Best of Belshaw (2012)

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The best posts from Doug Belshaw's blog during 2012. Topics include education, technology, and productivity as well as design, leadership and of course Open Badges!

(Paperback version: http://bit.ly/VvbfPt)

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Best of Belshaw (2012)

  1. 1. IntroductionI’m writing this, as is now almost traditional, during my BlackOps period. It’s the time during the end of the year where I tryto take a personal digital hiatus, a time when I refrain fromreplying to non-work emails as well as swearing-off socialnetworks. As it happens, it’s turning out to be more of a digitalcommunications hiatus. It’s pretty difficult to not look atscreens when you work for an organisation like the MozillaFoundation!This year has been one of the best of my life. I moved jobs,joining a non-profit that almost exactly matches my beliefs inpolitical, technological and social spheres. My family, includingmy parents, went on a fantastic holiday to Gozo - a little islandoff Malta. It was two weeks of pure sunshine and relaxation. Ialso got to travel to some wonderful places to meet someextremely interesting people.In terms of the main themes that I write about on my blog -education, technology and productivity - there have beensome fairly large changes. The biggest of these I feel hascome in education where the idea of for-profit formaleducational institutions no longer seems odd; in fact I wouldpredict that if things keep on going the way they are that’sexactly what almost all of them will be by 2020 - both schoolsand universities.A second, related, change in education has been the rise ofviable alternatives to the system we’ve got currently. Ofcourse I’m going to mention Open Badges and the potentialthey have, but it was also the year that MOOCs (Massive OpenOnline Courses) and the idea of the ‘flipped classroom’ (video-based instruction for homework, activities in class) really took 2
  2. 2. hold. I’m not sure any of the early entrants such as Courseraand Udacity have got a sustainable business model, but itwon’t be long before (so long as you ‘sell’ your data) onlinehigher education will be free.Technology is, of course, no stranger to disruptive change. If2007 was the year of the netbook then 2012 was definitely theyear of the tablet. We may have had the iPad prior to this yearbut, to be more specific, this was the year of the mini tablet,the year of the 7-inch, take-everywhere tablet. Apple felt sothreatened they launched the iPad Mini.Looking back at my introduction to Best of Belshaw 2011 itdoesn’t feel to me that we’ve had the degree of social unrestthis year that I described back then. That may be becauseeveryone’s too busy just trying to get by or, more worryingly,it could be that people have come to accept the neo-liberalview of the world. I very much hope it’s not the latter. Doug Belshaw December 2012 3
  3. 3. About this bookThe Best of Belshaw moniker I use for the title of this book isactually a bit of an historical artefact. Between 2009 and 2011I used an algorithm by PostRank to measure engagement (inthe form of comments, links, social media mentions and soon) and to ascertain my ‘best posts’. Unfortunately thecompany behind the algorithm were bought by Google andnow they’ve completely shut down the service. I haven’t comeacross anything similar, really.A better title for the collection of posts featured in this book,therefore, would be Blog posts by Doug Belshaw that he thinkswere better than average and that translate well to the printedform. That, however, sounds a bit wordy!Finally, I’ve taken the opportunity provided by reviewing theposts I’ve written as a coherent body of work to re-organisethings under slightly different categories than they appear onmy blog. For example, I’ve written enough on both WebLiteracies and Open Badges for them to be considered inseparate sections to ‘Education’. 4
  4. 4. Contents Education You need us more than we need you.!13 Journals, academia and the ivory tower.!15 Beyond academic journals?!18 Conferences as Catalysts for Educational Innovation and Change!21 Whats the point of education?!24 Tools and processes!26 Education: it’s what you can’t see that counts.!28 Impact: the most important reason for working in the open? (#openeducationweek)!29 Obliquity, PISA, and ‘shareholder value’ in education.!32 Beyond the Textbook?!34 This is why teachers leave teaching.!38 Changing thinking vs. Changing systems.!40 Why the knowledge vs. skills debate in education is wrong-headed.!42 Some clarification of my position on private schools.!44 On the important differences between literacies, skills and competencies.!46 5
  5. 5. Is Michael Gove systematically dismantling English state education?!49 On (not) working in academia.!52 On private schools becoming academies.!55 My high school report.!57 Time, innovation and funding.!61 What Constitutes Rigour in Our 21st-Century Educational Systems?!63 Time for a NICE-r kind of education?!66Educational Technology Resurrect computer science – but dont kill off ICT!70 On the Importance of Webmaking!73 Some thoughts on the Department for Education’s consultation on ‘Parental Internet Controls’.!77 How to implement technology successfully in your organisation.!79 Why a ‘mixed economy’ of digital devices is best for your educational institution.!83 Game design, gamification, game mechanics and games- based learning.!85 Mozilla, Webmaking, and the Architecture of Participation !88 BYOD and cross-platform tools for learning.!91 6
  6. 6. My response to the ICT Programme of Study consultation !93 Some Thoughts on iPads and One-to-One Initiatives!97 Some thoughts on learning technologies in the classroom !101 Why we need more e-learning staff tutors!109Technology Beyond Elegant Consumption.!115 Platforms as standards? 10 days with the Nokia N9.!117 3 principles for a more Open approach.!122 Wordle-like Twitter screens for conference keynote presenters?!124 Project Reclaim: experimenting with openphoto.me!127 Commodification, consumerism and the new ‘Retina’ MacBook Pro.!128 On digital ownership. This is HUGE.!129 Mac OSX Mountain Lion 10.8: vendor lock-in for the masses?!131 A few brief thoughts on the Google Nexus 7. [REVIEW] !134 What is ‘technology’ anyway?!137 Want a tablet? Choose your vendor lock-in.!140 7
  7. 7. Productivity Stripping back: #divest12!144 The Essentials? (#divest12)!147 Getting back on the productivity wagon.!150 On routines and rituals.!154 Productivity 101: calendars (nouns) and reminders (verbs)!156 Productivity for what?!159Open (and Webmaker) Badges Gaining Some Perspective on Badges for Lifelong Learning!164 #OpenBadges through the rear-view mirror?!170 Getting up to speed on the technical side of #openbadges!172 Informal learning, gaming, and #openbadges design!176 What we’re up to with Mozilla Webmaker (Open) badges. !179 Open Badges, Clay Shirky, and the tipping point.!184 On the ‘openness’ of Open Badges.!187 Webmaker badges are GO!!190 How to make #openbadges work for you and your organisation.!192 8
  8. 8. Digital and Web Literacies Web literacy? (v0.1)!199 Why the REMIX is at the heart of digital literacies!201 Web Literacies: What is the Web Anyway?!203 Digital Literacies and Web Literacies: Whats the Difference?!207Everything Else Thanks for waiting! Dr. Belshaw will see you now.!213 9 ideas in search of a blog post.!215 3 rules for our five year-old (that work!)!217 On writing every day.!221 Arson at Ellington Nature Reserve.!224 Why I’m becoming a MoFo(er).!226 Doctor Doug.!227 Working for an Academy vs. working for JISC infoNet [visualisation]!228 Aim for the high ground, not the high horse.!231 Doug’s new #shoffice!233 Evaluation: the absolute basics!240 Famous for 42 seconds!247 9
  9. 9. Some thoughts on time, performativity, and the State.!249On the mental cost of inventing new categories.!254Blog redesign: October 2012 edition!256A #shoffice update (October 2012)!261#BelshawBlackOps12 has started – see you in 2013!!265 10
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  11. 11. Education 12
  12. 12. You need us more than weneed you.21st January 2012I’ve exhorted readers of this blog more than once to subscribeto Dan Meyer’s blog. It’s ostensibly about the teaching ofmathematics, but the tangents are just fantastic.Read the following, taken from a panel session Dan took partin (he’s now a PhD student): I’m a grad student in my second year and I’ve never shared this with anybody here, least of all my adviser, who’s in attendance, but I don’t understand the incentive structure for what you do and what I may do someday. You write amazing things and you study amazing things and you write them compellingly in journals that are not read by practitioners very often. They affect a lot of policy, which I think is a really good, top-down approach. But then I’m over here and I can post something that’s seen by 10,000 people overnight. That’s the number of subscribers I have to my blog right now. Or any number of these things. So the incentive seems strange to me. Like I don’t understand this brass ring I’m chasing. It seems like a strange prize at the end of a finish line of grad school. So there’s the question and then there’s also the encouragement. You have so many soapboxes available to you. Find a kid like me and ask him how to do a webcast or something. You have so many — and to restrict yourself to peer review, I don’t know. There’s very little upside to me, it seems.I feel this, and so do many others my age and with similarhigher level qualifications. 13
  13. 13. So what are you (the academy) going to do about it? 14
  14. 14. Journals, academia and theivory tower.22nd January 2012So how did academic journals come about? Until the late seventeenth century, communication between scholars depended heavily on personal contact and attending meetings arranged by the early learned societies (e.g. the Royal Society). As the membership of these societies increased, more people could not attend the meetings and so the Proceedings, usually circulated as a record of the last meeting became a place to publish papers that had not been presented at the meetings at all and moved towards what we now recognise as scholarly journals. (Wells, 1999)So journals are a replacement for personal contact.Are they good for anything else? Brown (1997) cites thefollowing: 1. distributed (many copies are stored in many places) 15
