first century skills” or “digital literacy”, which are matters for the curriculum and not for pedagogy.
- They assume that the only people who can create innovative new approaches to education are teachers and their advisers and trainers. For this reason, the sort of people who would be able to build new markets for education-specific technology (software developers, statisticians, entrepreneurs) are not included in their deliberations.
- The assume that learning is an intrinsic good. In fact, left to themselves, people are only too quick to learn false information or behaviours which may be violent, addictive, self-indulgent or just lazy. Education is not just about learning, it is about learning the right things and about not learning the wrong things. This requires direction. The word itself comes from the Latin, educare, which means “to lead”. The relevance of this fallacy is that education technology is often advocated on the grounds that it encourages informal learning, e.g. through social networks, which rests on the assumption that all learning is good.
The first problem with the FELTAG report is its definition of learning technology, which is taken from the Association for Learning Technology. This runs as follows.Learning technology is the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment .
The trouble with this definition is that any technology can be used to support learning, teaching and assessment. If I wanted to learn about missile guidance systems, then missile guidance systems would doubtless be a very useful sort of learning technology under this definition. Right from the start, this means that the report makes no distinction between different types of technology. It admits of no term to represent the technology that is developed specifically to meet the education requirement which in the main is what we lack. And not having a word for it, the reader who has not thought about these matters carefully is liable not to notice its absence.
Since all technology is classified as learning technology and almost none of this technology was designed specifically for learning, a heavy onus is place on teachers to exploit the technological resources that they can inherit (or in the words of Diana Laurillard, “appropriate”) from other horizontal markets.
In this way, the report settles on its conclusion (that the problem lies with teacher training and not with technical development) in its very first sentence and without considering any possibility of a counter-argument.
This unexamined assumption is consequently expounded through the rest of the Executive Summary in the form of six points.
The sector has to keep abreast of change
The report concludes that it is for “policy-makers, teachers, governors, and managers” to understand the increasingly rapid changes in IT and to exploit these opportunities for the benefit of education. This is clearly unrealistic, when very few “policy-makers, teachers, governors, and managers” have any experience, expertise or often interest in IT.
Procurement must be appropriate and agile.
You might expect that this section would be the one to prove my argument wrong, the section in which FELTAG emphasizes the importance of procurement and shows that it understands the need to buy in the fruits of external expertise, as applied to the task of creating education-specific technologies. If only. Unfortunately the paragraph is all about “investment in technological infrastructure”—hardware, networking and connectivity. It does not mention the procurement of ed-tech.
Regulation and funding must not inhibit innovation and its effectiveness in improving learners’ outcomes
FELTAG believes that innovation will be led by teachers and lecturers, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that repeated attempts to do this in the past have had any beneficial effect at all. By bracketing “innovation” and “effectiveness” in the same phrase, it fails to recognize that even properly resourced innovation is extremely risky and fails more often than not.
The entire workforce has to be brought up to speed to fully understand the potential of learning technology.
There is no evidence for the potential for learning technology and, without evidence, training is merely a euphemism for indoctrination. This is supported by the fact that large amounts were spent on a wide range of training programmes under the last government, with no evidence whatsoever of positive impact. It ignores the fact that previous experience has shown that training teachers to use generic forms of technology has proven to be ineffective, or that by analogy with other forms of technical advance (such as the introduction of mobile technology, for example) it is almost never seen that these require the widespread training of consumers. It is well-designed technology that disrupts, technology that works “out of the box”, not cumbersome training programmes.
Relationships between the FE community and employers should become closer and richer, and enhanced by learning technology inside and outside the workplace.
However desirable this objective might be, it displays the same old confusion between the need to train students how to use the technology that they are likely to find in the workplace (i.e. the subject of their courses), and the need to use technology to improve learning. Where training occurs in the workplace, then of course education technology will be needed that supports the close working relationship between college and workplace—but this comes back to the procurement of suitable technology and not to the ad hoc development of better relationships.
Learners must be empowered to fully exploit their own understanding of, and familiarity with digital technology for their own learning.
If we don’t need new sorts of education-specific technology, and if the teachers cannot exploit generic technologies to produce positive outcomes in the classroom, then maybe learners can do it for themselves? But there is no evidence to suggest that Twitter and Facebook have every made a significant contribution to supporting the objectives of formal learning, beyond the occasional, informal use for which they are already available.
The report then proceeds to paint an extremely optimistic picture of the progress being made by teachers.From the teacher survey, we know that they are doing the innovation, and there are many examples in the sector of highly effective and innovative use of digital learning technology.
