Category Archives: education

Positive approaches to re-sit delivery – interpersonal and intrapersonal negotiation

Sciolism (noun): superificial knowledge or show of learning.

In  my last post, I described the re-sit GCSE phenomenon, which seemed to resonate with people who teach it. I also made claim to some success over years of teaching it, which was asking for trouble. I’ve tried to reflect on some of the things I do and hope they may help others, though the more I drew on my thoughts, the less this seemed exclusive to re-sits. Therefore, I don’t claim that these approaches are in any way a sure thing (or even original).

I’ve persuaded the college where I teach that resits should be two classes of 90 minutes, rather than one 2 or 3 hour session. This has held for the last two years and appears to improve concentration and achievement in lessons. My argument was that little learning was taking place in concentrated classes. What I mean by this is…

Almost all resit students need grammar embedded into the course. This is too often overlooked in time-intensive courses, where we teach to the next controlled assessment. What is the point of a resit? To improve ability or to get a C? Certainly the former.

Writing improvements

With two 90-min sessions, one lesson focuses solely on writing ability and control, the other on curriculum. Grammar can be embedded in more ‘engaging’ (said it) ways than the syllabus. If the GCSE should be reformed for FE it must focus on mastery, rather than teach-to-the-test. Judith Hochman‘s ‘connectives’ sentence expansion activities is an effective method of developing written ability.  We have also practised a ‘slow-writing’ approach, with a set of prompts from lessons giving students a methodical process for adjusting writing style deliberately and considering what they are about to write in advance, i.e. ‘Use a subordinating conjunction in the next sentence to add more information’.

To focus on improvement and mastery, ‘slow-editing’ guidance is introduced after writing drills, to ensure students review their work. This may be simple, i.e. ‘count the number of sentences in each paragraph‘ (to improve checks on punctuating control), or more complex, ‘include decalarative statements‘, but is designed to support checking.


GCSE resits should revisit prior knowledge formulaically. Don’t assume students know nothing and show them their gains, as it’s advantageous as a building block and to revisit as more knowledge is accrued. I  invite students to organise their prior knowledge on poster paper or Padlet if we have computer access and return to it to add more in plenaries.

Even though they may have much (or little) prior knowledge, introduce something new in every session – ideally something that would never have been done in school.


Although this is very difficult to ascertain, I at least aim to address my 16-19 students as adults in a level-fashion, rather than get some weird group-speak repeating going on (like in Machaela schools). Communication is vital in FE. A resit teacher should speak with:

  • sensitivity
  • urgency
  • respect
  • a touch of pressure

And often very directly. Though not always motivational, it’s important to be blunt sometimes, to show where expectations have not been met and that the maturity with which your students are treated (in how you communicate to them) has been let down. This is hard to explain without sounding like either a military officer or a feeble teacher whose feelings are easily  hurt, but if the rapport is established then students will perform better – and they can hear from your tone where they may lose your respect, if not your confidence.


We’re often confronted by deep existential questions: ‘what’s the point of this?’ The answers can become a bit ‘ventriloquistic‘. Some stock responses:

  • ‘You’ll be ahead of the next person in competition for a job.’
  • ‘It’s important to know your language.’
  • ‘Don’t you find it enjoyable?’
  • ‘The Government says so.’
  • ‘Low literacy is a form of poverty.’
  • ‘You failed at school.’

I might not always use all of those, but think I have at some point where students have been persistently listless. I’ve also given out letters from previously jaded students who succeeded, but some resit students are so negative or have such low confidence in themselves that in truth, I’d advise avoiding that conversation altogether (or it will go on and on). Instead:

Challenge students to see the value in it at the end of May. Promise them if they keep an open-mind the course will be stimulating and transformative. Guarantee them that the more open they are to the lessons, the easier the year will be. Assure them that the easier the year will be, the better the odds of success and (quid pro quo) the more enjoyable it will be.

If students are really inquisitive about ‘the point‘, a microistic level can help, e.g.

Targets and goals.

These are crucial for students to see the bigger picture. I routinely reference dates on the calendar to improve self-preparation, goal-orientated behaviour and organisation.

‘Why are we doing this?’

‘If you understand the terms (knowledge), you can include them in your essay points. If you include them in your essays, your essay has more cohesion and is more informed. This is part of the mark scheme of what to include. Do so and you stand a better chance at qualifying.’

At some point, you can turn this round to ask the students the point in learning activities. If they’ve bought in, the plenary of a lesson is half-written for you.


