A flipping academic

know works imageThis graphic from http://knowledgeworks.org was posted on twitter recently by Mr. Bennett, the new behaviour tsar.

Mr Bennett’s comment? ‘Oh God, the future’s run by an idiot’

I asked him via Twitter; ‘Is that a balanced critique of the knowledgeworks programme over the last fifteen years in Ohio? Evidence informed?’

He promptly replied; ‘No, it’s a criticism of witless speculative futurism and faux prognostication.’

Fine words. What do they mean?

I have written earlier about Mr. Bennett’s claim that there is no evidence to show that communications technology aids learning. This is inaccurate, as there is a great deal of research evidence to show this, in specific contexts. I am beginning to worry that someone in such a powerful position as a government adviser has such a loose grasp on the purpose and potential of educational inquiry. The purpose of all research is to reduce uncertainty, to make prediction of what might the future might look like so we can plan for it in an informed way. Some outcomes are practical and some theoretical as in the knowledgeworks material.

I am particularly worried about behaviour as an area of learning in schools that ignores evidence and clings to the ancient routines of control and punishment, an approach to teaching and learning that has been edged out of the other areas of learning in schools worldwide. If this seems too broad a claim, I recognise that a high level of teacher control is sometimes recommended, as in Direct Instruction for example, but even here punishment is not used for error correction.

‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ is a core belief at the department of education and its partner, OFSTED. But for inquiry into behaviour to be ethical and useful it is essential that the inquirer is open-minded, prejudice put to one side for the moment. The language of Tim Ross, writing about smartphones in schools and the behaviour tsar’s quoted response demonstrates prejudice, in today’s Sunday Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11861301/Mobile-phones-and-iPads-could-be-banned-from-classrooms.html).

‘Mr Bennett has already begun working on reforms to teacher training courses so that new school staff are better able to enforce discipline in the classroom. His remit will now be expanded to examine all causes of bad behaviour.

Mr Bennett said: “Technology is transforming society and even classrooms – but all too often we hear of lessons being disrupted by the temptation of the smartphone. Learning is hard-work and children are all too aware of this. So when they have a smartphone in their pocket that offers instant entertainment and reward, they can be easily distracted from their work.

“This is a 21st century problem and the majority of schools are dealing with it effectively. But I will now probe deeper into this issue, and behaviour challenges more broadly, to uncover the real extent of the problem and see what we can do to ensure all children focus on their learning.”’

The language of enforced discipline and temptation foreshadows a narrow view of the field.

There are alternatives to control and punishment and a more nuanced view of punishment as a social regulator being possible, as a means to engage students’ motivation to succeed in school, as I describe in my forthcoming book ‘Transforming classroom behaviour.’ (SAGE)

We are told that ‘all too often we hear of disruption being caused by smartphones…, yet the majority of schools are dealing with it effectively’. In this case, given the evidence to back up the assertions, the smartphone problem does not need deep probing, it does need what the majority of schools are already doing to be known by the others and replicated. It is reinforces the need for good classroom management and doing more of what already works in an ethical way to support learning.

On the issue of the place and potential of communication technology in education, the world is always changing on one hand and in the need for lawful behaviour in growing the change on the other. That is not a new idea. Flipped classrooms are here, critical reading of publications appearing in the cloud is essential and has to be taught, open-access learning is developing new non-institutional opportunities worldwide. Capitalising on the creativity of of young people to maximise the potential rather than attempting to stem the food may be another route worth exploring.

I just hope that Mr. Bennett’s forthcoming deep probing does not preclude some good old fashioned speculative futurism, as today’s students and their teachers make sense of the world as it is and as it will be.

Luddites beware!


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