Category Archives: Learning technologies

Project-based learning – complementary to FE re-sits

It’s an odd metaphor that repeating something results in improvements, yet paradoxically the re-sit in FE of English and Maths seems to – arguably – cause more problems than solutions. For repetition to yield improvements, the conditions need to be appropriate, and in education, least of all FE, conditions are far from appropriate and the numerous variables are complex and messy, which is why educational research is so awkward.

I’m interested in project-based learning as a pedagogical vehicle, so read Tom Bennett’s blog post on it with an open-mind. His is an admirable reputation in education at the moment: informed critique of dubious ideas with guile and intellect. I’m glad there’s a Tom Bennett: it’s entirely necessary to shoot down dodgy knowledge in our age and whenever I’ve read him, he does so with aplomb and humour. He seems like a good bloke and all that.

My view of project-based learning is of its capacity to represent an alternative framework of provision in FE to the English GCSE.

To my understanding, project-based learning (PBL) has the hypothetical capacity to

  • drive content of personal interest to the individual
  • allow for investigative, discovery-based approaches
  • promote the creation of products over the consumption of them
  • be multimodal in the presentation of work
  • be organised as portfolio, allowing for the creation of artefacts
  • allow for technologically-supporting and disseminating approaches
  • complement vocational courses of study
  • enable a mastery-based approach to process and content, aligned to vocational models
  • be evaluated in different ways than standard exam-based, summative assessment

In an ideal world, students are motivated and curious, which may well be necessary mechanisms to PBL (if not all pedagogical strategies). I’ve attempted PBL approaches before with students, with mixed responses that I’ll elucidate on shortly. However, a few things first about PBL.

Organised inappropriately, PBL can centre around a premise of highly student-centred activity based on conditions that are likely to fail. Mitra’s SOLE approach is confused as PBL, where students are given a central question, some resources (‘the internet’) and are let loose like eager beavers to find the answers. Mitra’s studies of kids in the Indian slums given access to computers and the internet (‘Hole in the Wall’) remind me of when people say “x is the fastest growing economy in the world”, where x is a recently emergent industrial society that’s recently discovered oil, so is bound to be fastest growing from a position of 0.

“Kids in the slums learned quickly from the internet and were self-directed. Much more than…” What? Having no access to any education?

Our students (in FE) are stuffed from learning in school: crammed full of it, institutionalised upto their ears, assessment-fatigued and textually-jaded. Many are academically celibate. Opportunities for new paradigms of learning may well enthral them, but left to their own devices many will flounder because of these reasons, rather than fly with the wings of opportunity.

Anyway, I’ve always have difficulty with some research report which says ‘you learn a lot more…[ this way, or that]’ as if ‘learning’ was a countable noun that was so easily measured. This is the basis of much research, including the EEF report that Bennett criticises. You can tell early on in his blog that he’s not a fan, because his approach is to treat pbl to a line in hilariously snarc-astic language that assuages me to agree with him. Fair enough.

The EEF report was centred on Year 7 students and schools placed under strict research guidelines in order to control the comparisons, including time-apportioned to the study. A key thing here: the definition of PBL, drawn by literature review, is thus set in stone (rather than fluid and responsive) as it needs to be for the purpose of the study. PBL in my mind is more adaptable to a teacher’s personal approach and knowledge of their students. Tom criticises PBL entirely based on the report, because it is not structured around delivery by a subject specialist.

But hang on, why shouldn’t it be, even if the EEF say it’s so? My approach to PBL would have drafting, focused feedback on improving literacy and reviewed feedback ascertaining changes shared with students to gauge their own improved quality. There would be loads of subject specialism, thank you.

This would hinge on the initial input of a teacher-specialist delivering conventional grammar lessons, before students take to projects in lessons (with the expectation of those grammatical structures as implemented).  This isn’t so different to reading Steinbeck and writing an essay on it, where the text (and the questions) is the vehicle for the training of communication skills.

The EEF report based its study on school-contexts and Year 7. There is an entirely separate argument here about whether PBL is more appropriate to one age group or context than another. I think it’s a strategy that requires intrinsic motivation, for sure, and Year 7 students may well have that more than post-16 students (or not).

