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Here's why I want an edtech discipline (or something very like one):

- I want new edtech claims to be examined and critiqued on the basis of old edtech research.
- I want more people to know about old edtech research.
- I want the possibility of genuinely curiosity driven research - evaluations of funded interventions are great but we're never far from the accusation that the primary purpose is to gain more funding.
- I want people trying to do something with technology and education to have some kind of theoretical basis for what they are trying to do.
- I want academic conferences that are not primarily about advocacy
- I want something other than press releases to be the dominant means by which edtech decisions are made.
- I want a critique of the structures of power that shape decision making in edtech to become more visible to decision makers (there's a tie in to a parallel need for support for "higher education policy studies")
- I want the people who do this stuff well to have a chance of making a living doing it. (And I want them to publish in places than we all can read.)

(probably not linked: I forgot I made this ages ago which seems apposite )


Blockchain - in "up goer five" style

3 min read

(I made this with the "Simple Writer" that a man called Randall Munro made. I sometimes have to tell people about blockchain, so I thought I would try to do it so lots of people could know about it even if they don't like hard words)

New money things are built of lots of hidden information. Hiding this information means you have to make special new money and give it to people who hide information for you in a special game. The one who guesses right in the "hiding the information" game gets the money. Lots of people want to play the game, so it gets hard. Playing the "Hide the information" game means you use a lot of power and need to have special computers.

Mostly the information that is hidden is about spending money. Some people want to use the "hide the information" game to hide other kind of information, like how you did at school. But sometimes they forget how much power you need to play the game.

Once some people used the "hide the information" game to hide the idea for another game. But the idea was wrong and they couldn't change it (because once you hide information in the game, you are not allowed to change it). So people lost their money, and they were so sad that they broke that "hide the information" game to get it back. Now there are two games, and the people are cross with each other.

The money that the main "hide the information" game makes is not like normal money. With normal money there can always be more, but with the money from the game once all the money is made there can be no more. When that happens they will have to pay people to play the game, which will make the game different. If the information you want to hide as part of the game is to do with not much money, the players might not want to put it in the game, as they won't make enough money to pay for their special computers and their power.

Sometimes the new money made in the game means the same as a lot of normal money, and sometimes it is only the same as a little bit. This can make using the new money very hard, but as people get to know about the new money it might get easier. Some of the people who thought up the game wanted to make things so people who run countries couldn't be the same people who ran money. If everyone used the new money this would make it hard to run countries.

So the special money and the "hide the information" game are interesting and fun to look at and think about, but it can be quite hard to think of new ways to use the game that are good. But lots of people still try, because people are very interested in the game.


The Battle of the Somme

1 min read

This is a clip from a 1978 BBC film of Ashley Hutchings' play "Lark Rise To Candleford" (adapted from the Flora Thompson book), within the context of part of a 1979 documentary about the work of Hutchings and The Albion Band.

Hutchings: "The First World War was really the end of the innocence, the end of the old world. Nothing was ever the same after [...]. And after the roll call of the fallen in the First World War, we come crashing in with a tune called "The Battle of the Somme" which is from that period.  We come in with our electric instruments and our drums and we are the modern world. We are accessories to the death of the countryside, the old culture." 


The tune was written by Pipe Major William Laurie of the 8th Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, in the immediate aftermath of the battle. He was invalidated home and died of his wounds shortly afterwards. "The Battle of the Somme", a haunting 9/8 retreat march sometimes played as a "slip jig", became one of the most popular tunes to emerge from the First World War.






Notes from #OR2016 opening keynote - Laura Czerniewicz

7 min read

(Slides are available - note that these are hugely detailed and referenced, and you should take time to read through them. I should note that Laura was clear that her usage of terms like the "global south" as shorthand - which I have repeated in these notes - hid a great deal of sub-national inequality and were themseleves problematic)

Knowledge productuion and dissemeination has always been fraught with inequality. The global south is poorly represented, for instance, in Web of Science. Most citations are of academics residing in US and EU cites.

