Not you again, Weston

Boys in class with their hands upA summary of my recent contributions to the debate around ETAG

To many on the ETAG committee, I am undoubtedly seen as an awkward and disruptive influence—something like the know-it-all who keeps putting their hand up at the back of the class. They have already changed the medium through which their consultation is conducted, shifting the emphasis away from Twitter (which provides me with the opportunity to challenge poorly justified contributions) to an online form, which keeps submissions private and unchallenged. At the same time, the committee retains in public a stony silence in the face of my arguments, while one prominent member of the committee complains (in a context in which he is clearly referring to myself) of the activities of “trolls, spammers, abusers, and self-publicists”.

Well, as its formal consultation finishes, it is time that ETAG publicly acknowledged the debate and made a serious, substantive response to the criticisms that I and others have raised. Because if they do not, it is increasingly clear that their report will be ignored by government, just as the FELTAG report was effectively ignored before it. This post contains a list of links to my various substantive contributions to the debate, most of which are on other people’s websites.

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Rescue ETAG—say no to FELTAG

FELTAG and ETAGThe DfE should reject the FELTAG recommendations in order to ensure that all the same mistakes are not repeated by ETAG

At the same time as the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) got ready to submit its recommendations to government for action to support ed-tech in Further Education, a new group was set up to propose similar recommendations that would cover all education sectors. But the Education Technology Action Group (ETAG) has inherited all of the same flawed assumptions that were made by FELTAG and by BECTA before them. If Matt Hancock wants to be the man who ends the long history of failed government initiatives and the man who helps introduce genuine, transformative education technology to the UK, he needs to insist that the government is given a much clearer and more convincing rationale for action than the FELTAG report has offered.

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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

Why teachers don’t know best

The blind leading the blind by  Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568It is not surprising that teachers get impatient when others tell them how to do their job: “we are the experts”, they complain, “not you”. What should surprise the rest of us is how wrong they are: most teachers know little about teaching as a technical discipline.

This post responds to a comment by someone nicknamed subminiature, who argued on the Radio Times website that teachers knew what they were doing and should just be left to get on with the job. In this lengthy response, I argue the opposite: through no fault of their own, teachers do not have the skill-set that is required to improve the chronic under-performance of our education service. This will only be achieved by the implementation of education technology, backed by sound pedagogy. It is not surprising that teachers are not technology-experts: what is surprising is that they are not experts in pedagogy either. Expecting teachers to lead the sort of transformative development that is required in education is about as sensible as expecting a group of horse-drawn carriage drivers to design the first steam engine. Yet that is precisely the assumption on which government policy has been based over the last 15 years. A policy based on teachers sharing ed-tech best practice is analogous to Breugel’s allegory of the blind leading the blind.

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In the beginning was the conversation

conversationThe most fundamental of all pedagogical patterns is the conversation—and it is this paradigm that needs to inform the implementation of education technology.

Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable! At 12,000 words this is the longest of my posts so far. But right now, it seems as if it is my most important, so I think it will be worth the read.

In 2012, I have addressed what I see as deficiencies in many of the current ed-tech theories and processes. Last month, in Education’s coming revolution, I made the general argument that education technology provided the only plausible, long-term solution to what are endemic problems in our schools, introducing a systematic approach to education that contrasted with the model of teacher-as-craftsman.

This post describes what I think those systems will look like. They will be grounded in reputable educational theory, and in particular on what is the essential design paradigm for all learning: the conversation.

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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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MOOCs and other ed-tech bubbles

Girl blowing a bubble gum bubbleWhy most of what currently excites the ed-tech world is hot air: MOOCs, Learning Analytics and Open Education Resources, amongst other fads.

I already know what my new year’s resolution will be. As well as losing a stone in weight (the same resolution every year), it will be to stop writing almost exclusively on why education technology has so far failed to transform education, and to focus more on arguing how education technology will transform education, when it is properly implemented. As the song has it:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mr In-between[1].

The predominantly negative copy of 2012 has been no more satisfying to write than I imagine it has been to read. But it has been necessary. It is impossible to make progress with a cogent argument for how education technology will transform education while most of the community accepts as self-evident half-baked notions of “independent learners” and “21st century skills”, believes that creativity is possible without knowledge, or that testing is a dirty word. Before making a start on constructing the new you need to demolish the old.

That will be my resolution on 1st January—but for the last few days of 2012, I will follow the prayer of St Augustine (“Lord make me chaste but not yet”) and take one last swing with the old ball and chain. Continue reading