Argyris talks of Double-loop learning, which is an excellent way to view the re-sitters experience and our obligation to help them. In this model, reflection is critical in order to improve decision-making. I ensure that I have 1-to-1s as quickly as I can to build rapport with students and try to stem any funny business from them. During these meetings, however short they are, I try to broach some analysis of why the student hasn’t passed before. There are countless acceptable explanations: dyslexia, poor teaching at school, lack of interest, poor confidence, long-term illness absences, lost coursework. I try to get students to regard these past experiences as ‘reasons’, rather than excuses. This allows us to establish a contract for improved success opportunities based on personalised targets (ILPs) and gives me a prompt for that student if they’re acting-up or falling-behind.

Rather than nag, we recall what has previously gone wrong and focus on correcting the behaviour by doing something different. If, for instance, the problem is continued attendance issues (and we all have those students who keep apologising and assuring you they’ll be fine), intervene early – the course is short. Ask them how they will remedy the absence with extra work outside lessons.

Put the responsibility for problems on the student. This is not always the case. Some resit students have incredible challenges and we are not always equipped with LSAs to support us. Bitesizing the curriculum is paramount, which is again linked to…

…Targets, because I aim to create a thread-like narrative throughout the course, treating specific and core ‘threshold knowledge’ aspects as key in certain lessons (i.e. the imperative aspects of a unit – for instance the prosodic features for the Spoken Language unit). Threshold knowledge act as knots to help students pull themselves towards those targeted controlled assessment dates. The thread is ‘double-looped’ and requires continual joining-up.

What becomes integral to lessons is a continual internal referencing – looking back and forwards to train the mind on reflection and targets, knowledge learned and the point of it. Using social learning technologies is helpful to self-organising, with a spare use of push-notifications assisting with…


Re-sit students can have very poor memories, studentship qualities (attitudes) and organisation skills. Twice weekly lessons can help with constant consolidation of knowledge (if attendance is secure), but also may improve an overall ‘horizon-scanning‘ approach, treating all targets as achievements towards goals. Currently, on the old spec, the CAs helpfully designate progress in per centages, so after each unit is rushed through (and they are), I over-do the accomplishment with congratulations and ‘what a relief…never again…’, before hoodwinking them into a new challenge: ‘Right. next unit.’  Higlighting where targets have been reached is a good negotiation strategy for sustained endeavour: ‘You’re 3/4 of the way there now. Just the exam left. You’ve done the hard part. Keep going. I can see daylight’ &etc.

This post is dragging on, like most of mine. Clearly to cut-corners and deal with attendance issues, students can be helped enormously with the right resources that can almost guarantee a C for an essay, no?

  • Quote-matching activities to language features
  • true or false questions to create personalised responses summarising opions about a text
  • a ‘sparkling vocabulary’ list
  • a template of suggested phrasing, and finally
  • a clear skeletal plan of an essay

Obviously this is sciolisitic; it’s far better that students are perpetually writing draft paragraphs with frequent intensive grammar drills and tasks for long-term improvement, but…well, we’re expected to cut-corners and get kids through a 2 year course in 32 weeks, so we cut corners pretty efficiently. However, I’ll be frank: if students miss by a few marks, give them another go at it – even if they are a pain in the arse all year and your marking is piled sky high. Indeed, I would go further and show the student exactly what to include to get the assessment up to a C. If they’re a pain in the arse, I want to give them every opportunity to never have to do English with me again. ‘Controlled’ assessment, I ask you! My arse. AQA, if you’re reading, this is FE. We do things by mastery.

Also, students will always do things half-heartedly. I train focus on the controlled assessment dates by saying in the build-up (with a wee touch of anger in my voice) that it’s down to them to be sure they’re ready. At the start of lessons I measure confidence of writing the assessment based out of 10. This is reviewed at the end of lessons to gauge rough improvements and remind them of their obligations.

I also check in with them: ‘What else do you need to cover. We have two more lessons. What do you want to know?’ Then we do it. And if they don’t say ‘owt, then they must be ready : )


We achieved about 50% in the last year of A-C English resits, not bad for an FE college as national average is reported at around 9%. I hope we improve every year and this year has already started well in terms of attendance, mainly due to improved buy-in from Vocational staff nagging about English and Maths in all sessions and a concerted emphasis of it at induction. This emphasis on the importance of literacy across college is really important, but it still doesn’t help that half the students who passed in school disappear at those times. A reformed FE qualification would see all students take some sort of class. I’ll write on proposals for this later.