What is reasonable to assert is that different aged students in different contexts require different models of learning. PBL may be more akin to HE study, making it a pedagogy fit for the FE transitional context.

I have no particular gripe with chalk-and-talk knowledge transmission. But I know it has its’ limits with re-sit students arriving (apprehensively) to a classroom from a studio or workshop. Being a compulsory re-sit in a post-compulsory sector, can students be given some license to engage with curricula content (‘vehicle’) of whatever shape, as long as there is a literacy development programme in place? ‘Independent study time’ is routinely in place in FE colleges everywhere.

I don’t consider PBL as ‘independent’, but the concept of taking some tools (grammar constructs) and completing work to a deadline, furnished with supporting instruction of research and presentation skills (how to use technological tools to search, select and share, i.e. video, powerpoint, textual formats) and tailored to individual choice (personal choice of subject matter), with a dialogue that helps guide the entire process (‘Can you tell me why you have included that detail? How about using x to fit with the narrative of your study? Is there an alternative view of this subject? You might want to look again at the section on…&etc’).

Sounds a lot like FE-styled approaches (except the re-sit ones). It’s called Heutagogy in some areas and – while an iffy word to some – represents a plausible direction of travel for Tertiary Education.

So, we know the EEF has fairly narrow defined prescriptions of what PBL is.

Let me conclude by discussing the pbl approach I tried with my FE students. I’ll be honest, the way I’ve presented it here didn’t work well. Tom suspects that “the least able lose out the most” (don’t they nearly always?). Tom also suggests an “enormous upheaval” in terms of curriculum cost.

So, in my case I arranged our 35 week re-sit to be organised as two separate 90 minute classes, instead of one three hour intensive lesson (standard in some FE colleges). One of those 90 minute lessons would focus on syllabus, with the other focused on PBL, particularly with technological support, alongside grammar drills and sessions.

I explained the aims of the year to students in September, that each week we would meet in the computer suite once, where there would be grammar sessions and project time. I invited them to consider their projects and how these would or could be presented, so in varying sessions I introduced them to Padlet, Twitter, Prezi, WordPress, Glogster, Book Creator apps, Explain Everything, Evernote, Wix and Dropbox. Students could work individually or in collaboration, but the condition was focused development towards targeted outcomes – integrating formulated language structures, meeting deadlines, drafting, being responsive to feedback, taking ownership of language mistakes where identified.

One student started on her own company website as her project, modelled on professional ones but with input augmented from her course and small-scale own business practice, with another student electing to support her. In terms of content, it stretched the project a bit, but their enthusiasm was notable and paid dividends to the main syllabus.

Two other students wanted to investigate Gun Crime (as there had been a mass shooting in America at that time). Rather than the free rein of PBL set out by the EEF, I gave guiding questions continually to frame and shape the process, inviting statistical representation, supplementing the research with a news article, presenting different attitudes about the issue, arguments from pressure groups and lobbying organisations, organised and challenged by their own views.

Another pair of motor maintenance students investigated the Volkswagen emissions controversy that was in the media spotlight then. Another student, lost for an option, explored a career path of his choice, researching opportunities, identifying and explaining routes into it; imagining himself an employer, he wrote a mock-interview script with a potential candidate, which he presented in roleplay with a peer and left to the group to decide the employers decision.

Of course, not all students were so ‘engaged’ and some spent the time perfecting thrilling spinning movements on desktop chairs. Herein a problem with flexibility, but it’s certainly not a problem exclusive to pbl.

Despite lessons being workshop-like and supported with starting drills and resources based on straightforward grammar and vocabulary activities, they lost shape and structure after about two months, but this wasn’t really due to pbl.

With a typical mixed cohort, typical re-sit FE problems arose: namely, attendance and workload-pressures of the students’ main vocational courses. Splitting the course across two days meant students had double opportunities for absence and took the choice of which lesson to attend. We ended up, sometime down the path, using the pbl-based lesson to consolidate the lost time on the syllabus lessons to ensure readiness for controlled assessments. However, I would stress that this was always a fail-safe mechanism in my planning from the start.

