Digitisation and digital pedagogy


On a joint edtech project with a teacher recently, I was told ‘I am happy for you to choose the pictures.’ Whether or not this teacher was intentionally insulting is beside the point –  it is not the first time I have heard the digitisation debate seeming reduced to a largely irrelevant aesthetic choice. There seems to be this relatively common misconception about the purposes and processes of digital education. This could be addressed on two levels – resource design and teaching design.

This quote from the OU Innovating Pedagogy 2013 encapsulates the importance of pedagogy for educational technology.


Digitisation and digital pedagogy in edtech design

One of the best edtech tools from my point of view is Anki. Visually a hangover from the 1990’s, Anki is a flashcard app/website that uses spaced repetition to support language learning. Card collections are made by users (although these can be shared) with an apparently not very interactive interface. Where Anki shines as a resource is

  • The nuances of labelling your degree of confidence in a term – you can choose ‘again’, ‘hard’, ‘good’ or ‘easy’ with each response tailoring the spacing of the repetition of the card.
  • The statistics option is quite sophisticated while being simply presented – you are given a series of graphs – a forecast of reviews due for the next month, an analysis of the review time taken to answer cards (whether young (new) or mature, average study time per session, number of times you have pressed the again/hard/good/easy buttons (and a time analysis – mine seem to be best between 9-10pm). So for metacognitive ‘study-skills’ then, Anki stands out.
  • For languages of more than one script (e.g. Japanese or Chinese), it creates a card for each script + the audio, so that you are testing, for example, hiragana and kanji recognition and listening skills and connecting this learning between the cards and to the English translation.


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None of these features need particularly innovative technology. There are no animations and few pictures. It doesn’t offer badges or leaderboards. It might not be the first example you might use to show someone the possibilities of the digital world. But, it serves as an excellent model for how digital tools can be designed to support learning. As a manifestation of a sound digital pedagogy approach, I think Anki is great.


Pedagogy is essentially a critical thinking exercise directed at learning and teaching.

Sean Morris

Designing edtech resources from a digital pedagogy approach is not about adding pictures, or animations or, God forbid, Word Art. It’s not even really about the digital technology. It’s certainly not about design aesthetics. Unless the digital tools, or the additions enhance, extend and inspire learning, they are at best irrelevant and at worst a distraction. I certainly add pictures and interactive layers to the content I develop. But as with any educational decision, this is based not on any aesthetic choice, but rather on how much educational value these layers provide.


This is where the critical thinking aspect of pedagogy comes in, both for tool and teaching design and practice. Does this interactive diagram clarify mitosis? If not, can it be made educationally relevant and useful? How can I develop this resource so that it helps students? How can I use it with students to help them learn and grow?



Digitisation and digital pedagogy in teaching design

What we must try, as schools, as educators, as learners, is not simply using tools, nor rolling out the whizz-bang jazz hands apps to impress students or observers.


If that means using a pen and paper because your students are revising something and you believe that memory and cognitive gains are promoted by written tasks, then you’re on the right lines for a digital pedagogy approach, just as much as if you choose to use some app in an innovative way to explore and extend learning. If, however, you are using pen and paper because you couldn’t be bothered with collecting in an Explain Everything task, or because you’ve always done this task with pen and paper, that is clearly not pedagogically sound. Equally, if you are using an iPad app just because they’re there, or in hopes of impressing an observer, without considering the aims, processes or consequences of using the app, that too is failing in digital pedagogy.


We need to systematically examine both tools and teaching for their learning value. In this way, teaching and learning drives the use of technology, rather than the converse.



Morris, S. (2014) What is digital pedagogy? [online] Available at: http://learning.instructure.com/2014/03/what-is-digital-pedagogy/ 


iBeacons and the Great War

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Imagine walking in the trenches of world war one, constructed in a student library. As you touch the torn sandbags, from your iPad rings the rattle of gunfire interrupting soldiers singing. As the sound dies – ominously – away, crouch down and read letters written by soldiers and their families. Stained with the dirt and dust and desperation of the front, they appear on your screen, with even tear-stains reproduced.

Imagine moving over to an Edwardian fire-place, with the tin soldiers, newspapers and photographs of a typical family home surrounding you. Here you could settle down to explore recipes and patterns from World War 1, with all the privations of rationing and shortages, knit socks as if for a soldier with trench foot.