  15. 15. 2. scholars trust and understand the system 3. journals have prestige built up over many years 4. portable and easy to readWhich of the above benefits either (a) cannot, or (b) are notcurrently able to be replicated by another system?Some would argue that an important difference between (forexample) a blog post and a journal article is that the latter hasbeen formally peer reviewed.However, as even the editor of The Lancet points out: The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability — not the validity — of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong. (Horton, 2000)Just how big do the cracks in the ivory tower have to getbefore the whole edifice tumbles? Odlyzko (September 1997) points out that there was an “extensive resistance to print by scholars” in Gutenberg’s time which included calls to ban the new technology because only trash was getting into print and books were not as durable as parchment. The reaction to the Web of today’s scholars has 16
  16. 16. largely echoed the reaction of scholars to the printing press in the 15th century. (Well, 1999)Is the only reason we persist with journals and theirarticles is because they provide a convenient means toweigh the pig? Image CC BY-NC-SA Lal BeralReferences:Brown, S.A. (1997). Scholarly publishing using electronicmeans : a short guide. Newcastle: Northumbria UniversityHorton, R. (2000). “Genetically modified food: consternation,confusion, and crack-up”. MJA 172(4), p.148–9Wells, A. (1999) ‘Exploring the development of theindependent, electronic scholarly journal.‘ Sheffield: Universityof Sheffield 17
  17. 17. Beyond academic journals?25th January 2012 To find a new enlightening and inspiring idea (as distinct from finding a recipe for getting safely through the peer-built barricade), browsing through thousands of journal pages is all too often called for. With my tongue in one cheek only, I’d suggest that were our Palaeolithic ancestors to discover the peer-review dredger, we would still be sitting in caves… (Zygmunt Bauman)In my previous posts on academic journals I’ve comparedthem unfavourably – either explicitly or implicitly – with thekind of informal ‘peer review’ that happens through blogs andsocial media. Some commenters have assumed that thismeans that, like Bauman (see above) I’m completely againstpeer review. I’m not.Peer review is valuable. In fact, it’s so important we needa (re)new(ed) academic ecosystem to protect it.I’m all for new systems such as hypothes.is which provides anopen, distributed peer review layer for the web. Although Idon’t want to go into it in too much depth here, academia isone of the few unreformed areas with outdated powerstructures and glass ceilings.As Stephen Thomas pointed out in the comments to myprevious post, academic journals have, and still do, play an 18
  18. 18. important role in both establishing precedent and providing aquality filter. This is important (most of the time).But, as Dan Meyer pointed out in the quotation making up thebulk of my first post in this series, it’s the edifice that’s builtupon the academic journal system that’s problematic: The incentive seems strange to me… I don’t understand this brass ring I’m chasing. (Dan Meyer)This academic edifice is built upon other perceived‘advantages’  of academic journals, including: • Dissemination of work • Status 5. Career progression • Contact with others inside and outside fieldAcademics, unfortunately, have ended up inventing a stickwith which they can be beaten. In the UK, the ResearchExcellence Framework (REF) is a crude instrument looking aresearch outputs. Career progression (and therefore status)depends upon disseminating work in journals that are, all toooften, closed and paywalled.Part of the answer, I agree, comes through academic journalsbecoming open access. That’s a step in the right direction(even if it does smack a little of Henry Ford’s ‘faster horses‘).Going further, something more like Alan Cann’s experimentsaround open peer review could work. But, realistically, weneed something a bit more radical. How can we save peer review whilst democratising andreforming higher education? 19
  19. 19. I leave you with the words of Frances Bell, who commentedon my previous post: What I suspect is that more research needs to be done on how, for example. scholarly societies can support research, scholarship and practice in a digital age. (Frances Bell)Amen to that. 20
  20. 20. Conferences as Catalysts forEducational Innovation andChange1st February 2012[Published at DMLcentral]Last year I attended, on average, a conference or similar eventevery other week. As part of my role as Researcher/Analyst atJISC infoNet it’s an important part of what I do: finding outwhat’s going on in the UK education sector and disseminatingour (publicly-funded) work.The face-to-face nature of conferences is, I believe, of evenmore importance in an extremely digitally connected world.Whilst it’s often the case that you can get to know people verywell online, there’s something about embodied interaction 21
  21. 21. that makes your knowledge of that person three-dimensional.I don’t think one method of interacting is necessarily ‘better’than the other; a blended approach is best. This, I suppose, iswhy social media is so popular.Over the past couple of years I’ve been extremely fortunate tomeet in the flesh some fantastic educators and thinkers. Justlast week, for example, as a speaker at the free festivalaround the Learning Without Frontiers conference in London,I got to mix with and talk to people such as Mitch Resnickfrom MIT, Keri Facer from MMU and Mark Surman fromMozilla. There’s so much potential in the ideas shared atconferences such as these that I feel a responsibility to helpget key messages to practitioners. Conferences, after all,should affect and influence educational practice.I’m delighted, therefore, to be attending the DML Conference2012 (which is organized by the same group of people thatproduces this blog, DMLcentral, I should point out). RunningMarch 1-3 in San Francisco the focus of the conference isBeyond Educational Technology: Learning Innovations in aConnected World.When discussing it last week with Mark Surman, ExecutiveDirector of Mozilla, he told me how much he was lookingforward to the conference. “It’s the one place where those ofus who think that learning can and should be different cometogether to build stuff,” he said. That excites me.The themes of the DML Conference 2012 are: 1. Making, Tinkering and Remixing 2. Re-imagining Media for Learning 3. Democratizing Learning Innovation 4. Innovations for Public Education 22
  22. 22. 5. Digital Media and LearningThe idea with the most potential to positively disrupteducation that I’ve come across recently is Open Badges. I’vewritten about this extensively on my blog and for this sitehere. In a nutshell, a badge is a validated indicator ofaccomplishment, skill, quality or interest. As with all of thebest ideas it’s simple, but with far-reaching implications androom for nuanced discussion. Badges have also got someheavyweight backing from the MacArthur Foundation, the USDepartment of Education, HASTAC, Mozilla, NASA, and others.I’m delighted, therefore, to be on the judging panel for thefinal stage of the DML ‘Badges for Lifelong Learning’competition. On the day before the DML Conference I’ll bemeeting finalists who have come up with badge systems tocredentialize learning and potentially change the educationallandscape. Throughout it all I’ll be blogging, tweeting andotherwise amplifying the event as much as possible to thoseon the front lines in classrooms and lecture theatres aroundthe world. 23
  23. 23. Whats the point of education?9th February 2012[Published on the Guardian Teacher Network blog]Whats the purpose of education? Is it inculcation? Is it to passon important values and ideas?Or is it more developmental? Is what were looking for ineducation the "drawing out" of innate abilities and interests?Is the important thing to find what is unique about everyindividual and focus upon that? Or is a broad education moreimportant?Is there one purpose of education? Perhaps theres oneparticular, fundamental purpose that trumps all of the others?Which of the many 500 word contributions on the Purpose/edwebsite would you agree with? Would you perhaps concurwith Dave White from Oxford University who suggestseducation is about "disruption"? 24
  24. 24. Or what about Josie Frasers idea of giving young peopleaccess to things "unimagined and unencountered"? Is thepurpose of education to develop "inquistiveness" (PaulSimbeck-Hampson)? Is it to "cradle happiness" (Tom Barrett)?Perhaps its about "building character" (Cristina Costa)?Was your education satisfactory? Was the purpose of it everspelled out? Was there a disconnect between what yourparents/guardians thought was the purpose of education andwhat your school believed? Was the "deep grammar" ofschooling different from the explicit aims of the school? Whatwould you change if you could go back and take charge? Whatwould you focus upon?So, whats the purpose of education? Do you consider it, aswe do at Purpos/ed a question worth debating? Would youlike to take part in one of our campaigns? Have you gotsomething to say in the comments below? Are you willing tosign a HM Government e-petition calling for a nationaldebate? Would you go to Purpos/ed petition and add yourname? Will you spread the word?Do you see now why the purpose of education is worthdebating?(with apologies to Padgett Powells ‘The Interrogative Mood: anovel?’) 25
  25. 25. Tools and processes21st February 2012I see this a lot.I appreciate the sentiment here. It’s an educator trying toshare some tools in an organised way with some othereducators. But mapping them against Bloom’s Taxonomy.Really? Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of learning objectives within education proposed in 1956 by a committee of educators chaired by Benjamin Bloom. [...] It refers to a classification of the different objectives that educators set for students (learning objectives). Bloom’s Taxonomy divides educational objectives into three “domains”: Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor (sometimes loosely described as knowing/head, feeling/heart and doing/ 26