Students who felt prepared for the assessment through good attendance had the freedom, then, to personalise the curriculum time with their projects.

This is by no means an illustration of the perfect project-based curricula, but I’m lead to write about it because of the EEF report, which fixes it to defining constraints that I consider unhelpful to its potential.

If the PBL products my students made could be accredited, they could result – I believe –in work akin to the level of essays on Of Mice and Men, but richer, more dynamic. Why not? Isn’t it better than repeating a formula that hasn’t worked, despite repetition being a route to mastery.  Re-sit students deserve the opportunity for differentiated practice. With the appropriate conditions (clear outcomes and experienced guidance) PBL can represent that.






Filed under English re-sit, FE, Learning technologies, Uncategorized

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 the 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

Case Study of Mobile Learning for Italian Media Education Association

Link to my article for the Mobile Learning journal I edited last year, for archive and CMALT accreditation purposes.


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Filed under FE, Learning technologies, Mobile Learning, Pedagogical practice, 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

Blended Learning – theory or instructional design?



[Taken from my PhD thesis lit review]

Literature on online learning eulogizes distance education (or distributed learning) as a concrete affordance made available by way of trans-located communities mediated by real-time technologies. Much subject matter explores the potential for the MOOC (Massive Online Open Conference) to connect remote learners operating from globally dislocated places. There are contexts where this has more potential than others, for example in Higher Education, in individuals pursuing informal interests in their own time (, or with geographically remote communities who may have an innate and intrinsic motivation to achieve (as Mitra shows). In the former case here, the MOOC has often become a means of transferring one-to-many lectures online, which may be questionable in terms of impact on low-motivated and low-ability students, or the ability to turn inert and passive discourse into more active practice. Anderson et al criticise the “big distance education models” (9: 2001) as unsuitable for some subjects where active participation is more necessary.

Nevertheless, a MOOC is one of the projects held up for mass online provision for Maths (‘Citizen Maths’, Learning Futures 32: 2014). This is a purely online form, quite distinct from traditional learning. Here, ‘traditional learning’ needs some definition. Because I am concerned with the English GCSE syllabus, traditional learning is used to mean the notion of meeting in a classroom for a specific unit of time for specific learning outcome-based purpose.

Blended learning is promoted as the combination of sporadic physical interpersonal meetings (cited as ‘traditional’) and the opportunities afforded by an online community of practice (whether that is structured learning, access to resources, communication within the group for various purposes). In this sense, the online aspects are not a substitute locus of activity, but augment the face-to-face activity.

Remote access (to an ecology of resources, to a teacher and to a community) may not always resonate with emotional and motivational factors in terms of student difficulties. An alternative is suggested: that of blended learning, explained as “the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches and technologies” (Garrison and Vaughan, 2008, 148: 2008). Driscoll defines blended learning (2002) as

  1.  To combine or mix modes of web-based technology (e.g. live virtual classroom, self-paced instruction, collaborative learning, streaming video, audio, and text) to accomplish an educational goal.
  2. To combine various pedagogical approaches (e.g., constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism) to produce an optimal learning outcome with or without instructional technology.
  3. To combine any form of instructional technology (e.g., videotape, CD-ROM, web-based training, film) with face-to-face instructor-led training.
  4. To mix or combine instructional technology with actual job tasks in order to create a harmonious effect of learning and working

There are various other descriptions of the form and detail of blended learning, as outlined by Oliver and Trigwell (2005), in a discussion of the problems of defining what the varying terms means. For the purpose of deployment in this study, the closest fit is supplied by Valiathan (2002):

  1.  skill-driven learning, which combines self-paced learning with instructor or facilitator support to develop specific knowledge and skills;
  2. attitude-driven learning, which mixes various events and delivery media to develop specific behaviours; and
  1. competency-driven learning, which blends performance support tools with knowledge management resources and mentoring to develop workplace competencies.

