Category: Education (page 1 of 56)

Utopia, pedagogy, and G-Suite for Education

This week, I’ve been over in Jersey helping a school with their educational technology. In particular, I’ve been doing some training on G-Suite for Education (as Google now call what used to be ‘Google Apps’). The main focus has been Google Classroom but, as this is basically a front-end for the rest of G-Suite, we spilled out into other areas.

A bit of history

I first used G-Suite for Education back when I was a classroom teacher. We didn’t have it rolled out across the school but, back then, and in the school I was in, I was left to just get on with it. So I can remember being administrator, sorting out student accounts, forgotten passwords, and the like. The thing that impressed me, though, was the level of collaboration it encouraged and engendered.

Then, when I became Director of E-Learning of a new 3,000 student, nine site Academy in 2010, I rolled out G-Suite for Education for all 500 members of staff. It worked like a dream, especially given some of the friction there was harmonising different MIS and VLE configurations. The thing that I valued most back then was the ability to instantly communicate between sites by using a tool which has now morphed into ‘Hangouts’.

At that time, I was a bit of a pioneer in the use of Google’s educational tools, which is why Tom Barrett and I, along with some others in our network, were ‘Lead Learners’ at the first UK Google Teacher Academy. That’s grown and grown in the intervening period, while I’ve been working in Higher Education, at Mozilla, and consulting.

Back to the future

Fast forward to the present, and we’re in a very different educational technology landscape. Where once there seemed to be new, exciting services popping up every week, the post-2008 economic crash landscape is dominated by large shiny silos. The dominant players are Google, Microsoft, and Apple — although the latter’s offering seems less all-encompassing than the other two.

I have to say that I’m a bit biased in favour of Google’s tools. I’m not a big fan of their business model, although that’s a moot point in education given that students and staff don’t see adverts. It’s a much more ‘webby’ experience than other platforms I’ve used.

The more I get back into using G-Suite for Education the more I appreciate that Google doesn’t prescribe a certain pedagogy. The approach seems to be that, while particular apps like Classroom allow you to do some things in a certain way, there’s always other ways of achieving the same result. It’s also extensible: there’s loads of apps that you can add via the Marketplace.

So what?

OK, so that’s all very well and good, but what has that got to do with you, dear reader? Why should you care about my experiences and views on Google’s education offerings?

Well, a couple of things, I suppose. First, in relation to my 7 approaches to educational technology integration post, I feel like there’s some really easy ways to move staff up the SAMR model towards the ‘transformational’ type of technology use we want to see. One thing I’ve been focusing on recently, is explaining the mental models behind technologies. In other words, rather than telling people where to click, I’m explaining the concepts behind what it is there doing, as well as situations in which it might be helpful. How they teach is up to them; I’m providing them with skillsets and mindsets to give them more options.

Second, I feel like there’s a huge opportunity to integrate Open Badges with G-Suite for Education. It seems pretty straightforward to build upon Google’s platform to provide the email addresses of who should be issued a badge, as well as the environment in which badge issuing would be triggered.

I’m thinking through a badging system for one of my clients at the moment, built upon the usual things I emphasise: non-linear pathways, individual choice, and an element of surprise. In that regard, I’m planning on starting with something like a ‘Classroom Convert’ badge that recognises that staff are developing mindsets around the use of Google Classroom, as well as skillsets.

There are, of course, ways in which staff can go ‘full Google’ and become (as I am) a Google Certified Teacher, and so on. That’s not what this is. My aim in any badge system is to encourage particular types of knowledge, skills, and behaviours. Whatever system I come up with will be co-designed and go beyond just the use of G-Suite for Education. As the TPACK model emphasises, the system will have a more holistic focus: integrating the technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge required for purposeful educational technology integration.

Utopia

Ideally, I’d like an approach where students can use something like Unhosted apps to bring their own data store to the applications they choose to use when collaborating with their teachers and fellow students. I’d like to see them have a domain of their own, and learn enough code to have real agency in online digital spaces.