Image Creative Commons courtesy: © Tomas Castelazo, / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons


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Filed under education, English re-sit, FE, writing

The problem with curating

There was some kerfuffle this year over the issue of students designing posters. Students in a short case study I wrote on blended learning participated at a stage of the case study with multimodal poster design (, incorporating research data, classroom annotated notes, videos, images and frameworks of syllabus knowledge.

The activity ticked the ed-tech boxes: collaborative, active, creative – students were mobile: out of the classroom compiling data, returning to the PC workshop to put it together with an enthusiasm that was uncharacteristic of that group (who were resitting English GCSE students).  The tasks were authentic, as students made observational studies of language in ‘real world’ contexts, conducted Vox Pop interviews and surveys and posted the results on to ever-growing posters. At some point, a pause in this fervour was required where enough content was accumulated. Perhaps it came too late as the students surveyed their work with confusion.

Curating – a  buzzword born of the culture and transposed to the classroom – is fashionable and fits with ideas of educational technologies, whence a central inquiry (as in Sutra’s – misguided- SOLE theory) has a plethora of sources cloistered to it from distributed hubs. Unfortunately, when the fun stops and essays – threads of thought structured into balanced perspectives, summaries and conclusions – begin, synthesis of so much disseminated knowledge becomes complex and students can easily revert to complancency.

This is the problem with, say, Padlet, as I see it. Students happily suspend details in documents of pretty colours and fonts.So much copied text, so many links, random photos and screenshots – but …so what?

The pixel becomes a postage stamp, the stamp becomes a poster, the poster becomes a quilt; as the whole grows, so the fine-grained nuanced detail simultaneously shrinks.

Revisiting such documents reminds me of a drunken night in China when I was 22. Staying at a hostel, myself and some other travelers were invited by the owner (via a bottle of scotch and several cans of paints) to create a mural on his cafe wall. Earnestly and diligently we obliged, becoming fevered in our endeavour, thinking ourselves like Boticelli creating a timeless fresco, painting late into the night before retiring to bed. In the morning… woah, the results were …like regurgitated whisky graffitied in technicolour on a subway wall. I can still recall the owners crestfallen face as he walked in, before he saw the funny side. Then invited us to leave.

Image result for botticelli fresco creative commons

Yet I admire watching the attention to detail and energy which students have spent in constructing posters and padlets, but there is often little purpose in process and content becomes extraneous. It’s difficult sometimes to still such enthusiasm. I’ve learned the hard way that cognitive dissonance is easily embedded in such content-heavy activities; students quickly become disorientated when trying to make sense of what has simply become a critical mass of information. This disorientation is (partly) what I call Social Media Fatigue, which has problematic consequences on self-esteem and sustained effort.

This is not to say there’s no point in curation activities. Representations of webs of information does not necessarily enable a schema, but can draw attention to salient detail where highlighted – selective curating. Mayer has written extensively of the cognitive impact of multimedia on memory, but a problem is Mayer takes a view of the learner as passive receptacle to multimedia information being presented to them as inducted. Mayer also frames his research entirely on long-term memory over other paradigms. Would the architecture involved in the active process of constructed content (by students) produce different results, especially where guided with proper signalling principles as instructed in a staged, rather than ‘throw-everything-at-the-wall’, process? Some recommendations for curating follow.


Recommendations that follow the bit before

  • Curation is a method of archiving, but need to come with packaging instructions – as much for the signposting help of visitors as for those revisiting the collection at a later date and needing organisational pointers. A focused headline of what content is to be about will train the student’s attention of what to include.
  • This might include ‘think-aloud’ activity accompanying students curation: e.g.students recording voice-overs, explaining what they are posting and why as they post the content. Audio recording can be done with Padlet or Explain Everywhere, but is too often an underused feature. “I’m posting this link as it includes a helpful example of how to apply the prosodics framework in other examples of analysis. I can use this in my own essay” and so on.
  • Co-curation is another approach, where the teacher either posts first or guides what they want to see. This reduces redundant material, resulting in a specific structured approach, which reflects the desired ordering and organisation of content. For example, if the canvas is destined to support an essay, it may reflect a mapping of ideas, with systematic directions. “Open a dialogue box and show which quotes to include in paragraph 1 as Steinbeck characterising Lennie. Accompany with matching depictions of Lennie from stills of the film to illustrate your quote. Now open dialogue boxes containing alternative quotes representing Lennie.”
  • A poster that becomes a mindmap of curated knowledge, research and ideas can be reordered by students into an essay structure or presentation, like one of those old-fashioned toy puzzles. In Padlet, structure can be reorganised easily through slide manouevring. Making it look more like the finished article of a staid-old essay can help improve selection of content for the final product and mastery of editing.