The global south is imaginary - Laura introduced the Brandt line as a way of visualising it, but inequality does not produce a simple dichotomy. Inequalities happen within spaces (this was illustrated by a view of two areas of Cape Town).

But what causes inequalities in knowledge production? Funding (as a % of GDP devoted to R&D) is very variable - but again is hugely concentrated in the global north, and China. But it is not just the money, we need also to look at legitamacy, reward systems and gatekeeping. The measurment of national representation in WoS itself has a bias against reports, consultancy and presentation.

Typologies and genres of research have different values in different systems - for example consultancy research is disparaged in Africa but is often the only available source of funding. In SA funding is linked to publication in (TR ISI) journals. Many institutions give money directly to authors - Cape Town does not.

Citations are a measure of credibility, but have uneven geographies - there is a huge bias toward the global north. Altmetrics are being taken up very slowly.

There are huge issues with access to research in the developing world - with many academics reporting huge difficulties in getting to the research they need.

The #1 producer of publications (linked to GDP) in Africa is Zimbabwe - combines a low GDP with a great scolarly tradition.

Only 1% of total journal articles are published by academics are based in South Saharan Africa.

Empirical sciences academics are having to research the global north in order to get published, whereas in the north academics are able to publish about the south. In a study of two "african studies" journals, the percentage of african-based authors has decreased.

Journal boards are primarily from highly developed countries. Journals are aware of this imbalance - international is a shorthand for the global north.

All this means that local knowledge may not be available to others in similar conditions, and is a necessary contribution to global knowledge. The choice for African scholars is often between recognition and relevence.

The opportunities of a networked world drawing on the changes that the internet has made to networks has led to the Budapest Declaration on OA.

The research cycle has changed at every point - from conceptualisation to publication to citation to measures of impact. And it continues to changes, offering genuine opportunities to collapse distance, enable global collaboration. But digital merely affords open, it does not equal open. Digital rights and licensing, digitally mediated closed networks, all offer new layers of complexity. 

There is a danger that the information revolution could exacerbate socio-spaital disintegration. It cannot be assumed, for example, that elecricity, computers and bandwidth are available everywhere at all times.

The rise of mobile connectivity - with a massive increase in the use of smart phones - is an important counter-trend. But though devices are getting cheaper, the cost of data in developing countries is the real barrier.

Discoverability is a new currency - if it can't be found it doesn't exist. Visibility (thus connectivity, infrastructure) is a requirement for participation. Internet based rankings and metrics affect the way we participate in physical space.

Search engines are the primary way that content is found at all levels - which changes the notion of what a search engine does. As a surrogate expert, a co-producer of knowledge - the "invisiblity of search engines" hides the biases and assumptions built into obfuscated algorithms. The "collective intelligence of the web" sounds like a closed cycle - the popular becomes more popular.

Personalisation, at an invdividual level via previous searches and profiling, keeps the seeker after knowledge trapped in their own cultural assumptions. The rise of filter-bubbles makes wider knowledge less discoverable. And the search engine market is dominated by google, as is the browser market.

Open Access policies are growing - but these may also have global unintened consequences. OA is slanted towards the north, and may make it even more difficult to discover knowledge from research conducted in the global south.

Looking at global poverty - a Cape Town University investigation started from the idea that poverty is taken seriously and research on it would be clearly available. Looking at academic and non-academic experiences around nearly every part of the world making two google searches and two google scholar searches for "poverty alleviation", no results came from SA in google, one in scholar. The number one ranked result was wikipedia, of interest because some access to wikipedia is free and papers cited in wikipedia tend to have more policy elsewhere.

Adding South Africa to the terms, an article in Forestry Policy and Economics in a very expensive journal appears - but the link that google finds is in an institutional responses. Google scholar finds more articles in repositories, and in green OA journals, than from other sources.

Turning to climate change (which is, of course unequal in cause), the team conducted similar research in what was percieved to be a newer and more open field. The US is dominant, with China at number two, and the global north better represented.