  26. 26. hands respectively). Within the domains, learning at the higher levels is dependent on having attained prerequisite knowledge and skills at lower levels. (Wikipedia, accessed 21 February 2012)Why is Flickr under Remembering when it can be used formashups under a Creative Commons license? SurelyVoiceThread can be used as much for Evaluating as Creating?How does Google Earth, in and of itself, promote Analysing?Tools, by themselves, rarely develop higher-order thinkingskills. It’s all about the processes around them and thecontext in which they’re used.I’ve seen lessons and lectures that were captivating and reallypushed students forward using no more than a blackboardand a piece of chalk. Similarly, I’ve seen some that usedalmost every conceivable piece of technology under the sunand students made little or no progress.So educators, if you’re going to use a specific framework topresent some tools or some ideas, please make sure that youunderstand the nature of that framework. Image CC BY-ND Samantha Penney 27
  27. 27. Education: it’s what you can’tsee that counts.3rd March 2012I had a great, wide-ranging discussion last night with BudHunt (@budtheteacher), Audrey Watters (@audreywatters)and Steve Hargadon (@stevehargadon) after the second dayof the DML Conference 2012. Much of it focused on the roleof technology in educational reform with much of it sparkedby an excellent keynote panel of which Connie Yowell(MacArthur Foundation) was the star.To me, the whole problem with educational reform is thatwhat matters can’t be seen or touched. It’s physicallyintangible.What do we tend to do? We focus on the things that we cansee. As Bud pointed out, teachers in his district will sometimespoint to discrepancies in access to technology as being alimiting factor on their performance. Others look at thematerial conditions of one learning environment and attribute‘success’ to these easily-observed factors.We should be used to this by now. Living in a world ofnetworks (and networks of networks) we know that it’s theinvisible bonds, the weak ties, that connect us to people andideas. As Connie Yowell pointed out it’s this kind of innovationthat scales. Audrey Watters extended this point when shecommented that technology scales vertically, whereas peoplescale horizontally.So what can we do about this? The first thing we need to do,I’d suggest, is to surface processes and networks. These bothneed to be as open and inclusive as possible and we needways to talk about them to make them more tangible. 28
  28. 28. Impact: the most importantreason for working in the open?(#openeducationweek)9th March 2012 “A man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit for it.” (Father Strickland)Working in the open comes naturally to me. I’ve neverjealously guarded ‘my’ work and really cannot comprehend aperson who would rather work in a closed and restrictedenvironment.Both this blog and my doctoral thesis are CC0 licensed, whichmeans that I’ve donated them to the public domain. If youwant to take my work, copy it word-for-word and pass it off asyour own or sell it, that’s fine. Seriously. Do what you like. I’mflattered you like it.I found out today that the minor rewrites I submitted after mythesis defence have now been accepted. I now go onto the‘Pass list’ at Durham University meaning that I can call myselfDr. Belshaw. This makes me happy.Another piece of news I received today was via Twitter fromJoe Wilson attending the NAACE conference 2012 (#naace12).NAACE is a membership organization for those involved withICT education in the UK and beyond. 29
  29. 29. (Note: Joe made a typo in his haste – I’m actually @dajbelshaw)This came as a bit of a surprise. Whilst I’m aware of peoplereferencing my work, I didn’t realize that NAACE as a bodyknew of/was using it. Certainly their press release (if that’s theright one) doesn’t mention anything. But to insist onacknowledgement (see discussion here), I feel, is a form ofownership. And no-one owns ideas.The most important value of working in the open for me?Impact.I write about things that interest me and ideas that I hold tobe good in the way of belief. As a consequence, and like mostother people, I think the ideas expressed in my work may beof use to others. If ‘impact’ is getting others discussing,debating and accepting your ideas then, yes, I want to impactother people.Academics in UK universities will soon have to demonstratetheir ‘impact’ under the terms of the Research ExcellenceFramework (REF). I can’t help but think that one of the bestways for academics to achieve this is to dramatically improvethe accessibility of their work. The easiest method? Release itunder the least restrictive license you can. This seems soobvious to me as to be a no-brainer. 30
  30. 30. There are some caveats, of course: less restrictive licensingmay be problematic for commercially-sensitive areas andhuge fields.Let me explain.There are two main reasons why I can ‘afford’ to give my workaway without asking for attribution or compensation: 1. I know that most people will, actually, reference it (and there’s a large chance that those who don’t will be called out by others in such a relatively small field) 2. I have a salaried occupation that does not depend upon me attracting funding to commercialise my ‘Intellectual Property’.Perhaps I’m young and naive but I can’t help think that, if youcan, you should give away your work. For free. Withoutcopyright.That’s how ideas gain traction.This week is Open Education week. There’s lots of stuff on the JISCwebsite about it. 31
  31. 31. Obliquity, PISA, and‘shareholder value’ ineducation.13th March 2012At TEDx Warwick last Saturday I was first up, meaning I couldsit back, relax and listen properly to the other speakers.Whilst I could write several posts about floating islands,medical implants and sustainability, I want to focus on justone of them.John Kay, author of Obliquity: why our goals are best achievedindirectly, gave what I considered to be a fascinating talk. Hisbook has been on my Amazon wishlist almost since it cameout and I’ve now got several more reasons to read it.Before I go any further, the stimulus for writing this postcomes from the TES article ‘Wales asks schools to teach to thePisa test‘. As I mentioned in my recent Purpos/ed Ignitepresentation, education is under the control of governments,and PISA is pretty much the only tool they have to compareeducational outcomes. Unfortunately, it focuses on a verynarrow aspect of education and is accused of usingdiscredited statistical techniques.John Kay’s key point was that we often achieve the ends wedesire indirectly. He summed this up perfectly by his exampleof ICI, the chemical company. I haven’t got the exactquotations he used, but in the 1970s ICI’s mission statementfocused firmly on innovation and customers. ‘Shareholdervalue’ was merely a by-product of the core function of thecompany. By the 1990s this had reversed, with ‘shareholdervalue’ being the number one priority. 32
  32. 32. Of course, ICI no longer exists having lost its innovative edge.Likewise, if we focus on narrow and questionable measures ofeducation to make comparisons with other countries, we missthe point of learning. PISA is the educational equivalent of‘shareholder value’. Focusing on the by-product rather thanthe core mission is worrying.Perhaps it’s time to take education out of the hands ofpoliticians? 33
  33. 33. Beyond the Textbook?21st March 2012A couple of days ago I noticed #beyondthetextbook emergingon Twitter. It turns out that this hashtag related to angathering sponsored by Discovery Education in WashingtonD.C.My (remote, somewhat helicopter-like) contribution, waspretty much summed up by the following:After reading Audrey Watters’ post about the gathering (aswell as those by others), I’d like to expand up on that andhighlight some thoughts from others with whom I’m inagreement.Trojan textbooks I want us to weigh classroom practices, power, authority, politics, publishing, assessment, expertise, attribution, and the culture(s) of the education system. I would argue that the textbook in its current form — and frankly in almost all of the digital versions we’re also starting to see now — is tightly woven into that very fabric, and once we tug hard enough at the “textbook” thread, things come undone. 34
  34. 34. (Audrey Watters)The textbook is easy to talk about. It’s a physical thing thatpeople have known as students and, for some, as educators.The trouble is that, just as with any technology, it’s difficult toseparate the thing from the practices that surround the thing.There’s nothing inherently wrong with textbooks –especially if you define them as Bud Hunt does as “Acollection of information organized around thoughtfulprinciples intended to provide support to instruction.” I’m notso keen on the word ‘instruction’ (I’d substitute ‘learning’) butlike his basis in ‘thoughtful principles’.Getting assessment rightOne of the reasons I’m such a big fan of badges for lifelonglearning is that assessment is broken. I don’t mean ‘broken’ inthe sense that a bit of a repair job would fix. I meanstructurally unsound and falling apart. Liable to collapse atany moment. That kind of broken.It’s a problem I felt as a classroom teacher. It’s an issue I hadto deal with as a senior manager. It’s evident in my sector-wide role in Higher Education. The hoops through whichwe’re asking people to jump not only don’t mean anythingany more, but they don’t necessarily lead anywhere.To me, that constitutes a crisis of relevance. So when we’vegot textbooks solely focused on providing content in bite-sized chunks in order to allow people to pass summativetests, then we’ve got a problem. A huge problem.But let’s be clear: the problem is to do with the high-stakesassessment. It’s akin to the current attacks on the efficacy ofteachers. The problem isn’t with (most) teachers, it’s with what 35
  35. 35. you’re asking them to do. Likewise, with textbooks, it’s not thecollecting of information in one place – it’s what people areexpected to do with that information.Open content and the blank pageI’ve seen many state their belief that the best kind of textbookis the blank page. By that, they mean that textbooks shouldbe co-constructed. I certainly can’t argue with that, but wemust always be careful that we don’t substitute one form oftop-down structure with another.Back in 2006 I wrote a couple of posts on my old teachingblog. One covered the idea of teachers as lifeguards, andother focused on the teacher as DJ. In the former I talk aboutthe importance of teachers ‘knowing the waters’ so that theycan allow students to explore the waters, growing inconfidence (but be there when things go wrong). In the latter Idiscuss the similarities between teachers and DJs around‘tempo’ and ‘playlists’.Both the lifeguard and DJ analogies work with textbooks,I think. The difficulties are always going to be around timeand competency. It’s all very well for those new to theprofession, willing to burn the candle at both ends to remixthe curriculum and create their own textbooks to move#beyondthetextbook. But that’s a recipe for burnout.ConclusionAs usual, I’ve more questions than answers, but if I have onecontribution to the #beyondthetextbook debate it’s that ourcurrent use of textbooks is a symptom of the problem, 36