Image result for slide puzzle game creative commons image

  • Size is important, so students vote-up what they perceive as the more important content and reflect this in larger boxes, or by use of colours to highlight significance. However, use of space and continguity on the curation canvas is highly important for navigation, so care must be exercised that the visual organisation is not disorientating where different sizes and colours are used. Arrows and/or numbering linking content should also help with ordering.
  • Scale-back and edit: revisit the padlet or poster and be judicious of what is extraneous, what can be treated to the magic bin symbol. This can result in a healthy debate of ownership of purposeful over pointless content.
  • Navigating rich textual information is not straightforward, so summaries of highlighted information (while superficial to undertones) are helpful for curated content, with links to further information provided that explain (in audio recordings) what can be found and used in those sources.
  • For long-term memory fanatics, testing of what was embedded as content into the poster or padlet is a feasible means of reinforcement, sort of like those old games where you put objects on a table and remove one and test observation and recall, but digital. As a starter: “Let’s recall what we have on our padlet so far.” Again, it would be worthwhile focusing students’ attention to ‘why’ certain content was on the poster – what is the link to the central question?
  • Finally, one of the affordances of such technologies as Padlet is it’s collaborative functioning, so named labels of curators contributions will enable some analytics of who did what. I tend to think smaller groups help, rather than whole class creations which can be messier.

I think there is something in this post of overcoming other aspects of Social Media Fatigue – that of the ‘copy-and-paste’ approaches that students take, which sees a lack of interaction with ideas and knowledge where ‘content’ is separated from process (both practical and internalised definitions of the word). Better understanding of how students use and respond to content is the key to successful learning (and teaching), rather than simply churning information over like topsoil. Clearly, there are more undertones to this, involving questioning and rich discussion. This post hasn’t sought to address that, which requires a more complex dialogue.

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Filed under Curating, education, English re-sit, FE, Learning technologies, Padlet, Uncategorized

Mythology as professional and sector development

Nice TES FE article Dan. Measured, clear, well written. Some comments that have evolved into a full post:

 Myth 1: not quite clear on why this is represented as a choice between types. I can only speak for my subject, but English GCSE teaches subject knowledge and generic skills – certainly critical analysis, which you say can’t be ‘taught’. What do you mean by ‘taught’ here? If I take it as ‘engaging in sustained and repeated conversation drawing on knowledge to review texts’, much as we did in revision classes just last night, then is a form of teaching not supporting the activity – via questions, by reference back to supportive reference materials containing knowledge? Well, if not teaching, isn’t a learning of how to analyse occurring – especially the more often we have that conversation? Similarly, ‘creativity can’t be taught’. Really? Oh no, I think you use the word ‘instruction’ – well, possibly then. Different to teaching, instruction, isn’t it, since the latter is an imperative verb – an instruction as a form of command. Did George Martin teach the Beatles how to work a studio? Yes and no. He may have instructed them on what to do with a mixing desk, which they may have been able to repeat on some dubious solo albums later down the line (as knowledge). Did he bring a certain skill in his methods as part of the studio conversation – something far more difficult to observe and measure but comparable to inspiration? Certainly. Just why is ‘inspiration’ so often cited as vital to teaching in those ads on TV? Is an Art teacher just an instructor or do they inspire and enable creativity? I’d call the latter ‘teaching’: measurable, transferable, replicable, generalised – mythic – or not.

Myth 2: in English GCSE there are units – separate, it seems, but the overlaps between them are routinely made clear, so there is a constant double-loop of knowledge ‘acquired’ or ‘transmitted’ between units – and how it is applied. Not sure if this equates to ‘blocks’ as you see it here, but your point is definitely sensible and looking back and forth in the present seems a better way to synthesize objectives.

Myth 3: I’m curious what defines personalised learning here? Own pace? Choice of subject or modules? Personalised feedback? Not sure I get it, ‘personally’ speaking. Secondly, are you drawing evidence results from schools? I would say that that’s an uneven and uneasy comparison – after all, pupils undertaking 8- 10 subjects in schools, say, is very different to college students undertaking 3 subjects, where more personalisation can be afforded – and is arguably more necessary and required (Leese, 2010, Bingham and O’Hara, 2007). Indeed, don’t OFSTED approve of mutliple activities taking place in classrooms, rather than one steamrollered practice?