On google scholar, no results were found from South Africa, Africa or any other developing countries for a search on "climate change" - authors were largely from US and UK. The top ranked paper appeared in five web locations, three being repositories. Largely technical reports were returned, and only two different journals - this may be because technical reports are a more accepted form of scholarship in the field.

adding South Africa to the search terms, the top ranked article was in Nature, but using inverted commas returned the South African Journal of Science. 

Editorial oversight in the field is again concentrated in the UK, US and China - even for research specifically considering South Africa. This finding suggest that the "gatekeepers" have a particular cultural background with implications for the field.

Academics tend to store their identities with dedicated services rather than own their own infrastructure - reporting that online presence takes time, money and expertise. Choices were shaped by resource constraints and perceptions of value of certain activity.

In closing Laura noted that online practice adds major complexities to global inequalities of power and resources, but OA is only meaningful only if everyone has the ability to participate. She compared the earlier science examples with the much more evenly distributed open source community.

(Questions focused on the need for collaboration, and a need to investigate new technological and business models that work for everyone. There was an interesting point made about the complicity of search engine providers in algorithmic bias - search engines are being taken on but this may need more co-ordinated effort.)


Notes from #ARMA2016 Plenary Session 2: Dame Julia Goodfellow

8 min read

Alicen Nickson, Deputy Director, Research Support & Development, Brunel University discussed the joint work Brunel and Research Media are doing to encourage interdisciplinary research. Research Media provide communications and reporting support, including the Brunel Annual Report.

Dame Julia Goodfellow (University of Kent) started by noting that the rate of change in HE policy has led to institutions becoming reactive rather than proactive. Citing RB Haldene as a lasting influence in research funding (100 years ago), Britain does incredibly well in terms of outstanding quality accross a broad range. We are already ranked second in the world in Innovation by the OECD, much of this comes from our university base.

So there is a political consensus on the value of research and innovation - every HE minster has said similar things about the strength of UK research and the economic (and cultural)benefit it brings. There is a recognition of the importance of interdisciplinary research.

This consensus is visible in government planning - for example the 2014 Plan For Growth set 8 grand challenges and signalled significant investment in research.

George Osborne said in May 2015 that universities are the "jewels in the crown of the british economy". But clearly a lot has happened since - the election of a radical conservative government suffused in marked values. Jo Johnson wrote the Conservative Manifesto 2015 and is personally committed to many of the HE priorities there in. He immediately began to cut (£150m from HEFCE), and focus on teaching policy.

BIS, as a non-proctected department had a significant cut - but this could have been much bigger (with significant impact on research) without the change from student maintenence grants to loans.  The creation of OfS seperated research from teaching at a policy level.

Science was protected in real terms for research in the Autumn Statement - an amazing achievement - with £1.5bn transfered from BIS for the the Global Challenge areas. This was welcomed by Sir Paul Nurse, who also laid the ground work for UKRI.

The Stern review continues that pattern of a review after each REF, in previous iterations this has not led to greater changes. Stern was specifically charged to examine burden within the REF. Quoting James Wilsdon's comments on Wonkhe, Julia felt that the overarching concern was with the expense of the REF - and noted that it would be interesting

Looking at devolved administrations, she noted that there was a significant divergence in policies around teaching students. Scotland has no fees and student number controls, and saw a recent commission on Widening Access. Wales has faced swinging cuts and it is expected that the Diamond Review will propose a loan scheme. NI has also faced significant cuts.

Turning to the Queen's speech, the HE bill was announced alongside bills on localisation, extremism and radicalisation, and bills that may have an effect on the UK as an attractive destingation (NHS visitors overseas charging.

The WP created two NDPBs: the OfS and UKRI. These are "Haldene" bodies at an arms length from government. The new OfS looks to streamline reporting for institutions, and the three stage implementation means an immediate boost to fees in line with inflation. There is a welcome focus on widening participation, with implications for PG research.

The first reading of the Bill was on the 19th May though the legislative timescale is unclear. The bill includes the legislative apparatus to set up the two new organisations.