The first notion importantly configures a consideration of the teacher presence as supportive to the interaction; the second pays heed to the behaviour, affective and attitudinal factors discussed earlier, and the third fits closely to the context of the FE sector and learner aspiration (vocational and work-based skill sets). Overall, the definition is relevant as it can be aligned to the purpose: promoting a Community of Inquiry, with its constituent domains of teacher presence, but focusing on the contextual sector. Oliver and Trigwell’s report seeks to avoid the conflation of arbitrary terms, such as online learning, or traditional delivery.  Blending affords the opportunity to circumvent difficulties teachers may have in embedding technology holistically, for example in aspirations to flipped learning where content is accessed remotely, so that more meaningful activity (problem-solving, Sayer, 2007) can occur face-to-face. As seen already, students and teachers may not have the requisite skill sets for meaningful online provision, described as rudimentary in a study by the Pamoja Institute (No citation, ref. )

Blending, then, is a way of integrating technologies to be more familiar for students.

Some learning activity at a superficial level (in terms of types of learner activity, producing the right level and type of work, meeting targets and deadlines, presenting work for assessment) may be shifted online without friction. Even a learner checking they are ‘right’, can be met with some basic assurances from a remote teacher or community. These are isolated parts of a student’s experience – what a student needs to do, but not specifically how it is done at a cognitive or prcoedural level. It is also unclear whether those processes of activity are optimal. As is shown in Point 2 above by Driscoll, blending may also include multi-faceted pedagogical approaches, so due consideration needs to be paid to this.

Blending learning may include provision and access to resources from remote points, such as Learning Management Systems or in-house college Virtual Learning Environments like Moodle.

‘Blending’ is not a learning theory, as such, but a strategic instructional design that ensures students have access to an assistive ecology of online resources for a range of activities, combined with face-to-face context modes. Educational Design Research – or design based research – is the development of practical principles for curriculum redesign. Given its supportive nature in readying teacher’s for online learning pedagogical models, blended learning affords a scale towards multimodal literacies and Web 2.0 affordances in both classroom and remote contexts. An issue still remains what emergent pedagogies consist of – and how they ensure inclusion at the rate of support needed by all students.

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‘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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Filed under education, Learning technologies, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Penumbral Places – a cartography of disorientation

#digifest16 #www16

Here is my contribution to the call from Chrissi Nerantzi for images of a tapestry of digital learning and teaching. I present an image metaphor from Black Crag in Cumbria of my niece in the moment of capture, the winds blades circumventing change around her fixed geographical point. If it looks akward, well I never said I was an artist (and I almost added a graphic from fitbit) and my fiddling around with layers is problematic, to say the least, as seen.


How symbolic is the concept of layers! I usually retreat to nature to escape the fugue that social contexts contain us within. When we scaled the small fell of Black Crag and reached the trig point, a strong gale ensued. Not daunted, we all felt we had to capture our triumphant endeavour with – variously –  cameras, iPads, SmartPhones. My own original shots seemed to absorb the brunt of the winds in an image, as all came out distorted by its power revealing dales that appear to undulate. Layers start to be constructed as soon as we emerge into the raw purity of nature. I’ll try to explain what I mean by that.

There are so many metaphors in nature: maps, orientation, being present in a moment but elsewhere simulataneously. I’m discontent with metaphors, sometimes, because in my research I want to get to the core meaning, rather than wrap ideas with further labels. Metaphors are though, I suppose, helpful tools to make the abstract in language more tangible.

I often take my research with me on hikes, as the obfuscation becomes less obscure and I can focus and think in transcendent footsteps, almost to literally clear my head. I mean ‘intrapersonally’. I discovered this powerfully when I walked 700 km along the Camino de Santiago, years ago – the Field of Stars. Walking is a profound method of situating ourselves to landscapes and, well, our selves.

In nature, we are omnipresent: we’re social and in solitude; we exist in a moment, but may be elsewhere in our thoughts; more often than not these days, we take our devices with us to capture the liminal moments we uncover. Some use images, some use words and some use numbers to represent what they find. Our tools let us have it all ways.

This is what I conceive of as psychogeography and a metaphor for the real essence of mobile learning.




Filed under Learning technologies, Mobile Learning, place, psychogeography, Uncategorized