Disruptive Technologies and the more Democratic Future of Education?

Nearly every education based report I read these days is reiterating in some form the message that change is needed. There is general acceptance that these changes need to support students to be able to function effectively in an unknown and rapidly changing world. The life and work skills being defined as ‘necessary’ are evolving nearly as fast as everything else. Except it seems, our policy makers, educational institutions and even our teachers, who for the most part simply don’t know how to respond and certainly not as quickly as circumstances appear to require.

In journalist Adi Bloom’s TES article “Ofsted wants a change in the law so it can inspect multi-academy trusts”  Luke Tryl, Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy, is quoted as having said: “There has been a huge amount of change in the structure of education, and actually inspection legislation hasn’t kept pace with some of the changes”. The context for this comment was with reference to multi-academy trusts but can be equally applied across many areas of education today.

I was recently asked how OFSTED inspect 100% online delivery. I couldn’t answer and neither can anyone else I’ve asked. It’s conceivable that they will simply be able to extrapolate the existing Common Inspection Framework (CIC) to cover online delivery, but how effective is this? The updated ‘Further education and skills inspection handbook’, in use from September 2017, contains scant mention of online delivery. In fact, other than referring to their own surveys and safety online, it is mentioned just once on p. 45: “how well learners attend learning sessions and/or work regularly and punctually, including through participation in any distance learning activities, such as online learning and the use of virtual learning environments“. I would suggest that in light of the exponential proliferation of on-line education somewhat more than this is required.

I suspect though that things are beginning to overtake the education establishment faster than any care to admit. I’ve been reading reports urging change since around 2006, when the wonders of Web 2.0 first began to make their way into our classrooms. While the changes suggested, by researchers; case studies; forward thinkers; have remained fairly consistent, the urgency behind them has increased almost to panic level. The message is now closer to: ‘change or become extinct’.

I also suspect that in large part this paralysis in terms of the bigger shifts has as much to do with assessment as holding onto old habits. It’s all very well to suggest that students need new ‘collaborative’ skills or to choose their own learning paths, but how on earth do you keep control of this? How do you assess it, especially if they are all busy developing their collaborative skills in a whole host of new ways that aren’t necessarily constrained to the classroom? And how do you inspect organisations where this happens?

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  Stuck in the assessment equation? How to remove bricks without the wall crumbling?

Ok, the establishment is taking some steps to try and address these questions but in my opinion they are way too small and way too slow. Just take a look at the government’s proudly announced plan to introduce new “T Levels”. Julia Belgutay‘s TES article “First T levels subjects announced” (11th October 2017) quotes Justine Greening, Education Secretary, as having said the “government was transforming technical education in this country, developing home-grown talent so that Britain’s young people have the world-class skills and knowledge that employers need”. 

Have a closer look at the proposed timeline. Really? I fear that by the time this is implemented these will be obsolete.

The government’s plan for T levels:

•        2020 – three pathways delivered by a small number of providers

–        childcare and education (education pathway)

–        digital (software applications design pathway)

–        construction (building, services, engineering pathway)

•        2021 – all pathways from the first six “priority routes” delivered by selected providers

–        legal, finance, accounting (full route)

–        childcare and education (full route)

–        digital (full route)

–        construction (full route)

–        engineering and manufacturing (full route)

–        health and science (full route)

•        2022 – all pathways from all routes available to be delivered by providers that want to/are able

–        hair and beauty (full route)

–        agriculture, environment and animal care (full route)

–        business and administration (full route)

–        catering and hospitality (full route)

–        creative design (full route)

•        2024 – vast majority of providers offering T levels

What does Blockchain have to do with education?

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Blockchain is like a huge networked ledger – curated by the world and unchangeable.

Perhaps it’s time that we all really start to take on board the fact that the internet is no longer the disruptor in education, we’ve missed that one, too slow, it’s been around for 30 years now after all. Time for another disruption and this time it could be one that actually does lead to the extinction of education as we know it. Unless of course we educators figure out how to harness it and adapt our systems, structures, assessment processes, organisational cultures, methodologies and pretty much everything else.