Imagine seeing the uniform of a soldier, decorated with images of family by a student who never knew her ancestor. And while you see and feel the rough uniform, imagine the loss of loved ones. From your iPad sounds the measured lines of Dulce et Decorum est, recorded and animated by our students, in memory of the sacrifices of a generation.

Just imagine what we can do to bring learning to life today. Just imagine what we can do tomorrow.

Religion in the science classroom

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Not that anyone asked, but I disagree with the above tweet. It’s not what you think though – I’m not for a second advocating teaching creationism in place of or even in parallel with evolution. Nor am I trying to placate fundamentalists. However, trying to remove religion from science is akin to trying to remove people from science – impossible and, ultimately, unscientific.


Tyson emphasises the importance of scientific literacy. Scientific literacy, although problematic to define, is a vital goal for science education. It is impossible to be fully scientifically literate without an awareness of the cultural and other factors driving the research and discoveries of science. Ignoring the contextual motivators and filters of both scientists and students neglects a crucial variable in scientific experimentation.


Take, for example, Albert Einstein, who epitomises science and scientists for many people; a phenomenal scientist and thinker. However, he disliked the concept of quantum mechanics, dismissing it with the statement below. Brought up by secular Jewish parents, he later described himself as agnostic. However, his views of God, whether explicitly rooted in a particular religion or not, may have influenced his repudiation of quantum theory, as indicated by this quote:

God doesn’t play dice.

Rather than attempting to distance science from humanity in the classroom, students should be familiarised with the gloriously messy nature of science, people and all. Quantum mechanics itself can be applied here – Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle outlines the impossibility of measurement without changing the observed quantity or object.


While the devil can cite scripture for his purpose, the creationist lobby can also quote scientific (or pseudo-scientific) studies. It is difficult to resist the seduction of figures and data surrounding us, not only from religious bodies but from businesses, governments and countless other sources. Statistics just seem so reassuringly solid, don’t they? But all is not as it seems. Critical thinking, a vital part of scientific literacy, is needed to wade through the initially persuasive numbers no matter their source. We ourselves, as readers, also carry our own preconceptions, religious or otherwise that may influence our integration of the scientific information into our world view. So, students need to be encouraged to consider cultural, societal and religious impetuses in order to fully evaluate concepts and make scientific decisions.


By all means, lets bring religion into the science classroom. Accept that scientists are people and not Gods, and are thus, sadly, often fallible. That’s okay, but instead of pretending that we shed all earthly thoughts when conducting experiments, students (and teachers and scientists and everyone else) need to evaluate external and internal influences.  It is important to aim for value-free science, of course, but scientifically literate citizens must be conscious of the potential influences of religious and other societal contexts on the scientist and on themselves. We might not be able to fully understand or control these influences, but critical assessment of these variables can only improve scientific literacy. So, in respectful disagreement with Neil deGrasse Tyson, I am convinced that, in relevant science lessons, evaluation and discussion of religious doctrine can promote scientific literacy.

Handwriting and Exams

Exam season is (finally) starting to wind down. Actually, I had an exam myself this week for an English Literature module I’ve been doing with the OU. As with many people, it’s been some years since I have handwritten anything more than a sentence intended for eyes other than my own.  As I left the exam hall, with aching and inky fingers, I wondered why our methods of examination seem to be so disjointed, not only from the reality of everyday life but even from classroom experiences.


A large proportion of students do the greater part of their revision on computers or tablets, if not their actual classwork. This has been the case for many years – even 10 years ago I wrote most of my school essays on the computer.The use of technology in the classroom is advancing in exciting directions and constantly developing – assessment (formative and summative), videos, simulations, showcasing of student work, iBooks, MOOC’s – the possibilities are endless. So, if students hardly handwrite in the classroom, I am not convinced of the purpose of examination through this means. If nothing else, a typed essay is significantly quicker and easier to mark. A typed submission also enables easy editing – no more angrily crossed out misspellings or arrows squiggling across pages to insert further thoughts, no bringing five pens, a pencil, two rulers and a calculator just in case. And won’t somebody please think of the trees?