Myth 4: As above, ‘student control over learning’ is ambiguous: do we mean the curriculum content and outcome, or the methods? And as above, it most certainly requires a degree of maturity, which perhaps Hattie has not accounted for when looking at schools studies. I would argue that to change any current paradigm of ‘submission to transmission’ to one more self-determined and Heutagogical in nature (I concede that this itself is arguably a myth and ‘buzz term’) there may need to be more onus placed on student control over learning – obviously not on a dramatic holistic scale, but it is already happening (See FELTAG or the Futurelearn Blended Learning course, for great examples utilising technology). It doesn’t mean students are left in a void; in fact, it’s often virtually the opposite. The methods may be less standardised and more innovative, so may not have an evidence base – yet. It doesn’t make them myths.

You quote the ETF at the end of your article, “Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.” Lovely stuff.

Are we as professionals afforded some opportunity for innovation that allows that to happen – rather than subscribing to or being prescribed with what is tried and tested?

Yes, evidence informed practice, but within the syllabus and classrooms, intervention and agency helps to shape our professional identity, our own teaching autonomy and perhaps even the sector much more. That may certainly be better than FE trying to replicate effect sizes and methods from school contexts where the variables are far different.

Here’s a myth, but one I buy into: school-leaving FE students are at a threshold of adulthood (Salisbury, J., & Jephcote, M. (2008), whether university, apprenticeship or employment, and require a different form of teaching and learning than what operates in schools to make that transition more challenging and more easy (Kirkpatrick and Mulligan 2002; Lawrence (2005). Challenging, so that different educational experiences and expectations are grounded habitually and easier, so that the transition into those transcended ‘real-world’ domains (or university) has less abrasion (Askham, 2008). FE is the bridge and must look less and less like school-based institutional practice, otherwise (I propose) aspirations for those whom school has been an unpleasant journey will atrophy.

This is a much wider and more complex argument than I’ve summarised here, but we know that many FE students are disengaged, peripheral or at risk of becoming NEET. Many want to go beyond what the curriculum teaches them. In order to aspire to this as institutions and promote greater self-efficacy in students, I would argue that some self-determination is possible, negotiated as it is with a college department, but I don’t mean wholesale: just  more akin to coursework options. This can be enabled and fitted to curriculum objectives, so that, for example, a Horticulture or Motor Maintenance student is able to specialise more in an area of their greatest interest with stronger formative assessment and feedback throughout the process, rather than on the basis of summative assessment, which is often what this evidence approached research is based upon.

“To refer to some of these methods as myths may come as a surprise to some – but it shouldn’t. It is widely recognised that nothing is conclusive when it comes to education; something can work for everyone and everything can work for someone.” – Here, Here.


Askham, P. 2008. Context and identity: Exploring adult learners’ experiences of higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education 32, no. 1: 85–97.

Bingham, R. and M. O’Hara. 2007. Widening participation in early years degrees: ‘I realised I could, and would, do this – and I have!’. Journal of Further and Higher Education 31, no. 4: 311–21.

Kirkpatrick, A., and D. Mulligan. 2002. Cultures of learning: Critical reading in the social and applied  sciences. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 25, no. 2: 73–100.

Lawrence, J. 2005. Reconceptualising attrition and retention: Integrating theoretical, research and student perspectives. Studies in Learning, Evaluation and Development 2, no. 3: 16–33.

Leese, M. 2010. Bridging the gap: Supporting student transitions into higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education 34, no. 2: 239–51.

Salisbury, J., & Jephcote, M. (2008). Initial encounters of an FE kind. Research in Post‐Compulsory Education, 13(2), 149-162.

Unicorn Rainbow Puke by fumalcon is licensed under the Creative Commons – Attribution – Share Alike license.








Filed under education, FE, Learning technologies, Pedagogical practice, Uncategorized

‘Can I feed my child mud?’ – a parody on inquiry

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.” – Thomas Pynchon.

Like most educators, deputy headmaster Jose Picardo must have an innate curiosity about knowledge. He just posted a poll to Twitter asking ‘Is it necessary to acquire knowledge and learn facts in schools?’

No, wait, in fact he preceded the question with ‘Now that we have Google, is it necessary to acquire knowledge and learn facts in schools?’

I suspect something in the difference there, as the onus is obviously on the first clause. Interesting that he posts the question to a knowledge construction tool, Twitter, which should result in debate rather than singular answers, but paradoxically single answers are all that’s proffered by the poll.