I’m guessing that disruption will come in the form of Blockchain or something similar that democratises ownership of, well, pretty much everything. If the world can store open but unalterable records of every transaction, then power is shifted dramatically and could bypass the need for the traditional gatekeepers. If, for example, students collaborating in the common room or canteen, via online chat, through Web 2.0 platforms, their VR headsets or IoT devices, could log these as ‘learning events’, credits for learning could evolve in a whole new direction.

Some while ago during discussion with colleagues about how assessment could evolve to encompass change, I suggested that it might be shifted from the hands of educators, to the hands of employers. My idea was that students could study whatever interested them and as they progress through the education system this could become more guided and fine tuned towards their employment goals. However, rather than being examined at the end of school, college or university the ‘testing’ could fall to the employers, who would be free to decide how they would measure whether an applicant was suitable for their organisation. In this way ‘students’ could develop sets of skills useful for specific industries or wider employment. This suggestion was met with…total silence soon followed by a change of topic. As if I hadn’t spoken. I tried again on my module forum to a very similar response. But really, is it so bonkers?

I was of course delighted to come across this article by Audrey Watters (07-04-16) “The Blockchain for Education: an introduction” where the idea of using Blockchain to  tie learning to earning is presented:

“Onsite in Austin, the promotion of the “Learning is Earning” initiative was framed as a “think like a futurist” game and intertwined with a keynote delivered by well-known game designer and writer Jane McGonigal, who is a research affiliate at the Palo Alto-based IFTF.”

An excerpt from the “Learning is Earning” promotional video:

Welcome to the year 2026, where learning is earning. Your ledger account tracks everything you’ve ever learned in units called Edublocks. Each Edublock represents one hour of learning in a particular subject. But you can also earn them from individuals or informal groups, like a community center or an app. Anyone can grant Edublocks to anyone else. You can earn Edublocks from a formal institution, like a school or your workplace. The Ledger makes it possible for you to get credit for learning that happens anywhere, even when you’re just doing the things you love. Your profile displays all the Edublocks you’ve earned. Employers can use this information to offer you a job or a gig that matches your skills. We’ll keep track of all of the income your skills generate, and use that data to provide feedback on your courses. When choosing a subject to study in the future, you may wish to choose the subject whose students are earning the most income. You can also use the Ledger to find investors in your education. Since the ledger is already tracking income earned from each Edublock, you can offer investors a percentage of your future income in exchange for free learning hours. Our smart contracts make these agreements easy to manage and administer. The Ledger is built on blockchain, the same technology that powers bitcoin and other digital currencies. That means every Edublock that has ever been earned is a permanent part of the growing public record of our collective learning and working.

The article goes on to say “There’s a lot to unpack ideologically in this vision of the future of education and work…But the video hits on many of the key themes that are echoed across various other education-related blockchain discussions – that is to say, the blockchain could be utilized to better manage assessments, credentials, and transcripts. (See, for example OTLW or BadgeChain.)”

The article is well worth a read in full. For me it starts to bring focus to possible alternatives to our current outdated structure. Could a model really begin to emerge from this where we are not only able to choose where, when and how we learn but have a ‘recognised’ and valued system for logging this?

My own relationship with education sits in the ‘complicated’ category. This started when at the age of 15 I announced, to the horror of parents, teachers and school friends, that I was done with formal education and would do just what I wanted without the ‘stupid qualifications’. A rash stance for a 15 year-old to take but I was fortunate in that I was able to prove myself right, over time using my accumulating ‘life-learning’ to get my next job role and eventually some qualifications of my choice. I deliberately sought out situations that I knew I could enjoy and where I could learn as I worked, and sometimes these opportunities sought me out. However, I’m very aware that this strategy couldn’t work for everyone so while I’ve long been a promoter of ‘do what you love’, the flaw has always been there, alongside the argument “that route won’t get me, my son/ daughter, my student a job” which admittedly, while not true for me could be an issue for many. So, how great would it be if we could collect the crumbs of all our experiences to turn them into the currency of learning via something like Blockchain? And where would we teachers fit into that? I’m not worried about the future of teachers – I know there’s a place for them, but in what guise will that be?

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Curating the crumbs of experience into something meaningful or following a disappearing trail?

Educators, still holding on to old practices and struggling to accept digital technologies?

Testerman’s article (15-06-17) in ‘Testin Tech’ got me thinking about the divide between real-world use and academic use of tech.

