Such Great Heights

31 degree heat, and suncream and sweat sting your eye blind. A fairly inopportune moment to become more disorientated.

I’m, say, 7500ft up in the Tyrolean Alps, my heel is at 90 degrees to a 300ft drop. I’m squatted, moving backwards, hand over hand, foot by foot; my neck twists back to check that the corner I’m edging towards is closer.
My palms, sweat-greased and copper-stained, grip a horizontal 50metre long cable hammered into the wall of Ellmauer Halt, the highest peak in the Wilder Kaisser range.

I’ve no karabiner or other equipment, I’m nauseous, and giving myself a profanity-loaded pep talk constantly and I’m heading down, alone, because I already lost my head to vertigo 300ft from the summit. My brother and nephew are up near the top, some place where you scale huge slabs of limestone rock to ascend to 2344m, which we’d decided, impulsively, to climb when at the col below.

To compound the drastic situation I’m in, as I wriggle backwards across a cliff face along this dangerously narrow fissure, others – coming up – wait at the far side for me. They’re a patient, calm Austrian team, bedecked in the full catalogue and – when I reach the relative safety of their slightly wider ledge – they chide my lack of a helmet.
“You may be hit by a rolling stone.”
I’m too breathless to laugh at the idea of getting jumped by Charlie Watts. I move on down, exhausted and shaking.

Besides Alpine anxiety at dizzying heights, in this last week my mind has mainly been trained on two things:
1. Notions of thresholds, momentum and purposeful motivation
2. Intrinsic pleasures.

I draw on these in this post about my experiences on this trip.


You’re training, physically, for Kilimanjaro in December. It’s alarming, then, to discover that your mental capacity needs more training. I grew up climbing mountains and have been up them all over the world. Whence this new vertigo, then? Suddenly spontaneous, unexpected and shatteringly terrifying.

It happened three times inside a four-day hike. The first you overcame with calm deep breaths and approaching the 90 degree ladder disappearing into the clouds with some kind of steeled determination before the panic could really stick. The second was just sheer panic for about thirty minutes, up and down Ellmauer.

You endured it. The hyperventilating. The choked sobs. Your brain floating and careering in a dizzying spin, vision unable to fix on detail, thumping headaches, nerves crumbling. A perpetually nauseating compulsion to look down. Horrific.

Amidst this turmoil, like a nut, your mind flips to educational theory, to research, to students’ experiences. Some reflexive engineering.

Meyer and Land’s proposal is of problematic knowledge and overcoming liminal thresholds to emerge anew. There’s little grounding of this empirically; it appears phenomenological, but it resonates.

At the bottom of Ellmauer Halt was a plateau of boulders, basic obstacles to get to the ascent. The plateau is used as a metaphor for progress flatlining.

You see symbols in everything. Navigation, contours, landscape. Inner psychology mirrored to the map, or the lack of one.

Since attitude is socially effected by the affective, how can you manipulate student mindset to encourage determination? I’m not sure you can. In your third bout of vertigo you uncovered a new low: a horrible rage at other people, a blame game, that others had misled you about the height, the danger, the landscape. You projected your lack of confidence onto others. If there had been a team, some support, some encouragement, this may not have happened.

You must learn to scan the horizon, to anticipate challenges, to draw strategies from what you already know. But vertigo is irrational, so logic like this goes absent.

You thought about how you may need to get some counselling to handle if this happens in Tanzania, but you don’t want to ‘learn to cope’ with vertigo. You don’t want it at all. The worry is that you have created new physiological memories from failing to achieve the summit, and of the anxious experience of vertigo. Will you look for the symptoms next time you climb? Will you imagine them, confuse adrenaline with panic? How do you approach a problem with different methods? It requires much confidence. How do I convince next years resit students to try a new approach, to keep an open mind, to avoid repeating mistakes?

Meyer and Land was like alchemy when I first read it. They describe overcoming thresholds as epistemologically transformative, as ontological integration, that it is irreversible. Learning theory framed like music.

My notion is that momentum (purposeful actions) occurs when motivation is intrinsically situated through visible objectives. The culture is vital to this: an accessible community, a range of means to communicate, a continual network in which to distribute these expressions, perpetual challenges and opportunities to create momentum. Without these elements, fatigue sets in. Fatigue is engagement atrophied.