Neither of the two surveys on which this account is based is published. There is no survey data, no information about the samples or how they were selected, no use cases and no evidence of positive outcomes. It is an entirely evidence-free zone.
This section concludes that:the key to adapting to disruptive innovation…is not technology. It is to put people ahead of strategy.
I am not sure what it means “to put people ahead of strategy”, other than that a properly justified strategy is not required. Maybe that explains FELTAG’s fuzzy reasoning and why the assertion that technology is not important is not supported by any evidence at all, but was assumed to be true from the very start of the report.
I am very happy to believe that this conclusion reflects the opinions of teachers, who see themselves as the gatekeepers of education, who tend to see teaching as a matter of personality and relationship rather than process, and who generally have little or no understanding of technology. It is a conclusion that is not supported by numerous examples from history, which consistently show that it is the technology that explains lasting change and very rarely the people.
The final part of the report puts forward a long list of 39 recommendations, such as to:
- encourage the development of programmes to professionalize FE governors, principals’, managers’ and teachers’ use of learning technology, building on the best current models;
- raise profile of appropriate and relevant accreditation schemes, such as ALT’s CMALT, which accredits the learning technology capability of staff, and the RAPTA self-assessment tool, which assesses how effectively an organisation uses learning technology;
- colleges to simultaneously run a national annual ‘Learning Tech Development Day’, centrally-coordinated by Jisc’s RSCs with streamed Ministerial input;
- identify public sector online learning content that could be useful for functional skills and make this available under an OGC licence;
- mandate the inclusion in every publicly-funded learning programme from 2015/16 of a 10% wholly-online component, with incentives to increase this to 50% by 2017/2018. This should apply to all programmes unless a good case is made for why this is not appropriate to a particular programme.
In short, FELTAG recommends a return to the days when a bonanza of central government spending ended up in the pockets of consultants and trainers (just like the members of FELTAG), without delivering any measurable benefit to learners.
While FELTAG assumed that the establishment of ETAG represented an endorsement of their own success, the opposite interpretation seems to me to be rather more plausible: that seeing the FELTAG car-crash coming down the road, Ministers set up ETAG in order to allow them to reject FELTAG without ruffling too many (fairly easily ruffled) feathers. “Thank you”, they will say, “for those very interesting recommendations—now let us see how ETAG recommends that we carry all those ideas forwards in practice”.
But if ETAG was meant to give the ed-tech community a second chance to say something sensible, then it is not working out very well, in spite of the fact that they were given a very helpful steer by ministers. The kick-off website, launched by Stephen Heppell in February 2014, explained the group’s remit as follows:Our remit said “The Education Technology Action Group ETAG will aim to best support the agile evolution of the FE, HE and schools sectors in anticipation of disruptive technology for the benefit of learners, employers & the UK economy” …and we have also been asked to identify any barriers to the growth of innovative learning technology that have been put in place (inadvertently or otherwise) by the Governments, as well as thinking about ways that these barriers can be broken down.
On the same page, ETAG’s mission is illustrated with a graphic that had been originally produced by Bryan Mathers for FELTAG, which was copied into the ETAG base documentation, and which has been subsequently widely quoted in the Twitter conversation.
It is worth pointing out, in passing, that learning does not need to be fun—it needs to be effective—and these don’t necessarily go together, as Tom Bennett has recently argued.
The more important point is that, as a mission statement, this graphic imports from FELTAG the assumption that it is all about “enabling innovation with [generic] (‘I am a smart device’) technology” and not through the production of new education-specific technology; and that this innovation with technology will occur by empowering teachers and learners, not software developers and entrepreneurs. There is no mention at all of industry, which in one shape or another is normally what creates innovative technology, either in response to or in anticipation of user demand. This is despite the fact that ETAG’s remit is perfectly clear that its job is to recommend action “in anticipation of disruptive technology” and “to identify any barriers to the growth of innovative learning technology”.
ETAG was asked to consider how to encourage the emergence and deployment of new forms of innovative education technology by expert developers; but instead they have chosen to look at the opportunities for pedagogical innovation in the classroom by teachers, using the same old generic technology. Where the remit talks about “disruptive technology”, ETAG talks about “disruptive innovation”. They have misunderstood what they are supposed to be doing.
When ETAG was established, Stephen Heppell announced a “crowd-sourced”, Twitter-based consultation exercise, in which everyone would be invited to contribute. It was an innovative idea and given (as I suggest above) that innovation fails 9 times out of 10, no-one should be surprised that it has not worked.