Note that the question is posed to teachers. At first I assumed this to be a little insulting to their intelligence, but Jose seems nothing if not crafty in his guile. His question strikes at the core of epistemology in today’s technologically enabled world of communication and information. Yet I think the question has more meaning posed to students than teachers and sometimes we should try to see through their lifeworld whenever we want to assume their perspective. It’s certainly a question students are more likely to ask, so why is he asking it to us?

The question, of course, has precedence in Nicholas Carr’s famously myopic essay ‘Is Google making us stupid?’ I don’t want to conflate the questions, because they have nothing in common (of course they don’t) so I’ll focus this blog on Jose’s and try to answer it by myself without looking up the answer:

‘Now that we have Google, is it necessary to acquire knowledge and learn facts in schools?’

Firstly, clearly there are different types of knowledge, so the question is predicated on what types of knowledge we’re after from Google. The indicator is in ‘facts’, so let’s put it to practice. I adapt this to my subject, English, a discipline which is not well furnished with facts. However, a recurrently problematic issue for students to understand is the meaning of a metaphor. So a student goes to Google. ‘What is a metaphor?’

Google gives an immediate word group – noun.

Right, okwhat’s a noun? Hmm: “a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things [common noun], or to name a particular one of these [proper noun]. Ahh, wait…what’s a pronoun, common noun..and a proper noun?!…[further searches] oh..ok got it. I think. I think therefore I googled. So, is Google a verb or noun?

Google gives a definition: “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable”. Cool, got it. Definitions, word groups..all good. Situated cognition in effect.

So, er, what’s a noun again?

It was…a figure of pronoun or object not appropriate to …erm…speech…wait…who said that? Not Google. Then no one can see if I understood, or learn it or compounded my assimilation of ‘noun’ by testing me. Not Google anyway. OK, just check again. Simple. Why do I need to assimilate knowledge? Only teachers need to understand concepts so thoroughly that they can pass them on to others – and that’s what Google’s for.

Hmm, well, hardly. A metaphor is an abstract, so not exactly ‘facts’ involved here. Better if I were a Science teacher. But I’m not, because I couldn’t remember all that stuff about plants and water and light.


‘Now that we have Google, is it necessary to acquire knowledge and learn facts in schools?’

Ah, this is easy. The answer to Jose’s question is ‘yes.’ Right? He asks if it’s necessary.

Yes, it’s necessary because we might not always have Google or Wifi – like if we were in the Sahara Desert, or Devon.

No, no, that’s too easy. He’s a deputy head of an actual proper school, so there must be another angle. Perhaps he’s asking me to question the purpose of education – is it too recall facts? Is it in the pleasure of endeavour? Is it the social and participatory element? The cognitive persistence and mastering the malleability of plasticity?

Nah, also too easy. The answer must be ‘no’ then, surely. After all, if we can get transmitted knowledge from Google, we can FLIP our time together and do really cool crazy stuff in lessons to help us get jobs, like build energy efficent rockets and interview Martians on Periscope.

Hmm, but not everyone knows how to use Google. Not everyone has a desktop computer at home or even a latop. So maybe the purpose of School is to learn how to use Google?

Nah, cos in 10 years Google will be a shoe manufacturer or do robot repairs, as all knowledge will be stored on little headphones sold by McDonalds.


Right. Let’s try asking Google a different one, then: a more scientific question apropos of proper learning:

‘Can I feed my child mud?

I know, I know – ‘tabloid stupidity’. If I ask a stupid question I’ll get a stupid answer and receive the wisdom thereof. But it’s SCIENCE, isn’t it?

Oh brother, 12, 500, 000 entries. Isn’t Google supposed to be an expert? Like …a teacher. Why 12,500, o00? Just tell me the answer. Too much information.

Wait, ‘National Geographic’. Hmm, so maybe mud is good for you? Nutrients and all. Probably better than Greggs. ‘Poor Haitians resort to eating mud.’ Woooah, wait, that’s in Haiti, where there was an earthquake, so…[deducing] in the aftermath of an earthquake it’s ok to eat mud. Or…wait… ”mud has long been prized as an antacid…” Acid, sounds bad – so, what’s an anti…what’s it?


Antacid: adjective

Now what the hell’s an adjec-what…oh…Google: antacid:

(chiefly of a medicine) preventing or correcting acidity, especially in the stomach.

“I prescribed a kaolin antacid mixture”

And a Noun.


 Ah, noun! An…er…noun..a name or something. Here:

noun: antacid; plural noun: antacid.