Julia noted that Wakeham and Shadbolt reports on Graduate Employment, and the forthcoming report Diamond review of efficiency.

In her personal view, she felt that the focus on high quality research will not go away. The British system is very effective compared to others in Europe. She also saw a continued focus on impact and industry collaboration, noting that the impact agenda has helped institutions in recruitment and media relations.

She felt we will see an increased use of metrics - already seen in the "environment" section of the REF, and noted that field-weighted citations will be very useful to assessment panel.

John Kingman, the new interim chair of UKRI, is a "great appointment" as a long-term advocate for science. We still don't have a real feel for what changes will mean for Research Councils, and it was noted that OfS should have an input into research funding decisions - this appears to have been accepted.

Universities have a role to play in transforming the regions - this is patchy across the country with some rural and costal regions not having research and innovation at the heart of Local Enterprise Partnerships. In Kent the LEP has primarily been focused on Transport.

Turning to wider challenges, she noted events ranging from the US Presidential Elections, the rise of China and the future of Europe have an impact on research collaboration and international recruitement.

The pledge to reduce net migration is a huge issue, and has led to a 50% drop of students from India over the past 5 years. The Government refuse to remove student numbers from migration statistics, even though it is claimed there are no controls on international student numbers (which points to differences in opinion between the Treasury and the Home Office). The Government is committed to a £30bn target from education exports.

Freedom of speech and academic freedom are challenged by initiatives like the Prevent agenda. Students are less likely to be as committed to freedom of speech as universities, and this may be a challenge going forward.

15% of academics are from the non-UK EU, as are 125,000 students. Schemes like Erasmus and Horizon2020 provide significant benefits to UK HE. But this is not just about money, it is about an attitude to partnerships. Brexit could have significant impacts on the sector, with different implications for different institutions. There would  be a drop in research incomes, and it is unclear how changes would affect non UK EU students and staff. Kent, for example, have done a lot to emphasise their commitment to a diverse institution, but no-one really understands precisely what would happen. 

The Science minister will speak to the UUK board on the morning after the referendum which should be very interesting.

Every minister for science and universities for the past 25 years has signed a letter to the Times, as have 103 current vice chancellors (within 3 hours of an email requests). There has also been a joint letter from UUK and the German Rectors' Conference. But writing letters have only been a small part of University campaigns, there have also been huge efforts on campuses around voter registration and getting out the vote.

In questions, Julia felt that divisions between traditional universities and private universities (who may not be research active) would be one of the biggest changes within the sector.

On the removal of the Royal Charter from Universities, UUK are looking very carefully at the HE Bill and the new powers that the SoS may have. She noted that going to the Privy Councils on strategic changes can be complex.

The Humboltian model of HE (noting that the Germans feel that the UK model is far more utilitarian than a true humboltian model) is at risk as universities plan for potential course, and indeed institutional, closure. Universities are generally driven by scholarship, but private market entrants are also benefitting students. There is an onus on us to demonstrate the benefits of a research let model.

She saw PGR as an essential component of the UK research base, but suspected that we would see a reduction in numbers even with an increase in funding. She noted that PGRs are "loss leaders" and that we were nowhere near understanding the full economic cost of research students. Though PG loans are very new, we are only beginning to see the impact of UG loans - would those with a £40k debt including interest want to take on further debt as post graduates.

In Research Fortnight yesterday Nick Hillman felt that universities could have made a better case to government for further funding. Julia felt not, she chaired a group putting a UUK input into the Spending Review based on the impact of the work that universities do. It is often the case that the Treasury is very supportive of research.

Julia did not want the Chief Executive role at either the OfS or UKRI ("Maybe chair..."). She felt an ideal candidate for UKRI would have an understanding and experience of both university research and industry.

She reminded us that EU research income is equivalent to another research council. There are very few non EU opportunities for multi-country research teams to get a single funding stream for a joint project.

On the "best" and "worst" policy changes in the last year, she noted that "nothing has happened yet: wait and see!"