Part of the problem was that it was mis-sold. A repeated theme in the many calls for participation was that teachers should contribute their experiences of “what works”.
Only a very few people responded to this call, sending in short snippets about what they or their learners were doing.
Commendable as these teacher-driven initiatives doubtless are, there is no means of establishing whether these examples are having any positive impact on learning or whether they could be successfully replicated at scale to other learning providers. Nor is it within the remit of ETAG to establish what works and what does not: their job is to advise on removing barriers to the uptake of the disruptive technology which is not going to be created by teachers, but by people like Sir Michael Barber of Pearson, who retweeted the following by Bruce Nightingale:
Because the true “disruptive technology” that ETAG was tasked with considering lies in the future, not the past, because this is something that even Pearson only “envisages”, there is no empirical evidence to collect. When considering what to do next, it is not so much evidence that is required, as a priori reason and rigorous discussion. To this task, the medium of Twitter has (predictably enough) proved to be wholly inadequate.
With some technical help from Martin Hawksey (@mhawkesy), who has developed the pretty TAGSExplorer tool (screenshot above), I downloaded all #etag tweets from the opening of the consultation on 23 April through to the end of May. There were a total of 676 (excluding tweets about electronic luggage tagging systems in Africa, gospel churches in America, and the Edinburgh Tourist Advisory Group).
I allocated all of these tweets to one of the following categories:
|Repeat||Retweets and tweets repeated by the same sender|
|Social||“Looking forward to seeing you”, “Thank you for your comment” etc.|
|Announcement||Announcing ETAG and encouraging participation|
|Significance||Discussing the significance of ETAG, for example to say that it is well regarded, without directly encouraging participation.|
|Quote||Repeating material from ETAG base documents or the assumptions made by the group|
|Promote||Promote a third-party website, person or event (e.g by link) without making an obvious point relevant to ETAG.|
|Example||Providing an example of the use of ed-tech|
|Third party||Link to an external site, video, or document that implies a substantive and relevant point, even though it might take some time to work it out.|
|Pro Ed-tech||Making the general point that ed-tech and ICT is a good thing|
|Comment||Commenting on the ETAG assumptions or process (either negatively or positively).|
|Policy||Making a point relevant to the remit of the group (including by reference to and external site that is authored by the tweeter, but not to someone else’s site)|
|Discuss||Making a point relevant to the remit of the group in direct response to another tweet.|
I then grouped these categories into four super-categories, as follows:
|Non-substantive||Repeat, Social, Announcement, Significance, Quote.|
|Tangential||Example, third-party, pro-ed-tech|
I have already explained why I regard examples of the use of ed-tech as “tangential”. I hope it is also fairly clear why “pro-ed-tech” should be given this fairly lowly status. Some people may object that I have been hard on “third-party references” – but my rationale here is that it is very difficult for any discussion to absorb such references and evaluate them. For that, the referrer must state what they see as the significance of the reference – and where this happens, the tweet gets tagged with the higher status of “policy”. In some cases, contributors would make “policy” tweets and support them with other “third-party” references, which is fair enough.
Once I had marked up all the individual tweets, the following data could be extracted fairly easily. And I think it is useful because it gives a fairly good idea of what was really going on in the consultation. The full data on which these graphs are based is available in the “ETAG tweets 31 May” spreadsheet.
About three quarters of the tweets were “non-substantive” (mostly repeat tweets and announcements), one twelfth were “tangential”, one twelfth concerned “ETAG process” and one twelfth (only 59 tweets) were “on-remit”.
The graph for contributors showed a sharply narrowing pyramid, with only 23 contributors sending 4 or more tweets and only 6 contributors sending 10 or more tweets.
This low level of participation becomes all the more stark when you look at people making any sort of “substantive” tweet. There were only 7 contributors who sent 4 or more substantive tweets (including tangential and process tweets but exclude retweets and announcements – we are not even talking just “on-remit” here) and only 2 contributors who sent 10 or more substantive tweets.
It should be noted that I only analysed the responses made on the main #etag hashtag and did not include tweets sent in to the individual discussion strands (#etag1a, #etag1b, #etag1c, #etag2a, #etab2b, #etab3a, #etag3b, #etag4, purely because of the amount of extra work this would involve and the relatively small number of tweets sent in (a total of only 2 to the “wildcard” thread). I should mention, though, that Oliver Quinlan made a significant number of on-remit, thread-specific tweets, which, had I included these threads, would certainly have ensured he was included amongst the substantive contributors.
I have not included here any analysis of the different substantive points being made. I may try and do and that at the end of the consultation—but in the meantime, Martin Hamilton has posted a useful interim round-up of key points and key references.