While I’ve got that in mind, I’m also a pragmatist. The tools Google provides through G-Suite for Education, while not world-changing, do move the Overton Window in terms of what’s possible in technology integration. Even just working collaboratively on a single Google Doc is pretty mindblowing to people who haven’t done this before.

7 approaches to educational technology integration

I’m working with Victoria College, a school in Jersey, at the moment. They’re new to digital strategy, so I’ve been sharing some models that can be useful when thinking in this regard.

1. The OODA loop

OODA loop

Much more generally applicable than just to educational technology integration, and pioneered in the military, the OODA loop is useful when thinking about where to get started.

What I particularly like is that it starts with observation, and places great emphasis on context and feedback.

2. The SOLO taxonomy

SOLO taxonomy

SOLO stands for Structure of Observed Learning Outcome and focuses on five levels of understanding, from ‘pre-structural’ through to ‘extended abstract’. I reference this model in my book, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, which is where the above diagram comes from.

The idea is that competence is scaffolded and goes from understanding some aspects, through to the relation between them, and finally, applying that knowledge to a new domain.

3. The SAMR model

SAMR model

Although I’ve seen some recent pushback, I still think that the SAMR model is a useful frame to use for educational technology integration. The idea is that we move beyond technology that merely substitutes for previous analogue examples.

What I like about this model is that it takes minimal explanation, and can serve as an aspirational goal for both individual educators, and whole establishments. This is another diagram from my book.

4. The TPACK framework

TPACK framework

TPACK stands for Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. At its heart, it’s a Venn diagram, showing the overlap between technology, pedagogy, and content, but, again, I like the use of ‘context’ wrapping around the whole thing.

This framework is useful when explaining the importance of technology as an integrated part of a wider institutional/organisational strategy. The overlaps between each circle are also handy for identifying different streams of work.

5. Kolb’s experiential learning cycle

Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle

While I think we can agree that Kolb’s ‘learning styles’ theory was off-the-mark, his experiential learning cycle is definitely worth exploring further in terms of educational technology integration.

As with other models, there’s a balance between doing and reflection, but — and this is where there’s a clear link to the SOLO taxonomy — Kolb’s emphasises the importance of ‘abstract conceptualisation’.

6. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

ZPD

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is a very simple approach to scaffolding learning. It sits between what the learner current cannot do and what they can do unaided. In other words, the ZPD is where maximal learning is happening.

Again, this is a simple approach which most educators should already know about. My father used to talk about it all the time when I was younger and he was doing his postgraduate studies! It’s useful for thinking about scaffolding staff/student digital skills.

7. The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my own work, the product of the years of work that went into my doctoral thesis. It’s a synthesis of what came out of a meta-analysis of digital literacy approaches and frameworks.

There’s eight skillsets (the top row) and eight mindsets (bottom row). In my book and TEDx talk, I explain the importance of co-creating definitions of digital literacies, and placing emphasis on context. In terms of educational technology integration, I think the ‘mindsets’ are often skipped over.


I’m well aware that there are other approaches out there, and no doubt some I’ve never heard of. That being said, these are the models I currently find most helpful when working with clients. What have I missed?

Image by Paolo Carrolo

The importance of working ‘open’ in education and business

I’m pleased to say that two closely-related articles I’ve written about working ‘open’ have been published over the last few days.

As of this month, I’ve started writing for The Nasstarian, a new blog from Nasstar, one of the UK’s largest managed IT service provders. They’ve given me free license to write about things of interest to their readers. The first one I’ve written for them is about the ‘unexpected benefits’ of working open for businesses.

My latest DML Central article takes this approach and focuses in on what this means for education. I’m indebted to Bryan Mathers for the wonderful ‘elevator’ image, and to Matt Thompson and Laura Hilliger for comments on an earlier draft.

Comments are closed here to encourage you to add your thoughts to the original articles! Thanks for supporting my work!