While in Austria, you overcame thresholds. So why the repetitive vertigo? Because you had no choice but to carry on? The third vertigo was sustained, going unexpectedly higher and higher when you expected to descend. The way took in a prolonged ridge, dramatic drops, sudden ledges. No goals or end in sight. Without targets, progress can’t be tracked. You’d reached the saturation point of panic.

The abyss stared back at you.

And then I suddenly became weary of vertigo. I’d simply had enough of feeling anxious. It was as if I’d made a choice. I sat down among some trees and reflected. I listened to the perfect stillness you receive at altitude. A silence in which my fears had screamed. The silence is a void. There’s nothing there. We feel compelled to fill it with noise, because the emptiness is profound and terrifying. I started noticing details again: a leaf quivering of its own accord studied closer revealed an ant, struggling to cope with the load, but persisting, getting it to the nest, past a train of marching brothers all moving intently. I noticed my breathing had regulated, my heart had slowed. The sun’s warmth poured into me.

Ascension used to be a high. Now it’s a bind. What’s the pleasure in this? Gruelling heat, lightning and downpours, heart smashing at my rib cage.
What is it for?
What is the intrinsic value of enduring this?


People talk about overcoming fears, but I feel I’ve embodied them, and ultimately accepted them, because when there’s only one direction to go – onward, upward – you just have to keep going.


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Filed under Educational theory, Philosophy, place, Uncategorized, Vertigo

momentum > fatigue


Slides from my Presentation on Adult learners at the ARPCE Conference in FE situating literacy practices in online communities of practice available here

It was good to meet people from the sector, sadly cut short by having to return north, so I missed some fascinating presentations but this was tempered by having a drink post-conference with a few notable figures and hearing about their work, with many cross-overs between theories and practice emerging.

If I had one criticism of the conference it was the lack of unifying sub-themes to the array of subjects clustered to the ‘adult learning’ flag. Themes are useful signposts for focused organisation.

Any road…

I’m still a bit bewildered thinking about the picture I found in an Oxford window on my way there, which so symbolically represented an attitudinal barrier of education to the adults I teach, who cross thresholds and develop with increased confidence. Picture below – note condescensing caption. This coupled with the plethora of university colleges, neatly walled behind ‘private property’ and ‘no visitor’ signs was a curious manifest of ideas represented in my research. Makes me think of Blake’s Garden of Love poem.

Well Oxford, as quaint as your dreaming spires are, let me tell you that your ring road is terrible. A really beautiful setting, anyway.


At the start of the week I also presented at the APT Conference at Greenwich through the LSE, which explored a different strand of results from my doctorate research in terms of the deficit of Momentum – Social Media Fatigue, which I’ll be talking more and more about in future, much to everyone’s delight chagrin.


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Mobile lanscape; narrative memory

What is the normal disposition of people in regard to their social circumstance? Elie Wisel Holocaust survivor, writer and political campaigner, who died yesterday, commented that indifference is a trait worse than either hate or anger, which – as John Lydon reminds us – is an energy, a productive one. An activist such as Wiesel will no doubt think of people’s disposition as naturally ‘active’. My feeling is that anaesthetised by our consumer lifestyle and saturated by media channels, we become adrift from things: lethargic . Our normal disposition is complacent apathy. We act when we have to, and it’s usually reactive rather than proactive, but I hope I’m wrong. As an educator, we seek to initiate ‘agency’ among students – an action on the world. This is never straightforward.

My standard leap of association now begins to other matters.

Walking on the moors today, I realise everday I’m becoming more like my Dad: fascinated by maps, landscape, local history.

This is the Basin Stone. It sits above the town where I live, like a throne of ascension.WP_20160703_12_33_09_Pro.jpg

There’s nothing on the moors. Literal silence in fields of emptiness, scored by sheep hunger. Here and there a crop of rock, a breeding lapwing or two and overall bogland. It’s redundant space; a thinking place of tranquility and reflection. The wind carouses your thoughts. It’s a good place to wander. Somehow my mind flits back to the past so often, transcends the reality of now: how did people use the moors in the past? For leisure, I wonder, as fell runners strut past.