  36. 36. not the problem itself. It’s difficult to debate nuanced thingsonline, and even more so via Twitter.I think we need a renaissance in blogging – and the kind ofblogging where we reference other people’s work. If we’regoing to debate problems in education, let’s do so at length,with some nuance, and in a considered way. 37
  37. 37. This is why teachers leaveteaching.12th May 2012On Thursday, Mark Clarkson wrote a blog post that started offlike this: I seriously considered leaving education today. And if I had a viable exit strategy I might have taken it further.Note the end of that sentence: a young, talented teacher withso much to offer the world feels like he has no ‘viable exitstrategy’. There are thousands of teachers up and down thecountry feeling the same thing.I should know. A few years ago I was one of them.You should go and read Mark’s post. If you’re currently aclassroom teacher you’ll be nodding your head at the bulletpoint after bullet point of bureaucratic, administrativenonsense he (and most other teachers) put up with. And ifyou’re not a teacher, you’ll be shocked. 38
  38. 38. On top of the ridiculous workload teachers like Markexperience each year, he notes that the benefits aren’t exactlystellar: At the same time I am told that I will have to work for another 36 years. That I will receive less pension than I was promised… That tests are too easy. That my subject is not good enough. That I need to solve gaps in parenting. That I should receive performance related pay. That teachers are paid too much. That public sector workers in the north are paid too much. That teachers ‘cheat’ when the watchmen come. And today I’m told that ‘teachers don’t know what stress is‘.I’ve been out of the classroom for just over two years now.And already my wife, a Primary school teacher, has to remindme what it’s like. I consider setting off together for work fiveminutes late a minor inconvenience. But for her, and manyteachers, it can make or break their day. I’m fairly sureteachers know what stress is.Although I would say this, I think we need a review of whatwe’re doing when it comes to schools. We can’t keepcannibalising the goodwill of people in an underpaid,overworked, increasingly-attacked profession. I think weneed a public debate about the purpose(s) of education.I’ll give the last word to Mark. He echoes something I used tosay repeatedly – until I decided enough was enough: I’m not leaving teaching today, because there are still too many moments that I enjoy. … TEACHING is a great activity. Teaching, at the minute, doesn’t always feel like a great job.  Image CC BY-NC paulbence 39
  39. 39. Changing thinking vs. Changingsystems.15th May 2012I’m reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at themoment. It’s a bit of a classic, so I don’t know why it’s takenme so long to get around to it.Last night, I came across the following passage. It must bequite famous as I’ve stumbled across it before: But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.This made me think about Purpos/ed. Andy and I are oftenasked when we’re going to produce a manifesto, or what the‘next level’ is. Well, that’s the kind of thinking that got us herein the first place.Pirsig reminds us that even things that seem purely physical(such as steel) are nevertheless human constructs. Despiteseeming permanent and ‘natural’ steel is not a substance thatexists in nature. It’s the product of human imagination. 40
  40. 40. Likewise, there is no ‘state of nature’ for education systems.No natural way that we should organise learning.We’d do well to remember that sometimes. 41
  41. 41. Why the knowledge vs. skillsdebate in education is wrong-headed.26th June 2012Back when I was a lowly trainee teacher I engaged in a debatewith someone high up in the local authority after a trainingsession. They were arguing that ‘skills’ are all we need to teachyoung people. I argued (as a History teacher) that they didn’tknow what they were talking about.Now, however, I realise that we were both wrong.This post by Oliver Quinlan about A.C. Grayling’s presentationat the recent Education Festival got me thinking. Especiallythis bit: What we should be looking for is not the acquisition of knowledge, but the acquisition of understanding. Many 42
  42. 42. schools recognise that theory of knowledge and learning about learning are supportive of the rest of the curriculum. Grayling feels that this should be at the centre of the curriculum, not as an added extra.And then yesterday, Tim Riches tweeted me the link to thispost, pointing out how scary it is that the government arepreventing people from talking about ‘skills’ in a curriculumreview: Among the wilder, though double-sourced by me, rumours I’ve heard about the curriculum review were that the word “skills” was banned from any documents by ministers, simply because they wanted to emphasise “knowledge”. While I am not going to get into the knowledge versus skills debate here, suffice it to say that most university prospectuses stress the importance of both.But then I realised. What we should be developing in youngpeople are capacities. Skills and knowledge flow from these.It’s what employers look for when hiring people. It’s why wehave phrases like “If you want something done, give it to abusy person.” We recognise that certain people have greatercapacities in certain areas than others.I look forward to seeing an education system thatpromotes capacities.(oh, and when we get there, we should award badges) Image CC BY-NC-SA amy_b 43
  43. 43. Some clarification of myposition on private schools.1st July 2012After mentioning in today’s newsletter that I was getting moremilitant in my opposition to private schools, I received somepushback and a request for me to explain my position.I don’t like people paying for their children’s education.I don’t like people having to pay for their own education.I don’t like school league tables leading to ‘parental choice’.I don’t like education being used as a ‘political football’.I don’t like people moving houses to get their children into‘good’ schools.I don’t like selective schools, such as grammar schools, that‘cream off’ the ‘best’ students.I don’t like faith schools, especially when it leads to parentalhypocrisy. 44
  44. 44. ----------I do like people sending their children to the localcomprehensive.I do believe in a broad education.I do like schools at the centre of communities.I do like people getting involved in the education of not justtheir own children, but that of other people’s.I do like the state paying for education to whatever level youwant to aim for.I do like people refusing to compromise on their educationalvalues when it comes to their own children.I do like people walking the walk. Image CC BY-NC-SA Norma Desmond 45
  45. 45. On the important differencesbetween literacies, skills andcompetencies.12th July 2012I’m currently knee-deep in web literacies stuff for Mozilla.Or should that be web skills?Or perhaps web competencies?It’s a complex, contested, and nuanced area. The differencesbetween literacies, skills and competencies shouldn’tmerely be glossed over and ignored. These differences areimportant.Let me explain. 46
  46. 46. LiteraciesLiteracy is the ability to read and write. Traditionally, thishas meant the ability to read and write using paper as themediating technology. However, we now have many andvaried technologies requiring us to ‘read’ and ‘write’ indifferent ways. As a result we need multiple literacies.Because literacy depends upon context and particularmediating technologies there is, to my mind, no one literacyto ‘rule them all’. Literacy is a condition, not a threshold.SkillsA skill is a controlled activity (such as a physical action)that an individual has learned to perform. There aregeneral skills (often called transferable skills) as well asdomain-specific skills.Skills are subject to objective thresholds. So, for example,badges awarded by Scouting organisations signify thereaching of a pre-determined level of skill in a particular field.CompetenciesA competence is a collection of skills for a pre-definedpurpose. Often the individual with the bundle of skills beingobserved or assessed has not defined the criteria by which heor she is deemed to be ‘competent’.Competencies have the semblance of objectivity but aredependent upon subjective judgements by another humanbeing (or beings) who observe knowledge, skills andbehaviours. 47
  47. 47. ConclusionThe important point to make here is that whilst competenciescan be seen as ‘bundles of skills’, literacies cannot. Youcannot become literate merely through skill acquisition –there are meta-level processes also required. To be literaterequires an awareness that you are, indeed, literate.That sounds a little weird, but it makes sense if you think itthrough. You may be unexpectedly competent in a givensituation (because you have disparate skills you have pulledtogether for the first time). But I’m yet to be convinced thatyou could be unexpectedly literate in a given situation.And, finally, a skill is different to a literacy in the sense that thelatter is always conditional. An individual is always literatefor a purpose whereas a skill is not necessarily purpose-driven and can be well-defined and bounded.Does this resonate with you? 48
  48. 48. Is Michael Gove systematicallydismantling English stateeducation?28th July 2012Is Michael Gove systematically dismantling stateeducation in England?I’m not sure.To believe so presumes competence, intention and strategyon his part. Most of what I observe is an ill-informedsociopath flapping about at seemingly-randomeducational targets.See what you think by looking at these BBC News stories sincethe beginning of the calendar year: 1. Michael Gove: Academy school critics ‘happy with failure’ (4 January 2012) 49