Notes from #ARMA2016 Plenary Session 1: Phil Sooben and Ehsan Masood

6 min read

Phil Sooben was speaking on behalf of RCUK, which is representative of closer co-operation between research councils. He covered aspects of the HE White Paper and the spending review settlement, but did not be go into research council re-organisation, or the EU referendum, and did not be cover the Stern Review as this is covered in a session later in the conference.

The HE White Paper going through parliament in a process managed by BIS - inappropriate for Phil to speculate on aspects of the delivery of policies within this paper.

UKRI will be formed of 7 RCs, InnovateUK and Research England. John Kingman of the Treasury is the interim chair, who will be appointing the first chief executive. John highlighted the cross-disciplinary aspects of UKRI, following the Nurse recommendations. Spending review offered the scope to establish a common research fund, this may grow over time. However, budgets will be allocated to each of the nine constituent bodies via the current grant level process. He welcomed the restatement of the Haldene principle and dual support.

A second reading of the HE Bill will take place next month, with the committee stage for the 6-8 weeks following. Practical steps to establish the UKRI will take place after the second reading. The research councils will moved towards centrally led corporate functions with a single common approach for activities as a defaul, not just cost reduction but a better way of working.

Turning to the Global Challenges Research Fund, Phil acknowledged that this £1.5bn over the next 5 years was a major part of the increased research settlement in last year's spending review, with council allocations static or slightly reduced. He highlighted the close links to the DfID "Aid Strategy" and the UN Global Goals for sustainable development.

The RC's investment strategy for the GCRF is to retain the core allocations within this fund static at £100m from 17/18 to 20/21. The remainer of the funds will be fed in increasing amounts into a centrally managed pot, which can respond with agility to opportunities and challenges as they arise. Over time, stretch and transformational research funding will grow, whereas core allocations remain static in cash terms.

There will be five broad areas of priority: Health, Clean Energy, Sustainable Agriculture, Conflict and Humanitarian Action, Foundations for Economic Development. These are initial areas, and expansion is likely (eg Resilient Systems...). These priorities will be managed by a strategic advisory group, currently open for nomination closing on 23rd June.

The success of this initiative will be measured by real world impact - so a focus on real world problems, and stakeholder collaboration, will underpin projects. Funded work must fit with the definition of Official Development Assistance, and impact must be realised within developing countries via collaboration and partnerships.

Ehsan Masood (editor of Research Fortnight) noted the whole other dimension of the Bill and White Paper, on Teaching and the Student Experience. He cautioned that the discussed policies may yet not happen, and encouraged delegates to read the Bill.

The Bill has a tight timetable, with BIS aspiring to get it through quickly. It is important to understand what we are gaining or losing within these policy changes - a "great experiment". Governments have an internal logic which can be insulated from wider concerns, but Whitehall is accountable to parliament and thus the people. All of us have a voice that could be exercised before the Bill becomes law.

The big change in T&L is that HEFCE will go - this is not a surprise as HEFCE is no longer a funding body. The OfS will be a regulatory body (a phrase not often heard in HE policies) aimed at promoting a market in HE. This will make it easier for private universities to become established - an aspiration for a world class private sector to match a world class public sector. We have a number of high profile education companies up for the challenge of servicing one of the last untapped markets - so market entry will be speedier, and sector-funding means that there is a similar feel to when oil was first discovered in the north sea. And all of this from a Government that claims not to do industrial policy!

Smaller and specialist institutions should make their voices heard as this is clearly a matter of concern to them. Ehsan drew a parallel with the establishment of Academies and Free Schools centralising financial power in Whitehall. Choice and autonomy will exist, but more for new institutions and less for existing ones. He argued that older, royal charter, universities are giving away the rights to title and degree awarding powers to the OfS and Government.

He cautioned that if we allowed TEF to progress raising fees will become an automatic process rather than under the scrutiny of parliament. Eshan personally felt that this was a risk, and could lead to unacceptable levels of graduate debt, and again encouraged us to speak up.