Why It’s Time to Let Go of ‘Meritocracy’ [DML Central]

My latest post for DML Central was published yesterday. Entitled Why It’s Time to Let Go of ‘Meritocracy’, it’s an attempt to explain why a belief in something most people see as unproblematic can actually lead to unforeseen issues.

A sample:

Building an education system around ‘meritocracy’ as it is commonly used post-Thatcher may be a function of those in power being so privileged that they are not in a position to see their own privilege. Those who have never witnessed people having to work three jobs to keep their family afloat may not understand why parents can’t do more to coach their children through an entrance examination.

Click here to read the post in full.

I’ve closed comments here so that you can add yours to the original post. I’d be keen to hear your thoughts!

My CC Superheroes

As part of the Creative Commons certification project that We Are Open have been involved with, a request is going around with the #CCquest hashtag to name your ‘CC superheroes’.

The idea is to tag five people who are ‘defenders of the commons’:

What are the virtues of someone who is an advocate for Creative Commons? How does what they do support the philosophy and spirit of The Commons? Think about what it takes to become this kind of person, and how we might wrap that into the Certification project.

It would feel like cheating to name three of the five as my co-operative co-founders (Bryan Mathers, Laura Hilliger, and John Bevan) so I’ve cast my net wider. Even so, it took me all of about three seconds to think of the people I’d mention! Do bear in mind, however, that these are five people out of perhaps ten times as many who I could have mentioned.

  • Alan Levine — it’s entirely fitting that Alan is a member of the #CCquest team, as in the 10 years I’ve known him, he’s been a living, breathing example of the power of working and sharing openly. An inspiration.
  • Audrey Watters — a tireless advocate of all things open, especially in education/technology, an important critic of the ‘Silicon Valley narrative’, and someone who tolerates bullshit less than anyone I’ve ever known.
  • Cory Doctorow — I’ve only met Cory a couple of times in person, but seen him speak many, many times. He’s one of the most eloquent speakers I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing, and his work actually goes even wider than ‘open’, encompassing the totality of our lives online.
  • Jess Klein — I had the great privilege of working with Jess at Mozilla, and still find it difficult to explain the range of her talents. She’s a designer, but also an educator, a facilitator, and a prototyper. And she does all of this in the open. Check out the Open Design Kit she recently helped put together!
  • Jim Groom — a legend in his own lunchtime, I rely on Jim’s company, Reclaim Hosting for this blog and my other presences on the web. He’s the force behind the monumental ds106, tells it like it is about making a living in the open, and great fun to be around, to boot.

Who are your CC Superheroes?

Image CC BY-NC-ND giuliaduepuntozero

Discipline in the field of edtech

I’m always wary on the rare occasions I’m in any form of disagreement with Audrey Watters. It usually shows I haven’t read enough or perhaps have grasped the wrong end of the stick. However, in Disciplining Education Technology, to me she asserts something that I certainly don’t feel is true:

Education technology is already a discipline; education technology is already disciplinary. That is its history; that is its design; that is its function.

Perhaps this perspective is a function of my geographical location. The edtech sector is tiny in the UK, and the closest that educational institutions seem to get to ‘edtech’ is employing learning technologists and technicians. Again, I may be wrong about this; it may be just invisible to me. However, it seems to me that if edtech is indeed already a discipline, it’s almost entirely US-focused.

Martin Weller, also UK-based, gives reasons (my emphasis) for embracing the idea of a ‘discipline’ of edtech:

  1. “[I]t allows us to bring in a range of perspectives. One of the criticisms of ed tech is that people come in from one discipline and are unaware of fundamental work in a related one. So the Ed Tech discipline might well have components from psychology, sociology, education, computer science, statistics, etc. This would help establish a canonical body of texts that you could assume most people in ed tech are familiar with.”
  2. “As well as establishing a set of common content, Ed Tech can establish good principles and process in terms of evaluating evidence.”
  3. [I]t creates a body against which criticism can push. When a subject becomes a discipline, then it is not long before you get a version of it prefaced by the word “Critical”. Critical Educational Technology sounds fine to me, and could sit alongside Practical Educational Technology to the mutual benefit of both.”