This Basin Stone was, according to local signage, a place where the Chartists met and others before them who aren’t named, which is a travesty to me as I immediately train my eye on that obscurity. I feel like the character in Sartre’s Nausea sometimes, who was obsessed with printed texts and read every scrap of paper he found discarded on the street. A need to know basis.

Fading memories, dying nouns. The moor is image as metaphor of what you take there. I find a weather-beaten signpost and read it as symbolic of a dialect that has no relevance today, which strikes me as tragic.

There’s scant language on the Moors. A QR code for heritage piques me, but digitally I’m sound when abandoned to the moor and look only for words within to transcend from my steps.

Instead, a rock holds a narrative, like the dream of a sleeping giant stilled to stone.


In discovering the existence of the Basin Stone this weekend, this ice age relic of atrophied time, I became fixated with finding something out. It’s quite high up – what, a 1,000 ft above sea level? A steep climb from town. Fairly remote. Why would the Communists, who held an early address there, and the Chartists and the mysterious ‘others’ mentioned on a dilapidated tourist sign gather at some random feature? Sure: safe, perhaps clandestine…obvious answers. How can we ever know the detail of such obscure past histories?


“Where to for the meeting this Wednesday neet, pal?”

“Up on t’Walsden Moo’. At t’Basin Stone.”

“What, beyond that bog all t’way up thur? Eee, bugger that laddy. I don’t think so. Corrie’s on at the ‘Drome.”

Or was it something else? A landmark, not physically, but a metaphorical one, of membership and congregation – a medieval Twitter. If you want to join in the cause, you have to make a commitment to action: to walk up onto the moors in, what – the dead of night? Not a particularly formidable challenge, but a simple normative gesture, a symbolic pledge. If you’re in, show it – do it. The agency of the ages: a commitment to self-determinism, symbolised by that rugged, indominitable granite pulpit.

Later, after a little snooping on Google, I learn that there was an exotic weirdness associated with the rock, as somehow I’d expected there would be. csdc

How spirited the energy of people once was, in comparison to our busy modern lives where little of any social value is so honourably accomplished. I hate to think like this. I think of how rich our lives are and how impoverished our relationship to nature has become.

It seems to me that, like a degrading language, our memory of heritage becomes endangered when we neglect to explore the story of places. It is imperative to be active, to be like verbs, to search what is around is, to record discovery, to create new identities to maps that give our landscapes a dignified, vivid typology. We are afforded all this by mobility and knowledge and it only needs our action to disturb its dormancy.

What a way to situate literacy – in the stories of our landscape.


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Still in love with EU

*Caveat – while this post discusses Brexit, it is about education (eventually) and does some modest proposals, too.


Oh Brexit. The fallout continues in various shapes of dismay. I eavesdropped on an ESOL teacher in my staff room this week discussing hypothetical implications for his practice with dejection. Later we spoke about it and he revealed he’s not personally worried as he never considers it will come to pass because no politician wants to trigger Article 50. This is the remarkable thing about a community, once you’re enmeshed in one, it’s difficult to dismantle and withdraw from – even in one so divided.

I’ve heard other friends  quick to blame ‘ignorant’ Leave voters (“thick northeners” – presumably Gove, born in Edinburgh, counts among them) – a narrative that’s conveniently reinforced as ‘chavs’ are highlighted over their racism and Googling of ‘what is the EU’, while the media channels that licensed racism and ignorance throughout the campaign escape censure. This punching down of ‘ordinary’ people and Leave voters is the kind of dangerous ‘othering’ and stereotyping that causes more divisiveness and disefranchisement: the very things that UKIP used to attract disillusioned, traditional Labour voters, who bought into that whole racist rhetoric which demonised foreign workers.

Folk are social animals and always need something to cluster around, which is why UKIP became popular. Equally, we Remain voters cluster around the desperate petitions, hoping that the result won’t be upheld. We cluster around ideas and proudly remind everyone that this wasn’t our mess, because we’re of the 48% – another community. Another way a culture becomes divided – both by statistical and ideological definition.