Plural noun? What the actual?

OK, Google. Should just be renamed Info. ‘I’m just infoing some Google’ because I cannot make head nor tail or all these words. What does it all mean? Why can’t Google just tell me? antacid medicine.… antacid is medicine? So Mud is good. And if I can find out what antacid medicine is for, then all the better. So Google is good, because it makes me ask more questions. Like school. And inquiry is good, because it’s making me think critically? Smarts.

Or maybe I should ask Twitter, you know…get people’s opinions? Get a debate going? Of course that would depend on those people. I don’t know them any better than I know Google.

I know – the Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions Theory. Present knowledge as a statement of truth:

Eating Mud is Good for you. Agree/Disagree.

Sit back, wait for responses, let others construct the answer for you (Heh, just like I did in science at school).

But what if there’s no one to ask, or no one responds on Twitter (as usual)? What’s the point in asking? What’s the value of knowledge anyway? All knowledge has a shorter and short half-life so how do we know that Google is even up to speed with what it don’t even know it don’t know?

Let’s try another knowledge question – based on process and product, some facts and skills. ‘A search engine for my search engine. Withdraw, I’ll help you to a search engine. Lolz.’

Ok: how do I change the cambelt on a Ford Focus (Zetec – 1.6.)?

Google: Cambelt – replace every 5 years or every 100 000 miles. Woah, this is easy: YouTube video or – OR – go to Halfords for a FREE cambelt check. Human Interest! For free! In a Tory country!!

[Enters Halfords]

“Hi. I’ve just come in here for my FREE Cambelt check.”

Staff member: “Car model and year?”

“Um, Ford Focus (Zetec – 1.6.). Two thousand um…emfmm emmc it smc and. Dnnns.”

Staff member: moves to computer and checks on Google (like they do in the doctor’s surgery). “Yeah, you need to get it done every 5 years or 100,000 miles.”

“Erm, ok. Is that my free check up?”

Staff member: “Confirmed. It’s free. It’s £ 300 to look under the bonnet to see if your cambelt needs replacing.”

“THREE HUNDRED POUNDS? Wait, Google said it was free.”

Staff member: “Free to check, sir. To check on Google. Don’t believe everything you read.”

Later. Home.


“Huh? Alter what now? Ohh, should have taken a motor maintenance course, chagrin, regret, self-loathing, etc.”

 OK, this video seems like haaaard work. It’s almost like with work there’s some kind of biting point – a sort of engagement – that’s needed to do anything. If I can’t be bothered, I don’t go anywhere, but if I manage to dig in and persist over that first threshold, there is a beautiful meadow – call it Googleland – where everything is known, like in the Gabriel Garcia Marquez book One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Except, everything is not known. Acquiring (and constructing) knowledge requires effort, inquiry, personal pursuit, socialisation, discussion, assessment, and the negotiation and rejection of received wisdom – and,  moreover (moreover, mind), it often benefits from the tools at our disposal. So,

One last Google check:

‘Now that we have Google, is it necessary to acquire knowledge and learn facts in schools?’

Mumbles: Bloody Google… useless when you have a real question to ask…just a springboard for…wait, oh


Ahhh, I see. The answer is suddenly clear. If only Jose had mentioned Wikipedia.

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On the Great Tweeting EdTech showdown

Big duke off between two educators on Twitter this weekend. In the Tech Corner with the funky specs it was Jose Picardo. In the Trad corner with the Tweed shorts it was Martin Robinson.

All day Saturday, into Sunday and… still at it as of Monday evening. (No marking for them, because Jose has a robot doing his, while Martin’s students homework is to practice Latin conjugations in the mirror).

To sum up:

Martin: Technology should be ripped out of schools (later downgraded to ‘used less often’), with some claims that some teachers are pre-set to Powerpoint mode, which is odd because I would have thought most teachers are pre-set to ideas and knowledge on syllabus mode. We all agree with Martin that professionals shouldn’t seek out tech for techs sake, but as Jose countered, this says more about poor teaching than poor tech.

Martin: Tech. Faustian. Pact.

…no, lost me there. I’ve read Faust, but can’t recall any mention of iPads.

I agree with him: young Faustian natives may well be too immersed in screens. Personally, I hope that it’s in educational contexts that they learn that they can use those screens more meaningfully, less passively (or for watching people play Monopoly, as some of my students tell me. OK, Martin, you win). Yet knowledgeable practitioners like Jose ensure they will and this debate further illuminated some people’s lack of confidence with how to use.

