The purpose of education

Monty Python and the Holy GrailWhy 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.

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“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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Managing progression in LAPland

Reindeer in the snow in LaplandWhy Learning Activity Platforms (LAPs) are required, if we are to make sense of sequencing and progression management.

My piece yesterday on the iTunes model of learning content makes two presuppositions:

  • that by “learning content”, everyone understands me to mean “learning activities” and not “expositive resources” – see What do we mean by “content”? if this distinction does not make sense to you;
  • that disaggregated learning content needs to be built up into coherent courses, programmes of study, or short activity sequences for a single lesson or homework—this is what has often been referred to as sequencing, though I think I prefer “progression management” as being more unambiguously applicable to activity rather than information.

This post continues to inform the conversation on Daniel Clark’s blog, about his post on Key issues on OER and how we might overcome them.

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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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