The problem with “Technology Enhanced Learning”

Oscar Pistorius coming off the starting blocks, running on carbon fibre bladesNow that the use of the term “ICT” is coming under increasing scrutiny in the schools sector, many are making more use of the term “TEL” But “TEL” has similar flaws to “ICT”, as was brought home to me when attending the Online Educa Berlin conference last week.

Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) has for some time been the preferred term for the academic community  when referring to the application of technology to the improvement education. It has been the title of various funding streams of the European Commission (such as TeLearn and TELNET. The only slightly different “Technology Supported Learning” appears in the strap-lines of conferences such as Online Educa Berlin (which I attended last week) and Learning Technologies, to be held in London in January.

This post makes the case that the HE “TEL” community has been just as ineffective as the schools-level “ICT” community at delivering real improvements in education—and that some of the key reasons for this failure are embedded in the terminology itself.

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Six technical standards to build an ed-tech market

Throwing double sixInteroperability is critical if we are to build a market for educational technology, a market which will in turn enable the pedagogical innovations capable of transforming education. This post identifies six interoperability specifications which would take the first steps in this direction.

I will start by painting a quick picture of the overall education technology ecosystem towards which I think we should be aiming. I will then describe the six standards for data interoperability that I think will provide the foundation for the market that will be needed to deliver that ecosystem. These are standards for:

  • Digital Learning Activities
  • Reporting of performance metrics
  • Declarative sequencing
  • Managed use of creative tools
  • Competency definitions
  • Open classroom response systems

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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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Is Michael Gove a modern-day Hercules?

A copy of a response to a thoughtful New Statesman article. The article claims that Gove’s reputation is built on a myth because (1) his claim to be reintroducing rigour will turn out to be bogus; (2) he is centralising power in Whitehall and not, as he claims, in the hands of parents; (3) that the benefits of academies will not spread beyond a few model schools; and (4) that the claim to put an end of Labour’s white elephants (ICT and BSF) fails to recognise the continuing need, at least to update the school estate.

The jury is still out on point (1). With respect to (2) it is faulty logic to argue that because Whitehall is becoming more powerful at the expense of local authorities, therefore parents may not also become more powerful. But although I am a supporter of what Gove is doing, I tend to agree with the New Statesman on points (3) and (4). Below is a copy of my comment submitted on their website.

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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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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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Aristotle’s saddle-maker

Or the importance of software in education technology

We have invested too much in hardware and not enough in skills. That, at least, is the message that Michael Gove has given in his two recent speeches on education technology[1].

He is probably right. Rows of gleaming white boxes have always made good ministerial visits. Ever since the ill-fated “modems in cupboards” initiative of the 1980s, we have tended to fill our schools with hardware, while the current debate around the “dull and boring” ICT curriculum has highlighted the inadequacy of many teachers’ technical skills.

We should beware, however, of believing that these two issues—hardware and teacher skills—are opposed to one another, like two sides of a coin. As with most antitheses[2], this would be to divide our world mistakenly into opposing hemispheres.

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Sir Ken Robinson

Today’s post takes a break from building my own argument for a new approach to education technology, and responds instead to someone else’s.

This post is a detailed response to “Simon”, who posted a YouTube video to the ALT/NAACE discussion forum at http://schoolstech.org.uk/stimulus-questions/theme1-young-people/, commenting that “One of the most important things that you can watch is this video”.

I thought it would be worth responding in detail on this blog as Sir Ken is regarded by many as a forward-looking and inspirational thinker, who speaks at a number of important education technology conferences, both in the UK and the US.

I want to look in detail at Sir Ken’s views and explain why I think they are misguided and simplistic. I have typed out the text of his video below, so that I can respond to it in detail.

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