This low level of participation (as will already be clear from the absolute numbers we are talking about) applied to the great majority of members of the ETAG committee as well. Bob Harrison obviously took the main responsibility from drumming up interest, making large numbers of announcements, mostly repeat tweets sent on automated sender software, as well as a few tangential tweets that referred to third-party papers. One or two others of the committee did their bit but no-one contributed to any meaningful “on-remit” discussion.
This may have been a point of deliberate policy and I am sure it would have been a good one had the job of ETAG been to assess the empirical evidence that respondents had submitted. But, as argued above, that was never the nature of ETAG’s job. What was required if the Twitter discussion was ever to have worked was good moderators and chairmen to lead and ignite the discussion, ensuring that people who came on the list to assert one position responded to the objections of those who took up a contrary position.
This was never going to happen, not only because ETAG misunderstood its remit, but also because it was always apparent that the leading members of ETAG had already made up their mind. Exposing their assumptions to the scrutiny involved in an open debate seemed at least unnecessary, given that they seem to regard their views as beyond question.
This attitude is clear in the article announcing the formation of ETAG on Merlin John’s website, in which it is stated that such is the degree of distinction of the people represented on the ETAG committee that:the question will be whether the politicians and their civil servants can keep up.
It is also implied by the base paper, published on 23 April and already criticized on this blog. Having outlined its vision of the future, the base document introduces a “wild card” section by saying:Most of the above is without surprise – there is very broad agreement that those are indeed directions in which we are heading. Indeed for most of them it is not hard to find existing examples of institutions that are already there, or largely there. However, our brief was to be bold and we don’t want to exclude the braver ideas. So for this section we would welcome braver thoughts and suggestions from all of you, to sit alongside our own thoughts.
The mindset is clear: don’t bother questioning the substance of our report, on which we are already decided—but we may agree to include some of your “braver” ideas in an annex.
In particular, the attitude is apparent in the posture of Bob Harrison, with whom I have frequently crossed swords on this very issue, that he is not willing to engage in any substantive discussion with anyone with whom he disagrees. Bob is no shrinking violet and prides himself on being a provocative and outspoken critic of government. He dismissed the authors of the Royal Society’s extremely thorough Shut down or restart? report as spokesmen for an industry-driven cabal. The Education Funding Agency refused to share a platform with him, apparently on account of his outspoken criticism of the decision to close down the Building Schools for the Future programme. And this was also the reason, Bob claims, that an expert advisory group within the DfE that he chaired was closed down. But he is not at all happy when people criticise him. When I pointed out that claims that he had made in Computing Magazine about the OFSTED report, ICT in schools, 2008–2011, were untrue, he first refused either to correct or to defend his statement and then, when I persisted in arguing my case, threatened me with legal action. When I criticise his arguments in the context first of the FELTAG and now the ETAG consultations, he justified to a mutual colleague the fact that much of the real discussion is now going on behind closed doors by the need “to avoid trolls, spammers, abusers and self-publicists”. I will leave you, dear reader, to decide which of these categories applies to me, though it seems to me that Bob Harrison confuses personal attack with the sort of legitimate criticism that is essential if proper, rational debate is to occur.
While I am sure that Bob Harrison has all sorts of interesting views that should be taken into account by any policy group, and while I have no problem at all with debating these matters with him, the fact that he is so convinced of his own opinion and so uncomfortable with the to-and-fro of robust and open debate means that he is surely a most unsuitable person to be moderating an important government consultation.
For the moment, at least, it appears that the substance of the ETAG discussion has been moved behind closed doors, where it is occurring between self-selected groups of teachers who already agree with the assumptions made by the ETAG committee.
Putting all this stuff about process and openness and remits aside (all of which you might regard as peripheral), let me summarise again the essence of the point that I would choose to debate, if Bob Harrison and the rest of the ETAG group consented to debate with me. It would be that the technology matters.
I would certainly expect them to provide a substantive response to the long article I have written on this subject at “Its the technology, stupid!“. But, for all the detailed argument contained in that article, the basic outline of the debate can be summarised more pithily in the following short Twitter exchange. First, Nick Dennis summarises the position taken by ETAG, and is rebutted by Tom Bennett.
Then the position being asserted by Nick Dennis (and most of ETAG) was defended by Bob Harrison as follows.
The minor problems with Bob’s arguments here are that (1) the exclamation marks confirm the impression already discussed that there is no point in arguing because his mind is made up, (2) there is a sleight of hand between the use of “causal relationship” in the first tweet and “correlation” in the second—for a discussion of how these things relate to one another, see my “Private intuition: public expertise“.
