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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Digital Literacy and the new ICT curriculum

The Royal Society made a convincing argument that ICT should be replaced by a combination of Computer Science and Digital Literacy. The current draft of the new ICT PoS does not live up to this vision.

In my post Scrapping “ICT” on January 18th, I attacked the term “ICT” on the grounds that it confused two concepts: the teaching of technology (which I proposed to call Computer Studies) and the use of technology to improve learning (which I proposed to call education technology).

I had not at that time read the Royal Society report, Shut down or restart?, which had been published five days earlier. This report argued along similar lines to my own, but suggested that the term “ICT” confused not two but five concepts:

  • the National Curriculum Subject called “ICT” (itself a combination of many strands);
  • the use of generic information technologies (e.g. the internet, VLEs, office software) to support teaching and learning;
  • the use of specific technologies to support individual subjects (e.g. weather stations in Geography, MIDI instruments in Music);
  • the use of technologies to support teachers’ administrative processes, and the school’s management information systems;
  • the physical infrastructure of a school’s computer systems: the networks, printers and so on.

I can agree with the Royal Society that “ICT” confuses many different terms without necessarily  agreeing that their five points represent the most helpful classification of the different concepts. 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 www.SchoolsTech.org.uk, 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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Is Michael Gove a modern-day Hercules?

A copy of a response to a thoughtful New Statesman article. The article claims that Gove’s reputation is built on a myth because (1) his claim to be reintroducing rigour will turn out to be bogus; (2) he is centralising power in Whitehall and not, as he claims, in the hands of parents; (3) that the benefits of academies will not spread beyond a few model schools; and (4) that the claim to put an end of Labour’s white elephants (ICT and BSF) fails to recognise the continuing need, at least to update the school estate.

The jury is still out on point (1). With respect to (2) it is faulty logic to argue that because Whitehall is becoming more powerful at the expense of local authorities, therefore parents may not also become more powerful. But although I am a supporter of what Gove is doing, I tend to agree with the New Statesman on points (3) and (4). Below is a copy of my comment submitted on their website.

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Ploughing the same old furrow

Inside Government’s forthcoming conference, “Innovation in Education”, has a tired agenda which shows the ed-tech community still obsessing about the failed orthodoxies of the last decade
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The agenda for Inside Government’s conference, Innovation in Education (http://www.insidegovernment.co.uk/children/innovation-education/), provides a nice illustration of the point I argued in Scrapping “ICT”. The ed-tech community still seems to believe that that the only way to use technology to transform education is to teach it. Continue reading

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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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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