Why the only realistic way of improving the quality of educational research (and of education itself) is by the intelligent application of education technology
I gave this talk at Research Ed 2015 on 5 September, the latest in a series of three national conferences organized by Tom Bennett.
Research Ed has grown into a vital event in the annual calendar for teachers interested in the theory of teaching. Nevertheless, my impression is that the centre of gravity of many of the talks at ResearchEd has veered away from an agenda that tries to promote sound, quantitative research, and is replaced with a softer account of both the role and methodology of research, as is suggested by the language of “action research” and “research-informed” teaching.
I believe that the problems with research are systemic and not just the result of incompetence. I argue in this piece that these systemic problems can (and can only) be solved by seeing teaching as a business which has a larger technical element than we commonly admit, and one that is less dependent on personal intuition (or what some call “tacit knowledge”). Such a realignment of our views on what teaching is, and how research into teaching should be conducted, will also underline a radical reevaluation of the role of technology in the classroom.
An infographic summarizing what needs to happen if edtech is play its part in improving education provision
I’m told that everyone who’s anyone does infographics these days—and also that most of my posts are too long and difficult to understand. Well, here is my first effort at an infographic and I hope it makes things clearer.
I do not welcome the opportunity to produce another negative critique (indeed, I have hesitated for four months before doing so). I would much rather move on to make a positive contribution to a coherent discussion about effective ed-tech policy. But so long as a group such as ETAG, established with some fanfare by Ministers, produces such a poorly reasoned argument, there seems to be little option but to offer a rebuttal.
What I want to emphasise at the end of this piece, however, is that the failure of ETAG provides an important opportunity to put aside the muddled vision of technology in education that has dominated our discourse for the last 20 years. Following last week’s election, we have in 2015 the best opportunity since 1997 to make a fresh start and introduce a truly effective model of education technology into our schools.
An outline and rationale for my proposal for “next generation SCORM”. I call it STARLET: Shareable Tools Activities and Resources for Learning Education and Training
This is the second in a series of papers prepared for an Education Priorities Working Group being run by W3C. While the first paper, Proposed W3C Priorities for Education, took a high level overview, this paper drills down into a proposal for a specific work item. At the technical level, which is not education-specific, I call this XDMDL, eXtensible Data Model Declaration Language. At the education level, I propose that the XDMDL should be used to underpin a new digitial ecosystem for learning. It is this education-specific ecosystem for which I propose the name STARLET: Shareable Tools Activities and Resources for Learning Education and Training. As before, if you are interested in what you read and want to get involved in the W3C discussions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A white paper proposing key ed-tech priorities for the world wide web
I co-wrote the following paper with Pierre Danet from Hachette Livre for the task force being run by W3C, the consortium responsible for the world wide web. The paper outlines what we see as the key priorities for the world wide web in the face of an emerging market for digital ed-tech. The basic premises of the paper were accepted in a call last Friday and over the next two weeks we will be working on a paper to describe in greater detail the specifics of the next steps that we believe need to be taken. This will be intended to form the prospectus for a W3C Community Group, which anyone who is interested in taking this work forwards is invited to join. Please email me at email@example.com and I will forward your details to Pierre, who is leading the current scoping exercise. The original paper is currently on the W3C wiki page for this group.
In calling for better teaching and better leadership in secondary schools, OFSTED and its political masters are failing to recognise the fundamental problem facing formal education.
There have been three interesting contributions to the ed-tech debate by the BBC in recent days. Yesterday, 10 December (link here, for 4 weeks only, and listen from 2:17:38), Chief Inspector Michael Wilshaw complained on the Today programme that too many secondary schools were providing an inadequate standard of education, due mainly to poor quality teaching and leadership. Today, the Today programme covered the problem that schools are having in teaching the new Computing curriculum (link here, for 4 weeks only, and listen from 02:39:00). The two items are connected in that they both demonstrate that the education service continues to fail to recognise its own fundamental problems. It also fails to recognise the importance of the message in this year’s Reith Lectures, given by Atul Gawande, ostensibly about medicine (listen to lecture 2, The Century of the System).