I am in no way against the value of handwriting, especially in Early Years. Handwriting has been demonstrated to assist in the development of fine motor skills, memory and other cognitive gains. Additionally, several studies have demonstrated higher levels of retention and comprehension when written notes are taken rather than typed notes. For recalling factual information, writing is a quick and easy way to solidify memories. So, for the sciences, handwriting may always have an important role, and not only because there is, to my knowledge, no quick way of noting equations digitally. However, for essay-heavy subjects such as English or Philosophy, where the emphasis is so much more subjective and interpretive, digital notes are quicker, easier and tick all the boxes.


Nonetheless, penmanship is an art – my grandfather creates calligraphy that is beautiful to behold. Not only is it an art, but it has vital cultural connotations. Different scripts with different languages or even accentual details communicate cultural and community identities. So, yes, handwriting is something to be preserved and valued. If handwriting is an art, or is deemed culturally significant, perhaps a debate regarding its place in the curriculum is in order.


However, it appears to me that we have two options – students continue to come out of exams in physical pain from the quantity of writing they have to do, or lose valuable lesson time teaching handwriting purely for the purposes of an arguably outdated form of examination. Not to mention the lost marks due to an indecipherable scrawl – some of the most able students are the most frustrating in terms of legibility.  It is also worth noting that the recent headlines about the importance of handwriting were evidenced primarily by a survey conducted by BIC, with a clear vested interest in promoting the declining art. Exams are hugely stressful and demanding experiences for students, teachers and examiners already, without insisting on an increasing outmoded form of notation. Exams should reflect and assess what is going on in the classroom. Handwriting is no longer an automatic part of the learning process and its use in the examination process therefore must be re-evaluated.





A literature curriculum “cabined, cribbed, confined”

Three-quarters of the books on the government directed GCSEs, which will be unveiled this week, are by British authors and most are pre-20th century.


I am absolutely stupefied. Not so much on the specific choice of books – of mice and men, for example, has been on the syllabus for a very long time and a change is no doubt in order. But this Orwellian dictation of choice scares me on two levels.


Firstly, literary merit. There are many valuable pieces of literature from pre-20th century Britain – the Brontes, Shakespeare, Dickens and so on. Many of these texts changed forever their literary forms. However, the forms have indeed changed. Compare, for example, Wordsworth’s Daffodils with Ted Hughes’ poem of the same name. While both poems describe experiences relating to daffodils, the language and techniques result in drastically different effects. Although, almost by definition, the Conservative party wants to return to an earlier era, the techniques and themes of modern literature are never going to return to what they was, and nor should they; literature both mirrors and shapes the society within which it is formed.


We know that Conservatives are not really fans of a pluralistic, multi-cultural society. But to virtually obliterate ethnic and international voices in this way is actually terrifying. To quote from To Kill a Mockingbird (one of the books struck from the list):

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

Books help us to experience other perspectives, other views, other cultures. To censor in this way is not just counter-productive in terms of literary study, it is morally repugnant – every culture and community  deserves a voice and every student deserves to experience cultures beyond their own.


If we want to reduce racism, instead of blindly blaming immigrants for every social issue, texts such as To Kill a Mockingbird are vital. If the only literature that students read are the patriarchal, white texts that dominate pre-20th century British literature, those one-sided views are insidiously promoted.


Mr Gove, while I recognise the importance of valuing one’s own culture, and the natural nostalgia you may feel for the texts you read in your own school days, please accept the power that literature has to shape thought and culture. Much as a democratic and open society is richer for having a plurality of perspectives and cultures, so too is our curriculum.


Gove kills the mockingbird with ban on US classic novels

Why Gove Shouldn’t Kill the Mockingbird

Cyber-bulling and digital citizenship


I came across the above picture on Imgur, of a man who had just graduated from elementary school, with the caption ‘So proud of my dad’. I consider this worth highlighting for the attitudes of both the dad for going back and emphasising to his child the importance of education, perseverance and trying to improve, and the child, who recognised this achievement and wanted to share his pride. However, instead of celebrating this, most of the comments were derogatory, denigrating the man’s appearance. Bullying is as worrying in the digital world as it is in the physical. This is perhaps one of the reasons for the reluctance of some teachers and parents to interact with technology, or to allow technology into the classroom.