Employers are looking for new skills and traits, influenced by digital technology. Students and most of the rest of the population spend vast amounts of time connected in various ways and yet as Testerman points out in her article “Blended and Hybrid Environments are Driving the New Global Movement in Education” (Testin Tech, June 15 2017)

“Students today are bringing a whole new set of skills to the classroom, yet the classroom is one where teachers ask students to “power-down” when entering it.   Students are ready to learn – at home, on the bus, in the grocery store, in the community, and students can multi-task in part due to the digital world that surrounds them. Unfortunately today for many students, they are in a state of “passivity” with learning. Learning is done to them, not with them. According to Shibley (2014), the influx of technology has not changed this fact yet. Instead of the possibilities opening up, students sit placidly by while instruction is shown to them, instead of engaging with it. She suggests instead that students take “the driver’s wheel” and lead where the content and activities go. This is a change to an instructor’s role in the classroom. “Instead of the teacher being the only one who works with technology to create learning objects, students become creators of learning objects” (Shibley, 2014).”

Why is this? Testerman goes on to say that it is the reason “blended and hybrid environments are driving the new global movement in education.”

The trouble is, as I see it, they aren’t. For some reason much tech is still viewed with suspicion by many teachers, a bit of joke sometimes, and very often still as some sort of ‘bolt on’ to their teaching, definitely an optional extra. Researchers it seems also largely still treat ‘it’ as some entirely separate aspect of learning, when in reality it long ago ceased to be that.

I’m interested in exploring the reasons behind this practitioner resistance and which areas are particularly affected.


Testerman, K. (2017) “Blended and Hybrid Environments are Driving the New Global Movement in Education”, Testin Tech, [online] Available from: https://kctestandtech.org/2017/06/15/blended-and-hybrid-environments-are-driving-the-new-global-movement-in-education/ (Accessed 24 June 2017).

Open Educational Resources: “Snuggle for survival!”

Ever since I realised just what was out there, I’ve been fascinated by the wave of sharing that the web seems to have inspired. Apart from the fact that the web exists at all, it is the openness and sharing that I’ve found to be the most awe inspiring aspect of watching the web develop and grow – everything, but everything on there has been put there by a person (or at least initially) for us to use. Some we pay for but the vast quantity we don’t – or at least not directly.

I’ve wondered what has driven this. I’ve contemplated the world of EFL/ ESOL teachers where I’ve worked, where hand crafted materials and resources, even bought resources, have always been viewed slightly selfishly (in my view) by the teacher ‘I invested the time to make it (or buy it) so why should I share it?’ So what has changed?

I’ve thought of a number of possible reasons, just guesses, but potentially useful to follow up sometime:

  1. Hard copy resources could get ruined or lost if used by many. It’s easier to save originals of e-materials then people can do what they like with their version/ copy?
  2. If something is shared further afield it’s less likely to have a direct impact on the ‘competition’. Typical EFL/ ESOL classes can have students moving around between teachers and it can be gutting to find that you have a student saying “I’ve done this before”, especially when it’s your own resource you’re using!
  3. Innate human desire for wide-reaching acknowledgement/ recognition!
  4. Some sites require a commitment to exchange, so you are not just using other’s resources.

Today, as part of the H800 course material, I read “What you need to know about OER (Open Educational Resources)” (Daniel, S. 2012), which outlines a noble global effort, lead by UNESCO, to bring OER to organisations internationally. It seeks to operate and gain ‘agreements’ at government levels.

In the article In the State of The Commons (SOCT. 2015) the opening phrases went some way towards explaining some of my questions:

Collaboration, sharing, and cooperation are a driving force for human evolution” 

“We are hardwired for sharing. Harvard professor on evolutionary dynamics Martin Nowak calls it the essential “snuggle for survival” evidence that sharing is not just a selfless act. Sharing has concurrent and lasting benefits, multiplied for the giver, the receiver, and communities at large.”


