I taught History and Philosophy in the UK from 1990-2006, with an interest in education technology and data interoperability standards. In 1996 I became involved in the British Education Suppliers Association standard for Open Integrated Learning System specification (OILS). In 2002-3 I sat on the UK DfE's Technical Standards Working Group (TSWG) and Learning Platform Stakeholders Group (LPSG) for the Curriculum Online initiative, helping to develop an interoperability framework for learning management systems (LMSs) that referenced the US-based SCORM standard. In 2007 I founded the Suppliers Association for Learning Technology & Interoperability in Schools (SALTIS) as a working group of BESA, referring the government agency BECTA to the European Commission for a breach of public procurement rules in its Learning Platform framework of that year. In 2008, I was hired by BECTA (probably with the encouragement of the Commission as a way of resolving the complaint) to help address the underlying problem with the data interoperability of LMSs. But BECTA was not interested in addressing the real problem of encouraging the development of interactive content, preferring to commit the UK to following an unsatisfactory off-the-shelf solution for expositive content called Common Cartridge, produced by the US-based IMS consortium. This battle was never finished because BECTA was abolished in early 2010 (a move that I strongly supported). SALTIS also closed and I became Chair of IST/043, the British Standards Institute's committee for IT standards in learning, education and training. But the new Conservative government was not interested in edtech, so it was not possible to make any progress with data interoperability. I wrote this blog in order to develop and articulate the theoretical basis for a new approach to edtech. At the same time, I came out of education for my day-job to run oXya UK, the UK-subsidiary of oXya France, a Hitachi Group company providing technical administration services for medium-to-large companies running SAP landscapes. I still look for opportunities to persuade government of the potential for a radical new policy for edtech, but am no longer actively writing this blog.
In part four of my series on educational purpose, I consider Professor Biesta’s distinction between aims and purposes by asking myself why the chicken crossed the road.
In part one of this series, I considered why the House of Commons Education Select Committee’s investigation into the purpose of education has the potential to address some really important problems in our current education theory. I also recounted the question that I put to Professor Biesta and Daisy Christodoulou at the opening panel Q&A. In parts two and three, I explained why I think that the theoretical grounds on which much current education theory is based is fundamentally flawed. Which allows me to return in this part to consider Professor Biesta’s reply to my original challenge.
Part three of my ten-part investigation into the purpose of education, following the inquiry of the House of Commons Select Committee, discusses Thomas Kuhn and the relativism espoused by many modern educationalists
Parts twoand three of my series are looking into why educationalists commonly use “logical positivism” as a “generalized term of abuse”, thereby justifying their widespread hostility to “evidence based practice” and demonstrating a sort of fuzzy relativism based on untestable, private intuition. After discussing what is often seen as the coup de grace for positivism, the work of Thomas Kuhn, I return to the central issue, which is the measurability of our educational objectives, with reference to the question I put at the end of part one to Professor Gert Biesta.
Part two of my ten-part investigation into the purpose of education, following the inquiry of the House of Commons Select Committee, examines logical positivism
Before I address Professor Biesta’s reply to the question I posed at the end of part one, I am going to spend two instalments discussing logical positivism. Even though this requires a bit of a philosophical dive, I think it is justified because without understanding the fundamental argument about logical positivism, the more concrete disagreements about educational purpose will be difficult to untangle. The elephant represents the fact that all the other, non-elephantine occupants of the room are divided between two almost completely incompatible ways of thinking about truth and logic—they follow incommensurable paradigms, in the approved, post-modernist jargon—and without understanding that important fact, it will not be possible to understand why so many people seem to be talking past each other, almost as if speaking different languages.
Part one of a ten-part investigation into the purpose of education, following the inquiry of the House of Commons Select Committee
The Commons Education Select Committee held an interesting conference last Tuesday as part of its investigation into the purpose of education. I believe that the issues that were raised are vitally important for the future of education. The popular consensus among teachers and educationalists is that the purpose of education is either a platitude or a mystery but that, either way, it is not something that teachers should worry about too much. I believe that this assumption is profoundly damaging to our attempts to improve education—but that it is based on a consensus so deeply engrained that addressing the problem is no simple matter. As is the way with all conferences, people have their say, drink their coffee, head for the door, and leave a pile of unsorted opinions and unresolved disagreements all over the carpet. Sorting through this detritus will take some time but, as I have been criticised for writing at excessive length in the past, I will split my reflections into about ten reasonably manageable instalments, aiming to publish two or three a week. This is the first.
Why progress on edtech is dependent on a better understanding of educational purpose
If my last post was a light-hearted love story, this one is more of an attempt to write a Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. But I hope that the reader will be compensated by finding the argument to be original. I make the case that the recommendations of the recent Commission on Assessment without Levels are fundamentally mistaken.