An additional point I’d add is that formalisation and scaffolding creates career paths for people, rather than them having to reside in the spaces between other disciplines. Look at the field of Design. There are schools within the discipline, there are career paths, but there are also consultants and freelancers who are seen as part of the bigger picture 

As a UK-based consultant who sees edtech as my ikigai, you’re often seen as ‘outsider’ unless you’re in Higher Education or work for a vendor. Work in schools and colleges is also often looked down upon. Bringing everyone together and establishing norms, processes, procedures, and ‘canonical knowledge, could  make it easier for people to move in and out of various organisations and institutions. It would certainly make funding easier.

Of course, the $64,000 question is who gets to decide what constitutes the discipline? I’d hate to see that discussion locked up in expensive academic conferences sponsored by vendors, and/or happening in paywalled academic journals. Perhaps paradoxically, open educators are exactly the kinds of people in the best position to push for a discipline of edtech.

I’m definitely in alignment with Audrey when she talks of the importance of a ‘radical blasphemy’ against the establishment of orthodoxy. My concern is that, currently, this orthodoxy isn’t explicit. What we’ve got is an implicit  orthodoxy predicated on vague notions of terms such as ‘edtech’ and ‘open education’. As I’ve already argued, I think we can move towards more productively-ambiguous notions, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of edtech as (what Richard Rorty would term) a ‘dead metaphor’.

Perhaps the crux of the problem is with the word ‘discipline’. It certainly has negative connotations, and focuses on control. Given that ‘field’ is a near-synonym, I’d suggest that perhaps we use that instead? I’d very happy introducing myself to people by saying that I “work in the field of edtech”.

Perhaps we need an unconference…

Digital Literacy, Identity and a Domain of One’s Own [DML Central]

My latest article for DML Central has just been published. Entitled Digital Literacy, Identity and a Domain of One’s Own, it’s an attempt to get beyond ‘ownership’ to think about identity online.

Here’s the final paragraph:

A world where one’s primary identity is found through the social people-farms of existing social networks is a problematic one. Educators and parents are in the privileged position of being able to help create a better future, but we need to start modeling to future generations what that might look like. Let’s start with a domain of our own, but let’s keep pushing that envelope in terms of our digital skills to fully realize our own digital identities.

Read the post in full

I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to add your thoughts on the original post. You may also like another recent post of mine if you’re into this kind of thing.

The problem with ‘grit’

If you’re an educator, parent, or in any way interested in the development of young people, it’s been impossible to escape the term ‘Grit’ in the past few years. The Wikipedia article for Grit defines it in the following way:

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.

The article goes on to mention the origin of the term:

The construct dates back at least to Galton, and the ideals of persistence and tenacity have been understood as a virtue at least since Aristotle.

Finally, and tellingly:

Although the last decade has seen a noticeable increase in research focused on achievement-oriented traits, strong effects of Grit on important outcomes such as terminal school grades have not been found.

So why is this such a buzzword at the moment? I’d argue that it’s an advanced form of victim-blaming.


Almost all of the research cited by proponents of Grit was carried out by Angela Duckworth. As this post by Iowa State University points out, “an analysis of 88 independent studies representing nearly 67,000 people shows that grit is really no different than conscientiousness.”

However, Grit is far from a neutral term, and no mere synonym. It has been appropriated by those on the political right with books such as Paul Tough’s How children succeed : grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character effectively saying poor kids just need to try harder. This is obviously incredibly problematic, and the reason I see Grit as a form of victim-blaming. The attitude from proponents of Grit seems to be that poverty is a self-education problem.

Fascinatingly, a recent Washington Post article digs further than just the etymology of the term to discover why the term was popularised:

My longitudinal analysis shows that the conversation originated in the late 19thcentury, and was never focused on “at-risk” children. Instead, grit was understood as an antidote to the ease and comfort of wealth, which produced spoiled children who lacked the vigor of their ancestors. The remedy was to toughen them up. While some families took this cause seriously (elite boarding schools in the early 20th century proudly advertised their Spartan living conditions), the easiest way to impart grit was through literature. The celebrated Horatio Alger books were written and sold as instructive tools to teach middle and upper class children about the virtues that came from struggling against hardship.

