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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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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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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Scrapping “ICT”

Becta's ICT markOn his Spannerman blog on 11 January[1], John Spencer announced that “BETT opens as ICT is scrapped by Gove”. This was a misleading title. What Michael Gove scrapped was “the current, flawed ICT curriculum”[2], which he called on the industry and awarding bodies to replace. Mr Gove made it clear that “ICT will remain compulsory at all key stages”—and he himself continued to use the term “ICT” throughout the speech.

I am not reporting here that ICT has been scrapped, but arguing that as a term “ICT” ought now to be scrapped—and that the changes being initiated by Mr Gove probably will result in this happening. An article today by the Guardian’s Digital Literacy Campaign uses “ICT” five times, “IT” six times, and “computer science” five times. This shift in the use of terminology will ultimately change the way we think about what we are doing.

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Becta’s toxic legacy

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evilSo we are all back home after attending the last BETT show to be held at Olympia—and the first in more than a decade to be held without the presence of Becta.

While everyone can accept that Becta did not get everything right, many are reluctant to be critical. They argue that:

  • the good things that Becta did generally outweighed the bad;
  • where things went wrong, Becta should be forgiven because it’s heart was in the right place;
  • now that Becta has disappeared, it is time to let bygones be bygones;
  • and in any case, no-one should rock the boat because internal disagreement within the ed-tech community may endanger the prospect of future funding.

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Welcome to Ed Tech Now

Welcome doormat

Welcome to Ed Tech Now, a blog that aims to challenge orthodox thinking about education technology.

Since the mid-1990s, I have sat on a number of technical and standards committees for learning, education and training, from BESA’s OILS initiative in the mid-1990s, through Becta and DfE working groups, to BSI’s IST/043, and groups at ISO/IEC’s SC36, the IEEE’s LTSC, SALTIS, and the LETSI Foundation.

In common with many of my colleagues in this field, I have been constantly frustrated by our poor progress in developing education technologies that have made a significant impact in improving our education system. Ever since the emergence of the personal computer in the 1970s, people have looked to technology to revolutionise education. So far, that revolution has not happened.

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