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

Learning content customisation and adaptation

Custom car

A copy of a comment regarding the difference between customisation and adaptation, and the importance of the latter to learning content that encapsulates pedagogy.

It is a central argument of this blog that the attempt to apply technology to the improvement of education has been held back by the lack of education-specific software. Such software will generally encapsulate pedagogy. An objection to this approach was recently raised by Peter Twining in a useful discussion on his blog, EdFutures. It is a little difficult to link directly to the part of the conversation where this occurs – the best way is probably to follow the link to the discussion page and then to search for “Re Technology Enhanced Learning”, which is the title of the thread in which this discussion occurs.

To paraphrase the general objection to software that encapsulates pedagogy, such software might be seen as a way of scripting lessons that dis-empower the teacher. At the top level, I would respond that many teachers have a pretty shaky understanding of pedagogy, so the ability to put pedagogically proven tools into their hands is a key way in which we will empower (not dis-empower) teachers (see my Education’s coming revolution). As for the nature of those tools, I certainly accept that the way in which software is used in the classroom needs to be flexible, allowing the teacher (the professional on the spot) to apply the software in the right way. This provides the background to my conversation with Peter Twining regarding the customisation or adaptation of education-specific software.

Peter’s argument is that, according to an OU project in the 1990s called SoURCE, in which he was involved, the pedagogy encapsulated in software often needed to be subverted by the teacher—and that this suggested that the encapsulation of pedagogy was something of a blind alley. I copy below my reply to Peter, followed by my conclusion.

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Five principles of pedagogy

Teacher at blackboardPeople talk a lot about “pedagogy”—but what do they actually mean? In this post, I suggest five principles that might help clarify matters.

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, as a condensed conclusion from my long essays, Education’s coming revolution and In the beginning was the conversation. But the the spark that has persuaded me to get it down on paper was given to me by a Twitter conversation with Pete Bell, an ICT Examiner, who quoted J Bruner saying “Teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation”. The argument of this post is that teaching is a lot more than that.

I propose the following five key principles of good pedagogy:

  • motivation;
  • exposition;
  • direction of activity;
  • criticism;
  • inviting imitation.

These principles may of course overlap and/or be sub-divided into sub-principles.

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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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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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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

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, 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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