Now, of course, society is all too quick to embrace the grit narrative and apply it to poor and minority children. The irony is that these kids were traditionally seen as already having grit! It was the louche upper classes who needed a kick up the backside.

The clincher for me, and the final nail in Grit’s coffin, is that the data supplied as ‘evidence’ for the importance of Grit is fundamentally flawed. Returning to the first article:

The most well-known data source on grit is based on West Point cadets who complete basic training at the United States Military Academy. According to one paper describing these cadets, those with above-average levels of grit are 99 percent more likely to finish the training than cadets with average levels of grit. However, Credé says the original data were misinterpreted. His analysis shows the increase in likelihood is really closer to 3 percent, rather than 99 percent.

“It’s a really basic error and the weird thing is that no one else has ever picked it up. People just read the work and said, ‘It’s this massive increase in people’s performance and how likely they are to succeed.’ But no one had ever looked at the numbers before,” Credé said.

Given that schools (in the US at least) are now measuring ‘Grit’ and ‘Joy’ levels in their cohorts, I think it’s time to push back on such blunt instrument. Let’s stop poorly-researched, damaging buzzterms being used as a stick with which to beat the under-privileged.

Image CC BY Daniel X. O’Neil

3 Types of EdTech Baggage: Toolsets, Mindsets, Skillsets [DML Central]

3 Types of EdTech Baggage: Toolsets, Mindsets, Skillsets

My latest post for DML Central has just been published. Entitled 3 Types of EdTech Baggage: Toolsets, Mindsets, Skillsets it was prompted by a Quentin Blake-esque sketch from Bryan Mathers that made me laugh.

So, in this post, I want to challenge the assumption that those resisting the adoption of a particular technology are neo-Luddites. I’m basing this on my experience in schools, universities, and now as an independent consultant working with all kinds of organisations. I see a much more nuanced picture than is often put forward. Assuming people should “get with the program” can, after all, be a little techno-deterministic.

I’d love your feedback on the post itself, so I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to do so!

Click here to read the post in full

Caring doesn’t scale, and scaling doesn’t care

Last night I had a really enjoyable dinner and thought-provoking conversation with Sirkku Nikamaa, her husband Mark, and Dr Mike Martin. We talked about many and varied things, including social reproduction, elite performance, and the current state of the English education system.

On my way home, I saw that my former Mozilla colleague Geoffrey MacDougall had tweeted a question which led to a short exchange:

Both the conversation over dinner and the subsequent Twitter conversation reminded me of a short video clip that Graham Brown-Martin shared featuring Prof. Keri Facer:

The problems we face in trying to change the education system are at least threefold:

  1. Parents want the best for their kids and they often believe this is through gaining credentials that are the results of high-stakes testing.
  2. Politicians want to impose their worldview on the next generation of the electorate through the education system.
  3. The filters we use (e.g. elite university admissions) to separate out people into social roles are extremely narrow and confining.

I was struck that I didn’t really have an answer to Geoffrey’s question about teaching subjects and skills that I usually equate with a private school education. Nor did I have a response to Mike’s question about how to scale something like the Oxbridge tutorial system.

At the end of the day, it’s difficult to scale almost anything that makes a really profound impact on people’s lives. I’m the person I am today because of supportive parents who are my biggest fans, because of a really interesting History teacher I had growing up, an inspiring university lecturer, a former boss who believed in me. The list goes on.

The purpose of this post isn’t to provide answers, but to point out that I’ve now come across a number of people who have had an elite education who are genuinely interested in how others can receive the same. The problem is, of course, that caring doesn’t scale, and scale doesn’t care.

Image CC BY-NC Macroscopic Solutions


The title of this post comes from an O’Reilly article. It’s unrelated, unless you’re a developer.

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