  49. 49. 2. New yacht for Queen’s jubilee, suggests Michael Gove (16 January 2012)3. Michael Gove labels academy opponents ‘Trots’ (31 January 2012)4. Most GCSE equivalents axed from school league tables (31 January 2012)5. University-led secondary PGCEs face uncertain future (8 February 2012)6. Gove tells head teachers school reforms need to be accelerated (24 March 2012)7. Michael Gove wants universities to create new A-levels (3 April 2012)8. U-turn signalled over no-notice inspections for schools (5 May 2012)9. Schools get King James Bible to mark 400th anniversary (15 May 2012)10. Michael Gove pushes for performance pay for teachers (16 May 2012)11. Plans for O-level-style exams to replace GCSEs (21 June 2012)12. Governors hit back at Gove’s ‘badge of status’ comments (6 July 2012)13. Gove turns down group’s bid for extra education funding (14 July 2012)14. Academies told they can hire unqualified teachers (27 July 2012) 50
  50. 50. So no need to be a qualified teacher in England any more.This news, of course, was buried by being announced on aFriday in the school holidays, on the very day of the OlympicGames opening ceremony. Perhaps that was to avoid anotherstrike by teachers like the one in November 2011?From where I’m sitting, this looks like part of a widermove to centralise schooling in England. There were hugefinancial incentives for schools to become academies. Now,even if the money’s not there, there’s certainly political andother kinds of pressures bearing down on headteachers andgovernors.Once English schools all become academies they’reoutside of local authority control but under the directcontrol of Whitehall. Gove may bleat that academies havepowers to do this or that, but when there’s no buffer betweenthe headteacher and the all-powerful politician in control ofthe money, there’s no real contest.Michael Gove is the most power-hungry, dangerouslyreactionary, and misguided millionaire Secretary of Statefor Education we’ve had a for a long time. He proposesyachts for over-privileged, taxpayer-funded families and givesout religious texts inscribed with his name. Meanwhile extracash for the most deprived boroughs is turned down and, inthe midst of one of the most sustained attacks on theprofession in living memory, teachers are expected to rollover and accept performance-related pay.Who will rid us of this troublesome beast? Image CC BY-NC staticgirl 51
  51. 51. On (not) working in academia.4th August 2012I’m with Doug Pete in really liking the Zite app.Although it’s a proprietary, closed product I haven’t comeacross anything close to it for discovery. Take, for instance, apost entitled On Leaving Academia by Terran Lane,someone I’ve not come across before. He’s an associateprofessor in the Department of Computer Science at theUniversity of New Mexico.Terran is off to join Google.His post is neatly organised into section titles listing thereasons he’s leaving academia to join Google: 1. Opportunity to make a difference 2. Workload and family/life balance 3. Centralization of authority and decrease of autonomy 52
  52. 52. 4. Funding climate 5. Hyper-specialization, insularity, and narrowness of vision 6. Poor incentives 7. Mass production of education 8. Salaries 9. Anti-intellectualism, anti-education, and attacks on science and academiaI’ve written about this kind of thing before in You need usmore than we need you. As Terran explains, it’s not (just)about money.Whereas he’s decided to quit academia, I’ve made aconscious choice from the start to stay on its sidelines.Around the margins. On the edges. Whilst the logical thing todo after my doctorate would have been to apply for aresearch position or lectureship at a university, I decidedagainst it.Why?Not only would I be earning half the amount of money I amnow – and less than when I was teaching in schools – but itseems a spectacularly bad time to decide to become a careeracademic. No money, no status, no freedom. And with theintroduction of a market into UK Higher Education it’sincreasingly difficult for academics to even claim the highmoral ground.That’s not to say academics aren’t doing good, publicly-useful work. Of course they are. It’s just crunch time in theirindustry. 53
  53. 53. I think we’re going to see a lot more of this talent-drain fromacademia. In fact, we’re already seeing a new generation ofpeople not satisfied with traditional career structures andways of working. I’m not sure if this is good or bad in thescheme of things, given the direction the universities (in theUK) seem to be headed under the current government.What I do know is that universities need to do something,and fast. The Bank of Goodwill doesn’t have infinitereserves… Image CC BY-NC-SA Patrick Gage 54
  54. 54. On private schools becomingacademies.20th September 2012The King’s School isn’t too far away from where I live. It’sabout to merge with a local primary school to turn frombeing a £9,990/year private school into an Academy.I have mixed feelings about this, for a number of reasons. Butfirst, a couple of (massive) disclaimers: • I attended a session for ‘potential Oxbridge candidates’ at The King’s School when I was 17 years old and felt very out of place • I used to be a senior leader in an Academy and didn’t have the happiest of times whilst I was thereIf you’ve read what I’ve written for any length of time, you’llknow that I’m against private schools. So a school movingfrom independently-funded to state-funded status,should be a win – right? 55
  55. 55. I’m not so sure.First of all, the Academy system as it now stands isproblematic. It strikes me that the current governmenthave taken the previous administration’s programme andturned it into a trojan horse to remove the power of LocalAuthorities, to eventually disapply the entire schoolpopulation from the National Curriculum, and to create apseudo-market in state-funded education.Second, as one parent mentions in the Guardian article it’snot a good thing if a private school merging with a stateschool is being done “to prop up a school that’s failing torecruit enough students”. Could it be that, like banks,private schools could see government funding as a‘bailout’?Finally, and this is something that many people havereminded me of in my attacks upon private education,nothing happens in a vacuum. Compared to the local area,Tynemouth is already an extremely expensive area in whichto live. My family certainly couldn’t afford to live there.Chances are that selection-by-fee-paying will be replacedby selection-by-house-price.So we have a fudge. A pseudo-market in a pseudo-statesystem with pseudo-traditional examinations.Perhaps it’s time to move to Scotland. Image CC BY-NC Paul Thirkell 56
  56. 56. My high school report.24th September 2012Update: Some people have asked about my use of ‘high’school in an English context. We had (and to a great extentstill have) a three-tier system in Northumberland. -----My parents, who live five miles away in the house where Igrew up, are having a long-overdue clearout of their attic. Afew days ago they brought round my National Record ofAchievement. It’s a faux-leather folder with embossed lettersthat we used in high school to collate, well, anything otherthan demerits.I opened mine and flicked through the meaningless bronzeand silver awards, the certificates for things that didn’t needcertificating, and the various proofs of things done I’d longsince forgotten about.Then, near the back, I came across my Year 11 report fromthe February of my last compulsory year in school. 57
  57. 57. Let’s have a look at some highlights, shall we?English – “Although he tends to waste time in class, Douglashas produced all the coursework required so far…” - I wastedtime because I finished all the work set and the lessons wereformulaic in the extreme. I was forced to think ‘inside the box’ andI was bored to distraction.Biology – “Douglas is able to grasp topics very quickly andshows a very good understanding. I have always been worriedby his arrogant attitude…” – Why? Because I dared to go beyondthe textbook we used every lesson? Because I asked hardquestions that the teacher couldn’t be bothered to answer?Physics – “Douglas shows interest in some topics but heprefers to get involved in ‘idle’ chatter too often. He has abilityin this subject but he must be prepared to work harder.” –Physics was one of my favourite subjects. I just didn’t like workingin an atmosphere where silence was expected (if rarely achieved)*all* of the time.French – “In discussion with Douglas [notice never Doug] heagrees that so far this year he has been content to producework that is just satisfactory and shows the minimum ofeffort.” – That might be because the closest we got to real-lifeFrench were laughably outdated videos. The (compulsory)language class felt like an irrelevance.Life Studies - “Douglas has understood the issues raised andcontributed sensibly to some of the discussions but he hasnot yet fully learned that there are no simple answers tocomplex issues.” Ouch! I saw this teacher a few weeks ago forthe first time since school. I went out of my way to thank her forlending me a copy of Sophie’s World, which eventually led to mestudying Philosophy at university.Senior Tutor – “Well done, Douglas. This is an excellentreport, I am sure you have a bright and interesting future 58
  58. 58. ahead of you.” – Well, it *wasn’t* an excellent report, and Iultimately underachieved, but the ‘interesting future’ bit was spot-on.The rest of the teacher comments were mainly bland andgeneric, focusing on me needing a revision plan and to workharder. I don’t really blame my teachers – it must have been afairly tough place to work.When I talked through my report with my wife it wasinteresting how we came at this from different angles. Giventhat I’ve gone on to achieve a doctorate and done reasonablywell career-wise I saw the above as evidence of the disconnectbetween school and ‘real life’. She on the other hand,wondered what I could have been.Of course, we’ll never know the counter-factual. We’ll neverknow what would have happened if I’d gone somewheredifferent than a school where only 25% achieved 5+ A*-Cgrades (the national average at the time was 45%). And,anyway, what would have constituted a ‘better outcome’?More money? More status?I’d wager that the biggest differentiator and predictor of‘success’ in life (whatever that is) is parental expectation. OK,so my father was Deputy Head of the high school and mymother worked in the school office, but it wasn’t theirpresence that kept me on the straight-and-narrow.What kept me honest was the expectation that I would attenduniversity. And to attend university you have to jump throughthe flaming hoops of examination systems. So I jumpedthrough the hoops. I may have almost burned my bollocks afew times, but I got through in the end.Others didn’t. Primarily, I’d argue, because they weren’texpected to. 59