The ‘Keepers’ (for want of a better word) of Creative Commons aim for a utopian ideal of an online world that is equal and fair, a lively, diverse and accessible community where positive, unexpected experiences occur. Originally set up to provide a technical and legal framework for shared resources and set up Licensing, the aims have extended beyond the original aim to include supporting collaborative and sharing communities. It seems a logical progression since the collaborators will be using the licences…

Though all this still doesn’t explain the shift in sharing hard copy resources and online. Perhaps is it that the larger pool of resources makes them immediately more useable, if organised well. Or perhaps it is the newness of it that causes need for closer snuggling? If that is the case, it seems to be effective as the article shows steep increase in the uptake of OER:

increase in licensed cc.png

Image taken from:

Checklands (2017) “Rich Pictures”, Systems.open.ac.uk, [online] Available from: https://stateof.creativecommons.org/2015/ (Accessed 30 March 2017).

Between 2013 –  2014 Weller explored the uptake of OER in a series of three articles. Starting with the bold claim that ‘Openness has won!” he then explores the meaning of openness and what he meant by “it has won”. Some of it seems a bit like back-tracking (especially having read the comments) some of it, to be fair, must simply be part of the fact that this whole area is still very much in its infancy. We genuinely don’t know what’s what, it’s being made up, invented, on a daily basis as it evolves. Weller somehow doesn’t seem to recognise this is STILL early days and at one point in the second article says we are at “tipping point”

In the final article he makes an analogy to an iceberg and divides users into three catagories, with only the first seen (I presume though he doesn’t appear to actually say this):

Primary – main contributors and fully aware of licencing etc

Secondary – main goal is normally teaching. Use CC resources as part of this and contribute occasionally. Partially aware of licencing.

Tertiary – users. Little or not at all aware of licences.

He also mentions David Wiley’s concept of ‘The Dark Reuse”. that is, the users that can’t be monitored or included in data.

There also seems to be a lack of recognition from Weller (possibly a wildly sweeping statement) that the drive by HE for the uptake of OER must be economically driven…an idea to follow up some other time…

For my own part, as a practitioner in both education  and marketing, I have used material for music in videos and images for PPTs Word docs and occasionally websites, ideas from places like SlideShare…I own up to being guilty of not always being of the licenses as I should be. Not always clearly recognising the source as I should. It’s not that I’m trying to pretend its mine, it’s often just sheer laziness (or too much multitasking and work overload – a time saving device, in my own defence?). I’m getting better but really do need to be more mindful altogether!


As part of the course material I was asked to have a look at a number of OER sites and make some notes. It was a useful and interesting exercise but I have to admit all I kept thinking was : OVERLOAD! So much amazing and interesting stuff out there – I could spend ten lifetimes just getting lost in the OER resources! Quite possibly, the net result will be that I’ll steer clear of any of it, just in case I get too tempted!

Notes from the activity – it is useful to break them down a bit and compare. I found the ways in which educators are using MIT to be of particular interest. It also raised some questions I’d like to come back to and explore later:


MIT It was the first

In 2015 it had 2000+ courses

Made up of extracts of real courses: notes, tests, video


I like the choices based on Instructional approaches

RSS feeds

Educators incorporate elements into own lessons

Educators use the courses to help with curriculum development

Linked to I Tunes U

Was there before You tube, Facebook…

200 million reach

OCW – open course Ware

Is there an app?

How is it moderated?

OPEN LEARNING INITIATIVE Aims to address the gap between the drive towards teaching more & more diverse students and the time allocated to do this Some alarm bells?:

Anyone who wants to learn or teach can.

Aims to transform HE?

Has only 27 active courses

Promotes active learning techniches.

Very bold claims made

Unclear how it works to teach – it says set up your own courses but thensays your courses are analysed to be maximised using their instructional design technology. Unclear how this works.

Is there an app?

How is it moderated?

OPEN LEARN Free courses (how many? 100’s or 1000’s?) graded at different levels Good, clear and easy to navigate site.

Nice idea having badges (wonder how any actually collect?)

Good telling you how long the courses/ activities are.

Good having TV & Radio if want more ‘casual’ learning.

I found an interesting course but it was course 3 of 4 and I couldn’t find the others.

The site remembered me – I discovered when I saw a course that looked interesting, clicked and was told had previously completed 5%! Total forgotten….

Could it somehow link to accredited courses?

Who creates the resources?

Why no app?

I TUNES U Lectures, videos, PDFs, MP£s.