Masood welcomed the Global Challenges Fund - a "very smart move" that will encourage younger researchers more nationally inclined to think and work in an interdisciplinary manner. The QR fund via Research England has a good protective wall around it, and the Haldene Principle will be enshrined in law (though he noted that the phrase is not used in the draft Bill).

However, he felt that the TEF would merely produce more tension within institutions, and that losing HEFCE as a single body would also hurt the sector. And "innovation" should be wider than solely commercial innovation - bring the word into the body that looks after research brings commercial innovation into a research culture. Academia's biggest contribution is in training, education and development and this isn't recognised.

In closing he noted that the existing Research Councils are established by Royal Charter and have a direct line to parliament, and that the proposed structure may not be able to retain that level of parlimentary access. Ministers may chose to reorganise or rename councils at any point, and UKRI has no Royal Charter and reports into BIS. This is a part of a wider trend to concentrate power in Whitehall - as a part of a journal that will fundamentally change the nature of UK HE. It is remarkable that no minister has stood up to properly explain the rationale behind the policy - if you care speak up, as otherwise the policies as presented will be speedily implemented.


OER16 propaganda

Now I did this in 10 mins at work in PowerPoint - the software of choice for the corporate and time-pressed ds106 participant.

I grabbed the Charlie picture from google images, ditto the OER16 logo and pasted them in to powerpoint. Using the "colour" tool on the picture format menu, I made the white part of the logo transparent and turned it into pure black and white. I then resised it and used the "3D" rotate tool to fit it on to the main picture.

It was looking a bit odd, so I desaturated the main picture (33%) for a more retro look. The text used a "Bevelled gold" effect on a bodoni font.

I wanted to get the conference details on an actual golden ticket, so I made a rectangular text box and added the gold effect via assigning various shades of orange to a gradient.

And that was it.


"Dirtbag Beater"

(new single by the Branch Radioians)



Neither of the two links you cite back up the point you are making.

The Durham Schools study link is to a BBC article about a research project that ended in 2013. As far as I can tell the data drawn on is described in this (OA) paper:

Methodologically, it is - shall we say - interesting. N is 44 for the study, and 42 for the "comparison study". The comparison study actually had a greater learner benefit (if you see "more correct answers" as the best measure of benefit). Overall, even after the tortuous analysis, the paper concluded: "From these results, it appears that both conditions support the development of routine expertise, and the individual paper-based version of the ‘make up some questions’ task appears to be as useful as NumberNet (the tech solution being tested) in supporting the development of fluency and speed with simple calculation".

The second paper you cite - from the prestigious Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Centre - is a 2013 summary of a number of selected papers about the effectiveness of technology. The word "selected" should be ringing alarm bells, as no selection criteria are given - making "cherry picking" very likely.

To look at just the first paper in the ARCC summary - their meta-analysis sounds interesting and useful. You can read the paper itself here: (note that this is not an OA paper, but is available online for some reason)

The intro of the paper notes that: "Consistent with the more recent reviews, the findings suggest that educational technology applications generally produced a positive, though modest, effect (ES = +0.15) in comparison to traditional methods. However, the effects may vary by educational technology type. Among the three types of educational technology applications, supplemental CAI had the largest effect with an effect size of +0.18. The other two interventions, computer-management learning and comprehensive programs, had a much smaller effect size, +0.08 and +0.07, respectively."

This looks like a very well done literature review. And it is broadly true to say (as ARCC do) that technology used to support traditional classroom experience has the largest effect. However, +0.18 isn't a "large" effect by any standards - and in most classroom situations would make the change almost indistinguishable from the control. (If you need a briefing on how effect sizes work, may I recommend the University of Leeds' superb "It's the effect size, stupid"? (

I could go over the other links in the ARCC paper, but I think I have made my point.

Steve, you are both a tenured academic researcher and a prominent advocate of education technology. As I am neither, it isn't really my job to pick these issues up for you. If you could please check your claims a little more carefully in the future, and ideally cite directly from research literature rather than media reports, I would be grateful.