  59. 59. I’m still thinking through all this and what it means for myown children, so in lieu of a neat conclusion I’ll leave you withthe wise words of John O’Farrell: Children from advantaged backgrounds are going to do much better wherever they go to school – that is module 1 of a GCSE in The Bleedin’ Obvious. If you read to your children from an early age, if the poor things are dragged round museums every other weekend, if you have the time and energy for them and are not leaving them at home alone every evening because you have a second job cleaning floors at Heathrow, then your children will do better academically. If your local comp got 50% five A-Cs including English and maths, that doesn’t mean that your child has only a 50% chance of achieving that over-simplistic benchmark. What parents generally perceive as a “better school” usually means a school with an intake that is easier to teach. 60
  60. 60. Time, innovation and funding.26th September 2012I’ve worked in both schools and universities. In the former the‘barrier’ to innovation is usually said to be time. In the latterit’s usually seen as the trials and tribulations of gettingfunding.Whilst I agree that teachers work crazy hours and that bothschools and universities are generally underfunded, I can’thelp but think that the real reason institutionalinnovation is stifled is because of permission-seeking.We all know that the worst kind of censorship is self-censorship – the fear that your actions might bringdispleasure or punishment. People, I’m sad to say, don’ttend to give themselves the permission to innovate.It might be slightly controversial to say so, but it’s easy to askfor time and money in an attempt to ensure a project is asuccess. And it’s also easy to say that something’s ‘notpossible given current resources’. But time and money do notin and of themselves lead to successful projects. 61
  61. 61. What I think people are hankering after when they askfor money or time for innovation projects is approval.Might I suggest that truly innovative projects are unlikely toget such approval?Some projects need huge levels of buy-in and support andfunding and scoping. Most don’t.Just get on and do it. Image CC BY-NC Wiertz Sébastien 62
  62. 62. What Constitutes Rigour inOur 21st-Century EducationalSystems?26th September 2012[Published at DMLcentral]Recently Michael Gove, the English Secretary of State forEducation, announced the Governments plans to "restorerigour and confidence to our examination system with theintroduction of English Baccalaureate Certificates in English,maths, the sciences, history, geography and languages."Modular assessment with the opportunity for student retakesis out, three-hour final examinations are back in. The numberof top grades that are awarded will be limited.This approach is actually a toned-down version of Govesinitial proposals which were leaked back in June. At the timeboth Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime 63
  63. 63. Minister Nick Clegg disavowed any knowledge of the plans,with the latter stating that he was against  "anything thatwould lead to a two-tier system where children at quite ayoung age are somehow cast on the scrapheap." The originalsystem effectively sought to bring back the old-style O-levelsfor more able students and CSEs for the less able. It alsoproposed abolishing the National Curriculum for secondaryschools. This is now rather a moot point with more and moreschools effectively forced into Charter school-like Academystatus. Academies do not have to follow the NationalCurriculum.Goves proposed new system (still under consultation) wouldbe introduced in September 2015 with the first new-styleexaminations taking place in 2017. Although promisedfurther announcements have not yet been forthcoming, theexpectation is that the current marketplace for examinationprovision will be abolished with only one exam boardprovider per subject. Curiously, given the rhetoric in almostevery other sphere of government (and educational policy)Gove has recognised that such competition leads to maligneffects. As in the US, some private companies are making alot of money through educational testing, attractingcustomers (i.e. schools) by finding ways to get more studentsto achieve higher grades.What concerns me about Goves proposals is the assumptionthat rigour consists of a very particular method of assessingyoung peoples knowledge, understanding and skills. I say thisas a former teacher and senior leader, as someone who iscurrently involved in education on a national andinternational level and, most importantly, a parent. The abilityto sit still and concentrate for three hours on examinationquestions testing feats of memory does not sound to me likea 21st century skill. Which pieces of the complex puzzle of 64
  64. 64. human knowledge, skills and understanding are not capturedunder such a system? Id suggest many.The first examinations under the new system are slated for2017. When I was growing up, the year 2017 was a year onlydreamed of in science fiction books: a time of flying cars,thought transfer and personal robotics. Yet it seems that ifGove has his way the only thought transfer technology thatwill triumph in 2017 will be young people channelingmemorised facts through their pencils onto regulation-sizedpaper. Thankfully we have a general election before 2015 andenough time to think bigger -- perhaps like our Scottishneighbours Curriculum for Excellence. 1So what does constitute rigour in 21st-century education?Unfortunately we liberal educators have not done a goodenough job in recent years of spelling this out. We have talkedof young people requiring skills for jobs that dont yet exist.Weve talked vaguely of new literacies, of human flourishing,of the social and emotional aspects of learning, of the realityof the digital world and the need to equip young people touse technologies in meaningful, constructive ways.Meanwhile, reactionary conservative politicians have beenelected into positions of power, promising to restoreconfidence to the examination system and return totraditional values. At times of economic uncertainty suchsolid qualifications in knowledge and skills familiar toprevious generations sound like they lead to jobs and success.But will they? I have more than a few doubts.My challenge to us all, therefore, is this: what can we measureto communicate effectively the things we believe to be mostimportant in education? What does count as rigour? And howmight we assess that?1 http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/thecurriculum/ 65
  65. 65. Time for a NICE-r kind ofeducation?21st October 2012Teaching may be as much of an art as a science, but there’sstuff that we know works in education.2 Whilst contextdefinitely matters there are things – like timely, formativefeedback – that can be done well no matter where you areand what situation you’re in.To my mind, we should have something like the NHS Evidencewebsite3 for things relating to pedagogy. It could provideanswers to questions like: • Where’s the evidence for using tablet computers in education? • Where can I find out more about different forms of assessment?2 http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_effect_sizes.html3 http://www.evidence.nhs.uk 66
  66. 66. • Is there a sound research basis for giving homework?The NHS Evidence website is provided by NICE – the NationalInstitute for Clinical Excellence. We have nothing similar foreducation. Although health is as much of a political football aseducation, at least they’ve got a research basis.If there’s no political will to separate politics and education,perhaps it’s time for a non-profit to do this kind of stuff? Orperhaps they are and they need more publicity? 67
  67. 67. 68
  68. 68. EducationalTechnology 69
  69. 69. Resurrect computer science –but dont kill off ICT22nd January 2012[Published on the Guardian Higher Education Network blog]Michael Gove recently labelled the current provision of ICT inEnglish schools as "dull and argued, schools should have thefreedom to teach computer science. The educationsecretarys speech came after a Royal Society report whichmentioned that computing science is seen as a subject aboutbasic digital literacy skills such as how to use a word-processor or a database.Much is wrong with ICT lessons in schools. This is beyonddoubt. The subject is taught predominantly by non-specialistsand involves the mastery of skills required in the 1990s (whenthe programme of study was originally put together). This wasa world before broadband, social networks, tablets andsmartphones. However, the original aim for ICT lessons todevelop in pupils "the knowledge, skills and understanding 70
  70. 70. needed to employ ICT appropriately, securely and fruitfully inlearning, employment and everyday life" remains aspirational.The work of the Royal Society is undoubtedly an attemptedrebranding exercise for computer and digital-related areas inschools. As such, we welcome that. However, it is a greatshame that at the same time as doing so, both the society andGove, have chosen to relegate the concept of digital literacy tomere basic skills.Much has been done in the area of digital literacy that couldbe of great benefit to schools. The work JISC consultant HelenBeetham has carried out with and behalf of JISC, agovernment-funded body promoting innovation in post-compulsory education, bears this out. Indeed, the JISCdeveloping digital literacies programme recognises that digitalliteracies are always plural and are highly context-specific.They go well beyond the basic skills mentioned in the RoyalSociety report.The digital world is not a single, homogenous space and, as aresult, the literacies we require to traverse and interact in thisspace vary enormously. This does not make for an easy, one-size-fits-all knowledge transfer approach but it certainlyrecognises the diverse world in which we live, both online andoffline. The digital landscape changes rapidly meaning thatyoung people require not a static functional literacy, but acritical and creative set of attributes that help them tonavigate various networks. Computer science may give someyoung people a deep technical understanding of thesematters, but educational institutions exist to prepare youngpeople for the world generally, not just for specific jobs.Digital literacies add the human element into the mix.To pin our hopes on computer science as the knight in shiningarmour for ICT in schools is to make a twofold error. First,instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we 71