Links for universities and other organisations

A bit of a warren finding things, but once there easy to download and access.

Haven’t tried on the computer, not sure if its possible?

It looks like a good platform for teachers but organisation must be registered – not sure how complicated that is

Lesson types rely on students having PDs? Or the school supplying them? All devices or only Apple?

Available on computer?

Do organisations moderate own content? How?

Blogging? Again?

BLOGGING – take 2.

I’m a serial wanna-be blogger. A repeat would be blogger. The web must be awash with the debris of abandoned good intentions, with unused Blog pages being among the largest amount of detritus. If the web was a Word Cloud ‘Unused Blog’ would probably be right up there, big and bold. And, of course, contributing to that would be my own innumerable false starts. These could fall into some clearly defined catagories:

  1. Some were on sites I’ve long since forgotten exist (maybe they don’t anymore). I may have registered out of curiosity to see what was on offer and had a little play around, or I may have registered with a genuine intention to keep up a Blog of some sort.
  2. Some Blogs I set up and began but then fell into non-posting (normally life’s business), by the time I returned had lost the notebook with the login details and so would have to abandon and start again.
  3. No real purpose to the Blogging – or scattered focus. Try to define it into one thing and then want to write about something that doesn’t fit and feeling stuck = period of non-posting!
  4. Not sure who I’m writing it for – whether myself or an audience. In that case, what audience?!

I started the H800 (Open University Masters Module in Distance and Online Education) in February 2017. I wanted to start writing a Blog in October when I went through the registration and application process. But I didn’t.

Then, I wanted to start again when the course began. But I didn’t!

Then, it felt like I’d need to back date everything I’d wanted to write from October, and that seemed like too much, so I didn’t!


Today, among other themes and papers) I read “Characterising the different blogging behaviours of students on an online distance learning course” by Kerawella et al (2008).

There were a lot of things I didn’t like in the article. Assumptions it made and the presumptions it seemed to make (See my questions and thoughts on mindmap).

However, what the article did prompt me to decide to stop worrying about topic, tone, audience, being academic or being formal or informal…and just go for it. I nearly always have an internal dialogue running while I’m reading or note-taking, so this will provide a useful port for these (or at least as many as I can find time to write about).

Also to store extra links of interest to follow up or whatever else. So, I’m taking the plunge (again) with high hopes for ongoing recorded reflections…

The first thing to follow up will be the references in this quote from the article:

Characterising the different blogging behaviours of students on an online distance learning course. Kerawella et al (2008):

“Whilst there have been several studies about how blogging can support learning through, for example, the development of knowledge communities (e.g. Oravec 2003), supporting meaning-making (Fiedler 2003) and enabling the sharing of resources and opinions (Williams and Jacobs 2004), it appears that little attention has been paid to exploring the student experience of blogging. It is recognised that students need to develop blogging skills, such as finding a suitable ‘voice’ for learning (Mortensen and Walker 2002) and writing (Abdullah 2003) in a public space, but what challenges do students face when they are trying to blog? And how do their perceptions of these challenges impact upon the ways in which they use their blog?”

I need to check on the claims made by Oravec, Fielder and William’s and Jacobs because many precepts in the article article seem to be based on ideas drawn from here. In particular the idea that “students need to develop Blogging skills…”

Why? Is my question to this, but then I haven’t read around it yet.

Other questions raised are:

How can they say it was successful when only 15 out of 108 responded. Of those two didn’t participate at all and four only did because they thought they had to?

What impact has it had, positive and negative, that tutors and coursemates are reading the Blogs? This hasn’t been measured or really discussed other than in terms of community.

Tools. It states that students had wide freedom of choices, but the platform itself was prescribed. This could impact of the students’ feelings of ownership.

My mindmap below, based on the reading highlights other concerns or questions I have with some of the points made.


It could yet prove to be that I’ll fall once again into the ‘blogging avoidance’ catagory but I’m hoping there’ll be more of the others going on, with less of the self-consciousness but I’m sure this is almost inevitable to some degree if writing publicly?

Blogging Beginnings…

Start formal studying, start blog. Maybe as a way to explore all the things that come up through the formal study that need a place to ‘park’… A place to informally explore issues and side issues relating to teaching and learning, and to store links worth holding onto and revisiting.