But the main problem with Bob’s argument is that the distinction between the tool and the use of the tool is a bogus one. No one suggests (as the American NRA publicity material always claims) that guns go round killing people—they just claim that guns make it easier to kill people. No tool ever makes a difference unless there is someone there to use it.
Nor is it any surprise to find that there is a correlation between good teachers and good learning outcomes—we knew that already. The problem is what you are supposed to do when faced with a chronic shortage of good teachers, especially in shortage subjects.
The question as to correlations is, whether (using the sort of generic technology currently available) good teachers achieve better learning outcomes using this sort of technology than when they use other approaches to teaching—and the answer is that they do not. The Education Endowment Foundation report, The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning, concludes (p2) that:Research findings from experimental and quasi-experimental designs – which have been combined in meta-analyses – indicate that technology-based interventions tend to produce just slightly lower levels of improvement when compared with other researched interventions and approaches.
And the reason why, in Bob Harrison’s words, thatthere is not a scrap of evidence of a causal relationship between any technology and improved learning outcomes anywhere!
is not that the technology doesn’t matter but that it doesn’t exist—at least the education-specific technology that will make the difference.
I have already published my proposals for what I think that ETAG should say—but those are just my opinions and any serious recommendations to government requires not only useful inputs but also the right process.
So I shall finish this article by outlining how I would run what could have been—what just conceivably might still be—a really great opportunity to hammer out an effective new approach to ed-tech, that would bring genuine transformation to our education.
I would set the following five questions, which address the ETAG remit and do not encode any preconceptions as to what the answers should finally be.
- What are the key problems in education that technology can help to solve?
- How will technology be used to solve these problems?
- To what extent have these solutions already been demonstrated to work?
- What and how significant are the main barriers to deploying these solutions?
- What policies should government adopt to overcome these barriers?
I would break the consultation into twelve weeks, address each question by a four-stage process, staggering the introduction of each new question by one week and leaving one week for thinking time between each stage. The stages would be:
- Invite white papers, each with a word limit of 1,000 words (accompanied by tweet-able key points), to answer the current question, with all white papers being published on-line immediately they are submitted.
- Invite each participant to submit a critique: a single 1,000 word paper addressing as many of the published white papers as they liked (again, with tweet-able key points).
- Invite the original authors of the white papers each to submit a response which acknowledged criticism and clarified or defended their papers against the critiques that had been directed at them.
- Publish a summary of the main white papers, critiques and responses, highlighting the main differences of opinion and the different options for action that had been proposed.
Someone who participated fully in the process might end up writing 5 white papers, 5 critiques, and 5 responses, which might come in at anything up to 15,000 words.
This would result in a schedule along the lines of the following table, with the five questions along the top axis and the 12 weeks down the left hand axis.
|W1||Invite white papers|
|W2||Invite white papers|
|W3||Invite critiques||Invite white papers|
|W4||Invite critiques||Invite white papers|
|W5||Invite responses||Invite critiques||Invite white papers|
|W6||Invite responses||Invite critiques|
|W7||Publish moderator’s summary||Invite responses||Invite critiques|
|W8||Publish moderator’s summary||Invite responses|
|W9||Publish moderator’s summary||Invite responses|
|W10||Publish moderator’s summary|
|W11||Publish moderator’s summary|
|W12||Publish conference prospectus|
|?||Write up policy recommendations|
At the end of the consultation period, all of the moderators’ summaries would be combined into a single prospectus for a conference that would be based around a series of adversarial debates and consensus-building seminars. Given some funding, expenses for attendance could be offered to people who had made substantive contributions during the preliminary phase.
Some appointed participants would be primed to take part, but the process would be open to all-comers. The schedule is deliberately gruelling and this would impose a degree of self-selection. The resulting consultation would be neither a superficial vox pop nor a reflection of the views of any special, closed interest group, but rather a demanding and stimulating debate that I believe would attract experts and stakeholders from around the world.
I would propose that none of these expert-advocates should be responsible for writing up the final policy recommendations, which would more appropriately be done by the sort of people that you would find in a political think-tank. Their job would be to reflect the consensus that emerged from the debate, knocking the results into a politically acceptable shape, avoiding the charge, real or imagined, that they were being swayed by private enthusiasms.
Having watched over twenty years one disastrous, misconceived ed-tech initiative follow another, I do not expect that the world will suddenly become sane. But one still cannot help imagining what it might look like if such a thing were to happen.
I look forward to your comments below.