  71. 71. should revisit the initial aims of the ICT curriculum. Are theaims of computer science as inclusive as the aims of ICT(however poorly delivered)? Would learning an arcaneprogramming language from a series of worksheets really bebetter than disjointed lessons on how to use Microsoft Excel?So much depends upon the delivery of knowledge and skillsand, with so few computer science graduates in the teachingprofession, how can most schools deliver the subject in aninspiring way?The second error in hoping that computer science will solveour ICT woes is that of focusing on a single, homogeneous setof skills. In 2012 we should be welcoming diversity,personalising learning and insisting on a rigorous programmeof digital literacies for our young people from when they startschool to when they (potentially) leave university. By allmeans encourage schools to run computer science lessons,but let us not pretend that this is a solution to those still-relevant issues raised in 1999 by the QCA.Everyone, young and old alike, needs to learn how the webworks, the ways ideas proliferate through networks, and touse digital tools to work purposefully towards a pre-specifiedgoal. None of these skills, however, are in the domain ofcomputer science. Welcome though it is, computer scienceneeds to be augmented by a focus on digital literacies for theworld in which we all (increasingly) inhabit. We needcomputer science and to develop digital literacies in schools. 72
  72. 72. On the Importance ofWebmaking19th June 2012[Published at DMLcentral]I’ve come to realize over the last couple of years just howimportant the Open Web is for online innovation. It’s astandards-based platform that allows anyone to use relativelylow-cost technologies to connect things and people togetherin new ways. It’s radical in its egalitarian, open, anddemocratic approach.But it’s under threat.When Steve Jobs announced the original iPhone only fiveyears ago in 2007 he emphasized the importance of gettingWeb browsing right on a mobile device. Hot on the heels ofthe announcement, of course, came the wildly successful AppStore. A few days ago Tim Cook, the new CEO of Apple,announced that this is now “an economy in and of itself.” And, 73
  73. 73. despite the App Store’s popularity, this is an ecosystem whereApple take a 30% cut and decides what is and what is notmade available to end users.At least with Apple there is an obvious monetary transactiontaking place. You choose to purchase an Apple device and youchoose to purchase various apps vetted for inclusion in theApp Store. With Facebook, and to some extent Google,however, it’s a different story. Their services are provided ‘freeof charge’ to the end user. No money changes hands(ordinarily) between you and these publicly-listed companieswho, at the end of the day, exist to provide shareholder value.What is being sold to advertisers, of course, is your attentionand your online habits.What concerns me, and I am fully aware that I may comeacross as a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist at thispoint, is that much of our online interaction takes place inpublic but privately-owned spheres. Twitter, despite beingseen as helping revolutionaries, is no different in this respect.If you fall foul of the rules, if an organization takes a dislikingto you (or your pseudonym), then you’re out. You’re onprivate land using tools that may be revoked at any time. Oh,and those tools are increasingly non-user-upgradeable,proprietary, and closed-source.I came across a great quotation towards the end of a Wiredmagazine article about Apple’s new MacBook Pro. Now I’venothing against Apple or their devices -- I own several myself-- but the following sums up nicely how we’ve lost our way: We have consistently voted for hardware that’s thinner rather than upgradeable. But we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Our purchasing decisions are telling Apple that we’re happy to buy computers and watch them die on schedule. When we choose a short-lived laptop over a more 74
  74. 74. robust model that’s a quarter of an inch thicker, what does that say about our values? Every time we buy a locked down product containing a non- replaceable battery with a finite cycle count, we’re voicing our opinion on how long our things should last. But is it an informed decision? When you buy something, how often do you really step back and ask how long it should last? If we want long-lasting products that retain their value, we have to support products that do so. Today, we choose. If we choose the Retina display over the existing MacBook Pro, the next generation of Mac laptops will likely be less repairable still. When that happens, we won’t be able to blame Apple. We’ll have to blame ourselves.We’re being turned into an audience, an audience thatpassively consumes a shiny, commoditized, ersatz version ofthe Web in return for a veneer of sociality, connection tocelebrity, and/or perceived ease of use. Meanwhile, our datais being sold to the highest bidder, we’re becoming used tosurveillance and a lack of privacy, and any digital skills we hadare atrophying.There is another way.Thankfully, efforts are underway to avoid the next generationbeing one of consumption over creating. The MozillaFoundation (which I am proud to be joining next month) iscampaigning for a ‘generation of webmakers’ to cometogether to make something amazing with the Web. Thissummer a huge effort is underway through a Summer CodeParty to help people young and old take their first steps inlearning to code a little. You can find out more and getinvolved at Webmaker.org. 75
  75. 75. You can learn see how web pages are put together using X-Ray Goggles, learn the basics of code using Thimble, and evencreate amazing hyper-video mashups using Popcorn. All ofthis is free, open, and provided by a non-profit organizationsteadfastly against Web users being tracked.The Web wants to be open. The Web wants to be free. TheWeb wants us to connect to collaborate to make awesomethings together.Will you join us to help protect it? Image CC BY paul_clarke 76
  76. 76. Some thoughts on theDepartment for Education’sconsultation on ‘ParentalInternet Controls’.28th June 2012If you’re in England and a parent, guardian and/or educatoryou should be responding to the Department for Education’sconsultation on Parental Internet Controls.The assumptions behind it are quite staggering.It would appear that the government believes that the bestway of ‘protecting’ young people is to shield them from everaccessing ‘inappropriate’ material online.This is wrong for several reasons: 1. Despite your best efforts, all young people will at some point come across inappropriate things online 77
  77. 77. 2. Any tool you use to block inappropriate sites will be a fairly blunt instrument leading to false positives 3. Blocking tools tend to lead to a false sense of security by parents, guardians and educators 4. Who decides what’s ‘inappropriate’?The best filter resides in the head, not in a router or officeof an Internet Service Provider (ISP).I don’t want my internet connection to be filtered in ‘the bestinterests of my children’. I don’t want to be subject tocensorship.I’ve responded to the consultation. I’ve pointed out that theirquestions are sometimes unfairly worded. For example, Iwant to respond for one particular question that I don’t think‘automatic’ parental controls should be in place in anyhouseholds.It’s about education, not censorship. Make sure yourespond to the consultation, please! 78
  78. 78. How to implement technologysuccessfully in yourorganisation.8th August 2012I spent some time in a local school this week talking to somemembers of staff about implementing educationaltechnology. It made me realise that I haven’t talked nearlyenough here about how to do that successfully. It’ssimultaneously straightforward and painfully difficult.Let me explain.Technically, pretty much anything is possible. Short ofthought-transfer and teleporting to the moon we live in aworld with endless possibilities on the technical front.Whatever it is you want to do is probably possible. 79
  79. 79. Successfully implementing technology in your organization istherefore not a technology issue. Yes, it’s important to getright. But no, if you just focus on that your technologyimplementation will not work.Here’s some advice for those seeking to introduce a newtechnology into their organisation.1. Solve other people’s problemsThis is the number one priority. If technology isn’t solvingsomeone’s problem somewhere, somehow, then it’ssuperfluous. My experience is with educational institutionswhere I’d very much focus on solving teachers’ problems ifyou want any meaningful traction.2. Get other people to evangelise foryouIf you’re known as technically competent, then any successyou have with technology is not necessarily seen as replicableby others. Get influencers on board. Embrace skeptics. Again,solve their problems.3. Embrace constraintsYou will always face constraints. These could be financial.They could be political, social, emotional or hierarchical.Whatever they are, if you can’t change them easily there’s nopoint whinging: you need to use the difficulty. 80
  80. 80. There might be a certain technology you’re being forced touse. So use it.There might be some awkward members of staff ordepartments. So convert them or avoid them to begin with.Strategise.4. Have a strategyThis is blindingly obvious, but if you don’t have a strategy youcan’t be strategic about your deployment of technology. “Wewant to introduce iPads to improve engagement” is not astrategy. It’s a hope. It’s a wish.Strategies should be user-focused and have appropriatetimescales. There’s a lot of talk around technology changingso fast that most strategies are meaningless.Bull.When technologies evolve rapidly, then strategies are moreimportant than ever. They’re not perfect but use researchsuch as the yearly (free!) NMC Horizon report4 to see whichway the wind is blowing.5. Turn on everything / default to openYou don’t know where innovation’s going to happen. In fact, itusually happens at the edges, at the places where you leastexpect it. That’s certainly been my experience.4 http://www.nmc.org/horizon-project 81
