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

Public sector productivity in education

Policy Exchange's digital government consultationA copy of my response to the public consultation by Policy Exchange on digital government

The think tank Policy Exchange has been running an online consultation on digital government (closing at midnight on Friday, 20 April). Most of the questions are about central government but question 4 is relevant to education technology: “How might modern tools and platforms help enhance public sector productivity?”

I am copying my answer, which provides a summary of the argument that I have developed on this blog.

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The iTunes model in education

iTunes gift voucherDeveloping a marketplace for micro educational software and content

In response to my post MOOCs and other ed-tech bubbles (which listed OER as one of three significant “bubbles”), Daniel Clark (LearningShrew) posted an interesting piece on Key issues in OER and how we might overcome them.

Recognising that there was a problem with quality control, Daniel advocates an education equivalent of Google’s App Store. This would enable OER authors to market their products as a sort of cottage industry. The micro-market would produce a selection process, sorting the wheat from the chaff, and would incentivise authors to improve the best.

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Education’s coming revolution

The requirement for education technology rests, not on spurious arguments about “21st century skills”, but on a long-standing need to find a way of teaching traditional skills systematically and at scale. To succeed, education has to go through its own industrial revolution, which will introduce systematic processes, backed by effective quality controls and robust quantitative evidence of effectiveness.

At a recent event in London reported by Merlin John[1], Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment suggested that the British textbooks produced in the 1970s by the School Mathematics Project (SMP) and the Nuffield Science series still represented the best resources around in their respective fields. This is startling claim, coming as it does after 40 years in which we have seen a revolution in information technology and the expense of billions of pounds on technology in schools.

Two of the leading figures in the textbook publishing movement of the 1970s were both Headmasters at my old school, Sevenoaks, a commuter town 25 miles south of London. At the time that I was at the school in the late 1970s, the Headmaster was Alan Tammadge, a principal author of the SMP series for Maths. The previous Headmaster had been Kim (L C) Taylor, who had resigned from Sevenoaks in 1970 to become Director of the Nuffield Resources for Learning project.

Resources for Learning[2] was also the name of a book, written in the following year, in which Taylor provided a justification for the Nuffield programme. He questioned whether the comprehensive education that was being introduced in the UK at the time was realistic. His concern was not about the phasing out of selection: the problem that caught Taylor’s eye was the fact that the new system of secondary education was to be universal. Traditional education had always been provided to a small elite based on a model of the teacher-as-craftsman. So long as we clung to that model, Taylor argued that there would not be enough sufficiently well qualified teachers to go around.

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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

The agenda for Inside Government’s conference, Innovation in 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

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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Stop the IMLS framework

I have intended to build up a carefully stepped argument in this blog, only progressing to look at specific policy issues when I had covered some important background first. But in view of the speed with which the current debate around education technology is progressing (and in particular, the opportunity this week presented by the #AskGove Twitter campaign), I have decided to publish ahead of schedule a summary of reasons why the DfE should cancel it’s ill-conceived Information Management and Learning Services framework.
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