I’ve been thinking of parallels between this ‘othering’ of Leave voters with FE. We are, in FE, the other sector, the overlooked and marginalised. Boris Johnson struggled to know us, describing us as a “secondary modern type thing”, and which forgettable ‘other’ was it in Government who apparently said to Vince Cable that no one would notice if FE was completely dissolved?

‘Othering’, as an image, is the person who walks past the homeless person without seeing them – perhaps not as ignorance but as complete unawareness that whatever it is even exists. Many people just don’t want to acknowledge that we have deep social problems, and that these are physically manifest among students in FE colleges as peripheral members of our culture. People like to blame the Brexit vote on a lack of education, which downplays our national education system hugely. ‘Brexit’ – that’s what disenfranchisement and a lack of representation gets you.

I believe that Brexit represents how we now need to re-position FE as less focused on a  vocational model and more as a Community model – one that celebrates and educates personal human virtues which are, after all, profesionally attractive, for who would want to employ a racist, except perhaps Nigel? Can we subscribe to better qualities, please? What properties does volunteerism, for example, have? Care, support, life stories, identities, participation. Any educational institution is a microcosm of society: let’s pronounce the values louder and ensure the conversation is made daily. Not British Values, as such, but community ones. Let’s reposition British values to show that globally different cultures have inherent community values that we can resonate. I think of the North American Potlatch or the Sikh Langar. Why don’t we share these to celebrate global, human values, instead of imprinting a set to a flag, which negates the qualities in lieu of patriotism and presumes to appropriate them as “ours” that the others – over there – don’t do?


European Community

Do community qualities translate to a model of education? In name, you have Garrison and Anderson’s Community of Inquiry – a framework of e-learning based on  the social, teacher and cognitive presences resident in strong online practice, but elsewhere there is little resemblance to a community. Indeed, from the 2000 conception of the CoI, it was not until Rientes and Rivers stated the importance of ’emotional presence’ in learning in a 2014 Learning Analytics report that this became recognsed as a tension of  a learner’s experience that should complement the model. We have to understand the affective, to be effective.

Lave and Wenger’s Community of Practice is closer, comprising joint enterprise, mutual engagement and shared repertoire as characteristic, while also validating the ‘peripheral participants’ as legitimate. Think Twitter micro-cultures (ukfechat) as a great example, but difficult to effectively reconstruct among FE learners without drilling down to fine-grained nuances of the qualities inherent in these and how they are operarationalised in design.

It’s very easy to say ‘collaborative’, but what does it look like and how does it benefit the learner?

Clusters of researchers have identified knowledge worker ‘roles’  – shown below from Reinhardt et al (2011) that may give us an idea of how ‘rotating responsibilities’ (i.e. delegated to different members in different sessions) improves holistic skills training when applied in learning activities framed around communities. It may be noted that many of these terms are ambiguous and even interchangeable, that they are what we are already doing in many regards anyway, but I would argue for a focus on the communicated channels that facilitate these actions as social and multi-voiced – distributed – rather than individual, especially in terms of assessment outcomes. FullSizeRender(1).jpg

We then move to a typology and things are starting to look a lot like the sort of ’21st century skills’ guff that I read about in the almost fictional McArthur report ‘Confronting the Challenges’ a few years ago.


This is very much focused on e-learning, as those crazy Europeans call it and in real-world terms, looks far more clerical than manual. I can’t, for example, see how an electrician student would make much sense of the Linker role above, but perhaps I need to be more imaginative. The actions can, for instance, be powerful in the curation of e-portfolios by students. The roles listed are not ideal, they’re narrowly defined and categorised. Yet it’s interesting to me how collaborative activities applied in an English syllabus could equally be categorised and labelled to give grouped work more credibility with shared repertoires, promoting the engagement that’s badly needed.

What I’d like to propose is that role-taking assumes a congregation to goals where responsibility, sharing, and co-operation are emphasised as drivers of method. We might then promote the recognition of the diversified qualities and values of separate members of our cultures as contributory to objects, rather than basing our model on inward and self-seeking individual competitiveness (or ‘Boris-ism’ as it’s now called) that would preclude inclusivity.



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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.








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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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