  81. 81. So, when you’re deciding which features of a platform to turnon, first look at your strategy. If that doesn’t tell you what todo, turn the feature on. Let the users drive the innovation.And, finally, default to openness. It’s what makes the world goaround. Don’t hide behind e-safety. Don’t hide behindignorance. Don’t hide behind what you think other people willthink. You’ll be pleasantly surprised if you let go of the reins alittle. Image CC BY Veribatim 82
  82. 82. Why a ‘mixed economy’ ofdigital devices is best for youreducational institution.29th August 2012Earlier today, on Twitter, I mentioned that the 64GBversion of the BlackBerry Playbook is now at thescandalously low price of £129. They’re practically giving itaway.I mentioned that for some educational institutions that wouldbe a really good fit, especially given that you can side-loadAndroid apps. Eventually, I should imagine, you’ll be able todispose of the BlackBerry OS altogether and just go withAndroid for the entire system.Bill Lord, a Primary school headteacher, replied that hewas looking at a ‘mixed economy’ of devices for hiseducational institution, adding that he had three mainreasons for this approach: 1. Pupil needs 83
  83. 83. 2. Staff needs (confidence/competence) 3. Vagaries of the marketI’m with Bill. To my mind, being an ‘iPad-only’ school makesno sense. It’s replicating the Microsoft vendor lock-in all overagain. Since when was school about teaching young peoplehow to use particular types of devices?Instead, it’s better to look at the affordances of eachdevice. That doesn’t mean how much it costs, but rather whatit allows you to do. The BlackBerry Playbook at £129, forexample, has front and rear-facing cameras and a high-definition screen. Sounds like an opportunity.It’s OK to build learning activities around specific devicessome of the time, but I wouldn’t want to be doing it all of thetime. Why not focus on building and using things that aredevice-agnostic? Surely that’s a more sustainable option?Use the Web, for goodness’ sake!Finally, if you’re reading this in the UK you should really stopby HotUKDeals5 every now and again. I’m on there at leastthree times a day – and not just to find cheaper stuff thanusual. I also find it really enlightening in terms of what peopleare interested in but, more importantly, the comments peopleleave and the context they give. There’s some seriousexpertise there. Image CC BY-NC reebob5 http://hotukdeals.com 84
  84. 84. Game design, gamification,game mechanics and games-based learning.2nd September 2012In a couple of weeks’ time I’ll have the privilege of attendingthe Scottish Learning Festival (SLF). It’ll be my fourthconsecutive time and one of the educational highlights of myyear.Something I’ve learned at SLF is how effectively videogames can be used for learning. The main man in thisregard is Derek Robertson along with the people he’sinspired.My interest in games-based learning was piqued a little late inmy teaching career to be of much use, unfortunately, but ithas come in useful as a parent. My son’s favourite games atthe moment are Minecraft and Little Big Planet – both gamesare focused on building things and being creative.But what about me? 85
  85. 85. I enrolled recently on the Coursera Gamification courseled by Kevin Werbach not really expecting much. After all,it’s just a bunch of videos and some multiple-choice quizzes,right? But I’m actually enjoying it. 10-minute videos featuringan engaging speaker suits my attention span just fine.As a Philosophy graduate I had been intrigued by KevinWerbach’s reference to Wittgenstein’s problem of definingwhat constituted a ‘game’.I was even more intrigued when he made reference to thework of Bernard Suits that claims there are three constituentparts that make up games: To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude].As a casual gamer I tend to play games that are easy to pickup and put down. So over the past year I’ve been playingmainly Battlefield 3 and Burnout Paradise as well asunsuccessfully curbing my 19-year addiction to FootballManager.But the gamification course made me really think about gamedesign and game mechanics. Instead of watching a filmtonight I went looking for a new game. I came acrossJourney.Oh. My. Goodness.It took about the same amount as watching a film for me tocomplete. I don’t have the words to describe how magesticit was, how it managed to play with my emotions, andhow cleverly-designed the overall experience felt. 86
  86. 86. There’s no explicit communication in Journey. Nor are thereany written or verbal instructions. Other players who areonline at the same time as you pop-up on occasion to join youfor a while. There’s simultaneously endless possibilities in avast lanscape and an unfolding narrative. The whole thing iscinematic.At times I felt uplifted; other times confused, surprised,shocked, relieved or just happy and relaxed. It’s a gamethat really does play with your emotions.The experience of playing Journey has made me reflect aboutnot only game design, gamification, game mechanics andgames-based learning but also learning itself. To my mindeffective learning is about a series of impactful,memorable experiences -  and I certainly had an amazingexperience playing Journey this evening! 87
  87. 87. Mozilla, Webmaking, and theArchitecture of Participation10th September 2012 (I’m currently at the Mozilla All Hands meeting in Toronto)Last week I attended the inaugural EduWiki conference run byWikimedia UK. It was a curious mix of Wikipedians, educatorsand academics who came together to discuss how Wikipediacould be used in more formal educational settings.Martin Poulter, the organiser of the conference, was at painsto point out that Wikipedia isn’t phenomenally successful justbecause it allows anyone to edit. There’s a structure, albeit afluid one, behind it all.It got me thinking about an article from 2004 by Tim O’Reilly.6He talks in that article about the importance of designing inways for users to contribute effectively: I’ve come to use the term “the architecture of participation” to describe the nature of systems that are designed for user contribution.Tim’s focus is upon the architecture of the web and howopenness of both attitude and technology allows forparticipation by more than just geeks:6 http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/articles/architecture_of_participation.html 88
  88. 88. HTML, the language of web pages, opened participation to ordinary users, not just software developers. The “View Source” menu item migrated from Tim Berners-Lee’s original browser, to Mosaic, and then on to Netscape Navigator and even Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Though no one thinks of HTML as an open source technology, its openness was absolutely key to the explosive spread of the web. Barriers to entry for “amateurs” were low, because anyone could look “over the shoulder” of anyone else producing a web page. Dynamic content created with interpreted languages continued the trend toward transparency.Any project starts off relatively small and needs enthusiasticindividuals (and usually some money) to get things started.Wikipedia, for example, had Jimmy Wales and the money hehad made from previous ventures. But even if you do getinitial funding, you still have to make things sustainable: In this context, it’s worth noting an observation originally made by Dan Bricklin in his paper, The Cornucopia of the Commons. There are three ways to build a large database, wrote Dan. The first, demonstrated by Yahoo, is to pay people to do it. The second, inspired by lessons from the open source community, is to get volunteers to perform the same task. The Open Directory Project, an open source Yahoo competitor, is the result. (Wikipedia provides another example.) But Napster demonstrates a third way. Because Napster set its defaults to automatically share any music that was downloaded, every user automatically helped to build the value of the shared database.We at Mozilla are hoping to help create a generation ofWebmakers. By this we mean people who can not onlyelegantly consume, but help make the Web. To do this weneed to get things right from the start: by building stuff, 89
  89. 89. handing it over to the community, and supporting theirefforts.And of course, we’ll give them badges. 90
  90. 90. BYOD and cross-platform toolsfor learning.23rd September 2012I had a really interesting conversation on Twitter with FraserSpeirs and Dave Major this morning about ‘Bring Your OwnDevice’ (BYOD) and cross-platform tools for learning. You cansee that conversation ‘storyified’ here.7I’ve blogged before about why a ‘mixed economy’ of device isbest for educational institutions and I’d like to expand uponthat briefly with three main points:1. Learning is something that happens in the brain oflearners. You might be able to give them consistency ofdevice and platform but you can’t guarantee that they willhave the same experience. Therefore, using that as a reasonto go with one particular device is problematic.7 http://storify.com/dajbelshaw/byod-and-cross-platform-tools 91
  91. 91. 2. Educators need to focus on activities rather than tools.One of the examples that Apple advocates often give of thesuperiority of iPads is GarageBand. It’s an awesomeapplication, but it’s not a learning activity. I’d be reallyinterested in discovering which learning activities can only becarried out on one type of device. I suspect you won’t findany.3. What we do in classrooms is linked to, but should notbe driven by, market forces. We can only buy and usewhat’s available, but we don’t have to be taken in by therhetoric of companies. After all, they’re in it to make money.How the world turns out is much more in the hands ofeducators than anyone else.Remember that. Image CC BY Domenic K. 92
  92. 92. My response to the ICTProgramme of Studyconsultation4th October 2012Note that this is my personal view. But I’ve got my Mozilla hat onhalf-cocked, as it were.ContextThere’s currently a review of the ICT Programme of Study(PoS) underway in England. Tomorrow (Friday 5th October2012) is the last day to give feedback on the first version ofthe draft, with a further chance to comment on the full draftin November and then a public consultation in Spring 2013.The review, commissioned by the Department for Education 93

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