It’s been a while, but my 38th post for DML Central has just been published. It’s my attempt to get beyond the reductionist ‘traditional’ vs. ‘progressive’ debate that currently plagues educational discourse.
Ultimately, I see a lot of educators as pragmatists and carrying out a role in accordance with a “Social Efficiency” curriculum ideology. Most of the “flamewars” and unhelpful debate I’ve seen takes place between Scholar Academics and Learner Centered educators arguing over the nature of knowledge, so I’m looking forward to the day when we each understand that not everyone becomes an educator for the same reason as us.
I’m currently doing some research with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC for their parent organisation, the Education Development Trust. As part of this work, I’m looking at all kinds of things related to technology-enhanced teacher professional development.
Happily, it’s given me an excuse to go through some of the work that Prof. Steve Higgins, my former thesis supervisor at Durham University, has published since I graduated from my Ed.D. in 2012. There’s some of his work in particular that really resonated with me and I wanted to share in a way that I could easily reference in future.
The ‘Future Facing’ Fallacy – “New technologies are being developed all the time, the past history of the impact of technology is irrelevant to what we have now or will be available tomorrow.
The ‘Different Learners’ Myth – “Today’s children are digital natives and the ‘net generation –they learn differently from older people”.
A Confusion of ‘Information’and ‘Knowledge’ – “Learning has changed now we have access to knowledge through the internet, today’s children don’t need to know stuff, they just need to know where to find it.”
The ‘Motivation Mistake’ – “Students are motivated by technology so they must learn better when they use it.”
The ‘Mount Everest’ Fallacy – “We must use technology because it is there!”
The ‘More is Better’ Mythology – “If some technology is a good thing, then more must be better.
It is rare for further studies to be conducted once a technology has become fully embedded in educational settings as interest tends to focus on the new and emerging, so the question of overall impact remains elusive.
If this is the situation, there may, of course, be different explanations. We know, for example, that it is difficult to scale-up innovation without a dilution of effect with expansion (Cronbach et al. 1980; Raudenbush, 2008). It may also be that early adopters (Rogers, 2003; Chan et al. 2006) tend to be tackling particular pedagogical issues in the early stages, but then the focus shifts to the adoption of the particular technology, without it being chosen as a solution to a specific teaching and learning issue (Rogers’‘early’ and ‘late majority’). At this point the technology may be the same, but the pedagogical aims and intentions are different, and this may explain a reduction in effectiveness.
The focus should be on pedagogy, not technology:
Overall, I think designing for effective use of digital technologies is complex. It is not just a case of trying a new piece of technology out and seeing what happens. We need to build on what is already know about effective teaching and learning… We also need to think about what the technology can do better than what already happens in schools. It is not as though there is a wealth of spare time for teachers and learners at any stage of education. In practice the introduction of technology will replace something that is already there for all kinds of reasons, the technology supported activity will squeeze some thing out of the existing ecology, so we should have good grounds for thinking that a new approach will be educationally better than what has gone before or we should design activities for situations where teachers and learners believe improvement is needed. Tackling such challenges will mean that technology will provide a solution to a problem and not just appear as an answer to a question that perhaps no-one has asked.
My gloss on this is that everything is ambiguous, and that attempts to completely remove this ambiguity and/or abstract away from a particular context are doomed to failure.
Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a pedagogical approach where in learning takes place via social interaction using a computer or through the Internet. This kind of learning is characterized by the sharing and construction of knowledge among participants using technology as their primary means of communication or as a common resource. CSCL can be implemented in online and classroom learning environments and can take place synchronously or asynchronously. (Wikipedia)
The particular image that grabbed me from Higgins’ presentation was this one:
This reminds me of the TPACK approach, but more focused on the kind of work that I do from home most weeks:
One of the most common approaches to CSCL is collaborative writing. Though the final product can be anything from a research paper, a Wikipedia entry, or a short story, the process of planning and writing together encourages students to express their ideas and develop a group understanding of the subject matter. Tools like blogs, interactive whiteboards, and custom spaces that combine free writing with communication tools can be used to share work, form ideas, and write synchronously. (Wikipedia)
CSCL activities seem like exactly the kind of things we should be encouraging to prepare both teachers and young people for the future:
Technology-mediated discourse refers to debates, discussions, and other social learning techniques involving the examination of a theme using technology. For example, wikis are a way to encourage discussion among learners, but other common tools include mind maps, survey systems, and simple message boards. Like collaborative writing, technology-mediated discourse allows participants that may be separated by time and distance to engage in conversations and build knowledge together. (Wikipedia)
Going through Higgins’ work reminds me how much I miss doing this kind of research!
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
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 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
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 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
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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:
“[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.”
“As well as establishing a set of common content, Ed Tech can establish good principles and process in terms of evaluating evidence.”
“[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”.
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.
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.
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:
@dajbelshaw I have zero interest in teaching coding. Would love to teach sales/debate/rhetoric/persuasion/oratory. No idea where to start.
The problems we face in trying to change the education system are at least threefold:
Parents want the best for their kids and they often believe this is through gaining credentials that are the results of high-stakes testing.
Politicians want to impose their worldview on the next generation of the electorate through the education system.
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.
If you’re interested in designing badge systems and think I might be able to help, please do get in touch via my consultancy, Dynamic Skillset. I have reduced rates for third sector organisations such as charities, non-profits and educational institutions.
Earlier this year, my good friend Dai Barnes and I decided to start podcasting again. I’m delighted to say that, even after a planned summer break, we’ve continued to meet on a weekly basis to record episodes of Today In Digital Education (TIDE).
It’s purposely long-form, coming in at between an hour and an hour and a half. That gives us an opportunity to really dig into some of the things that have come onto our radar around education, technology, and everything in between.
Along with putting together my weekly newsletter, I find recording TIDE with Dai a wonderful opportunity to think out loud. It looks like hundreds of people agree with us, people who subscribe via their favourite podcast app, including iTunes or Soundcloud.
Why not check out the latest episode? For those reading this on my blog, I’ve embedded it below. If there’s nothing there because you’re reading this via RSS/email, you’ll need to click here.
Have a listen and tell us what you think! We’re always open to feedback. 🙂
The long term goal is the foundation of a fair, just, and meritocratic society, in which individuals, regardless of personal factors, have the freedom to learn and grow with each other, judged solely on individual achievements. The society would function on a ruleset unalterable by any malicious centralized power, categorizing the skillsets of each individual and giving others the information necessary to place those individuals within society. This provides the basis for a society based on action and fact, with each individual serving their best role in the larger whole.
I emailed Jared, the guy behind the site asking how I could help (I’d already submitted a pull request to make a minor update to the site). He replied that the work “is still very preliminary” with the two big decisions currently being:
What kind of channel to set up for primary communication
Which platform to build on (Ethereum, Eris Stack, Forking bitcoin or tendermint?, etc)
He’s open to other ideas, too, with the best place to discuss all this on this subreddit. I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to jump into the conversation there.