Tim Oates’, Chair of the Expert Panel responsible for the recent review of the National Curriculum, has posted an interesting video about assessing education without levels. I agree with large parts of the video but suggest that in some respects, Oates’ model is unhelpful
I am grateful to Harry Webb (@websofsubstance) for the link to Tim Oates’ recent video explaining the report of the Curriculum Review body, which resulted in the abolition of levels in UK schools.
No-one, either individual or committee, is going to get everything right. The first thought that occurs to me from viewing Oates’ critique of our current assessment regime is “how could people—how could the whole system—get it so wrong last time round?”—and if people got it so wrong last time, how can we be so confident that they will get it right this time round? Those who produce recommendations for politicians to implement need to be very cautious when the harm caused by mistakes at this level can be so great. Even if the drift of those recommendations is substantially correct, everyone involved in such processes should welcome a continuing debate, which is the only way that we will avoid spending the next couple of decades up yet another blind alley.
Current models of ed-tech are based on theories of progressive education which are in turn based on a false understanding of what learning involves.
I wrote the following piece as an assignment during my PGCE, which I completed in 1990 at the Institute of Education in London. It was to some degree an exercise in letting off steam, a cry of exasperation at the complete nonsense that I felt we were being prescribed on our reading lists. I publish it now, partly in response to Harry Web’s review of Gert Biesta’s the Beautiful Risk of Education. It is also relevant to a Twitter conversation yesterday in which my interlocutor suggested that it was up to teachers to ensure that the curriculum was “developmentally appropriate”.
Ed-tech (the subject of this blog) rests on education theory—and there is a chasm opening up in the current debate in this area between those who think that education is essentially an exercise in development, driven from within; and those who think that education is an exercise in socialization, driven by the transmission of knowledge and values from the society in which the learner is placed. I take the latter side—see my recent article for Terry Freedman’s Digital Education—and to anyone who cries foul (or at least “false dichotomy”) I would say, you take the latter side too. Because while those who believe in transmission (or socialization, as I call it in this essay) also recognise development as a necessary prerequisite for achieving certain sorts of understanding, those who believe in education driven by internal development generally appear to view external influence and transmission as illegitimate. That is why the question is not “should children develop?” (of course they should) but “should education socialize?”.
And to those to whom I have promised some use-cases, to illustrate how the sort of education technology that I am advocating will work in practice, let me say, in passing, that I am working on it.
The ed-tech community should listen carefully to concerns being raised about the effect on our children’s development of excessive time spent online
Baroness Greenfield recently wrote an opinion piece in the TES, restating her view that education technology is not just ineffective but may well be positively harmful. “More pseudo-science poppycock”, harrumphed one prominent ed-tech tweeter, who was quickly supported by others. “Actually, she makes some rather sensible points”, said I. “No, no”, said my interlocutors, “the Baroness has been completely discredited. But if you are going to blog about it, please keep it short”. “1,000 emollient words”, I promised.
I am not sure how well I managed to be emollient—I am afraid it is not a style that comes naturally to me—and I certainly failed to keep it short. But, if you are interested in ed-tech, then I think its intersection with emerging neuroscience, and the controversy that has blown up in this area, are worthy of careful consideration.
Those of us advocating new approaches to ed-tech in UK schools need to take the time between now and the next election in May to build a case that does not assume that the argument for technology in education is self-evident.
Two days ago, a UK government re-shuffle removed from their current posts all of the sponsoring Ministers for the Education Technology Action Group (ETAG). The likelihood that this report will now have any significant influence is slim. This might represent a lucky escape because I saw no evidence that ETAG was going to produce any convincing or coherent argument for ed-tech that went much beyond saying we should adopt it “because it’s there”. This is not a position that is going to cut any ice with Ministers of any political party. The following post is copied from an email sent to the ICT Research Network, a reflector originally established by Becta and now managed by ALT and NAACE. It responds to a conversation bemoaning the uneven extent to which schools have pursued “digital normalisation”.