Keep taking the tablets

Whilst everyone is focusing on the “defeatists” aspect of the Secretary of States latest billet-doux to the education profession a single word in a small paragraph caught my eye.

That’s why we’ve accelerated the pace of reform in our schools — setting higher standards in maths and English in our new national curriculum, recruiting more top graduates to teach maths, physics and chemistry and introducing computer programming and coding, 3D printers and tablets into many more of our classrooms.

Leaving aside the slightly strange addition of 3D printers to the list, the word that caught my eye is “tablets”. Now, unless he is talking about an unreported increase in the use of Prozac within the profession I can only assume the tablets in question are iPads or Androids*, which are indeed increasing in usage. This interested me for two reasons. Firstly, I can see no way in which any of the current governments reforms have driven the numbers of tablets (or for that matter, 3D printers) used in the classroom to increase. So I can’t really understand why it’s even in that sentence. Which leads directly onto the second reason. If there is no logical reason connected to the reforms for the comment to be there it must be there for a different reason.

I am not, I promise, a conspiracy theorist. Read my other posts. I have a view about things, but its not borne out of conspiracy. Why would Gove go out of his way in a convoluted sentence in The Times to mention the use of Tablets in classrooms? Could it possibly have anything to do with the News Corps backed Amplify project? If you don’t want to wade through the corporate site, you can read the news about Amplify here and here.

If you wanted to help promote the introduction of a non-UK based technology system into our schools you might:

  • Undermine the profession by continually telling teachers how they are failing students (apparently schools are now responsible for the rise of the EDL as well as all their other failings).
  • Support the introduction of unqualified teachers into the classroom
  • Badly rewrite the national curriculum, ignoring expert input
  • Dis-apply the current national curriculum before the new one is ready, to leave a large gap. A gap that cannot be easily filled by UK based providers as they are waiting for a finalised new national curriculum.
  • Remove the concept of a national framework for assessment thus enabling any assessment framework to be used

It is also worth pointing out that the SoS was also plugging the benefits of technology, specifically the use of tablets and blended learning, in a question and answer session at the NCTL this week

Avid readers of this blog (both of you) will be aware that I favour the use of appropriate technology in schools, where it enhances learning and teaching. You will also know that I oppose over-control of, and over-controlling technology in schools. Amplify falls clearly into both of these categories. The focus on learning analytics will enable two things other than (possibly) better learning. Firstly, more ‘lessons’ driven by technology and not by teachers, which means more unqualified teachers. Secondly, learning analytics have the potential to provide at least as much information about the teacher as they do the child. This data will inevitably be used to feedback into assessment of teachers.

I have no instinctive or philosophical opposition to either of these two things. What I do know, however, is that managers find it hard to ignore the feedback given to them by machines. It is somehow seductive. For some reason unfathomable to me it is seen as more valued than that provided by highly-qualified humans. If a single system, such as Amplify, takes over in classrooms then the machines will be determining how children learn and which of their teachers will be back in class next term. These things will be decided by the big machine back at HQ after it has analysed all the inputs from across the country. Your next terms learning will be programmed according to the national norms. And in education we know how that works out.

Its not quite SkyNet. But it’s not teaching and learning as we know it either.

* Yes, I know about Windows Tablets but there’s no snappy name for them

This blog was edited to add the bullet list and its preceding and following paras. This was done after the scrapping of NC levels was announced

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7 thoughts on “Keep taking the tablets

  1. In previous speeches he has listed things that bear no relation to reality. In a speech about Maths, he held up MangaHigh and Khan Academy videos as the best teaching methods. They’re not. They are just catchy soundbites that make him sound trendy but again distract from the bread-and-butter teaching that we actually do.

  2. Yes – I favour the Doofus Theory rather than the Conspiracy Theory. The completely off-the-wall (not to say irrelevant) tacking on of 3D printers to his list of Cool Stuff shows that he’s completely at sea in the tech world and heavily reliant on advisers whose advice is biased (and whose bias he is not equipped to detect.

  3. Mike … with you on this, but I do wish you would stop knocking Conspiracy Theory!
    Some of us derive great personal and psychological comfort from this belief system, and in a crazy, mixed-up world like this one, it is sometimes all that seems to make sense… 😉

    When one looks at the dismantling and undermining of any form of logical curriculum response by schools, the initial funding of the New School Network with a dodgy backhander, and the encouragement of the academy hordes carefully exempted from the curriculum machinations, frankly the Conspiracy Theory seems rather more likely that mere Tory incompetence and a desire by Gove to look like he does what he is talking about technologically making statements such as these.

    1. Tony, I would never knock Conspiracy Theory. I think its one of Mel’s best!

      It may well be the case that all the necessary changes required to make the English education system more suitable for a ‘tablet’ style blended learning/testing experience just happen to coincide with the changes necessary to make it a more rigorous and challenging system. There are certainly areas of overlap. I happen to believe that introduced for the right reasons, in the right way with appropriate training there are areas of the curriculum and a proportion of students where there would be clear benefits from the blended learning approach.

      The issue is that such changes need to be debated. The reasons for change, along with the benefits and dis-benefits need to be clearly understood by all involved.

  4. I’m with you…The likelihood is that this has been convenient, and it makes sense that Gove is going to go down roads with people he knows and understands.

    1. It would be too easy to come over all Conspiracy Theory over this. I suspect for Gove that making News Corps happy is a useful by-product of his reforms rather than a primary driver. Just coincidental that drive to core knowledge facilitates machine-based learning/testing which in turn is facilitated by Amplify (and others).
      No doubt the (now abandoned) News Int. Free School would have been a handy testbed. Would love to see the minutes of meetings SoS has had with News Corps.

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