However, avoidance is really not the answer. A responsible parent does not respond to the potential for bullying in the playground by refusing to let their child out. Instead, they teach their child how to interact with other children and how to report incidences of bullying. So, parents and teachers aim to help students avoid being the victim or perpetrator of bullying. CEOPS and other organisations are trying to tackle the latter, but much of the teacher training in this area seems to be trying to tell teachers not to use facebook and other social media. Similarly, parents are scared by newspaper articles about worst case scenarios and often have little experience of the sites and platforms their children frequent. According to the NSPCC (2011) , 48% of young people in the UK have been effected by cyber-bullying and 28% did not tell anyone about it. If teachers, parents and other responsible adults are known by a child to not understand the platform and its cultural mores, who can the child ask for advice?


On the other hand, I was delighted to see on twitter the below Acceptable Use policy (tweeted by @IanYorston). In my opinion, this document reflects exactly what we want to be teaching our students about using the internet. Not only does it promote respect and protecting the student themselves, but also gives equal weight to treatment of others over the internet. This is vital. As parents and teachers would encourage considerate and ethical behaviour in the physical world, so too must this be taught in the digital realm. Unfortunately, the potentially faceless nature of some internet communications does mean that children (and adults) don’t always think about how their hurtful comments can effect others. Therefore, explicit reminders such as those on @IanYorston‘s poster are important steps for reducing cyber-bullying. Whether this cyber-ethics is taught at home or at school, as part of ICT, Philosophy, PSHE or other subjects, students should be made aware of the impacts of their behaviour online. The neglect of this aspect of the fight against cyber-bullying is eerily reminiscent of the assertions of anti-rape lobbyists, who insist that females (or males) are taught to avoid dangerous situations and not to dress provocatively, but that males should be taught not to rape.





To educate about the internet, teachers, staff and parents need to be aware of the possibilities, platforms, functions and forms (both positive and negative) and promote responsible use so that students not only avoid victimisation, but also avoid causing hurt to other people or infringing on their rights (such as copyright). Let’s celebrate the wunderkammer that is the digital world and the unlimited possibilities for learning and socialisation, while helping our students become considerate, full digital citizens.









Teacher = parent, physician, psychologist and…

One of the most worrying trends I’m observing in the Conservative education drive is the increasing movement of responsibility from parents to teachers. While I applaud the discussion and raised profile of FGM and of mental health issues (among others), it seems that the government and media are identifying these as yet more additions to the teacher’s job role. Where do they fit?


For example, my sister teaches Early Years in a London primary. They do have a breakfast club, but a significant proportion of the students in her school are not brought in in time for this and have not had breakfast at all. It is of course impossible for children (or adults) to concentrate while hungry, so that is half an hour out of the school day to feed them, while still aiming for implausible targets. On a similar level, the school also runs a get fit club for the students that need more exercise. Again, many teachers run a club – it’s a great way to interact with students on a less formal level, so that is not unreasonable. However, this get fit club (and obtaining the funding) requires that each teacher assesses each child for levels of fitness and exercise. I’ve rang several parents in the past to request that they make sure their children go to bed earlier as they were falling asleep in class. While every member of staff at school has regular safeguarding training, how far are teachers responsible for nutrition, exercise and sleep? Given the amount of training and CPD teachers already undergo, where do we fit in what basically amounts to medical training? I don’t know any teacher that would neglect any student needs on any level of the Maslow hierarchy (or beyond). However, the responsibility for meeting physiological needs for 400-odd students is a Herculean task. The basic caregiving responsibility is not that of teachers and nor should it be.


Vince Cable tells us that teachers know nothing of the world of work (as exemplified by our selfless and hard-working politicians). Teachers should, we are informed, be able to give detailed career advice for all walks of life and not just about university choices. This is, frankly, ridiculous. Teachers come from all paths of life, not just university and stereotyping teachers in this way is incredibly insulting. Anyway, although I might not be able to give advice from personal experience about being a hairdresser or politician or many career fields, we can certainly direct students to the appropriate person or resource to learn what they need. Rather than learning reams about every career pathway, this seems a far more sensible approach. No more than politicians can teachers specialise in every career.


Many, if not most, teachers are absolutely heroic in terms of attitude, effort and time given for their students well-being, development and education. Personally, I’ve always felt that the only reason Batman was a superhero is that he knew when to take the help of Albert, Gordon and the others. Instead of burying teachers under a mound of responsibilities and paperwork, including those of parent, social worker, doctor, psychologist and counsellor, they should be encouraged to get the help they need to get the best for students.