It is a response I submitted to the current House of Commons Select Committee’s enquiry into the purpose of education. When announced, this enquiry was dismissed by Andrew Old as a waste of time: the purpose of education, said Andrew, was simply to make people cleverer. While I know where Andrew is coming from (who needs another waffle-fest with a lot of high-faluting rhetoric?) and agree with Andrew most of the time, I disagree with him that this is a pointless enquiry, if the question is understood in the way that I will suggest.
As my previous posts have argued (especially How technology will revolutionize education), technology is not about generic kit, but about the systematic means by which we pursue our ends. If no-one can be sure what our ends (or purposes) are, then any technological approach to education is doomed to fail. If we are not taking a technological approach to the business of teaching itself, then what hope is there in applying digital technology to education productively? Judging by the success we have had so far, the answer has to be “not a lot”.
My contention in this piece is therefore that the development of systematic pedagogy will never be achieved until (a) we know how to describe our educational objectives more clearly and consistently, and (b) until we understand the role of digital technology, both in supporting the description of educational objectives and in implementing the pedagogies required to attain those objectives.
An analysis of Nicky Morgan’s speech at BETT 2016, with reference to the ETAG report
This article first appeared in Terry Freedman’s Digital Education (formerly Computers in Classrooms). In it I analyse the Secretary of State’s excellent speech on edtech at BETT 2016, comparing the views she expressed with those of the ETAG report, and analysing what this might mean for the relationship between government Ministers and edtech. And I observe, along the way, that the course of true love never did run smooth.
“So favourable are the circumstances to the launch of such a significant new initiative that if it does not happen I will join a well-known member of the Liberal Democrat Party in eating my hat”.
Well, no such initiative has been forthcoming and, while Lord Ashdown reneged immediately on his hat-eating promise, I have not been intending to cop out so easily. During my Christmas shopping, I could not help eyeing up the hat department for something that might prove reasonably digestible.
But the new year has brought news that offers at least a glimmer of hope that such a drastic step might be avoided. The government is introducing a computer-delivered test of multiplication tables as part of the KS2 SATS tests.
How significant is this initiative? Is it an irrelevance or a false dawn? Or could it be the first, faint pulse of a new government policy on education technology?
My response to the Coates Review on the potential for edtech to solve some of the intractable problems with education in prisons
As a Head Teacher, Dame Sally Coates turned Burlington Danes from one of the worst schools in London to one of the best. Now, as Director of United Learning’s Southern Academies, she is becoming an influential figure in the education debate. She recently urged that “every child aged 4-14 should be taught the same topics from a prescriptive national curriculum at the same time”. I do not entirely agree with Dame Sally on this, as I made clear in my article Setting the Curriculum, but I think the basic argument that curriculum development should be centralised is right and comes as a welcome antidote to the poorly thought-through current fashion for curriculum autonomy. This has been given its most recent airing by the very poorly argued Assessment Without Levels report. I shall be reviewing this report and drilling down in some detail into the issue of the curriculum in my next posts, discussing what we mean by the term “curriculum”, what its purpose should be, what we mean when we say that it it should be coherent, and what its relationship should be to assessment and teaching.
As my partner is responsible for monitoring education on the Independent Monitoring Board of one of our local prisons, I am aware of many of the endemic problems of prison education. We responded together to the online questionnaire (now closed), which included a number of questions that specifically focused on the potential of education technology. As this is a complex subject, as laden with false promise as with genuine potential, I supplemented our answers to the questionnaire with a short paper on edtech, which I publish here.
Having also recently spoken at a conference on military e-learning, what I particularly want to emphasise is that there are certain common prerequisites that need to be put in place if edtech is to be effective in any of the many different sectors to which it has such a significant contribution to make. What we need is a cross-sector effort that pools the expertise and requirements of education in schools, in FE, in HE, in prisons, in the military, and in corporate training and private tuition. The generic requirements are the same and, at a generic level, so are the solutions.
The widespread criticisms of the recent LSE and OECD reports are poorly founded and do nothing but undermine the argument for serious edtech
Those of us who complain that edtech gets too little attention in the national press should perhaps have been beware of what we wished for. Two recent studies to have hit the headlines both say that the general impact of technology on learning is negative.
Advocates of technology enhanced learning have tended to brush this research aside. Various online commentators have said that the reports were “flawed”, “confused” and “tosh”, and those who reported them were guilty of “lazy and irrelevant journalism”.
written by Louis Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy
published by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics
in May 2015
which I will referred to as “the LSE report”.
Students, Computers and Learning—Making the Connection
published by the OECD under the direction of Andreas Schleicher
in September 2015
which I will refer to as “the OECD report”.
In this post I will:
review what the reports say and why they said it,
assess the arguments put forward for dismissing them,
and suggest some conclusions to take away.
At over 14,000 words, I cannot pretend that this is anything other than a long article—but the length is unavoidable given the nature of the topic. What is more, I believe that the reaction of the edtech community to these reports is sufficiently important to justify the effort of writing it. I thank you in advance for making the effort to read it and hope that by the time you finish, you will also think that it was worthwhile.