I am also concerned, as I’m sure Martin is, about quality provision, the richness of conversation, the future role of the educator, the dilution of nuanced ideas into bullet-point tidbits (I could argue most study organised into constrained syllabus offers only glazed immersion into ideas, by whatever method it’s delivered, offering more to those with an intrinsically gleaned curiosity).

The problem I have is that none of the above has any clear relationship to learning technologies beyond speculation. Carolyn Marvin (1988) talked about how claims of ‘boosterism’ that surrounded the 19th and 20th Century innovations in telephony and electricity were countered by social concerns.

Martin offers research studies and media reports that claim the same: concerns about apparently authentic values being undermined by the technological determinist view that it wields an influence over social and psychological forces, regardless of context, or – more importantly – how such tools are being used. Yes, we are in a highly material age, but we have for some time been in a highly material age of reproduction, of convenience and corner-cutting; but if nothing else, the weekend Thriller in December Tweet-down showed that dialogue still thrives, while reflecting how technologies are socially shaped and socially shaping.

I suggested that the whole debate was pointless. There’s always research to contradict research. There are always challenges and opportunities and more challenges and more opportunities to make from them. People will choose to do what they do, using what tools and methods they wish. People have different paradigms. Meanwhile, progress progresses.

Technology has traversed a few Moore’s Laws since a similar Robinson v Picardo was played out by Clarke and Kozma over the formers famous ‘media as a neutral vehicle’ remark. Now, in Web 2.0 we have a more “participatory web”, more advanced tools with which to realise pedagogical practice, and we may be starting to find more ways to potentially isolate and analyse the variable affordances and empirically see what’s enabled.

Anecdotal bit

In FE, on this re-sit course I teach on, we have huge problems with engagement and – particularly –attendance. The social network I use with my students is routinely visited by them and is a free service that we seldom use in the classroom.

It may be obscure to isolate its use with improved success in results, but I didn’t set it up for that, I wanted to try to construct Communities of Practices. Nor do I view results as its primary affordance: communication is the affordance.

Some of the GCSE re-sit students I teach have, quite outside of my direct influence, used it to support themselves. They situate their selves to it “as a base” – where they would use textbooks in Maths, according to them. They also openly share answers and information and socially support one another’s affective issues; mobile and agile they ask for feedback, for clarity, for resources. We’ve blended its use into lessons to facilitate collaboration, to allow more opportunity to do creative work (otherwise difficult, given the time intensity of the course) and set up Open Publishing of work with student community feedback (this they claim has helped their confidence with writing). It’s improved wider ICT skills with adults obtuse to computers, it’s pulled people back onto the course through social cohesion of the community; it has supported a student’s successful completion after moving from the area and continuing the course. It supports multimodality: dyslexic students who have posted videos and images interpreting language techniques, who report that they can re-read materials to understand them, checking with me or others, and even one who reports that he subsequently routinely corrected his grammar on Facebook after using it and helped to teach his kids to read from doing the course and its constituent elements – one part of which is the online social network.

These aspects of social learning may not be measurable answers in an exam; the description may even be regarded as pop-psychology. They may not be evidence. They are not ground breaking or original. They are qualified by my research. This may not improve critical thinking or knowledge of Triumvirate (what?). Well, all contexts are different… but please can we stop viewing the square root of education as grades and qualifications. When you teach adults who have been let down by schools (or themselves, or whatever cirumstance chances upon the marginalised) in the past, you can see incredible, human values of education. Further Education. That face-to-face classroom interaction is highly necessary. The rest is a bolt-on, possibly necessary, bonus.

The causal link between these things with the network is disingenuous. I cannot claim soundly that ‘it’ caused any or all of these things, but ‘it’ – just like the classroom it mimics, transcends and replicates on screens all around town – plays its part. Teachers and institutes say so, research says so, and students’ have said so. Would we dispute them, most of all?


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Why why why

Nice project by Purpose/ed – sum up ‘what education is’ in 500 words and post your entry to their site:

This should help all mothers explain to their children why they have to go to that weird noisy building when they’d rather be sleeping.

My own answer would be something like ‘Education should help people to engage and grow into the world meaningfully. It should provide the social, cognitive and psychological skills necessary to working in and coping with a lifetime spent in an office (or other) talking about soap operas and vacuous celebrities around the coffee machine  everyday.’

I think this alone is good reason why education needs to be kept live and interactive, rather than just virtual and based in affinity spaces, MOOCS or online lectures only.

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